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Celebrating Our 40th Anniversary
Welcome to the Daily Message. Ito Sensei writes articles for your information and enjoyment. The late Reverend Kensho Furuya started this Daily Message in the late 1990s. Our dojo celebrates its 40th year in 2014 and our monthly publication, The Aiki Dojo, is now it its 30th year.

Warning: When using this website, the Daily Message, and The Aiki Dojo monthly publication, please use caution: Information and Knowledge are not the same thing. You can get information from your computer and the Internet, but you can only get knowledge when you use your mind and your body. 

Protect with AI.

Grow with KI.

Never depart from DO.

What does each rank mean?

karate-black-belt-martial-arts1People always ask me about the criteria that I use to determine rank.  This question comes with a large set of subjective answers that varies from teacher to teacher.  The knowledge or skills set is different between kyu ranks or mudansha and black belts or yudansha.

For me, mudansha students are evaluated on what I like to call their Aikido conditioning.  Their Aikido conditioning refers to things the student needs to get into shape such as their ukemi skills, rolling ability, and basic technique differentiation as both uke and nage.  At the mudansha level, technical nuance isn’t that important as long as they can perform the movement in a fairly competent manner and perform the right ukemi with each technique.

For yudansha at each level, the precision becomes greater and the student will be required to demonstrate everything they have learned up to that point.  At shodan, the student will need to show general knowledge of the technical form and display the Aikido conditioning they have built up.  Since shodan is the proverbial beginning, technical differentiation is more important than technical nuance while serving as both the nage and the uke.  Being able to do the techniques being called out and the proper ukemi is enough to pass the shodan exam, but not enough for subsequent black belts.  At each level of black belt, the student is evaluated on their technical precision, grasp of timing and spacing, breathe control, and mental awareness or basically where they are supposed to be and what they are supposed to be doing.

The last and most important at all levels is the candidate’s character.  A student with no athletic gifts and a great attitude will go farther than an athletically gifted student with a bad attitude and I would promote the former a 100 times over the latter.  I personally will not promote anyone with a bad attitude or corrupt character.



Be a mindful of yourself

Under promise and over produce.  Over the 24 years I have been practicing Aikido, this is the one shortcoming that students always seem to succumb to.  I am well acquainted with this lesson myself because I have I suffered through it numerous times.  For instance, I once asked Sensei if I could wash his car once a week in trade for dues.  He agreed and we made a deal that I would wash his car every Saturday after class.  Easy enough and for months it went great and I thought I was making out like a bandit until one day it rained.  I was about to leave and Sensei stopped me and said, “Hey, aren’t you going to wash my car?”  I said, “But, it’s raining.”  Sensei went to lunch and I had to wash the car in the pouring rain and I did it because I thought he was going to check it when he came back.  When he returned, I just got yelled at for an hour about my follow through and personal character.

This was a hard concept to for me to grasp.  I didn’t understand that to be a warrior means to be someone of character and one of elements of character is ichigon or more specifically bushi no ichigon in marital arts.  Bushi no ichigon specifically translates as a warrior says one thing, but it really means that a warrior is person of character and hence that person says what they mean and only means what they say.

As a young man growing up I got a warriors education from Sensei.  He didn’t just teach me the martial arts but more about what it meant to be a person of character.  A person of character is someone you can trust and respect and who lives his life with honor and integrity.  Therefore to start this journey be mindful of what you not only say and do, but also what you think – it really does matter.

So my suggestion to everyone is that they should under promise and over produce.  This is the best way to stay off the radar.

Learn by doing

“What we have to learn to do, we learn by doing.” – Aristotle

Aikido is unfortunately an experiential thing which means you have to do it to not only learn it but someday understand it.  There are many schools of Aikido and numerous ways to teach Aikido.  Our school takes the hands on approach.  In order to advance the first think you need is a good attitude, but after that you need to come to class.  Sorry no way around it.

A picture is worth a 1000 words, but actually doing it speaks volumes.  The concepts and theories of Aikido are so verbose and difficult that words and talking about it just get in the way.  Aikido is one of those things you can’t truly learn until you experience it.  So you have to learn to do Aikido by coming to class.  Please have a regular training schedule.

Mind matters most

I saw this story the other day and I thought about you…

Many years ago, when I worked as a volunteer at a hospital, I got to know a little girl named Liz who was suffering from a rare and serious disease. Her only chance of recovery appeared to be a blood transfusion from her 5-year old brother, who had miraculously survived the same disease and had developed the antibodies needed to combat the illness. The doctor explained the situation to her little brother, and asked the little boy if he would be willing to give his blood to his sister. I saw him hesitate for only a moment before taking a deep breath and saying, “Yes, I’ll do it if it will save her..” As the transfusion progressed, he lay in bed next to his sister and smiled, as we all did, seeing the color returning to her cheeks. Then his face grew pale and his smile faded. He looked up at the doctor and asked with a trembling voice, “Will I start to die right away?” Being young, the little boy had misunderstood the doctor; he thought he was going to have to give his sister all of his blood in order to save her. You see, understanding and attitude, after all, is everything.

This is one of the Five Great Lessons that someone wrote about on their blog.  Understanding and attitude really are everything.  Having a good attitude and the right understanding are paramount no matter where we find ourselves or what we are doing.  Life will constantly throw us curve balls and there is nothing we can do about it.  What we do have control over is how we react to these curve balls.  It can be cliche or sophomoric to say, “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade” but that doesn’t make it untrue.  What we think and what we say are very important but what you think matters most.  Understanding and attitude are not always in the things we say or do, but just like in Aikido it doesn’t so much matter what we do when someone strikes, but it matters more how we react to it inside hence understanding and attitude are everything.

Create your own hurdles

Make your own hurdles

Make your own hurdles

I read an interesting story about Kobe Bryant that I think might have some relevance to Aikido or any martial arts training.  Regardless of what you think of Kobe personally, his professional skills and work ethic are second to none.  I personally am not a fan of his, but I was a fan a long time ago.

Kobe loves to play one-on-one and by his own admission said that, “He could be anyone one-on-one” and that he is the “Best one-on-one” player in the world.  The story goes that one year a new rookie was drafted by the Lakers who was supposed to have a considerable amount of defensive prowess.  As soon as Kobe found out, he made the rookie come several hours before practice to play him one-on-one.  This is not much of a big deal nor is it uncommon, but the way Kobe played him was remarkable.  Kobe would set all these rules for himself that would essentially handicapped him.  For instance, the defender could defend him any way that was legal but Kobe would only be allowed to shoot and dribble with his non-dominant hand.  Even with all these restraints, Kobe still destroyed this rookie every game.

The enemy of greatness is complacency.  It happens to everyone after you have spent a certain amount of time doing the same things over and over or have attained a certain amount of skill or ability.  In business, it is called “phoning it in.”  When complacency sets in, a stumble is not far behind and that is how great martial artists are beat by newbies.  In order to reach the highest echelons of ability, we sometimes need to invent ways to confront our shortcomings.  Kobe Bryant did something that some of the greatest martial artist in history used to do – he created his own hurdles.

I once read a story about Jigro Kano, the founder of Judo.  He would challenge bigger or more skilled judoka to matches and when he couldn’t beat them he would go home and think up a technique to use against them.  He would show up the next practice day and challenge the same person to a match.  When he found himself in the same predicament as the day before, he would unveil his new technique and throw this person down.  Many of the judo techniques used today are a result of his perseverance and desire to overcome an opponent.

Creating our own hurdles causes us to confront our shortcomings.  First, you must be aware of your shortcoming, weakness or dysfunction.  Secondly, you must figure out what is the correct  way (this can come from the corrections your teachers make in class).  Then you set about creating a hurdle that forces you to overcome that limitation.  Once that flaw or deficiency is righted, you set about looking for other inconsistencies to correct.  Sensei likened it to a chain where you identify your weak link and make it your strongest and then go back and do it again and again until your entire chain becomes strong.

The monk Ryokan once said, “When you have a problem, face it; when you are sick, face it; when death stalks you, face it.”  Create the hurdle and face it.


Violence is not the answer.

Every great martial art comes to the same conclusion at some time or another – violence is not the answer.  The difference between Aikido and other martial arts is that non-violence is something introduced in the beginning and not the end.  As Aikidoists, we understand that the person attacking us not in their right mind and as a result of is ignorant.  This lack of understanding or awareness is what brings them suffering because in the end they are only hurting themselves.  Knowing this, we try and use Aikido to resolve the conflict in a non-violent manner.  Kanazawa Sensei is a world renowned expert in Karate with 65 years of experience and has come to the same conclusion that violence is not the answer.  This video is the 2nd part  of four videos where Kanazawa Sensei talks about not only his history but his philosophies on life and Karate.

Kuro obi – Black Belt DVD review

Kuro Obi - Black Belt

Kuro Obi – Black Belt

DVD Review: Kuro Obi – Black Belt

Most martial arts movies today are filled with incredible stunts that are performed by actors with little to no martial arts training.  This is wonderful and great for the genre of martial arts movies, but I always wish that the quality of the martial arts techniques in those movies was a little bit better.  Occasionally I come across a movie that really impresses me.  Kuro Obi is one such movie.  The scenery is stunning and it has a great story, but the real kicker was that half way through the story I realized that the two main characters were real martial artists.  I stopped the movie and Googled the actors and sure enough both were not only trained martial artist but teachers as well.

The movie takes place in the 1930s and is about three students named Choei, Giryu and Taikan who are the students of a Karate master who dies as the Japanese army attempts to take over their dojo.  The story follows the three students as they follow two diametrically opposing paths as they compete to be worthy enough to inherit their teacher’s belt.  Choei and Taikan join the military where Taikan follows a more corrupt path as he brutally beats every opponent as he fights his way to the belt.  Giryu, who is injured, finds himself on a soul searching journey where he struggles to understand his teacher’s last teaching where he forbade him from using Karate to attack.  The story’s final chapter has Taikan and Giryu finally fighting each other for their teacher’s belt.

The martial arts is excellent in this movie.  The scenery itself is reason to see this movie but the Karate is spectacular.  Taikan is played by Tatsuya Naka who is a 7th degree black belt and teacher at the JKA Shotokan in Tokyo.  Giryu is played by Akihito Yagi and he is a 7th degree black belt in Goju-ryu Karate and a 3rd generation teacher.

You can see the end credits of the movie here where Tatsuya Naka and Akihito Yagi are demonstrating their Karate katas:

Realize this!

SanchuRekijitsuNashiRealize this!  There is no such thing as perfection.

No thing is perfect.  No one is perfect.  No situation is perfect.  We can begin to see things as they are once we let go of our ideals.  Human beings are inherently flawed, things breakdown and s!@#$ happens.

There is actually only one true perfection and that is love.  Love allows you to see people for who they are.  Love allows you to see things as they are.  Love allows you to accept the situation as it is.

O Sensei said that Aikido is love.  I think what O Sensei was really talking about is that as we give ourselves to others when we take ukemi and that is love because we are sacrificing ourselves for another person’s benefit.  However, what is the truest expression of love is that the nage knows that the uke is sacrificing himself and that the nage not only appreciates it but also sacrifices himself by letting go of his desire to hurt the uke thus love comes full circle.

The enso or circle calligraphy above symbolizes emptiness and it is supposed to represent the calligrapher’s level of enlightenment.  The funny thing about an enso is that the more “enlightened” a person is supposed to be, the more imperfect the circle seems.  Perfection is not realized but moreover it is the realization that perfection does not exist is the truest expression of love and thus perfection.

Footwork, footwork, footwork

foot works-1






Do you have trouble making the techniques work?  Improve your footwork.

Do you want to make the techniques smoother?  Improve your footwork.

When someone does the technique on you, does it hurt?  Improve your footwork.

Do you want to make your technique stronger?  Improve your footwork.

Do you want to speed up the technique?  Improve your footwork.

Do you want to slow down the technique?  Improve your footwork.

Do you want to improve your timing and spacing?  Improve your footwork.

Do you want to build your confidence?  Improve your footwork.

Overall, do you want to become better at Aikido?  Improve your footwork.

I guess what I am saying is that it’s all in the footwork.