Monthly Archives: September 2014


“It’s not that some have willpower and some do not. It’s that some are ready to change and others are not” – James Gordon, MD

Sensei used to say, “There is no time left.”  As comfortable or as safe as that couch may seem, it is turning you into a potato and you don’t even know it.  Before we know it, time has passed us by and our best years have been spent idly sitting on the sidelines.  The hardest part about change is taking that first step.  That first step will set off a shock wave and, once you get going, just ride the momentum from that tsunami you created by just getting off your butt.  Change is inevitable, but what we change into is our choice.  Growth requires action!

Please let go of whatever it is that you are holding on to and just come to class and train.

Master the form first

If I could give any advice to any Aikidoist from beginner to expert, I would say master the technical form of Aikido first.  Forget about flashy sexy techniques and just focus on the nuts and bolts of kihon-waza or basic techniques like ikkyo, nikyo, sankyo and yonkyo.  From these four techniques springs all others and if you master them then you can master any of the other techniques in Aikido.  This is not my revelation but Sensei’s frequent admonishment to us.  Below is a video that I watch on a regular basis to help remind me of the right form of the movement.  Everyone needs a refresher now and then regardless of how long you have been doing Aikido.

Great book by a great Aikido teacher

41a7WDnppFL._AA160_Suganuma Shihan’s book titled Be Lively, Right Here, Right Now just came out in English.  It is a collection of his calligraphy, famous quotes and explanations on how to not only live but conduct yourself as a human being.  It is really a great book.  Suganuma Shihan is one of the foremost experts on Aikido and his Aikido is beautiful yet powerful (see below).   Suganuma Shihan and Sensei have been friends since Sensei’s time at Hombu in 1969. The link below from Amazon shows it out of print but I just got mine from there. You can cut and paste the link below to purchase Suganuma Shihan’s book.

Suganuma Shihan on the left.  Furuya Sensei on the right.

Suganuma Shihan on the left. Furuya Sensei on the right.–b-hFt6HjYZ86He9t1IJA/viewform

Do you suburi hyakkai?

O Sensei doing suburi

O Sensei doing suburi

Suburi hyakkai refers 100 practice cuts with a sword.  Usually suburi hyakkai is done as a routine  either at end the day or start of the day.  Famous swordsmen like Nakayama Hakudo and Tiger Mori Torao supposedly did 1000 suburi every morning.  Sensei told us that Tiger Mori was so engrossed with doing his 1000 suburi every morning that his family knew never to bother him until he finished.  Despite all their accolades and fame, swordsman like Tiger Mori or Nakayama Hakudo did their suburi religiously because they were all chasing this idea of perfection.  They were never satisfied no matter how good they got or how many awards they received.  They knew that in order to perfect themselves they need a vehicle to not only gauge their state but to perfect it as well.  That method was the sword cut.

Supposedly one’s sword cut is the representation of one’s inner state.  If the cut is a reflection of one’s inner state then what we are really talking about is one’s inner mind or, more generically, the subconscious.  I am sure most do it either at the start or end of the day as a matter of convenience, but what they probably didn’t know is that doing it at that time is the best time or way to access one’s subconscious.  Sleeping is done at the subconscious level and doing suburi before bed allows your cut to sink into your subconscious.  Doing it right when we wake up allows us to access our subconsciousness.  Either way it gives us the feedback as to our inner state of mind.

A serious swordsman knows that the one true opponent lies not outside of himself, but lies within.  The outer work we do on ourselves pales in comparison to the work we do on our inner selves.  The sword cut is then a symbolic gesture where the opponent we are really cutting down is ourselves.  Therefore a serious swordsman has to do at least 100 suburi everyday.

Aikido is like a fine bottle of wine

To truly appreciate the depth and scope of any martial art takes about 10-15 years of regular training.  Think about Malcolm Gladwell’s assertion in his book Outliers that to become an expert in any field of endeavor takes about 10,000 hours of participation.  If you did the math it would average out to about 2.7 hours a day for 10 years.  So I guess that is about right.  Sadly, most never can commit or persevere to make it 10 years or even 15 or 20.

Aikido like most martial arts can be compared to a bottle of fine wine that costs $1,000,000.00.  Unless you are a connoisseur or a sommelier you probably cannot appreciate that bottle of wine’s depth, characters or nuances.  You’d have to spend a lot of time taking classes, reading books and drinking at lot wine to get to a place where you could appreciate even a moderately expensive bottle of wine.  The martial arts are no different.

In order to get to place where you can truly appreciate the depth, character and nuances of any martial art takes hours upon hours of practice and that is why Miyamoto Musashi said, “It takes 1,000 days to forge the spirit and 10,000 days to polish it.”  Please study hard and don’t give up.

This Road

Yamanochaya_0021Kono michi ya
yuku hito nashi ni
aki no kure

This road!
with no one going – autumn evening

(translation by Robert Aitken)

Here is one of my favorite haiku poems by Basho.  Here Basho deftly explains the Way in poetic prose.

Practice makes permanent

The teachers at this school can be somewhat demanding at times and some might even be a bit overbearing when it comes to how the techniques are being learned.  This can be difficult for some students to endure, but it might be useful to understand the impetus.  You see our teacher was a very harsh disciplinarian despite what you may have seen of him on TV or what you might read that he wrote.  Sensei prescribed to an age old theory that is actually surfacing today in modern athletic training: perfect pays and sloppy stays, practice makes permanent.

The theory is that whatever we do we should do it as perfectly as we can because whether it is perfect or sloppy it will become habit.  As we all know, bad habits are easy to get into but hard to get out of and good habits are hard to get into and easy to fall out of.  So this is where the instructors’ constant reinforcement comes into play.  They are trying their best to stem the tide of the student’s bad habit before they set in.  This can seem callous, cold-hearted or unkind, but it is quite the opposite.  Sensei used to tell us all the time, “If I didn’t care, I would say nothing.”  So their constant berating and criticism is really compassion.  Compassion?  Yes, compassion.  Telling you when you are wrong is the highest form of compassion because you hear what you need and not what you want.  One of my students once told me something very significant about child rearing.  He said, “You say yes out of fear and not out of love.”  The instructors criticism is no different and the burden falls on the instructors or teachers to be the bad guys.

So when you are getting criticized or corrected please remember that this hurts the teachers just as much as it hurts the student when they have to scold them, but they do it for the student’s benefit because they want them to get good.


Watch some good Aikido

suganumaO Sensei passed away in 1969 and many of us didn’t have a chance to train with him.  However, there are a few of his direct students still left and teaching around the world.  One such student is Morito Suganuma Sensei who is based out of Fukuoka on the island of Kyushu in Japan.  Sensei knew Suganuma Sensei from Sensei’s time in Japan in 1969.  Here they are pictured together in front of Hombu Dojo.  I don’t know who the gentleman is in the middle (if you do email me).  Sensei always wanted to bring Suganuma Sensei out to our dojo but the timing never worked out.   Suganuma Sensei is very good and his Aikido is every clean and it is  what we would consider “normal” Aikido.  If you are going to watch Aikido on Youtube (which I don’t suggest), please watch people like Suganuma Sensei who are experts because a majority of people who post to Youtube are not.  Suganuma Sensei put out a video and here is a link to it on Youtube.  It is almost 45 minutes long but very good.

Please enjoy!

Nobody’s perfect

Even monkeys fall out of tress so nobody’s perfect.

猿も木から落ちる -Saru mo ki kara ochiru Even monkeys fall from trees

猿も木から落ちる -Saru mo ki kara ochiru
Even monkeys fall from trees

This is one of my favorite kotowaza or Japanese proverbs and one that I use all the time.  I usually direct it toward myself and rarely direct it towards others.  It is one of those things I use to keep myself going when I make a mistake or are a little down about something that didn’t go my way.

The idea that anything or any person is perfect is a complete and utter fallacy.  I wish that perfect was attainable, but sadly it is not.  Nothing and no one is perfect.  Sorry, hopefully I didn’t ruin it for you.  Perfection is a road and not a destination.  It is something we strive toward but never achieve.  As I become more of an adult or grown up (yikes!) I am starting to see a shift in myself in which I am starting to understand that perfection is a myth.  It is hard because for most of my life I have been an over, over, over achiever.  Maybe now that I have two children of my own I will be able to embrace that sometimes even monkeys fall out of trees.  Well there is always tomorrow.

From the LA Times on March 12, 2006 about our dojo.

Bansetsu-an or the retreat of the untalented teacher.

Bansetsu-an or the retreat of the untalented teacher.

From the LA Times on March 12, 2006 about our dojo.

Green Inches

Loft life–not a natural choice for most Southern Californians–doesn’t mean surrendering to a barren concrete jungle. With a batch of pots, a patch of dirt and a lot of imagination, these urban gardeners have managed to create their own downtown oases.

Bamboo Lane

It is as much a part of his daily ritual as practicing the martial arts he teaches at the Aikido Center of Los Angeles. Every day at about 4 p.m. Kensho Furuya washes down the narrow loading dock of the 100-plus-year-old sugar warehouse that he has converted into his samurai dojo. He’s also transformed the dock itself with bamboo architectural elements, river rocks and lush foliage.

When his students arrive, he says, “the leaves and stones are wet and clean, creating a sense of calm–like walking in the mountains by a stream.” The garden is a physically and mentally refreshing transitional space “to welcome the guest from the outside world to the school.”

Furuya’s goal was to emulate Kyoto-style gardens “that bring you closer to nature.” At just 6 feet wide, the connection is inevitable. Emerald ferns, spider plants, azaleas and impatiens thrive in the shadow of nandina, towering bamboo, pomegranate and Ficus benjamina. Asian ceramics and black plastic nursery pots share space with redwood planters–“humble materials,” Furuya explains.

Visitors enter under a Japanese sign that announces Furuya’s dojo as the Retreat of the Untalented One. Posts, crossbeams and small ornamental gates define the space. Paving stones made of concrete and pebbles create a slender walkway, bordered by polished rocks “representing a stream” and leading to a circular stone that “stands for completion,” says Furuya. “It makes people more aware of their feet, and symbolizes that it is a narrow path to success.”

A Los Angeles native, Furuya was an early settler in the downtown Arts District. “In 1984 it was just dirt and asphalt, and when I added this greenery residents protested, saying it didn’t look downtown.” Now the area is filled with small gardens. “Occasionally I will come out to putter and find people standing in the garden,” Furuya says. “I wonder, ‘Who is that?’ Sometimes it’s a Japanese person who is homesick, sometimes it is a commuter from Orange County who just wants a moment of peace.”