Monthly Archives: October 2014

My 100th post

Hmm.  What should I post about today for this auspicious occasion?

I have thought about this long and hard.  To be perfectly honest, I don’t consider myself much of a teacher and in fact I feel like I don’t know anything.  So many today are white belts in skill but 10th dan in self-promotion.  Nothing makes me sadder than when I read someone’s bio and there are obvious exaggerations.  I know from my own experience that it is very difficult to live one’s life with integrity, humility and truthfulness.

I have re-posted something Sensei posted on September 27, 2005 to his Daily Message that I thought might be appropriate for my 100th post.  Please enjoy!

To live for one’s self is most probably the most practical, realistic way to live.

To live for others is most definitely the most beautiful way to live.

To live with a caring heart for others will influence you every second of every day of your life.

To live to throw others down or defeat them will probably effect you only for a few seconds only once in your entire lifetime.

It is useless to be strong and skillful without a caring heart for others.

To lose or win is only chance and the way of the world – it is typical to desire to win, it is realistic to know that you will lose.  It is wiser not to waste your time with such trivial matters when you can use your life and energies for much more worthy efforts.

After teaching my students for so many years, I have realized that there is much more to teaching than making someone strong and skilled.  It all has to do with heart and life and righteousness . . . . . if our lives are not directed towards finding a peaceful way to live, we can never understand what O’Sensei’s teachings are nor what is the spirit and true meaning of Aikido.  However, we can never separate ourselves from the correct practice of Aikido itself. . . .

Whether we are walking, riding a fancy car, crawling on our hands and knees, or being pushed or carried along on the shoulders of others, the road must still be correct. . . . In this way, we can never separate ourselves from correct training or a correct understanding of Aikido. . . . .

When you think you can do anything you want in this world, you are only being silly. Think of your mother, your father, your sisters and brothers, those you work with, those you practice with, your friends and loved ones, your neighbors. . . . what you have to do in this world is very clearly in front of you. . . . all you can choose for yourself in the Path you take – luckily you have chosen Aikido, I think it is a kind of Karma that you are blessed like this to enter O’Sensei’s world. . . . Please don’t miss this opportunity and apply yourself well to your practice and support the dojo.



The serenity of a splash






Furu ike ya!                               The old pond, ah!
Kawazu tobikomu,                    A frog jumps in:
Mizu no oto.                             The water’s sound.

This poem is by Basho (1644-1694) and is probably the most well known haiku ever written.  I was blown away by this haiku when I first read this in D.T. Suzuki’s Zen and Japanese Culture.  For some reason it always makes me think about fall and a cool morning sitting by a pond.  Upon reading this, I find myself transported to another place that is hard to explain.  In this place I can actually feel Basho’s emotion as he is caught up in the moment.

I have never been one for poetry and in fact I have always thought of it as an unmanly pursuit but something about haiku really touches me.  For me, good haiku encapsulates the Way and what it means to follow it.  Good haiku is like Aikido – simple yet sophisticated.  The writer is able to be present in the moment but yet convey a sense of feeling within that present moment.  When you are attacked, being in the moment dictates that you only observe and don’t react – true Budo is nothing more than this.

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.

Martial arts IQ: Kanazawa Sensei – 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.