Monthly Archives: November 2014

Martial arts IQ: Interviews with a true master of Kung-fu


Master Hsu and Sensei in the mid 1980s







I believe that Sensei and Master Hsu met when they were both demonstrating at the same event in 1979.  I have had the good fortune to have met Master Hsu and participated in some of his workshops many times.  Master Hsu and Sensei shared their love of good food and martial arts.  He was one of the few people Sensei regarded as a true master and Sensei also helped him with two of his books and many of his articles.  I can say without a doubt that Master Hsu is a true teacher.  I stumbled upon a series of interviews with him.  I haven’t watched all of them but I am sure they are full of good information regardless of the style of martial art you practice.  Enjoy!


Kanai Sensei’s thoughts on Reigi-saho

kanaiI found this article on on etiquette or Reigisaho written by Kanai Sensei.  In the late 1960s Sensei studied with Kanai Sensei in Boston while he was attending Harvard University.  Sensei and Kanai Sensei would become friends and both shared a common interest in Aikido, swords and Iaido.


A Thought on Reigi Saho
by Mitsunari Kanai

Editor’s Note: Kanai Sensei’s article on Reigi Saho is a classic, synthesizing an explanation of the philosophy and practice of Aikido’s etiquette. It has been reprinted several times, for example in Aikido Forum and the USAF Newsletter, and we are happy to bring it to a new generation of readers.

Fundamental Philosophy of Reigi

The motivating principle of human survival, based upon the instinctual needs of food and sex, is power. The ability to effectively use power is crucial for the sustenance of life itself. The technology of fighting, pre-modern and modern, is an expression of this power, and the human race has survived to this point in history because of the ability to properly use this power. In fact, the development of this technology has given rise to new ideas, scientific advances, civilization, and culture. The basic principle of power is deeply rooted in life itself, and it is still the basis of human society as we know it today.

The student of Aikido, regardless of the reason, has chosen this particular form of martial art as his or her path, seeking to integrate it into daily life and undertaking the practice with dedication and constancy. Some people get enjoyment out of the Aikido training while some others get lost and fall into confusion. Some approach the training selfishly while others approach with modesty. Each person’s approach to the training is a personal expression of his or her suffering and conflicts as a human being. Thus, the person applies his or her own judgment to Aikido and tries to give his or her own meaning to Aikido. The significance of Aikido, first of all, is that it is a martial art, but it also has meaning as the manifestation of natural laws and as a psychological, sociological, physiological, ethical, and religious phenomenon. All of these are overlapping, although each has its own unique identity, and together they constitute what we call Aikido.

If we pursue the combative aspect Aikido in our training, we can find extremely lethal and destructive power in Aikido. Therefore, if Aikido is misused, it can become a martial art of incomparable danger. Originally, martial arts meant this dangerous aspect. Aikido is no exception. Thus, any combative art unaccompanied by a strict philosophical discipline of life and death is nothing but a competitive sport.

While sports do not deal directly with life-or-death situations, they nevertheless advocate certain values necessary for building of character, for example, the observance of rules, respect for others, sportsmanship, proper dress and manners. This should be even more true and essential in the art of Aikido because Aikido deals with the question of life or death and insists on the preservation of life. In such an art is it not unquestionably appropriate to emphasize the need of dignified Rei in human interactions? Therefore, it is said that Rei is the origin and final goal of budo.

Some people may react negatively to this emphasis on etiquette as old-fashioned, conservative, and even feudalistic in some societies, and this is quite understandable. But we must never lose sight of the essence of Rei. Students of Aikido are especially required to appreciate the reason for and the meaning of Reigi-saho, for it becomes an important step towards misogi , which is at the heart of Aikido practice. I hope to discuss misogi in a future article.

At any rate, people working in martial arts tend to become attached to technical strength. They become arrogant and boorish, bragging of their accomplishments. They tend to make unpolished statements based on egoism. They immerse themselves in self-satisfaction. They not only fail to contribute anything to society but, as human beings, their attitudes are under-developed and their actions are childish. What is important about Reigi-saho is that it is not simply a matter of bowing properly. The basis of Reigi-saho is the accomplishment of the purified inner self and the personal dignity essential to the martial artist.

If we advance this way of thinking, the matter of Reigi-saho becomes the question of how one should live life itself. It determines what one’s mental frame and physical posture should be prior to any conflict situation; the guard-posture must have no openings. Thus, Reigi-saho originates in a sincere and serious confrontation with life and death. Above all, Reigi-saho is an expression of mutual respect in person-to-person encounters, a respect for each other’s personalities, a respect which results from the martial artist’s confrontations with life-or-death situations. The culmination of the martial artist’s experience is the expression of love for all of humanity. This expression of love for all of humanity is Reigi-saho.

The martial artist’s respect for the self and for others easily tends to become coarse and unpolished. So the idea of Reigi-saho, that each person is important, functions as a filter to purify and sublimate the martial artist’s personality and dignity. Reigi-saho thus melts into a harmonious whole with the personal power and confidence that the martial artist possesses. This coming together establishes a peaceful, secure, and stable inner self which appears externally as the martial artist’s personal dignity. Hence, a respectful personality with strength and independence is actualized. Therefore, Reigi-saho is a form of self-expression. The formalized actions of Reigi-saho reveal the total knowledge and personality of the martial artist.

We who are trying to actualize ourselves through Aikido should recognize that we are each independent. Only with such deep awareness of the self, can we carry out a highly polished Rei with confidence.

In short, Reigi-saho is to sit and bow perfectly and with dignity. In this formalized expression of Rei, there exists the martial artist’s expression of self-resulting from his or her philosophy of life and death. And, for this reason, the martial artist shows merciful care and concern for those who walk on the same path. The martial artist shows merciful care and concern for all who seek to develop themselves in mind, body, and spirit, with sincere respect for other human lives.

In order for any external, physical act to be complete, it must be an expression of the total person. Abstractly, the external form includes the inside. This is a complete form. For Reigi-saho, that means that the external act was from the deep heart or mind. Also, the heart or mind was using the external act for its expression. This is a complete act. The formalized expression of the inner and outer person harmonized is the Saho of Reigi.

Saho (Formalized expression of Rei)

Reigi-saho thus contains varied implications regarding the inner life, but the observable form is a straightforward expression of respect for others, eliminating all unnecessary motions and leaving no trace of inattention. In the handling of martial art weapons the safest and most rational procedure has been formalized so that injury will not fall upon others as well as on oneself. Ultimately the formalized movements become a natural movement of the martial artist who has become one with the particular weapon. Below is an outline of the basics of Saho which I consider necessary knowledge for the martial artist.

1. Seiza (formal, Japanese-style sitting)

From your natural standing position draw your left leg slightly backwards (in some cases the right leg), kneel down on your left knee while staying on your toes. Then kneel on your right knee, lining up both feet while on your toes. Sit down slowly on both heels, as you straighten your toes, placing them flat on the floor so that you sit on the soles of your feet. Place either your left big toe on the right big toe, or have both big toes lightly touch each other side by side.

Next, place both hands on your thighs with fingers pointing slightly inward. Spread out both elbows very slightly but naturally, dropping the tension in your shoulders into the tanden or the pit of the stomach. Raise your sternum which will naturally straighten your back (do not stiffen your back), look straight ahead of you, and calm your body and mind for proper breathing. The space between the knees on the floor should be about the width of two or three fists.

2. Rei before the Kamiza (front altar)

From the seiza position slide both palms of your hands forward to the floor about a foot in front of you, forming a triangle, and then bow by lowering your face slowly and quietly towards the center of the triangle. Do not raise your hip or round your back as you do so; it is important to bend your body at the waist, keeping the back straight as possible. After a brief pause gradually raise your bowed head, pulling up both hands at the same time. Return both hands to the original seiza position and look straight forward.

3. Rei toward fellow students

From the position of the seiza first slide your left hand forward slowly, followed by the right hand, and place them on the floor about a foot in front of you and form a triangle, identical to the procedures described above. Following the bow, pull back your right hand while raising he body, followed by the left hand, and return to the original seiza position.

4. Rei towards teachers

The same etiquette as above is observed for bowing to your teacher, but the student should remember to lower his or her head in a bow before the teacher does, and to raise his or her own head after the teacher raises his or hers. Please remember that your bow shows your mental readiness.

5. Standing from the seiza position

First get on your toes, then begin to stand as you move your right foot (or left foot) half a step forward. Stand up slowly and quietly and pull back the right foot (or left foot) so that you are standing naturally.

6. Saho when holding sword (applies also to other weapons such as bokken, jo, etc.)

The sword is normally placed on the sword stand with the handle to the left of you and the blade facing upward. (The side of the sword thus seen is called the front of the sword.) The placement of the sword is reversed for self-protection in cases of emergencies and when retiring at night.

(a) Rei to the sword (standing)

Take the sword from the sword stand with your right hand grasping the scabbard near the sword guard with the right thumb pressing the sword guard. Then turn up your right hand, placing the handle to your
right. Open your right palm holding the sword with the blade turned upwards, while at the same time the thumb of the left hand, palm down, holds the scabbard closer to the tip. The sword should be held up at eye level and the bow show be made slowly from the waist with the back kept straight. The sword is raised slightly during the bow.

(b) Rei to the Kamiza (standing)

From the standing bow to the sword, lower the sword in front of you thus bringing it closer to your body. With your right hand turn the handle upward
with the blade facing you. The sword is held vertically with the right hand in front of your center, and the left hand now grasps the scabbard immediately below the right hand. The right hand then is freed, permitting it to grasp the backside of the sword blade from above. The right hand thus grasping the scabbard should have its index finger placed on the back side pointing towards the sword’s tip. Hold the sword close to the right side of your body with the tip turned towards the front at a 35-degree angle with your right hand at your hip bone. Stand erectly and piously make your bow to the Kamiza. The bow should be about 45 degrees and you should pull your chin in while you bow.

(c) Rei in front of the Kamiza (sitting)

Sit in seiza. Place the sword on the floor on the right side of your body with the blade pointing toward you. The sword should be parallel to your body. Slide both hands simultaneously down from your thighs to the floor and bow to the Kamiza.

(d) Rei toward fellow students and teachers (sitting)

The same procedure should be followed as in the case above, except for the different sequence of putting your left hand down on the floor first when bowing and pulling up the right hand first when rising from the bowing position.

This concludes the description of the minimally required basics of Reigi-saho. The brevity of the explanations was intended to avoid possible confusion, but it may also have led to a lack of clarity and thoroughness of explanation concerning certain procedures. If I have not been generous enough in writing my description of Reigi-saho, then I hope that you will forgive me and give to me and others the chance to teach you more in the future.


With passion, focus and care anything is possible.  I came across this video of a 7 year old girl doing Karate.  I was very much impressed by her attention to detail, poise and zanshin, but I was especially impressed by her sense of hinHin or hinkaku 品格 translates in Japanese to mean grace or dignity, but it is more than that.  Hin is the way we carry carry ourselves regardless if we are a 7 year old kid or an 80 year old 8th degree master of Karate.  Whatever this little girl decides to do in life, she will be special.

What is crazy is here she is 2 years earlier at 5 years old.

Free screening of Kagemusha on Nov. 26

Free Japanese Cinema Screenings
 Every 2nd and 4th Wednesday Evening!!

Kurosawa’s Masterpiece Samurai Film!

(180mins, 1980)
Directed by Akira Kurosawa
In Japanese with English subtitles
Wednesday, November 26 @ 7:00PM

Venue: The Japan Foundation, Los Angeles, Auditorium
(5700 Wilshire Blvd. #100, Los Angeles, CA 90036)
Admission: Free
Reservation is not required.

Read more about the movie:

The 7 Ps

Prior Proper Planning Prevents Piss Poor Performance

A long time ago when Sensei was alive a well meaning white belt volunteered to order some uniforms from Japan.  He notified everyone and diligently took orders by scribbling everyone’s  information into a spiral notebook.  Many people ordered uniforms including me and Sensei.  The student called the company in Japan and ordered each order personally.  When the order arrived it was missing items and some of the uniforms were the wrong sizes.  He also realized he was short money because he misjudged the exchange rate and had to go back and ask each person for more money and then he ended up ordering a second time to fulfill the incomplete orders.  In the end he had to put some of his own money in because the order was wrong because it was his error.  I even gave up my uniform so that he could give it to someone else and not pay twice for it.  When it was all said and done Sensei ended up getting mad at him and I am sure he felt dejected.  In the parking lot afterwards, I gave him a reassuring smile and said, “Welcome to the club.”

I didn’t intend on being condescending, but what I meant was that only a select few get in trouble and receive a direct scolding from Sensei.  The club that I was referring to was the 7Ps club.  What this well meaning student didn’t know is that anything and everything concerning the dojo and Sensei had to be executed at the highest level.  This student wasn’t through when he researched his project nor did he ask anyone who had done it before.  He also wasn’t organized and with Sensei you had to be extremely detail oriented in order to not mess up and he wasn’t as evident by his scribblings in a spiral notebook.

One of the main things I learned as student under Sensei was how to be a professional.  I, like this student, got burned and then lectured and after a few hundred times I started to learn.  What I learned was that execution was nothing without through planning and preparation.  Before I would even bring something to Sensei it had to be organized and well thought out or he would pick you apart and/or get mad at you.  Dealing with Sensei, I learned how important the military’s 7Ps were (Prior Proper Planning Prevents Piss Poor Performance).  In a martial arts sense, how can you go into battle if you don’t know what you’re supposed to be doing or where you are supposed to go?

Sensei had an unwaveringly sense of quality which led to us strive for quality in our training and eventually in our lives as well.  Today, I scold my own students about their professionalism and how their planning and preparation are almost as and maybe even more important than their execution.  I read a quote in Scientific American that sums up many of the lessons Sensei tried to teach me and what I am trying to teach my own students today: “You fail to the level of your preparation.”

Welcome to Fall


Ichi-yo ochite tenka no aki wo shiru.
“With the fall of one leaf we know autumn has come.”

A couple of years ago we stumbled upon this small temple in the suburbs of Kyoto.  The temple is called Komyo-in.  It is off the beaten path, but well worth the visit.  It is one of the sub temples of Tofukuji which is just down the street.  You can just sit on the veranda for as long as you want and just take in the awesome rock garden that is bordered with Japanese maple trees.  We went in the summer so the maple trees weren’t in bloom, but from the vast number of maple trees it must be incredible in the fall.  I just loved sitting there and taking in the quiet while looking at such a serene place.  Whenever I go back to Kyoto again, I will try and spend at least an hour just sitting there.

Here is a link with more pictures and some information about Komyo-in.

Aikido is a personal journey

There is no competition in Aikido.  Despite this maxim, it is still hard for people to accept.  Competition itself is not bad, but what it brings out in us can be detrimental.  It can be harmful  because it has a detrimental affect on the ego.

Let’s think about the game of golf.  Golf is fun.  Golf is social and the experience can actually be heightened when others play it with you.  There is technically no winning or losing in golf since it is a personal pursuit where the golfer is trying to improve upon a skill.  There is also no such thing as a “perfect” game – nobody ever shoots a 0.  Given that golf is a personal pursuit it can actually make someone a better person because they have to conform to a set of rules which penalizes them if they break them.

However somewhere along the line, golfing became more about winning by beating others than as a means of personal development or sportsmanship.  This has brought about such unsavory things like cheating, performance enhancing drugs and bad behavior.  In a 2002 survey of America’s top 400 top business executives who play golf, 82% admitted to cheating.  In a 2011 poll, 54% of the PGA tour caddies said they had witness some form of cheating.  Today with sponsorships and praise, we only care who won or who was the best and we rarely care who is the better person.

This could happen to Aikido also if there was some form of competition.  What would dojos be like if there was a competition for prize money and sponsorships?  How far would people go to “sell” the competition by speaking disrespectfully about their opponents?  What would people be willing to do or more importantly forgo in order to win?  The answer is that Aikido would then go the way of every other martial art where the emphasis is on who has the best abs.

Aikido is a do or way and like golf it is a singular journey where the only competition we have is with ourselves.  If we are not training for ourselves, we are training for our egos or more importantly other things and other people.  Our ego wants praise, accolades, fame and fortune – everything that exists outside of ourselves.  This “win at any cost” perspective is one of the negative sides of competition and thus why there is no competition in Aikido.   This is why O Sensei said, “Masakatsu, Agatsu” or that the real victory is the one over yourself.


Dojo Christmas Party





Dojo Christmas Party

Socialize – Dinner – Gift exchange

When: Saturday, December 6th
Time: 6:30-10:30 PM
Where: Smokehouse in Burbank
Cost: $50.00 adults, $35.00 children

Everyone is invited to attend.  Please sign-up on the sign-up sheet on the bulletin board.

Nakasendo – the road between Tokyo and Kyoto

There are five routes called the Gokaido in Japan that connect the capital of Japan, formerly Edo, with the outlying provinces.  The five routes are: Tokaido, Nakasendo, Koshu Kaido, Oshu Kaido and Nikko Kaido.  Today most of the routes have been replaced by modern day freeways or highways, but there are still some parts that have been preserved.  The Tokaido and Nakasendo have the most notable areas that have been preserved.

The Nakasendo is one of National Geographic’s 50 tours of a lifetime.  The Nakasendo connected Tokyo (Edo) with Kyoto.  It was the trail through the mountains that supposedly was preferred because you didn’t have to cross any rivers.  Originally there were 69 towns that travelers could stay at or get a soak in an onsen or traditional bath.  Today only patches have been preserved and some towns have legal mandates which prohibit change.

I have always wanted to go to these preserved places and maybe I will get around to making the journey.  I found this video of Nakasendo that was  really nice.