Monthly Archives: January 2015

Seven Samurai Showing tonight

sevenLACMA screening, Jan. 29, 7:30 pm, “Seven Samurai” directed by Akira Kurosawa

Seven Samurai (1954, 207 min, black and white, 35 mm)

Thursday, January 29, 2015, 7:30 pm at the Bing Theater in the LACMA

Screenplay by Akira Kurosawa, Hideo Oguni and Shinobu Hashimoto; directed by Akira Kurosawa; with Toshiro Mifune, Takashi Shimura, Daisuke Kato, Isao Kimura, Minoru Chiaki, Seiji Miyaguchi, Yoshio Inaba


The film will be followed by a Q&A between film critic Elvis Mitchell and Robert Singer, Japanese art curator of the LACMA.

Presented in collaboration with the exhibitionSamurai: Japanese Armour from the Ann and Gabriel Barbier-Mueller Collection, Akira Kurosawa’s 1954 action-adventure epic’s sphere of influence is exhaustingly wide-ranging.

Its admirers range from George Lucas to Peter Jackson, from Neill Blomkamp to Takeshi “Beat” Kitano.

One even wonders if Stan Lee took a little of the abrasion
that abounds in this sixteenth century-set story of masterless samurai hired by a farming village to protect them from outlaws and cycled it into the Marvel Comic superteam.

The samurai are led by Kikuchiyo (Toshiro Mifune), who, throughout the story, flips his own mystique about on a regular basis.

Epic and dense, Kurosawa’s film lays out the action in clear and robust terms -we always know exactly what’s going on and what’s at stake.

$7 for LACMA members, students with valid ID and seniors (62+); $10 for the general public.


Why is stance so important

hanmiThe stance in Aikido is called hanmi (半身)Hanmi translates as “half body” as you can see from the picture.  The type of hanmi depends on the style of Aikido one studies.  The shoulders and hips can be square or one can be drawn back.  This limits the amount of exposure to your vital areas.  Generally speaking, the front foot is straight while the back foot is either straight or turned out, but again it depends on the style of Aikido or martial arts one does.  The front knee is almost always bent and the back leg is almost always straight.

The stance in Aikido has a two fold rationale.  First, the stance is the foundation by which power and movement are generated.  How one stands and how the hips and feet are placed generally indicate how movement and thus power will be generated.  Secondly, the stance is the basis for one’s defense.  In the past, the stance was used to hide the vital areas which housed major blood vessels, organs or weak spots.

Just about every teacher of Japanese traditional art’s can be heard rebuking their students with, “Do it from the lower body.”  The stance is said to be an expression of one’s experience level.  Beginners traditionally take a more closed stance which enables them to “hide” their openings while masters tend to take a more open stance “creating” their openings.  Thus, we can see why the stance is considered the “foundation” of the art.

Last week: Samurai armor exhibit ends this weekend

Picture2Samurai Armor on Display at the Resnick Pavilion at LACMA

October 19, 2014 – February 1, 2015

Travel back in time and discover remarkable objects that illuminate the life, culture, and pageantry of the samurai, the revered and feared warriors of Japan. The Samurai Collection of Ann and Gabriel Barbier-Mueller, one of the finest and most comprehensive collections in the world, presents a treasure trove of battle gear made for high-ranking warriors and daimyo (provincial governors) of the 14th through 19th centuries. The exhibition illustrates the evolution of samurai equipment through the centuries, featuring more than 140 objects of warrior regalia, with full suits of armor, helmets and face guards, weapons, horse trappings, and other battle gear.


During the centuries covered by the exhibition, warfare evolved from combat between small bands of equestrian archers to the clash of vast armies of infantry and cavalry equipped with swords, spears, and even matchlock guns. Arms and armor were needed in unprecedented quantities, and craftsmen responded with an astonishingly varied array of armor that was both functional and visually spectacular, a celebration of the warrior’s prowess. Even after 1615, when the Tokugawa military dictatorship brought an end to battle, samurai families continued to commission splendid arms and armor for ceremonial purposes. Because the social rank, income, and prestige of a samurai family were strictly determined by the battlefield valor of their ancestors, armor became ever more sumptuous as the embodiment of an elite warrior family’s heritage.

The exhibition is accompanied by a fully-illustrated catalogue with essays by some of the leading Japanese samurai armor experts.

General admission tickets go on sale now!



A single sakura blooms

Photo courtesy of Jason Markowski

Photo courtesy of Jason Markowski

Saki midasu
momo no naka yori
hatsu-zakura – Basho

From among the peach-trees
“Blooming everywhere,”
The first cherry blossoms. – Basho

As winter begins to fade the faces of spring begin to peak out.  In a Japan, the blooming of the sakura or cherry blossom is the signal that winter is over and the circle of life begins again.

As a symbol, the sakura is the ultimate representation of the samurai.  It is said that when the sakura flower falls it is reminiscent of a falling head and therefore a reminder that life is tenuous.  The sakura bloom is relatively short and thus reminds us that we are born, we live and we die and that we should not waste our lives.

IMG_1670I like the sakura because it is a flower that has beauty, strength and balance.  The sakura flower is quite stunning and they have a certain magic to them when they all bloom together.  The sakura must be a strong flower because it survives the winter and bursts into bloom even as when the winter frost still has its clutches on Japan.  The five petals looks like a human being, but they have a certain balance to them that is reminiscent of someone who has great strength and also great humility.

See the Sado Island Kodo Drummers at the LA Phil

Kodo One Earth Tour

Kodo One Earth Tour

From the LA Phil website: Exploring the limitless possibilities of the traditional Japanese drum, the taiko, Kodo is forging new directions for a vibrant living art-form. In Japanese the word “Kodo” conveys two meanings: Firstly, “heartbeat” the primal source of all rhythm. The sound of the great taiko is said to resemble a mother’s heartbeat as felt in the womb, and it is no myth that babies are often lulled asleep by its thunderous vibrations. Secondly, read in a different way, the word can mean “children of the drum,” a reflection of Kodo’s desire to play the drums simply, with the heart of a child. Since the group’s debut at the Berlin Festival in 1981, Kodo has given over 3700 performances on all five continents, spending about a third of the year overseas, a third touring in Japan and a third rehearsing and preparing new material on Sado Island.

Kodo strives to both preserve and re-interpret traditional Japanese performing arts. Beyond this, members on tours and research trips all over the globe have brought back to Sado a kaleidoscope of world music and experiences which now exerts a strong influence on the group’s performances and compositions. Collaborations with other artists and composers extend right across the musical spectrum and Kodo’s lack of preconceptions about its music continues to produce startling new fusion and forms.

Tickets range from $46-112

For tickets:

Don’t make more work for other people

“A person who says it cannot be done should not interrupt the man doing it.” – Chinese proverb

I have a take on this proverb: “Don’t make more work for other people.”  This is one of those things our parents hopefully teach us at an early age.  If we don’t learn this early, it is one of those little things that can make our lives just that much harder.  If we can learn it early, it will make our lives infinitely easier and we become one of those people that others want around.

The basis for these quotes is to encourage people to think about other people and the big picture.  The Dalai Lama said, “If you can, help others; if you cannot do that, at least do not harm them.”  What would the world be like if we thought about other people before we thought of ourselves?  We would pick up that piece of paper we threw at the basket but missed so that someone else wouldn’t have to do it for us or we’d realize that what we do affects other people.

Here is a story that might help us relate.  Years ago, we were cleaning up for a video shoot where Sensei was going to be interview by the local news at the dojo.  One of the senior students was tasked with cleaning this raised tatami area where Sensei was going to be interviewed.  As the student wiped down the tatami he took special care to rub harder on the areas where it was dirtier.  When Sensei came down to inspect, he noticed that there were these huge white patchy spots that stood out.  Needless to say, he went off on the student and all of us.  Then we had to stay longer and pull out the tatami mats and thoroughly scrub them so that the color was uniform.  It was a Friday night and we didn’t get out of there until close to 10:00 PM.

This student was just being earnest and yes the mat was “cleaner” than when he started but in his efforts he couldn’t see the bigger picture which was that most likely Sensei was going to be interview from the waist up and the floor wouldn’t be visible.  Therefore it only needed a light wipe down to pick up the dust, but instead we all had to pay for his error and stay longer and put in more work.

“Don’t make more work for other people” can just be perfunctory politeness but it can be the thing which changes the world and all we need to do is truly think about not only the people in our immediate life but everyone around us.


Put in the work

Anything is possible if you put in enough practice.  Years ago I saw this video of Japanese kids learning to use the abacus or soroban.  The video featured a school that Japanese kids would go to in order to learn not only how to use the abacus but in a super fast way.  There was one kid who was so fast that he no longer needed to use a physical abacus anymore.  As he did the calculations his fingers moved as if he was using one.  Incredible!

Everything in this world is a skill – even Aikido.  Therefore all that is necessary is that we practice Aikido over and over again in order to master it.  But, don’t you have to be  athletically gifted in order to excel?  Not really.  When I was in college I remember my Motor Control and Learning professor said that the largest gains in strength come not from getting stronger or from the muscles getting larger but from learning the proper muscle recruitment or in other words from skill development.  I recently read an article in the Atlantic that supported this:

In a small study recently published in the Journal of Neurophysiology, researchers found that much of muscle strength is based on brain activity, rather than on the mass of the muscles themselves. Researchers at Ohio University’s Musculoskeletal and Neurological Institute, 29 volunteers had their non-dominant arms placed in elbow-to-finger casts for four weeks. (Fifteen others acted as a cast-free control group.) Of the 29, 14 were asked to perform mental-imagery exercises five days a week, imagining themselves alternately flexing and resting their immobilized wrists for five-second intervals.

When the casts came off at the end of the four weeks, both groups had lost strength in their arms—but the group that had imagined themselves doing the arm exercises lost significantly less, measuring an average of 25 percent weaker than at the start of the study, compared to 45 percent for the group that hadn’t taken part in the mental-imagery activities.

With the above assertion and the realization that everything is a skill then anyone can learn anything – even Aikido.  All that is required is to put the work in.

Side note: This is why I always suggest people watch class when they are injured.  You can learn a lot by watching.

47 Ronin comes to UCLA

47On February 15 one of the best versions of Chushingura or the story of the 47 Ronin will be shown at UCLA’s Billy Wilder Theater.

Director Kenji Mizoguchi’s version is supposed to be the best.  You can read more about it here:

The film starts at 7:00 PM and runs until 11:00 PM.
You can learn more about the movie and buy tickets here: