Monthly Archives: March 2015

Washoku – Japanese cuisine

There is an interesting movie that is going to be shown at the Laemmle in Pasadena for a limited time.  The word wa 和 in Japanese means “harmony” and shoku  means meal.  Combined they are how the Japanese refer to “Japanese” style cuisine.  The usage of wa is interesting to me.  The Japanese have this idea the food should have life and thus have a sense of harmony.  Harmony?  It’s food that you eat, right?  Yes, but to the Japanese it is more than that.  The food should have an aesthetic quality about it in order to be called “washoku.”  Eating is not just a circumstance in which one finds themselves gobbling down McDonalds.  Eating is how we live and thus we must give the event a certain sense of respect.  Washoku is that aesthetic quality one brings to a meal with respect to the environment, company and ultimately the food.  Every aspect of the meal down to the smallest detail is given the utmost attention.  This attention gives the meal a certain sense of harmony.  Washoku is hard to explain in mere words.  For lack of a good explanation, it is a feeling that the host tries to impart and a feeling that overtakes the guests as they experience the meal.  From the trailer, Washoku – Beyond Sushi looks to explain this difficult Japanese cultural phenomenon.

For more information:

Be mindful

plato-quoteThis is so true.  The same goes for what it means to be a “good student.”  Everyone knows the difference between right and wrong.  Just as everyone knows what is “healthy” to eat and what is not.  The teacher should have to continually tell you “no.”  We are all, for the most part, grown ups and can act accordingly.  Yaiba ni tsuyoki mono wa rei ni suguru” means that the greatest warriors surpass all others in etiquette and decorum.  From an 1856 newspaper article from England:

Mr. Wiseman then cautioned his young friends as to the habits they contracted in early life:—”Whatsoever a man soweth that shall he also reap.” You sow an act, you reap a habit (acts repeated constitute habits); you sow a habit, you reap a character; you sow a character, you reap a destiny. Let them, he said, cultivate habits of industry, application, and order, and they might rely upon it, with God’s blessing, they would succeed in life.

Please be mindful about not only what you say and do, but in what you think.  It really does matter.

Kirareyaku – the art of being killed on screen

Ever seen me?

Ever seen me?

Ever seen this guy?  Chances are you have but never knew it.  He has been killed over 50,000 times on screen.  His name is Seizo Fukumoto and he has made kirareyaku or the art of spectacularly dying on screen into an actual art.  His signature move is the Ebi-zori or prawn bend and it usually comes when the star needs a close up.  You also might have most recently seen him in the Last Samurai as Tom Cruise’s silent bodyguard.


Fukumoto's signature move the Ebi-zori or Prawn bend

Fukumoto’s signature move the Ebi-zori or Prawn bend

From the Guardian:
Fukomoto has played the kirareyaku in samurai movies and television shows stretching back to the 1960s. He began acting at the age of 15 in the Japanese equivalent of Hollywood, Kyoto, and is now considered one of the nation’s top exponents of the role. The actor’s signature move is the “ebi-zori”or “prawn bend”, which involves arching of the back, twisting and convulsing during a screen death. Fukomoto says he invented it to give himself extra screen-time, because the convulsion results in the kirareyaku’s face being turned to the camera just before he falls to the ground.

Speaking to NPR, Fukumoto stated “Whenever we die, we have to do it in a way that is unsightly or clumsy, not graceful and in this buzama (clumsiness) we find beauty. To die in an uncool way is the coolest.”  Fukumoto show us that we can bring a sense of grace and art to whatever it is we are doing regardless if it is glamorous or not.

Fukumoto in the Last Samurai with Tom Cruise

Fukumoto in the Last Samurai with Tom Cruise

Want to read more about Seizo Fukumoto?


Sometimes it comes down to the etiquette

I recently read an article that I thought people might enjoy.

Karen Crouse of the New York Times reports that Mickelson’s coach at Arizona State was looking for recommendations for getting Mickelson a caddie when he turned pro in 1992.

He looked to Mackay who was caddying for somebody else at the time.
“Mackay mentioned a few candidates, and described their strengths, but he had to cut short the conversation because his player showed up. Mackay wrote Loy a note apologizing for having to hurry off, and included his phone number in case Loy had any more questions.”

The hand-written note.  What happened after that?
“Mickelson saw the note and appreciated Mackay’s gesture. He told Loy he had identified whom he wanted to carry his bag. When Mickelson made his first professional PGA Tour start, at the 1992 United States Open, Mackay was at his side.”

Mickelson has made over $75 million on the PGA Tour. Even if we estimate on the lowest end of things (7 percent of earnings with no base salary…and it’s almost definitely higher than that), then that was a $5.25 million note from Mackay to Mickelson’s coach.

Always send hand-written notes.


Doing the right thing at the right time is the indication of a well trained “good” student. To become a “good” student requires that the student have a good heart and that the student have an earnest desire to improve.  One MUST possess both of these qualities.  If they don’t then they will only go so far.  A good teacher or practitioner will recognize a well trained student.  Mickelson recognized how good Mackay was just by this one seemingly benign gesture.  That seemingly benign gesture employed at the right time is what separates the good ones from the great ones.

What is it supposed to feel like?

vol 4What does Aikido feel like at its highest level?  It is hard to describe the feeling.  I have only been thrown down this way as an uke a few times in my career and it’s not a level I have attained as a nage either.  The DVD cover to volume 4 captured one of the times.  I attacked Sensei and then felt completely weight less for what felt like a long time and then gravity just took me and I came crashing down like a ton of bricks.  It felt like Sensei lifted me up somehow and then dropped me off a building.  Oh and I sustained a concussion from this very throw too.  I saw this fountain at Downtown Disney which best illustrates the feeling of being thrown by someone with a high level of skill in Aikido.  The splat at the end of the video is what it feels like.  As if someone turned off the power or pulled the rug out from under you.  You have no control and just go down.

You can see this same feeling when O Sensei throws all these guys down all at once at 1:18 of this video.

Sorry about that…

I apologize for any confusion.  I forgot to notify everyone that I would be out of town for 2 weeks and that there would be no Daily Message for that time.  Sorry for the confusion.  The Daily Message will resume tomorrow.


Are you centered?

In Aikido, all movement comes from the center.  In more generic terms, the movement in Aikido can be thought of as moving your hips (lower body) from one place to another.  When we think of “movement”, we naturally think of how are feet transport us in space from one place to the next.  This is not entirely incorrect from a biomechanics perspective, but it is inaccurate from an Aikido or martial arts perspective.  As Aikidoists, we should think in terms of our hips and lower body and not just our feet.  If we just think feet or footwork then we run the risk of not properly aligning our center (hips) with our feet and thus find ourselves off balance.  One’s center, hara (Japanese), or dan tien (Chinese) can be found just above where our hip bones crest.  We should think of moving this area from one place to the next and not moving just our feet.  In order to be “centered” our shoulders need to be back, our hips need to be aligned with our feet and our minds need to be calm.  From this place we can meet any challenge in a balanced way from our centers.

How do you choose…

Bunkai-photos-FunakoshiQuestion: How do you choose what technique to do to a person when you are attacked?

Answer: It basically comes down to the orientation of power administered by the attack.

Huh?  If a person is striking you or grabbing you, their power will be oriented in a certain way.  Striking attacks are designed to deliver power at a precise angle and to a precise spot.  For example if a person wants to knock you out using an uppercut punch, the torso is turned inward and the fist is turning while the back foot pivots and the upper body reaches up.  In grabbing attacks, how a person grabs you is based on what they want to do to you.  For instance if they want to pull you, many times the palm will be oriented upwards to engage the biceps and back musculature.

One has to know or understand not only how their opponent is attacking them but also how the person is utilizing their power in order to properly address any attack.  When you know these two things, you can defeat most opponents.

Recognizing the attack and its power base needs to be done in a blink of an eye.  Generally, most martial arts don’t talk about these things because it is bad for the student to get caught “thinking.”  That is why almost all martial arts are kata based in which the student repeatedly practices a set of prescribed movements and becomes proficient at them without thinking.  When it becomes “second nature” the practitioner unconsciously recognizes and meets similar attacks in a certain way.  Without knowing it their minds and bodies learn the proper way to address specific attacks and thus can act within a split second the right way without thinking.   The kata is how we learn it first with our bodies then later we come to understand it with our minds.  If a picture is worth a thousand words, then the kata is how we understand a thousand things with just one movement.

Thank you

I appreciate and are grateful to everyone who attended Sensei’s services this weekend.  I know that Sensei would be happy that people still remember him even if it is this one day a year.  Let’s try and stretch that out and put him into our hearts and prays everyday.

It reflects on you as a martial artist

Here is story from last weekend’s dojo dance:

The dance ended at 11:30 PM and many of the students stayed to help clean-up afterwards.  It was a difficult task as many them had already been up since 5:00 AM for early morning intensive and would undoubtedly not get home until close to 2:00 AM.  Naturally, the kaikan (meeting hall) was a mess and there was a lot to do.  This was the first time we had used this kaikan so we couldn’t know or plan for the clean-up.  When the lights came on each student ran off and started cleaning up different areas.  One party goer commented, “Wow, you guys cleaned up fast.”  When it came time to mop the entire hall at the end, a kind lady told us, “Oh, don’t mop it all down.  Just spot mop it.  Nobody will notice.”  One of the students replied, “That’s OK.  We have to mop the whole thing.”  The same lady came back later and commented, “This place has never been so clean.  I didn’t even know it still shined.”  She went and got other party goers that were still milling around to show them and they all agreed.

It made me so happy when this lady was praising us.  I wasn’t happy because she praised us.  I was happy because in her praise she was validating our thoroughness as martial artist.  As martial artists our conduct reflects how well we are trained.  A tenet that warriors live by is, “Bushi no ichigon kintetsu no gotoshi” which roughly means that a warrior’s word is gold.  We say we are martial artists then we must act like martial artists.  When we borrow something we give it back in the same condition or better.  There is no place for duplicity in the martial arts.  If we say we will do it then we will.  Our conduct, our actions and our word reflect on us as martial artists, as Aikidoists, as student’s at the ACLA, on the dojo, on Sensei as our teacher, on Aikido as our art and on O Sensei as our founder.  As martial artists we have integrity and therefore our actions must mirror our words.