Monthly Archives: June 2015

How will you use your extra leap second?

tumblr_nnzrmygL5l1u3bq3no1_1280karate3Someone once told me a story that Bruce Lee used to have a mini makiwara (striking target) set up in his car so he could practice hitting while driving.  Regardless if you like Bruce Lee or not, the fact of the matter is that Bruce Lee was someone who would do or try just about anything to improve himself.  That is the difference between being a winner and a loser.

Even if a student came to class everyday that would only yield them seven to thirteen hours of training per week.  That number pales in comparison to the 168 hours there are in a week. With that being said, in order to get a head one must put in some time outside of class in order to improve faster.

There is a Japanese saying, chiri wo tsumoreba yama to naru which means “Even specks of dust if piled up can eventually become a mountain.”  There is always something to improve upon or something that needs to be done to stave something off.  The infographic above shows what someone could do despite the fact that they are sequestered behind a desk all day to maintain or improve themselves.   All one would have to do is use their imagination to find ways to create opportunities to either improve or maintain themselves.  It doesn’t matter if it is Aikido or knitting, “Idle hands are the devil’s hands” – just do something.

Today as we are blessed with one more second, what will you do with that extra precious moment?


One of the three historic deaths in battle

morozumiThis Kuniyoshi woodblock print depicts Morozumi Masakiyo or Morozumi Torasada committing suicide.  Masakiyo Morozumi was a famous General under Takeda Shingen.  His death is chronicled in this woodblock titled as San Uchijini No Uchi or or One of the Three Heroic Deaths in Battle.  Supposedly at the time Morozumi was in his eighties and had served three generations of the Takeda family in many different battles.  This famous General was killed in the fourth battle between Takeda Shingen and Uesugi Kenshin.  From what little I have found on this print, Morozumi committed suicide by thrusting his sword into his mouth just as a cannonball lands and kills him and all his followers.


How do you sit?

The chair in Japan can be traced back to the Kofun period (ca. 250-538 AD), but it didn’t really come in to favor until the Meiji era (ca. 1868-1912 AD).  Even after the Meiji era, Japanese people still tended to sit on the floor.  Nowadays in Japan as with everywhere else, there are chairs available everywhere.  Traditionally, how one sits in Japan is based on the situation and the level of formality required.  Here are some of the traditional ways Japanese people sit based on the formality of the situation.

Seiza 星座

Sensei sitting in Seiza 星座

Seiza (正座) is the politest and most formal way to sit for a man or a woman.  Seiza is a difficult way for Westerners to sit and is becoming especially so in Japan as well most likely due to sitting in chairs.  One sits with their legs folded underneath their thighs with their buttocks resting on the heels.  The ankles turn outward to for a V with the toes touching.  It is considered bad form and a sign of uncouthness to have the feet overlap.  In Japan depending on the situation and level of formality, one might be required to sit in seiza.  For instance, in Doshu’s office there are chairs and tables and there is no need to sit in seiza because the atmosphere or context might not warrant any formality, but if Doshu were to be scolding you or if you were to be receive something official like rank then you might want to sit in seiza as sign of respect.


Yokozuwari 横座り

Yokozuwari 横座り

Yokozuwari or side sitting is an appropriate formal alternative to seiza for women.  This is the way Disney’s Princess Ariel sits with her tail wrapped behind her.  Therefore a man who sits in yokozuwari might seem effeminate sitting this way.




Agura 胡座

O Sensei sitting in Agura 胡座

Agura (胡座) or sometimes called anza translates as barbarian sitting is a more relaxed posture a man might take when they cannot sit seiza any longer or have a injury.  It is formally known as cross legged.  Generally, anza is an informal posture and not appropriate for formal occasions or for when a gesture of respect is need to be given.  Women are not supposed to sit in anza, but that is changing in Japan.



Taiiku suwari 体育座り

Taiiku suwari 体育座り

Taiiku suwari is an alternative form for both men and women to sit.  It is an informal style of sitting and can be seen in a physical education class where children are sitting on hard floors.  One might use it as a rest position between seiza or anza to give their buttocks, knees or ankles a rest.





Obachan suwari おばあちゃん座り

Obachan suwari

Obachan suwari or grandma sitting is where you sit in a modified seiza position where you don’t sit on your ankles but sit between them.  This style of sitting is often seen in Yoga class and is called Hero’s pose. This is a seated position only for women unless of course one is taking a Yoga class.





Tatehiza 立て膝

Tatehiza 立て膝

Tatehiza (立て膝) can be for men and women but has grown into an informal way to sit.  Tatehiza translates as standing knee and was designed as a way for warriors to sit on the battlefield in armor.  So it is kind of weird gray area when it comes to formality.  Sitting in tatehiza in a formal situation might come off as an affectation of politeness and thus seem disingenuous and rude especially since it came from the battlefield and might be misunderstood as a sign of contrariness or readiness to attack.  Today we see this posture in casual settings and at the higher levels of Iaido techniques.  It is actually not that easy to get into or tatehizaget out of in a pinch.





All learning is predefined and predetermined

Most martial arts exist on the platform of “If this, then that.”  When they are attacked like this, then they will act with that.  From this basis, one can see why almost all martial arts at their core contain sets of kata or predetermined and predefined movement.  One might be asking themselves “Why?” and “Isn’t it fake then?”  The answer to both of those questions is yes and no.  It all comes down to learning or, rather, “How does one learn to act in any given situation?”

How we act is a function of pattern recognition.  Our brains recognize a pattern then act appropriately.  The brain has the uncanny ability to adapt to any situation.  It adapts based on similarities.  For instance when you are driving a car and someone cuts you off, the circumstance isn’t the same as the last time nor did you train defensively to maneuver out of the way, but you steered out of harms way successfully nonetheless.  How did you do this?  Through imprinting.  All of ones driving experience and training becomes imprinted into their mind.  From there our minds take that imprinting and lay it over the current situation and hence you came out safe.  This is also why younger and newer drivers get into accidents far more often than older or more experienced drivers.

With the kata practice, the practitioners are trying to imprint scenarios into their minds so that they may act appropriately when they are confronted.  It won’t be the same each time out but our minds are extremely capable of picking out the similarities and acting appropriately like when swerving out of the other car’s path.  Also, all of this needs to be done in the blink of an eye.

To say that kata or form is meaning less is to not understand how human’s learn.  From the moment we are born, we are copying down patterns of movement.  I don’t think any baby came out of the womb walking or talking and thus needs a form to copy.  Based on this knowledge we can see that predefined movement is how we as humans learn and are thus able to act accordingly within a blink of an eye.

Wonderful calligraphy and poem

Tori naite yama sara ni shizuka nari

Tori naite yama sara
ni shizuka nari

Tori naite yama sara
ni shizuka nari.

With the cry of a bird – the serenity of the mountains deepens.

A phrase by Chinese poet Wang An-shi (1021-1086).

Art has a way of expressing what the heart cannot.  These lines of poetry really speak to me.  As I read them I could feel its meaning without explanation.  That is what good art does.  It took me back to my childhood spent camping in the boy scouts and my fond memories.

The Power of Tenkan

tenkan-aikidoWhy do we do the tenkan exercise every class?  At its highest level, tenkan is an old technique that was designed to bring about or teach us how to use our ki (氣) or energy.  On another level, tenkan is a diagnostic tool which can demonstrate exactly where we are in our technique and where we are as human beings.  Tenkan brings about so many questions and answers on so many different levels that it is almost unfathomable that a human being created it.

Here are but a small number of questions one can ask their tenkan:

Where are my feet?
What are my feet supposed to be doing?
What are my hands and arms supposed to be doing?
Did I fight with the person on the way in?
Did I give in to the person on the way in?
Did I place too much emphasis on turning?
Did I use my hips?
Where did my mind go during the movement?Did I hold my breathe?
Do I lean in when I irimi?
Did I fall asleep for just a moment?
Am I getting bored?
What emotions am I experiencing?
Were my steps too short or too shallow?
Where are my hips and what are they aligned with?
Can I get longer?
Can I stretch more
What am I supposed to be thinking about during the technique?
What did the teacher just say?
What did the teacher just correct?

The list could go on and on…

In this post we are just taking about tenkan from the standpoint of the nage.  We didn’t even get into it in terms of being the uke, but the questions are pretty much the same.  The next time you are in class, please pay closer attention to tenkan or all the other techniques for that matter.  They really do say a lot about you and where you are in your technique.

Is that the right time?

Kendo Master Mochida Moriji executing kizeme

Kendo Master Mochida Moriji executing kizeme

Timing, spacing and the center line (seichusen) are the three main factors that one is trying to control in any confrontation.  Of the three, timing is the most intangible and that makes it one of the hardest to learn.  Think about it.  Spacing can be controlled by one’s foot work, by one’s strength or flexibility, by how one makes use of the seichusen and by timing.  The seichusen can also be controlled by one’s foot work, by how one uses their body, by controlling the spacing or by having a command of timing.  Timing cannot be controlled by anything external and theoretically can only be controlled by how one uses their mind, their ki (energy) and/or their kokyu (breathing).

What is timing?  Timing can be loosely defined as doing the right thing at the right time.  But that definition itself is too simple and short sighted.  Timing can be thought of as the physical manifestation of one’s ki and kokyu.  It is said that, “To have a command of the faculties of ki and kokyu is to be one with the universe and thus able to wield it.”

Having a command of ki and kokyu and enables one to use their minds/spirit to defeat the opponent.  This domination is called kizeme in kendo.

Before one can control ki and kokyo and attain kizeme one has to follow the natural progression.  First master the body and the physical movements.  Then master the mind.  Then finally master kokyu and ki.

One can see that to master timing is the just the beginning of the internal journey in the martial arts.  How does one learn timing?  Timing is only something that can be learned with diligent and dedicated practice.  Tons and tons of practice.



Aikido – The art of peace

master-ueshiba-moriheiTo confront, collide or to fight is not the Way of Aikido.  Aikido’s goal is to bring harmony to not only the situation but to the world.  When a person confronts you and tries to destroy you, they are only hurting themselves.  When we live our lives on a plane of higher existence, we can clearly see the bigger picture.  The bigger picture is that this person who is confronting us is really suffering.  As we realize he is suffering, we realize that this person is human and in realizing this person’s humanity we realize that they are ignorant.  They are ignorant to the true nature of their suffering and also that their action will only lead them to more suffering regardless to whom they think is to blame.  I recently read a quote from a famous criminal psychologist who summed up why murders are not evil by saying, “Most of these killers are best understood as untreated, traumatized children who inhabit and control the minds, hearts, and bodies of adult men.”  We are martial artists who live our lives a different way than the average person.  Our abilities come with a certain amount of responsibility.  Once we can understand our own humanity then we can realize the humanity in others.  Therefore with this understanding we realize the only remedy for this person’s attack is to giving them compassion.  Consequently, the Way of Aikido is born.  Aikido does not attempt to destroy other, but to harmonize with them, to give them compassion and hence change the world.  We are all saints and sinners and are all in need of kindness, compassion and forgiveness.  Thus, we cannot destroy others because we would only be destroying ourselves.