Monthly Archives: August 2015

Hold it right there…

After the initial moment of contact or engagement, a moment arises where the nage pauses to assess the situation.  I say momentary because this pause depends heavily on the practitioner’s level of training.  I quantify the pause as a moment because only you can define how long a moment is because it depends on one’s level of training.

Generally speaking…
Beginners take a more physical pause, up to a second, where they assess if the have either broken their opponents balance or if they are in the proper position.  With this information, they proceed accordingly.

For intermediate practitioners,  they work to decrease the amount of time they pause to assess the situation but there might still be a noticeable physical pause.

For advanced practitioners, the pause becomes more mental and may not even be externally apparent to the uninformed onlooker.

What would the pause look like for a technique like sumi otoshi after the initial attack and irimi movement…
The beginner pauses to see if their irimi movement was deep enough and if their opponents balance is broken enough to throw them.  If not they will have to inch in deeper to make the throw work.  The pause could be up to one second.

The intermediate level person can physically pause too, but their pause should be ever so slightly physical and inching toward the mental.  They try and cut down the amount of time they pause, but they still pause.  I would say that you should be able to barely make out the physical pause.

The expert’s pause is purely mental and almost looks like they don’t even physically pause between the initial irimi and the second step through.

This idea of a pause is heavily associated with the idea of zanshin which many associate with the ending of the technique in Aikido.  Zanshin really means a state of total awareness where the mind doesn’t rest or stop at any one point.  The reason I say that the pause and zanshin are tied together is that the pause is zanshin at work.  For a beginner, it is easy to loose focus so the duration of the zanshin only extends to after the initial irimi or tenshin movement after the onset of the attack.  The more experienced person tries to maintain zanshin throughout the movement.  After one is able to maintain zanshin throughout the technique and demonstrate it at the end of the technique, one tries to extend the zanshin longer.  They try and make it last more than one technique, then throughout the whole class, then for a few hours, then the whole day and eventually into every moment of one’s entire life.

Zanshin is a state of total awareness that begins with a pause.


New Beverly Cinema to show Chinese martial arts movies in September

Sept New BevWhen I was younger (probably too young), my father used to take me to see martial arts movies.  I can remember seeing Bruce Lee movies, all the Shogun Assassin movies, many samurai movies and tons of Chinese martial arts movies. I think seeing those movies played a pivotal role in me becoming a martial artist later on in life.  Unlike most of the martial arts movies of today, those older films always were almost always centered around a moral message or cautionary tale that were not unlike a Greek tragedy.  The protagonist was always some person who had to not only over come some situational adversity but also a personal one as well.

In the month of September, New Beverly Cinema (owned by Quentin Tarantino) will be showing many of the Shaw Brothers greatest Kung fu movies.  Many of the movies being shown, I have seen personally but there a few I have not. I can recommended Gordon Liu in the 35 Chambers of Shaolin and Jimmy Wang Yu in the One-Armed Swordsman, both are classics.

They will also be showing Akira Kurosawa’s Yojimbo starring Toshiro Mifune on September 4 and 5 at 9:35 pm.

Must read: Zen and the Art of Archery

Kyudo Master Awa Kenzo

Kyudo Master Awa Kenzo

Miyamoto Musashi said, “To know one way is to know all ways.”  What he was referring to is that what it takes to follow a Way and get good at it is the same for all arts.  I was reading Eugen Herrigel’s Zen and the Art of Archery from Sensei’s library.  Zen and the Art of Archery is an account of Herrigel’s training in Kyudo in 1924 under Awa Kenzo and depicts what it was like to be a student of a traditional Japanese art or Way before WWII.  There is a marked difference in training and learning before and after WWII (I have a whole theory that I may write about another day).  If you look into Awa Kenzo’s life, it is eerily like O Sensei’s and you can see many parallels in their teachings and approaches to their arts.  I think Herrigel deftly illustrates how serious and strict teachers from an era gone by used to be.  It is funny because when I read it, I could see so much of it in Sensei.

Zen and the Art of Archery is a must read for anyone who follows any art seriously.


If you want to get a PDF copy of the book:

Chiba Sensei explanation of masakatsu agatsu katsuhayabi

A student of Sensei’s from the “good old days” emailed this to me.  It is an article that Chiba Sensei wrote that Sensei translated back in the 80s.  I found it a very good explanation of             O Sensei’s masakatsu agatsu katsuhayabi theory.  Let this be your guide in your Aikido training.

by TK Chiba Shihan (Translation: Daniel M. Furuya)

“Sansho,” the name we finally decided on for our newsletter, is taken from the “three victories” found in Masakatsu, Agatsu, and Katsuhayabi, the three principles of Aikido training which the Founder was fond of using when he was alive. Masakatsu Agatsu Katsuhayabi is the name of a god identified in the Kojiki, (Records of Ancient Matters, 8th Century).  The original name was Masakatsu-Agatsu-Katsuhayabi Amenooshiomino-mikoto.  The following is an explanation of the meaning of these three terms as they are used in Aikido training.


Masakatsu means the victory which comes from the correct method; that is, the law of universal creative evolution which transcends the boundaries of prejudice and discrimination and abandons the consciousness of the ego.  It is victory through the unification of the love of the Creator.   It is not an earthly victory, but a spiritual one, as shown in Matthew 6:19-21: “Do not horde any treasure for yourself on this earth which can be devoured by worms, corrupted by rust, or stolen by robbers.  Rather, for your own sake, keep your treasure in Heaven where no worms will eat it, nor rust corrode it, nor robbers steal it.  Where your treasure is, your heart is.”

Let us also consider the Founder’s words:

There is no enemy in real budo.  Real budo is the operation of love.  It is the operation of creative evolution which gives life to and nurtures all things.  Aikido is not winning and losing by fighting with martial techniques.”

“Real budo means absolutely no defeat.  Absolute non-defeatism means that there is no conflict with anyone or anything.  Thus, Aikido is not training to become stronger or to throw down your opponent.  It is necessary to have a mind which unifies itself with the center of the universe and somehow helps a little to bring about peace in the world.”

“Aikido is a compass which directs the completion of the mission of each person who is part of the body and soul of God.  It is the way of loving protection of all creation.”

In his book, “My Life and Thoughts,” Dr. Albert Schweitzer explained his concept of life in the chapter, “Reverence Toward Life: ” “There are two experiences which throw a shadow over my life.  One is my observation that this world is difficult to explain, full of mystery, and abounding with suffering.  And the other is that this present age is a period of spiritual decay of the human race.  This is my opinion.  But, as for these two points, I have concluded in my studies that there is an affirmation of life and a world of reason as in ‘reverence toward life.’  Within these thoughts, my life has found a solid foundation and direction….”

“The world is not only shape and form, but life itself.  Toward life in this world within the limitations of my contact, I am not only passive, but I must perform actively.  By serving where there is life, I achieve deeds which are meaningful in this world…”

“Regarding the principle of ‘reverence toward life,’ one must realistically present and realistically solve the problem of how to bring mankind together in this world.  As for what mankind knows of this world, all living things express a will to life just as himself.  The method to unite a man of active existence and the world is for him not to live for himself, but to regard himself and all creation that comes in contact with him as one body.  He experiences this destiny within himself and gives all the assistance he can to others.  Thus, when one advances the life of another and gives assistance with one’s own power, one feels the taste of the utmost happiness within one’s self.”

To experience victory based on correct method of reasoning is to transcend from what the mid-l7th century sword master, Harigaya Sekiun, called animalistic warfare, meaning “to win over lesser opponents, lose to stronger ones, and draw against equals.”  “Nothing was decisive.”  Therefore, it could be said that this method is not the way of the sword used by human beings, but identical to the struggles among tigers and wolves.

Simply put, instinctive passive animals cannot place themselves higher and avoid facing other animals.  Therefore, at any time and place, they can eat or be eaten, and the only way to survive is to eat the others.  As long as you live in this kind of world, no matter how proud you are of your strength, you must perpetually live in uncertainty and uneasiness.  It is impossible to find a safe haven.

When an older Miyamoto Musashi looked back at the early half of his life, he confessed that the more than sixty victories he won by the age of thirty were either the result of his opponent’s inferiority, his own luck, or both.  There were no true victories due to accomplished swordsmanship.


Agatsu means to have victory over one’s self.  An understanding of Masakatsu as a preface and foundation is necessary for explaining Agatsu. The bandit in the mountain is easy to defeat, but the bandit within your own heart is difficult to conquer, it is said.  For the man who looks at his true self within his self, his most fearful opponent is no one other than himself.

The Founder taught that the form of Aikido techniques is useful for developing flexibility in the joints.  Then we must purify and cleanse the sins of the six roots (eye, ear, nose, tongue, body, and consciousness.) Through Aikido, we must cleanse and purify our six roots and return to God, leaving everything up to Him.

Of all the six roots (seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, touching, and knowing), nothing belongs to us.  The desire to possess material things derived from these six roots is the cause of sin.  By purifying and cleansing this desire, we can unify ourselves with our origin. Before we can complete others, unless we complete ourselves, we cannot serve the spirit of God.  Victory means winning the struggle within your own soul.  It is to complete the mission given to you as part of the body and soul of God.

If you wish to train in Aikido, you must open the mind’s eye, listen to God’s truth through the spirit of Aiki, and practice it.  You must perceive this great cleansing and gladly undertake spiritual training.  Therefore, people with this kind of heart, please listen to the voice of Aiki.  It is not to correct others, but to correct one’s own soul.  This is Aikido.

For those who are unable to help themselves, there is no way they can help others build their lives.  Denial of the materialistic attitude derived from the six roots is entirely in opposition to the instinct to possess.  Through courageous self-denial, it becomes possible to help others. When an individual establishes himself as actively realizing his life, he realizes that his true life exists in oneness with his origin and with other lives.  Thus, self-denial leads to self-discovery by returning to the original oneness which transcends the ego.  In this way, a means of helping others becomes apparent.


Katsuhayabi means the eternal victory which goes beyond time and space.  It is not a victory of time, space, condition, or cause and effect relationships.  This victory is an absolutely unchanging victory which is the essence of victory. The Founder said: “My Aikido has no time and space; only the universe.”  This is called ‘Katsuhayabi.’  In real Budo, there is no opponent or enemy.  I become one with the Universe and become one with its center.

“In my Aikido, with just this one wooden sword, I draw in all of the mysterious essence of the Universe.  With this one sword, I draw in all the past, present, and future.  The life which starts from the sound of infinity lives in this one sword.  I, who live in the past, and who live in the present, live.  My eternal life flourishes.”

What does the Founder’s fierce and colossal self-confidence say to us?  It teaches that the real victor is the one who awakens to the true principle of the oneness of the Universe and experiences it. No matter who is the victor, if he goes against the true principles of the oneness of the Universe, his victory is temporary, conditional, and relative.  It is not the eternal, absolute, unvarying victory.  This demonstrates that human sins, loneliness, and unhappiness originate in blindness and indifference to the true principles of the oneness of the Universe.


If you look at victory as discussed in the paragraphs above, then Masakatsu, Agatsu, and Katsuhayabi are not three different forms of victory, but one true principle viewed from different angles.  Thus, life which penetrates the fundamental concept of “Sansho” exemplifies the principle of the oneness of the Universe.

From this aspect, “Sansho” can be defined as follows:

Masakatsu – The victory that contributes to the oneness of the Universe is the only true victory.

Agatsu – Self-cultivation serving the oneness of the Universe and accomplishment of the true mission given to each of us.

Katsuhayabi – The unvarying victory existing in the experience of becoming one with the oneness of the Universe.

Aikido, as a result, is a discipline of the true realization of the oneness of the Universe and the training of new warriors who are awakened to its truth.  Superiority or inferiority in one’s attitude, Aikido lowered to the level of martial arts based on winning and losing, or simply the idea of amusement (self-satisfaction), and of course, using Aikido as a tool for profit are all monstrous revolts against the Founder’s teaching.

As each of us becomes the warrior who is a courageous practitioner of the true principle of the oneness of the Universe, our Aikido can finally become a “Budo” which the world is seeking as far more fundamental than traditional martial arts. The qualification for becoming that warrior is courageous practice of “Sansho” as embodied in Masakatsu, Agatsu, and Katsuhayabi.

Source: Chiba, TK. “Sansho.” Sansho: Journal of the United States Aikido Federation Western Region 26 Apr. 1983. Print.


What did you get out of it?

In a perfect world, we always think that everything should be nice and work out in our favor.  But, as they say, “Life happens” and this coincidentally is where suffering begins.  We want what we want when we want it.  Anything else causes us to feel bad about ourselves and to suffer.  There is a saying, “You can’t get olive oil until you squeeze the olive.”  The implication is that adversity is the key to getting what one wants out of life.  Therefore it all comes down to context.  The famed psychiatrist Viktor Frankel who was a survivor of Auschwitz said, “In some ways suffering ceases to be suffering at the moment it finds a meaning, such as the meaning of a sacrifice.”

The hardest part about suffering is that in the moment we forget that this adversity is creating an opportunity for us.  John F. Kennedy erroneously said, “In the Chinese language, the word “crisis” is composed of two characters, one representing danger and the other, opportunity” (I say erroneously because he is technically not correct, but his heart was in the right place).  It is easy to look back and see the negativity, suffering and scarcity but that only leads us to more negativity and to more suffering.  Like begets like.  The other day, I went to hear a prominent Buddhist priest speak with some of my students.  The lecture, if it could be called that, was more MTV than anything else.  As we left, some of my students grumbled about it.  When they asked me about it I said, “I didn’t get nothing.”

“I didn’t get nothing,” albeit not grammatically correct, means that there is something there despite the fact that we cannot see it.  We just have to be willing and open to seeing something different and use it to gain context and perspective.  The phrase, “I didn’t get nothing” helps remind us that there might be something there that won’t be revealed until later on, but we are open and willing to wait and see.

As we adjust our vision just a tad bit, we might just see the context with which this thing is unfolding and realize its place in the grand scheme of our lives.  Then as “Life happens” we can seize the opportunity that is at our feet and understand that we can get something out to this event.  Every thing, every person and every situation is unfolding in our favor, we just don’t realize it yet.  When something happens regardless if it is good or bad, ask yourself, “What is that I am not seeing that is being gifted to me?”  If you can do that then you won’t have gotten nothing.

Martial arts IQ: How a bow and arrow works

Why should we know or care how a bow and arrow works in the modern age?  It is not like we will be attacked by an archer and need to know something about their craft.  This is true, but knowing or having an understanding of something makes us more well rounded.  The man being interviewed in the video is a world famous long bow archer.  So it is not what we learn about archery that is important, but how a master views his craft as they explain how it works.  Miyamoto Musashi said, “To truly know one Way is to know all Ways.”  The science is fun and interesting to me, but seeing the master Byron Ferguson is really what you should be focusing on.  Plus, if we call ourselves martial artists then we can never underestimate our opponents or the situation.  Remember, surprise the key to winning almost any battle.  So if someone pulls out a bow, you will hopefully know how to negotiate their advances.

The mind – the most important factor

watchSomeone asked me, “What is the one aspect in the Aikido technique they should master?”  The most important element I told them is the mind.  In Buddhism, they have a saying, “mind matters most.”  More than what we do or what we say, what and how we think are the most influential factors in our lives.  Every action and every word began as a thought in our minds.  The physical movement is non existent without the initiation of the mind.  The movement is therefore a physical manifestation of our minds.  Therefore, mind matters most.

In the beginning, we are told to train with the goal of clearing our minds and to “not think.”  This enables the training to clear our minds of “clutter” which is similar to meditation training.  This is also why we are not supposed to talk and keep the distractions to a minimum.  After we have mastered the movements and have de-cluttered our minds, we can then bring our minds back into the movements in order to take our training to an even higher level.

“Watch your thoughts, they become words; watch your words, they become actions; watch your actions, they become habits; watch your habits, they become character; watch your character, for it becomes your destiny” is a quote that is attributed to several prolific historical figures.  Regardless of its origin it succinctly sums up how our minds or more importantly how we think factors into our lives.  The mind is the best tool we possess, but we must master it because as the old adage goes, “it is a wonderful servant, but a terrible master.”  Therefore, be mindful of how you use your brain because the mind matters most.

Fall down seven times, get up eight.



















When we are thrown down in class, we get back up.  This is courage.  With these simple moves, we are teaching ourselves to have the strength to carry on.  This is what training teaches us.

Japanese proverb: Nanakorobi yaoki (七転び八起き) or “fall down seven times, get up eight.”

Martial Arts IQ series: Mifune Kyuzo Sensei

I thought I would start an on-going series that would improve people’s martial arts IQ.  We tend to get pigeon holed into our own styles and I hope that with this series people will be able to expand their horizons.  When I was a student, we were exposed to masters from many different martial art styles as they came by the dojo to talk shop with Sensei.  Sadly, some of those people have passed and I don’t know any other teachers.  So I thought, from time to time, that I would  post videos, articles or other information on past masters of any style of martial arts so that people can learn and increase their knowledge about the martial arts.  I will retroactively go back and re-title some of my past posts under “Martial arts IQ” so that people will know how to search for them.

Below is a video of Mifune Kyuzo who is considered to be one of the greatest judo technicians of all time.  It was said that he was, “more feared than loved” for his tenaciousness on the mat.  He was ranked 10th dan in Judo and passed away in 1965 at the age of 81.  He was Jigoro Kano’s successor and the head of Kodokan judo.  He is credited with the creation of ukiotoshi (floating drop) and kukiotoshi (air throw).  Both of these throws are advanced in execution because they require a high sense of balance and timing.  These two throws look surprisingly like Aikido throws and no doubt had an influence on some Aikido techniques because many judoists switched to Aikido later on in their careers during that time after meeting O Sensei.  Sensei, in his library, had several of Mifune Sensei’s books like the Canon of Judo.  You can see his grace and knowledge of the techniques as he throws around younger and stronger judoist and circumvents their techniques with a sense of calmness and ease.


Human beings by nature are creatures of habit.  These habits are things or tendencies that are done in specific patterns which can be done consciously or unconsciously.

As martial artists we call these patterns kata or a set of pre-determined movements.   We drill and drill these katas so that they become “natural” or habituated.  We need them to become “natural” so that our brains can use the habituated movements for pattern recognition.  Pattern recognition?

When we are confronted by an opponent, we don’t have any idea of what they will do.  This confrontation happens in a blink of an eye and we must act.  Our brains group things into patterns based on similarities.  Therefore, when we are attacked, our brains act appropriately according to the recognized pattern.  The circumstance of ikkyo might not be ideal but the brain picks up on any similarity in the attack that one might employ ikkyo and thus pulls out the ikkyo file to be used.  Haven’t you ever been in class and the teacher changes to another technique with the same attack and on the first try you do the previous technique?  That is your brain’s usage of pattern recognition.

Every person has a tendency.  The tendency is what every cop or heist show on TV is based upon.  The bad guy knows that the good guy always eats dinner at this one restaurant so they either plan to attack them or burglarize his house as he drinks the same latte at the same time everyday.

We use this strategy in martial arts as well.  We train and train to get good at a technique like ikkyo so that when our opponent presents us with an ikkyo like situation we can capitalize it – we recognized that this can lead us to use ikkyo and we seize the opportunity.  In order for our brains or instincts to have the “aha” moment when we recognize the pattern, we must train and not just superficially.  We must train like crazy so that movement becomes “natural” or second nature.  Only then can we use our habits or patterned behaviors to our advantage.  No training means no habits.  Having no habits means we will be left thinking about what to do when the time comes and possibly miss the boat or as Sensei was fond of saying “The moment has passed.”