Monthly Archives: January 2016

Can someone become an expert in a year?

“It takes 1,000 days to forge the spirit and 10,000 days to polish it.” – Miyamoto Musashi

What do you want?  Who do you want to be?  What do you want to do?  What do you want to accomplish?  All these questions arise sometime in our lives and are sometimes difficult to answer.  When you find something you want to do, it is amazing but that leads to another set of questions.  Mainly, “How do I do it?”

Author Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers theorized that it takes roughly 10,000 hours for someone to master a skill.  I think this number is on the right track in that it takes 10,000 hours to gain competence and confidence which is the basis of “mastery.”

How long does it take to truly master something?  The funny thing about the word “mastery” implies that there is a some destination that one arrives at, but true mastery exists in the pursuit and not in the destination.  Furuya Sensei used to talk about how, “If one could master Aikido then they could master anything,” but this was not original in that Miyamoto Musashi also talked about in the Book of Five Rings.  What they were talking about is the process to master one thing is the same process to master another.

How does one then attain mastery?  Whatever we want to accomplish whether it be Aikido or cooking requires the 3 Ds: diligence, dedication and discipline.  One has to be diligent and put in the work, dedicate themselves to the pursuit and be disciplined enough to actually do the work.  Once one can be diligent, dedicated and disciplined all that requires then is time.  Put in the time to improve.  Sensei used to say, “Aikido is egalitarian – those that put in the work will get good.

When I was in college, all of my friends played billiards or pool.  Before this time, I had never played pool so I always lost.  Then one summer, my best friend Steve and I played for an hour everyday at a local pool hall.  In the beginning, I lost every game and it got to the point that even the waitresses and bouncers started to feel sorry for me.  As we left, they would ask, “Did you win one?”  To which I would answer, “no.”  By the end of summer, I started to win a few games here and there and by the next summer when we came back to play, I started to win half the games.  It only took about a year and a half and then I started to play people in bars and at pool halls.  People even started asking me to be their doubles partner.

I found this video about a guy who played or practiced table tennis everyday for a year in the hopes of going from beginner to expert and breaking into the top 250 players in England.  It was quite an interesting story and similar to my pool story.  They even created a website dedicated to encouraging “you to start your own deliberate practice project and begin your quest to skill mastery.”

Can one become an expert in a year?  Sure, but that requires that one actually puts in the work.



Martial arts IQ: Rare footage of Mochida Moriji Sensei

mochidaMochida Moriji is considered one of few great swordsman of the 20th century and was thus dubbed the “Master Swordsman of the Showa period” by many of his peers.  He was the last person to have ever been awarded the rank of 10th Dan.  Mochida Sensei was the Kendo teacher at the famed Noma Dojo that hosted so many famous martial artist over the years and even O Sensei demonstrated there.

Mochida Sensei was well known for his kizeme which is one of the highest level techniques in martial arts where one uses ki to either lead or disrupt their opponents.

In the first video below you can see how strong Mochida Sensei is in Kendo.  In the second video you can see a little about Kendo and some quotes by him.


When you are here, be here.

How far will you go?


I recently read an article about the how despite the blizzard like conditions hitting the East coast, the tomb of the Unknown Soldier still continues to be guarded by the Sentinels.  Reading this article made me smile and gave me a sense of hope that the spirit of budo still survives.

It bummed me out when I read some of the people’s remarks criticizing this practice in the comments section.  The people who criticize this time honored tradition don’t understand budo.

bushidoIn Izao Nitobe’s book Bushido, he outlines what he believes are the seven virtues of bushido or the way of samurai.  The seven virtues are: integrity, respect, courage, honor, compassion, sincerity and loyalty.  It is within these virtues that we can see why it is necessary to honor those who have sacrificed their lives for us.

Interestingly, it is by no accident that the seven virtues begin with integrity and end with loyalty.  One business leadership author called integrity, “The trait that ensures all others.”  With that being said, integrity calls us to have ichinen or single minded purpose.  If we say we are going to do it, we do it regardless of weather conditions or whatever else comes up that might make it difficult.  The blizzard conditions are nothing compared to the Unknown Soldier’s sacrifice and thus the Sentinels post guard to honor that sacrifice.

It is also by no accident that loyalty comes last.  Loyalty is the final exam of all the traits.  Will we be who we say we are when we are tested?  When one’s loyalty is tested it shows their true colors or what is really in their hearts.  It is kind of a final exam because what is truly in our hearts is only really tested when the teacher dies, when nobody is looking or sometime long after anyone really cares and that is why Furuya Sensei used to say, “Always act as if your teacher is watching.”  If we do that then we will always act appropriately.

Integrity dictates that a warrior does what they say they will do.  A warrior has respect for not only themselves, but other people and traditions too.  Warriors have courage to do what needs to be done regardless if nobody else thinks so.  Warriors are people of honor which means that they live the Way and thus hold themselves to a higher standard.  A warrior has compassion which enables them to stand up for others.  Sincerity enables the warriors to do things with passion.  Loyalty is the demonstration of all the traits and is the highest ideal of the warrior.

To be a warrior is to live a path that and live by set of rules that normal people cannot understand.  Anyone can guard the tomb of the Unknown Soldier on a day when it is bright and sunny with a cool breeze.  Only a true warrior can step out in a blizzard and do their duty.  How many years will the Sentinels continue to guard the tomb of the Unknown Soldier?  It depends, how long is forever?


Having kids will change you.

hanhIt is said, “Having children will change you.”  I never thought that this would be true for me.  I thought it was one of those things that people just said to scare or caution you about having kids.

I can tell you today that this is one of those true-isms.  I can tell you that having children has changed me as a person, an Aikidoist and as a teacher.  I am also sure it is different for everyone.

How did it change me?  It made me come to truly understand O Sensei’s philosophy non-violence.  Every person is somebody’s baby.

Upon having children I came to know fear as I worry constantly about my children’s welfare.  I wonder almost obsessively about their welfare and their future.  This constant worry is how I came to know attachment.

From a Buddhist or martial arts perspective, attachment is bad.  One should not let their mind abide on any one thing.  But on the other hand, as Aikido teacher has said, “Attachment is power.”  Attachment is one of those things that makes life worth living.  Without my attachment to my kids, I would not have learned about non-violence and I would definitely not have come to understand compassion and ultimately O Sensei’s teachings of love.

If thought of one of my children being hurt is painful to me then it is a natural extension to realize that every person is somebody’s baby.  If I don’t want my kids hurt then why would I hurt somebody else’s child.

To be able to give compassion or live, one must understand it first.  Having children has allowed me the gift of that understanding.  Now it is up to me to manifest it in not only Aikido, but in every aspect of my life.

Mind your footwork

It is my opinion that if one wants to get good at Aikido, they must master the footwork.  Footwork in the Japanese martial arts is called ashi-sabaki (足捌き).  Some teacher focus more on tai-sabaki (体捌き) or whole body movement, but to me foundations begin from the ground up.  To me there are only five footwork movements in Aikido that consists of: forward and backward tsugi-ashi, forward and backward ayumi-ashi and tenkan or turning.   Some think that there is a sixth, but I don’t personally count side stepping as a form of footwork since Aikidoist employ the hanmi stance.

Rightfully, many don’t focus on footwork because what is really happening is that the hips are moving in Aikido, but for me the hips are driven by the feet.  So I don’t want to jump the gun and have students focus primarily on tai-sabaki because if their footwork is bad, their hips will be bad and thus the whole body movement will be out of sync.

If you don’t think footwork is where it is at, here is a video of the great Ronaldinho and you can see how he destroys his opponents with his excellent footwork.


How can one learn to run if they can’t walk first?

picassoRules are made to be broken, but they must first be learned.  To get good at Aikido, one must be good at the basics.  Without a foundation of skills one cannot build upon it and ultimately “break” the rules.  Everyone has to start somewhere.  Aristotle said, “Well begun is half done.”  He didn’t say, “Start at the top and make your own rules.”  How can one learn to run if they can’t walk first?

The best students have the best attitudes

safety-100-attitude-1-728Attitude is the number one determinant of one’s success in not only learning Aikido, but in life as well.  Student’s with the “right” attitude not only learn the quickest, but they can be taught almost anything.  Having the right attitude means having an openness and  willingness to learn.  As business leadership guru John C. Maxwell once said, “Your attitude determines your altitude.”  So true indeed.  Having the right attitude is a choice.  Choose to be better.  Choose to be the best.  All one has to do is choose to have the right attitude.

Good students are objective

Bill-NyeThe best students come to class with an open mind and a willingness to learn.  Why else come?  Training is all about learning.  Teachers learn from their students and students learn from their teachers.  The failure comes when either one thinks that they can’t learn from the other.

Everyone is a student and the best students know that there is something to be learned from every person, every situation and every thing.  What really clouds our ability to learn is our ego.  Our ego thinks, and that is the problem, that it is somehow above someone or something else and thus shuts off our ability to be objective.  This lack of objectivity is what keeps us from learning and growing.  In life there are no absolutes because absolutes are a matter of perspective.  To be able to “see” is what enables us to learn.  To be only able to “see” a certain way disables us from learning.

When students show up at the dojo, they should be open and willing to learn.  These are the two traits that all good students (and teachers for that matter) have in common.