Monthly Archives: April 2016

Make sure you have mastered the old



“Each day learn something new, and just as important, relearn something old.” – Robert Brault

The battle cry of today’s society might just be, “Out with the old and in with the new!”  But, is this adage really all that correct?

In today’s instant society it makes sense to let go of what is “old” to make way for something new especially when it comes to technology.  However, in the martial arts, it is the complete opposite.  We intentionally take the road that leads us back to old in order to prepare us for the new.

These so called “old” skills are what most in martial arts refer to as “the basics.”  It is easy today to jump into something much fancier, fun or exciting and to neglect or shy away from the things that are seemingly boring or outdated.  In the old days a common compliment about a good student was, “The basics are there.”  If the student mastered the basics then it reflected well upon not only the student but the teacher as well.

Today, schools are cancelling music programs, only 10% of the cars sold in America are manual transmission and some schools don’t even teach cursive handwriting.  Before we can throw something out, we must be sure we know exactly what it does or how it impacts us.

As you can see from the infographic about handwriting skills, there are numerous benefits to being able to write in cursive.  The  critical skills that one acquires from music, cursive handwriting or driving a manual transmission car are almost immeasurable.  Because there is no direct connection and any connection is circuitously obtained it is easy to accidentally throw them out as we separate the chaff from the wheat.

What made our previous generations perhaps better than our generation today?  It is hard to say, but one could argue that their “manual” skills or basics were much greater than ours.


Please take a moment to remember O Sensei today.

Morihei_Ueshiba1 watering










On this day 47 years ago, Morihei Ueshiba passed away.

Since O Sensei’s passing, Aikido has become a global phenomenon and is now practiced in over 130 countries by millions of people.

Aikido training has changed my life.  Without O Sensei’s teachings where would I be?  Hard to say, but I do know that I wouldn’t be the person that I am today.

It’s hard to believe that 26 years has gone by since I started Aikido and that 47 years have gone by since O Sensei passed away.

Obviously I never met O Sensei so it could be quite easy to downplay, overlook or forget his passing.  But, to remember O Sensei is to pay my respects to the person who has started this martial art that has given me so much.

I hope that as the years pass by that people won’t forget O Sensei and his contributions.  Furuya Sensei once said, “It is just one day each year that you have to think about O Sensei, you at least owe him that much.”  Sensei’s chiding is something that I try to take to heart each year.

The Japanese word for practice or training is keiko which means to “reflect on the past” so in a way we remember O Sensei every time we train.  But, is that good enough?  Kojima Sensei once talked about how Japanese people don’t celebrate birthdays and that every January 1st every person gets one year older.  It is only in their death that people get a “special” day.  Sensei is right about taking the time to remember those that we are close to or those we owe a special debt to.

The mark of a good student is one that does the right thing at the right time.  It is easy to be a good student when the teacher is present.  The final exam comes when the teacher is no longer around and our true nature comes out.

To take time out to remember O Sensei on this day is what a good student would do.  A bad student forgets even if it is by accident.  True character is what one does when no one is looking and when it seemingly doesn’t matter any more.  A good student will do the right thing at the right time regardless of circumstance or who is watching.

Please be a good student and take a moment to remember O Sensei and all that he has done for us on his special day.

One of my favorite O Sensei quotes is:

“In true budo there is no enemy or opponent. True budo is to become one with the universe, not to train to become powerful or to throw down some opponent. Rather we train in hopes of being of some use, however small our role may be, in the task of bringing peace to mankind around the world.”


Restraint and humility

kanai iaido proverb






“Yaki-tachi wo saya ni osamete, masumasu masurao no kokoro wo togari keri.”
“Keep your tempered sword in its scabbard, first, polish a heart of courage.”

According to Japanese culture, restraint and humility are the hallmarks of a true master of the marital arts.  Those two traits are more important than strength, speed, ability or accomplishment.  Anyone can cause harm or hurt other people, but only a true person of character can exercise restraint and practice humility in the face adversity.  It takes courage to be a person of character.

In learning, one comes to understand that man is ignorant.  That ignorance isn’t stupidity but the lack of knowledge about humanity.  A universal truth is that every person suffers and is going through their own stuff and thus sometimes lashes out.  This lashing out is really them hurting themselves.  This ignorance is what drives them – it drives us all.  By studying a martial art, one realizes this idea of universal suffering.  We come to understand that circuitously that it is not this person’s fault and that they act in a harmful way because they are ignorant of their actions and are suffering.  Knowing this we come to understand our own ignorance and realize that to destroy them will only hurts us.  It takes courage to go against our fears and egos and demonstrate restraint to show compassion.  In understanding their ignorance we are able to find the humility and strength to confront our own suffering and thus we are made better by this person’s actions.  This is the circle of life – we exist to help each another.  Only with study can we come to not only understanding this, but to embrace it as well and thus we exercise restraint.

"You're too sharp. That's your trouble. You're like a drawn sword. Sharp, naked without a sheath. You cut well. But good swords are kept in their sheaths."

“You’re too sharp. That’s your trouble. You’re like a drawn sword. Sharp, naked without a sheath. You cut well. But good swords are kept in their sheaths.”

There is a scene from Akira Kurosawa’s Sanjuro where Toshiro Mifune’s character Sanjuro is trying to rescue Lady Mutsuta and her daughter who are being held hostage.  He is angry over his inexperienced cohorts actions which alerted their captors to their escape.  In trying to motivate his cohorts, Sanjuro suggests that he has to go and kill the henchmen because of their mistake.  Lady Mutsuta over hears his chiding and says playfully, “You’re too sharp. That’s your trouble. You’re like a drawn sword. Sharp, naked without a sheath. You cut well. But good swords are kept in their sheaths.”  Sanjuro acquiesces and instead offers to be used as a step stool so that they can escape out a window.  She says, “Oh no I cannot, it would be improper.”  Sanjuro says, “Hurry before I have to go and kill more people” to which Lady Mutsuta gives in and they all flee to freedom.

Lady Mutsuta’s high manners and demeanor made Sanjuro have to be a better martial artist.  He was forced to become more like her and had to think and find a way to escape without killing.  In that one moment with that one exchange, Lady Mutsuta made him not only a better martial artist but a better person too.

Happy Earth Day!

O sensei nature









“Create each day anew by clothing yourself with heaven and Earth, bathing yourself with wisdom and love, and placing yourself in the heart of Mother Nature
– Morihei Ueshiba, The Art of Peace

Earth Day is Aikido Day.

At its core, the philosophy of Earth Day is the same as the way of Aikido.  The philosophy of Earth Day is simply to protect and conserve the Earth.  The philosophy of Aikido is also to protect and to save mankind.

Simply put, the philosophy of Earth Day and Aikido is one of love.  Aikido believes that all things have life and that all life is precious and thus must be protected and conserved.

Aikido believes that everything is connected or inter-related and that all things in nature have this circling back effect.  To attack or hurt others only brings harm to ourselves.  Therefore, to destroy, abuse or neglect the Earth is against the philosophy of Aikido because harming the Earth only brings harm back to us.

When a person confronts us, we understand that this person is suffering and thus we are not truly the focus of their aggression despite what they might think.  We also understand that this person is really only going to hurt themselves in the long run – the police will come, they will go to jail, they might lose their job, or their spouse might leave them as a result of their actions.  Understanding all the unintended circumstances we don’t want to add to this person’s misery and so we try and “save” them.

We save them with Aikido.  The Aikido techniques are designed in a way to minimize the damage to the attacker and to diffuse the person’s anger, aggression or more importantly their suffering.  To do Aikido is help this person because they are blinded by their emotions or their suffering and are in need of kindness or compassion not aggression.  It would be the same for an upset child who tries to strike us.  We know they don’t know any better so treat them with kindness and compassion and we don’t destroy them.

The Earth is our home and just like our attacker, we need to treat it with kindness and compassion.  After all it provides us with so much.  Please do something today to show your appreciation to the Earth for all it does for us.

“When you see a stranger regard him as a thief!” – Japanese proverb


Dorobo – Traditional Japanese thief

When I was a student, we had to announce ourselves whenever we entered or left the dojo.  We had to say, “Good morning Sensei it’s David” or “Good night Sensei, thank you.  This is David” every time or we got a scolding from Furuya Sensei the next time we came.  Sensei used to say, “Only a dorobo (thief) enters without announcing themselves.”  This stems from the Japanese proverb, “When you see a stranger regard him as a thief!”

This idea of announcing oneself or one’s intention can still be seen in Japanese society today.  When a person comes home, they say, “tadaima” or I’m home.  When we see someone you know in the morning one is supposed to say, “Ohayogozaimasu” or Good morning.  When a student visits a dojo, they are supposed to bring a letter of introduction from their teacher that states the student’s rank, how long they have been training, something about their character and a request to allow them to train.

This insular idea comes from the “village” mentality that the Japanese had that dates back hundreds of thousands years.  If you were from their village then a Japanese person would bend over backwards to help you, but if you were an “outsider” then they would be very suspicious of you.

From a martial arts perspective, this distrust of outsiders came because of the practice of dojo yaburi (道場破り) or dojo challenges, but some call it dojo storming.  Dojo yaburi is when a person comes to the dojo to challenge one of the students or the teacher.  Supposedly, if one could beat the teacher then they would take over the school and the students. Resources and students were scarce and so this was a frequent occurrence.

This idea of regarding a stranger as a thief is one that still exists today.  One of the main differences between Japanese and Western people is that Japanese people don’t talk to people they don’t know and they especially don’t idly chit-chat with strangers.  This closed-offness is something that confounded Western businessman in the 1980s as they tried to infiltrate the Japanese economy.  Usually, no introduction meant no business.  One needed to have an “in” in order to start a business relationship.

There is even a famous Zen story closely associated to this idea of strangers and thieves:

One evening, Zen Master Shichiri Kojun was reciting sutras as a thief with a sharp sword entered, demanding that he give him money.

Shichiri told him: “Do not disturb me. You can find the money in that drawer.” Then he resumed his recitation.

The thief found the money and began to leave when Shichiri said, “Don’t take it all. I need some to pay taxes with tomorrow.”

The intruder gathered up most of the money and started to leave.  Shichiri then said, “You should thank a person when you receive a gift.”  The man thanked him and ran off.

A few days afterwards the thief was caught and confessed to his crimes.  When Shichiri was called as a witness he said: “This man is no thief, at least as far as I am concerned. I gave him money and he thanked me for it.”

After he had finished his prison term, the thief became Shichiri’s disciple.

In Japan, whenever you enter someplace you are supposed to state your intention and one does this by how one announces themselves.  Students have to greet their teachers and show they are ready to learn and this is done with the first greeting.  Customers always air on the side of politeness so they usually say, “Sumimasen” or excuse me prior to asking for something.

Who are you when you think nobody is watching

mochidaA martial artist must have hin.  The dictionary definition of hin or hinkaku is to have grace or dignity, but it is a hard word to translate into English because it has no direct translation.  Hin can be thought of as an air a person has about them or more generally how they carry themselves.

The famous Kendo master Mochida Moriji used to say, “Since we are not at war anymore, a kendoka should not be aggressive but should be a person of hin.”

There is a story (that may or may not be true) that supposedly describes Mochida Moriji Sensei and what it means to have hin.  One day a famous Kabuki actor named Ichikawa Danjuro was riding in a taxi when he saw a man walking down the street.  The man walked with so much presence and grace that it caused Ichikawa to say in awe out loud, “Who is that man?”  The taxi driver supposedly said, “That is the Kendo master Mochida.”

I don’t know if this is a true story or not but I do have another story told to by Furuya Sensei about one of his Iaido teachers named Ebihara Sensei.  Ebihara Sensei was one of those old school sword teachers who carried himself like he was eight feet tall despite being someone of slight stature.  He had so much presence that he embodied his art.  If he just walked into the room, you got scared and stood up straighter.  One day Sensei went to the movies with his friends.  They were being rowdy as young people usually do when they are away from their parents.  As they were playing around Sensei noticed this man sitting in the front row with impeccable posture and right then he realized that it was Ebihara Sensei.  Sensei immediately stop messing around and told his friends to stop.  Ebihara Sensei never turned around or made any notice of their presence, but his mere presence made Sensei and his friends behave.  That is true hin.

Most of us pretend to be certain way only when we think others are watching or will notice.  A martial artist never gets to have an off day and must be en garde.  To be en garde means to assume that we are being watched and judged by our behavior.  That is why Sensei used to say, “Always act as if your teacher is watching.”  Please take care and carry yourself with hin or with the utmost consideration.


It is easy to judge.












Complete this sentence.  That person is …

a Jerk.
a Loser.
a Dork.
a Geek.
a Weirdo.
a Wimp.
a Human being.

Every word on that list besides the last one is a label that comes as a result of a judgement.  To truly see someone we must look past the labels that we or society has placed upon them.

People are first and foremost human beings and we must do our best to see them as that.  This will enable us to see them first and hopefully not judge them second.  I know, easy to say and hard to do.  I am just as guilty as the next person, but I am a human who is just trying their best.  How about you?

Every person is a human being who is doing their best to find kindness, compassion and forgiveness just like you and me.  I hope that I can see you.  Can you see me?

“Success is no accident.” – Pele










“Success is no accident. It is hard work, perseverance, learning, studying, sacrifice and most of all, love of what you are doing or learning to do.” – Pele

This weekend is our annual O Sensei Memorial Seminar.  Our dojo has observed O Sensei’s passing every year since it opened in 1974.  Furuya Sensei started doing a memorial seminar commemorating O Sensei’s passing in 2005.

One of the main reasons why Sensei started doing a memorial seminar was that he felt that people were starting to forget O Sensei’s passing.  So, he felt that the best way to memorialize O Sensei was with training.

Each year as I plan this seminar, I labor over schedule.  Besides trying to find the best mix of times and number of classes, I try and think about the students and what they need.  Of course, every seminar should be filled with good techniques, good teaching and hard work, but I also think about the student’s experience.

This year, I thought that I would do it “old school” style and do it like our monthly Intensive class and not invite any outside guests.  This way, we could we could teach the classes our way and not have to be stressed out with guests or feel the need to ourselves.  In short, I just wanted the students to train hard unencumbered.  So I decided to do it like our monthly Intensive and start early.  O Sensei was a huge advocate of early morning training and said that the Earth’s energy is the most abundant in the early morning.

Pele said, “Success is no accident” and he is correct.  To get something different we must do something that we don’t ordinarily do.  The seminar is an opportunity to for each person to experience their success.  I say “their” because each person’s journey is different and each person has their own stuff to deal with.  Teachers and students alike, each of us has an obstacle to overcome.

Some people need to be more patient and go slower.  Some need to show heart and stay to the end.  Some need to forgive and just show up.  Each of us has a journey and I hope that this seminar will give each of us the opportunity to grow.

Friday, April 15th:
6:30-7:30 PM: David Ito
8:00 PM: No host dinner at Nickel Diner

Saturday, April 16th:
6:30-8:00 AM: David Ito (please be there by 6:00 am for clean up)
8:00-9:00 AM: Breakfast
9:30-10:30 AM: Ken Watanabe
10:45-11:45 AM: Memorial Service
12:00-1:00 PM: James Doi

6:00 PM: Seminar Social at the dojo

Sunday, April 17th:
7:45-8:45 AM: David Ito
8:45-10:00 AM: Brunch
10:15-11:15 AM: Ken Watanabe
11:15-12:15 PM: James Doi
12:30-1:30 PM: David Ito

Live life by the C’s

three c
















Wednesdays always seem like the toughest to get through.  Maybe that is why they call it Hump Day.  This picture illustrates a good outline to help  you get out there and go for what you want in life.  To be successful requires some “C’s.”  Choice-Chance-Change.  I would add three more C’s: Courage, Consistency and Constancy.

Is there something out there that you want?   Then, have the Courage to take a Chance, Choose to be Consistent and be Constant in order to create Change.

Have a great day!