Archives for September 2011


Aikido Research and Development

Morihei Ueshiba said, “Training is not real because nobody dies or is injured.”

As it should be!

Do you remember the good ol’ original Aikido and other methods’ “how to,” books each purporting to show “how” a technique should be done?

How many times could you make sense of these photos? Indeed how many time did the editors, non-aikidoka get the sequences right!?

And yet many emerged believing that after have read the book, no, looked at the pictures, they suddenly knew what Aikido was about. And of course, pigs fly!

Knowing has nothing to do with looking at pictures or reading words. These, if correctly compiled, are mere indicators. Knowing means a full absorption of the subject until each and every cell, molecule, atom and sub-atomic particle of your being, physical, mental, emotional and spiritual, resonates in full ongoing and evolving attunement with the subject.

Any idea is merely an idea, an opinion which is usually wrong.

Experience is the only teacher. In order to experience, we must overcome inertia and move; and this with daily regularity.
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“My Career in Yanagi-ryu Aiki Jujutsu,” by Don Angier

I was born in 1933 in Utica, New York. My father was of French extraction, but always claimed to be Irish because my paternal grandfather had emigrated from Ireland where the family had lived for generations, descended from the Earl of Balfour. My mother was Mohawk Indian.

Looking back, I can see now that we were poor, but I never realized it while I was growing up. We always had clean clothes, a clean if not fancy flat, and food on the table. Our neighborhood was what would be known today as a ghetto. Most of our neighbors were, like us, strictly blue collar, and most had just emigrated from Europe. World War II was on in Europe, and they luckily escaped before Hitler and his gang got to them.

Most were German or Austrian, plus a few Polish, Italians, and French. Names like Weiss, Schleicher, Eichler, Bick, Carbone, and La Fleur come to mind. Never did I see an argument or an act of intolerance among them.

The movies and the news broadcasts kept telling us how much we should hate the Germans, yet I was living in the midst of a large, mainly German colony who did nothing more sinister than brew beer in one of several breweries. Consequently, I was not a propaganda convert. I include this information because it was important for my attitude when I met my teacher.

When Japan bombed Pearl Harbor, I remember someone suggesting that we tear out all of the cherry trees in Washington, DC, because they were a gift from Japan. I remember thinking that it was stupid because trees are obviously apolitical. Perhaps that is why I did not reject out-of-hand the first Japanese (or Asian for that matter) that I ever saw in the flesh. A man who was to become the biggest influence in my life: Kenji Yoshida.

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“Famous Swordsmen of Japan (1): Kenkichi Sakakibara,” by Takefumi Hiiragi

Kenkichi Sakakibara

Kenkichi Sakakibara, 14th successor of the Jikishinkage-ryu tradition, was born in November 1830 in Otsuka village, Shitaya Kanasugi, in present-day Tokyo. The district of Hiroo in Azabu also claims to be his birthplace. He was the first son of Masutaro Sakakibara and his given name was Tomoyoshi.

Kenkichi began training under Nobutomo Shimosanokami Odani, the 13th successor of Jikishinkage-ryu, when he was thirteen years old and received his menkyo or teaching license in 1856 at the age of twenty-seven. It took him such a long time to receive his menkyo because he was too poor to pay both the fee and cost of the celebration party. Odani was aware of this problem and paid for and arranged everything so that Kenkichi could be awarded this license. Odani also recommended him for the position of assistant instructor at the Kobusho, a martial arts school opened and supported by the Tokugawa government and Kenkichi was appointed to the post. In that same year, Kenkichi married Taka, a daughter of Iwajiro Mihashi, who was a hatamoto or direct retainer of the Shogun. Taka’s mother was a younger sister of the famous Kaishu Katsu [1823-1899; a statesman active during the transition from the Tokugawa shogunate to the new Meiji government].

Kenkichi worked diligently as an instructor in kenjutsu, and two years later, in 1858, was promoted to the position of full instructor. In 1863, he received 300 ryo, or bags of rice, as salary as one of the head keepers of Edo Castle, and he was permitted to go to the castle with a red spear and accompanying attendants. Kenkichi achieved this unusual distinction not only on the strength of Odani’s recommendation, but also because Iemochi Tokugawa, the 14th Shogun, loved and respected his sincere character.

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“Interview with Bruce Bookman,” by Meik Skoss

Bruce Bookman, 5th dan, is Chief Instructor of the Seattle Aikikai. He began studying aikido at age 12, under the direction of Yoshimitsu Yamada of the New York Aikikai. In 1978, he went to Japan to train at the Aikikai Hombu dojo, where he studied under Doshu Kisshomaru Ueshiba and Kazuo Chiba. In 1980, Bookman returned to the United States, and established the Seattle Aikikai. A professional aikido instructor, Bookman has recently begun to produce quality instructional videotapes.

AJ: For the record, Bruce, when and with whom did you begin your aikido training?

Bruce Bookman: I began training twenty-five years ago, in 1970, at the New York Aikikai with Yamada Sensei.

And why did you begin training?

I needed self-defense. I looked in the yellow pages and discovered that the martial arts school closest to my house was the New York Aikikai. I had no idea what they taught there; martial arts were martial arts, as far as I was concerned. I went to the dojo and just fell in love with aikido.

So it was love at first sight?

Yes. I saw one of the senior members doing a forward roll, and it looked so smooth and beautiful that I just had to learn how to do it too. I didn’t even care if aikido was self-defense, it just grabbed me. I went out and got a gi right away and came back and started training. Yamada Sensei also impressed me very strongly right from the beginning. He was such a kind individual and I always felt him to be a very nurturing presence.

It’s hard to describe all the ways that Yamada Sensei has helped me. He had something that I wanted—mastery of this art. Yet, he was one of the kindest people I have ever met. I recall the times I was called up to his office for these little talks. I can almost remember them word for word—the attitude adjustments, talking about training and how it related to my life, how a dojo operates, how to interact with other people, and the whole idea behind aikido. One thing that I genuinely appreciate about Yamada Sensei is that he has very few pretenses. At the time, I was reading everything I could about aikido. I had spiritual ideas about the art and Yamada Sensei would go through and destroy every single one of them. Any preconception that I had of what an aikido teacher should be, Yamada Sensei helped me to dissolve. And this helped me to be able to absorb more. It was quite spiritual, in a way. Yamada Sensei probably wouldn’t describe himself as a spiritual person, but I think that at some very important level he is.

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Flood damage in Kumano, Japan

Motomichi Anno Sensei

Dear Aikido friends,

Thank you for your concern about the current disaster in Japan, and your inquiries about Anno Sensei’s safety. Typhoon Talas hit the Kumano area of Japan extremely hard and caused widespread flooding, mudslides, power outages, and massive damage. Roads and bridges have been washed out, basic services are down, houses destroyed, sacred sites damaged. The disaster has already claimed about 30 lives and there are many others missing or stranded. The Kumano region (the Kii Peninsula; Wakayama & Mie Prefectures) is where I used to live and train; and it is where Anno Sensei lives–in a rural area near the city of Shingu.

I haven’t been able to reach Anno Sensei yet by phone, but yesterday I managed to get through to someone I know in Shingu. He told me that Anno Sensei and his wife are safe. However, their house has been flooded. They have temporarily moved to another little house on their property, on higher ground. I read in the news that the Onodani River (nearby, in Kiho, Mie Prefecture) flooded, and helicopters have been rescuing stranded people. I imagine that Anno Sensei and his wife may be without power or running water for now, and there will need to be a big cleanup effort. But at least they are safe.

My contact in Shingu told me that the Kumano River overflowed its banks in Shingu and flooded the streets around the Kumano Juku Dojo–the dojo Osensei established in Shingu in 1953. Fortunately Japanese buildings are built with a “step-up” to the ground floor. The flood waters did come into the dojo building, but did not reach the level of the mats and the dojo was spared major damage.

It has been such a difficult time in Japan already this year, with the March earthquake and tsunami in the northeast part of the country, and the continuing concerns about radiation and the weakened economy. Thank you for all your support and healing prayers for the people and land of Japan.

Feel free to pass this news to anyone who would like to know.
Thank you,

Linda Holiday
Chief Instructor, Aikido of Santa Cruz


“Interview with Kenji Shimizu,” by Stanley Pranin

Aikido Founder Morihei Ueshiba with Kenji Shimizu c. 1965

Aikido Founder Morihei Ueshiba with Kenji Shimizu c. 1965

The following is an interview conducted in 1988 by Stanley Pranin with one of the last uchideshi of Morihei Ueshiba at the Aikikai Hombu Dojo. Kenji Shimizu established his own independent dojo in the mid-1970s in Sangenjaya, Tokyo called the Tendokan Dojo.

I understand that you practiced judo before starting aikido.

I was narrow-minded in the beginning and used to regard judo as the only martial art. The drawbacks of judo are that you injure yourself often and you don’t see any improvement as you get older and lose physical strength. I really liked judo and it was very depressing to see my ability in the art declining. Even young people can be on the decline in judo.

How old were you when you started judo?

I began in 1953 when I was 13. I was good at it and continued regularly through my days as a student at Meiji University. As a boy I practiced judo with the people around me and became strong. As I got older my competitive range increased and I fought many big and strong competitors. I was stimulated and tried very hard but I couldn’t overcome the difference in physical strength. That’s why I switched to aikido and really became involved with the art.

How did you come to know about aikido?

Mr. Kaburagi, the managing director of Takanawa Geihinkan, suggested that I see Morihei Ueshiba Sensei, who lived in Wakamatsu-cho in Shinjuku and whom he considered to be the last martial artist left in Japan. I had heard a lot about him before that. This is how I changed from judo to aikido, but it wasn’t so easy. For example, judo has matches while aikido has only repetitive practice. At first, I thought aikido was too slow. In judo whenever the opponent has an opening you can throw him. However, in aikido you allow yourself to be thrown. I couldn’t understand in the beginning why I had to wait to be thrown. But in reality when your techniques improve it’s completely different.

Did you start training in the regular classes?

Yes. That’s why I had a lot of doubts. Even though I thought O-Sensei’s aikido was wonderful, he didn’t come to the dojo when I started to practice there. Other teachers would come to teach. Then three months later I became an live-in student. That was in 1963 right after I graduated from the university.

Did you intend to become a live-in student when you started out in the regular class?

Shimizu with Morihei Ueshiba c. 1966

Yes, but I was not sure if I could continue aikido because I had been actively practicing judo. I think the present Doshu Kisshomaru Sensei wondered whether or not I would continue my practice. Therefore we agreed on a three-month regular practice period. Just as in my dojo now, many people quit after beginning aikido. They don’t usually continue their practice even though they initially really want to continue because it is such a wonderful art. That is one of the difficulties with aikido. Some people feel something is missing. Sometimes I was forced down hard even though I didn’t resist my partner’s techniques. It was so painful that I was left seeing stars. I tried to do the same thing to him but I didn’t know how. So I sometimes threw my partners a lot using judo techniques. Then O-Sensei scolded me by saying: “This is not a judo dojo.” (Laughter) It is not right to force someone who is not resisting down hard. There were rough people. The cartilage is my arm still sticks out because of one rough guy.
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“Aikido and Independence: On Not Finding One’s True Master,” by Peter Goldsbury

“Aikido was presented by one of my teachers as an art of mutual benevolence. Through the rhythm of attack and defence, aikido partners were in fact contributing to one another’s well-being.”

Aikido is a martial art full of paradoxes and some of these are due to the way in which instructors introduce and teach that art, especially to non-Japanese. I myself started practicing aikido because it was not a competitive sport. I was fed up with the traditional English diet of cricket and rugby, and marathon running was a painful and solitary activity. Aikido seemed much more congenial. You had to have a partner, there was no competition and so you could proceed at your own pace, without the need to break your neck training for the next tournament. Instead, there was simply training: the same complex aikido movements repeated hundreds and hundreds of times. We were also taught that aikido could be practiced by people of any age group and required a “total absence” of physical strength. On the other hand, our instructor decided that we were not in good shape (he saw no contradiction with what he had said about physical strength) and so we regularly did ten-mile runs just before the two-hour aikido practices. As a long distance runner I was not fazed by this, but I defy anyone to tell me that this regime did not require rather more than a “total absence” of physical strength. Now, of course, 30 years later, I know it all had a place in the aikido scheme of things, rather like the divine plan for mankind.

Aikido was presented by one of my teachers as an art of mutual benevolence. Through the rhythm of attack and defence, aikido partners were in fact contributing to one another’s well-being. Aikido apparently had strong ties with Shinto, an ancient Japanese belief system populated with innumerable deities and ancestors, whose sole exertions were to ensure the well-being of the entire human race. We were taught that the Japanese emperor also played an important role in these exertions, but his connection with the Shinto deities—and with aikido—was never precisely explained.

Another teacher strongly denied the links of aikido with Shinto and instead stressed its links with Zen Buddhism. Aikido, we were told, was based on the ancient sword arts of the samurai, who all embraced zazen. We should do the same. We were encouraged to sit in impossibly painful postures and think deeply about nothing. Those who did not do this deeply enough received encouragement in the form of a sharp blow (hard enough to draw blood or cause bruising) across the shoulders with an instrument called the kyosaku. This training was supposed to deepen our spiritual awareness of aikido and its techniques, which nevertheless always had to work and sometimes resulted in severe injury. We were also encouraged to practice with wooden swords, sticks and knives, but without knowing why, beyond the fact that they were weapons and made the practice rather more realistic and exhilarating. The teacher was regarded by outsiders as a complete monster, but was much loved by his students. I myself think that, of all the teachers I have had, he was the one who forced his students to face several questions and attempt to answer them honestly: Why am I practicing aikido? What is my real commitment to the art? Do I really think it will change my life and if so, how?

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One-upmanship – Learning from Beginners

Everyone will agree, unsolicited lectures are nauseating, monologues put you to sleep and soliloquies don’t need more people than the speaker. And yet everywhere you go there are contests of intellect that generally mean nothing and arrive nowhere.

Turn the radio on and you get long winded descriptives that make you pay for the music you hope to hear. Switch on the TV and the raucously unskilled advertisements never end. The tower of Babel, it would appear, is with us to stay. Why, even if you go for a walk through the jungle the monkeys never seem to cease their incessant hooting. The suburbs, dogs bark gratuitously day and night, but have nothing meaningful to say.

There’s nothing more painful than the guy who has all the answers and most of them are ridiculously wrong and not requested. Educated fools are the worst. When you get to hear for the thousandth time, “When I got my degree..” it’s no ambassadorial example of how the stress of getting a degree by sleeping through long lectures can do mental and verbal damage towards calcifying a soul. Or, when you can’t get away from a heated discussion where two individuals with nothing to say are trying to outdo each other for no good reason other than ego issues.

Folks, here’s a tip. Wisdom is not found in words but in the trail a person leaves in life, those proverbial footsteps in the sands of time, the fruit by which you will know them.
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“Interview with Kenji Tomiki (1),” by Stanley Pranin

Kenji Tomiki (1900-1979)

This interview is the first part of a conversation with Professor Kenji Tomiki was conducted on January 4, 1974 at Waseda University in Tokyo.

Editor: Sensei, would you be kind enough to tell us about your first involvement in the study of martial arts?

Tomiki: I first began to practice judo when I was about 10 years old. Later when I was to enter the university, I came up to Tokyo. But it wasn’t until I became one of the key officers of the university judo club that I was first able to get to know Jigoro Kano Sensei, the founder of Kodokan judo. It was in 1920 that I first met him directly. Kano Sensei was born at the end of the Edo Period in 1860 and died at the age of 79 in 1938, so he was of the same generation as Ueshiba Sensei’s teacher, Sokaku Takeda Sensei. Kano Sensei founded the Kodokan in 1882 so he was about 24 or 25 at that time.

You mentioned Sokaku Takeda? Could you elaborate? I know that Sokaku Takeda was taught Daito-ryu Jujutsu and he was one of Ueshiba Sensei’s first teachers; and then I know that afterwards several times in the late 19 teens and early twenties, Takeda Sensei returned and spent some time with Ueshiba Sensei. Sensei, did you have any contact with Takeda and Ueshiba at that time?

This would be a good moment for me to talk about the history of Sokaku Takeda Sensei. Just before the Meiji Restoration of 1868, Japan’s domestic political scene was divided into two factions. The Imperial forces on the one hand, and the old Tokugawa government on the other. Eventually, the Emperor’s side was victorious and we have heard the famous story of that group of 15- and 16-year olds called the Byakko Tai (the White Tiger Brigade of Aizu Han in Wakamatsu who committed “seppuku”) at that time since they had supported the defeated Tokugawa forces. Had young Takeda Sokaku, then 9 years old, been 5 years older he too would have had to commit ritual suicide along with the others from his fief.

Anyway, he had been practicing Daito-ryu aikijujutsu, an art which had long been handed down in the Aizu Han (fief), and Takeda had studied from the time he was a child. Moreover, at that time swords were popular and he had learned kenjutsu (combative swordsmanship) as well. As the feudal period was drawing to a close he had been the uchideshi (live-in student) of one of the most famous masters of kenjutsu of that period. In the old days people hid their techniques behind the closed doors of their own households and it wasn’t until 1898 that some were first revealed to the public. And, by any standards, the northeastern region of the country was particularly rich in them. On top of that, the area had an abundance of people at the instructor level and also lots of wealthy people, so a teacher would often go some place and stay with some rich sponsor for two weeks or a month at a time and teach. Around 1907 the then Akita Prefectural police chief was transferred to the northern island of Hokkaido and Takeda Sensei was among his entourage. They went to Abashiri, a place very far to the north.

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“Aikido and Injuries,” by Stanley Pranin


“In a moral world, there would exist a level of implicit trust,
an unspoken contract, between practice partners”

There is a subject of considerable importance that we have dealt with on several occasions over the years. I would like, however, to broach it again in a more systematic manner. I refer to the topic of aikido training injuries. When aikido is talked about in print, the focus seems to be more on the aspects of harmony, blending and spiritual matters and some of the more mundane areas revolving around practice in the dojo are easily neglected. These include the inevitable muscle strains, body soreness, jammed toes and fingers and the various other “occupational” hazards inherent to our art. They are forgotten, that is, until that inevitable day when we ourselves become the victims of an injury and must live with the accompanying pain.

Common Training Injuries

What are the common aikido injuries? How are they likely to occur? I’ll list some of those that immediately spring to mind along with their usual causes and readers can compare notes.

  • Wrist injuries: ikkyo pins, nikyo, sankyo, kotegaeshi, shihonage.
  • Elbow injuries: ikkyo pins, shihonage, juji garami.
  • Shoulder injuries: shihonage, nikyo pins, sankyo pins, incorrect or obstructed falls.
  • Head and neck injuries: shihonage, incorrect or obstructed falls.
  • Back injuries: the so-called “high” falls from shihonage and from koshinage.
  • Knee injuries: (structural) improper loading of partner in koshinage, poor positioning of feet while executing techniques, failure to twist hips thereby releasing strain on knee joints, outside lateral impacts; (surface) excessive practice of seated techniques.
  • Toes and fingers: toes caught on hakamas, mats (the little toe on my right foot is about twice the size of the one on my left foot, but, then again, my shoe size is eleven!), etc., and numerous situations where fingers become jammed.

This list is by no means complete and doesn’t include miscellaneous scratches and black and blue marks which are usually not of much consequence although they can be annoying.

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