Archives for July 2012


“Realizing Aikido’s Potential,” by Stanley Pranin

Founder Morihei Ueshiba’s explosive sword in 1954 demonstration with Morihiro Saito

“It is the martial atmosphere of the dojo setting that allows students to develop real-world skills and elevates the level of training beyond that of a mere health system.”

The virtues of aikido

The popularity of aikido both in Japan and abroad is a post-World War II phenomenon. Early students of Founder Morihei Ueshiba such as Koichi Tohei, Kisshomaru Ueshiba, Gozo Shioda, Kenji Tomiki and others, followed by their students in turn, were mainly responsible for the growth of the art on an international scale.

What factors are responsible for aikido’s broad appeal? Many people observing the art for the first time comment on the beauty and gracefulness of aikido techniques. The attacker is thrown in a seemingly effortless manner yet suffers no apparent harm from the encounter. The promise of a self-defense art that protects the individual while sparing the aggressor is an attractive concept in philosophical and moral terms in a world where the specter of warfare seems ever present. Aikido’s ethical basis appeals to man’s deep-seated instinct for survival. At the same time, the art provides a unique alternative to the violent techniques of other martial arts—techniques that elicit moral repugnance in many.

On a physical level, aikido has much to offer for the health conscious. The accumulated benefits produced by warm-up, stretching, throwing and falling exercises are considerable. Many practitioners have undergone dramatic physical transformations through aikido training on their way to a fitness lifestyle.

The social milieu that develops in aikido dojos is an important part, too, of the training experience for many practitioners. Aikido tends to draw from a wide age range and students continue longer than practitioners of arts centered on competition, primarily the domain of young people. Also, I think it would be accurate to say that, as a percentage, aikido has a higher ratio of female participants than any other martial art. All of this contributes to a strong sense of community. For many students of aikido, the dojo is an extension of or even a substitute for their family.

Aikido: the non-martial art

For all of the positive benefits of aikido training, the art has not yet realized its great potential as a social force for promoting harmony among peoples. Although the relationship may not appear obvious, I think this is due in large part to the art’s distancing itself from its martial roots. It is the martial atmosphere of the dojo setting that allows students to develop real-world skills and elevates the level of training beyond that of a mere health system. The neglect of the martial side of aikido can be explained in part by historical circumstances.
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Masatoshi Yasuno Shihan – 50th All Japan Aikido Demo (2012)

This is a well-done demonstration by Masatoshi Yasuno one of the leading students of Seigo Yamaguchi, 8th dan. He is also a contemporary of Christian Tissier Sensei of France. Yasuno Sensei’s demonstration is a fascinating study of blending in some unusual ways. He executes throws in a truly unique manner. An excellent study!


Las Vegas Seminar Update: Second weekend dates added due to larger-than-expected demand

“Second weekend added to handle overflow of applicants…”

Stanley Pranin’s weekend seminar announced last week to be held in Las Vegas from October 5-7 is nearly full. We have decided to add a second weekend — November 2-4 — to handle the larger-than-expected number of applications. When signing up, you will receive a welcome email. Please respond with your choice of dates to participate, indicating either the October 5-7 or November 2-4 weekend. At the time of this writing, there are only 3 spots left for the October weekend.

This is Stanley Pranin! I would like to cordially invite you to join me October 5-7 or November 2-4 — your choice — in Las Vegas, Nevada. I will be conducting a weekend seminar–the first of its kind–whose theme will be “Exploring Morihei Ueshiba O-Sensei’s Aikido.” During the weekend, we will spend quality time together in a private dojo setting limited to 15 attendees. I would like to explore with you what I consider to be the salient points of Morihei Ueshiba’s aikido that have been largely lost in today’s practice. If you wish to have a preview of what the seminar content will cover, I refer you to my article “Exploring the Founder’s Aikido” where I discuss my views and offer supporting documentation.

The Las Vegas seminar will be a special event with an intimate format. I hope to spend many hours training and conversing with the participants and am sure that this experience will be life-changing for all of us. We are in a position to offer very affordable accommodations for most of the seminar participants to keep costs to a minimum. Since the dojo is limited in size, I would encourage you to reserve a place early if you are certain you would like to attend. When this seminar fills up, we will make an announcement to this effect on the website. The link to make your reservation is below.

Dates: October 5-7, 2012 / November 2-4, 2012 (indicate your choice when registering)
Location: Las Vegas, Nevada
Enrollment: $135.00

Theme: “Exploring Morihei Ueshiba O-Sensei’s Aikido”
Instructor: Stanley Pranin

Participation limited to 15 persons on a first-come, first-served basis

Event Schedule (subject to change)


  • Check-in – 6:00 pm
  • 6:30 pm – 8:30 pm
  • Informal group chat


  • Morning Session: 9:30 am – 11:30 am
  • (Lunch break)
  • Afternoon Session: 2:00 pm – 4:00 pm
  • Q & A period: 4:00 pm – 4:45 pm
  • Pot-luck party: 6:30 pm to 9:30 pm


  • 9:30 am – 10:30am
  • 10:45 am – 11:45 am
  • Informal group chat
  • Pick-up gift pack / Departure

Stanley Pranin Bio

Stanley Pranin began aikido in 1962 in a Yoshinkan Aikido dojo. After a few months, he joined an Aikikai group learning from instructors trained by Koichi Tohei, from whom he received his shodan and nidan rankings. Pranin relocated to Japan in 1977 where he lived for 20 years. He studied in Iwama under Morihiro Saito for several years, and accompanied Saito Sensei during the 1980s as his interpreter to the USA, Canada, and numerous European countries.

In 1974, Pranin began a newsletter called “Aiki News,” which later was renamed as “Aikido Journal.” The successor of this publication continues today on the Internet as the “Aikido Journal” suite of websites. Pranin has published hundreds of articles, interviews, books, and videos during his career as an aikido journalist/historian. He is the organizer of the trail-blazing Aiki Expo events held in Las Vegas and Los Angeles. Pranin brings with him 50 years of aikido training and teaching experience, and a vast knowledge of Aikido Founder Morihei Ueshiba and the history of the art.

Suggested reading: “Exploring the Founder’s Aikido,” by Stanley Pranin

Those making reservations will be sent detailed information concerning the location of the event, optional accommodations for attendees, and notification of the deadline for payment of the balance of the seminar tuition.

Click here to make a non-refundable $25 deposit to reserve a place at the seminar (Event limited to 15 attendees)


“How do we determine who is good?”, by Charles Humphrey

“The issue of martial skill is impossible to determine within a civilized context.”

The text below is from a comment by Charles Humphrey in response to the blog “Schism and Disharmony – The Bumpy Road to Aiki,” by Alister Gillies. I felt it merited special attention for it offers a viewpoint not commonly heard. – Editor

Cheers on some more thoughtful contributions. This is why I avoid organizations like the plague. When there is an organization, there are organizational politics, and much wasted time. My answer to the question “how to determine who is good?” is far from the usual answer. Look at the personality. The issue of martial skill is impossible to determine within a civilized context. To truly determine who is “the best” in this sense is nearly impossible.

Even the most extreme imaginable situation of you sticking them in a limited space and saying “to the death!” You eliminate the possibilities of positional advantage and foresight that are the mark of true skill. In any case, it is unnecessary. Want to see who’s the best, just look at the life they lead. Do they belittle others? Do they repeatedly stress that they/their teacher/their style is the only one true way? Do they have a sense of humour, particularly about themselves? Do they laugh? Do they fart a lot? Do you feel comfortable around them? Are they good husbands/wives/children/parents? Do they accept people in all their limitations, do their best to be tolerant and yet admit that they experience natural human frustrations with certain people or circumstances? In essence, are they truly human, neither presuming to be a god nor laxing into an animal, and are they comfortable with this lot? What else do you expect?

Such a person is not an invincible warrior. No one is invincible, but they can live a quiet and content life knowing that if they are such a person they will have no more regrets than they should, and live neither a longer nor shorter life than they were intended. The highest level of skill is to be truly natural, foibles included. I have seen examples of this in teachers but none of them are part of organizations. They are obscure men because they are naturally disgusted with organizational politics. They don’t judge those who are involved in such organizations and if asked by someone to whom they feel they owe something they will assist these organizations, but will then promptly retire once their work is complete. I have seen such examples in the most senior students of great masters who humbly try to learn something from the second most senior student without resentment, recognizing that although junior, the other student understands some things they don’t. This second most senior student, in turn, continually attends lectures and reads books from other arts in order to expand his knowledge. I’m in a rambling jetlagged state of mind but it’s obvious. Look for lack of pretension, mellowness is the acme of true skill.


“On Whose Terms?,” by Nev Sagiba

“Looking at the fate of empires it would appear that this ideal of a peaceful warrior, a protector of life, is still a way off arriving to this planet.”

When you have accrued experience in a subject sufficient to be capable of imparting more than an idea but real function, on whose terms do you teach? Yours or the student’s?

When you rescue someone, on whose terms do you effect the save? Yours or the person whose flawed judgement got them into the trouble they are in?

Self-evident, one would suppose. And yet, stereotypical expectations tend to muddy the waters.

When you rescue some drowning people they try to drag you under and there are techniques for rendering them submissive to the rescue process.

When you rescue people from fire there are those who will want to risk death to run back into the fire to save trivial items such as jewellery, certificates, trophies and no doubt their black belt. There are means for detaining such as these as well.

When you guide people along the safest mountain trails, desert or deep forest as understood by the experienced, there are those who, because of opinions held only in their mind, will in ignorance argue vexatiously and seek to place themselves at risk.

When navigating the high seas, if you let the passengers dictate, you would place the boat and all lives on the vessel at risk. At sea, as in combat, increments make the difference.

Increments and seconds. Spacing and timing. Maai and deai. The fine tuning of these is gained by a questioning mind engaged in daily practice to refine skill at first hand understanding.
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Survey: Your Top 7 choices for Safeguarding Your Life in a Dangerous World

Please choose your top seven priorities for safeguarding your life and well-being from among the choices below:

  • Study aikido
  • Enroll in a Krav Maga school
  • Normalize your body weight
  • Study Brazilian jujutsu
  • Drive safely
  • Train in mixed martial arts
  • Eliminate personal debt
  • Learn knife defenses
  • Avoid bars
  • Practice Thai kickboxing
  • Save 10 percent of your income
  • Wean yourself from medications
  • Participate in full-contact fighting training
  • Avoid crime-ridden parts of town
  • Eat a sensible diet
  • Learn ninjutsu
  • Don’t smoke or drink
  • Take up boxing
  • Behave courteously
  • Practice yoga
  • Study fencing
  • Avoid police encounters
  • Train for UFC competition
  • Study actuarial science

Feel free to submit additional choices as comments


“On Mercy,” by Charles Warren

“There has to be some balance here. If all we wanted to
do is maim and kill, there are more efficient avenues.”

Mercy is only a meaningful concept if an alternative is immediately available to you.

Examples are too many to enumerate. Achilles could have been merciful to the Trojans who attempted to surrender to him, but his grief and rage had him kill them instead. If he had chosen mercy it would have implied that some element of his character rose above that grief and rage so that he forbore slaying his prisoners.

Training has something to do with police keeping their firearms holstered when arresting unarmed suspects, but it is still at least institutionalized mercy, consistent with the legal presumption of innocence.

If I choose to go unarmed, some of that is risk assessment. Being armed in a public place in California is usually criminal, so what is more likely, arrest on a weapons charge or being subject to some criminal attack? Some of my choice is confidence in my unarmed martial skills. Some of it, though, is my distaste for killing things, which is a species of mercy. Does that give me some sense of virtue? I suppose.

The sense of virtue, though, is just a vanity. It is especially a vanity if in fact the one who is flattering themselves in fact has no option beside either prevailing gently or losing and becoming subject to the victor’s whim. All good if they do prevail, and possibly karmicly virtuous even if they lose, but mercy, at least by my thought of the evening implies the availability of more severe options.

Coming back to aikido techniques, again strictly my thought of the moment is that only if you know the rigorous forms can you call omitting them merciful. So, I certainly don’t doubt for a minute that O Sensei could have devastated his training partners. Their ukemi demonstrate their respect for that potential. But I’m told that Saito Sensei opined that without mercy, ukemi is impossible. Certainly that is not to imply that practicing severe forms and injuring people has a place in the dojo. Practicing the severe forms short of injury, however, may be fundamental. Without that, how can you personally claim to be merciful? You, whatever your mental state or intentions, would be constrained by your limited technical knowledge.

It does occur to me that consistently training in merciful techniques may make the merciful option more available to us. Trading places continuously might even improve our compassionate character. There has to be some balance here. If all we wanted to do is maim and kill, there are more efficient avenues. If, however, we never wanted to do that or conceived any necessity, why not just do dance? (I know – dance is harder!)


“Aiki Ken and Jo Suburi: Part 9 – Shomen Uchi Ushiro Tsuki” by James Neiman


This is the 9th in a 27-part series on the Aiki Ken and Jo Suburi presented by James Neiman, Dojo Cho of Shugyo Aikido Dojo, where martial arts instruction in Union City, California is offered. All the articles are paired with YouTube video demonstrations of each of the Suburi (click here to subscribe to the channel, and click here to view all the articles in this series). These paired demonstrations and articles are offered to Aikidoka who would like to more fully understand the precise mechanics within each of the Suburi, how they can be practiced in both solo and partner settings, and how one can align the Suburi with taijutsu to develop increasing competence and precision with both basic and advanced technique.

Shomen Uchi Ushiro Tsuki

In this article we examine Shomen Uchi Ushiro Tsuki, which is the 4th of the Aiki Jo Suburi in the series known as the Shomen No Bu. Click here to view a video demonstration of the components of this Suburi. In summary, Shomen Uchi Ushiro Tsuki is an overhead strike combined with a rear moving thrust. It builds on the basic techniques you have learned in the Tsuki No Bu and Shomen No Bu series. Shomen Uchi Ushiro Tsuki represents the prime purpose of Aikido: dealing with multiple attackers. This initial exercise approaches the basic combination of 2 attackers: one in front of you, and one behind you. The basic body movements derived from this practice begin with the dynamic and fluid movement involving both uke and nage, and continue with the kinetic chain involved in forward, backward, striking, and thrusting movements. The exercise requires a fluid combination of movements that can be divided into 4 major sections:

  1. Drop back
  2. Enter and strike
  3. Re-orient your body for movement in the rear direction
  4. Complete the rear-moving thrust

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“Schism and Disharmony – The Bumpy Road to Aiki,” by Alister Gillies

Yukiyoshi Sagawa demonstrating his explosive “Aiki”, c. 1985

“Martial effectiveness is often trotted out as the ultimate arbiter, in spite of the fact that within the system of Aikido, this is ideologically taboo from the outset.”

Aikido arose from the ashes of post-war Japan, but there was a time when its survival was in serious doubt. It almost didn’t make it, and there have been some serious issues to face along the way. Have those concerns been resolved, or is the baggage still there trailing along behind and stunting Aiki growth? More importantly, perhaps, are we clear about what that baggage consists of and can we cut it loose? Do we need to, or is it all part of the birthing pains of Aikido that will resolve itself in the fullness of time as Aikido reaches maturity?

Let me start out by being provocative and stating from the beginning that Aiki and Aikido are not the same thing. ‘Heresy’, all might cry, but this is something I am going to insist on as a way of moving the discussion forward. My reasons will become apparent as I proceed.

Aiki is a term that is used quite frequently, almost glibly, but what does it actually mean? When reviewing the literature, it does seem to mean different things to different people. For some it is about love, for others it is about harmony, spirituality and peace. People often argue about it and disagree, quite passionately at times to the point of futility and mutual intransigence – fighting for peace?

Research, of course, is on-going and I am sure there will be many arguments over its findings, but early indications would suggest that China is the point of Aiki’s origin. This should not really surprise us, after all China exerted an influence in the region that is comparable to the Greco-Roman civilisation in European culture.

Naturally, like all cultural assets imported into Japan, this ‘skills set’ was assimilated and given a Japanese flavour by the dominant Samurai caste system of the time. The same thing happened with Ch’an Buddhism brought by Dogen from China, and Shinto, the national religion of Japan, is made up of many disparate elements that include Taoist cosmology. Why should the martial arts of Japan be any different in that respect?

For historians and pragmatists concerned with facts and martial efficacy Aiki is a skills set. It is not, contrary to received wisdom, the gift of Morihei Ueshiba to the world, nor in all probability is it something that was gifted to the Founder by Sokaku Takeda – time and research will tell on that issue. In any case, Aiki is not something that can be given to anyone; it takes time and effort to develop and having the appropriate training methodology is critical.
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“Nishio Aikido: Yasuhiko Takemori teaching in Berlin,” by Thomas Huffman

I stumbled onto this video of Yasuhiko Takemori Sensei teaching a seminar in Berlin. Takemori Sensei was one of Nishio Sensei’s top students. He taught at the Fukaya Dojo. about 6 stops from Yokohama on the line going to Yamato and past Atsugi NAF. Nishio Sensei taught there on Thursday nights and Takemori taught on Sunday nights.

Takemori Sensei would follow Nishio Sensei around too, so I practiced a lot with him. When the Fukaya Dojo closed, we moved to the Okamoto Dojo (can’t tell you where it was anymore, I forget). When I left Japan Takemori Sensei gave me 5 boken and 5 jo donated by the Okamoto Dojo for starting a dojo. You still see me with those bokken and jo.

When Nishio Sensei traveled abroad, there were others teaching while he was gone. They were all Nishio Style, but a little different. Takemori Sensei was the most consistent and faithful to Nishio Sensei’s techniques. When you watch him you are pretty much watching Nishio Sensei.

Check this out, it’s about 45 minutes long.

Shoji Nishio’s “Yurusu Budo” — the only book he ever published — is available in downloadable format here


“Ageru,” the art of giving by Francis Takahashi

“The awesome Spirit of Ueshiba Aiki, and of “ageru”, was wondrously demonstrated by the Founder when he visited Hawaii in 1961…”

A “gift” may be “something that is bestowed voluntarily and without any thought or expectation of compensation, gain, or return”. It may also be “an act, right, or a power of giving”, an independent act of generosity wholly and unselfishly initiated by the giver. The act of unconditional giving is totally free from any expectation, requirement, or need for reciprocity on the part of the recipient.

Whenever we perform a favor, or simply share something of value, we may well have any number of reasons or purposes to choose from. The intentional act of giving without any hidden or unrevealed purpose, may well represent the highest form of respect, regard or genuine affection of one person for another. Such a gift then becomes priceless.

In discussions with other folk, whether in person, email, or on an online blog situation, we can come to truly appreciate how well we understand the spirit of gifting to one another, affording the full opportunity to allow for a more complete explanation, and perhaps an actual demonstration of the original intention. I am reminded of “jam sessions” in music, where each contribution is accepted without judgment, prejudice, or arbitrary application of rules. What can result is an easy and joyful atmosphere of simply enjoying each other’s gift of spontaneity and the originality of each others’ company.

Arguments certainly do have their value, and are usually governed by clear guidelines and established standards of tone, structure, design and overall purpose. Still, the simple gift of allowing each contributor an opportunity to deliver interesting perspectives is appreciated by all who honor such moments.
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“Aikido in a Nutshell (1) – “What is Aikido?,” by Stanley Pranin

“Morihei Ueshiba (1883-1969), was a talented martial artist who devoted his life to the pursuit of martial and spiritual disciplines, culminating in the creation of aikido.”

Aikido is a Japanese martial art that evolved into its modern form in the years immediately following World War II. The art’s founder, Morihei Ueshiba (1883-1969), was a talented martial artist from a well-to-do family, who devoted his life to the pursuit of martial and spiritual disciplines, culminating in the creation of aikido.

Modern aikido’s curriculum is varied and generally includes a jujutsu-like component with joint-locking techniques, as well as throwing techniques characterized by circular and spiral movements. The principles of timing and balance-breaking are essential to the successful application of aikido techniques. Some schools also incorporate the practice of sword (ken) and staff (jo) forms.

Aikido’s largest organization, the Aikikai Foundation, based in Tokyo, Japan, is the successor and headquarters of the martial tradition established by Founder Morihei Ueshiba. Aikido’s head figure is referred to as the “Doshu” (lit., “way leader”), and serves in a dual role as both the administrative director, and arbiter of the art’s official curriculum. The first “Doshu” was Morihei Ueshiba, followed by his son Kisshomaru (1921-1999), and his grandson, Moriteru Ueshiba (b. 1951), the third and current Doshu.
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