Archives for July 2012


Shoji Nishio: Dazzling action stills of a martial art genius

“Dazzling as the Founder’s technique was, Ueshiba offered
no real explanation of what he was doing.”

When Shoji Nishio joined the Aikikai, the founder Ueshiba O-Sensei was spending most of his time in Iwama in Ibaragi Prefecture. It was a full year and a half before Nishio saw the imposing figure of the founder in action for the first time. What particularly impressed Nishio about Ueshiba’s technique was his lightning fast handling of the sword. Dazzling as his technique was, Ueshiba offered no real explanation of what he was doing. For example, when Nishio inquired of his seniors about the use and importance of the sword in aikido, no satisfactory answer was forthcoming, so he decided to take matters in his own hands.

Nisho was convinced that aikido was the true martial path for him. At the same time, he found shortcomings in its practice methods, especially after watching Ueshiba’s incredible sword work and noting the lack of inclusion of sword techniques in the art’s curriculum. To remedy things, as he had done before, Nishio took up the study of iaido (Muso Jikiden Eishin-ryu) with 10th dan Shigenori Sano in 1955, and then jodo (Shindo Muso-ryu) with the famous Takaji Shimizu (1896-1978). Each of these arts contributed to his knowledge of the use of weapons and, in turn, complemented his aikido training. Not everyone was pleased with Nishio’s forays into other arts as his aikido began to take on a unique flavor….

Martial arts common sense

Quotes from Shoji Nishio Sensei:

Aikido is a ‘budo’, a ‘martial way’, and therefore inextricably rooted in ‘jujutsu’ or ‘martial technique’. Yet when I look at the aikido world today, I see very little ‘budo-ness’ being expressed in technique, and I wonder if people haven’t begun to forget these important roots.

Budo must always reflect its surroundings. If it isn’t newer and stronger, it isn’t valid.

As the goal of my training I have always strived to realize even one of the Founder’s teachings. He taught, for example, about a certain universality inherent in aikido: With a sword this technique becomes a sword technique; with a jo it becomes a jo technique; it can become all things.

We don’t disrupt the opponent’s breathing because, in the aikido way, the opponent changes his breathing and we adjust our breathing accordingly.

I regard atemi as the soul of Japanese martial arts. Atemi temporarily neutralize the opponent’s fighting ability and allow him to correct his attitude and return to his previous condition.

We have an outstanding set of 4 instructional DVDs by Shoji Nishio Sensei that merit your attention


Las Vegas Seminar Update: “Exploring Morihei Ueshiba O-Sensei’s Aikido”

“Some have even referred to the event as ‘Mini Aiki Expo’!”

Several high-ranking yudansha and instructors have signed up so far for the seminar to be conducted by Stanley Pranin from October 5-7th in Las Vegas. This unusual aikido event will be held in a private dojo setting and is limited to 15 participants. Some have even referred to the seminar as a “Mini Aiki Expo!” As of this writing, only 4 spots are left.

Many revere the art of Morihei Ueshiba and consider him the pinnacle of attainment, but would be hard-pressed to describe the specifics of what he did to make his aikido so special. For example, Koichi Tohei, 10th dan and one of the Founder’s most famous students stated repeatedly, “The main difference I saw in the Founder’s aikido compared to others was that he was relaxed.” What does that mean anyway? In our training, do we find that our seniors and instructors are “relaxed” when they execute techniques? Or do they resort to physical force when the technique does work smoothly?

In order to shed some light on these fascinating subjects, the event will explore key aspects of the aikido of Founder Morihei Ueshiba and suggest reasons why much of O-Sensei’s art has not found its way into modern aikido. These are facets of his art that are there right before our eyes, but that are hardly ever noticed or discussed. Specific techniques will be analyzed in detail to illustrate important principles of Morihei”s art.

Participants at the event may find certain long-held assumptions about Morihei’s aikido are challenged, and that the Founder’s approach offers many profound insights that will sharpen their understanding of the art.

Complete information about the Las Vegas seminar is available here.


HD Trailer: Aikido — “The Ascent to Beauty” featuring Seishiro Endo and Christian Tissier

This film documentary is a beautiful documentary in high definition featuring Seishiro Endo Sensei and Christian Tissier Sensei. There are some fascinating randori scenes in slow motion. The production values are very high and English subtitles are included. It was directed by Manuel Radons.


October 5-7: Weekend Seminar with Stanley Pranin in Las Vegas!

“Practice Aikido in Fabulous Las Vegas with the Founder of Aikido Journal”

This is Stanley Pranin! I would like to cordially invite you to join me October 5-7, 2012 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 chatting 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. If 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
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)


“Metsuke,” by Rick Berry

I’ve been teaching Aikido for over twenty-six years but before that I spent eighteen years teaching Ji Do Kwan/Tae Kwon Do in a system I call The Quiet Storm.

Regarding the excellent blog by Nev concerning “Metsuke,” here is a method I’ve employed for my Aikido students as well as Tae Kwon Do over the years:

I use 5 students. I have 3 of them standing about 4 to 6 feet apart while standing in one line. with the 2 outside students facing toward the one in the center. I then have the 4th student facing the center student.

That 4th student executes a strong lunge punch at the face of the center student with the intent of making contact. The intent on contact is essential. The center student is (A). The lunging student is (B). The 5th student (C) is standing about 8 feet behind (B) with his hands spread outward. I have (A) focus his eyes on (C) while deflecting the face-punch coming from (B).

At the same moment (B) is punching, the 2 students standing to the side facing (A) move either their left or right hands, or their left or right feet. (A) is required to call out which item moves. I then have (A) move slightly forward of the other 2 on the line to increase the difficulty of his peripheral vision.

The beauty of this exercise is most people can do it with a little practice. It just scares the hell out of them the first few times they attempt it.


“The Magic Bullet and A Veneer of Silliness,” by Nev Sagiba

“The proven and surviving real life masters of their craft accepted apprentices. You qualified by proving yourself, live or die, not random guesses of multiple choice questions.”

Before I indulge my diatribe let me qualify it by saying that I first began training 55 years ago. Judo.

After that it was chopping wood, more judo, swimming, weights, cycling, running athletics and anything else that was accessible.

At 14 I was manually cutting sugar cane. At 16 rounding up cows on horseback and after that it was hauling nets, rowing and diving all the daylight hours, interspersed with growing food manually.

It did me good! Each activity taught me much.

In between I continued my other studies. I had discovered I could make better pace by wagging school and cycling to the National Library than listen to people claiming to be teachers boringly repeat what they had already told us over and over for weeks before.

Really, they must think kids are stupid or something. Short attention span my.. foot!
WE GET IT THE FIRST TIME! Thank you very much.

Then that’s trained out of us in case we learn HOW TO THINK, but no, they want us to “learn” what to think so we can become office and cannon fodder for the world’s mismanagers who like to imagine they are “gods.” Just look at the state of the world and there is you answer.

I think the diatribe has already begun.

Anyhow, today (I’m presently in transit.) I went to a gym to enquire about times, fees and equipment.

The lady in attendance was “out of brochures” and asked me to phone or go online! Extraordinary! I was there in person!!

I had to almost beg for a business card or something with those points of reference.

So, imagining some immense mystery, I went online but could not find them. After getting inventive I did but the website, whilst containing lots and lots and lots of WORDS, failed to provide the salient information I was seeking.
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“I just looked at the Wikipedia entry on “Aikido” and here is what I found…” by Stanley Pranin


“It was those who came after him, especially Kisshomaru Ueshiba and Koichi Tohei who deemphasized these areas. It’s all backwards here!”

Aikido Journal Editor Stanley PraninI was just wondering recently what the article on aikido in Wikipedia looked like these days. Many years ago when Wikipedia was just starting, I made a few contributions to their aikido entry, but stopped participating due to lack of time. These days, I try to check it occasionally to see if I think this wonderful resource does justice to the subject.

In looking at the entry today, I find that the introductory paragraphs are well done and do a good job of capturing the essence of the art in four short paragraphs.

Further down, in the discussion of the etymology of “aikido,” “Way of combining forces” is given as a literal translation of ai-ki-do. I would take issue with this and suggest “Way of energy-matching,” or something similar, if I would like to be literal. “Force” is not a good choice to translate “ki.”

Similarly, the discussion of the term “aiki” is very superficial and really attempts to describe how the word is used in an aikido context, rather than in martial arts in general as is stated in the article. The subject of aiki is very complex and the term has had different meanings in different martial traditions.

Continuing, the meaning of “Osensei” is explained using my definition of the term from the “Encyclopedia of Aikido” as a reference. You will find a lot of information on all aspects of the art if you consult this work.

In the “Initial development” subsection, the entry describes the martial influences on Morihei Ueshiba in the creation of his art. Daito-ryu Aikijujutsu is mentioned as the “core martial art” from which aikido derives. This is correct and is at odds with the view espoused by Kisshomaru Ueshiba, Morihei’s son, in his many books where he portrays Daito-ryu as one of several technical influences on modern aikido. This is also the position of the Aikikai Hombu Dojo in Tokyo. Further, a long-standing and recurring error in Kisshomaru’s books that mentions Morihei’s study of Kito-ryu jujutsu, rather than Tenjin Shinyo-ryu jujutsu, has been corrected. Good job, Wikipedia!
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“Training the Mind, Body, and Spirit in Aikido” – by James Neiman

O’Sensei was undoubtedly a person motivated by his spiritual ideals, and he spent a good deal of time engaging in meditation and prayer in addition to martial arts training. This has influenced countless Aikidoka ever since, and there have been many points of view offered with regard to the integration of character and spiritual development in martial arts training. I would like to offer my own perspectives on this, which are, by definition, one person’s experience and opinions.

I developed from a student into a teacher over many years, and can claim some expertise in martial arts training. So what does that qualify me to do as Sensei? Should I strictly limit my leadership to technique? Am I a mentor for character development? Am I a spiritual leader? How do I ensure that my students (and myself for that matter) become good citizens both within the Aikido community and within the larger community? Is that really my responsibility? What would qualify me to provide leadership in these areas?

What I Enjoy

I absolutely love going to seminars and, for a few hours or even an entire weekend, copying other experts to learn how they execute technique. Sometimes I retain what they have offered, thinking, this is really cool stuff! I have enjoyed many great books and articles on Aikido, especially those on the physio-mechanics of good technique and occasionally, some applications of Aikido toward interpersonal conflict resolution.

My Issue

I have attended uncountably many workshops and seminars, and have seen teaching ranging from pure technique, to religious chants, to praying to various gods and spirits, to spiritual breathing exercises, to offering religious certifications, etc. I have heard claims that one cannot possibly learn the true Aikido unless one engages in the same spiritual, meditative, and technical practices as O’Sensei’s. No offense to anybody, but if I want spiritual direction, I have my church priest, thank you very much. Personally, it makes me very uncomfortable to be in a seminar and be asked to engage in practices that violate the 1st Commandment in the Judeo-Christian tradition. As a matter of fact, it is a cause for silent disobedience on my part (which may even include an impatient or angry internal reaction), which is anathema to a person who has spent most of his life saying “Hai!” to his teachers. It raises in my mind this question: Does the Sensei leading the workshop think that a faithful follower of another belief system cannot be a true Aikidoka? Some have actually explicitly said so! This makes me very sad, because I cannot avoid opining that it is ultimately a divisive thing to say to people. It is a fact, though, that some students love these types of teachers and flock to them. But is this really what O’Sensei had in mind when he wanted for all people to be reconciled in love? Did he walk on water, raise the dead, and heal the sick, or even claim to? What would he have to say about all this?
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Strange coincidence? Aikidoka takes down robber with kotegaeshi


“Well, kotegaeshi worked in at least one case. Here is the proof!””

Is it just a coincidence or a quirk of fate that we have this news report of an employee of a Baskin-Robbins Ice Cream store successfully defending himself with aikido? Gabe Sutherland of Portland, Oregon — after having studied aikido for only three months — managed to apply a kotegaeshi on a masked robber who pointed a gun close to his side. Sutherland says, “Instinct just kicked in.” He succeeded in wrested the gun from the assailant’s hand and the man fled the store.

The irony of all of this is that we have just had a very lively thread on this blog about whether nikyo and kotegaeshi–common aikido techniques–can work in a real situation. In this case, it did! Is this man a hero or a fool?!

What’s your take?


“Trolls not allowed here!,” by Stanley Pranin

Once upon a time many years ago, Aikido Journal had a bulletin board or forum that attracted a great deal of participation and discussion. Together with the forum of, which still exists, I believe we were at the forefront of happenings in the aikido world.

As the forum grew, it became more and more demanding to manage, and I had too little time to moderate it properly. I then made a poor judgement in allowing discussions to take place in other languages to enlarge the scope of our efforts. Little by little, I let people carry on their own discussions in different languages without hardly any policing! BIG, DUMB MISTAKE!

Flame-wars began erupting with some people criticizing participants  and making degrading personal attacks. One jolly fellow began to post pornographic images inside the forum every few seconds to thumb his nose at both his opponent and the operator of the website–that would be me!– in one fell swoop! I was in sheer panic!
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“33 Years in the Art — a Current View,” by Charles A. McCarty

“While I held him pinned into a corner with one hand and searched his pockets with the other, he cried out; “Where is that old man? I’m going to kick his ass!'”

In 1980, as a callow youth (as it were) I was presumptuous enough to tackle an impossible task: To explain the unexplainable, to talk about the unknowable and to present it all in written form as a knowledgeable discourse about an art in which I was still a beginner, at least in the estimation of my instructors and superiors in the art.

This has never stopped me before, or since for that matter. Further, I need to let you know that it works. As I often counsel my students when they are struggling with a technique in class; just fake it. Pretend like you know what you are doing (talking about) and very often you will convince everyone around you, as long as you act (speak) with authority and conviction.

In 1981 I graduated (with honors) from John F. Kennedy University of Orinda, California in the Master of Arts; Comparative Mysticism (Religion and Consciousness) program. Yes, you heard that right. That same Spring I was tested for first degree black belt (shodan) in Aikido at San Jose, California. It was a near-run thing (no honors this time), but I made it, and put on the black belt that my instructor took off his own waist and presented to me, along with the hakama, or ceremonial pants-skirt traditionally worn by samurai and Aikido black belts that I had secretly purchased two months after I began to train in Aikido. I still wear that same belt today, though it has gradually turned back (appropriately enough) into a nearly white belt, as the belt has worn into near tatters. Many hakamas, however, have been worn through and discarded.

My shaky introduction to the world of Aikido at the level of black belt (still regarded as a beginner, but a serious one) allowed me to go into partnership with my first instructor to found a new dojo in Walnut Creek. There is nothing like teaching to force the learning of the details and innermost working of an art, despite what the unlearned say about teachers (those who can’t, etc.). I continued to train with my primary instructor in Berkeley and all over the Bay Area, and had the opportunity to be the uke for a number of others taking their black belt tests, which is a high honor; even being allowed to be the attacking partner for a second degree (nidan) test for one of our partners in the new dojo, which is very unusual.
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“Randori, an Aiki perspective,” by Francis Takahashi

“I have a serious bone to pick with certain Neanderthal type “purists” who insist that certain risk elements be incorporated into their training to ensure authenticity and martial integrity.”

Ran (chaos) + dori (taking or grasping) equals randori, a specialized aspect of training employed by several martial arts systems, including Aikido, which is crafted to further develop technical proficiency, a heightened situational awareness, and hopefully, a growing ability to maintain “sangfroid” (unruffled coolness) during stressful training, as well as in real time situations.

Randori can be performed by two individuals, or by having several individuals apply various levels and styles of pressuring attacks to the nage, the designated attackee. The goal is not necessarily to triumph, but to primarily persevere throughout the ordeal, emerging with a more enhanced experience, and a more confirmed sense of self knowledge, and of self confidence. Real confidence in both the self and in one’s training partners is a true win-win scenario in randori.

In the highest sense, it is a celebration of genuine accomplishment for all involved, from those who successfully develop better skills for giving realistic attacks, as well as for those who need to deal effectively with such novel and intense scrutiny of their skill levels, not to mention, of course, their respective abilities to remain cool under fire.

In Aikido, we can acknowledge a wide and definitely diverse range of methods and attitudes to the role of randori in everyday training. Randori kyogi can specifically refer to “sports training”, using the medium of clearly defined methods and goals of implementing, and benefitting from this competitive randori style of training. Although the Founder himself, Morihei Ueshiba, is said to have unconditionally condemned this form of training in “his” aikido, there are schools that regularly promote its use and extol its virtues. Perhaps it can be a matter of degree, but even without formal rules and guidelines for the existence of “competitive aikido”, we do find in existence many levels of formats with intensity intended, and the affirmative support for realistic randori training. Perhaps the rationale is to promote more original and useful skills development of the serious student, via the various forms and interpretations of modern aikido training today.
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