Oct
14

Only Sensei was in the dark! “A Hilarious Episode Involving Koichi Tohei Sensei I Will Never Forget,” by Stanley Pranin

There was a pregnant pause in the room because everyone but Tohei Sensei got what I had just said. However, no one dared to show any reaction out of deference to Sensei. In retrospect, the scene was totally outrageous! All present were trying to repress an explosion of laughter. Tohei Sensei was totally in the dark because he had no idea who this Mao Tse-tung was. By that time, I was beginning to get very embarrassed because I feared I had crossed the line by making such a stupid comment while attempting to be clever. The silence continued for what seemed to be an eternity…

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Oct
14

“Sensen no Sen: Taking Performance to the Next Level,” by David Shaner

“Peak performance requires calmness under stress, which yields expanded awareness, which feeds the ability to clearly focus on the right ‘stuff.’”

David Shaner

David Shaner

Suppose you are trying to take your performance to the next level. Whether the context is athletics, business, music, or maybe just taking better care of yourself through improved diet and exercise, you can always take your game to the next level through improved focus.

As a practitioner of the martial arts, I find the training methods used for black belt examinations to be of the same substance as methods used to improve anyone’s performance in any endeavor.

Peak performance requires calmness under stress, which yields expanded awareness, which feeds the ability to clearly focus on the right “stuff.” This enables you to perform with confidence at a higher level. When you learn to practice with confidence in the daily pursuit of continuous improvement, for example in the martial arts or in a lean enterprise, anyone (or organization) can plan to take their game to the next level. For individuals as well as corporations, adopting the Seven Arts change process means that the focus is mental; that is, learning to be fully engaged and at your best every single day. Imagine what changes might occur at your workplace if everyone involved were completely focused and supportive of each other!

Let me explain the martial context first.

This past June I was teaching our Eastern Ki Federation Summer Camp held at Christopher Newport University. The focus this year was training students who were preparing for their Black Belt examinations. There is a planned increase in performance with each grade (kyu) as students work their way through the early stages of traditional martial arts training.

ToheiSensei2The theme was building upon an oft-spoken phrase that my teacher Soshu Koichi Tohei (1920-2011) always taught, especially when preparing students for black belt testing, “ki (or mind) moves first.” Tohei Sensei is the Founder of Shinshin Toitsu Aikido and Ki no Kenkyukai, and was the first person to bring the martial art of Aikido out of Japan in 1953. That “ki moves first” or “mind moves first” is an important concept to internalize for learning to move earlier (sensen no sen) in anticipation of your attacker’s intention(s). These concepts are also at the heart of the first of the Seven Arts, The Art of Preparation.

Any competitive endeavor has this mental dimension in which confidence arises from not only solid practice and preparation, but also from internalizing prior knowledge. In the business context, this prior knowledge refers to the company’s strategic plan. It represents a map to the future that when understood by all, enables the organization to execute the operations and commercial business plan. Again, whether in the martial arts, competitive athletics or business, it is important to communicate, understand, internalize, and have confidence in, “the plan.” Understanding and institutionalizing both the competitive strategy and the operational business plan means that everyone has bought-in and has prior knowledge (sensen no sen) of the roadmap to success.

Two of Tohei Sensei’s three main teachers were Morihei Ueshiba (1883-1969), the Founder of Aikido and Aikikai, and Nakamura Tempu (1976-1968), the Founder of Shinshin Toitsudo and Tempukai. From Ueshiba Sensei my teacher learned the “power of relaxation” for performance improvement. And, from Tempu Sensei, he learned the principle that “mind leads body”. When Tohei Sensei explained what he meant by “ki moves first” he would refer to traditional concepts in budo (martial arts) that were sometimes used by his teachers.

OSensei2For example, Ueshiba Sensei (O-Sensei) used to refer to the concept of “sensen no sen.” At Summer camp I was sharing this concept in my efforts to explain Tohei Sensei’s teaching that for all forms of performance improvement, it is always the case that one must be prepared to act prior; that is, “ki moves first”/ “mind moves body.”

One of our EKF Head Instructors in attendance at the camp is originally from Japan, but is now living in North Carolina as a professional translator. After camp, she followed up and wrote back to me a very clear summary of sensen no sen:

“I have looked up sensen no sen and the character for sen is 先 (the same as saki = precede; anticipate; prior; ahead; previously). It is one of the Budo terms as follows:

go no sen (後の先) — after the prior
“go” = behind, after, rear, “no” = of

sen no sen (先の先) — prior to prior

sensen no sen (先先の先) — prior to prior to prior

TempuSensei2In other words,

Go no sen — After you see the actual attack, you respond.

Sen no sen — After you recognize the attacker’s intention, you deal with the him before his attack reaches you.

Sensen no sen — After you recognize the attacker’s intention to attack, you deal with the attacker before his intention become an attacking move.

They are all equally employed martial art tactics (so “go no sen” is not an inferior way to sen no sen or sensen no sen).”

So, what does all this mean? If you really think about it, what causes you to be held back in your performance whether it is at work, on the athletic field, or on the musical or artistic stage? That which holds you back is your mind, specifically your ability to focus on the task at hand. And, the key is that you cannot just focus some of the time when you feel like preparing and practicing. No, your ability to take your game to the next level will require you to remain calm, relaxed, and focused making “on-strategy” decisions all day, everyday. Executing “the plan” means being fully engaged, willing to give your best, and understanding exactly what you need to do to make a difference. In athletics and in business, you need to understand how to keep score (core metrics), how your personal actions influence the score, and you need to have prior knowledge (“mind moves first”) in order to execute the plan on a consistent basis.

Note that this Seven Arts change process applies equally to the minute-by-minute, hour-by-hour, daily focus required to overcome addictions of all kinds. After all, we are all addicted to “the way in which we have always done things” and this represents literally the attached mind that is holding us back! Unless your mind is 100% focused in the right direction, you cannot expect to take your game and performance to the next level.

The key to sustained improvement for individuals as well as corporations is to understand deeply, practice, and habituate/institutionalize the mental ability to remain calm and relaxed under the considerable stress of seeking continuous daily performance improvement. When the stakes are high the stress and pressure to perform becomes greater and greater whether it is advanced black belt testing, overcoming an addiction, or pursuing continuous improvement in a world class company.

In short, continuous performance improvement in the martial arts and in business means that you have to let go of tension, let go of the past (“the way in which we have always done things”), and have prior knowledge of, and confidence in, the future plan. You are really preparing to “boldly go where you have never gone before”! And that can be scary; unless you have (and believe in) an overall performance improvement strategy that when executed will lead to success.

Developing, practicing, and institutionalizing sensen no sen would enable you or your organization to anticipate obstacles and respond with corrective speed and accuracy. Whether you are responding to an attack in the martial arts, or a verbal threat on the factory floor, or an immanent strategic threat posed by a competitor with a new product or service, your ability (and your organization’s ability) to be at your best depends upon first calming your mind and then focusing it upon “on-strategy” tasks hour-by-hour every single day.

So, how then do you “take your performance to the next level?”

Overcoming an addiction and pursuing world-class performance both start with the MIND. At the end of the day, you must be able to focus, anticipate problems, respond in ways that are on-strategy (making good choices), and remain doing so on a consistent basis even under the daily stresses and strains occasioned by the pursuit of continuous improvement. As Tohei Sensei taught, “ki moves first” (related to Ueshiba Sensei’s sensen no sen) and “mind leads body” (related to Tempu Sensei’s shinshin toitsu-do).

Tohei Sensei’s ki-aikido teaching that “mind goes first” is woven through The Seven Arts of Change, but is especially important for practicing The Art of Preparation (Assessment), The Art of Relaxation (Clarity, Visibility, and Focus), and The Art of Conscious Action (Execution).

——————–

David Shaner is the author of the new book The Seven Arts of Change: Leading Business Transformation That Lasts. David is the principal of CONNECT Consulting, LLC, which advises organizational change for Fortune 500 corporations. His previous clients include Umbro, Frito-Lay, Duracell, BIC, Ryobi, Gillette, Owens Corning Composites and many others. He currently holds an endowed chair as Herring Professor of Asian Studies and Philosophy at Furman University, and is also an internationally renowned teacher of Ki-Aikido holding a Seventh Degree Black Belt. Shaner has taught at Harvard University, was a member of the Olympic Valley USA Ski Team, and has served as a Fulbright Fellow in India.

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Oct
13

Achieve your training goals! “Identifying and correcting training errors”

Aikido Journal Editor Stanley Pranin with Morihiro Saito Sensei in San Diego, 1988

If you repeat the same fundamental errors during your practice, will your progress in aikido be what it could be? Aikido training changes lives! Don’t you owe it to yourself to make the most out of the countless hours you spend in the dojo? This course lays out a plan of action to help you set out on a straight course and achieve your training goals…

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Oct
13

Something new for you! “Solving common training problems that impede your progress in aikido!” by Stanley Pranin


Over the years I have attended a lot of aikido seminars representing a variety of different styles. I’ve noticed what I consider to be major problems in the way people typically train in the art. You can use your training time more profitably when you take responsibility for mastering aikido’s core principles, and applying them…

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Oct
12

FREE PDF DOWNLOAD! Aiki News Number 60, March 1984

Contents

● Editorial – Blueprint for the standardization of aikido testing, by Stanley Pranin
● Shoji Nishio Interview, by Stanley Pranin
● Morihiro Saito Technical Notebook — Tsuki iriminage, by Morihiro Saito
● Heard in the Dojo
● O-Sensei Biography — “The Kobukan Hell Dojo Period,” by Kisshomaru Ueshiba
● Letters to the Editor

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Oct
12

Well executed, unusual techniques! Women’s Self-Defense (1947): “Keep Your Hands Off Me, Mister!”

This rare video shot in 1947 presents Mary Parker and Lon Leonard in a demonstration of women’s self-defense that is obviously mostly jujutsu. There are a lot of unusual techniques that are well executed. Great fun to watch!…

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Oct
11

In Japan for the first time! “Koichi Tohei in the Heyday of the Aikikai” by Stanley Pranin

My efforts to gather materials on the Founder met with little success. I was able to buy a few books and several back issues of the Aikido Shimbun published by the dojo, but my requests through the office to obtain copies of photographs or films led to no concrete results. Finally near the end of my stay I asked Iwao Tamura, one of Tohei Sensei’s deshi who was fluent in English, if it would be possible to ask Tohei Sensei again about helping me. As a result, I was called to a room on the second floor of the dojo late in August. Present were Tohei Sensei, Mr. Tamura and myself. I was told clearly that I was considered to be a student of Tohei student and as such was mistaken to have trained with other teachers during my stay in Japan…

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Oct
11

The Founder and weapons: “Morihei Ueshiba had teachers of the Kashima Shinto-ryu school teach at his Kobukan Dojo!”

The “Budo” manual includes several suburi movements derived from Kashima paired-sword (kumitachi) practices. Ueshiba, together with Zenzaburo Akazawa, formally enrolled in this 500-year-old classical tradition based in Kashima, Ibaragi Prefecture in 1937. Although Ueshiba never actually practiced at the Kashima dojo, instructors from the school visted Ueshiba’s dojo once a week for about a year to teach a few students including Akazawa and Ueshiba’s son, Kisshomaru. Ueshiba would keenly observe these special training sessions and then practice on his own with students such as his son and Akazawa who had taken lessons with the Kashima teachers. Ueshiba would continue his experimentation with these sword arts through approximately 1955. These constitute the root forms for the aiki ken techniques which were subsequently systematized into their present forms by Morihiro Saito in Iwama…

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Oct
11

Weapons & Aikido: “It is not credible to state that aikido does not involve the study of weapons!”

Surprising to some will be the large number of techniques included in “Budo” that are performed with weapons. Fully one-third of the book features techniques executed using the knife, sword, spear and mock-bayonet. There are a number of identifiable influences that bear on the inclusion of these weapon techniques. One is the fact that Ueshiba was at the very time of the compilation of Budo experimenting with the sword techniques of the Kashima Shinto-ryu school…

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Oct
11

Let’s get technical! “An Irrefutable Photo Record of Morihei’s Prewar Aiki Budo”

Morihei Ueshiba’s 1938 “Budo” is one of the most important historical documents on the evolution of aikido technique and is very relevant to contemporary students of aikido. We are indebted to the Founder and to Morihiro Saito Sensei for having created these wonderful resources. Here is a video trailer that will give you a good look at Morihiro Saito Sensei’s approach to an analysis of O-Sensei’s old training manual…

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Oct
11

Attuned with surroundings… Morihei Ueshiba: “High energy techniques,” by Stanley Pranin

“Kihaku,” usually translated as “spirit” or “vigor,” is a term that can be used to describe the overall energy level or focus evident in the Founder’s aikido. There was an “electric” or “charged” quality in his movements that was so palpable it could be picked up even by an observer. All of the characteristics of O-Sensei’s aikido that we have alluded to above taken together can be summed up as kihaku. It is a dynamic intensity born of total focus in attunement with one’s surroundings…

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Oct
11

Jam the kicker’s hip! Aikido versus outside low kick

One example of Aikido defense against outside low (leg) kick using application of “extend ki” and adaptation of the “unbendable arm” principle to become “unbendable leg.” Demonstration by Enso Aikido Dojo…

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