Jul
13

“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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Jul
09

“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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Jul
08

“The problem with Nikyo and Kote Gaeshi” by Phil Davison

“If you use Nikyo in a contemporary self-defence situation, your enemy
may simply stand there, and possibly hit you with their free hand.”

When I first started doing martial arts I trained in a Hapkido dojo (dojang) where the sparring was reasonably intense. We had a lot of injuries. I don’t agree with this sort of training and nowadays my students very rarely injure themselves. But in training like that I learned a few valuable lessons, and these have got me thinking about Kote Gaeshi and Nikyo.

Way back then, I was sparring and my left little finger got caught in the sleeve of my opponents gi. We both heard a crack, but I formed a fist with my left hand, and carried on favouring my right hand until the instructor called break. There was no serious pain (until later), and I was young and tough (and perhaps stupid as well). An X ray later revealed that one side of the second metacarpal bone had been shattered. Lesson: Firstly, it’s surprising how much damage a fluke accident can cause, and secondly – having a finger bone shattered is not enough to stop a fit young man.

Another time I was doing a demonstration, and my partner and I got our timing wrong on a gyaku hiji technique. We both heard my ulnar collateral ligament tear. I knew something was wrong – but hey – it was a demo so I was hyped. Of course I finished the demo (I was young and tough (and stupid). Did it hurt? Not that I remember – I was too hyped up with doing the demo to let it stop me, although I was aware that I no longer had full control over my right arm.
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Jul
03

“An Overview of Koichi Tohei’s Early Aikido Career,” by Stanley Pranin

In May, 1974, an event occurred that shook the roots of the aikido world to its very foundations. It was then that Koichi Tohei, the chief instructor of the Aikikai Hombu Dojo, resigned from his post and left the headquarters organization to form his own school.

Many aikido associations, dojos, instructors, and students, particularly in Japan and the U.S.A., were compelled to make a choice of whether to stay within the Aikikai system or join Tohei’s newly-created Shin Shin Toitsu Aikido organization.

The impact on those who remained within the Aikikai system was nonetheless traumatic because they saw the illusion of harmony at the highest level of leadership in the aikido world shattered. Regardless of where one stood on the issue, aikido at large had suffered a huge black eye.

From the viewpoint of the Aikikai, Tohei’s actions and attempts to dictate the technical curriculum and teaching methodology were unacceptable. In Tohei’s eyes, the aikido headquarters had snubbed his leadership and failed to sufficiently acknowledge his many accomplishments and contributions to the postwar spread of aikido, both in Japan and abroad. The contentious issue was further complicated by a web of long-standing personal relationships that had gone sour.

The upshot of this tragic situation was that in the aftermath of Tohei’s departure, neither he nor the Aikikai has wished to revisit this unfortunate episode and the issue has been effectively swept under the rug for more than 35 years.

Who is Koichi Tohei and why is he so important to an understanding of the development of aikido? Should he be unceremoniously deleted from aikido history due to past grievances or should he be given due credit for his role in the shaping of the art of aikido?

Early Years

Koichi Tohei was born in Tokyo on January 20, 1920. His well-to-do family soon moved to its ancestral home in Tochigi Prefecture where the young Koichi grew up. He studied judo as a teenager, but his training was interrupted while a student at Keio University due to a bout with pleurisy.

In 1940, in an effort to regain his health, Tohei joined the Ichikukai and engaged in intensive misogi breathing and meditation training. It was shortly thereafter that he received an introduction to Morihei Ueshiba Sensei who operated a private martial arts dojo in the Shinjuku Ward of Tokyo. Tohei immediately joined the dojo and practiced intensively under the Aikido Founder up until the time of his induction into the Japanese Imperial Army in October 1942.
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Jul
02

“Are there Kata in Aikido?” by Nick Lowry

“Just forget your self a little and turn loose and let the undifferentiated aiki flow through you, and see what happens.”

http://www.aikidojournal.com/blog/media/lowry.jpgAre there any such things as kata in aikido? Of course there are – it’s a silly question, but if you take it that aikido is the invention of M. Ueshiba, then originally, surprisingly, No.

Nor were there names of waza. That just knocked me over when I first learned of it. Ueshiba didn’t call kotegaeshi, kotegaeshi he just called it aikido. He didn’t call iriminage, irirminage, just aikido. No names at all – Just undifferentiated aiki. The flow of the moment did this, so he did that, and there you have it, just AIKIDO, expressing itself through him in a multitude of ways. He didn’t teach techniques, he just taught aikido.

There were just actions and reactions — the expression of what he did from the general principles he embodied. Whatever he did–whatever stuff happened was aikido. No organizing structures, no teaching devices like kihon, katas or the like. Everything was Henka; everything was just variations on the general themes. And he made that work—and work well – he was the top of the heap, ultimate martial artist of his time and place. And he was tested—tested like no one else I’ve learned of since— shinken shobu–tested with live steel and if the legends are right, bullets too. Bullets may be a bit far, there might be some smoke and mirrors showmanship here, but nonetheless it is pretty well known that he took on all comers, judo, kendo, sumo you name it—he was unrivaled by all accounts, both armed and unarmed.
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Jul
01

“Tell me about Aikido” by Rick Berry

“There are 168 hours in a week, and if you trade 40 of them to a corporation, they will give you enough compensation to support 128 hours for your personal interests and pleasure.”

A potential student called me some years ago to inquire about Aikido. I asked what he was looking for. His question was “What is Aikido? Tell me something about it because I think I want to try it.” I hesitated as I usually do when asked to describe one of my passions. Telling someone how I feel does not give them the experience. It’s like a salesman selling a bike to someone who has never seen one before. After watching others riding, one wants to enjoy the pastime also. But the first several attempts will end in failure and the purchaser will want his money back, not realizing that much effort is required in the beginning. Balance must be regained.

But getting back to Aikido – I give the first lesson freely. I don’t tell him that he seeks change as that may drive him away. I ask him to come in to see a class for himself. Only then can I explain how this art may help him achieve his goals. I’ve given him an open secret- all accomplishment begins with that first step, be it a goal or a journey.

My thinking goes like this: In order to effect change in your life, you must take a step (an action). That first step means you are willing to change but it usually slows to a trickle after experiencing difficulty, when you seem not to progress very much and come to a stop (non-action). The obstacle blocking your progress is usually not physical but mental. The dojo is not a gym, it is the “way-place” or the “place of change”, but most who come to me for change cannot or will not change their way of thinking.
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Jun
28

“On Kindness” by Charles Humphrey

“It is always one’s own fault for not being kind or
charitable enough, never one’s partner’s fault.”

I have not been able to write for some time. I am glad to be able to once again. I want to write about kindness. I think it is the heart of martial arts, both in aim and in practice. I would like to deal with it on two fronts, first in the strictly martial terms which will be most acceptable to those inclined towards these disciplines. Then I wish to expand it to the larger sphere.

My earliest encounter with the power of kindness in military terms comes from my childhood love of the novel “Ender’s Game” by Orson Scott Card. In it a child bred and trained for military genius believes he is to save humanity from a future invasion from an alien species, only to find that he is leading the invasion against said species. His success and skill stems from his combination of an ability to love his enemy while retaining his own purpose. I cannot explain it so well but that is the idea. I recently had that idea recalled when I watched a video of Systema teacher Mikhail Ryabko talk of the necessity to be kind to one’s training partner in order to follow their movements. Those words affirmed to me that my sense about Systema being one of the highest arts, developed from a distance, was correct. I had the opportunity to train with them for a short time thereafter and am grateful for the experience. I hope to have a chance to do so for a longer time in the future.
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Jun
27

Aikido Training in Las Vegas: “Aikido and an Empty Mind,” by Paul Barrett

“The old adage ‘practice makes perfect’ is incorrect.
Rather, it should read ‘practice makes permanent’.”

I’ve been doing various martial arts for well over 35 years and concentrating on aikido for about 20. I found aikido while searching for a martial arts style that was ubiquitous enough that I could easily slip from one dojo to another as first my schooling, and then my career moved me about the country. Naively I thought aikido would open up a world of standardization where all dojos taught the same techniques the same way. It didn’t take me long to realize the myriad of flavors among dojos and aikido organizations.

My profession continues to move me to new cities on the average of every five years. During my aikido journey I’ve been a formal member of seven dojos, three major organizations and attained the rank of nidan. I’ve also attended many national and regional gasshuku and workshops and visited numerous dojos as a guest while traveling for my work. I currently have the fortune of training semi-regularly with Sensei Stan Pranin with a small but eager group of students in his garage.
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Jun
26

II. “The role of the hero,” by Charles A. McCarty

“Heroism has been accorded to those valiant in battle,
noble in their aims and chivalrous in their actions.”

Central to mythology is the hero. The hero is the figure who represents both history and example. The stories in which the hero plays his part depict events the way they happened, or more likely, the way they should have happened. History is served by an approximation of events, while the function of exemplar is served by the idealization of those events. Myths are a teaching aid for future generations, without the shortcomings of their predecessors.

The hero figure has a powerful influence on the daily lives of each of us. Consciously or unconsciously, we have a tendency to mold our lives and pattern our actions after a past or living (but usually distant) individual. The unspoken desire is that of becoming a hero ourselves. The myths in which heroes slay dragons and acquire the love of beautiful maidens along with the power of a kingdom express a secret desire for recognition and acknowledgment for the difficult task of simply living. That it seems unlikely that you or I, as individuals, shall ever be enshrined as heroes, as examples for the ages, is a source of frustration, disguised by cynicism and black humor. (Check yourself. Is one of the first images that comes to mind as a hero a comic view of being dragged down by a monstrously large “hero” medal? It was mine.)

This sort of external view of heroism is indeed doomed to produce frustration, for the genuine and lasting heroes are rare, and the candidates great in number. It seems in fact that we are doomed to be no more than “players strutting and fretting” as our lives dwindle away. The small acts of good, evil and indifferent nature which characterize daily life fade as the years pass, as perishable as the yellowing newsprint on which the more noble or notorious of our actions may briefly be graven.

But what does it mean to be a hero? They have been regarded as of superhuman strength and favored by the gods in early Japanese culture. In more recent centuries, heroism has been accorded to those valiant in battle, noble in their aims and chivalrous in their actions.(5)

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Jun
25

“Youtube and Aikido – Is it really worth it?” by Sam Street

youtube-collage

“Youtube has made it possible for Aikidoka all across the globe to access hundreds of fantastic videos of some of the greatest teachers the art has known.”

The internet has changed so many things for so many activities and past times. If not revolutionised, it has at the very least altered in some way, almost every part of people’s lives, even for the simplest of things. For example I was cooking from a recipe book just the other day, but the temperatures for the recipe were in ˚C, problem being that I have a gas cooker. So I jumped online and found a conversion table for gas marks. Now that may seem to be a perfectly normal thing to do in this day and age, and indeed it is, but it’s just another example of how the internet has changed the way so many things are done. Which brings me to Aikido…

Compared to other things, Aikido is probably relatively unaffected by the internet, but if there is one area where new possibilities have opened up for Aikido, it is the ability to share video footage, primarily on that well known source of pleasures, pains, and futile arguments-Youtube. There are many pros and cons of uploading videos of any kind to Youtube, let alone videos of Aikido. What I intend to do is examine the many ups and downs, points for and points against Aikido videos on the internet.

Let’s get the most overwhelmingly positive point out of the way first; Youtube has made it possible for Aikidoka all across the globe to access hundreds of fantastic videos of some of the greatest teachers the art has known. At the touch of a button you can watch pre-war footage of O-sensei, you can see Saito sensei demonstrating all manner of different Suburi, and Tohei sensei fending off a swarm of ukes. You can also see footage of the All Japan Embukai demonstrations which the vast majority of Aikido students will not get the opportunity to see otherwise. So for an Aikido student who wants to get a glimpse of their art’s history, Youtube is indeed an excellent resource.

Of course these videos only make up a certain portion of the Aikido presence on Youtube. There are of course many more user-made videos which all garner varying degrees of praise or insult. These videos range from teachers giving instruction on how to apply certain techniques, to relatively new students who want to either show the world their new found skills or get some feedback on their techniques, to people who haven’t the first idea about Aikido, but want to produce a spoof martial arts video simply for the fun of it. Whilst many of these videos are beneficial and worthy of praise, it is fair to say that they simply don’t command as much respect from viewers as the videos of the old masters and it is in this area; the ability to comment, where the downside of video sharing rear its ugly head.
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Jun
24

“Renshu and Keiko” by Nick Lowry

“Real Keiko is knowing and reflection with the whole body not to be confused with dry book learning or learning by rote.”

To know something you must do it one thousand times, To “really” know something you must do it ten thousand times And to completely realize something you must do it one hundred thousand times.
-Traditional budo proverb

As we train and practice seemingly endless repetitions of budo techniques day after day after year after year, as we pour our lives into the container of our chosen art, we inevitably find our actions and our lives being shaped and honed and turned toward an edge that transcends all that we know.

This edge is the product of the repetitive practice called renshu, and it is somewhat disconnected from “knowing,” for mere “knowing” does not even really touch what this process is aiming at—namely, mastery with the whole body and mind.
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Jun
23

“Lessons from Morihiro Saito Sensei (1)” by Stanley Pranin

“While the differences between basic and ki no nagare techniques are normally easy to comprehend, many people have found it difficult to grasp the distinction between oyowaza and henkawaza.”

Over the past several years Aikido Journal has released a series of technical DVDs featuring Morihiro Saito Sensei based on seminars he conducted abroad during the 1980s and 90s. In preparing the videotapes for publication, we have created literally thousands of subtitles that record Saito Sensei’s comments during these events. Over the course of the many hours of seminar footage, Saito Sensei explains and demonstrates hundreds of techniques that he learned from the Founder in the postwar period through O-Sensei’s death in 1969.

It is interesting to note that Saito Sensei would often present more detailed technical sequences and unusual techniques during these foreign seminars that he would seldom have time to demonstrate in Iwama. Thus these DVDs taken as a whole constitute an invaluable catalog of aikido techniques from O-Sensei’s Iwama years. In addition, Saito Sensei periodically makes comments that contain pearls of wisdom that unlock a deeper understanding of the art. For example, in the tape I am working on now, Saito Sensei states the following:
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