“Martial arts practice and the deceived mind,” by Stanley Pranin

“I want to feel safe so I train. Now I have trained and feel confident,
so I voluntarily place myself in a situation where I am in danger.”

This blog has been brewing in my brain for a long time. I have noted what to me is an inexplicable phenomenon in the thinking of many martial artists. Allow me to lay out the scenario.

Although there are many reasons for wanting to take up the study of a martial art, certainly the most common one is the desire to learn to defend oneself usually born of fear. Nothing surprising here. That was certainly the case when I began.

So one takes up the study of a martial art and, little by little, begins to acquire a certain amount of proficiency.

The realization that one has attained some skills often leads to an aggrandized ego, and a false belief that one will be able to handle himself in a violent encounter; this notwithstanding the fact that his skills are untested.

If one reaches the level of becoming a senior student in a martial arts school, in many cases there is pressure on him to begin entering competition. If the school can turn out “champions,” it is very good publicity to attract still more students.

If our hypothetical senior-student-turned-competitor does indeed enter the ring, and fares well, we have an interesting conundrum. Here is a young person who chose to study a martial art to learn to protect himself, to avoid injury. This same person places himself in harm’s way for fame and perhaps monetary reward.

The fear of the inability to defend himself is replaced by the fear of the potential for injury during competition. The novice faced with violence may be in an unavoidable situation. The competitor in the ring is there as the result of an act of volition.

The competitive environment may be far more dangerous that a common fight against an untrained opponent. This time, the adversary is likely to be skilled in various fighting arts, and capable of dealing a deadly blow in some circumstances.

Perhaps it is the illusion of safety promised by rules that deludes the young fighter into believing he is not risking his health and well-being. Or perhaps the lure of fame and fortune clouds his thinking.

Why is there a doctor on hand, and medical equipment, and an ambulance on call? If you play golf or tennis or go bowling–all forms of competitive activity–such precautions are not necessary.

Do you see the fundamental contradiction? “I want to feel safe so I train. Now I have trained and feel confident, so I voluntarily place myself in a situation where I am in danger.”

This is not the aikido way. This is the realm of sports and competition. It appeals to the lust for blood and violence that is instinctive in much of mankind. Those that participate and those that spectate at these events share a common mentality and morality.

What should be the goals of our aikido training?

I welcome your comments.


“Yoga Warmups for Aikido,” by Stanley Pranin

“Incorporating Yoga Exercises into Aikido Training”

Recently, I wrote a blog titled “How I solved my chronic back problem.” It elicited a lot of comments from others with back problems, some describing their own experiences, and some asking questions. One reader requested that I explain in more detail what yoga exercises I was doing.

In thinking about it, I thought that a video would be the best way to show what yoga postures we had incorporated into our aikido training in my little garage dojo. So here is that video demonstrating the yoga routine we use as part of our aikido warmups. Please feel free to add your comments.

I would be particularly interested in getting commentary from you yoga adepts out there. What this video shows is very, very basic. There is much more that can be done if one cares to delve deeper into this ancient discipline. I find it a perfect complement to aikido training.


“Dashing Duels Fuel A Young Man’s Fancy,” by Stanley Pranin

A poster from the 1962 film starring Toshiro Mifune

I have described elsewhere the circumstances surrounding my beginning aikido in 1962. There was, at the same time, another influence that served to spark my imagination, and spur me on to attend aikido class regularly. Let me tell you what happened.

Among my mates at the aikido dojo was a man about 35 years old named Bill. Bill was among the most interesting people I’ve ever met, and he opened up new worlds to me at a time when I was very impressionable. One day, Bill invited me to drive up to Los Angeles to see a “samurai movie.” “Watch the heck is a ‘samurai movie’,” I wondered. At 17, I was game to try anything. He wouldn’t tell me very much about what we were going to see, and he purposely tried to create an aura of mystery.

So we drove up to the Toho La Brea Theater in Los Angeles one Saturday evening to see my first samurai flick. I don’t remember what movie we saw, but I certainly recall the laser-focus and emotion that engulfed me when I saw my first dueling scene! The stirrings that welled up inside me were almost overwhelming!

Bill pointed out to me how the physiognomy of the noble samurai differed from the characters from the lower caste. He stressed their self-control and discipline, and how this was essential to battle strategy. This was really a new world for me! And fortunately, I now had somewhere to go to act out the fantasies paraded before me on the big screen–the aikido dojo! It was a potent combination. I was really motivated to return to training  with a new intensity and seldom missed a practice!

Of course, before long, I began to know who Akira Kurosawa and Toshiro Mifune were. I saw all the famous samural flicks: “The 7 Samurai,” “Yojimbo,” “Sanjuro,” “Red Beard,” “Miyamoto Musashi,” and so on. Oh, and another film whose title I will never forget, “Katame no Ninja” (One-eyed Ninja), introduced me to the world of Japan’s “secret agents,” who were polar opposites of the glamorous James Bond who was so popular at the same time.

Everyone who was studying aikido seriously at the time went to watch these samurai movies. We went not just to entertain ourselves. We would enter almost a trance state with our eyes glued on the movie screen. We imagined ourselves becoming the modern equivalents of these incredible and exotic warriors of the Far East. We too would come to exude the same super-cool as the samurai heroes dashing about before us on the giant screen. And to make these dreams a reality, we had to put in our time on the mat training.

Last night, I scoured youtube for a good dueling scene for you to watch. Most of the better ones I came across from that era are too long. Then, just before retiring, I ran across this excellent sword fighting clip I think you’ll find interesting. A ronin–an itinerant samurai–shows up at a kenjutsu school to present a challenge. This is the kind of thing that Sokaku Takeda was doing in the late 19th century when he roamed about Japan honing his skills.

Click here to see the sword fight scene

And lest it be thought that nothing equivalent exists in western movies, have a look at this sword duel from “The Mark of Zorro.”

Click here to watch Tyrone Power and Basil Rathbone battle to the death!


Video blog: Stanley Pranin’s lecture on “Morihei Ueshiba and Sokaku Takeda”

Stanley Pranin presents a 28-minute lecture titled “Morihei Ueshiba and Sokaku Takeda.” He explores the complex relationship between these two martial arts geniuses, and explains how Daito-ryu Aikijujutsu techniques form the basis for most of the techniques of modern aikido.

Among the topics covered are the following:

  • Background on Sokaku Takeda
  • Meeting of Morihei and Sokaku in Hokkaido
  • Morihei’s study of Daito-ryu under Sokaku
  • Sokaku’s 1922 visit to Ayabe to teach in Morihei’s dojo
  • Morihei’s licensing as an certified instructor of Daito-ryu Aikijujutsu
  • Morihei’s connection with Sokaku after becoming a professional martial arts instructor
  • Strain in relationship between Morihei and Sokaku over money issues
  • Morihei distances himself from contact with Sokaku and Daito-ryu Aikijujutsu, and founds his own art called “Aikido”
  • Technical influence of Daito-ryu on modern Aikido
  • Resources for study and training in Daito-ryu Aikijujutsu

Click here for more videos and a special set offer on Daito-ryu Aikijujutsu by Katsuyuki Kondo Sensei


“Keeping up with technological innovation,” by Stanley Pranin

I usually date the start of my formal aikido research activities as April 1974. This was when I first published “Aiki News,” a very modest four-page newsletter. This little labor of love was centered around the translation of a series of biographical articles on Aikido Founder Morihei Ueshiba published in a Japanese sports newspaper. These early newsletters were produced on copy machines since the print runs were too small to justify offset printing. The sheets were then folded and stapled together by my “volunteer” students who didn’t manage to escape fast enough from the dojo after class!

Around the same time, I offered for sale 8mm films, mainly of O-Sensei, as a resource for those wishing to see what the Founder’s techniques actually looked like. 8mm film was and is a surprisingly durable medium. I still have the film masters which have seemingly withstood the test of time well. All of this was just a hobby, but the satisfaction of the work made me continue.

Moving forward to the early 1980s by which time I was living in Japan, videotape became ubiquitous and all of the O-Sensei films had to be transferred to this new medium. In those days, editing of videotape without employing the services of video professionals–very expensive!–was very primitive. What I could do consisted of little more than insert titles, sometimes handwritten or made by rubbing on letters from plastic sheets available at stationery stores. The newsletter had become a bilingual magazine of sorts, large enough to justify being printed on an offset press. This, too, was quite expensive and usually ate up any revenues from magazine subscriptions.
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Stanley Pranin’s Video Blog: “Aikido History 101″

We have uploaded a video clip of Aikido Journal Editor Stanley Pranin introducing an outline of a six-article series on the life and work of Aikido Founder Morihei Ueshiba available free of charge to readers. He briefly presents the contents of each article in the series which collectively touch upon the highlights of Morihei’s life and the creation of aikido.

Below are links to each of the six articles:

Morihei in Tanabe
Morihei’s Ueshiba Juku
Kobukan Dojo Era (1)
Kobukan Dojo Era (2)
Iwama: Birthplace of Aikido
Aikido in the Postwar Years

We encourage all readers desiring to deepen their knowledge of aikido history and its relevance to their training today to download and study these articles.


Stanley Pranin’s Video Blog: “I have an epic story to tell you!”

In this newly uploaded video blog, Editor Stanley Pranin gives a tour of the Aikido Journal website and describes the range of available resources. He also explains how readers can begin receiving our free newsletter, and a free 4-hour audio lecture on aikido history.


Stanley Pranin’s Video Blog: “How I Started Aikido”

Aikido Journal Editor Stanley Pranin describes how he began aikido in Southern California back in 1962. This is the story of how the witnessing of an act of violence changed the course of a young man’s life. Who could have imagined back then how his life could have been transformed through this new martial art that was almost totally unknown at the time?

Thousands of other videos, articles, interviews, and more are available here