Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Generalization of Skill

The Round Rock dojo was kind enough to let me lead a class last night. I have worked out with the group a number of times, but have never really learned the work out routines that Hussey Sensei teaches.

I was on my own to infect the dojo with KyuRyu methodologies. The drive up to Round Rock got me thinking about about the idea of transmission of skills and ideas. I am a professional educator and figuring out how to maximize my impact is always important. It is another aspect of the Aiki of maximum efficiency.

I come from a heavy kata background. The Tomiki and Daito Ryu styles that I learned under are both organized around exercising kata, over and over. Kata practice is typically two man prearranged exercise. Kata practice tends to be very formalized in schools. Often there is a stylized attack, and the Aikido man will try carefully to copy the exact angles, footwork, and motions of the instructing teacher. This leads to a very precise photocopying of style.

This style of working on a technique one way fails to do the most important thing - teaching generalization of skill.

It is often written that techniques in Aikido are not important. The principles are important and the techniques are just expressions of principles. I think a lot of aikidoka believe that, say it themselves, but I think very few understand it. Either they don't understand it or they have limited training in education theory because they keep pursuing a methodology (over training in kata) that has a definite point of diminishing returns.

Let's define generalization of skill for a moment. Any given technique is not important, it is the generalization of technique that is important.

For a student to show generalization of skill, the student must be able to transfer the knowledge of the skill to a new context, environment, person, and connection.

So what I found in my years of training kata heavy Daito Ryu, many artists had difficulty generalizing the skill to new situations and contexts.

Last night when I was instructing at the Round Rock dojo I was trying to teach in a way to promote generalization. I introduced the idea of Sumi Otoshi. (a corner drop throw) I demonstrated it, then we practiced it from a cross hand grab, from a same hand grab, same hand grab to tenkan turn, shoulder grab, shoulder grab to judo sumi otoshi....etc. We went over 15 versions and we invented 15 more in the course of exercising them.

Then I saw magic happen. Stan, one of the students, would move out of the way. He moved in a way that I had not taught. He connected still, moved without thinking and created sumi otoshi from novel and unique connections and positions. He did it over and over. He kept messing up what I showed him, but he would still connect and create beautiful sumi otoshi. He transcended the particulars of technique and grasped the real idea. Connection was not important, only dropping to the corner.

Generalization of Skill

I strongly believe and promote a technique should be practiced in ever changing novel ways to promote generalization. Only when a technique is generalized is it mastered.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Kusari Fundo - Manriki Gusari

At Muteshokai we have been getting into to training with a diverse range of classical weapons. My new favorite toy is the kusari fundo.

Kusari means chain.鎖  

Fundo or Fundou means weight.分銅

Kusari-fundo is a weighted short chain weapon. Variations are also called Manriki gusari, Manriki, Surujin, and Suruchin. It is a close range weapon, approximately 18–30 inches (46–76 cm) in length. It is generally constructed of a non-reflective etched steel chain or thick rope for training purposes. This flexible weapon can be used to strike, snare, or entangle an assailant or their weapon.

I only found a few pieces of history and origins of this weapon.

An interesting note about the Manriki was that it was especially popular with the palace guard of Japan, because it was sacrilege to spill blood on palace grounds, but the chain could strike, strangle and entrap without wounding. I read that it was invented by Masaki Toshimitsu Dannoshin who was the head sentry at Edo castle in the early 1700s. Later the weapon was adopted by constables to capture criminals.

From Wikipedia
Masaki Toshimitsu Dannoshin (正木 俊光?, February 11, 1690 - May 22, 1776) was a famous swordsman of Japan during the 17th century. Dannoshin served as a guard of the Edo Castle. Dannoshin considered killing people on the ground of the palace to be rather sacrilegious. Due to this belief, Dannoshin tried to find a more peaceful way to apprehend intruders. After some time, Dannoshin produced a two-foot-long chain with two weights, one attached to each end, and devised a series of techniques to disarm and subdue an armed opponent. Dannoshin's unique weapon soon became known as the manriki-gusari, in which manriki means "10,000 power", and gusari means "chain".[1] This was because Dannoshin believed that the weapon contained the power and the ingenuity of 10,000 people. This weapon fighting style soon evolved into the Masaki-ryu style.

Masaki Toshimitsu Dannoshin 正木 俊光

Another story I found is about Masaki. Masaki Toshimitsu Dannoshin was a guard at a Buddhist temple gate in Edo in the 1600's. He created the manriki-gusari so he could do his job and not break the Buddhist prohibition against spilling blood. He also developed the techniques for it's use and founded the school that teaches these techniques and bears his name. Was Masaki a palace guard or temple guard?

Some people use it as a throwing or striking weapon

Some schools use it to aid in techniques. Here is a classic looking school performing techniques with the kusari fundo. This film is my favorite of the series.

In modern schools posting on the web, the weapon seems to be predominately used in schools that train in the image of the ninja. The vast majority of people talking about it on the web seem to be from these lineages.

This next film is worth watching for the neat camera setup the guy has.

Friday, September 25, 2009


At the KyuRyu Blog I try to stick to the topic of Budo. But hell, it's Friday and I feel like showing off my favorite (and least popular) magic film.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Examine your environment

Today I would like to think about a section from the Go Rin No Sho, or the Book of 5 Rings.

Often in training our technique reflects the enviroment we train. It takes a lot of room to get some of those big aiki throws. The 17 kata as performed by the football stadium sized Windsong dojo looks to take up three times the floor space than expression of the same kata at my tiny dojo.

There are so many variables the environment has for us. Musashi in his written work reminds us to use it to our advantage. Combat is not only one on one, it is one on one in space and environment. Use what has been given to you.

Depending on the Place
Examine your environment

Stand in the sun; that is, take up an attitude with the sun behind you. If the situation does not allow this, yo umust try to keep the sun on your right side. In buildings, you must stand with the entrance behind you or to your right. Make sure that your rear is unobstructed, and that there is free space on your left, your right side being occupied with your sword attitude. At night, if the enemy can be seen, keep the fire behind you and the entrance to your right, and otherwise take up your attitude as above. You must look down on the enemy, and take up your attitude on slightly higher places. For example, the Kamiza in a house is thought of as a high place.

When the fight comes, always endeavour to chase the enemy around to your left side. Chase him towards awkward places, and try to keep him with his back to awkward places. When the enemy gets into an inconvenient position, do not let him look around, but conscientiously chase him around and pin him down. In houses, chase the enemy into the thresholds, lintels, doors, verandas, pillars, and so on, again not letting him see his situation.

Always chase the enemy into bad footholds, obstacles at the side, and so on, using the virtues of the place to establish predominant positions from which to fight. You must research and train diligently in this.

Miyamoto Musashi, book of 5 rings

Monday, September 21, 2009

higher level of training

Often times when we practice we use a stylized attack. It aids in the learning process. The yudansha at my school tend to work now with no set attack. Any side, any attack, it does not stop on the ground, distance respected and maintained the whole session.

Some things I would like to point out. We are not measuring distance after every move. We know the distance. We are focused on the other person at all times. We never know when the next attack is coming, or from where. The attacker is an active part of the equation, always changing and reattacking. Even on the ground the action continues, though it is hard to see. The deposed attacker continues to look for feet to hook and problems to cause.

In case you are interested, we have our training kusari fundo in our belts. We were practicing with them before we started randori.

I think there is some sweet stuff here. I hope you enjoy.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Bujinkan vs Tomiki shomen ate

Here is an interesting difference in application of an idea as seen by the Bujinkan opposed to the Tomiki aikido lineage.

The idea I see being expressed here is what Tomiki labeled shomen ate, or the front strike. At this time I am unsure what the Bujinkan call this motion as they tend not to label and name their stuff very clearly on line.


Here is the old video that Mike and I made to represent the Tomiki clan.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Juggling People

Among my many interests I am a juggler. I occasionally teach workshops at juggling gatherings. I have brought my juggling routines to magic competitions and won due it's hypnotic nature, and my unusual approach.

Whenever I teach jugglery, I always use martial arts analogies. Seems time to talk about martial arts through juggling analogy.

When a juggler is new they typically have a handful of patterns, tricks and jokes. Often it is a grab bag of ideas that have never been developed into a performance quality demonstration.

The first thing I encourage a newer juggler to do is to start writing a routine, a kata of sorts. By writing the sequence down it gives people time to think about the flow between techniques and patterns. It helps structure the mind so the new juggler does not keep returning to the same patterns and forgetting their other patterns.

For me, writing, developing and losing myself into a juggling kata before a competition is a pure meditative act. Making a system for myself is what has helped me make a name for myself in a world of manipulators.

Such is the argument for a system. It helps organize thought and movements.

My idea has had an unintended consequence. I gained a level of mastery and I slacked on the regular practice. By body now moves through the sequence of moves I have trained into it. Creativity has been sacrificed for mastery of the system. The effortless of my previous mastery is always a default rather than moving with new techniques and ideas. My evolution as a juggler has stopped.

My path in the martial arts has been similar. I was trained in a particular systems of combat movements and they became my entire practice for many years. I became stuck thinking the system is aiki. I always moved in default movements, rather then moving with creativity and appropriateness. I tried to fabricate the conditions of kata in my sparring, rather then using what the encounter had really given me.

The systems we all train in are excellent training tools to get our ignorant bodies moving in proven principles. Besides using our thinking powers to see the strength of our system, we need to invest as much time seeing the errors in our own practice. A system teaches us to move in a set of patterns, but ask yourself always if the set of patterns is what is most efficient and appropriate. A giant world of motion lays outside the kata and is waiting to aid your established patterns. After gaining our initial freedom gained by kata, do we become trapped in a pattern by that same system?

Keep growing and learning. In juggling there is a saying, if you are not dropping, you are not learning.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Learning from people you disagree with

I read some blogs because I learn from them. Some make me think. Some I just enjoy the charisma of the blogger. For me the most important kind of blog is the one I flat disagree with. These are the ones I learn the most from, because I have to go through a process of breaking down why I find their thoughts so alien.

Thoughtful Sensei is one of those blogs. I have heard he is a high level aikidoka from the Houston Aikibudokan. His physical art is sublime. His dojo is a work of art. He simply views the budo experience very different than I do. His blog is one of my favorites, but he walks the path in different shoes.

Thoughtful Sensei

The best way I have thought to describe the difference in attitudes is through another form of art. He is a classical painter adhering to the guide lines the classic masters have established on aesthetics.

On the other hand, I am new breed of artist. I have studiously earned my degrees in the classic arts in Japan. On the other hand, I am as comfortable making art with a brush as I am with a chain saw. I have no classic rules...I have only the passion of exploration and creation.

With that pretext, I would like to offer a sample of a recent post from Thoughtful Sensei.

" don't need the potential confusion and cognitive dissonance by studying two differing base philosophies at the same time. You have to fully ingrain, embed, internalize and make intuitive ONE set principles BEFORE looking at another. Once you have one set fully in your head only then can you look at other ideas and break them down, understand them and see whether or not they will improve your Aikido."

He also goes on to state that you should have a 7th dan before you consider changing an art. He also talks about studying the pasted down form so tightly that he understands the need for a blood oath, like some groups historically did in Japan.

While I am sure he is fine artist and teacher, he simply approaches the art from a different frame of mind than I do.

-Yes practice with different styles and different teachers!!!! They will shake you out of habitual patterns. Keep searching for freedom in movement rather than prescribed answers.

-Tradition is useful.... until it is not.

-You change an art the second you touch it. Copying is not art anyhow. Creation and exploration is art.

-It is impossible to have differing base philosophies in the study of Aikido. There is effective, efficient motion - or there is not.

-Kata is useful way to store ideas, but we need not over analyze them. They are palates for us to play. They should change with the seasons and our moods. Kata is not written in stone. The ideas are not passed from God. Kata was someone else's way of bucking the system and trying to play and teach in a way that spoke to them.

-"Learn the old, but know the new" is a famous phrase in Japan about studying art. The second art falls into our hands it is our role to shape it in our own vision. We need only copy the master until our training wheels can be taken off. Art is the divine act of creation. If we are not creating Aiki through creation...we are merely trying to photocopy some past masters version. We MUST internalize it and make it our own.

Thank you Thoughtful Sensei for your blog. I enjoy it immensely. I just look at the same art from a different set of eyes. I learn as much from my disagreement as I do from the artists that I agree. Hopefully soon we will share a mat, and we can harmoniously play in the art we both spend our lives chasing.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Ink Stained Fingers

First published in Jiyushinkai Budo News summer 2001, when I was living and training in Japan.

Lessons from Shodo - The way of the brush

I sat with my friend Matt a few months ago practicing writing kanji, Chinese characters. Matt's project for the evening was looking up and writing the characters for the seven sins. After some practice he finally made a beauty. He put in on the wall and stared at it admiringly for about ten minutes. He walked around the room analyzing his work from different angles. With a sudden realization, Matt turned and said, "shodo is full of irony, eh?"

The kanji he had written was 'pride'.

Tonight I sit practicing calligraphy. For some reason I just cannot get the character right. Thirteen unlucky strokes I am afraid. All the strokes are easy enough, yet getting the proper balance seems impossible. The harder I try the worse it looks. 'Not trying' does not yield results either. It's delicate nature cannot be forced. Each element must flow naturally. Whatever, it's damned difficult.

The kanji reads Ai which is Japanese for love.

Irony indeed Matty boy, irony indeed.

Determined I vow to endure until I make the perfect one. Maybe all I need is a good teacher. After hours of ink stained fingers I come upon a realization of my own.

Perfection is not really the goal. Perhaps the only goal lies in the daily practice to improve. Maybe the goal lies in striving to make yourself better then the day before. The wisdom of shodo comes not from making something perfect, but the striving to make something beautiful.

Maybe we can all learn from the way of the brush and make a beautiful Ai so that everyong can bask in it's beauty.

My Japanese friend just looked over my shoulder and asked what I was doing. "trying to make Ai," I said. "Ai is difficult, neh?" He looked over at his girlfriend and smiled. "Hai, AI is difficult for Japanese people too."

Update - Years later...with a wife of eight years I am still learning about Ai. I met my wife a few months after the above piece was published.

The above kanji for love I wrote for a company called Spirit Mama.

Walk In Peace

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Peace Through Non-Violent Action

On another forum a man named Irvine posted about my article martial paradox...

Martial Paradox Article

"What you have presented is a useful illustration of how martial arts enable you to be at peace while commiting acts of violence."

My response follows

Irvine your logic is puzzling.

You wrote about my words..."What you have presented is a useful illustration of how martial arts enable you to be at peace while commiting acts of violence."

You will have an excellent career in politics and media. You have become quite a spin doctor to prove whatever point it is you are trying to make. When have I said I practice/do/commit violence?

I practice nonviolent action. My arts have never been used except to build community, heal, teach and protect. Our mantra in my school is simply - you cannot hurt me, and you cannot make me hurt you.

Like all forms of mysticism it is often an internal walk. But the Zen mind shatters the dualities. The concepts of internal and external blur. My inner mind organizes the outside world. My outer world organizes into peace. I try to teach others to live in peace.

Can I train my way to peace in the Middle East? Will the children be fed in Africa? No of course not. I am a small man, and I am far from perfect. I hope the people in my life feel my peace. My students and coworkers at my job feel my peace. My students at my dojo share in my search for peace. My teachers share the peace they have learned with me, and guide my own journey towards finding my own path. Hopefully each of the people I contact in my limited sphere learn something of the concept and continue to pass it on.

Walk In Peace

Saturday, September 12, 2009

The Martial Paradox

The martial paradox - the study the arts of war to find peace

Recently I was called a hypocrite on another forum for having the audacity to speak about my desire for peace while being an active martial arts proponent.

I have my own martial school. Fact is I spend 6-9 hours a week on the mat working on martial problems and exercises. I teach 6 hours, and try to attend Judo and Aikido classes from other teachers at least once a week. I spent on average another 4 hours a week writing and having long conversations with other teachers around the country.

When I was living in Japan I also walked the Zen path. In zazen, the seated meditation of the Zen/Chan tradition, I found peace was easy to attain. It is a deep practice but one that I did not find as challenging. Peace is easy when you are sitting in a quiet temple.

My art of choice is Aiki and Ju. I search for ways to harmonize with energy and channel it softly in safe directions. I do not study pain. I study healing. I do not study how to hurt, instead we are always searching for safer ways. I do not study how to strike. I do not study how to break. I study how to diffuse situations and to restore order.

Like I said finding a peaceful mind is easy in a temple. It becomes more challenging when you are getting attacked by four people.

You see the trick is with my art, it only works if I am relaxed and calm. In that way it becomes an amazing biofeedback system. I can tell when I am frustrated because my art ceases to work. Returning to calm I regain my power.

It has been written that aiki is the art of bringing order to the chaos of conflict. I see it as a meditation in a hurricane of chaotic energy. Truth is, aiki is a problem solving system. It is a biofeedback system. It is the physical embodiment of a 'peace through non violent ACTION' philosophy.

So is peace through the study of budo really a paradox after all? No of course not. It is a logical and repeatable science of retooling our mind to live in harmony with the energies that flow around us.

That's the idea anyhow.

Walk In Peace

Judy and Ninjy Choppin

Please watch this film by Master Diamond Dave 5 or 6 times and incorporate his techniques into your art.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Elements of a Throw

The judo theorists have divined that there are three majors parts or elements in the execution of a throw or nage waza.

1. Kuzushi - the breaking of balance or crumbling of structure

2. Tsukuri - entry, or building the relationship archtecture of a throw.

3. Kake - execution of the technique.

Sloan Sensei recently wrote a post on the this classical view.

Kyle Sloan's excellent article

While this classical analysis of a technique is correct, I do not feel like this is the way we should teach our minds the way a throw works.

In Waddell Sensei's old dojo there was a lot of talk about forgetting the kake, or execution part of the technique. If you created off balance, and fit in properly, kake or execution happened automatically. There was once a Jiyushinkai bumper sticker that said, "Kake Happens".

Another thing I have noticed in my years of trying to throw people is that the first technique rarely works. Against higher level players the first technique NEVER works. So in the gospel according to me the dynamics we should train our minds to search for is...

Kuzushi, Tsukuri....Kuzushi, Tsukuri.....Kuzushi, Tsukuri....and then uke falls when he decides he can't stand any more.

The Kake mentality, the idea we actually have to execute a throw, is what makes much of the judo world blast with power. It is what makes the Aiki world crank joints and collide with energy.

In order to do the techniques at higher technical and philosophical levels...

We cannot make kake. Kake happens.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Koryu Dai San 1-16

Here is a kata presentation I did over a year ago. I am not a kata man, and I find it difficult to find aiki in kata. However sensei asked me to show it so I did...

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The Art of Peace

"The Art of Peace begins with you. Work on yourself and your appointed task in the Art of Peace. Everyone has a spirit that can be refined, a body that can be trained in some manner, a suitable path to follow. You are here for no other purpose than to realize your inner divinity and manifest your innate enlightenment. Foster peace in your own life and then apply the Art to all that you encounter."

Morihei Ueshiba

Monday, September 7, 2009

The Crazed Maniac

Over the years I have seen many people talk about the martial encounter with the drug crazed maniac. The spin is always that they are superhuman demons stronger than any human could be, and more savage.

On Saturday I was performing magic at an art festival. It was a hip low key crowd of several hundred. Everyone was dressed glamorous, dancing and conversing in groups and checking out the art on display. I was performing in my long robe and hakama. Various magical trinkets and scarves draped off me.

In the middle of my famed ring and chain illusion, a gentleman crashes through my performance. He was barely there. His eyes were blank and racing. He bumped into two or three people, shoving one out of his way. Apparently this gentlemen had a chemical and/or mental problem that was in the midst of being out of control.

I excused myself from my performance, telling the guests I was going to make sure this gentlemen was looked after. I walked to the main area and saw the man with the issues was gaining speed. He was running around like a pin ball. Running full tilt into people. He stopped, would rip things out of people's hands and and throw whatever it was. He was escalating and screaming aggressive statements.

Only one man in the crowd began to to anything. An older artist with a curled mustache was trying to wave the man off. "Go away! Sleep it off, get out of here!" he was vainly shouting to the guy. The rest of the crowd ignored the escalating spectacle. I looked around for security. None. I escorted an older lady to the nearest phone and had her call the police. The second she started I went back over to the gathering of people and the crazed individual.

I took a brief moment to size up the situation. The out of control man looked like recent military, young and strong. Judging by his ramblings he was in a post traumatic stress disorder loop, aided likely by some chemical he abused.

Again he shoved somebody. "Crap" I whispered to myself, wishing I was performing magic instead of being responsible for this.

I began peeling all my scarves and necklaces off. I tucked one scarf underneath my belt in case I had to use it as a restraint aid. I tossed my robe into the corner.

The older artist was now yelling at the man! I walked up and said "You need help?" The older guy looked desperate and said "yes, get him out of here" I swept up behind the out of control individual to continue to assess. He again started running at another female. I grabbed his hand from behind to stop him from going after the girl, he turned towards me aggressively and softly fell into the most lovely oshi taioshi/ikkyo motion. Although he went down slow, controlled and soft he looked stunned about his sudden altitude change and I prayed he was unhurt. I descended down to his level to aid in his relaxation. A holy man suddenly appeared, cradling the man's head and whispering that everything is OK.

I then could look into the man's eyes. He was not home. He was cycling through three phrases. And ending them with a scream and frantic kicking off his legs. He was burning hot. I discovered he was not mentally and physically organized enough to actually escape or fight. I moved to a position of minimal contact just making sure he could not stand back up but giving him maximum freedom so he would not feel trapped. We poured water over him to calm him, and cool him off.

After ten minutes we realized we had to move him. So me and the holy man hoisted the man up and led him out down the road to a quiet place where we could meet the police and talk the guy down. The police arrived, acted professional and decent to the man. He was taken away to a medical facility with a friend.

Now the wrap up. This is why I practice Aikido. There was a man endangering himself and others. I had the power to help. I aided the man and protected others. No one got hurt. I treated the crazed man with respect and dignity. He is likely a decent man, who served his country. I never stressed his joints. I used soft words, genuine goodwill and one soft ikkyo technique to protect the man's, and everyone else's safety.

The whole night I wished I had been performing magic. When I returned to the party after several hours, I saw the look in people's eyes. They were grateful I was there to gain control of the situation in a non violent way. They were grateful peace was reestablished. They thanked me for doing what no one else knew how to do. Wow, I was doing magic. The most important kind of magic not just tricks for the mind. I used the magical art of aikido to protect and serve.

Thursday, September 3, 2009


The mokuren dojo blog has started a month of atemi discussion. The sport that mixes hard atemi with throws the best is sumo.

I love sumo.

When I lived in Japan I would travel down to Tokyo once or twice a year to the sumo bassho. I would get there super early and watch 10 hours of sumo. The beer and squid parts nourished me through the adventure.

I am so glad my favorite sumo broke through to yokozuna rank (top rank). I followed his career for years. I guess I got lucky when I chose my favorite wrestler, or i have a good eye. Since I followed sumo he has gone on to throw everyone on God's green earth around the ring.


I got to see Asashoryu wrestle several times. He is a Monogolian that took sumo by storm. I believe him to be one of the greatest artists in throwing a man down living today. I know what you are thinking...your instructor throws softer than that. Well until your instructor makes a habit of launching 600 pound Hawaiians out of a ring, the effectiveness of his technique is debatable compared to Asashoryu. I saw it in person when Asashoryu launched Akebono. Akebono is a beast, and a fine martial artist. He is 6 foot 8 inches tall and weighs more than three people.


Watch the man work.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009


Zanshin is a higher level practice. It is training in focus, awareness and spacing.



In kyudo, the shooting does not end with the release of the arrow, it ends with zanshin. The word zanshin is a homonym. It can mean "remaining body" or "remaining spirit." Both definitions are used to explain the period following the release when one continue's to hold one's position and send the spirit forth, even after the arrow has reached the target. [1]

Chuck Clark's excellent Zanshin article

Here is a short internet lecture on zanshin we shot. I hope the film turned out OK. I can't stand listening to myself talk, so I edited it with the volume turned off. This is a very basic explanation of how to incorporate zanshin into martial practice. I could probably talk for days about nuances of this practice. I hope you find it useful.

The basic idea is to continue to focus on your opponent, before during and after a technique. Stay aware of the spacing. Let your uke continue to attack at any hole in your distance or attention they give you. People fight like they train. Train with realistic and intense attention.

Patrick Parker's blog series on zanshin