Thursday, October 29, 2009

getting off the line

Waddell Sensei has always taught there is one technique in Aikido practice that is the basis for all others, that is getting off the line of attack.

On a Friday night last June I found myself in the middle of conflict. It was a domestic disturbance. A drunken man was screaming at his sister and mother. I was called over to make sure nothing happened. The ladies wanted the physical presence of their martial arts friend.

It was surreal. People screaming and accusations flying. I found myself trying to talk people into leaving, just "walk away". At all times I keep distance and tried to make sure no one was about to be hurt. I felt like the the calm in a hurricane.

Suddenly the insults between the people cut deep, and I could sense a change in atmosphere. The man went upstairs to his room.

A moment of silence.

I heard a firearm chamber a round from upstairs. 'chink chink' - The unmistakable sound made me move instantly.

Time began to move different. It was like everyone was slower than me. 19 thoughts raced through my head at once. Every situation envisioned ended bad. If that man came down the stairs I was going to have to attack. This would end up in someone - likely me, dead.

I grabbed the women in the room and carried them out the door. They were almost paralyzed. I commanded them in the car and started it almost in one motion. I felt like I was looking in all directions at once. Everyone else moved so muddled in emotions.

After a truck load of drama and a police intervention the story ends positive. No one got hurt, no one went to jail. But the game did get serious and Aikido possibly averted a situation.

Was it Aikido? I was emotionally detached from conflict. My intention was to protect everyone. I saw that physical control was not possible.

I got off the line of energy.

Perhaps one of the more valuable lessons to be learned from the martial path is when it is a good time to fight. An intoxicated and angry man with a firearm is to be avoided when possible.

Like my friend Jeff Duncan forwarded me in an email once - "If you find yourself in a fair fight, your tactics suck." I guess it stands to reason when you find yourself in an unfair fight, get the hell out of the way. Not being there to let an attack effect you IS the strategy.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Kuzushi Video

I have been totally geeking out to the new Windsong videos on you tube. One particular lecture series is a must watch - his talks on kuzushi. Kuzushi is balance breaking or structure crumbling. It is the magic of aiki and ju. No matter your art form you have to understand this principle in order to make the stuff work effortlessly.

Here is the first one to get you started.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Ashi Waza at Round Rock

I have been traveling up to Round Rock and training as often as I can. Matl Sensei's Judo club is a group with a great attitude and good technical skill. Unfortunately I don't have any film of the old man himself, but I got some film of Chad Haas 5th dan throwing Joel with the shodan required ashi waza.

I finally got to tangle with Chad's standing game yesterday. Removing my aiki techniques from the equation made me easy pickins for this experienced player. Heck, my aikido may have not saved me anyhow.

Friday, October 23, 2009

4 years of KyuRyu AikiBudo

I sent out the first emails starting a group 4 years ago. We gathered in my garage the first few months until we found our current location. Here is a short film of our journey and some of the crew that has brought this beast to life.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Kaze Uta Budo Kai videos

I like the Kaze Uta Budo Kai guys (even if they are from Oklahoma).

They seem to view budo a lot like I do (which means they are correct).

Nick and his posse have graciously released videos for us to watch. I appreciate him doing this. So many other societies are hung up on secrecy and profit. But really I think they would find they would profit more from sharing, just like mom told you in kindergarten.

Just double click on the video below to go to their channel. Exciting!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Tomiki Kata and the Dusty Mirror

Shen-hsiu presents the following verse in his bid to demonstrate his mastery of the Dharma and become the next headmaster of Chan.

The body is the bodhi tree,
The mind is like a clear mirror.
At all times we must strive to polish it,
And must not let the dust collect.

I have begun seeing the kata, the base moves of the Tomiki system of aikido as a dusty mirror in a dusty room. With every training we remove a layer - we think we glimpse at understanding, then dust like snowflakes slowly covers up our work and impartial understanding.

Many a great teacher has promoted its intense study. "Look deep into the mirror, but you must look into it THIS way".

Many have made a standardized form in which to try to understand it and appreciate it. "You must polish the mirror exactly like this! The only way I want you to polish is the way I show you!"

Is there perfect form that springs from the 17 kata? Was Kenji Tomiki an enlightened master whose work we must closely copy in order to understand the truth? Surely if I could uncover enough of the dust I could see the mirror of Aiki and see what Tomiki Sensei saw.

Recently I have made some progress in not letting the dust collect. The intense training has made my body sore, but from below the dust I see a pair of eyes staring back at me from the depths of the mirror. Is it a dragons eyes? Is it the eyes of Tomiki Sensei himself? Yes it is becoming clearer.

I can only see myself. I was trying to uncover myself and my own Aiki the whole time.

The mirror represents not truth, or even aiki. It is a symbol of seeing self and reflection.

You see the mirror analogy of Shen-hsiu was of slightly flawed understanding. Hui-neng offers the following alternative verse that showed he has deeper understanding:

Bodhi really has no tree
Nor is clear mirror the stand
Nothing's there initially
So where can the dust motes land?

So the rabbit hole goes even deeper. The nature of aiki lies in freedom of thinking and freedom in motion. There is no mirror. There is no form, no kata, no style that contains truth...that contains aiki. It is all just a practice. The practice itself is merely the finger pointing to the moon, a finger pointing to something greater.

Hotai pointing at the Moon

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Optical Illusion Dragon

I admit it, I have a dragon problem.

It is hard to photograph, but I have been traveling the local art circuit my new toy. It is an 8 foot tall, 20 odd feet long optical illusion dragon. It is a bit tricky to see the illusion on camera. The trick is no matter where you move the dragon face moves with you. The illusion is really strong in motion. Hordes of people at the Art Outside were frying their minds on it last weekend.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Martial Chinese Linking Rings

As some of my regular readers know, besides being a martial arts nut, I am also magician supreme! I am well known among magicians for my chinese linking rings. It is often written that the rings are the second oldest piece of magic, after the cups and balls. There is something so hypnotic about going deep in the study of the rings. My personal zen practice. Circles in Circles.

"The Budo of Aikido springs from the mastery of the spirit of the circle. The essence if this Budo is to embrace the complementary action of cause and effect and to draw into yourself all things as if they were held within the palm of your hand. You have a spirit, therefore you must realize that each person has a spirit. When the life processes are connected with the spirit and the fundamental principle of the circle is given birth in Aiki, all things are led to completion through the circle. All things are freely created by the circle. The secret of the circle is to create technique by piercing the very center of space."

- Ueshiba Sensei

I found a film of my dream martial arts weapon. I love it!

And for those of you just joining the KyuRyu AikiBudo blog, check out my old ring routine.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Shomen Ate has game!

Shomen Ate is the first technique we learn in the Tomiki Aikido system. It is the first of the atemi waza, and is considered by some to be a signature movement of Tomiki's system. Shomen ate translates to "front strike, or face strike."

Here are the gentlemen at Houston's Aikibudokan giving us a demo.

In football this movement is called the 'stiff arm'. It seems to be deployed pretty much the same, but in a running context. Funny they call it the stiff arm and aikidoka call it the unbendable arm. Same ideas being employed here.

And presenting the new shomen ate king! A young fellow that we need to recruit for a super solider program.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The most important lesson

My teacher of the past 14 years has been Russell Waddell. He has been teaching since the 1970s and has had a fair share of students.He started driving down from Dallas to Austin to come for an occasional visit about three years ago.

On one such visit he expressed a frustration that he has had about martial arts students over the years. Most want to be spoon fed martial arts. Most people come in 'brain neutral' and want all the answers given them.

Every time he came down I would barrage him with questions about how to make technique work...etc. He told me that he does not want to rob me of the experience of discovering how to make it work on my own. Instead he came down and taught seminar after seminar about how to solve problems, and how to think about Aikido. He granted me permission to think - something most martial arts teachers don't want. He told me that I had to become my own teacher.

So now I continue to train with many great teachers. However when it comes down to it, I am the shaper of my ethics, art and future. No single person can shape my own art more than I can. I do not depend on my teachers to solve my problems.

So the most important lesson I have been taught to date is to take responsibility for your own training.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

ushiro ate has game!

In the Tomiki Aikido technique taxonomy, ushiro ate is the fifth technique in the atemi waza section of the seventeen kata. Ushiro ate simply means back strike. It is one of my go-to techniques and probably accounts for 20 percent of my randori (free play) throws.

So here is a selection of the aikido technique ushiro ate performed on athletes at full speed.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Budo Lessons From Kyudo

I like Kyudo, the way of the bow. I studied it briefly when I was living in Japan. I constantly return to it's ideas as it embodies many of the budo ideals.

Before the samurai picked up the sword, they were archers on horseback. The very root of the Japanese martial tradition is in the bow.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Stealin' from Nick

Lowry Sensei is an epic kind of guy. I see him as the a southern bohdisattva, a true good ole' buddha. He is a man of Zen taking the time to travel within, and to explore and master the external. He is the head of the Kaze Uta Budo Kai. I like the man and his work so much I will shamelessly steal his works and present them to my audience.

The piece he writes here rings true to my own explorations of late. I feel like so many people in the Aiki world are sticking to things, rather than finding freedom.

Zen mind Budo mind

Our Budo points us towards an intergrated free funtioning self that turns freely in all directions. A Mind that is awake and not stuck on anything. People mistake this for slackness, but this is not some loosey goosy hippy deal, but rather a consistant dedicated practice of letting go. No matter how important something seems, we cannot stay fixed on it. Putting it all down, returning to zero as the default, requires precise practice because we hold on in ways we dont even imagine. Holding on, getting stuck, reguardless of what we get stuck on, is the heart of the problem. Here is how an old sword saint expressed it:

It is a disease to be possessed by ideas of victory or of technique.
It is also a disease to be possessed by the idea of showing the results of your training.
It is a disease to be determined to attack first or, conversely, to wait for the opponent's move.
It is a disease even to be possessed by the idea of removing all such diseases.
The disease is a state of mind that is rigid and fixed, in whatever situation.
All such diseases stem from your state of mind.
It is important to control the mind.

From "Hei-Ho-Kaden-Sho" by Yagyu Tajimanokami Munenori

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Ogawa Ryu Aikijujutsu

This crew is prolific in making lots of interesting traditional style aiki jujutsu videos.

their page is well worth spending a few hours on, or using it for reference material.

Ogawa Ryu Channel

Monday, October 5, 2009

Do senseis move differently through time?

The short answer is yes. They move differently through time.

Trip on that.

Let's take a step back. Some years ago one of my students commented that it seemed to him I moved in slow motion but I was always in the right place. I was processing the event in a way that my slow motions could counter his frantic responses.

Another of my group commented a few weeks ago that time moved differently for me than for her. I had to agree. I know my teachers have this similar effect on me.

Here are some of the sensations I feel from my teachers.

When I shiai Matl Sensei I get one action to five of his. I feel like the little man in chopping away at my legs with ashi waza at his high speed leisure. He moves through time differently on the mat. It feels like he speeds up super humanly.

Waddell Sensei slows himself in time. Every normal human reaction is quartered in his time flow. Impatience is his weapon to use against you. The second you try to force something he takes your body in a slow motion way - no options to get out.

Hussey Sensei moves in a way where he forces my body to slow down time even though I am struggling to go full speed. I think he achieves this through constant little structure flaws he creates in me, so it constantly takes me three steps to actually make one.

The fact is Senseis do move differently through time. They have been in situations so many times that their brains can process the minutia of what is happening at fantastic, and I dare say often superhuman levels. Because the mind moves faster, the body need not. The truth is that in the game of Aiki the Sensei's mind moves faster into powerful effective decisions than it does for most people.

I am awe struck that have this power with my students I train with. I am twice struck when I feel it happening to me by my seniors on the path. Totally amazing.

What magic this art is.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Education Theory for Budo Transmission

The past week or so at the KyuRyu blog I have been looking at ideas about how we learn, teach and train in the martial arts. To be sure there are many differing ideas. First I gave a few critical analysis of Aikido kata, then I took a look at the goals of physical education - generalization of skill.

So here is some tidbits of education theory from an special education teacher that is obsessed with Budo - me! Take your seats the bell has rung!

Today I would like to write about the success/failure threshold in budo training. I define this threshold as the point where an artist's understanding of the principles fails them and they revert to power and strength and make poor choices in angles. Coming from an Aikido/Judo perspective this threshold is where blending and softness stops. After that we begin violation of the ideas central to our art form.

Yesterday I attended Chad Haas' judo class. He is a great ground technician. At the end of class we did 30 minutes of full power wrestling. It did not take me long to get the threshold. I locked my muscles, held people in physical strength, and constantly choose bad and inefficient angles to move. My technical skill failed my ideal. I still won most of the matches but I used power to achieve my results. A failure in my eyes.

Hussey Sensei wandered in after class to meet me for Aiki after Judo. I told him my frustrations of hitting the wall in mat work. So we went at it. Much to my amazement he demonstrated perfect aiki randori on the ground - no tensions, no clashing energy. Never could I get him to a point where he had to betray the ideals of the art form.

Sweet there is hope. He showed me ways to train where I could be successful and train to the ideals of the art form.

So now let's get to the meat of what I want to discuss today. How do we set up our training so we can train realistically yet still have success? Success is a key word here. We must design our lessons so students find success most of the time. Clashing and failure is OK, but the option for success must be present for a lesson to be successful.

If you are taking a forgien language class, you do not start in literature and poetry. You start with basic words and grammar. You constantly stretch yourself - to the point you can always be successful if you apply the skills and knowledge you have at this time in your training.

What does a poorly designed aiki class look like? Here is a film by a dojo violating the principles of this threshold style training I am trying to describe. Most of their films are like this. The whole time the students are put in a position where they cannot be successful. The circumstances are too challenging and they revert instantly to the failure threshold.

What is happening here is that are imprinting on each other here that this is aiki, this is what it should feel like. I feel like they are taking 2 big steps backwards here. Training under the threshold line in education is often referred to as the frustration level. Who wants to train at FRUSTRATION level? If the training always looks like this (and according to their other films it does) they need to slow down, reduce variables and return to a place they can find success. Once they do that they can build on success and increase difficulty riding that threshold line.

Yes be challenging to another! But every elementary school teacher knows you must make the student successful in the basics before they can succeed in advanced work.

Finally I would like to thank the above dojo for posting their work to be evaluated. KyuRyu means no ill will in criticism. It is my hopes we can all learn from each other no matter where we are on the path. Thanks and keep up the training!

Thursday, October 1, 2009

A few moves versus many

Morihei Ueshiba is considered a genius by many. Some technique taxonomists have estimated he had some 10,000 techniques. The tradition he came from was Daito Ryu AikiJujitsu. Daito Ryu was primarily spread by Sokaku Takeda. Similarly I have read some branches of Daito Ryu have so many kata they claim also to have 10,000 techniques.

While in their own rights both Morihei and Sokaku were great budo men, Mr Tomiki came along to study in their shadow. He was a physical educator that took a long look at what Ueshiba was doing. After many years of tinkering he formulated a system that contained the core ideas and principles of the 10,000 motions Ueshiba demonstrated.

The genius of Tomiki lies in the fact he made a physical equation to simply the understanding of the movement of Aikido. Eventually he boiled it down to 17 ideas of motion, what we call the junana hon kata. The simplified Aiki system was meant to teach people the ideas more quickly.

I am willing to bet these 17 ideas are more than most artists will ever really master in a lifetime. I know I have not even come close.

It appears that Tomiki Sensei and his core of close students and comrades became prolific kata writers. The students of all these people continued to write more and more katas, and now a mere 30 years after his death the amount of kata under the umbrella of Tomiki Ryu is staggering. The genius of the 17 techniques has returned to 10,000. Some teachers even claim you must learn them all to understand the system.

I myself see the beauty in aikido is in simplicity. To study simplicity is a study of what I believe the intention and design of the 17. While the advanced katas are fun and useful, it is my assertation that endlessly grinding through kata is not the only, or even most efficient way to absorb the lessons of the Tomiki Ryu system of aikido.

As a related side note, if you look at statistics of sumo and judo players you will find they tend to score the same 4 techniques over and over. Good advice from the pros...simplify.