Saturday, December 19, 2009

Verbal Aiki

Putting your stuff out there on YouTube is an interesting experience. I have many films on aikido, juggling, magic, and calligraphy. By and large the responses are positive and people cordial. However You Tube can also be a tough street. The comment boxes are crawling with people who think they know everything there is to know about budo.

by jryamaguchi

Oh God!!!

"The sensei only make a little movement and the oponent to collapse... this is realy realy FAKE!!!!

The physics means that's not possible

There is the True Aikido but this is a joke"

I responded with - "Well you can't please them all! I know that I am not a kata guru, but it wasn't THAT bad. Actually I almost see this as a compliment because I am beginning to do work that in some people's eyes looks impossible."

"Hi Sensei

First, forgive me my comment about your beautiful art... I just would want to comment only one movement your, the movement that you just move a little your right arm and your opponent falls, just this and no the whole video...

I really like your art too much, but I think that this movement isn't necessary and isn't effective...

Forgive me once again..."


He even subscribed to my channel.

Then I got this constructive piece of criticism from another hot head.

"what the fuck!@!@!@ you seriously suck... you don't face palm them! you take them down from the chin! your a fat american! go die unless you learn this! face it!"

OK, so my first impulse is to delete it or to snap back a biting remark. After looking at the videos this guy posted I realize he is a kid, whose manners are removed by being anonymous on the web. Instead of ignoring the kid I decide this is an excellent teachable moment.

I respond with...

"I understand it is difficult to see what you do not understand.

I look forward to training with you someday in the future. I will write off your disrespectful tone as a sign of immaturity and inexperience. The true nature of budo is 'Jita Kyoei' mutual benefit, or 'together we shine'. I suggest you learn stand together rather than tearing others down.

If you actually train I am looking forward to seeing a video of you and your club."

The next day I get a response...

"ok... ok... but seriously you really don't use there face it's there chin its more affective and wont break there nose"

I have had many exchanges like this in the past few years. I have found it is an interesting way to play with Aiki on the web. How can I change a hostile attackers energy in less than 400 characters? How can I bring harmony to a dynamic encounter?

E-kido, the art of harmony on the web. I guess if you do it from an Iphone it might be I-kido.

The first key is to have a thick skin. Stay centered. Why does it matter what some guy thinks? This sounds easy to stay calm but I remember from my early internet days I would burn with anger for hours over insults like these.

Stop by Sensei Strange's YouTube Channel and insult me sometime! ;)

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Archaic Tiger - Oracle Bone Script


The oldest Chinese inscriptions that are indisputably writing are the Oracle bone script (Chinese: 甲骨文; pinyin: jiǎgǔwén; literally "shell-bone-script"). These were identified by scholars in 1899 on pieces of bone and turtle shell being sold as medicine, and by 1928, the source of the oracle bones had been traced back to modern Xiǎotún (小屯) village at Ānyáng in Hénán Province. The inscriptions were records of the divinations performed for or by the royal Shāng household. The oracle bone script is a well-developed writing system, attested from the late Shang Dynasty (1200–1050 BC).

Original article and MORE!!!!

I really enjoy writing in this ancient style. It carries a feeling of old energy and ancient times that other styles do not capture.

For those of you who need something a little more modern. Here is the second painting in my series I am doing for the New Year.

Professor ???? Kano

I have been hanging out at the lately. A gentlemen named Cichorei Kano typed a very interesting and informative post about academic titles (professor) and it's use in modern Judo in the west. Lots of good stuff here. I have noticed some people in American budo throwing around the 'professor' word and I have always been uneasy about that title for budo. I will now hand it over to him.

Cichorei Kano's Avatar

Indeed. I have now looked this up, and I cannot find any credible evidence of Kanō Jigorō ever on the basis of study or research having been awarded an academic doctorate.

Kanō became a student in 1870 in the 成達書塾 in Ryōkoku, which is pretty much a school for learning how to write. His teacher was Ubukata Keidō. He also got acquainted there with the Chinese Classics. If you do not know what the “Chinese Classics” are, they are 4 main neoconfucian writings, by resp. Ta Hsueh, Lung Yu, and Chung Yung, and the Book of Mengtzu, with in addition what is referred to as the Five Canonic Writings (I-Ching, Ch’un Ch’iu, Li Chi, Shih Ching, and Shu Ching).

Apparently, Kanō was an exemplary student. Ubukata-sensei himself was strongly influenced by Western thought and tried to convey this on to Kanō. Given Kanō’s young and inexperienced age, a first step to do was to recommend that he’d study English. He was sent to Mitsukuri Shūhei to do so.

In 1873, Kanō enrolled in the Iku’ei Gijuku, a private junior college. I think it may have been affiliated or have some link with Keiō University, but I am not sure of that. This school was a sort of boarding school, with students also spending the night there. I believe they employed foreigners, and courses were interestingly taught not in Japanese, but in English and German.

However, Kanō did not stay there and left after just a year, and in 1874 entered the Tōkyō Gaikokugo Gakkō 東京外国語学校 (Tōkyō School of Foreign Languages). In 1875, Kanō was accepted in the Kaisei Gakkō, and entered the Faculty of Letters, with an emphasis on Politics and Economy. He graduated in July of 1881 (Meiji 14, 7th month) with a Bachelor’s Degree of Letters or Bungakushi 文学士.

Tōkyō University or Tōdai did not exist in 1875, and was only created in 1877; the old name of Imperial University 帝國大學 Teikoku daigaku was only given in 1886, five years after Kanō graduated, and its name was changed again in 1897 into Tōkyō Imperial University 東京帝國大學 Tōkyō Teikoku daigaku (see:

After his graduation in July of 1881, he returned to the same Faculty of Letters to focus on Aesthetics and Moral Philosophy, in what thus was graduate study (or as they call it in England ‘Postgraduate). He finished this study in July of 1882. It is there where he also studied under Ernest F. Fennolosa.

I do not know the exact name of this graduate study, assuming that it actually led to a new degree and not just to “having taken some supplemental courses”. I doubt that a single year of study above a Bachelor’s Degree would by any serious person be regarded as a doctorate, and moreover, like Jon Z already pointed out, the Doctoral or Hakase 博士 system did not even exist in Japan at that time.

Source is Hasegawa Junzō: Kanō Jigorō no kyōiku to shisō. Meiji Shō’in, Tōkyō, 1981.

I have mentioned that I have some memory of an event in March of 1924, which may or may not have been an awarding of some doctorate, but I may be wrong, and cannot find the details back.

In any case, I have argued before that a part of the biography of Kanō as it has been spread in the West is fake. I want to make it clear that I am not saying, suggesting, or surmising at all that Kanō Jigorō himself is in anyway responsible for this. In my view as is often the case with hagiographies rather than biographies, convenient ‘errors’ are made to add importance, and those in the known of it, ‘condone’ these errors to make things look more impressive than they really are.

I have never seen any document where Kanō Jigorō signed with ‘Doctor’ or its Japanese equivalent 博士 hakase. In fact, I don’t think that I have ever seen even any Japanese document written by others that do so either.

Let me point out that similarly there exist many W-E-S-T-E-R-N documents that equally bestow a rank of 10th or 12th dan on Kanō, something again of which no foundation exist. I have never seen a single Japanese document that assigns any dan-rank whatsoever to Kanō, just like no Japanese document assigns any dan-rank to Ueshiba. Dan-ranks are for ‘students’, and the creator of style typically does not hold a rank in his own style.

This goes on and on. Even this summer I heard Murata refer to the Kōdōkan's jūdō instructors as ‘professors’ and the foreigners coming there as ‘students’. This is a load of bull crap. The Kōdōkan has never been assigned any academic authority by Monbushō to issue academic degrees or ranks. People teaching at the Kōdōkan are not ‘professors’ but ordinary sports instructors just like baseball coach is. They are typically people who have good practical knowledge about technique and that is it. Don’t try to sit down with them and explore the writings or philosophy of Kanō or they go blank. There are few exceptions, such as Daigo, who simply stands out and is very well-read. Also Komata is a professor, and this at Tsukuba University, but the majority are not. You can clearly see this from the young Kodokan-sensei; some are fighters like Kōji Komuro, others have pretty basic other jobs or education. With much older sensei we often do not know, since they were around long before we were born, and we have such great respect for someone with ranks of 8th or higher that we are all too glad to bestow further mythic proportions to their background. The truth is typically different.

Typically, becoming a professor is no sinecure, and today invariably requires holding a university doctorate, ample publications in peer-reviewed journals, and other scientific accomplishments, such as previous guest-professorships at other foreign universities, conference presentations at international conferences, etc. Some less serious schools in Japan on occasions may still accept people with a Masters as instructors and assistant professors. These issues are not just ‘innocent’ mistakes. The Japanese know very well that an ‘instructor’ 師 or 指南番or lecturer 専任講師is not a ‘professor’ 大学教授. If they wouldn’t, then why would they have completely different terms for ‘professor’ and ‘instructor’ and ‘lecturer’ just like we do in English ?

The Kōdōkan has known for years that part of its history is fake. Be serious. When jūdō was created in 1882, Kanō was only 22 years. How many of you would take serious a 22-year old if referred to as shihan and having created his own style. Kanō was erudite, and Kanō was intelligent, but for Christ’s sake, he was no Mozart or child prodigy.

While today 60- and 70-year old people are struggling to understand what Itsutsu-no-kata is about, yet the Kōdōkan would like us to believe that Kanō supposedly would have created it himself at just 27 years of age ? Right. It is known that Kanō in 1932 when he was 72 years of age was still struggling with this kata, as admitted by himself during a visit to London, a statement notoriously absent from any Kōdōkan documents, just like the things Kanō failed in are notoriously absent. Why would he be struggling with something that he would have shaken out of his sleeve half a century earlier ? There does not exist a single piece of writing where Kanō states that he would have created Itsutsu. The only thing he once said is that the first two techniques came from Kitō-ryū (which in fact is wrong) and that the last three would have been original. The Kōdōkan for years has conveniently explained this as that “Kanō himself would have taken these two techniques from Kitō-ryū and created the last three himself”, which is a very, very liberal interpretation of the previous statement. Itsutsu-no-kata comes from Tenjin Shinyō-ryū where it is one of the most advanced exercises. Kanō had barely practiced this last part and by 1932 even far less. He didn’t exactly struggle with jū-no-kata. Why ? Because jū-no-kata he did actually create. The two ones he struggled with were Itsutsu- and Koshiki-no-kata both which he did not create, but imported from the two parent schools of jūdō.

What is the origin of Kanō Jigorō’s ‘Dr.’ predicate ? Real ? Fantasy ? The debate here so far, shows that we can’t say for certain, but there is little evidence that this ‘Dr.’ title originated in Japan. One speculation is that in the early century no one in the West was familiar with the promotion system of jūdō; in fact, very few were familiar with it in Japan. There exists at least one document where Kanō is trying to explain the system by comparing it with ordinary academic study, linking certain jūdō black belt rank levels to some sort of “Bachelor’s Degree in Jūdō”, Jūdō ranks such as 6th dan and upwards as Master’s Degree in Jūdō level, and the highest ranks of 10th dan as similar to PhD level. The question can be raised whether this comparison was taken literally by enthusiastic Western audiences and back-extrapolated suggesting that as ‘shihan’ Kanō therefore would have been a “Dr. in jūdō”. As cute as this may sound, academically speaking it is complete nonsense.

If in the end, the ‘Dr.’ is real and was indeed a 1924 Doctor honoris causa, then the logical follow-up question is: Which university bestowed it and when ? Honorary doctorates are not particularly difficult to trace, as such things are typically public events and information, and not protected by privacy. Many universities even have the names of honorary doctorate holders published on their website. Most people, even the most modest ones, usually have it mentioned in their biography, since getting a honorary doctorate is a quite remarkable honor, and are all too keen to specify which institution bestowed it and in what year. In that respect, it is striking that no biography of Kanō mentions any such details, which adds doubt to such claim. If it would be a foreign university, then I think that there are not too many candidates. I can think of Berlin, for example, but not too many others.

Dealing with these things in a proper way is a challenge. If you raise such concerns regarding the person of Kanō, you will often be called ‘disrespectful’ and even may become “persona non grata”. Did I already say that Yukimitsu Kanō hasn’t spoken to me for years ? Fact is, who is really served by perpetuating these nonsense ? As well-meaning as the Kōdōkan and Japan may be, their reluctance to correcting anything towards the past out of fear that it may cause embarrassment or perceived as disrespect, may sound noble, but is in the end not workable as one day it will come back and bit the Kōdōkan in the ass.

In the mean time, the saga continues …

Orginal Thread on JudoForum

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Tiger Ink Painting - Sumi e

I have not been able to do my blog training lately. I have been getting lost in the bokken training, holiday build up, work and the brush.

We are preparing to enter the year of the Tiger, my year. Gosh I am bordering on 36 already. I am not too educated on the Chinese astrology but looking around the net I find myself to be a wood tiger. (Tiger Woods???)


The Wood Tiger is more adaptable to working with others and therefore does not demonstrate the typical "take charge" attitude of other Tigers. The Wood element adds stability, giving him warmth of character that draws people in and makes the Tiger a popular person. They are not selfish creatures and will give their time, attention or possessions to anyone in need. These Tigers bring a solid practicality to any problem. They can control their urges to completely take over, letting others do the work. They must be aware of their slightly volatile tempers and short attention spans, and not let those characteristics get the best of them or cause them or their loved ones undue pain.

Here is last night's dabbling with the brush...

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Chains of Aiki Technique

So often I see martial artists get attached to a technique they think they have. They hold on to it, struggle with it, and often fail because they are too attached to something that is not working.

At KyuRyu we have been playing around with moving through techniques rapidly and been having very good success. Last night we were counting and I was moving through 5-7 techniques in 2 seconds or so. The result was that my uke's nervous system could never adjust to an attack. By the time the system could react I was already attacking another angle and already setting up another one still.

Let's rethink ideas on how techniques work.

What is a technique?

A technique is a connection that causes a balance break, or the structure to alter in a person.

When do we follow a technique to execution?

Only when it melts through the person. Only when it is Aiki. We only follow a technique until after catastrophic failure in the persons balance system occurs. Perhaps a better way to think about it is that we never follow technique to execution. We simply run through a chain of balance breaks and somewhere in the process Uke falls over.

If a technique fails, and it does fail... what do we do?

Do another one. Actually do 4 or 5 more.

Yeah I got a new camera since my last one was viciously broken by Elizabeth. I know you guys have missed me! Hey my blog responses have been silent lately. Feel free to shower us praise, criticize, question, or whatever you see as appropriate. I enjoy the interactions.

Plus if you have a question or want to see something on video, feel free to make requests.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Uke 受 "to receive" in archaic Chinese

In Aikido we call the person getting thrown the uke. This is often translated as uke means receiver. The uke is receiving the technique. Other meaning this kanji has are to get, receive, take, have, obtain, catch, suffer, incur, sustain and accept.

Today I am writing in the very earliest of Chinese styles. It is the archaic style that was carved into wood, shells and bones. When you write it the calligrapher is supposed to imagine using a knife and cutting into a hard substance.

I think this symbol is very interesting. You can see a hand (the pitchfork looking thing) receiving something from another hand. I cannot figure out what the object is. Is it the sacred scroll of the snake and crane? Is it a ladder to help advance the person receiving to the next level?

One thing that I am really learning is the higher level martial skills are passed through receiving technique. You cannot see the minutia on film. The only way to begin to unlock the mystery of what they are is to feel them. You have to directly have the information transmitted through touch.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Aikido Calligraphy

I have noticed there are not too many calligraphy versions of the word "aikido" on the internet. I am thinking about correcting that.

Here is my first contribution. Aikido written in raisho style.

Friday, December 4, 2009

The Legend of the Invincible Old Man

Patrick Parker brought up the legend of the invincible old man on his blog.

I believe in 1996 or so I went to a seminar that was being hosted at the dojo of my teacher. At the time Russell Waddell was a member of the Jiyushinkai Aikibudo organization headed by Charles Clark. “Chuck” Clark is one of those teachers that borders on magician. He bends the mind with impossibly clean technique and long dissertations of solid aiki principles. I had trained at his seminars several times and I had been looking forward to again training in the shadow of the great teacher for months.

I arrived at the seminar and headed back to the dressing room to change into my uniform. In the changing area I saw a man I had never seen before. I am guessing he was in his 60s or 70s as he had sparse snow white hair. He must have been 5’3”. He was packing a lot of extra weight. The exertion of simply putting on his uniform caused his lungs to have a strained whistle. On top of all this he had a goofy looking red and white striped belt I had never seen before.

I thought to myself “this guy is going to get himself killed”.

After the session started Chuck Clark asked the man to come up and show something. The short man stepped onto the mat and broke out into a heavy sweat. In fact he carried a towel with him to mop up the rivers that poured off him. He was having health problems in his later years.

He motioned to me to use me to make his judo demo.

Judo? My young guy mind thought I was going to show this guy what Aikido was about. I was not at the time of my life where I had learned to be a polite uke, and I would prove it now. I made a move against this man but instead I fell right into the softest and most effortless o soto gari foot sweep I have ever NOT felt. He followed me to the ground. I had been putting in a lot of mat time so I was sure this fool had made a mistake. Instantly I was put into a wrist lock, elbow lock, shoulder lock, and choke all at the same time. Four locks at once! I thought my eyes were going to explode. Releasing me from my bind I made a move with the other hand, and just as effortlessly I was bound into a second wrist lock, elbow lock, shoulder lock, choke.

This man went on to demo on me things I have never felt before or since. He could press nerves and make me leg dance. He choked me with a single finger over and over. His judo was sublime and perfect aiki.

His name was Stan Conner and he was a true master technician. He was a 8th dan in Kodokan/Jiyushikan Judo. He is the only American to have graduated from the Korean National Judo Teachers College. Though I just met him once the energy and feeling I got from him has shaped my journey on the path ever since.

While I heard his physical form passed away several years ago, I like to believe he is one of those Aiki/Jedi master ghosts hanging out in a dojo some where. Maybe he will call with a ghostly voice "Luke.... don't use Force."

Thursday, December 3, 2009

'Love' in clerical style of Chinese calligraphy

There are a few words in Chinese/Japanese that calligraphers tend to write over and over. Love, Dream, Beauty are some of them. Sometimes I roll my eyes when I find myself writing the common kanji. But in second thought they are written commonly for a reason. They are the core themes of life.

There is a style in Japanese called raisho

Budo thoughts for the day

Love the art. Love the people you train with. Respect and love the people that generously teach you. Love the people that come to you to learn. Love the process. Love the sweat. Love your dojo so deeply that it becomes a magical temple. Love the history of the art, the foreign languages and all the people cross your path.

Intersting this 'love' kanji is from the Aikido perspective. The top and bottom parts of it is the character for Uke, or "to receive". This is the same word and symbol for uke, or receiver of technique. Stuffed in the middle of the 'uke' symbol is heart/mind. So the idea behind the symbol is "to receive the heart and mind of another". Love.

Receiving the heart and mind of another. Sounds like learning. Sounds like this whole aikido thing.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Archaic Chinese - Not normal, different

As I continue writing I am more and more drawn to the ancient symbols that the modern language evolved out of.

Last night I was working a little bibliomancy. Basically I flipped through the calligraphy dictionary until a symbol jumped out at me. This was it, appropriately for me ,the magician Sensei Strange, the symbol means 'not normal, different.'

This is an old style coming from divination shells and bones of the ancient Chinese magi from 2500 years ago. It is terribly tricky to write, but in the last couple weeks I feel like I have been getting the knack.

How does this symbol apply to my aikido thinking? It IS my aikido thinking. Do you know what made Kano, Tomiki, Ueshiba great artists? They tackled material and it morphed in their hands. They evolved it, they classified it and thought about it differently than anyone had before. They were not normal thinkers.

Normal is average. I demand more then average from my art. I do not want to be a cookie cutter aikibudoka, a mere photocopy of a master before me.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Matl Sensei Says...

Matl Sensei is a great Judo player and teacher. I believe he is 8th or 9th dan in Judo, and believe me he deserves it. He is short man around 70 years old. He speaks in such a heavy Czech accent I can only understand every two or three words. I have a great respect for his approach to judo and his technical ability.

He seems to appreciate aikido, but has a useful critical eye for it too. Here are some quotes from the master himself on aikido.

“I like Aikido. It is perfect Judo technique. One thing though – in real life perfect Judo is very hard to do. In real situation in order to get technique you have to put a foot in the way.” (referring to the difficulties of pure Te waza)

"Tai Chi is meditation by your self. Aikido is meditation with some one else. Judo is meditation against someone."

Matl sensei has another quote when he asked the Round Rock aikido teacher to shiai with him. "You aikido guys need to shiai every once in while. Otherwise you are just sitting on the couch, eating pizza and smoking cigars." While this is a somewhat cryptic and humorous quote, especially if you know the man, I think it makes a point.

I think there is a theme building in Sensei’s quotes and observations about aikido training. I am hearing him say in the subtext of his quotes that aikido is a great art, but a lot of aiki training methods hover around some of the gritty difficulties of a martial encounters.

I think his observations are interesting and worth including into your own evaluation of aikido. I think we aiki artists can justifiably rationalize some of his observations away, but returning to face them every now and then is probably wise.

Why the world needs qualified teachers

I applaud this gentleman's desire to practice. Even more I compliment his bravery on putting his beginner work out. The martial arts community can be brutal on newbie and expert alike.

I think this work is genuinely interesting because this is a place we all start from. This man is the empty cup. I remember doing this exact stuff when I was a young feller, mimicking the martial arts in movies.

Unlike many martial artists, I love watching novices practice. I really enjoy seeing how they are trying to organize their bodies and minds to achieve results. My mind instantly starts jotting notes and I want to help people when they are ready to ask for it.

Another thing I find fascinating about the film is as a benchmark for my own work. I am constantly comparing my art to 6th and 7th dans. Hence I am very critical of the results. I often forget to look back at the beginning to see where I came from.

I would love to take this guy on as a student just to see the progress we could make in a year. I would love to see those films side by side.

If you have a chance leave this guy some tips on his youtube page. Stay positive!