Saturday, January 30, 2010

Etymology and Calligraphy for kanji Ju - 柔

kaisho style

柔 - pronounced 'ju'  1. Softness; gentleness; weakness

I have an interesting relationship with Japanese characters. By no means am I even remotely fluent in Japanese. Indeed, the symbols hold an air of mystery like magic images. The calligraphers I trained with in Japan believed the symbols contain 'ki' vital energy. I believe the energy from one man's mind transmits through a brush and is captured on paper until it is studied closely by the right person to receive it.

草書, sōsho - cursive

So today I gaze towards the mysterious symbol that is 柔 'ju' softness in order to gleam some of the deeper lessons it may offer into my studies of judo and jujutsu.

Diverse writing styles
 Stroke Order (click this link to see how it is written)

The character is made up of two parts, each actually its own separate stand alone symbol. The top part is a pictographic image of a halberd or spear. The bottom of the symbol is the character for tree.

On my favorite Chinese etymology site they write about the imagery in the symbol for softness柔: a tree 木 soft enough that it can be cut by a stone saw 矛 - soft

Dave Lowry writes a different version of the etymology.

"The character for spear rests atop that for tree to create the kanji for ju. The etymological implication is that the growth of the tree has the power of a spear thrust. Ju--and this is the familiar prefix of judo and jujutsu--refers to the forces of pliancy. Ju is flexible strength, gentle potency. It is tenacity of a sort that embraces malleability. It bends to endure. Ju is durably soft; it receives in order to resist."
tensho - seal style

In ancient China there was no standardization for the writing of letters. So there was quite a bit of variation. Here is what I could dig up.  Tensho style.

Friday, January 29, 2010

what does 'ju' mean?

As I continue the process of defining the art judo that I pursue, I wish to look deeper into the name itself. Judo is often translated as gentle way, of soft way. My blog sparring partner Pat Parker claimed 'soft' gave it a weak connotation. He choose 'flexible' as his defining idea to translate the idea of the mysterious 'ju'. So armed with my arsenal of dictionaries we dig deeper.

The main listing in the kodansha dictionary is 'soft'.

pronounciations - JU, NYU, yawa(raka), yawa(rakai), yawa(ra)

The main ideas associated with words constructed from this kanji are - supple and yeilding, soft, tender, plaint, softhearted, gentle, mild, gently, mildly,

Some compounds made from the character 'ju' - touch of softness, gentle breeze, soft blanket and gentle-mannered.

So it appears the dictionary definition for 'ju' indeed is soft.

C'mon Pat, man up! It is ok to wear that pink shirt and still be manly! Softness is the new tough!

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Is this Judo, the soft, gentle way?

I am continuing to look at my relationship with judo,and defining what is. I am searching under the idea that judo is indeed a soft and gentle art form, like the name of the art implies it should be.

I realize the world is a big place and many people practice with different goals. That being said much of the examples the art of judo gives us comes from the sporting world. In sports judo people use power to crush power. They often throw with no control, causing themselves to topple over and causing uke to land in terrible positions. The art of ukemi, falling to protect oneself and negate energy, is lost on the competitor and they intentionally try to fall poorly so their opponent is not given points.

Today I offer this film. From what I read he is an Olympian in the art of judo. He likely could throw me through walls, dimensions and time itself. But, has he lost sight of the thesis - does he practice the gentle way? While he excels at sport and fighting does he really understand judo, the way of softness, as intended by the founder?

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

What is Judo? part 1

I remember my first encounter with judo when I was in elementary school. I picked up a book about many different martial arts. It was an encyclopedia of sorts that every page had a different art form and a reader's digest like entry of what the art what about. I flipped the page from karate to judo. On the page there was one man totally getting drilled into the ground from a super power throw and it said "gentle way" underneath it. I said to my friend, "It doesn't look very gentle to me!" It didn't take an expert to see the contradiction being presented.

I have been falling deeper and deeper in love with the set of skills and traditions that come from Judo studies. I was recently reading a thread on JudoForum, where long time students and teachers of the art actually did not have a functional working knowledge of what the word Judo means. This surprised me because really the name of the art form should be it's defining thesis. It is what the art strives to search for.

Judo means 'Soft way' or 'path of softness' I like the 'gentle way' translation too.

When watching much of popular judo you can clearly see people have little concept of softness, or are even trying to obtain it. What then makes a soft technique? What is the goal on the soft way?

Monday, January 25, 2010


Lowry Sensei sent me this some time last year. It is a kata of continuing attack. I think in this kata they run through it, then they do it backwards - which is really a trip.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

From the Art of Peace

"In the art of peace we never attack. An attack is proof that one is out of control. Never run away from any kind of challenge but do not suppress or control an opponent unnaturally. Let attackers come any way they like and blend with them. Never chase after opponents. Redirect each attack and get firmly behind it."

-Morihei Ueshiba

Monday, January 18, 2010

Kata, Learning, and Preferences

The brillant bloggers Thoughful Sensei and Pat at Mokuren have been having a discussion on educational theory and the role of kata. Thoughtful Sensei is a kata man, believing kata must be practiced precisely in order to gain understanding. Pat has been talking more about clouds of waza and kata launching ground of creativity.

My first 5 years in aikido was in an organization that had a very structured kata system. The kata was very precise - angles, balance breaks and the results they are trying to achieve became predictable. The students they produce are good.

My next 3 years in Aiki were in a Daito Ryu school in Numata, Japan. There, kata work even went more to the levels of insanity. I worked the same 13 techniques in kata order for three years. Nothing else, just one kata. The students they produced were good, but were uncomfortable outside the kata structure.

When I returned to the United States there was no school in the area I was interested in joining, so I started my own group. I tried drilling them in kata the way I had learned. But when my old teacher came down for a seminar he told us that he really doesn't work the kata anymore. All he enjoys and now focuses on is balance breaks. He continues to produce good students.

Next I found a new teacher in Round Rock. He pretends to not even know the names of techniques. He views the mechanics in concepts as balance breaks, yin yang, freedom and space. He is producing good students with no concept of kata at all.

So I am now a professional educator, and the state of Texas demands I spend an ungodly amount of time studying education theory. I would like to throw my 2 cents in on the loose versus precise kata debate as a vehicle for education. As in most human endeavors the answer is yes, no, maybe and depends on the situation. Is precise kata the only way to learn aikido? No. It works for some people and clubs. It is a preference. Does working a loose, or even no kata work? Of course, but maybe not for everyone.

Fact is when it comes to education some people require a strict routine. They require strict curriculum, expectations and goals. If you find yourself promoting strict kata system as THE way to learn and transmit aiki, then likely you have an engineers mind. In the engineer's mind Aiki is a science that can be quantified and broke down into it's composite angles and ideas. This is your preference and the academy you found will reflect this methodology.

If you approach the problem of aiki and transmission from one of 1000 other paradigms, you will come up with a very different system of practice and experimentation. Work at it hard enough and likely you will be successful. Remember most of the aiki world does not use the kata system as conceived by Tomiki Sensei. Their work is just fine too.

As Lowry Sensei pointed out to me, all variation in practices comes down to PREFERENCES. How does your mind and body work together? How does your body work? How do you learn? How do you process information and chaos? How do you like to structure practices and the organizations we create? Preferences.

I myself phase through months were I become precise kata czar, and then go through long phases I cannot even remember the technique names. This thus far has been my preference. I am producing some good students and have made a thriving practice from my preference.

Every time we proclaim this is the WAY aiki should be taught and practiced, likely we are speaking from our own narrow view and forgetting people are out there doing killer work doing everything the opposite we teach and think.

Someday I might just wear a black gi and white hakama to make it clear my thinking is backwards from everyone else. That's just the way I prefer to be.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Shiai Guy

Amongst the aiki thinkers shiai, full strength and speed training, is often poo-pooed for not being constructive to aiki training.

I myself try to go up to Round Rock on Saturdays at least once a month to shiai with Chad Haas' judo class. While I agree an aiki man should not shiai, I enjoy having shiai being done to me. I myself do not have to shiai, I am concentrating hard on making balance breaks, or relaxing. More than anything I am monitoring my own emotions and not getting caught up in the win/lose mindset. It is all motion, and my partner scoring a sweet throw is as joyous as the throws I make.

I must say to my fellow aikidoka, the judo game is strange yet not so different. I think it is a wonderful way to practice ju and aiki. I often do not feel my partners are trying to find softness, but I will use their power and rigidity to aid in my studies of softness and balance breaking.

You see I merely surf the turbulent waters of shiai. I don't care if I win or lose. I am just trying to play hard and make sure no one gets hurt. It is a chance for me to test my theories on opponents that I or aikido have not conditioned.

So yes, the shiai mindset is not good for aikido, and probably not judo training. The people that have that mindset though are fun to play with!

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Old School

Me after earning my first promotion. I am standing in front of the old Master Han's martial arts in Carrollton, Texas. I was 11,and the year must have been 1985.

Friday, January 15, 2010


I had a chat with Patrick parker of the Mokuren Dojo and Blog. He told me about the magnolia and his practice. Eveidentally Mokuren means "magnolia"

Here is some digital art for my friends at Mokuren.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

AikiKen work at KyuRyu

Hussey Sensei came down for a visit on Sunday. We covered a huge range of topics, but we only got a few shots of some bokken discussion. Hussey is one of the best kuzushi (balance break or structure crumbling) artists I have gotten the joy to play with.

We both agree that Aiki Buki,aikido weapons training, should always incorporate some element of balance breaking and structure crumbling. Some of his freestyle teaching here feels like more quality aikiken work than anything in the Koryu Dai San kata, which is really just elementary sword work.

Notice how every touch he affects my posture. Neat stuff. I never go easy on Sensei, and it makes his techniques even better. He really does control me that much. If I speed up I just hit the ground harder, so I tend to keep an even slow speed. Most of the time when he works with me I just feel stuck and unable to move quickly.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Tsunako Miyake a cultural treasure?

The blogger and martial arts teacher 'Thoughtful Sensei' wrote about one of his teachers

"The Sensei I learned Kodokan Goshin Jutsu from was one of Tomiki's most senior players. She is still alive today and from what I understand is considered a National Cultural Treasure in the Martial Arts with streets in Tokyo named after her."

He likely was referring to Tsunako Miyake. I have heard wonderful things about this teacher my entire martial arts career. I decided to do a little fact checking and see if I could verify the rumor's Thoughtful Sensei heard that Miyake Sensei was a national treasure. I think the idea of a national treasure in the Tomiki line would be a great feather in our collective hat.

I sent the information to my old budo buddy Jeremy. He is still living in Japan, and has a Japanese wife to help with the tricky Japanese.

Dear Eric,

Kumiko and I found a 三宅綱子 who is from Hokkaido, graduated from Nihon Taiiku Daigaku(日体大)PE college and spent some time as a PE teacher. She's known for massage and shiatsu, has 5-dan in judo, 6-dan in aikido, 7-dan in jodo, tai chi chuan instructor. She's been doing something called [健康武道」or "Health Budo" lately.


An Amazon link introducing the author talks about how she was doing
martial arts for a long time, starting with judo at age 16, but
lately quit to devote time to shiatsu and related stuff. Her book is
「わが家でできる健康指圧」"Shiatsu for health that you can do at home."


She teaches shiatsu at the Asahi Culture Center in Yokohama. At
least, I'm assuming it's probably the same woman, given the name and class subject.


She is almost certainly NOT a Living National Treasure. If you type
人間国宝(にんげんこくほう)and her name into a Google
search, you get no hits. Lots of hits for different people named
Miyake in noh and kabuki, but nothing for martial arts, and none for
her full name.

In addition, for the official National Treasure list, there are only
really two categories for people: performing arts, and craftsmen.
They're all pretty well documented, and there's a complete list on
Wikipedia, as far as I know.


She may have other awards or recognition for contributions to
preserving cultural heritage, but she's not a Living National
Treasure. Considering that the Culture Center doesn't list any awards
suggests that she doesn't have any, though. Kumiko said that if she
did have any certificates, awards, etc. they would have listed them
along with her other qualifications on the instructor info section at
the Culture Center website.

She's also probably not well-known enough to have a street or even
building named after her, or there would be a lot more links to her
name, and they would be more mainstream. The fact that she seems to only be known in the budo world suggests that she's not very well known, in fact.

I suppose it's possible that if she's from a small village in
Hokkaido she might have a street there named after her, but if so
it's so small that we can't search for it online. We didn't even find
where in Hokkaido she's from, so we're talking about a place that's
probably about the size of Niiharu, or maybe even smaller.


Special thanks to Jeremy and his wife Kumiko for their research. Much appreciated. He has a passion for budo and history that matches my own.

FYI - Niiharu was a village of 3000 people I lived in from 2000-2003. Shortly after I left it was absorbed by a larger town.

Well this is the information I have uncovered. I do not think it is the final word, but perhaps this information can fuel further research from people with more resources. Needless to say, whether she got the official recognition or not, those that have been touched by this woman all seem to agree she holds a special magic and is worthy of the honor. If she is not a cultural treasure there in Japan, she sure seems to be one here in the USA.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Happy Birthday KyuRyu AikiBudo Blog!

One year ago, I sat down and began to learn the technology and started this humble blog. I made a New Year's years resolution for 2009 that I was going to start writing about my thoughts a part of my regular practice. I have found the blog is a very real part of my budo practice.

I chose to start a blog because I saw one of my spiritual mentors have great success with one. He started a political blog while working in a book store. Seven months later he was sitting around the table with John Kerry and getting paid for his interest. The power of the blog is it connects you to people in your narrow niche interest.

I believe I have found great success with it. It has connected me to my teachers, and help me develop relationships around the globe. Relationships are the key to practice!

Happy birthday blog.

Since last June when I started tracking it, I have received 13507 visits, and 20015 hits. Not too shabby for year one.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Tomiki Sensei's totally average video

Mokuren blog posted a video of Tomiki Sensei and Oba (Obha) Sensei performing the Junana hon kata, the 17.

I have the highest respect for Mr. Tomiki, his teaching method and his written work. I even consider myself a scholar of Tomiki's work. But honestly I think the video does come close to demonstrating the higher principles of aiki or ju.

Jeff Duncan of Full Circle suggests that both Ueshiba's and Tomiki's work were foundations. They were rough drafts of the future art to come. I myself concur with this view. While I always enjoy watching the famous great teachers, I watch it with the eyes of an English teacher reading a rough draft. I circle the mistakes in red pen and rephrase the awkward sentence fragments in the margins.

Now I think many students of the Tomiki lineage will try to rationalize away what they see in the video. "He was old" or "He was just showing the basics". Is this a rationalization away that perhaps the founder of our system was not as super human as we like to believe him to be? Do not view the video with cloudy dreamy eyes of the love struck school boy justifying away the blemishes. See it for what it is; a rough draft of the art.

I myself am not discouraged. In fact I think the progress we have made in the Tomiki line since the death of Keni Tomiki shows his contribution more than his personal technique does. He helped us frame the problem of moving in Aiki. He gave us training wheels so we might go further than he did.

Our teachers are giants, and they allow us to stand on their shoulders so we can see farther than they could.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

The most important lesson

Here is an ancient Chinese piece I wrote last night. A translation might read "friendship is golden". In my estimation the most important lesson we can learn from budo practice is the value of relationships. The bonds we form can, and should be positive and uplifting and mutually beneficial.

Recently I got to hear many stories about an ill balanced martial arts instructor. The quality of his martial skill is beyond question. However, he has used this skill to control people, hurt people and divide his students.

I do not understand for the life of me why people would tolerate an abusive relationship - especially an elective one like in martial arts practice. Just as great a crime is to not step in a stop the abuse of one of your fellow students and friends. Many people in this school are forced to stop talking to their friends once the teacher casts them out.


Why do people practice under these conditions?

Dear great teachers - I don't care if fire balls and lightning fly out your butt, if you are an unpleasant person I have nothing to learn from you. Period.

The truth of the matter is that friendship is golden. My budo practice is surrounded by the most uplifting and supportive people. If you find yourself practicing with people who are not your truest of friends - stop. Go find what is golden.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Tomiki and the Goshin Jitsu kata

So the last of the formal kata introduced at the kodokan was the Goshin Jitsu. Tomiki Sensei is known to have been a key player in the development of this kata. Lurking around JudoForum I discovered another insightful history post by the internet Judo guru who goes by Chicorei Kano.

Cichorei Kano's Avatar

The Committee for the development of self-defense methods within the Kodokan was established in September of 1952. It was lead by Nagaoka, Mifune and Samura. As Nagaoaka already passed away just two months after this (He died in November of 1952), his influence on goshinjutsu is insignificant, at least directly. Nagaoka was a crucial figure in Kime-no-kata and likely in this way did leave some inheritance.

The original committee existed of not less than 25 people, all the way from 7th dan to 10th dan, of which Tomiki Kenji's name likely has been most known as connected to goshinjutsu. Tomiki in that time was a 7th dan, and some of the later famous judoists such as Kotani (later 10th dan) and Kudo (later 9th dan) were 8th dan. There were also three 9th dan-holders (at the time): Oda, Kurihara (later 10th dan) and Nakano (later 10th dan). It is Kotani who probably became the greatest and best known expert of goshinjutsu, and his performance in this kata was impressive. Too bad the Kodokan hasn't published the video. It exists in color, and I have it somewhere under a layer of dust. I guess I should transfer it to DVD at some occasion, before it fades more.


There do not exist any scientific or history books on Kodokan 's goshinjutsu. The leading works are those that Tomiki wrote in 1956 and which has been reprinted numerous times and Kotani's book which he published with Hirose and Ozawa. Tomiki's book can still be found on secondhand markets without too much difficulty, except for the fact that some idiots will try to charge horrendous prices for it. Expect to pay anything from $40-$120 for it, though it is a pretty thin book printed on bad quality paper with very poor quality pictures.

In the early 1960's Tomiki himself used to teach it as part of the summer course, and there are still some Americans left who must have learnt goshinjutsu from him firsthand. I'm thinking of such people as Jack Williams and Hal Sharp, both now shichidan.

Okada with Hal Sharp

Goshinjutsu HAD to be different from Kime-no-kata. The Idori in Kime-no-kata was still remniscent of the Edo-period, with a samurai visiting a daimyo, depositing his katana at the entrance, and wearing only his (clothes and) wakizashi. In modern Japan or the West, no one does this anymore, and even the Japanese use chairs and tables. Idori is therefore superseded by time.
Two out of the three weapons used in Kime-no-kata (though the third weapon, the wakizashi, is twice only mimicked and symbolized by the tanto to reduce the number or returns and complications) are not really carried as by any modern potential attacker, except for a weirdo. Yes, the above is NOT an error, kime-no-kata DOES have three weapons, NOT two as most of you may think, and most books will suggest. Both 'kiri' attacks in the idori and tachi-ai are performed by a(n) (imaginary) wakizashi, not tanto. It was also never felt necessary to actually use two different mock weapons to simulate either one; after all, lengthwise there isn't much difference, and a long tanto can actually be longer than a short wakizashi.
In goshinjutsu, the weapons are either everyday common weapons (stick or jo, knife of tanto) as well as modern developments (pistol or kenjo).

In terms of its techniques, goshinjutsu goes outside of the standard judo curriculum and introduces wrist locks, whereas it avoids going back to previously deserted judo techniques such as neck- or leglocks. Kano Jigoro's admiration for aikido was empasized earlier by sending both Tomiki and Mochizuki to Ueshiba's dojo. The effectiveness of aikido was obvious, and the art was able to achieve this by meticulously adhering to its principles, and unlike in judo avoid an over-reliance on physical force, which was often seen during major contests; in addition, aikido preserved high educational values, and like judo succeeded in doing something jujutsu failed at, that is, go all the way without producing major injuries to important joints. Aikido's ikkyo, nikyo, sankyo proved to be very effective techniques, and so was its principle of kote-gaeshi and kote-hineri. Those locks could be learnt without needing to have great proficiency in aikido. The same would not be true for example with techniques such as irimi-nage or kokyu-nage.

Minoru Mochizuki

Though Kano himself was no longer part of this entire ordeal, and we do not have any proof that this is what he wanted, he had commented that he considered aikido as the "ideal budo" hence implicitly admitting the limitations of his judo. Towards the end of his life, Kano became more and more aware of certain failure of judo, not necessarily because the system was flawed, but because the way it was being practised was increasingly deviating from his ideas. He tried remedying this by conceding that a return to ko-ryu was necessary. Judo and ko-ryu would need to be blended in. The Kodokan itself suppressed these ideas after Kano's death, possibly because of a certain right-wing identification of ko-ryu and its illegitimization by MacArthur. It emphasis as sport, likely helped judo being allowed sooner to be practised again, unlike ko-ryu arts.

Orginal Thread on JudoForum

A rough version of the kata being demoed.

Friday, January 1, 2010

New Year resolution 2009 - More Teachers

Apologies to my readers, I have been off training and playing with family for the past week. Time to get back to the normal life and training.

2009 was a great year in the development of my budo training and connections. I enjoy the idea of New Year's resolution. I think it is a very Budo idea, after all should not we use every tool at our disposal in the search of improvement?

One year ago I made resolutions that totally changed my practice.

2009 Resolutions

I decided I was open to finding new teachers and I was going to pursue more groups to train with.

I love my oldest teacher, Russell Waddell. He gave me some of the greatest teachings I have ever received and is one of the finest Aiki thinkers out there. However, 2009 I found myself interested in adding more ideas and influences to my journey.

I started my search for new teachers by writing Nick Lowry Sensei from the Kaze Uta Budo Kai. We started a email conversation that led to phone calls whick led to a seminar. Something I believe I have failed to mention on my blog is that because of this resolution the KyuRyu AikiBudo Dojo is now a proud member of the Kaze Uta Budo Kai and we are enjoying being part of a larger family of like minded budo nerds. Last week I made my first trip up to the planet dojo in Oklahoma and had a blast.

I was talking to Nick and was telling him how much I wanted to pursue my judo training and he mentioned there was a superb teacher in the Austin area I had never heard of before, Mr Matl. With Nick's suggestion I headed up to Round Rock last February and restarted my judo with his group. I was impressed with the soft throw judo and quality people up there. It only took me one lesson and I proudly call Mr Matl one of my teachers. He is the one teacher I have made this year that I have not invested enough time in training with, but his ideas now permeate my approach and thinking of my practice.

Matl Sensei knowing I am a Aiki man kept trying to push my towards a man he shares his school with, Brendan Hussey. I was usually too tired after Judo to stick around and train with Hussey's group, but eventually Brendan got his hands on me. From the first workout session I realized Brendan's work was something I had to have influence me. Brendan has done more to free my mind from the constraints of 'style' and 'system' than any artist. I have experienced more dimensions of Aiki thinking in my last year with Hussey sensei than my whole career combined. He is truly a original thinker, standing on the shoulders of his teachers and flying to places few have gone to. I am blessed to be carried along for the ride and helping to shape his thinking through my own ideas and practice.

And besides the teachers I have laid my hands on this year, other teachers have strongly influenced my path through the blog o sphere this year. Patrick Parker Sensei dishes out daily wisdom. Ikigai Way hits home runs with his blog. L.F. (Thoughtful Sensei) Wilkenson challenges my understanding and offers interesting perspectives. Sean Ashby and Kyle Sloan are my brothers in budo, the next generation of great teachers and my bestest buddies even though I have met them only a few times. Rick, head cook at Ding's Kitchen is a must read as well.

And then there is Dojo Rat, subversive-communist-hater-of-Chuck-Norris. I am keeping my eye on that guy.

Thanks Senseis. 2009 was great.