Friday, December 28, 2012

Tomiki's Calligraphy update

I have been spending time going back and updating and improving old posts lately.  This week's project has been the calligraphy of Kenji Tomiki.  Check out the new stuff if you are interested.

Calligraphy of Kenji Tomiki

Friday, November 23, 2012

Big Bright Calligraphy

Yesterday I tried submitting some calligraphy to the Beyond Calligraphy website.  Rona  part of the Beyond Calligraphy team wrote back saying she loved this piece.  I realized I did not have a photo showing it in it's full blazing glory, or with a picture with a person to get a size reference.

 The characters read peace and ki - spirit.  I wrote this about 6 years ago, but I believe I got the characters out of a small calligrapher's poetry inspiration book.

 I have a history of doing large pieces in fluorescent colors.  I display these pieces at dance/art festivals and I want them to be loud and intense.  Under direct blacklight this piece actually flickers as your eyes try to take it in.  I like the fluorescent colors.   It gives them a bit of the magic glow.

 When I wrote this I used a broom.  I bound the broom tightly with rubber bands and trimmed it into a point with scissors.

 Think this one is big?  A few years before that for Burning Flipside I wrote a 18 foot tall piece.  It is my favorite line from the Tao Te Ching - "the great way has no boundaries".  One of my buddies labeled it the "Earth Sail Project"  A piece of fabric this size is indeed a sail.  But of the engineering on the structure was very aiki - how to have structure yet be yielding to energy.   Sadly I never got a decent picture of this piece.

Thanks for taking a moment to look at some of my art.  I enjoy it, and I enjoy sharing it with others.  

Matl Jigotai

 Jigotai is the defensive posture many people revert to in judo.  I asked Sensei some strategies of getting around jigotai.  Here are some of his drills he showed me to develop a jigotai counter.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Matl's Hiji Waza

I have been neglecting the poor blog lately. I am currently on vacation so I am making a few videos. I really want to get as much of Matl Sensei's work documented. His judo is not flashy, but it is some of the most convincing I have felt. He is really into the concept of softness, and he uses it in high level competitions.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Broom Sweeps Mind

 I arrive to the dojo after work.  Climbing the outdoor staircase I pick up some trash that the homeless guy that lives around our building left.  I fumble for the keys, never remembering the correct one on the first try.  The door swings open and the warm air washes over me.  I bow deeply, genuinely grateful to be back in my art studio.  I wrinkle my nose because the dojo smells funny.  I click the A.C. on as I walk in the tea room.  I empty the water and fill up the kettle.  As it sizzles into action as I pick up the book about bushido I am rereading for the fifth time.  I drink tea, breath deeply, read and forget the world spinning around me.  I hear the door open in the main hall.  I wonder for a full minute who is the first person to show up.  When they enter the tea room I greet them, and try to reconnect.  Uniforms go on and we walk on the mat.  Then we grab the brooms and sweep. Training begins.

In the late1990s I attended a class on Zen at the University of Texas in Austin.  One of our first assignments is a practice I still am trying to master. "Go home and do your dishes." the teacher instructed.  "Pay attention to what you feel.  Breathe.  Feel the water.  Adopt it as your practice."  This has been a practice in my life ever since.   I realized after adopting this practice is that my sink is now an physical expression of my mind.  In this philosophy of practice the student attempts to transcend the dualities - internal and external.  I personally believe when the external sink is cluttered and messy, so is my internal mind.  It is evidence I have been lacking the discipline to order my universe.  The simple act of washing the dishes is a commitment to keeping my mind organized and disciplined.  The simple act of dishes is an expression of my relationship to Zen, and a link to my budo practice. 

In Japan I used to show up to the Numata Budokan (martial arts center) early.  I would immediately change out and  grab a broom.  The assistant instructor insisted the children would sweep the floor the next day, and not to worry about it.  I would insist.  I would gather a pile of the assorted debris that mats seems to always have. Ota Sensei would always thank me.  I did this for about 6 months as a solitaire practice.  Eventually one woman, then two joined me.  A few months later the men helped too. Good practice is infectious. 

Numata Budokan

Two men, who are my seniors in age, are always the first to arrive at my dojo in Austin Texas.  Together we sweep the dojo, marveling at how much stuff accumulates on the floor since the last time we trained. I respect these men's budo because on some level they are my only students that understand the importance of the simple ritual of sweeping the mat.  In my view the dojo and the mat becomes a collective expression of the budoka that train on it.  Like my cluttered sink, a dirty dojo and a filthy mat shows the inner qualities of the group that trains on it.  A dirty mat means the collective mind of the group is undisciplined and is lacking respect towards the dojo that houses our way. A test of the quality of our budo happens every time we walk into the dojo.  You see, we are not only cleaning the floor with that broom.

Broom sweeps mind.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Like a Beginner

This has been a good week for training.  Besides teaching my regular Tomiki aikido class, my Daito Ryu class entered its second week.  Systema pushed my boundaries physically and mentally. 

 Hussey Sensei stopped by for a visit.  Every time he comes by I shut up and listen. While he comes from Seidokan lineage, I like showing him Tomiki kata and setting him free.  He fried our minds with principles and theory.  Suddenly the techniques were working smoother and more effortless than ever before.  He showed us relationships in the techniques I had never seen before.  Although I have been working these techniques since the mid 1990s I can still feel like a beginner.   I still strip away all my previous ideas and start again.

In my Daito Ryu class I have regained the child like fascination for this art form.  Every time I train in it now, the power of its ideas become obvious, and I see things in the motions I never saw before.  It is like I am looking at these techniques with new eyes for the first time, even though I have done them all thousands of times before.

Systema continues to challenge me.  I did all those getting punched in the stomach exercises you see on the youtube videos.  It is all about relaxation and finding where you can get rid of the tension.  We had a intense back and forth session taking and giving solid hits.   At this point I don't find the giving hits to be as nearly as fascinating as taking them.  Really the art form is atemi-ukemi.  It is a newer level of training for me, being more fascinated with getting hit, than trying to hit.  Like I said, it is a level of ukemi I have only really started exploring this past year, and it is well worth taking a deep look at.

Despite training since I was 11, I am not an expert in the martial arts.  I am merely a passionate student.  Every time I hit the mat I return to a place where I stare at the problems wide eyed like a beginner.  These arts are  rich and complicated enough where there is never an end point to it.  There are simply many chances to begin again.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Daito Ryu AikiJuJutsu in Austin, Texas

Interested in Aikijujutsu but not sure what to look for?  Aiki Jujutsu is often a abused word.  Many schools just adopt it because it sounds cool, or works for their advertising.  According to traditionalists aikijujutsu means it comes from Daito Ryu teaching lineages.

Spencer Burns writes, "By my own observation, when a school claims to teach aikijutsu or aikijujutsu, it usually means one of four things (in descending order of legitimacy):"
  1. The school is related to (or part of) Daito-Ryu.
  2. The school teaches an old and subtle style of jujutsu and uses the word aiki[ju]jutsu to distinguish itself from harder or more modern jujutsu styles.
  3. The teacher has learned both Aikido and jujutsu and is combining them, possibly trying to resynthesize more traditional aikijujutsu.
  4. The school teaches straight-up jujutsu with little aiki but is using the word to stand out from other schools.
Teaching a seminar at Windsong Dojo

 I am proud to announce a Daito Ryu AikiJujutsu study in Austin, Texas.  We are only one of 2 groups I would consider aikijujutsu according to the lineage requirement.  Currently we are the only Daito Ryu AikiJujutsu class in town.  I am a humble student of the art, and am just leading a study group for those that are interested to have a place to study.

Eric and Ota senssei - 2003

In case you are curious,  here is a little about me and my history in Daito Ryu.

My Daito Ryu training

Monday, Wednesday  6:00p-8pm
@South Austin Aikido

Contact Eric:
                      text 512-947-9585

Other clubs in town
I offer you all the information I have so you can find the club that meets your needs

Main line Daito Ryu

  There was a Katsuyuki Kondo study group in town some years back ran by Rick Fine, but sadly Fine sensei retired from martial arts.  His group dispersed.  Despite me trying to pull him out of retirement, as of yet seems to have no urge to teach again.

Hakko Ryu

  There is a Hakko Ryu group in town, for those interested in another flavor of traditional jujutsu.  Cole sensei is a great guy, a friend and training partner.  Hakko Ryu is a decendent of Matsuda lineage Daito Ryu.  Even though they focus on jujutsu elements of training, they are pretty close to Daito Ryu.  I consider this group to be a sister dojo to the Austin Daito Ryu club.  This is the only other club in town I feel can legitimately called aiki-jujutsu.(2019 update, this group disbanded)


Fraudulent schools

Frauds are common - especially in aiki-jujutsu.  Beware of schools claiming teachers of high ranks in Aiki-jujutsu,  In Austin there are no legitimate high ranked teachers in any branch of aikijujutsu.  They often will demonstrate fancy certificates and lineage pedigrees.  Unless you know the red flags to look for, they can be very convincing.  If you find a school claiming aikijujutsu and/or Daito Ryu please feel free to contact me if you need help verifying their credentials.  Be skeptical.  research.  Buyer beware.  or join the Daito Ryu facebook group that I moderate.  On the Facebook group we have members from most lineages, have fluent Japanese speakers and can verify lineage claims.

Non Daito Lineages of Jujutsu

 For those seeking traditional jujutsu with a aiki flare from other lineages

Takamura ha Shindo Yoshin Kai

There is also a Takamura ha Shindo Yoshin Kai group outside of town (Elgin maybe?).  I also have not not seen their techniques as they run the school in traditional very private manner.  I have trained with the head of their system, Toby Threadgill, and I am sure they have quality stuff.  Although the head of the system has trained in aiki for decades, he does not call his system aiki jujutsu.  It is a traditional jujutsu system.

 Martial arts of Austin

 Martial arts of Austin has a aikijujutsu study session among his other classes.  It mostly seems like a family friendly MMA gym. I have not seen them train traditional jujutsu yet, but Charles the instructor is a friendly and knowledgeable guy.  He says his style is a sogo bujutsu style, which means a collection of martial skills.  He does not have any information up on his specific lineage, which I wish he would.  He told me his jujutsu is a lot like Yoshinkan Aikido.

(2019 edit)  In 2019 this group started advertising they were the only aikijujutsu group in Austin, which is incorrect.  To be fair they altered there advertising when I approached them.  On Facebook they continue to dodge questions about lineage, even though they allude to teaching the art aikido came from (Daito Ryu).  I really like these guys, and I wish they would get their branding straight, so they can answer the lineage questions.  Those of us in AikiJujutsu treat the lineage question seriously.

martial arts of austin

Larry Sanders

There is a fellow named Larry Sanders who claims to be a master of aikijujutsu.  I have not seen him train yet, but would like to.  The following is the only information I could find on him.  Unfortunately it is negative. Meet the guy and judge for yourself.

Larry Sanders

Sunday, August 26, 2012

The "Death" of the Traditional Organization

 I have had the pleasure of working out with Ledyard Sensei in a few seminars now.  His thinking is a perfect mix of keeping his eye on the traditions and towards the future.  I like his ideas.  I bumped into this article on Aikiweb.  I wrote him asking permission to reproduce it here.

  The "Death" of the Traditional Organization by George Ledyard

I have lately had the pleasure of attending and participating in a number of so-called Aikido "Bridge" Seminars. These are events which cross over stylistic and organizational boundaries allowing teachers of very diverse backgrounds, who might otherwise never have encountered each other, to share their Aikido experience with any willing student, regardless of level, style or affiliation.

Last year, at one of these events at which I was honored to be invited to participate, I sat after hours with a room full of teachers whose collective Aikido experience was more than three hundred years between us and had the realization that this was really the future, that we were participating in the death of the traditional organization as we have know them.

Back when the first Japanese teachers arrived on our shores there was no structure for the transmission of our art. These Aikido pioneers created any number of organizations designed to provide that structure. The original function of these organizations was to a) support the teacher(s) at the top of the organization's "pyramid" and to b) provide a structured access for large numbers of folks from within the fast growing Aikido community to their teachers in a way that promoted some sort of uniformity and quality control over the end product.

It became apparent, almost immediately, that the one organization, one country model propagated by the Aikikai Hombu Dojo wasn't going to work... As different organizations and styles back in Japan developed, so they were started here. After the death of the Aikido Founder, organizations developed reflecting each of these new directions taken by these teachers who felt compelled to strike out on their own. Since many of these "branches" off the original tree were actually "breaks", there was a political element that was always there, with various teachers competing via their organizations for students and influence.

Somewhere along the line, I think things went awry. It became more about supporting a given teacher than it was about the Aikido or the training of the members. I really believe that we have reached the point at which many of not most of the large organizations have actually become the limiting factor in the development of their members. When the Aiki Expos happened ten years ago, a set of events which I personally think will be looked at by future Aikido historians as pivotal moments in American Aikido, there were major organizations which simply chose to ignore the events and actively discouraged their students from attending. One famous Japanese Shihan actually did attend but told his students not to attend any other teacher's classes, which not only was totally out of sync with the spirit of the event itself but indicated an arrogance that I really had no time for, personally.

Over the years, as our organizations have grown, each has developed a core group of seniors, now 6th and 7th Dans whose "access" to the larger community was largely through their own organization by way of seminar invitations and appearances with other seniors at the large camps held by the organization. Since the Shihan in charge of thee organizations controlled who was put forward, they were able to maintain "control" politically be granting or denying "access". If you toed the line, you were put up front, if you didn't you found yourself out in the cold.

One friend of mine was a hugely successful teacher, prominent within his organization. He traveled frequently all over doing seminars, appearing at the various events held by the organization. When he broke with his teacher, it all went away. The folks that had previously been enthusiastic supporters, now stopped inviting him. He ended up having very little interaction with the whole Aikido community until just recently.

Another good friend, prominent in another organization, one that considers itself to be representative of a certain teacher's "style", started to work with a broader range of teachers than was available from within the organization. This person's Aikido started to make a real jump. But when this teacher taught at an organization event, the teacher was informed that they were not to teach that new stuff at their event. Their event was to teach the specific style and they simply did not want to know about anything else.

What I see, is that at some point, it became more about personalities than the art. What is the point of making a fetish out of the "style" of some particular teacher, now actually passed on, as if that style had some intrinsic value in and of itself as opposed to simply being an approach to training for students to develop themselves, which was the purpose of the art in the first place.

When an organization is more about power, influence, money, or anything else that isn't first and foremost about the transmission of the art, it has outlived any usefulness it might have had. It become a detriment rather than a benefit to the training of the members, especially the most seniors teachers, who find themselves limiting their exposure, having to hide their own advances in approach to not offend some person at the top who controls their access to the members and their hopes of future promotion etc.

In the age of the internet and globalization, this is simply not a maintainable model any more. We have American home-grown teachers who have forty to fifty years in the art now. Increasingly thee teachers are no longer willing to stay in line. They don't wish to limit their Aikido so as not to threaten their teacher, they refuse to allow their teachers to dictate who they associate with or call their friends. Increasingly they are starting their own organizations and are actively trying not to duplicate the dysfunctions of the ones they came from originally.

Simultaneous with all this, out steps a Japanese teacher who refuses on some level to act Japanese. He starts inviting people from outside his organization to teach at the organizations major events. After a number of years doing this he expands the concept... he has his students, who are now international in scope, to organize so-called "Bridge" Seminars to which a variety of teachers from different organizations and styles are invited to co-teach. This is so un-Japanese as to be quite shocking. Yet the idea is so powerful that it not only expands and grows but is taken up by others who use the same model to create their own events.

The teachers who participate in these events get to share their Aikido with other folks who have different approaches. This generation of teachers understands that there is a synergy to this approach that has the potential to lift then as teachers and the whole practitioner community beyond anything they'd attain under the old model. The exchange of ideas, the exposure to new approaches, the mutual respect that comes from watching one's peers be the professionals they were trained to be, all of this is incredibly powerful stuff.

As the old guard passes away, as the founders of these large organizations either fade away or lose their influence, things will be changing. The community of practitioners will be looking for another generation of leaders. I really believe that the next time around, they are going to insist on teachers who actually are trying to get better themselves. These teachers will have to have both the ability and the confidence to back it up that they won't be threatened by other teachers or by other approaches. The folks in the pipeline, the future teachers of this art will not be willing to accept the kind of self serving controls and limitations that has been the norm in many organizations. Their awareness of what is out there will be greater than any generation's before. They will simply not be willing to accept a teacher who becomes the limiting factor in their training.

One can already see it happening. It's right there before our eyes. Teachers are developing friendships totally outside what had been their traditional range of exposure. These teachers are more inclined to form their support networks based on respect for skills and character rather than simply because some dysfunctional individual has been a student of the same, often dysfunctional teacher as he or she has had. When the old Shihan have passed on, I don't see organizational identity having much sway at all. I think the teachers who have managed to establish their reputations in their own right will naturally rise to the top and the ones that have simply coasted on their association with some famous teacher will be totally marginalized. No one is going to care who their teacher was when that teacher is gone. And the folks who have the character and the ability to be leaders will all know each other. It's starting now and will only continue.

The next generation of leaders will not be imposed from outside. They won't have their status granted from on high. Rather, it will be the community as a whole which decides who it invests in and who it doesn't. Reputations will be built on the mutual respect of one's peers for what one has achieved, not because one had the ability to hang tough for decades with some difficult teacher in exchange for some authority which could be withdrawn any moment.

I see a time, which is already starting now, when teachers will have their own small organizations, really designed to facilitate the "transmission" of the art. There will be far more fluidity to these entities with other teachers who have their own small organization going back and forth teaching at each others events. The future leaders of Aikido will be networking like crazy with the folks they respect and simply ignoring the ones they don't. It will be highly de-centralized and nowhere near as hierarchical as our traditional organizations have been. And success will be based on the ability of the folks at the top to deliver the goods to the folks on the bottom. No one will put up with us just because we trained with the Aikido Founder because none of us did. Authority will be earned, not conferred. And I think the folks who do have "the goods" so to speak, will have the freedom and the inclination to work together to make something greater than has previously existed.

I have to say that I feel both excited and honored to be a teacher at this time... change is in the air and so far my experience of the possible future has me more optimistic than at any time I can remember. I have been making amazing new friends and renewing friendships that had been neglected. I see much that was stultified and stale simply passing away before my eyes and new and creative ways of doing things replacing them. I see signs that the next generation of folks will be willing to support each other in ways that they either never did in the past or simply couldn't.

Change is coming and it will be happening at a speed that many will find challenging. But it's coming anyway so folks can either go with the flow or even actively embrace it and help it come. The folks who resist the changes coming will simply fade away, no one will care. At least that's my take on it...

George S. Ledyard
Aikido Eastside
Bellevue, WA
Aikido Eastside

Friday, August 24, 2012

Sweet sweet ashi waza

I have played judo with a fair number of people.  Thus far I have met four or five that had such beautiful sweet ashi waza that I was helpless.  Here are two of them.  Lowry and Ables are two of the nicest people with the most evil feet.  There is a lifetime of artistry to soak in from this little video.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Daito Ryu's Signature 大東流

So I have long been trying to verbalize what the techniques of Daito Ryu feel like and why, as opposed to the techniques of other arts.  I ask myself this so I can figure out where the line is between schools and practices.  Daito Ryu has unique signature that I am attempting to identify.

The following is a list of some of my ideas.  It is incomplete and limited by my inability to articulate and perform aiki.  These are my notes, so doubtless the reader will not understand all ideas that are are not flushed out yet.  Please feel free to add your thoughts.  Hopefully someone will find it useful in their own journey.  Likely you will find Daito Ryu artists, techniques and bio dynamics that are exceptions to everything I am writing about.In addition I am probably half correct or just plain wrong about many things. The only way to understand this stuff is to find someone who can do it really well and feel it.  Then it will probably take a couple of decades to start doing it well.

 1.  Direct entry 入り身

    Daito Ryu tends to have a direct entry.  Rather than seeking to evade or move off the line of attack Daito Ryu owns the line between partners and moves directly into it.  The entry is a central penetration of the opponent's attack structure.  It has a feeling that I have only felt with Japanese sword work of constant forward pressure on the opponents system.  While many arts are reactive, Daito Ryu feels to me to have an attitude of pro-activeness. It has a sen-sen no sen quality compared to the entry strategies of other aiki art forms.

2.  Control the center line

    While often Aikido prefers to play in the outside, Daito Ryu tends to play on the inside and up the middle.  The center line is often controlled.  When I first encountered Wing Chun theory it made a lot of sense to me from the Daito Ryu ideas about the application of technique.  I have felt a similar sensation in students of Onoha Ittoryu kenjitsu, an art form often associated with Daito Ryu.

3.  Connection 結び and pressurization

    Because of the direct entry and control of the center line, Daito Ryu often feels like it has an overwhelming connection quality to it.  I often felt from my teacher like my entire system pressurized and I could feel my entire system have a heavy or unstoppable pressure put on it.  It feels very different to me from some of the light a floating feeling I have gotten from high level aikido players. In addition artists  from the Daito Ryu lineage tend to be excellent at what Don Angier calls commutive locking.  Essentially this is locking entire groups of joints to cause destabilization.  When my teacher did this to me it felt like he reached inside and grabbed my skeleton and drove me around with it.

4. Balance breaking 崩し

    One part of the  signature feeling is the mechanism of obtaining kuzushi, structure breaking.   The methodology is of crushing opponent’s attack stance and structure through central penetration. This includes strikes to the body.  There is a heavy emphasis on balance breaking on contact, the instant of connection.  There tends to be a preference in Daito Ryu techniques for up and down balance breaking directions - Aiki Age, Aiki Sage.  In addition there is often a creation of asymmetry in the posture of the attacker shortly after the connection is established.   The continuing feeling of the balance break leading into technique  tends to actualize in small circles -  especially through the shoulders.  Daito Ryu addresses the three systems that compose  balance; the vestibular, proprioception and visual systems.  The visual component of balance is attacked in many techniques by cutting the vision, interruption of visual field, or eye threats.

 5.Technique is made through entire body movement

    Aiki, whether in Daito Ryu or any other art is characterized by connection and movement coming from the center.  The footwork of Daito Ryu often expresses itself differently than what I often see in aikido.  Mind you I have seen a variety of differing applications from different lineages of Daito Ryu.  I only speak from my own experiences.  I see a preference for Shizen Hon Tai, a natural body posture.  Hanmi or deep kamae from sword work does not seem to be favored.  In mainline Daito Ryu they sometimes use a very wide stance after a lunge forward.  There is a emphasis on stable footwork, not loading weight back and forth.  Body rise and drop is minimized.  I have noticed good Daito Ryu artists tend to make less steps doing similar techniques than their aikido counterparts.  I have noticed that not only is the original step used to create effect, there also is an excellent use of the recovery step as effector.  Turning is not usually expressed through the large tenkan motions which are signature of  aikido movement. Instead I have seen in Daito Ryu a skillful short turning body around center core.

6. Use of Kote 小手

    While technique of made with the whole body, the majority of connections and lines of energy are drawn with the kote.  The kote is often thought of as the forearm, in the practice we can think of it a the hand through the elbow.  In Daito Ryu the majority of the connections are using one's own kote versus the opponent's kote to create connection and technique.  Even though many art forms have this hand to hand quality to them, again I feel Daito Ryu's signature is worth noting.  

    Good Daito Ryu artists have an ability to move around, or emit energy around the contact point.  For instance, if the wrists are grabbed and controlled, then a Daito Ryu artist might emit a pushing line through his own elbows, thus changing the relationship and controlling the attacker in a very unique way.  I have found artists use elbows as energy emitters in a great many techniques.

 7. Assumption of Weapons 

Some martial arts historians point to a connection between aiki and kenjitsu.  My teacher said aiki comes from the sword.  Takeda the modern father of Daito Ryu was also a swordsman in the Onoha Ittoryu kenjitsu lineage.While much of the time in many Daito Ryu groups in spent with empty hand training, every Daito Ryu teacher I have worked with emphasizes that weapons are involved.  My own teacher, Ota Sensei,  taught from the perspective that you were going for your sword or knife and your opponent was grappling with you to stop the draw of the weapon.  Additionally atemi after a technique is complete is often taught that it is the killing blow done with the weapon.  Also during the execution a technique the question is often asked "would that work with a knife?"  There is an assumption that the emtpy hand could indeed be a knife hand.
 8. Relaxation

     As I mentioned earlier, there is a characteristic pressurization of the opponents system  in many Daito Ryu techniques.  As a young student I often though this was muscle.  But Indeed Daito Ryu done well is done with a relaxed body and can be very soft.  While muscles are used, practice in my old dojo focused on  use of only  necessary muscle groups using efficient lines to create the desired result.  

·   Probably many more

Thursday, August 16, 2012


    In the system of aikido I was originally indoctrinated in we had rules. If you followed the rules of the system you were doing aikido. If you didn't - well you were doing aiki wrong. That was all fine and well. It helps clarify the goals when things are clearly laid out.

    Then I moved to Japan. Ota Sensei, my Daito Ryu instructor, seemed to break all the rules I had been taught. Yet he moved me around effortlessly. Apparently there are many ways to break the rules. Then I met my current judo and aikido teachers in Round Rock. Neither one of them have any concept of rules as they were originally presented to me, and both of them break many previous rules I had come to understand.

     All of my teachers approach the practice and game differently. Apparently the thing I had thought of as "laws of aikido" were merely a teaching pedagogy to conform to a particular teacher's preference for aiki aesthetics. Every time I meet a new teacher it amazes me how diverse the thinking and approaches the simple act of throwing a person on the ground can be.

Monday, August 13, 2012

合気の基本 Aiki fundamental form

This is an interesting little video. I have done a lot of training like this when I was living in Japan and training in Daito Ryu. Recently I got a dose of this type of feeling while training at a Daito Ryu intensive. It was called, "the do as little as possible game." In the above film we see the man making a semi circle though his partner. I think he could even make smaller circles through his partner using even less arms. I like this type of training. I needed to step away from it a for a few years before I could really understand the value of it's subtlety.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Into the Lair of the Rat

                                             Above is a police sketch of the scoundrel known as Dojo Rat.

  Just back from extensive tour of the United States.  In my many adventures of the Pacific Northwest I had the opportunity to meet and train with a fellow blogger who has challenged me and questioned my sound advice over the years.  His blog is far more popular than mine.

Here is his accounts of the meeting.  Dojo Rat's tall tales

   I had three missions to accomplish when I met this man.

1. Drink him under the table
2. Whoop him
3. Flirt with his wife

 Mission 1 - Drink him under the table

   Never challenge a man with his own saloon - which he has.  The beer flowed from the bar, and I estimate a Mongol horde could not challenge this man in a beer-off.  It was like a tale from the legends.  As my memory serves me he had a guitar in one hand and a barrel of beer in the other.  As he drank he sang.  Later as we gathered around the BBQed carcass of an animal he killed, he spun tales of his meeting with Bigfoot.  I ended up sleeping in the bar, as he ran off into the dark of the night - presumably to howl at the moon.  All the Bigfoot tales gave me a weird sleep though.  Was that Bigfoot roaming through the woods, or was it the Dojo Rat?

Mission 1 - we will call a draw

Mission 2 -  Whoop him

  On a picturesque battle field next to a lake  we engaged. We kept it relaxed and slow.  I could feel power in the old guy.  He caught me in a string of balance breaks.  He let me catch a few also.  Later I cheated and caught him in some foot sweeps so he whacked my head 5 or 6 times to let me know he could cheat too.  We played for a couple sessions over the course of a few days.  He is a solid player.  He feels like he could still handle about any scrap, even if it took him 6 months to recover.

Mission 2 -  draw

Mission 3 - Flirt with his wife

Dojo Rat must have some good mojo, because his wife is far more beautiful and charming than he deserves.   I figured this would be an easy mission, but alas she was impervious to my spell.   I suspect she is not into charming and handsome men, hence I stood little chance.

Mission 3 - FAIL

Overall the enigma that is the Dojo Rat is a fine fellow.  He lives in a paradise, has great friends and a lovely family.  He lives a blessed life. I am proud that I have had the chance to meet, play with and share a few beers with this fellow. I consider him a good friend.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

I'm Back!

   Hello friends.  It has been 41 days, 11 states and 6346.6 miles.  I am back and ready to do some serious martial arts.  Hang tight while I get adjusted back to normal life.  I have learned a lot and have a bunch to write about.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Walking the Earth

So the time is coming for a sabbatical.  I am loading up the truck with a bit of gear for an extended martial arts / spirit quest / walkabout.  Here is the general plan.

June 30th -     Denton Texas             @ the Dojo                            -  Iaido and Aikido
July 1st   -       Lawton Oklahoma      @ Lawton Tactical                - teaching knife workshop 
July 2ish-5 -    Oklahoma City          @ Windsong Dojo                 - training and gossiping
July 5th -         Denver                        - TAA / Dave Nettle's          - maybe if I can work it
July 7-9           Portland                                                                  - Beer and Asian gardens
July 10th  -      Redmond Washington @ Enso Center                      - training with Mix family
July 12-15th -  Seattle Washington                                                  - Daito Ryu with Howard Popkin
July 18-20 -     Seattle Washington @Critical Massive                     - I am teaching 3 days of workshops
July 22-24 -      Secret Island Location  Dojo Rat headquarters       - beer and tai chi (drunken style)
July 27-29th  -  Bay Area California                                                - TAA San Jose dojo
August 1-4    -  Sedona Arizonia                                                      -training
August 4-?    -  Sante Fe

If you are a reader of the blog, you want to hang out, and I am passing your way let me know.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012


The first blade my parents let me have was a tomahawk.  I still have my original, and I love it dearly.  Recently I was playing with it, and I thought to myself, "I sure would like to do some aikido with this."  It just so happens my favorite training knife producers, also make tomahawk blades for a inter-changeable system they have.  So I ordered the blade and mounted it on a tomahawk shaft I had in the garage.  It was tough mounting the blade right, but I think the couple nights of tinkering with tools paid off.  She is solid and sexy and itching to start training in the dojo.  Sadly I only have one more day in the dojo before I go on my budo walkabout. 

Tomahawk blades from Keen Edge

Friday, June 15, 2012

45 years

 In March of 2011 this blog reported on how a friend of many of my friends had been attacked while walking the streets of Austin.  It was caught on tape.  It was a tough reminder about how professional criminals fight unfairly.  Often the only defense is awareness.  It is well worth watching the film again.

Every once in a while justice bites back.  He just got 45 years in prison for the crime.

Mugger gets 45 years

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Review of Training Knives

 I have been training with knives pretty heavy for the past few years.  I fell in love with the practice.  One part of the practice that I have grown to have an opinion on is training knives.  If you want to practice knife defense you must have good training knives.  I myself have a bag full of all kinds of knives, and have used many in my classes.  This is just my opinion and I encourage you all to find out on your own.

Roger Norling writes...
"What defines a good sparring weapon? A common notion is that it should be as close as possible to the real, sharp weapon it simulates, but be designed with safety in mind, thus lowering the risk of permanent injury. However, since a sharp weapon is designed to injure, this is an inbuilt contradiction. Due to this simple fact, safer weapons always have drawbacks since they just aren’t supposed to perform the same way as real weapons. This has lead to various forms of solutions by different makers"

                                                                 Rubber Knives 

My review on rubber knives?  I personally do not like them.  They have some limited uses.  A good beginner trainer - cheap.  I have a few in my training bag in case way too many people show up to a workshop.

Many people like them because they bend and give when pressure is put on them.  This is exactly why I hate them.  They do not look, behave like or have the properties of a knife.  They often are flimsy.  Even the Cold Steel (I love many of their products) rubber knives are not suitable for serious knife training, in my humble opinion.

Their good side?  They are cheap.  Cheap is good in some instances.  They are a good for a very basic knife program - maybe one where students block and return a punch.  Also they can be good if you are using knives in a fencing style practice, where attacks are fast and uncontrolled and you are worried more about safety during impact.  If you are just starting out with knife training, rubber knives are a fine place to start.  I think you will find as soon as you have enough for you and your training friends it will be time to start upgrading.

                                                                  Wooden knives

My review on wooden knives.  Meh.  I got a bunch, but I rarely use them anymore. I used to be in love with them, but I have moved on.

In most Japanese martial arts dojos around the world you will find the reliable old wooden tanto.  I have used the wooden tanto for years and years.  This winter I even carved several with a pocket knife.  But, they are really mid to low grade for knife training.  While at least they have more rigidity than rubber knives, which is good, they still are a weird approximation of a knife.  By and large they do not have the same shape and geometry as a real knife.  Blade thickness is unrealistic.  This becomes problematic when you are working on technical points of stripping the blade.  Another problem is often there is no clear indicator between the handle and the blade.

Wooden knives... well, they are made of wood.  Wood gives a warm and inviting feeling.  Knives are steel.  Steel is cold and terrible.  Wooden knives do not look like knives.  We have to play a lot of make believe in our training.  They have to be used with great care, since they offer little to no flex and can break with nasty splinters.

They have positive points.  They are cheap.  They are rigid and you can use them to connect and push.  I like them better than rubber, but they are not great for fencing if people are really going at it hard.  Also they are traditional.  I do find them to be beautiful and some are quite artistic.

                                                                  Synthetic Knives

                                                                        Tak Knives

Quick review on these - they are O.K. - personally for the money I would choose something else.  I have one.

There are now a  broad range of modern trainers made out of various  plastics and nylon.  I think they look cool.  They are a huge variety of shapes and designs to choose from.  They are reasonably safe.  They offer less stiffness than wood, but they are nearly unbreakable.   Water wouldn't effect the blades so outdoor training is good.

They are on the expensive side, running around 25-40 bucks.  They still feel like a big chunk of plastic.  While the blade definitions are better than on the wooden knives, the thickness of the blade gives a difference in feel from real ones while working on techniques.  It might not be a big deal if you are a striker, but if you are into strips and takeaways these differences might be a issue.

                                                                  Aluminum knives

                                                                  Keen Edge Knives

  There is a good reason knife oriented art forms like silat and kali use these aluminum trainers.  Simply they are the best.  As far as I am concerned these are the king of training knives.  While they are tad pricey (from $25-$50 fixed blade and  $25 to $100 for folders) I think the price is well justified.  Buy them.

  Lets face it, they look, feel and give very close geometries to live blade knives.  They help bring in the psychological dimension of knife attacks, because they look real.  If you are serious about knife training these are a must.

In addition I would like to promote the company Keen Edge Knives (link below the above image).  I have seen a fair number of aluminum trainers, but this Ma and Pop operation make the best, and their prices are among the most affordable.  They have great quality and customer service. They also make cool sheaths for their trainers.   Keen Edge Knives is my preferred choice for training knives.   Tell them I sent you (I hope they start giving me a discount)

  For the cons - one of my buddies took a look at one of mine and pointed out that you could still jab someones ribs pretty good with it.  My response is - yes!  We are weapons training here!  It is not supposed to be perfectly safe  Your body needs some feedback.  That's why we don't train with Nerf weapons.  But if your partner is being unsafe,  having a cushy blade on hand is not a terrible idea.  Thus far, in my school we have not had a problem.

Another con might be, for some folks, is they look too real, so training in the park with them might be inadvisable.  I had a lady freak out in a dojo when I pulled them out.  Mind you I see these all as pluses, but some folks it might not be right for their training.

                                                                    Nok Knives


  My buddy Jeff loves these knives, so I had to add them on the list.  They are mid range price ($22.95)  They are a layered knife they is a good balance between stiffness and softness. 

  In my opinion, these are 'use' specific knives, or specialized knives.  They are made for higher speed and power fencing style training.  They are made so you can wail on each others wrists and ribs in a higher speed duel.  In a way these are like a knife man's shinai (kendo sword).  .

The things I don't like about the these is they do not look like, feel like or behave like a blade.  They are meant for safety end of intense training, and they do a good job at that.  My vote is aluminum for technical training, and Nok knives when you want to blow off some steam and get to hacking on your buddy. Actually they are made by an aluminum knife maker who practices SE Asian knife arts to address this exact purpose. 

                                                                      Tomiki Sport 


  Although I am an avid Tomiki aikido historian and practitioner, I do not practice sport tanto randori.  Here is an example of the knife sportsmen use in competition.  First it is expensive ($80), and it does not resemble knife geometry at all.  Actually it resembles a...never mind.

  I have never felt one, but I have read the tip is lined in foam.  I presume the focus on this trainer is to have something that can be jabbed in your ribs at full speed.  This trainer would not give you the right feeling for knife stripping and blade techniques, but I presume it does the job well enough for keeping competitors from hurting each other.

While this knife does not meet my personal needs at this time, if you are a Tomiki competitive sportsman you better pick one up.

                                                                     Shock Knives


This is a neat knife that has hit the market.  It is a shock knife.  It has electric conductors down the blade to give a painful shock to anyone it touches.  These things are pricey ($500)  I think they are cool, but the price point alone is going to keep me away from them for now.

  Even if you had a set of these, I do not feel that they should be your daily trainers.  They seem like they would be good for proving a point, or introducing fear back into training.  The focus of much of the knife training I have been exposed to is to reduce knife fear, so this training might be double edged, if you will.

  Overall I vote 'interesting' to these if you have gobs of money and partners willing to get shocked. 

Are you a training knife maker or knife maker and would like to be reviewed?  I would love to give a honest review and plaster it on the web and show all my buddies.  Send me knives!

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Practice 2

While vigorously training in the basic premises and principles are at the core of training, sometimes it is vital to think about, create and explore the arts in exciting new ways.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Southern Charm

I would like to introduce you to a buddy of mine. He is a leader of sorts, a herder of kittens. He is a hard swearing Southerner. His accent is so thick you need a translator. He always has a smile on his face and surrounded by beautiful people. He understands a few things.

 On a little picture our mutual friend posted, he gives some good advice. Indeed, I think it is pretty much aikido, with his own twist.

Meditate on the wisdom of Clovis.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

My Buddy's 1st Tournamant

 My friend went to his his first tournament.  He did a great job. 

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Sotai Taiso 相対 体操

My buddies over the the 207 blog recently asked me an interesting question. The question might be interesting to Tomiki lineage enthusiasts anyhow. Basically he wanted to know what the "releases" that I was talking about, and if it was related to modern forms found in the Shodokan line of Tomiki aikido. Clearly over the years there has been major evolutions in the katas and they way they are practiced in all the branches of the Tomiki lineages. Each of the lineages seem to preserve some aspect of the original, yet it twists and morphs in the hands of the new practitioners and teachers. I see this blog article as a rough draft. I invite all those with knowledge about the subject to contribute, either here or at

It seems fairly clear that Kenji Tomiki understood the educational value of simplifying complex systems. He took the myriad of complex movements of Daito Ryu and Ueshiba's early prewar aikibudo, and broke it down into a logical judo-like organizational system. It seems like he was searching for a way to practice and transmit the most basic parts of the aiki art in a periodic table of physical motion. The teaching forms he came up with are more or less the 10,000 techniques of Ueshiba's aikido condensed to a basic student curriculum. He made the exercises into three parts. Tandoku - solo practice. This kind of exercise is often called Aiki Taiso in other systems. Sotai is the paired work.  Finally he had a kata of techniques, which would eventually become the 17. Here is a list from around 1960 (approximate guess)

For this article I wish to focus in on the Sotai Taiso 相対 体操 and how it has evolved.  Essentially this exercise where the goal was not to throw, but to practice connection, timing and structure breaking.   By the 1950s Kenji Tomiki 富木 謙治 was busy compiling a system of aikido based education he called the Judo Taiso 柔道 体操. During this time he formulated a blending and balance breaking exercise. Here we see Kenji Tomiki in that time period demonstrating it starting at 1:11. Clearly it was an important part of his work, as it appeared in both the film and his book Judo Taiso. Apparently it was standard practice as Yamada was demonstrating it in the film in the late 1950s or early 60s in this film @ the 4:00. In the more modern school run by Fujiwara in Japan they also practice it. In this film we can see them training using this exercise at the 7:46 mark. The film is interesting as it shows clearly that solo practice and Sotai Taiso 相対 体操 were an important part of the the practice.

Nick Ushin Lowry of the Kaze Uta Budo Kai is a prolific contributor to Tomiki lineage scholarship. He generously posted a analysis on the Tomiki's old Sotai Taiso exercise as seen in the old films.

I am having trouble finding many modern JAA schools that practice (or at least post videos) of the sotai taiso. Though another power house of Tomiki lineage scholarship made a film. From Europe we have the Tomiki study group performing some interesting variations of the exercise. Perhaps one of them will be kind enough to write me and let me know their thoughts and history of this exercise in their line.

In the practice of Tomiki aikido that comes from the Kogure and Miyake teaching lines in the United States one of the prominent and foundational studies is called the releases, release exercises, hanasu, hanasu no kata, or musubi renshu. I seems clear to me that this exercise was an evolution of the sotai dosa. At this point of my research it is somewhat unclear who codified the execises into the form we see today.

The Releases

 1) Hon Soto Hanasu           normal outside release 
       2) Hon Soto Te Osu            normal outside hand push 
    3) Gyaku Soto Hanasu         reverse outside release 
         4) Gyaku Soto Te Osu          reverse outside hand push
  5) Hon Uchi Hanasu             normal inside release 
       6) Hon Uchi Ude Hineri         normal inside arm twist 
    7) Gyaku Uchi Hanasu          reverse inside release 
       8) Gyaku Uchi Ude Hineri    reverse inside arm twist 

I have spent a few nights on the phone with teachers that come from the Tomiki/Kogure/Miyake teaching lineage. I asked them about the question of the hanasu no kata (releases) and where it came from. I have heard two stories thus far.

 1. One teacher attributed the diffusion of the release forms to Miyake Sensei. They said she taught it as a exercise at a seminar, and many of the American students codified and kata-fied it.

 2. Another speculated that it might have come from Riki Kogure. Kogure is a prolific kata writer in his own right. Kogure was a major figure in the distribution of Tomiki lineage aikido in the United States and many students that learned under him have unique katas, such as the O waza Ju Pon or Big 10.

3. I think it is clear the releases come directly from Tomiki's work.  We see the exercises already being formulated in the 1950s films and books.  Attributing the work to Miyake or Kogure seems unlikely.

From MSU aikido we see a student practicing their version of the exercise.

Next we can see the head of the Kaze Uta Budo Kai sharing his thoughts on the releases.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

The big three in Tomiki Aikido

Recently this document was published on Face Book. It is a fascinating paper for you Tomiki lineage historians out there. It was the core curriculum of the tradition at that time.

 I am guessing this paper comes from the Yamada line out of Europe. My other guess is that this dates from the early 1960s. Although these are complete guesses - I do have a pretty good record of Tomiki document guess work so far. I will edit as I learn more information.

The first thing to note is there are three major exercises. The Tandoku - meaning solo exercise. Then there is the Sotai - which is the paired exercises. Then there is the base techniques. At the time of this printing Tomiki Sensei had 20 techniques. Preious to this Tomiki's 15 had been what was practiced. This appears to be an evolutionary bridge between Tomiki's early 15 to the 17. In my mind this demonstrates that the meat and potatoes of the system has long been what I consider the big three - what in America we often call the walk, the releases and the 17.

There is a lot to process on for the Tomiki lineage historian. Notice this is labeled as a Judo kata. Aikido is not mentioned. There has long been talk that Tomiki Sensei had been trying to introduce aiki waza into the Kodokan. While he succeeded in doing that with the Goshin Jitsu kata, perhaps this paper shows his goal for a comphrensive system of aiki for the judo world. Along this same thinking - the old film of Tomiki sensei doing aikido is called Judo Taiso.

 Lots to ponder. Of course these are all just leading up to randori.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Shodan Certificate

Last night Matl Sensei informed my that it was time to promote one of my students to shodan - black belt. I respect Sensei's opinion. I do not do any grading of my own group. I let my seniors decide on all gradings for the people that train with me.

I have long dreamed of having a artistic certificate for the aikido group that I teach. I have only had two guys so far reach this grade, and I have never made a certificate before. I have long been disappointed in most certificates - I don't want to hand my students and friends a photocopy, I want to hand them a piece of art as a reward for the art that they have developed in their own practice.

This is made from the canvas that covered the floor of the dojo I first learned aikido on in Lewisville, Texas. Years later, after my sensei gifted it to me, it became the floor covering of my first dojo in Austin. Sweat, blood and a lot of training stained the canvas. It is now the fabric that makes the certificates for the unfortunate few that call me teacher. It has 'ki'.

The symbol is ancient Chinese for 初. It means beginning or first rank. The pictograph is scissors cutting into cloth as a beginning of making clothing. Cool. I love getting into the old Chinese meanings of words. Poetry.

Eventually the bottom right will be covered in signatures of high muckity-mucks.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Daito Ryu Lines

I have been deep in Daito Ryu research. I was curious how many branches there are. I found this incomplete list of the schools/organizations in Japan. I had no idea there were so many.

Daito Ryu Shimbukan
Headed by Katsuyuki Kondo, student of Tokimune Takeda.

Takedaden Daito Ryu Aiki Budo
Headed by the current Masanobu Takeda, son-in-law of Tokimune Takeda.

Daito Ryu Aiki Budo
Headed by Nobuko Yokoyama, daughter of Tokimune Takeda.

Daito Ryu Aiki Jujutsu
Headed by Munemitsu Takeda, great-grandson of Sokaku Takeda.

Nihon Daito Ryu Aiki Budo Daito Kai
Headed by Shigemitsu Kato, student of Tokimune Takeda.

Daito Ryu Bokuyokan
Founded by Katsumi Yonezawa, student of Kodo Horikawa.

Daito Ryu Daibukan
Founded by Kenkichi Ohgami, student of Takuma Hisa.

Daito Ryu Gidokai
Founded by Hideo Hoga, student of Mae Kikutaro and Tokimune Takeda.

Daito Ryu Hakuhokai
Founded by Shogen Okabayashi, student of Takuma Hisa.

Daito Ryu Kodokai
Founded on the teachings of Kodo Horikawa, student of Sokaku Takeda.

Daito Ryu Renshinkan
Headed by Toshimi Matsuda, student of Sokaku Takeda.

Daito Ryu Shofukan
Headed by Ikuo Ota, student of Toshimi Matsuda

Daito Ryu Roppokai
Founded by Seigo Okamoto, student of Kodo Horikawa.

[Daito Ryu of] Sagawa Dojo
Founded by Yukiyoshi Sagawa, student of Sokaku Takeda.

Daito Ryu Senpukai
Headed by Sumiyoshi Yamamoto, student of Sokaku Takeda.

Daito Ryu Shodokai
Headed by Kazuoki Sogawa, student of Hiro Yamashita.

Daito Ryu Shouyoukan
Headed by Shige Ozeki, student of Shogen Okabayashi and Hakaru Mori.

Daito Ryu Tendokai
Headed by Masahiko Terahara, student of Takeshi Maeda and Tetsuo Shima.

Daito Ryu Takumakai
Founded on the teachings of Takuma Hisa, student of Sokaku Takeda.

Friday, April 13, 2012

400 years ago Miyamoto Musashi vs Sasaki Kojiro

On April 13, 1612 Musashi had his most famous duel.

From Wikipedia

On April 13, 1612, Musashi (about age 30) fought his duel with Sasaki Kojirō, who was known as "The Demon of the Western Provinces" and who wielded a nodachi. Musashi came late and unkempt to the appointed place — the island of Funajima, in the Kanmon Straits separating Honshū and Kyūshū. The duel was short. Musashi killed his opponent with a bokken that legend says he had carved from an oar used on the boat that carried him to the island. Musashi's late arrival is controversial. Sasaki's outraged supporters thought it was dishonorable and disrespectful, while Musashi's supporters thought it was a fair way to unnerve his opponent. Another theory is that Musashi timed the hour of his arrival to match the turning of the tide. The tide carried him to the island. After his victory, Musashi immediately jumped back in his boat and his flight from Sasaki's vengeful allies was helped by the turning of the tide. Another theory states he waited for the sun to get in the right position. After he dodged a blow, Sasaki was blinded by the sun.

Musashi briefly established a fencing school that same year.

Friday, April 6, 2012


I have bumped into a few of this guys videos over the past few months. I like his thinking and relaxed nature of his work. He has about 50 videos up so you can spend a bit of time getting into his art.

Kakushitoride YouTube

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Deep Practice

Recently there was a jodo thread that passed my way. I asked Bieler Sensei if I could post his comments here. In the discussion jodo folks were discussing the 10,000 hour training till mastery idea. I liked Jack's response as it stands on it's own as an article. I altered a few words to make it flow as an article rather than a email between folks. Please comment and let Jack know you liked the article so we can encourage him to be a regular author here at the blog.

So take it away Jack...

I have found there is serious cross-pollination between Sword, Stick and Aikido, and it gets more serious the further along we get in each. There is a threshold where our capacity to find correlations increases; we penetrate to fundamentals and start to see how they apply elsewhere. This usually requires repeatedly shedding strength and ego and even success, in order to reshape ourselves correctly according to our new understanding of principle. “Good body mechanics is always good body mechanics” as Lee Sensei put it. “Good mental attitude” too…. Correct practice, at whatever level, is essential, so we don’t end up being black belt masters of garbage.

The phrase "Deep practice" is mostly used referring to seminar experiences. However serious practice every day also must include the element of intensity and focus on reality – what is really happening at each moment? Going through the motions is OK. Doing Aikido with lame or unrealistic uke (training partner) is OK. But the “deep practice” experience requires the challenge of reality. The sword can or cannot really cut you. The stick can or cannot really dominate your opponent. Kuzushi (balance breaking) really overwhelms an honest, powerful, stable, committed attack, and uke is neither acting out the response nor selfishly altering the timing and scenario. The value of seminars is not just access to information, but increased standards, intensity of practice and pressure of scrutiny. The reality that other people are doing it correctly and succeeding, and expect you to.

Iaido is the greatest crucible for zanshin, since everything is in your mind. You must be the enemy with a sword, and you must understand and maintain the strategy of your enemy at the same time you have to monitor your actions and not get lost in details. There is no partner to keep you honest or even focused; not even your teacher can, except by example.

Conversely, partner arts always have the element of ego interfering with principle. Getting the job done, wrong, is ok. Doing a jodo kata poorly, in one situation, against one uke, who may or may not be “giving you” the technique, can be successful at the moment. It’s OK. But it’s a dead end, it doesn’t grow. It’s like “beating” someone in randori – you get the technique, give yourself a medal. You used the practice to boost your ego. What are your criteria for victory? Ultimately, we should be practicing to GET IT, to do the correct movement in the correct way at the correct time, while relaxed and with minimum effort. Separating the ultimate goal from immediate success is the hardest thing about any partner practice. When we do it right, we know it and it surprises us. There is a feeling of joy and confidence, and we wonder what the heck we were doing the rest of the time. Perfect practice makes perfect. Slow down, relax, do it right. Repeat.

- Jack Bieler