Thursday, January 26, 2012

Ohba Sensei

Kenji Tomiki's friend and inheritor of the Shodokan lineage.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

A lovely piece of Aikido calligraphy

For some reason there are not very many versions of the word aikido written in calligraphy on the internet. A few of my friends in budo have been buying expensive pieces from Japan, that frankly are not composed well to my eye. Fear not reader, I will gather pieces for us to discuss and learn from so you too can have great taste in calligraphy.

The above piece is splendid to my eye. I am fond of the older styles, and this looks to me to be a bone script inspired piece. I love the writers use of the archaic 'DO' in the upper left corner.

bone script

The great thing is you can support the artist and buy it for yourself.


Friday, January 13, 2012

Miyake Sensei Jū-no-kata 柔の形

Tsunako Miyake (the lady in red) practicing 柔の形, Jū-no-kata, "forms of gentleness" This kata is from the Kodokan judo curriculum. Miyake Sensei is a giant in the field of martial art especially judo, Tomiki lineage aikido and tai chi. This film was possibly taken around 1989.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The name of Tomiki's art - Shodokan 昭道館

I have been pondering the name of art use in the Tomiki lineage practice. Interesting that it is the only major branch of Aikido that got named after a teacher, rather than an organizational or art name. Apparently Kenji Tomiki 富木 謙治 wanted neither his name or the word ryu attached to his art. Of course now we call it Tomiki Aikido as a blanket term, and some call it Tomiki Ryu when we mistakenly think of it as a koryu art form and misappropriate the term Ryu 流where it should not be used.

Nariyama Shihan recalls talking to Kenji Tomiki about the name of the system.

"The use of the terms Tomiki-ryu, Tomiki System, etc. prompted an austere look and resolute manner, “It was never my aim to create competitive aikido for only one specific group”. I can recall his politeness and the things he used to say about his cherished ideas. So why was Tomiki Sensei so strongly against having his name used? I think that this was because he had much more sincere and more noble ideas concerning aikido and budo. At that time he mentioned the name of Kano Shihan to use as an example, “Kano Sensei aimed at creating judo as a modernization of budo. Although he established judo, we never hear term Kano Judo.” Referring to own’s name in this way is shortsighted and won’t allow budo to change at all. Tomiki Sensei did not boast about competitive aikido belonging to him but believed it was connected to the development of aikido as a whole and for the benefit of everyone. He believed strongly that without this process aikido would not modernize. This way of thinking was perhaps why he was particular about the name."

-Tetsuro Nariyama Shihan

Kenji Tomiki clearly did not want his name to be used. But he did name his art. He called it Shodokan Aikido 昭道館合気道. After Tomiki Sensei's death the organization of dojos he created fractured into several pieces and Shodokan 昭道 became a political name of one organization rather than a term he apparently intended it for. It seems clear he meant it to be the name of his art.

So if Tomiki Sensei would have had the choice do you think he would have wanted all of the students in his lineage to say they study Shodokan Aikido? It seems from Nariyama's essay that seems to be the case. I don't expect this blog to change much of the name/political landscape but it is an interesting question to ask ourselves.

Anyhow, the name of Kenji Tomiki's art was/is Shodokan 昭道館

I would like to take a look at the word and see if Kenji Tomiki buried a gem of wisdom in the word she chose. Some of the masters of the brush I have met believe words and strokes contain ki. Tomiki was himself a calligrapher, so maybe a piece of his mind rests in the characters he chose. Fumiaki Shishida Shihan, the noted scholar and Tomiki lineage author wrote that Shodokan means 'place for identifying the way'. While I find it difficult to argue with such a respected researcher, he might have been translating a poetic interpretation rather than a literal translation to English. He goes on to write...

"The meaning of Shodokan is 'place for identifying the way'. The first character, 'sho' comes from the Showa period in which Shodokan was founded and is also found in the name of Uchiyama's company. The second character, 'do' comes from Kano's Kodokan. (clip) On 28th March 1976, Uchiyama provided a 70 tatami dojo with Tomiki as the head."

Fumiaki Shishida Article

While I find the insights Shishida writes about the name of the Shodokan fascinating, I want to dive deeper. Much of Tomiki's life was spent in the Showa era, Showa era (1926.12.25-1989.1.7)so I am inclined to believe it might not have been THAT special to him. The company that donated space was an interesting factor. What about this kanji resonated with Tomiki so deeply to name his headquarters and art this? Lets look at the literal translation.

Let's take a look at the word 'sho' 昭.

昭 - luminous

Some of the secondary or lesser used definitions in Japan are / clear / bright / plain / obvious / Showa era (1926.12.25-1989.1.7)

In Chinese definitions are bright / brightness / luminous / prominent / eminent / evident / obvious / to make open / to show / to display

Here are some ancient forms of the character.

The other part to the name Shodokan 昭道館 are the far more common budo characters (道館), same as seen in the name of Judo's headquarters Kodokan 講道館.

道 -ち - 1: (Archaism) way; road; (Noun suffix)2: way to ...; road to ...
館-かん-house; hall; building

Luminous. It seems to resonate with the poetic teaching of his aikido teacher Morihei Ueshiba. Indeed I have read, light or shine was one of Ueshiba's last calligraphy pieces he wrote before he passed. Even the symbol of the Shodokan is a centered by the sun/fire with a luminous halo - representing the balance of water.

So far what it is worth, it is this lowly blogger's opinion that Tomiki's art is the 'luminous way building/hall' or the 'luminous path building/hall'. I think all translations search a purpose to help guide us a little further down the path. Due to the modern political entanglements, I would not call my art Shodokan, but I respect the name and poetry that the founder of our style called his art.

As a final thought, there is a Tomiki website that states because Tomiki was a calligrapher and practiced shodo 書道 (brush-way) he named his art Shodokan 書道館. This is an understandable mistake for us English speakers, but it is absolutely incorrect. That being said calligraphers are often immersed in poetry and multi meanings, and I suppose this could be another layer behind the riddle of naming of the art of Tomiki Sensei.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Things I learned from Sensei

The first week into the New Year and my mind has been reflective. I took time to wander the Earth and reconnect with all of the men I consider my teachers and friends on the path of budo.

In Lewisville I saw Waddell Sensei, my teacher over the past 17 years. He had a few guys over at his club and they were hard at work practicing kata and randori. Russell continues to be guiding light in my practice. The lesson I learned by watching Waddell Sensei is a reminder of the power of old friendships.

Then off to Oklahoma I went for the winter training session. Lowry Sensei was a gracious and kind host. A group was in from all over the south to exchange ideas and lay hands on each other. Nick continues to branch out in creative new directions. He also has been carefully analyzing the masters of old and noticing some really interesting aspects and influences of their art. I felt the gem I was looking for in one of his balance breaks that has set me off in a new direction for a while. The lesson I learned by watching Lowry Sensei is that he smiles and laughs constantly. Laughter seems to be the source of his power.

The cadre of teachers such as Greg, Brian, Kyle, John all were a joy to work with and there was a great sense of connection and free sharing of information. The lesson I learned by watching these Sensei is a reminder of the power of new friendships.

Bode Sensei joined us and was a blast. His work continues to be inspiration. He is warm and lights up the dojo with his presence and insights. He took time out of his schedule to connect with me and everyone who wanted learn with him. The lesson I learned from watching Bode Sensei - He cares deeply for the people around him. He tells everyone that is close to them that he loves them - and tells them often. One of my friends commented, "I have never been hugged by a sensei before." Apparently he had never met JW before. In my estimation the source of his power seems to be a deep love for the people in his life.

Back in Austin my group met for our New Year's workout. These are the people I train with and share space with the most. Looking around the room, I saw we have a collection of outstanding artists. Judo, karate, three styles of aikido, taijitsu and aikijujitsu are represented in the players that gather for our group. Although I often lead the exercises, there is no real leader. We are not the old model of martial arts were there is one artist and everyone copies. Everyone is an artist, and my feeble skills are humbled by the insights the artists have that make up our group. The lesson I learned from watching the group at Austin Budokan Aikibudo is that community and sharing defines our path.

Matl Sensei and I spent about 3 hours together a few nights ago. The complexity and simplicity of his art form keeps unfolding every time I spend time with the man. He is a rare genius. Together one year ago we started a new dojo under his guidance. He has shown me that together we can accomplish something I could have never done on my own. Budo is a collaborative process and we stand on each others shoulders to reach higher goals.

Last night I went to train with Hussey Sensei. Artists from clubs all over Austin come to learn and share in this group. Connection. That is what I feel there. Connection with other artists, and connection in the techniques. Hussey was teaching to accept others into your center so a deeper connection can take place. While this teaching was for a martial technique, all this aiki stuff is just analogy for strategies for living. The lesson I learned from watching Hussey Sensei is that connecting with people defines this art form.

This morning I found some biting and hateful comments on my blog from someone who apparently hates me, my art and my way. Apparently the gentlemen believes I am terrible person. The lesson I have learned from this is that this is why I surround myself with people who have trained hatred and venom out of their souls. I simply don't care about rank or ryu. I don't care about history or politics. Ego and power has no place in my way. I don't care about how much a black heart or a broken soul hates me. Indeed my place and path gets strengthened with every attack.

The path that I have learned from my teachers is about friendships, laughter, love, community, sharing, collaboration and connection.


Thursday, January 5, 2012

Nervous System and Balance

For an martial artist there are many deep wells of study to explore in the art of budo. For me, one of the critical studies has been to understand balance and what causes it, and ultimately what disrupts it. Most balance researchers seem to agree that there are three nervous system inputs that feed information to the brain's balance center. Vision is a major part of balance and it makes up about 40% of the information. The vestibular system contributes about 30%. Proprioception makes up another 30%.

"Through peripheral and ambient vision, the brain senses the body's movement, orientation in space and relationship to objects in the environment. Vision also detects the stability of a surface or object. For example, seeing a swaying rope bridge causes a different response in the body than seeing a sturdy pillared one. When the eyes focus on a steady object, the vestibular system of the inner ear can orient the head vertically, horizontally and spatially. This helps stabilize the body."

Read more:

Proprioception (from a paper by Eric Pearson)

The nervous system has complex and vital functions. One of these functions is proprioception. Proprioception literally means "one's own perception”, or “sense of self.”. It is the sense of the relative position of one’s own neighboring parts of the body. (Mosby, 1994) Proprioception is the sense through which the body perceives its own motion and also gives the brain information about where parts of the body are located in relation to each other. (Proprioception n.d.) Proprioception provides information to the brain about the body’s movement, pressure, movement, weight acting on the limbs, and limbs’ complex interactions. The brain takes in the proprioceptive information and makes a current map of the body. The body’s self awareness maps derived from this proprioceptive input not only guide body movement, they also help sense the size and shape of objects and measure the shape of space surrounding the body. (Smetacek & Mechsner, 2004) During the learning of any new skill or activity that uses the body it is usually necessary to become familiar with new proprioceptive tasks. (Proprioception n.d.)

The proprioceptive awareness of the orientation of the body comes from sensory receptors in the joints, tendons, and muscles. The sensory receptors are called proprioceptors. Proprioceptors sense the status of physical reactions within the body, such as muscle length, deep pressure, joint angle or tendon tension. Signals from proprioceptors about the body’s condition are sent by nerves through the spinal cord to the brain. The proprioceptors send constant updates to the nervous system’s internal maps of body position. (Smetacek & Mechsner, 2004) Sensory information from proprioceptors, in muscles and tendons are used by the motor system as information to guide gait, postural adjustments and control of movements like walking.

Information from proprioceptors is normally combined with information from the vestibular system and its receptors. The vestibular system senses gravitational acceleration and changes in velocity from movements of the head, visual, auditory, and tactile receptors. Human orientation and coordination is managed and run by three independent sensory systems: proprioception, vision, and the vestibular system. Proprioception is sense of self, and vision gives us information about the world around us. The vestibular system, based in the organs of the inner ear, gives the body a sense balance, momentum, and it aids in guiding the eyes. The signals from these senses are tightly integrated that it is difficult to draw lines at their borders of function or even to separate them.

Vestibular (from Wikipedia)

"The vestibular system, which contributes to balance in most mammals and to the sense of spatial orientation, is the sensory system that provides the leading contribution about movement and sense of balance. Together with the cochlea, a part of the auditory system, it constitutes the labyrinth of the inner ear in most mammals, situated in the vestibulum in the inner ear (Figure 1). As our movements consist of rotations and translations, the vestibular system comprises two components: the semicircular canal system, which indicate rotational movements; and the otoliths, which indicate linear accelerations. The vestibular system sends signals primarily to the neural structures that control our eye movements, and to the muscles that keep us upright . The projections to the former provide the anatomical basis of the vestibulo-ocular reflex, which is required for clear vision; and the projections to the muscles that control our posture are necessary to keep us upright."



Mosby’s Medical (1994) Nursing and Allied Health Dictionary, Fourth Edition, Mosby-Year Book, p. 1285

Proprioception (n.d.) Retrieved from Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia:

Smetacek and F. Mechsner (2004). Cognitive Science: On Proprioception. Retrieved from

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Why we fall.

I have been reading up on some kinesiology. I found this paragraph that clearly illustrates a deep area of what we should be studying. How do we stand and why do we fall over?

Full article by Barrett C. Miller

"To stand, walk, or climb without falling, we must maintain our center of mass over and within a base area. When someone is standing erect, the base can be considered the normal footprint. The shape, size, and position of the base changes depending on the pattern of movement and the activity. When walking, we constantly readjust our body segments over our base to maintain stability. The brain, vision, body condition, and the nature of the contact with the surface all contribute to the sensitive balance required to maintain walking stability. If a foot slips or is mispositioned, the center of gravity shifts outside the base area. When this happens, we shift our body parts in an attempt to regain equilibrium. If the center of mass cannot be shifted back over the base area, we fall."