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

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Unencumbered Spirit

"Tolerate the mistakes and faults of others,
But not your own.
Endure you own difficulties and disgrace,
But not those of others."

- Hung Ying-Ming 洪自誠

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Kata 型 as Rinsho 臨書

When I was studying in Japan I spent a great deal of time with a brush in hand studying the fine art of shodo 書道 - or way if the brush. Sadly I was largely a solitary practitioner and my practice was informal. I met very few martial artists that also studied calligraphy. At one J.E.T. gathering for English teachers I met one. The conversation quickly got to the point we both had discovered, shodo 書道 and budo 武道 are parallel art forms. They are identical in many of the core educational principles, and every practice session in one form opens up understanding in the other.

When I first started calligraphy I wanted to do cursive and splashy pieces. Similarly in aikido I wanted to do randori. According to the Japanese educational model, in both art forms it becomes vital to build the structure of the art by carefully copying the works of master artists. In budo we call the practice kata 型 in shodo it is rinsho 臨書.

Latley much of my budo practice has been original movement. I teach my cutting edge of artistic understanding. This is useful at times, but lately I have worried about how my student's art will suffer. They need a logical way to wrap their heads around the problems and principles of budo. Thankfully the masters have preserved the art in a puzzle called kata, our brush-less rinsho.

"Rinsho (臨書) means copying masterpieces. The whole idea is not to copy the text exactly as it is, but catch the spirit, rhythm, style and energy of given work. It is the oldest and most proper way of studying calligraphy."

"Copying Chinese manuscripts is base of our study. I begin every day with at least one hour of rinsho. I remember my teacher scolding me for writing sousaku (創作, own composition) too often and neglecting rinsho. It is the only way to understand how powerful writing can be."



Like Ryuurui comments, you are not copying either the kata or rinsho exactly. You are searching to express it's spirit in your own way. I remember a shodo friend of mine in Japan reading a critical letter from a master to his students. The students had been copying the master too closely and missing a key element of the practice.


Friday, March 16, 2012

Musubi - 結び

Musubi is a concept that I believes forms one of the core principles of aiki based art forms. Over my years of training I have felt various artists express it in radically different ways but at the end of the day musubi 結び, or connection between centers, is one of the common denominators high level people all have mastery of in their practice.

As I often do, when exploring a concept I love to break down the kanji, the Chinese character to see what secrets lie in store for us.

結び - むすび ending; conclusion; union

結び目- むすびめ knot

結び方 - むすびかた way of tying a knot

So from a budo perspective, I would say

結び - to be connected or related; to join together

Now let us explore the kanji 結 deeper and explore it's construction and etymology.


to do up (hair); to braid; to fasten; to fix


1: to tie; to bind; to link;
2: to bear (fruit);
3: to close (e.g. deal); to confirm; to conclude;
4: to close tightly; to purse (e.g. lips);
5: to unite (with); to ally; to join hands

Here is what you get if you type 結 into Google search.

The character is made up of two clusters of ideas. 糸 and 吉

糸 a fine thread

Pictographically the writing 糸 represents a twisted string.

吉 - good / lucky / auspicious / propitious / favorable / fortunate

the speech 口(mouth) of a sage 士(a man of learning) = 吉 auspicious

Now that I have beaten you to death with kanji lets see it in action

First we see Kondo Sensei, the head of Daito Ryu. He has an intense musubi so it is good for illustrative purposes.

Then we see Stenudd Sensei. Watch as he moves right into the structure of the person. Both Kondo and Stenudd have intense musubi that really sock it to the structre of their partners.

And here I give a brief description of what musubi is and how it is created.

On the softer side of musubi practice we will see a short lecture by Lowry Sensei. He sees musubi differently than I do. I see it a the linking of structures and centers and he describes the point of connection and how much energy to use at the connection point as musubi. This is a really useful lecture he has here that should be viewed often.

And as a final piece of musubi trivia for the day. Musubi (different character) also means sushi made from spam. Go figure.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Connection Drill

Some of my buddies recently got a taste of Daito Ryu. I thought I would share with them a key exercise that was practiced in the Shofukan dojo.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

AikiKen video notes

I shot some video of Hussey Sensei for a few minutes when we were training with a bokken.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Sweet - I got ripped off!

I was looking through the sword buyers guide and I found one of my calligraphy pieces plastered on an image of a sword they are trying to sell. Sweet! That makes me famous in my own mind! It must have gotten on the internet when I sold that image to a t-shirt company to use about 7 years ago, but it is still strange to see a piece of calligraphy that was on my kitchen wall when I am shopping for swords. Small world. Apparently after a search that company is'nt making t-shirts anymore. Whoever Photoshopped it smudged my signature though.

Hint hint - maybe Sword Buyers Guide will want to give me discount - Hint hint - I am looking to buy a Cheness Kaze - Hint hint.

SBG with the advert

It has been a while since I have seen this image. My signature looks funny. The t-shirt company added the 'spirit' to the kami character. I would not have translated like that.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Musubi with Knife

This is not abut knives, or knife fighting. It is about connection. How to join another person's structure. The knife is there to help in not gripping. I could be anything really a pen, fan, cell phone...etc.

I first started using the knife like this when I started thinking more about the tegatana (lower blade part of the hand). How to use the tegatana? Use it like there was a knife in your hand. This simple thinking switch in head had helped me work wonders (compared to what I WAS doing anyway).

Friday, March 2, 2012

A lesson

Here is a lesson about art and life from a parkour practitioner. Everything he says is relevant to all arts, and especially budo. This might as well have been an aikido video. I especially like parkour since it is a deep study of ukemi and pushing the boundaries of what the body can do through space.