Tuesday, February 1, 2022

Sensei Strange?

Last year on the Kaze Uta Budo Kai boards Sean Ashby posed a question.
"What is the appropriate way to use the term "sensei"? At what point does a person become or start being addressed as "sensei"? I would imagine that opinions vary on the subject, as would various schools and arts, so I'm curious to see what folks might have to say."
Nick Lowry responded.
"in the budo tradition we come from, typically after 4th dan students and peers may use the term sensei to refer to a teacher-- though in Japansese culture in general, who serves as a teacher may be refered to in this way -- Later, after 6th dan you hear the term shihan or "leader of men" used as well, though the term sensei is still also completely appropraite reguardless of rank-- as with all honorific titles and ranks it is coinsidered rude and arrogant to use such terms to refer to oneself -- a point widely overlooked in the west where such usage has become an ugly form of advertising -- For myself, I am pointedly embarassed at my own (unknowing) misuse of such in the past -- i see that i was just following the examples of my role models, but i did not yet understand how my models were themselves being rude and arrogant there are also a variety of other honorific titles that have been misused over the years which are missappropriations form other ranking systems-- I think it is best to just avoid them entirely"
And my response (slightly edited here)

What??? But I am the Sensei Strange!!!

Let me explain something about myself. As I young man I earned degrees in Anthropology and Psychology. Like Indiana Jones, I was sure when I moved to Japan I was going to seamlessly blend into the culture, mastering the language in days. Contrary to my fantasies I remained a giant, fat, larger than life, boisterous heavy beer drinker. Much of my fitting in involved dancing on desktops (much to coworkers horror) staging fire shows, pouring Tequila into the city mayor until he ceremoniously vomited over a banquet, and levitating cards in classrooms. I have a flair for the dramatic after all. |

In 2000 I was writing articles for a few Zen and Budo online magazines, and beginning to perform juglging and magic at festivals. I found no matter great a performance, or well crafted article I wrote, no one would remember my name. My lack of branding drove me crazy.

Then one day in a In Niiharu middle school English class, one of my students called me 'Henna Sensei' meaning strange teacher. The words rolled around in my head for a few hours. Then as I returned to my desk I saw the pile of American comic books I brought from home for my students. On top was the comic, Dr Strange - sorcerer supreme. Then in a flash the two ideas merged and "Sensei Strange" came to me. Well aware of the Japanese language conventions, I started using it as a pen name. Instantly I became memorable. Interesting thing about art - how you frame it is sometimes as important as the art itself.
I ran Sensei Strange by some of my Japanese friends as a stage name for the magic act I was developing. They all gave it a yes vote. Then slowly over the next few years, being a shameless self promoter of magic I introduced myself as 'Eric Pearson the Sensei Strange' more and more! It became my real and only name for a great percentage of people I now know. It is my professional name of sorts. So I adopted Sensei...not as a mere title. It is some sort of absurd magical avatar!!!! Talk about rude and arrogant! Again, I proved myself to be a white, bearded Godzilla plowing through Japanese conventions. Honestly it has become kind of a joke on myself and an idictment of my ridiculous nature. I am both reverant and an iconoclast in all things.

That's my story. Is it arrogant and rude to call yourself Sensei? Yup. Don't do it. I messed up. For those of us in the budo world it looks douchey. As a martial artist I regret the "name" a bit now...but the die has been cast and I have to deal with my ridiculous choices.

I hate seeing on social media people introduce themselves as sensei, shihan, shidoshi. I really is a misunderstanding of the titles. It is a 'tell' for the way that person's mind works.

So to wrap this up, I understand the Japanese title conventions, I adopted it knowing it was a 'strange' decision. I rolled with it because of magic branding from my youth. 'Ignorance of youth' I think it was a awful choice for a martial artist. It is stuck now...it is a brand I am known by - for better or worse. Don't be like me. Don't use Japanese titles.

Eric, the Sensei Strange

Wednesday, September 29, 2021

Aikido in Albany Oregon

Albany Muteshokai AikiBudo Dojo 合気武道会

Inside Albany Aiki Muteshokai Dojo

Reach me - thedragonsorb@gmail.com

I would humbly like to invite you into the world of traditional Japanese martial arts with a combination of traditional and progressive teaching methods. For me it has been the most challenging and fulfilling artistic journey of my life.  

We are a newly forming group (September 2021) in Albany Oregon.  The dojo is at a private residence on Knox Butte    (email for details  thedragonsorb@gmail.com) We train primarily in progressive non-sports Tomiki lineage Aikido, Judo, Daito Ryu Aiki Jujutsu, TaiChi pushhands and knife training. Systema based drills are also a a part of our training now.  Basically, we train in soft, technical martial arts.  We train safely, pragmatically, ethically and in good humor.   While we respect Japanese influences we do not overly embrace the ritual culture.  We respect diversity and work with physical limitations of each student to design a study that is appropriate for their abilities.  

There is another Aikido group in town as well.  Lovely folks.  check them out also.  Aikido of Albany   Aikido of Albany people are always welcome at the Muteshokai.

Eric's Daito Ryu history and certificates

Eric's Aikido history and certificates

The class is taught by Eric Pearson.    Largely Eric cares little for ranks and the ranking game.   When searching for a teacher remember ranks are largely political ties. Go see a group and teacher for yourself to decide.   Eric sees himself as just a student who trains with his friends.

 Different organizations and teachers have ranked him as following -

Aikido - Although aikido is just one art form, different organizations have  presented Eric with varying grading or ranks.  He holds a rokudan, 6th degree, in Tomiki lineage Aikido from The Kaze Uta Budo Kai.  He has received a 5th dan in Aikido from his long time teacher Russell Waddell, and a 2nd degree in Aikido from the American Tomiki Aikido Association. Take your pick.

 Despite the impressive looking pedigree his Shiho Nage technique still sucks.  He is working on it.

Daito Ryu AikiJujutsu  He also has an associate instructor rank in from the Shofukan (formally affiliated with Renshinkan) under Ota Ikou Sensei when he trained for three years in Numata, Japan. He periodically studies with Howard Popkin sensei and Joe Brogna sensei, of the Ginjukai, to continue his study of Daito Ryu - though he holds no rank in their organization.  Eric also has trained with Roy Goldberg of Kodokai Daito Ryu.  He is friends with Houston Daito Ryu club.

 Judo  He is continuing his education in Judo and has received a sandan (3rd degree) grade under Zdenek Matl for his time teaching and spreading the art of Judo.   Nick Lowry has also granted him a sandan.  This is a club ranking, and NOT a international sport judo-USJA or USJF ranking.  Eric developed a judo team focused on students who are blind from 2015-2020 at the Texas School for the Blind.  Some of the students went to the judo nationals and tried out for paralympics. Sadly though, he quit the School for the Blind to move to Oregon.  He trained in Japan from 2000-2003.

His teaching practice is named the Muteshokai.   Although until recently based in Austin, Texas he  frequently travels and gives workshops in the Dallas area, Little Rock, Seattle and Oklahoma.  He know lives in Albany, Oregon.  Students and teachers from many local dojos gather with Eric in  Albany to share techniques and friendship.

Here are some clips of him training.  If it looks like you would enjoy practicing like this join us.  If not there are lots of schools in Oregon that can meet your needs.

email - thedragonsorb@gmail.com

Eric continues his journey under the patience, watchful eyes and good humors of many Aikido, Judo and Jujutsu teachers.  While he does not get to train with them as often as he would like, but he thanks Russell Waddell, Brendan Hussey, Zdenek Matl, Nick Lowry, Roy Goldberg, George Ledyard, Corky Quakenbush, Cory Juhl, Leslie Libby, Jack Bieler, Jason Mix and Howard Popkin for their teachings, help and friendship.  Arseniy Grebnov and Gene Smithson  influenced by introducing him to Systema concepts which he continues to explore everyday of his life.   He is eternally grateful to Ikuo Ota sensei and Master Man H. Han for their teachings and influence.

Also he could not do it without his best friends and closest teachers.  A million thanks to Scooter Holiday, Michael Chihal, Matthew Howell and Thomas Daniel for being the backbone.

Friday, August 23, 2019

Embrace O'Sensei

Recently on an internet forum I read that we must...

"Embrace O'Sensei and teach actual Aikido."

Embrace Osensei? I am curious as to what that means. I see a disturbing trend in Aikido, the deification of Morihei Ueshiba. The phrase 'Embrace' reeks of a religious connotation. I suppose people want a religious leader. The image of a white haired Ueshiba appeals to the Nippophile Zen wanna-be in all of us.

There is an excellent phrase in Zen. "If you meet Buddha on the path to enlightenment, kill him" As humans we so easily become enthralled with the teacher, we put too much on him. We lose sight of the message, the practice and what is important. Perhaps a revision. "If you fall in love with Ueshiba on the path of aikido, kill him"

Another piece of wisdom from the Zen tradition. When the master points to the moon, the students watch the finger and not the moon. The path is obscured by the short vision, unable to understand what to focus on. On forums and in literature I see hundreds of love sick Aikidoka, pining away for a master they never knew, claiming to understand his teaching from a foreign language, long ago. They claim to know what he knew while selectively cherry picking quotes and actions that back up their point of view. They become enamored with the finger, while the moon shines bright above.

Another piece of wisdom comes from Issan Newton. "If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants" Giants indeed. Our paths are laid out by giants before us: Takeda, Kano, Ueshiba, Tomiki, Sato, Shiodo and even every teacher tirelessly working away in every dojo to this day. Giants. I acknowledge them. However I dont feel the need to move into the woods and shave my head to study their ways.

Embrace Ueshiba? Ueshiba never threw me. He never had the chance to teach me. I never had the chance to counter him. Why? Because he is dead. Buried. Gone before I was born. I learned from him what I could and find the modern artists to play with. Some of them are still tearfully clutching onto a symbol of saint buried long ago. But the truth is Aiki is a living art. It's not meant for the dead. It only comes alive in the here in now. 今ここ. Only in the moment of constant practice.

I was once an accolyte for the cult of Ueshiba. I met him on the path. I stood on his shoulders. I killed and buried him so I see what he was pointing at. I buried him long ago.

Embrace Ueshiba? No thanks. I grew out of that stage. I am a man capable of thinking and feeling and creating on my own without the need a fantasy saviour saint. Aikido is what I do, and what I create. Ueshiba died. Clutching onto the past is not living in the now - one of the the more profound messages of Zen. 今ここ

Monday, January 21, 2019

jyumi - 'preference'

I would like to bring up a useful concept for your aiki, and understanding other people's journey through their own development of aiki.


 Before I go into the concept I want to share a little history. When I first started learning aikido from an organization they taught a lot of fundamental ideas that the students religiously followed. We were instructed that is was the only way. Us students believed them. They had a very rigid teaching structure. I then moved to Japan. I joined a Aikikai school and a Daito Ryu school. Every group moved in different ways, broke each other's rules...and somehow still made it work. How could this be? Again very rigid structure.

 I moved back to the states and got loosely hooked up to an organization that if you broke a movement rule they would scream you out of the dojo. Their work looked alien to all the others I had seen,

 You see, a lot of what you have grown to believe what is aiki IS, comes from a group's and individual teacher's PREFERENCES. It is largely political. We are easily swayed by the politics of our own groups.

 Preferences are good to have. Great in fact. You get to know what qualities attract you in an artist, teacher, a movement, and in your own technique. The choices you make about your preferences greatly affect to art you develop. Do you prefer hard, soft or a balance? Stances? How hard of falls do you want to take? Do you want to develop an arrest type of art, or purely passive? Do you want to be ideological, or pragmatic? Do you feel creative in aiki, or do you feel you must faithfully copy your teacher's work. Is pain ok? Attack or defense? Spiritual or mundane?

 All of these are preferences. Aikido is large enough to explore all of these things and a myriad more. The point. The way you view aikido is your preference. Your preference is not totality of aiki. You like your preference. I like mine. You when you look at another artist and think "that is not aikido." You really mean, "that is not my preference, because currently I am working on..."

 You simply don't get to tell me what Aikido 'IS'.

 You DO get to tell me what your preference is.

Friday, May 5, 2017

An interview with Eric Pearson

So a few months back I sent out interviews to a bunch of budo teachers.Some people were kind enough to write back. Yesterday it occurred to me that I had not tackled these questions myself, and likely no one will ever want to interview me, so I might as well do it myself. So there you go...

If you happen to read this and you are a teacher in any martial arts form, please shoot me an email with your answers to the questions to thedragonsorb@gmail.com. I would love to hear from more people.

Why did you start training?

I had been interested in the martial arts since I was around 7 or 8, but my mother refused to let me participate in fighting arts. I used to spend my Sundays watching Kung Fu theatre, a show which presented a different kung fu flick every week. After that the westerns would come on. Thinking back this is probably where much of my warped fascination with the martial arts stems from. I love both the sword and the six-shooter.

In the sixth grade my world starting turning upside down. The new middle school was infested with bullies. I was a small quite boy with not a lick of fighting sense. I was fresh meat. The bullying was terrible. Every day was full of fear and confrontation. Teachers and principals largely were ineffective at stopping the harassment. Eventually the problem got so bad my mother relented on letting me study martial arts. I believe at the age of 11 I was enrolled in Master Han’s tae kwon do in Carrollton, Texas.

I trained off and on throughout my teens. I did tae kwon do for several years, karate, ju-jitsu, fencing, Northern Shaolin, and some kick boxing. When I was twenty I finally met the man who I call teacher, Russell Waddell. He opened my eyes to what budo could be, and has helped me along my path of aiki-budo.

Why do you continue to?

Now I simply cannot stop. I feel like I am wasting time if I am not training. I feel weak if I don’t train. I feel emotional unbalanced. I feel sick after a while. It keeps me sane and healthy.

Also martial practice has become the focus of my artistic, creative, and even social experiences. My writing and painting is focused around budo and the Zen aesthetic. My evenings not training are spent writing and talking to some of the finest martial artists. My vacation time is planned around training. My teachers and students are my best friends and are some of the finest people I have ever had the privelage of spending time with.

I remember one of my early martial arts teachers talking about being a ‘budo man’. Somehow he always made it feel like BEING a budo man was something that I wasn’t. Well, guess what? I am one.

Do you have a phrase(s) that sum up your ideal of martial arts practice?

“The great way has no boundaries.” I firmly believe in the possibility of a great many things. If we shut down possibility through self imposed boundaries, then we are doing ourselves a great disservice. I choose to believe in possibility. I choose to believe I can always accomplish even greater understanding.

In the following picture I am at an art show with my favorite phrase. This is the largest piece of calligraphy I have ever done - 20 feet tall!

What do you like to see in a practice?

I like to see less lecturing and more people playing. I like to see one on one problem solving. I like to see an active dojo where everyone is teaching and everyone is learning. I like to see high level teachers playing with each other, because I find typically they don’t. I like a casual environment where a new student can comfortably talk to a high level teacher without dropping to his knees and bowing. I like ukes that ride that line of being a tough, yet achievable challenge. I like to see randori, free play, done thoughtfully.

I like seeing a strong sense of zanshin. Zanshin is connection. It is awareness. It is a burning stare and staying in the moment. Practice without it feels empty to me, like it is play rather than budo. Most martial artists do not have a sense of this concept yet, and I see it and feel the emptiness.

What do you not like to see in a practice?

I do not like seeing centralized power. I do not think there is one artist, and everyone is trying to copy the big dog’s system. I loathe seeing an abuse coming from teachers towards people. I hate seeing teachers that think they are better, or a higher social standing just because they have skill at throwing people. I do not like seeing teachers that demand a title be used with their name.

I hate seeing a skilled teacher with an empty dojo.

I do not like seeing systems with without a system of free play. I do not like systems where things are forbidden, like foot sweeps. As long as techniques are safe to practice, and they are done in the correct intent – everything should be on the table.

I do not like seeing stylized attacks from predetermined ranges with no room for spontaneous and creative movement.

I do not like seeing people waste time in the dojo. In many dojos I have been trained in, I see people sitting and talking for long periods of time. I talk in the dojo, but I do it while training!

How do you define 柔/合気 ju/aiki?

Aiki 合気 and Ju 柔 – mean 合気 ‘fitting to energy’ and 柔 ‘softness’ are strategies and philosophies in martial training and budo lifestyle. In China at the Taoist temples the internal artists postulated a theory that softness can overcome the hard. They believe that challenging the mind and spirit through internal work will reward the diligent student greater results that depending on strength and power. I believe the students of ju and aiki are inheritors of this philosophy.

Early in the development of judo, Kano Sensei penned the two most important phrases in budo practice. Students of 柔 ‘ju’ should strive for mutually beneficial training practices. Also our training at all levels should be infused with the strategy of maximum efficiency with minimum effort. These simple two phrases can, if studiously followed, totally change the practice and results of a sincere budo practice. We should be obsessed with the concept of efficiency and economy of motion.

Also, I think too a serious student of 柔 ‘ju’ should be infatuated with the word softness. It should be a mantra. It should be the self analysis grading rubric of each technique thrown. We must constantly ask ourselves how we can do these same motions with less energy.

合気 Aiki to me not only speaks of a strategy, it also speaks of a lineage. If you train and teach aiki it means you are from a family coming from Sokaku Takeda. What is aiki is something largely up to artistic interpretation, so it largely has little meaning beyond that. There are a great many artists from many different martial schools that achieve it. I sometimes equate aiki with the word kung fu – meaning great acquired skill. Aiki – or harmonizing with energy is not a unique strategy in our lineage. I do have my own constantly evolving definition of aiki, but looking out into the larger community I see that my interpretation is a personal one.

What adjective would you say your technique 'feels' like?

It depends on how much of a skill deferential there is between me and my partner. Most new people I can make dance around with no pain and very little pressure they can feel. I do not do techniques to these folks. I can keep it in the realm of pure balance breaking. In Lowry Sensei’s breakdown down of techniques according to elemental intent I would say my style is ‘air’. I imagine myself a cloud, intangible, yet rippling with small lightning strikes.

When does a practice become not-ju/aiki?

Exertion of anything is that is more than is needed is when it ju/aiki fails in practice. It could be MORE of anything. If you use more speed than needed, you are not using these strategies. If you are using more strength, more pain, more time, more space, and more motion you are doing too much. These art forms are supposed to be deep studies of efficiency.

Do you have a favored technique right now?

I have deeply exploring standing shime (chokes) in aikido and judo for a while now. I have been linking trying to do Tomiki’s seventeen with a different emphasis than what is taught standard. I might do a technique such as aigamae ate (irimi nage) with the main connection with my hand, my elbow, my hip, my knees or my feet. Then I work on rippling the connections down rapidly so there is not one throw, but a lightning fast transition of connections that a nervous system cannot respond to.

If I had to put it to words I do not believe aiki is in the techniques. Aiki lies in the changes between techniques.

In judo I am working hard on my ashi waza (foot techniques). I am taking the time to go back and explore ground work very slowly and with the minimal effort mindset that I approach standing work with.

I have been also developing a system of aiki tanto work for about 6 years now also.

What is your favorite practice related book?

‘The Book of Martial Power’ is probably one of the best written. The ‘Tai Chi classics’ is a must read. The Tao Te Ching is a constant source of inspiration. I enjoy ‘Book of 5 Rings’ by Musashi. Suzuki Roshi’s collection ‘Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind’ is a good one. The ‘Hagakure’ is an interesting view into the samurai mind. Saotome’s ‘Aikido and the Harmony of Nature’ is sometimes an interesting read.

To be honest I am a video junkie. I am blown away at the amount of information now available that until recently was unavailable. We has access to so much now. I love it.

What is rank? What does rank reflect?

It is an understanding between a teacher and student – going both ways. The rank system is a goofy ego trap. It as a ridiculous as it is useful.

I have successful thrown people that far outrank me, and I have been pinned by brown belts. While skill is a nice prerequisite I would say rank has to do more with knowledge of methods and strategy than it had to do with fighting ability.
I believe that people should not be ranked past 5th dan unless they show phenomenal skill, understanding, and they can articulate it well. I do not see any need for people to go much higher than that unless they are part of a large organization. To me a 7th or 8th dan rank is an indicator of leadership. By this point a person should have produced so many 5th dans that they are pushed up. I do not think a person should receive a 7th dan for being a good student alone. They should receive it for their ability to teach. Look at his students and you will know if the person is really a 7th dan. Their energy should have spread the art far and wide.

I have heard of some 9th dans that simply train in a dojo and have never taught. I do not think this is accurate portrait of rank. This would be a 5th dan with exceptional skill. The higher ranks are leadership and teaching ranks IMHO.

What principle have you been focusing on in your practice lately?

Connection or connectivity is my main principle of focus right now. For a long time I have connected then disconnected, making movements that do not have effect. In a good training session every movement should have effect. If you are connected to your opponent, you merely have to move yourself and your opponent has to move. With no connection you can really accomplish very little efficiently. Connect!

What is your relationship to kata?

When I studied Daito Ryu in Japan I did exacting formal kata every practice for three years. In my first aikido school they were big on kata and would run it over and over. I know kata. I can get a deep practice with it. It is no longer my focus.

Kata is great, but there is a point of diminishing returns in my own practice. I especially disapprove of kata if you are just trying to memorize how master _____ does it. Kata is not a static thing. It is a tool to engage and challenge. Every time you step up to a kata to explore eventually you will be brought to a place where you cannot answer the problem with your previous knowledge. Kata has a way of forcing the beginner’s mind. You must experiment from this point. I use kata as a launching point for experimentation. I do not try to fit my movement around someone else’s kata. Often know I use kata as an example of the way I don’t like the technique to be done. Nevertheless it is still a useful tool.

Rather than kata, I prefer flow drills, rezoku (continuous) attack exercises or balance breaking drills. I do not like training where the result is known. In real aiki the result can rarely be predicted, so that is why I have a hard time finding aiki in kata. I can find techniques, but no aiki. In my estimation aiki comes from an ever changing relationship that accommodates to the circumstances. Much of kata is trying to prescribe the circumstances – type of attack, range, technique...etc. For my current practice I feel that the prescription robs the interaction of life.

What is your relationship to a competitive feeling in training?

Budo is a combat art. In many aikido dojos people are not allowed to push themselves to a competitive level. I think aiki and ju tends to fail if the mind gets too competitive, but I feel it is important to let people go there when they need to. Sometimes they need to get to the frustration level where the strategy of aiki fails them. They need to tense and to struggle, so they can learn a more efficient way. Power and strength are often a valid answers in conflict. During randori I do not forbid my partners from using it. I do remind them that it is not a good aiki answer. More often now I can use that power to my own benefit to illustrate the point. Sometimes I still get hung up.

I love having judo guys shiai me. I don’t shiai back. I love the raw energy and tension of someone bent a determined to throw you. If you don’t feed into their game, if you just surf their energy I have found I can be a fearsome opponent by just going where they want me to go and doing what their body tells me to do, softness negating hardness.

I love randori (free play) I do not understand a martial arts practice that does not have it in some form. I similarly do not under how any artist can get to higher levels without spending a great deal of time in this zone. For me at least it is the place where aiki in it’s most beautiful and creative forms can be found and created.

How has your vision of practice changed as you have gotten older?

I get hurt less now than when I was younger. I tend not to take as much radical ukemi. My father is an expert billiards player. You never see him take a difficult shot. The better I get at budo I try to tailor my ukemi around what my body can safely and easily take.

The biggest difference in my art now as opposed to when I was younger is that it is entirely a creative process. I do not copy anymore. I find inspiration from nature or other artists, and then I go through a process of creative movement and thinking to solve novel problems. Many of my guys have commented that I often do not teach, instead I lead a laboratory. I make it up as a go along now, but I have a hefty tool box of experiences and principles to guide the way.

Do you have another hobby or art form that you think about in martial arts terms and ideas?

Performance magic, calligraphy, cooking, shooting, archery, and teaching children are the main ones. Really I never turn off my martial arts window in which I view the world. Principles tend to be universal. Often they work in the physical sense. More often they work conceptually, and poetically in other interactions and relationships around us.

Do you see any problems with the way aikido is practiced in the world at large, and do you have any recommendations for change?

The main problem I see is ego. Ego creeps in everywhere in the practice. For a supposedly Zen related art form ego seems to be one of the biggest traps, from the new students to the heads of systems. It truly poisons the practice.

There are many ways to practice. As long as it suits you, have fun! Remember to give other people space to practice their way. Don’t let that ego thing crawl in there.

What martial art besides the one you practice do you think is interesting?

I love so many arts. I can watch a good silat teacher for hours. I love sambo’s leg lock work. Wing chun is an art form I wish I studied deeply. Tai Chi push hands is lovely. The new wave of ground work submission wrestlers is inspiring. There are many geniuses at work pushing the envelope in this frontier. Knife and shuriken throwing is an amazing practice. A deep study of the sword is another aspect of budo I would love to have. Extreme long distance shooting is also so cool. Strategy games such as chess and go are well worth spending your life chasing after.

I just love all this stuff. I am a nut for martial study.

What inspires you?

Teachers that have attained great skill and use it to build communities and friendships inspire me. A passionate student that is absorbing as much as they can is a sight to behold. I find the images and avatars of the masters that have walked before us an interesting mythology to explore to find inspiration. Good art in general is very inspiring. Calligraphy is extremely inspiring to me. The Tao Te Jing and all those books I mentioned earlier. Of course YouTube, watching other people is great. Oh yeah, Star Wars. I like Star Wars.

Do you have any aspirations for your art, dojo or organization for the future?

I would like to continue with what I have. I like having a tight knit group of devoted teachers and students working together to create a healthy and dynamic practice.

Oh yeah, I would also like to be considered a force a nature.

Anything on your mind you would like to add?

The most important thing in budo is relationships.

Don’t get stuck in one way of thinking.

All arts have beauty. All artists are worthy of respecting, because at least they are out there practicing, which is better than most people.

The great path has no boundaries.

Be nice to your mother.

Choose to see beauty in the world.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Elements of Aiki throws

When learning and teaching throws and throw mechanics, it is sometimes useful to break down the throw and analyze it in detail.  Often when there is a problem with the throw, knowing the broad elements can help someone find and fix the problem areas of their throws.

Elements of a Judo Throw

Judo theorists have divined that there are three major parts or elements in the execution of a throw/ nage waza.

1. Kuzushi   - the breaking of balance, crumbling the structure/ creating asymmetry in the structure of the partner.
2. Tsukuri - entry, or building the relationship and architecture of a throw. 
3. Kake 掛け- execution of the technique - literal - in the midst of

While these elements are typically written in a numerical order, they often happen in differing orders or a chain of elements. Common ideas about sequences might look like...

1) kuzushi-tsukuri-kake
3) kuzushi-kuzushi-kuzushi
4) tsukuri-kuzushi-kake

These elements are a fine general description for the elements in Ju throws.  However, in Aiki we are often dealing with a different set of variables and throw mechanics.

After a great deal of thought, I have categorized my own list of elements of Aiki throws. 

Elements of an Aiki throw

1. Awase   blend/ meet/  joint together
2. Musubi    join/union/connecting 
3. Kuzushi  to collapse/ crumble/ disorganize/ unbalance
4. Hanasu す to release/ to let go/ to set free/ to turn loose

                                           Awase  せ 
 From inverted mouth 亼 and mouth 口, two people talking. Meaning united.

 In judo techniques the throw might begin with the opponents already grappling, and linked closely together.  There is often a battle for favored grips on the jacket, but usually the range is very close.  In aiki waza, the range between opponents tends to start further away until the attack is initiated. 

In aiki waza, the time of the two partners coming together is the awase phase of  technique development.  The central idea of awase is to merge with the opponent's energy and attack and take control.  Awase is not blocking energy or defending against the motion and energy of the attacker.  Awase is merging into power and motion and disabling it and leading it into new shapes.

In order for awase to be effective (Aiki),  the elements of musubi and kuzushi must also be present.  In many ways, awase IS all three elements of blending, connection and balance breaking.  However, I find it useful to separate them into smaller parts, while remaining mindful that we are trying to achieve all these elements in one motion.

From thread 纟糸 and phonetic 吉. Meaning to tie.
Before physical connection, the aiki student and the attacker are separate bodies in motion hurling together in a potentially devastating clash of matter and energy trying to occupy the same space. The skillful aiki artist, however, connects to and blends (awase) with the energy hurling towards them. The two individual structures of the human being now become more unified,and the two people become one four-legged structure. The aiki artist can cause his opponent to need to lean on him for support, so as the aiki man moves, his opponent must follow.  Any time two people touch and become interdependent on each other for balance, musubi is being created. The two people often lose their individual centers of gravity and gain a common or shared one. This joining together of the centers is what I consider to be musubi 結び.

I had one Japanese friend, who was an aikidoka and Daito Ryu student, say he did not like the use of this word for aiki.  He felt it had more Shinto implication, like connection to the universe or the Gods.  I have, though, heard it used by other aiki folks that corresponds to my use and definition.

Here is a little film I shot trying to teach the concept.  I hope you find it useful.

From mountain 山 and phonetic 朋. Meaning avalanche.

Kuzushi is a Japanese term for unbalancing an opponent in the Japanese martial arts. It refers to not just an unbalancing, but the process of putting an opponent in a position where his stability, hence the ability to regain balance for attacking and defense is impaired or destroyed.  Typically this is demonstrated by a structure displaying asymmetry or being forced into taking recovery steps because the center of balance is moving over the base of support. 

Lowry sensei of the Kaze Uta Budo Kai has made an essential series on aikido and judo kuzushi and connection.  

From hand 攵攴 and phonetic 方. Meaning to put.

While at the intro level of judo they teach kake, or the execution of the throw, typically this is action based, one person throwing another.  However, advanced judoka sometimes say there is no kake. If you have off balance and fit in, the throw happens on it's own.  Kake happens.  In the aiki world, the state of having the kake just happen comes from a relaxed shaping of lines of direction.  This is hanasu.

In the aiki world, I see most artists struggling with this concept of hanasu.  Even the most advanced artists often 'throw'.  In my own estimation, though, this is still jujutsu creeping into developing aiki. The very best aiki is hanasu, or relaxed releasing of the opponent into a place they must fall to.

While I myself am still a struggling student, I offer this film as both a good and bad example.  My hanasu has improved dramatically in the past decade.  Most of my techniques are done with a relaxed arm, or relaxed whipping arm.  When my techniques are sweetest, it looks like my opponent is just falling off of me.  When I am not doing it as well, it looks like I am throwing him.

I hope you found something useful.  Track me down if you want to chat about it or train someday.

Walk In Peace,


Thursday, December 3, 2015

Sagawa Daito Ryu Films

There are nine branches of Daito Ryu lineages.  These are coming from the following teachers.

1. Takeda Tokimune
2. Hisa Takuma
3. Sagawa Yukiyoshi
4. Horikawa Kodo
5. Yoshida Kotaro
6. Morihei Ueshiba (preWWII Daito Ryu)
7. Hosono Tsunejiro
8. Matsuda Toshimi
9. Yamamoto SumiYoshi 

Sagawa Yukiyoshi 佐川 幸義

One of the famous students of the founder of Daito Ryu was Sagawa Yukiyoshi.  I have found his school is hard to get into, and they are secretive.  Until lately I did not think any films coming from this lineage were available.  While no public films have been released of Sagawa himself, many of his students have made short recordings.  For my own research records I have decided to gather them here,  Hopefully these films can give a glimpse into the world of Sagawa Daito Ryu.

The following 3 films show one of Sagawa's top students.  Keisatsu Yoshimaru,

Sagawa student Yasue Kunio, who also studied aikido under Seigo Yamaguchi.  Now he teaches his own form of Chrisitan aikido (hence the robes)

Yasue Kunio claims to have started Daito Ryu under Matsuda Toshimi, but then went on to study with Sagawa,