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The pine tree lives for a thousand years
The morning-glory for but a single day
Yet both have fulfilled their destiny
quoted in D T Suzuki, Zen and Japanese Culture
Change your Christmas trees into Kadomatsu!
When I heard my doorbell and opened my door
There stood Santa
With a pistol in his hand
Kurisumasu Tsurii O Kiritaose!
Kadomatsu means gate pine. In Japan kadomatsu arrangements of pine and bamboo and plum are placed in front of doors for the new year. Pine means long life and good luck, bamboo means prosperity and plum means strength or courage. There are different layers of meaning too. Pine can also mean youth or happiness. Bamboo can mean resilience. Or honesty - when bamboo is cut it is hollow and hides nothing. The plum in Asian culture symbolizes winter but also that the spring will come. There was a discussion about some of the meanings after they appeared in one of the poems of O Sensei, the founder of aikido: http://www.aikiweb.com/forums/showthread.php?t=19040.
The kadomatsu in the snow is almost like a Christmas tree. The evergreen pine tree is a universal symbol of renewal. It's a good thing to remember. To be ever green. Always fresh. Always young.
I wish you happiness for the season and for the year ahead. And may you stay forever young.
The way of the samurai is found in death
Tsunetomo Yamamoto, The Hagakure (Hidden by the Leaves)
To die when it is right to die, to strike when to strike is right
Inazo Nitobe, Bushido: the soul of Japan
Tranquillity is courage in repose
Inazo Nitobe, Bushido: the soul of Japan
14 December is the anniversary of the revenge of the 47 Ronin (the Chushingura). Death is natural, a part of life. The samurai prepared to face death with equanimity. Thinking about death I looked back on the deaths that have affected so many of us. Some great aikido teachers died in 2010.
Nobuyoshi Tamura Sensei died in July 2010.
Seiichi Sugano Sensei died in August 2010.
Kanshu Sunadomari Sensei died in November 2010.
Robert Aoyagi Sensei also died in November 2010.
I trained with all of them. All these teachers were great budoka and they were gentle and kind. In my memory they are all smiling.
Check out the ‘Readers also downloaded' link at the bottom of the page too for other books related to Japan or to military strategy. On that page I noticed The Religion of the Samurai by Kaiten Nukariya and the Art of War by Sunzi (Sun Tsu). All books on Project Gutenberg are no longer covered by copyright and are in the public domain and can be downloaded free.
Darkness is my advantage
(the blind swordsman) Zatoichi
I'll just watch for now
(the blind swordsman) Zatoichi
I saw one of the old Zatoichi movies last week. It was a great movie. Zatoichi is a blind man who travels around Edo period Japan. He makes a living by giving massages and gambling. Only samurai were allowed to wear swords and Zatoichi carries an innocent-looking pilgrim's stick. It is actually a shikomi zue - a cane sword. He always protects children and women and people who need help against injustice.
For a budoka the swordfight scenes are very interesting. Sometimes he waits full of intense concentration listening for a whisper of an attack. Then in an instant he spins and slashes - nearly always drawing and holding his blade in a reverse grip (an icepick grip with the blade facing out). Spinning through a group of attackers he looks something like some old movies of O Sensei. Gozo Shioda Sensei gives a similar impression of ceaselessly spinning in old videos when he is attacked by several people at once. So maybe there is a lesson there for us against multiple attackers. Always be in motion - turning and entering, entering and turning.
There are other interesting concepts in Zatoichi. Ninkyo is the concept of chivalry promoted by the forerunners of the yakuza gangs - with the idea of caring for the poor and the weak. Bushi no nasake is the idea of a samurai's compassion - especially looking after the weaker members of society. But in the Zatoichi
There is no point in destroying your uke because then you will no longer have a training partner.
How to Do a Hip Throw (o-goshi) by eHow.com
"So I said can you show us some hip throws?
And he said no, but I can show you some cool pins..."
Koshinage is the name used for all hip throws in aikido. In judo hip throws - koshi waza - are a category of throws.
In aikido there are two basic types of koshinage.
In the first type of koshinage at the instant of the throw the uke is at ninety degrees to tori. There is not really a comparable throw in modern judo but the equivalent right-angle body position appears in kataguruma (uke is loaded onto tori's shoulders rather than the waist).
Tori breaks uke's balance and then rolls uke approximately over the line of the belt off to the side. The hip movement in this throw is much less pronounced. This throw is the traditional aikido koshinage and O Sensei can be seen doing it in old photos and film. The older generation of Aikikai teachers sometimes used this technique. For example Sadateru Arikawa Sensei did this version.
Daniel: Hey, what kind of belt do you have?
Mr Miyagi: Canvas. JC Penney, $3.98. You like?
The Karate Kid
before the test
Prepare seriously. Make sure you know the curriculum. Practise often. Especially for your first test try to remember the names of the techniques.
the day of the test
Try to stay as calm and quiet as your life lets you. If you can, leave a clear buffer of time before the test. Go for a walk or sit down and have a hot drink. Try to avoid distractions.
Go to the dojo as early as you can. If you clean the mats before training in your dojo try to get there in time to do that - if you get there very early do it on your own.
Change into your gi slowly and deliberately. Many professional sports players have rituals they try not to vary. It's like preparing for battle.
When you enter the dojo bow slowly and formally with a feeling of gratitude. Look at the dojo. This place is where you are going to do a great test. This is your space.
Warm up thoroughly. Do some ukemi. Get your blood flowing and get rid of any stiffness or lethargy. Now you're ready to do a great test.
If you have to wait while other people are testing occasionally move your legs and ankles and feet and toes. It's not cool to fall over when you stand up.
Use the adrenalin as a help to peak at the right moment.
Be sharp. Now is not the time to be slow and thoughtful.
Finish all your techniques clearly and decisively with zanshin - re
I was thrown out of college for cheating on the metaphysics exam; I looked into the soul of the boy sitting next to me.
Last week I was asked about promotion tests. If your teacher asks you to test do you have to test?
Not to test
I think once you have shodan and a black belt it's OK not to test if you are really not interested in grades. But if you have trained for a long time and you still have a white belt there is maybe a danger of becoming a Q-car. A Q-car (in the US a sleeper car) is a modest-looking car with a hidden powerful engine. Like a VW Beetle with a Porsche engine. Hello. Surprise! The name came from the Q-ships. They were originally warships disguised as innocent merchant ships to invite attacks from submarines. When the submarines surfaced to attack the Q-ship revealed its guns. It sounds like advice from The Art of War by Sun Tzu ("all warfare is based on deception") or The Book of Five Rings by Miyamoto Musashi. Or Captain Morgan the pirate.
I knew one man with a white belt who had a solid background in several martial arts and quite a few years of aikido training who surprised a few shihan with his powerful grip and attacks. So if you have a white belt and your teacher asks you to take a test it's probably a good idea to do it.
If a test is too expensive to fit in your financial priorities of course just decide not to test. But talk it over with your teacher.
In Japan the traditional way is very easy. You don't have
He'll always tell you he was a basketball player in a football player's body. He was my toughest competition. Taught me how to shoot, the whole form thing about keeping your elbow in, all the basics. He helped, and I pretty much give all the credit to him.
Alison Bales, WNBA Atlanta Dream
In many, many sports - like tennis, golf, weightlifting, kayaking, baseball and basketball, say, just to take a few at random - from the beginning players are often told to keep their elbows close to their bodies. It's a simple concept. Your body is strong like a tree trunk - but your arms are weak like the branches. So the tighter you keep your elbows in to your central core the stronger your posture.
But it's a little more subtle - and interesting - than that in the martial arts. Of course a block in karate is solid when your arm is close to your body. But in kendo or kenjutsu if your elbows are in too tight when you raise the sword you can block your own vision. And in judo if your elbows are in too tight some techniques can be weak and ineffective.
Your elbow has to be close to your body. But not too close. In tight. But free.
So in aikido keep your elbow in tight and move your arm by first moving your waist. And try extending your hand by extending your elbow, not the hand itself.
Don't, more music, don't stop the dance
Some teachers teach aikido like dance - in a way that's not at all martial. I have seen synchronized demonstrations where everyone is doing the same technique in the same way at the same time like synchronized swimming. Hapkido is a Korean martial art derived from Daito Ryu aikijujutsu. It is written 合気道 the same as aikido. In hapkido they use music as a background for training.
His guitar teacher told him to play the chord like it wants to be played. That's the way to do aikido too.
There are some clear parallels between budo and music and dancing that go beyond body movement. Timing and rhythm and flow, for example. And ma ai - the critical distance (the ma ai in music is in rests and breaks). And balance. And connection.
If we look more closely at what O Sensei was doing at the end of his life perhaps it's not a parallel at all. Maybe that's what O Sensei was really doing. Maybe he was dancing. I don't mean in that diluted way of some budo training. I mean real dancing. Dancing from his soul. Dancing for the gods.
picture of Matisse's Dance (La Danse) from Wikipedia used under creative commons licence
We had daily cleaning. And to-morrow morning,
We shall have what to do after firing. But to-day,
To-day we have naming of parts.
Naming of Parts by Henry Reed
I heard on the BBC that the most advanced nuclear submarine in the world, HMS Astute, ran aground off the coast of Scotland؟ Way to go with the naming. By the way that's the first time I've used an irony mark (check out the thread about Omotokyo http://www.aikiweb.com/forums/showthread.php?t=18832).
So I was thinking about naming. Judo is a great name. It's short and powerful and it contains the essence of the art itself: the way of softness. Of course a lot of people who do judo forget that. Kendo is a simple clear name: the way of the sword. Karate on its own - empty hand - is a cool and succinct name but when -do - the way - is added it seems like an afterthought: karatedo. In kobudo - old martial arts - a name I always liked is kage-ryu kenjutsu - shadow style of the sword. It became shinkage-ryu - new shadow style - in the sixteenth century but that doesn't have quite the same ring.
The naming of aikido is a little vague. I don't think I've ever seen a good translation of it. Blending + Energy + Way. In Wikipedia it says: Aikido is often translated as "the Way of unifying (with) life energy" or as "the Way of harmonious spirit." Well, not often. I've never heard them. It is sometimes called the way of harmony but that doesn't mention the ki part. I have seen the way of harmonizing en
I'm from the southeast of England. We talk faster there and rush around more than the rest of the UK (although they would probably say aimlessly). Then my family moved to Yorkshire - in the north. I go there when I go back to the UK. I was there in the summer of 2010 (I gave a seminar at the Asoryu Aikido Club in Huddersfield).
There are regional stereotypes about people everywhere. Yorkshire people have the reputation of being direct, down-to-earth, stubborn and very warm and open once you get to know them. I started wondering if the Yorkshire personality was the ideal personality for aikido. Hmm. Direct is good. That's irimi: entering and closing the distance. Down-to-earth? Good too. It has to be real - any pretence or pretentiousness would be the end. Stubborn? Good too! If you're not stubborn and determined you're not going to get very far in any martial art. But there's another side to that. Stubbornness can be a negative thing too - it must never be just hardheaded and obstinate (just read some of the forums…). Warm and open? That's good too - in aikido you have the feeling of welcoming the attacker with a warm "Irasshaimase!" (what they say in Japan when you go into a restaurant). So this is starting to sound like a theory.
Let's try it for different places. A study in the Wall Street Journal had the starting point: "Why were his neighbors in Texas so relaxed, so courteous, so obsessed with sports? Why did New Yorkers seem so tense and inward-focused, often br