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My first teacher Kinjo Asoh Sensei (7 dan) was maybe a little unusual when he started aikido in the 1950s. He was 53 years old. The younger students were in awe of this older guy who trained even harder than they did (I know because some of them told me). They called it eight days a week then. Every day once plus one extra training.
There are celebrations next year for the fiftieth anniversary of O Sensei's trip to Hawaii. So he went in 1961. Asoh Sensei went to see him off. O Sensei called him aside and told him he had to do everything he could to catch kokyu ryoku. "Kokyu ryoku is everything," he told him.
O Sensei told him that several times over the years but Asoh Sensei remembered that time especially. He told me the same thing. I have to get kokyu ryoku. Kokyu ryoku is everything and without it aikido is nothing. My second teacher Sadateru Arikawa Sensei (9 dan) told me almost the exact same thing.
So what is it? Kokyu ryoku. Breath power. O Sensei said it was everything. If you can catch it aikido becomes so easy and so simple.
To get it you have to lose power. All power. If you try to do a technique with even a little power still remaining you will block yourself and block your own progress.
A jujutsu/judo teacher showed me a technique from a kata recently. The technique was completely effective. There was no weak point (suki) anywhere. But it hurt. I have noticed this before with senior koryu people. You can't reverse the technique. Everything is
I trained in kenjutsu and battojutsu (iaido) years ago. It really helped me with my aikido.
1. Ma ai - the critical distance. And if you are close enough to strike you are close enough to be struck.
2. Aikido strikes when you take ukemi. How to cut straight in shomenuchi and yokomenuchi.
3. How to use a sword. How to hold and handle a sword. Sword etiquette - like how to hand a sword to another person.
4. Of course tachidori as uke and tori.
In battojutsu I made a mysterious discovery.
When you draw a sword often you open your left hip by moving it backwards away from your drawing hand. That gives you more space to draw the sword.
Then my aikido teacher told me to try doing the opposite and see what happened. He told me to draw the sword by throwing my left hip forward - towards the drawing hand. It was amazing. It was just as effective - maybe even a fraction faster. You can try it with a bokken in your belt.
So to get a certain result (finishing up with a blade in your hands ready to use) you could do two exactly opposite body movements. Away from the sword and towards the sword.
I never forgot that. Sometimes white is black. Sometimes black is red. Sometimes there is another answer. And sometimes you have to do the opposite of what you think you should do.
Be not ashamed, my brothers, to stand before the proud and the powerful
With your white robe of simpleness.
Let your crown be of humility, your freedom the freedom of the soul
The Sunset of the Century by the great Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore
"If I may ‘umbly make the remark," said Uriah Heep, with a writhe…
David Copperfield by Charles Dickens
…a sunao mind is an untrapped mind, free to adapt itself effectively to new circum¬stances. A person with this mind looks at things as they are at that moment and colours them with no special bias, emotionalism, or preconception.
My Management Philosophy by Konosuke Matsushita
Rachel Lapp (Kelly McGillis): I should tell you this kind of coat doesn't have buttons. See? Hooks and eyes.
John Book (Harrison Ford): Something wrong with buttons?
Rachel Lapp: Buttons are proud and vain, not plain.
John Book: How do I look - I mean, do I look Amish?
Rachel Lapp: [nods] You look plain.
Witness, directed by Peter Weir
"…I had seen a good deal of him, liking him for his physical energy combined with a certain simplicity and modesty, though, indeed, he had nothing to be conceited about"
The Riddle of the Sands by Erskine Childers
Since Charles Dickens wrote about Uriah Heep in David Copperfield in 1850 humility hasn't had a great press. Although the British hard rock band Uriah Heep tried to rehabilitate his name starting with the album Very 'eavy Very 'umble.
But if we want to be real budoka we always have to be
"Does it really matter precisely when the young Robert Zimmerman first heard Pete Seeger sing?"
Bruce Handy, reviewing Bob Dylan in America by Sean Wilentz in the International Herald Tribune, September 2010
Wow yes. That's a great question. That gets right to the essence. Knowing when and where Dylan first heard Pete Seeger sing might help you with a music history test but it won't make you a better musician.
And so does it really matter precisely when O Sensei first met Takeda Sokaku? Will knowing it make your aikido better? Even a little? One percent of one percent? Nah.
If we look forward we can have a vision of the future. We can even change the future. But if we look back the past is already fixed.
Voltaire said, "Judge a person by their questions, rather than their answers."
So choose your questions wisely.
And I'll let Dylan have the final word.
the present now
will later be past (The times they are a-changin')
If one of your parents - or grandparents - does budo you can take one of about four possible deliberate approaches.
1.You can do something completely different
2.You can do a different budo
3.You can do the same budo casually
4.You can do the same budo seriously and follow in his or her footsteps, perhaps becoming a teacher of the next generation
But what if you don't even know?
My first experience with fighting arts (well if I don't count soccer or rugby - probably I should) was some boxing when I was a teenager. I also played chess - boxing just seemed to me to be like playing chess using your body (chessboxing when it appeared a few years ago was an unlikely but obvious development in sport for me!). I remember a match against a boy who had no time for an intellectual approach. He immediately hit me hard on the chin. A few years later he went to prison for doing the same thing to a police officer. Anyway many years later to my surprise I found out that one of my uncles had boxed professionally.
I was interested in Japan and Japanese culture and I went to Japan when I was in my twenties. I studied and practiced aikido and some other martial arts seriously and hard with the best teachers in the world. Now nearly thirty years later I teach aikido and aikibudo and self-defence.
When I was in England in August 2010 I spent some time with an uncle I hadn't seen for many years. I knew he had done a little judo as an adult but I had the impression he had sta
I taught a seminar at Asoryu Aikido Club in Huddersfield in the UK on 21 August 2010. This is an extra blog post about some of the things we covered.
Anyone who has any questions about the things we covered is welcome to write a comment below or to send me a message any time (whether you were at the seminar or not!).
It was a beautiful sunny day and from the dojo there was a great view over the rolling English countryside. Everyone was keen and sincere. I enjoyed it a lot.
The main theme of the seminar was CENTER. We covered basic points about centre:
- Always keep your own centre. So your posture should be solid and strong and straight and your hips should be low.
- Break the attacker's centre in every technique.
- Techniques should be done in front of your centre line.
- Throw down your centre line.
- For many techniques your centre should be as close as possible to uke's centre (for example irimi nage after you have entered behind the uke, or shiho nage before you turn)
- Shomenuchi cuts should be made down your centre line like a sword cut.
- Yokomenuchi cuts start from your centre and finish in your centre.
- When you are taking ukemi attack the tori with your centre.
I spelt C/ENTER like that because the second theme of the seminar was ENTER = IRIMI.
We did some irimi nage variations (omote and ura) from different attacks and with some different timings (early entry and late entry) and even some different finishes (omote
Patrick Swayze died in September 2009 of pancreatic cancer. He was in a few popular movies, for example Road House and Dirty Dancing. I liked him very much in Point Break (which was directed by Kathryn Bigelow, who won the Oscar this year for The Hurt Locker). He was Bodhi, one of a gang of bankrobbers who wore Presidents of America masks. Keanu Reaves was Johnny Utah, the FBI agent who went undercover and became a surfer to try to catch them. There is a great quote in that movie. A tough old FBI hand looks at Johnny Utah and says "Guess we must just have ourselves an asshole shortage, huh?" He just says, "Not so far." It's a very cool movie.
But I want to talk about Ghost. I think it was Patrick Swayze's most popular movie. He plays Sam Wheat, a young banker who moves in to a renovated loft apartment with his cool ceramic artist girlfriend (Demi Moore looking boyish). It's partly a romantic movie and there is a famous potter's wheel love scene with Unchained Melody by the Righteous Brothers on the soundtrack.
When I saw Ghost in 1990 I remember thinking, "Hey, this is about ki!" (movie spoilers below…)
Suddenly Sam is shockingly killed in a mugging that goes wrong. But after his death his ghost stays on earth to try to protect his girlfriend from danger.
Sam, now a ghost, has to learn from other ghosts (ghost sempai!) how to pass through doors effortlessly and then how to touch and move physical things when he doesn't have a body. These lessons are like aikid
A training camp is called a gasshuku in Japanese. I remember one summer camp that was like an intense high school sports club summer camp. The training was outside on the grass (and the grass and earth stains were impossible to get out of our keikogi later). We had to clear all the pebbles from the grass before we started. Then after the training the black belts threw the white belts a hundred times. It was in the middle of the hot and humid Japanese summer. On the first day when we had a break in the middle of training a woman brought out a tray of cloudy white drinks. It was Calpis, a sweet fermented milk drink you dilute with water. It was the first time I had tasted it. On that hot day it tasted wonderful - like liquid silver. Ever since that day every time I drink it I remember that summer.
At one summer camp there were some university aikido clubs training at the same place. Some of the students knew me from Arikawa Sensei's class at the hombu dojo and they all came over and bowed politely to me. They trained very hard all day and they partied hard late into the night. On the way home from that camp all the trains were stopped because of a typhoon. We were lucky - it was only for a few hours. A week earlier they had stopped for two days.
The largest summer camp I've been to was at La Colle-sur-Loup in the south of France - not far from Nice. The teachers were Tamura Sensei and Yamada Sensei. It was in 1986. I know that because Tamura Sensei signed and dated his n
"I have some knowledge, however, of baritsu, or the Japanese system of wrestling, which has more than once been very useful to me." Sherlock Holmes
I'm going to Baker Street next week. So I was thinking about Sherlock Holmes (who lived there at 221B). I haven't seen the Robert Downey and Jude Law movie yet - somehow Jeremy Brett is the quintessential Sherlock Holmes. Anyway I found the quote above. Actually he probably meant bartitsu. Or perhaps the printer made a mistake. A man called Edward William Barton-Wright developed his own eclectic MMA - mixed martial art - at the end of the nineteenth century. Maybe he had been bullied at school for having too many names. Anyway Barton-Wright worked in Japan for some years and apparently trained in Shinden Fudo Ryu Taijutsu in Kobe and also judo at the Kodokan in Tokyo. Then he made his martial art by including four styles of fighting each with its own ma ai or optimum fighting distance.
The first was stick-fighting using a walking stick to keep an assailant at a safe distance. This was developed from la canne, a French martial art.
The second was kicking techniques as used in savate - also a French martial art - as the distance became a little closer.
The third was boxing as the attacker came within striking range.
And the fourth was jujutsu - grappling with the attacker and throwing him as he came close enough to grip.
So Barton-Wright had a very comprehensive approach to ma ai. He said:
I went to Iwata budo supply store recently. The real name is Iwata Shokai.
In aikido we usually call the uniform a keikogi. In judo they call it a judogi - I suppose because they use the gi for other things (shiai and kata) as well as for normal keiko.
I used to buy my keikogis near Suidobashi station. Years ago there were many budo supply stores around there. The Kodokan (the world headquarters of judo) is close by. Most of those stores have closed down now.
My first keikogi from around there had a crazy-looking Daruma on the label but after that I usually went to Iwata. And I got my first hakama from there too. At that time they had a little shop right on the corner of the main crossing in Suidobashi.
That shop was knocked down many years ago. Now you have to go to Shin-Okubo, the next station to Shinjuku in Tokyo. It's a very cosmopolitan area. There are many ethnic shops and restaurants. You can buy photos of Korean pop stars there, or get dubious-looking phone cards cheap.
To get to Iwata you turn right out of the station and cross the street, then turn left down a narrow road towards the Lotte chewing gum factory.
Iwata is a small building on the left just before the factory. You slide open the door and step inside. It's very small - there's only room for three or four customers at a time. There is a rack of wooden weapons on the left and shelves upon shelves of keikogis and hakamas. There is the distinctive smell of new cotton keikogis.