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I wrote this essay a year ago after the earthquake and tsunami hit Tohoku. Everyone in Japan has been affected directly or indirectly. I know people whose houses were destroyed or seriously damaged. I have met refugees from Fukushima who might never, ever, be able to go home. And nuclear power does not look so clean and cheap when you factor in the costs of a meltdown.
mother calls but we don't hear
there's lots more things to do
it's only 5 o'clock and we're not tired yet
but we will be
David Bowie, There is a happy land
There is a happy land far, far away
traditional hymn from the movie The Proposition, arranged by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis
At 2.46 p.m. on Friday, 3 March 2011 an earthquake hit the coast of northern Japan. Time stopped. There are 20,000 dead and missing.
It was at 5.46 a.m. on Tuesday, 17 January 1995 that an earthquake hit Kobe. More than 6,000 people died.
There's something about 46 minutes past the hour.
I glance at the clock.
When I was a boy we played with conkers. Conkers are smooth polished horse chestnuts. We bored holes through them with metal skewers and threaded them with string. Then we duelled, taking swings at other conkers. Eventually one conker would shatter and the one left was the winner. A strong conker could battle on for days or weeks.
We played with marbles too. Marbles are colourful glass balls. You flicked y
Warning: There is a little profane language in this post. If you don't want to read it please stop now and check back in next week. Niall
Those who seek competition are making a grave mistake. To smash, injure or destroy is the worst sin a human being can commit. The real Way of a Warrior is to prevent slaughter - it is the Art of Peace, the power of love.
Morihei Ueshiba, founder of aikido, quoted in The Art of Peace by John Stevens
The time of universal peace is near.
Prove this a prosp'rous day, the three-nooked world
Shall bear the olive freely.
William Shakespeare, Antony and Cleopatra act 4 scene 6
The earth makes a sound as of sighs and the last drops fall from the emptied cloudless sky. A small boy, stretching out his hands and looking up at the blue sky, asked his mother how such a thing was possible. Fuck off, she said.
Samuel Beckett, The End
Christy Brown: Fock ahv.
Dr. Eileen Colt: With speech therapy, I can teach you to say "fuck off" more clearly.
from the movie adaptation of Christy Brown's autobiography My Left Foot
If someone takes out a camera in Japan young people all pose flashing two-finger peace signs. In the UK that palm out V-sign is a victory sign. Winston Churchill used it during the second world war as a powerful symbol of hope.
In Japan the sign meant victory until the early nineteen-seventies. There was a s
Ellis Amdur who wrote the column apparently didn't like me mentioning his inexperience. I thought it was the only explanation for the huge discrepancy in his account and in mine. His column suggested that Arikawa Sensei set out deliberately to injure people. This did not match my many years of experience training with him. I thought it was a disservice to aikido history and to the memory of one of the truly great aikido teachers. There were a couple of other points about ukemi and about zanshin that were incorrect.
So the obvious conclusion was that Ellis, who probably had a white belt at the time, did not really have the eyes or the body to know what was really going on. That is not being disrespectful to Ellis. It is a completely normal and objective point. When I had a white belt I am sure I would have been unable to recognize most of what was going on with any teacher. But I would have liked it if Ellis had made the point himself so that the column could be judged in its full context. And I also would have preferred it if he had not asked for my comment to be removed. It seems to me that searching for the truth is one of the main reasons for doing any budo.
It's in Lu Ji's Wen Fu, fourth century
A.D. "Essay on Literature" - in the
Preface: "In making the handle of an axe
By cutting wood with an axe
The model is indeed near at hand. -
My teacher Shih-hsiang Chen
Translated that and taught it years ago
And I see: Pound was an axe,
Chen was an axe, I am an axe
And my son a handle, soon
To be shaping again, model
Gary Snyder, Axe Handles
Myself was formed - a Carpenter -
An unpretending time
My Plane - and I, together wrought
Before a Builder came
Emily Dickinson, Myself Was Formed - A Carpenter
He that sees a Sail first, shall have the best Pistol or Small Arm aboard of her.
The pirate code of Captain Edward Low, Article VIII
When you're a carpenter making a beautiful chest of drawers, you're not going to use a piece of plywood on the back, even though it faces the wall and nobody will ever see it. You'll know it's there, so you're going to use a beautiful piece of wood on the back. For you to sleep well at night, the aesthetic, the quality, has to be carried all the way through.
Steve Jobs, interview in Playboy, 1985
A saw seems like a simple tool. But there are a lot of complicated questions. What is the best angle for the rake of the teeth? How many teeth should there be? How much should the teeth splay out to the sides? That's called the kerf. Is the sawdust removed efficiently? There is a whole specialized technical vocabulary. That's like the martial
A guy riding a bicycle in Tokyo on a sidewalk - where you're not supposed to ride bicycles - went hard for a gap just wide enough for one person. He didn't care if he ran me down. He was trying to force me to jump back and out of the way. There was nowhere to escape to the sides because of a wall on one side and something blocking the outside part of the sidewalk.
I did an irimi - entering - movement. I got off the line of the bicycle just enough so that it didn't hit me. And with a spearhand to his throat I got him to brake sharply. It was that or go flying. By the way judging by a recent forum discussion about irimi it seems a lot of people don't understand the principle of irimi in aikido very well yet. I live the way I train and I train the way I live. So I ended up with no injury. If you try to do aikido without moving your body off the line of an attack you will end up with lacerations and bruises and possibly broken bones... Well good luck with that.
On the surface this was a great result. There was a dangerous situation caused by selfish and aggressive behaviour. I altered the dynamics. I didn't get hurt. Noone else got hurt. The aggressive guy didn't get hurt. He realized that he couldn't bully his way through the situation. It proved that aikido movements were effective in the real world. I didn't have time to think about a respons
A boy told me
if he roller-skated fast enough
his loneliness couldn't catch up to him,
the best reason I ever heard
for trying to be a champion.
What I wonder tonight
pedaling hard down King William Street
is if it translates to bicycles.
Naomi Shihab Nye, The Rider
If you want to get from A to B
I'll give you this advice for free:
You'll find that cycling in the snow
Is not the quickest way to go.
Colin McNaughton, Slow, Slow, Thick, Thick Snow, from There's An Awful Lot of Weirdos in Our Neighborhood
that will return to
when it's needed
Pablo Neruda, Ode to Bicycles
Consider a man riding a bicycle. Whoever he is, we can say three things about him. We know he got on the bicycle and started to move. We know that at some point he will stop and get off. Most important of all, we know that if at any point between the beginning and the end of his journey he stops moving and does not get off the bicycle he will fall off it. That is a metaphor for the journey through life of any living thing, and I think of any society of living things.
Wiliam Golding, A Moving Target
Is this it? The secret of balance in the martial arts? Children in Japan nonchalantly ride unicycles in the street like normal bicycles. Japanese elementary schools have racks of unicycles. So children have great balance. Balance in aikido and judo and karate and sumo probably doesn't seem so difficult.
Last week in how to cross a bridge I wrote about janken: rock paper scissors. There was a comment about always making the same throw. In janken not martial arts. I'm not sure how that strategy would fit into game theory but the comment reminded me of this story from Zen and the Ways by Trevor Leggett. Trevor Leggett was an influential figure in British judo and Japanese studies. He had lived in Japan and India. He had studied judo, shogi, zen and yoga. He wrote many books about Eastern culture. I recommend very few books about martial arts but Zen and the Ways is a great book. Most aikido and martial arts books by westerners are superficial and worth reading perhaps once. Zen and the Ways is a book to keep for a lifetime and to return to often. The imaginative solution is a valuable lesson - especially for anyone who teaches.
A teacher has to find something which engages all the faculties of a pupil; through this he can pierce through to the depths. Consider this example: a young married couple were desperately poor, but by hard work and thrift, combined with some luck, they became suddenly well off and then rich. It became necessary now for the husband's business associates and friends to be entertained, but the young wife had such a habit of saving that she could not bring herself to spend, and things were always skimped. It began to be a disadvantage to them, because they were getting an unpleasant reputati
Give me today, for once, the worst throw of your dice, destiny. Today I transmute everything into gold.
Caesar: Alea iacta est inquit. - The die has been cast, said Caesar
Suetonius, Vita Divi Iuli
Don't let your right hand know what your left hand is doing.
Let's play rock paper scissors. Mail in your answers, and let's see who won.
Stephen Colbert, The Colbert Report
The other day at a formal new year party everyone had to choose small gifts. In Japan if people have to choose about something between themselves they play rock paper scissors. In Japanese it is called jankenpon or jankenpoi or janken. It's used for everything. Who gets to choose the first piece of cake. Or who plays first in a game or a sport. Or who gets to cross a bridge first. Japanese people wonder how people in the west get along without it. Well we have games like odds or evens. Robin Hood and Little John decided who got to cross the bridge first by fighting with quarterstaves. A quarterstaff is a strong stick for fighting similar to a Japanese bo. Apparently boy scouts once learned how to use it! But deciding with janken is less painful.
When I first had to play janken many years ago I did the sign for paper like a karate chop. A tight tegatana or shuto uchi knifehand strike from aikido or karate. My fingers were close together. So people told me I had to relax. That sounded familiar. Everyone who does martial art
each man must realize
that it can all disappear very
the cat, the woman, the job,
the front tire
Charles Bukowski, Pull A String, A Puppet Moves
a clock stopped -
not the mantel's -
Geneva's farthest skill
can't put the puppet bowing
that just now dangled still
Emily Dickinson, A Clock Stopped
whatever men pursue
of pleasure, folly, war, or love,
This mimic-race brings all to view,
Alike they dress, they talk, they move
Jonathan Swift, The Puppet Show
I wish I could look inside your head
And read your thoughts
They're so instead, they're so instead
Here we go on again
The same old game...
I'm just like your puppet on a string
For in this game
You always win
Jasmin Tabatabai, Puppet from the movie Bandits
And when I am a puppet
And when I have no voice
I'm in your hands now
I am your puppet
Lisa Germano, Puppet
All you got to do
Is wiggle your little hand
I'm your puppet
James and Bobby Purify, I'm Your Puppet
In crow I talked about Detective Conan. It's a manga and animé series about a boy detective. It's very popular with children and people in their twenties. I only mentioned it in passing in my column Martial Arts in Manga and Animé because it is not directly about learning budo. But in fact several of the characters are accomplished martial artists. This comes into the story occasionally when someone has to use a martial arts technique for self-defen
Help! Disaster! Fire and Smoke!
Robin's trod on Batman's cloak.
Torn a rip right up the back…
He'll have to wear his anorak.
Kate Williams, Batman Comes Undone!
At the buffet at the station we can grab a bite to eat;
Because we're going spotting we'll need three Shredded Wheat;
Well, you've got to keep your strength up and keep yourself well fed
When you're spotting with the big boys down at Crewe South Shed.
Dave Roberts, Crewe South Shed
I am a nerd.
Some have called me
a word nerd.
Geeks are too chic.
You see 'em in the street
Pretending not to be pretty
I will now start the first Occult Club meeting. But I'm the only member. And I'm also the president.
Fuyuki Hinata, Keroro Gunso
Happy new year to everyone who reads my blog. Best wishes for happiness in your private lives and success in your professional and academic lives. For aikido and budo I wish you a deeper understanding than last year. Nobuyuki Watanabe Sensei once told me that the most important thing was never to stand still. Don't get stuck doing things by rote so that you stagnate. Go in a spiral and always upwards. That applies to eveything not just martial arts. For the first post of the new year I want to write about otaku.
I went round a bend in a country road in Hakone near Mount Fuji once and was suddenly hit with the surreal sight of a group of middle-aged Japanese men dressed in fake American police uniforms ri