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Old 04-13-2013, 03:41 PM   #1
aiki-jujutsuka
 
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Has anyone surpassed O'Sensei?

This may sound like a controversial question, but do you think there has been anyone who has surpassed O'Sensei's technical ability? (I'm thinking particularly of Ueshiba's uchideshi or the former and current doshu his son and grandson)

In this old footage of O'Sensei from 1930, his demonstration looks well "soft" - by that I mean his ukes look as if they are very compliant and their ukemi looks exaggerated. They seem to break fall very easily and very dramatically, especially in the hamni handachi waza.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yV_wS_QX6pk

Also he seems to hold his arms out a lot, which make the techniques look unrealistic - it's not so much his uke attacking him but rather complying with his leading...much like a dance!

Now please don't get me wrong, I'm not trying to criticise O'Sensei or Aikido - I have a deep respect for both - it's just that I have seen more convincing Aikido demonstrations that I would recommend to people as examples of the brilliance of this wonderful art over this. It's for that reason I dare to ask the question, because it strikes me odd that I would be more embarrassed to show a demonstration by the founder of Aikido than one of his students or current doshu. It's also got nothing to do with whose Aikido is more martially effective. That is not the point of my observation here. It's purely about technical ability.

If anyone can give an explanation as to what O'Sensei is doing in this old demonstration that I am missing, which would help me appreciate his technique here, I would be very grateful.
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Old 04-13-2013, 04:42 PM   #2
hughrbeyer
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Re: Has anyone surpassed O'Sensei?

First off, that vid is mislabeled. It's a piece of the 1935 Asahi News demo... google "1935 Asahi News aikido" and you'll find the full thing.

The way O-Sensei is holding his arms--and his whole body--is very interesting and deep. Also interesting how much less of that he manifests externally as he matures.

It is a demo, so of course his ukes aren't trying to screw up his techniques. But read some of his students' recollections of taking ukemi from him during that period if you doubt whether it really worked. Also see if you can dig out some of Dan Harden's old posts about how O-Sensei moves to see what you might be looking for. You've been around Aikiweb a while, you may remember some of them.

It's generally a problem that since Aikido doesn't require muscular effort, the best Aikido often looks fake. I don't know how to solve that one.

Evolution doesn't prove God doesn't exist, any more than hammers prove carpenters don't exist.
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Old 04-14-2013, 07:34 AM   #3
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Re: Has anyone surpassed O'Sensei?

It's like saying: does any fruit taste better than apples? You can't compare O-sensei to any other sensei. Once an Aikido master get to a certain level they start forming their own special style with emphasis on what they think is great.

O-sensei was unique, so is many sensei that you see today. In Japan and outside, in hombu dojo and in other styles. Some even went in very different direction with Aikido turning it into something new.

To judge who surpasses who.. well... It's not a question that can be answered I think.

- Jørgen Jakob Friis

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Old 04-14-2013, 11:26 AM   #4
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Re: Has anyone surpassed O'Sensei?

If only osensei killed them all on film nobody would wonder ...

A martial art that transcends fighting ... what do you suppose it is supposed to look like?

"In my opinion, the time of spreading aikido to the world is finished; now we have to focus on quality." Yamada Yoshimitsu

Ultracrepidarianism ... don't.
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Old 04-14-2013, 12:03 PM   #5
aiki-jujutsuka
 
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Re: Has anyone surpassed O'Sensei?

Quote:
Robert M Watson Jr wrote: View Post
If only osensei killed them all on film nobody would wonder ...

A martial art that transcends fighting ... what do you suppose it is supposed to look like?
how does Ueshiba's demonstration in this video transcend fighting?

Aikido eschews competition because competition creates conflict and ego. Aikido eschews violence because it believes in restoring harmony and protecting life rather than killing life. But does that mean that Aikido cannot respond to a realistic attack? Does that mean Aikido techniques don't hurt when pressure tested in a real assault?
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Old 04-14-2013, 01:21 PM   #6
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Re: Has anyone surpassed O'Sensei?

I would say yes...There are quite a few who have surpassed him. The trouble with a question like this is the baseline "How Awesome O'Sensei was"... trends toward deification of the man.

He was just a man who did something wonderful, and now he's long gone. So to get caught up in the myth of the messenger tends to deafen the message.

The other thing is technique...You get out of it what you put into it...If your goal's are realistic.. it MAY serve you well ( I have not found a way to dodge/stop bullets yet ). In my experience it has more to do with my spirit, and less to do with how well I can kick a** using a technique.

I have experienced the "spirit" of O'Sensei in many Martial Artists...and not just Aikido folks. He was just one of many to contributed to the paradigm shift away from Koryu to Gendai Budo where the purpose of learning a "Martial Art" was not just to destroy your enemies because (as he supposedly felt) That was a Zero Sum Game.

William Hazen
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Old 04-14-2013, 02:23 PM   #7
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Re: Has anyone surpassed O'Sensei?

How would you measure something like that?

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Old 04-14-2013, 05:08 PM   #8
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Re: Has anyone surpassed O'Sensei?

Quote:
J�rgen Jakob Friis wrote: View Post
It's like saying: does any fruit taste better than apples? You can't compare O-sensei to any other sensei. Once an Aikido master get to a certain level they start forming their own special style with emphasis on what they think is great.

O-sensei was unique, so is many sensei that you see today. In Japan and outside, in hombu dojo and in other styles. Some even went in very different direction with Aikido turning it into something new.

To judge who surpasses who.. well... It's not a question that can be answered I think.
Sure it can, but you have to define what you mean by "surpasses".

Best,

Chris

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Old 04-14-2013, 07:17 PM   #9
Cliff Judge
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Re: Has anyone surpassed O'Sensei?

My thoughts are that the wrong question is being asked here, because Osensei was beyond technical skill, and he went beyond technical skill in the 1930s at the latest. He spent many decades performing in a regime that had nothing to do with technique.
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Old 04-14-2013, 10:42 PM   #10
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Re: Has anyone surpassed O'Sensei?

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Sure it can, but you have to define what you mean by "surpasses".
Surpasses - exceeds, beats, bests, outdoes, outshines, outstrips, tops. It's pretty evident what surpasses means. What you're really looking for is a set of criteria that can be applied equally to all Aikido practitioners so that when the criteria are met, or not, there will be no doubt as to who surpasses whom based on performance.

One problem is that any set of criteria you choose to implement cannot be applied to those who have passed on. Another problem is that unless your criteria can be quantified without ambiguity you must rely on judges to evaluate performance and determine the outcome. One needs only look to Olympic figure skating to see what a can of worms that route opens.

I agree with JJF that it's a question that cannot be satisfactorily answered, especially if you are trying to compare living people to dead people.

As an aside, if the question cannot be definitively answered then the claims that have appeared here on AikiWeb that there have been no to very few students of Aikido who can equal, let alone surpass the "greats", is without foundation since there are no objective criteria to base judgments on.

Ron

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Old 04-15-2013, 06:16 AM   #11
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Re: Has anyone surpassed O'Sensei?

Quote:
Ron Ragusa wrote: View Post
Surpasses - exceeds, beats, bests, outdoes, outshines, outstrips, tops. It's pretty evident what surpasses means. What you're really looking for is a set of criteria that can be applied equally to all Aikido practitioners so that when the criteria are met, or not, there will be no doubt as to who surpasses whom based on performance.

One problem is that any set of criteria you choose to implement cannot be applied to those who have passed on. Another problem is that unless your criteria can be quantified without ambiguity you must rely on judges to evaluate performance and determine the outcome. One needs only look to Olympic figure skating to see what a can of worms that route opens.

I agree with JJF that it's a question that cannot be satisfactorily answered, especially if you are trying to compare living people to dead people.

As an aside, if the question cannot be definitively answered then the claims that have appeared here on AikiWeb that there have been no to very few students of Aikido who can equal, let alone surpass the "greats", is without foundation since there are no objective criteria to base judgments on.

Ron
It's very easy to formulate concrete criteria that can be applied to the past. For example, I could say "How many teachers have surpassed Morihei Ueshiba's teaching time in countries other than Japan?". Of course, that may not be what many people are looking for.

As to being "without foundation" - well, people from different ages are compared all the time without objective criteria. It's not a yes/no question. What do you think historians do? They evaluate people in the past, many times without solidly objective criteria.

Best,

Chris

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Old 04-15-2013, 07:16 AM   #12
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Re: Has anyone surpassed O'Sensei?

Quote:
Christopher Li wrote: View Post
What do you think historians do? They evaluate people in the past, many times without solidly objective criteria.
So it's pretty much all personal opinion which resolves nothing in terms of answering the question.

Ron

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Old 04-15-2013, 07:24 AM   #13
Chris Li
 
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Re: Has anyone surpassed O'Sensei?

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Ron Ragusa wrote: View Post
So it's pretty much all personal opinion which resolves nothing in terms of answering the question.

Ron
Well, that's a bit extreme. No evaluation of a historical figure is going to be entirely objective - or entirely based on opinion. That doesn't mean the the answer isn't useful, or that it shouldn't be asked.

As I said, it's not a yes/no question, and the answer depends upon the meaning of "surpassed".

Best,

Chris

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Old 04-15-2013, 08:07 AM   #14
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Re: Has anyone surpassed O'Sensei?

Quote:
Christopher Li wrote: View Post
As I said, it's not a yes/no question, and the answer depends upon the meaning of "surpassed".
Well Chris, if it's not a yes/no question then there isn't a definitive answer to "Has anyone surpassed O Sensei?" (and I think the OP was asking the question with regard to technical expertise). If that's the case then fair enough. Subsequent statements regarding the abilities of others, with O Sensei being used as the so-to-speak standard candle of measurement, must be seen in the same light.

Ron

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Old 04-15-2013, 08:36 AM   #15
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Re: Has anyone surpassed O'Sensei?

Quote:
Ewen Ebsworth wrote: View Post
This may sound like a controversial question, but do you think there has been anyone who has surpassed O'Sensei's technical ability? (I'm thinking particularly of Ueshiba's uchideshi or the former and current doshu his son and grandson)

In this old footage of O'Sensei from 1930, his demonstration looks well "soft" - by that I mean his ukes look as if they are very compliant and their ukemi looks exaggerated. They seem to break fall very easily and very dramatically, especially in the hamni handachi waza.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yV_wS_QX6pk

Also he seems to hold his arms out a lot, which make the techniques look unrealistic - it's not so much his uke attacking him but rather complying with his leading...much like a dance!

Now please don't get me wrong, I'm not trying to criticise O'Sensei or Aikido - I have a deep respect for both - it's just that I have seen more convincing Aikido demonstrations that I would recommend to people as examples of the brilliance of this wonderful art over this. It's for that reason I dare to ask the question, because it strikes me odd that I would be more embarrassed to show a demonstration by the founder of Aikido than one of his students or current doshu. It's also got nothing to do with whose Aikido is more martially effective. That is not the point of my observation here. It's purely about technical ability.

If anyone can give an explanation as to what O'Sensei is doing in this old demonstration that I am missing, which would help me appreciate his technique here, I would be very grateful.
This is a question that works like a black hole. It will swallow every answer and in the end all that one will be able to see is the dark emptiness.
Someone mentioned above that this question cannot be answered, i'd say that, in my opinion, this question cannot be asked. I don't mean that in a "taboo" sort of way because i think that anyone can be judged and analysed, but i mean it in a practical way.
In order to ask something like that you need to set the context and the criteria for this analysis, but in that case that is impossible.
Technical mastery should be judged by its effectiveness especially in a martial art, but effectiveness in what? Fighting? A martial artist cannot be judged only by that, but even if that was the case how can one judge one's effectiveness in fight by a video demo?
There are masters that have reached such a level where their Aikido is effortless and looks fake, so it has to be felt in order to be understood.
And yet we can never know if the way a master is demonstrating, is the way he would fight in a real self defence situation.
Most of all, we don't know all the teachers, do we? Perhaps there is someone 100 times better than o' sensei but he is teaching his few students in a basement dojo because this is his choice and his students are the only ones who know about him.
Even if we knew all the teachers in the world what would we do? Compare them?
Imaginary dialogue:
O1:I believe that Steven Seagal sensei is better than o'sensei because i have seen videos of him being a master already at the age of 30.
O2:Yes but i have seen videos of him being very fat at the age of 60 while o'sensei he was certainly not and that is hardly the way a master should look. Furthermore we know that o'sensei was practicing well into his 80s, will Seagal sensei be able to do that when he reaches that age?
O1:I disagree, Seagal had to surpass many obstacles being a westerner teaching in Japan while o'sensei was respected and had infuantial friends to help him spread Aikido.
O2:Yes but on the other hand o'sensei had to collect the pieces to make aikido while Seagal found it ready all he had to do was practice it.And he also became a movie star, he had all the time and money in the world in order to be able to practice, yet he became fat!
You see this is the point where such a comparison turns into a black hole and swallows every opinion that touches its event horizon.
As for the original question my personal answer would be: I hope so! Because without evolution the art will fade away.
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Old 04-15-2013, 04:37 PM   #16
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Re: Has anyone surpassed O'Sensei?

Quote:
Ron Ragusa wrote: View Post
Well Chris, if it's not a yes/no question then there isn't a definitive answer to "Has anyone surpassed O Sensei?" (and I think the OP was asking the question with regard to technical expertise). If that's the case then fair enough. Subsequent statements regarding the abilities of others, with O Sensei being used as the so-to-speak standard candle of measurement, must be seen in the same light.

Ron
Sure, but you're setting up a straw man argument here - I don't think that anyone who's made such statements would say that it's a matter of objective fact.

On the other hand, I also think that there are people who are in very good positions to offer opinions on the matter that have made such statements - including people who were actually there.

Best,

Chris

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Old 04-15-2013, 06:38 PM   #17
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Re: Has anyone surpassed O'Sensei?

Quote:
Christopher Li wrote: View Post
On the other hand, I also think that there are people who are in very good positions to offer opinions on the matter that have made such statements - including people who were actually there.
Which would, in turn, be an appeal to authority. The whole thing comes down to some fallacy or other.

Last edited by bkedelen : 04-15-2013 at 06:45 PM.
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Old 04-15-2013, 07:58 PM   #18
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Re: Has anyone surpassed O'Sensei?

Quote:
Benjamin Edelen wrote: View Post
Which would, in turn, be an appeal to authority. The whole thing comes down to some fallacy or other.
Well, a citation of an appeal to authority as a formal fallacy is often misused in popular usage. Formally all it means is that being an authority does not in and of itself make a stated proposition true. So as an expression in formal logic it is a fallacy. However, that said, I'll take the advice of my podiatrist on how to fix my ingrown toenail over the advice of the intoxicated, schizophrenic fella who was babbling on about spiders down near the post office this afternoon... No, the podiatrist isn't necessarily right just because he's a trained and an authority. But he's also vastly better positioned to have a more informed and substantiated opinion than the nut-case.

Lots of folk talk about who is good, not good, etc. I'll give the assessment of an experienced, well trained person who actually worked with various folk a greater weight over the assessment of a random guy on the internet who has never trained with any of them. It doesn't make them absolutely right, but... I would guess folk would hold your advice on computer networking and operating systems over mine any day of the week. As they rightly should. So you do your best, you weigh the relative merits and experience of the observers and you move on with the experiment...

Otherwise maybe I should just go ask the crazy fella to pull out that other ingrown nail for me. Hopefully he'll spit some cheap vodka on it first to make sure it's sanitary...

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Old 04-15-2013, 09:45 PM   #19
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Re: Has anyone surpassed O'Sensei?

Hugh said this wonderful statement, "It's generally a problem that since Aikido doesn't require muscular effort, the best Aikido often looks fake. I don't know how to solve that one."

No kidding. Hugh nailed it. I've been on the receiving end of being ... umm pick your verb? Smashed, crushed, pulped, twanged, pulverized, broken (almost) and generally just thrashed by enough high-ranking dan grades around the country to know when I'm feeling the "real thing." And... in any of those situations, the people watching are saying to themselves, "Is {He/She} doing anything?" It looks like John's just giving him the technique there, just falling for the old guy out of respect. Doesn't look right, ya know...

When I crawl off the mat and am asked, I just tiredly glared at them and wheeze, "You go out there and try it. I'm out. Done. Wrung out."

The above is apropos of nothing, I think, it just needed being said.

Next thing that, IMO, needs to be said. It's sort of illuminatingly funny, I think.

Picture Seagal Sensei visiting O-Sensei during Ueshiba's waning years. Does anyone question that Steven would be in all ways highly respectful and humble in the old man's dojo? Not me. Steven has always carried himself as a very respectful martial artist, respecting other "martial artists." (See his interview for his idea of who qualifies, though).

As to the idea of "surpassing" one's instructors.... isn't that their goal?

I find it interesting that the kanji character for kuzushi illustrates a mountain falling on a house.
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Old 04-15-2013, 10:48 PM   #20
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Re: Has anyone surpassed O'Sensei?

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As to the idea of "surpassing" one's instructors.... isn't that their goal?
When I was in high school I had a history teacher who taught exactly the same lessons from year to year. His method of presentation was to come into class, write a bunch of questions on the blackboard and then sit back while we students looked up the answers in our books. That was it, no discussion, no debate, no interpretation of the "facts" as they appeared in the book. His tests were composed of the same questions he wrote on the blackboard.

That man's growth as a teacher had stopped. His boundary of knowledge of the subject he was presenting was delineated by the contents of the pages between the covers of his textbook. Any student with a desire to go beyond that teacher's self imposed universe of knowledge could easily have surpassed him with a modicum of outside work.

An instructor, in any discipline, has by definition a broader universe of knowledge with respect to the subject matter than the large majority of students being taught (I am purposely ignoring genius outliers such as Einstein or Mozart). And as long as the instructor keeps growing that large majority of students will be playing catch-up.

While one of my goals as an Aikido instructor is to have my students eventually surpass me (whatever that may mean in the context of Aikido), I don't expect to see it happen until I eventually reach a plateau in my ability to continue growing in Aikido.

Ron

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Old 04-16-2013, 08:43 AM   #21
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Re: Has anyone surpassed O'Sensei?

There have certainly been people in aikido who have equaled or surpassed O'sensei in technical martial skill or fighting ability, but that wasn't what drew people to him either. In that regard, there doesn't seem to be anyone who has equaled him, much less surpassed him.

As for the outstretched arms and very "full" look that he presents in the video.... kind of odd that most basic practice rarely looks like that...
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Old 04-16-2013, 09:09 AM   #22
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Re: Has anyone surpassed O'Sensei?

Quote:
Jason Casteel wrote: View Post
As for the outstretched arms and very "full" look that he presents in the video.... kind of odd that most basic practice rarely looks like that...
sheesh Jason, open a can of worm for bait aren't you?

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Old 04-16-2013, 12:13 PM   #23
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Re: Has anyone surpassed O'Sensei?

Quote:
Jason Casteel wrote: View Post
There have certainly been people in aikido who have equaled or surpassed O'sensei in technical martial skill or fighting ability, but that wasn't what drew people to him either. In that regard, there doesn't seem to be anyone who has equaled him, much less surpassed him.

As for the outstretched arms and very "full" look that he presents in the video.... kind of odd that most basic practice rarely looks like that...
Dear Jason,
Since very few people nowadays know very little about O sensei and his technical /fighting abilities [except for a few videos/you tube clips]are you speaking from a position of authority when you make your statement?Cheers, Joe.
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Old 04-16-2013, 01:09 PM   #24
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Re: Has anyone surpassed O'Sensei?

contrasting Ueshiba's demonstration of 1935 with this from Seishiro Endo Sensei in 2004, Endo Sensei's demonstration has many similarities but a very different feel. Endo Sensei makes the techniques look effortless, as if he's not putting any strength into them at all and yet the way he takes uke's posture and uses his hips as an obstruction when throwing feel far more "legitimate" than O'Sensei's techniques. I can see clearly that Endo Sensei is centred the whole time but the way he attacks the head, so as to take uke's balance shows he is in clear control and uke has to take ukemi. His internalization of the techniques still looks effective externally.

http://store.aikidojournal.com/seish...demonstration/
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Old 04-16-2013, 02:44 PM   #25
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Re: Has anyone surpassed O'Sensei?

Quote:
Joe Curran wrote: View Post
Dear Jason,
Since very few people nowadays know very little about O sensei and his technical /fighting abilities [except for a few videos/you tube clips]are you speaking from a position of authority when you make your statement?Cheers, Joe.
As much of a position of authority as anyone, Joe. As if anyone needs that to share their opinions on a man that we know a good bit about in regards to his martial career.
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