Aikido is a non-competitive martial art that can be practiced by almost anyone. Aikido techniques do not rely on physical strength but rather develops relaxed power through the focus of intention and Ki. The result is a creative method of non-destructive conflict resolution.
Aikido is practiced on many levels. The first level is includes the development of stamina, flexibility, and learning how to focus one's intention. The second level is built on the first and stresses self-defense techniques that teach the natural order of movement. In this process the students also become adept at ukemi, the art of rolling, falling and protecting oneself. Aikido provides the opportunity for the development of the entire person. It is a workout of the entire body and mind and results in increased strength, overall physically fitness, flexibility and centeredness.
At the third level students are gradually introduced to the secrets of receiving and harnessing the power of ki, they also develop spatial awareness and learn to judge proper timing and distance. During this training the goal is to establish and maintain an energetic connection to your partner and to lead them off balance. This eliminates the need for more destructive means of resolving situations.
The highest level of aikido is mind over matter. This involves the use of visualization techniques, the power of intention and ki, breath control and meditation. Aikido is truly a spiritual martial art that explores themind - body - spirit connection. This advanced level of training at Shobu Aikido reaches a level not easily found elsewhere. The student learns how to manifest power and effectiveness by the focusing of intention alone. This level depends on and can only be reached through the refinement of technique and the students own deepest feeling. For this reason it alternates between the physical and the spiritual.
In the process of practicing aikido, students inevitably find themselves less stressed and more energetic, better equipped to manage life's many conflicts with calm control. Aikido is great for adults and kids alike because practice encourages respect for self and others, self control, cooperation and responsibility.
Gasshuku or weekend long intensive seminars with William Gleason Sensei are available seasonally.
Children's aikido classes provide a friendly, non-competitive environment for students to become more physically fit, agile, flexible, aware, focused, and relaxed. They learn how to safely fall, roll and perform a variety of self-defense techniques in a supportive, comfortable setting, and parents like Aikido because kids learn how to be powerful without becoming destructive.
No, not really. To conclude my West Coast Tour of Terror, I decided to satisfy a curiousity of mine and try out Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ), or Gracie Jiu-Jitsu as referred to in some circles. BJJ is sort of the "craze" martial art and is a popular style used and studied by fighters of the sport of mixed martial arts (MMA) because of its approach in neutralizing strikers and larger opponents by closing the distance, taking them to the ground, and applying a submission. BJJ has its origins from Judo, not "jujutsu" (at least not directly), as advertised by popular legend. Jujutsu is a koryu, or old traditional, art used by the samurai. Jigoro Kano Sensei took certain aspects of jujutsu, refined them, and created Judo. A man by the name of Mitsuyo Maeda was a member of the Kodokan and practiced Judo around the world. When Maeda came to Brazil, he taught Judo to the Gracie family and referred the art he taught as "Jujutsu," not Judo. Why he did that no one knows. What is known is that a member of the family, Helio Gracie, focused heavily on the ground techniques (newaza) of Judo, and modified and enhanced the techniques and gave birth to Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.
One of Helio Gracie's sons, Rickson Gracie, is considered to be the best BJJ practitioner of all the members of the Gracie family. Rickson has a school in L.A. and I decided to check it out. I attended a beginner's class, but it was not Rickson who taught it. Rather it was one of the black belt instructors. We began classes with warm-up exercises which consisted of running laps around the mat, crunches, back stretches, neck exercises, and rolls. Then for the next 45 minutes or so, we only went through two techniques: throwing from a collar grab and triangle choke from a closed guard position. The instructor was not a hands-on teacher. After he demonstrated a technique, he would sit on the mat and observe us, but he would not walk around and work with us individually, especially if we're having trouble. He would just shout directions from a distance. Sometimes he would not even observe and instead talk with the assistant instructors, chatting about competitions and such. And can you guess how much they charged me for the mat fee? $50. That's right, fifty freakin' dollars. At Furuya Sensei's dojo, I paid $20. And at the Santa Barbara dojo, I only had to pay $10. And I learned a lot more from those dojos than this one. I do not want to judge a school or even a martial art based on just one class, especially if it's only a beginner's class. But I do firmly believe in making a good first impression. And with all due respect, in my humble opinion, I was not impressed. I honestly think that my sparring sessions with Mike Mulvaney-san are more worthwhile.
Gleason Sensei once offered an anecdote of someone asking O-Sensei why there is no grappling in Aikido. He answered, "That's for dogs." Aikido is derived from samurai culture, which focused on the sword, not on grappling. Same thing goes for kicks (geri). The samurai emphasized on sword movement and wore armor, so kicks were not useful and therefore unnecessary. However, according to Moriteru Ueshiba Doshu, with enough practice it would be feasible to apply aiki principle to kicking defense.
Finally, to end my experience, my brother took us to this awesome sushi bar in West Hollywood. This establishment serves traditional sushi - NO California rolls, NO spicy tuna rolls, NO teriyaki, NO tempura. We sampled fresh fish from all over the world including Spain, Japan, New Zealand, the East Coast, Canada, and Hawaii. And let me tell you my friends, they're not foolin' around: this is the real deal, the genuine article. I ate 30 different samples of sushi. My brother - 29. Awesome.
That's it. It was a great spring break. Tomorrow I'll be returning to the 419. I hope that the quality of your practice has not diminished in the absence of my awesome presence :D I'll see you guys on the mat. Later. Gassho.
P.S. Chris-san and Chuck-san, I am trying to stay away from the girls with Adam's apples and who drink White Zinfandel. Thanks for the heads up :)
Correction (3/31/07): According to Sensei, O-Sensei said "It's so unsightly" not "That's for dogs." My bad.
What's up T-Town! Today was a good day. Santa Barbara is a beautiful city. These Californians really know how to landscape their cities. I actually got to do some wine tasting at Stearns Wharf. The bartender gave us a few pointers and offered her insight. Man, this girl knows her stuff. She grew up in Napa Valley and has been wine tasting since age 5. She was able to taste the difference between American oak and French oak (the type of barrel the wine was stored in). I sampled 7 different wines. For our dojo's resident wine connoisseurs, Dale-san and Mike (Miller)-san, here is a list of wines I sampled, and I am curious about your input on these drinks:
Coastal View California Champaigne - Woodridge
Presidio Pinot Gris (2006) - Santa Barbara County
Presidio Syrah Rose (2006) - Santa Barbara County
Bonny Doon: the Heart Has its Rieslings (2006) - Santa Cruz
Field of Dreams 2006 Moscato - Barossa Valley, Australia
Kenneth Volk Pinot Noir (2005) - Santa Maria Curee/Santa Barbara County
Presidio 2004 Port - Amador County
Later in the evening, I got a chance to take a class at the Aikido Kenkyukai International, Santa Barbara dojo headed by Lia Suzuki Sensei. Lia Sensei studied under Gleason Sensei, who introduced her to Yoshinobu Takeda Shihan. Lia Sensei subsequently studied under Takeda Sensei as her main teacher. Takeda Sensei was Yamaguchi Sensei's most senior student. In fact, he was promoted to 8th Dan a year ago by the 3rd and current Doshu, Moriteru Ueshiba. Lia Sensei actually came to Toledo to lead a gasshuku on August 2005, and I remember that experience as an extremely intense practice.
When I stepped on the mat, I noticed that the floor was really hard. The first thought that went into my mind was an image of Yamaguchi Sensei's private dojo which had wooden flooring. Then I thought to myself, how will I take ukemi on this? Then I noticed that there were tatami mats underneath the canvas. OK, at least there is some cushioning. Actually, after awhile taking ukemi on real tatami mats felt "nourishing" for the body.
To no surprise, practice was indeed intense. When Sensei makes her rounds, she likes throwing me about ten times before moving on to the next student. The class concluded with students throwing each other. Lia Sensei performed irimi nage on me 25 times. After keiko, there was an after-practice practice where students had the option of throwing each other some more as well as being thrown by Sensei, if they so choose. I took turns with one of the mudansha students and with one of the senior students.
Before bowing out, Lia Sensei gave an anecdote on how Gleason Sensei would talk about yin and yang, heaven and earth, and how these concepts would escape students' minds. It is interesting to note that by taking ukemi from someone, one could have a glimpse or sense of what that particular individual's teacher's style of Aikido was like. This is so because learning is accomplished through a close teacher-student relationship and a direct transmission from teacher to student through contact, connection, and ukemi. In my case, when I take ukemi from Gleason Sensei, I can get a sense of what Yamaguchi Sensei's Aikido was like. Likewise, when I take ukemi from Lia Sensei, I can get a sense of what Takeda Sensei's Aikido was like. When you watch footage of Takeda Sensei, you notice that his touch is very soft, but he has a strong sense of connection and direction. And taking ukemi from Lia Sensei seems to support that. Yamaguchi Sensei and Gleason Sensei are similar, except that they place a strong emphasis on center and verticality, at least that's the feeling I get when I take ukemi from Gleason Sensei. I am very fascinated by Lia Sensei and Takeda Sensei's style of Aikido. And learning from her is a very good educational experience.
The students at the Santa Barbara dojo were extremely warm and friendly. Their energy and the ki of the dojo was very vibrant and strong; their practice was honest, pure, and open-hearted. Lia Sensei inquired how Jay Sensei and our dojo were doing, and I informed her of our recent shodan promotions and the Okugyo retreats. Lia Sensei and some of her students are going to Pennsylvania this April for a gasshuku at an affiliate dojo. Thursday night was Social Night for their dojo, and they kindly invited me to hang out with them. Unfortunately, I had to decline because my family had to return to L.A. in time for my mother to cook dinner for my brother when he returned from work. Nevertheless, I had a great time at Santa Barbara and training with Lia Sensei and her students.
I'll post some pictures when I return. Till next time...Gassho.
I was not allowed to take pictures of the dojo, so I'll try to describe it as best as I can. The dojo is located in what appeared to be a warehouse building in Little Tokyo. The entrance into the dojo's courtyard is accessible through an alley. The narrow courtyard is landscaped with bamboo, flagstone steps, and Japanese flowers. Upon entering the dojo, the mat was right in front of you with the shomen to your right and stairs on the left leading to the changing room on the far side of the dojo. The walls and surroundings were decorated with calligraphy, photos, and shrines. There were many boxes lying around as the dojo is in the process of moving to a new location. The mat space is rather small, about half the size of the mat at Chicago Aikikai. I had to be extremely careful and mindful of my surroundings when it came to rolls and breakfalls.
The students there were receptive. In tonight's class, there were eight students who trained, four yudansha including myself and four mudansha. The class was run by Ken Watanabe, 5th Dan, who is one of Furuya Sensei's senior students. I noticed, however, that some of their "customs" were different from ours. For example, the hakama - worn by the yudansha students - were black. Furthermore, they don't clap at bowing in and bowing out, and they are particular at the direction nage and uke face during practice. In our dojo, shitachi faces the shomen while uchitachi faces the mirror during weapons class. In taijutsu practice, the orientation of nage and uke is irrelevant. Anyway, after warm-up exercises, we worked on ukemi, first with forward rolls and then backward rolls. Afterwards, we practiced on a few techniques such as tenkan ho, irimi nage, ikkyo, kote gaeshi, kokyu nage, and kokyu tanden ho. It was interesting to feel how their style or approach to technique is different from our style. Unfortunately, it is difficult to describe and elaborate in words.
At the end of class, we thanked our partners and scrubbed the mat. The students were very thankful and honored by our card with our signatures and condolences. It was an intense practice, and I enjoyed my time there. I hope that the Gasshuku back home went well and that all of you are doing well. I'll see you on the mat. Gassho.
I have set aside some time to help with the creation of the Dojo garden out at Sensei's ranch. If you have some time and would like to help let me know. I have plans to be out at the ranch Friday April 6th. More than likely I will have several kids with me so if you would like to help with the garden or have kids and would like to help bring them with you.
A couple of items that might be of use:
Roto-Tiller (We can rent one and if someone knows of a good place let me know)
Compost - We will need as much as we can get
Seedlings - If you have certain veggies in mind and know how to grow them please share your knowledge.
Half Casks or Rail timbers for the plant beds - We are thinking about a raised bed planting ideas and will need some help with the bed creation.
Fencing - It would be nice to put a rodent/deer fence around the garden, if anyone has materials or experience with fencing your help would be nice.
Soon there will be a recycling container available at the Dojo. We will most likely locate the container or crate next to the kitchen garbage container. The current plan is to take the container home as it fills up , replacing it with an empty one as needed. The City of Toledo supports recycling pretty much everything so let's try to recycle the following things:
Glass and Aluminum containers
Cardboard and Paper products
Plastic containers that have the recycling symbol stamped on them.
From the Aiki-Budo.net website:
Seigo Yamaguchi was one of Morihei Ueshiba's "first generation" students. Unlike some of the others of this generation, however, he never gave his personal interpretation of Ueshiba's art a particular name, in part out of respect for the man who was his teacher, and in part because the style Yamaguchi ultimately developed was too intangible to be given something as tangible as a label or a name.
This raises right at the start the key problem with the Yamaguchi style, though it is the same problem that besets any spiritually oriented martial art that tries to transcend the limits language sets. It is the perennial problem of how to teach an art or belief that has an ineffable end, when the means available to do so are mostly effable ones! How is it possible to impart, and for other people to learn, a truly "formless form?"
This is not a dilemma unique to martial arts. Painters, musicians, creative writers, and dancers all face the same problem. Religious teachers do too. Anyone who has mastered any art, or who has come to have a particular faith, and who then seeks to teach it to others, confronts the same difficulties. If they insist too much on the "correct" repetition of the physical forms in which their art or faith is expressed (playing the correct scales, saying the correct prayers, etc.) they risk getting a stereotyped, mechanistic result that is not going to be a true expression of the art or belief involved. They risk inculcating mere technique, that is, a mere facsimile of what the art or faith involves - one where the outer forms are reproduced without a real understanding of what these forms actually mean.
This dilemma is usually resolved by the teacher trying to pass on his or her feeling of the art or belief, in such a way as to free, rather than inhibit, the student's understanding of what is to be done. Teaching becomes a very different practice when done this way. It stops being a matter of the teacher insisting that the student copy what the teacher does. The teacher stops "teaching," that is, in the sense of "training" the student, and tries instead to create the opportunity for the student to learn. The teacher then educates (that is, he or she "leads the student out"). The better the teacher is, the better he or she is at creating these kinds of opportunity.
This requires a very personal teacher-student relationship. It cannot be done, that is, by requiring the student to conform to a pattern of performance determined in advance. Nor can it be done en masse. Yamaguchi chose this approach. His students, and their students, mostly do likewise.
Yamaguchi placed primary importance on the ability to catch the feeling of good movement. By "good" movement he meant movement that actually practiced the key aikidic principles of non-competition and loving, expansive power. He mostly taught this feeling in small, one-to-one, groups, where direct transmission was possible. His students tend to do likewise. Takeda Sensei, for example, likes to teach small groups of students. One reason is that in a large class he cannot get around to all of those training to give them the feeling of what he is doing. He is also not always happy doing demonstrations, since to see what he is doing from the outside is to risk radically misunderstanding what it is that he is actually doing. That understanding can only come from intimate contact. It involves direct interaction with Takeda Sensei himself.
Technique is important. We have to teach something, and we teach technique. It is not enough to flounce around trying to catch the feeling of cosmic flow like a bunch of stoned hippies. Which is why many teachers argue that "basics are basics" and in this sense, they are absolutely right. To Yamaguchi, however, how we teach the basics was just as important as what we teach when we do so. If we teach basics as physical technique only, for example, we risk closing the student down around that dimension of aikido, and we risk preventing him or her finding out anything else. If we teach basics as mental imaging, however, we also risk closing students down, though this time around that dimension of aikido instead. We are likely to inhibit their understanding of anything else, likewise. If we really want the practice of aikido to lead to a sense of oneness and harmony with the universe, then that is how we have to teach the basics. After all, the universe, as far as we can tell, is expanding. If we want to be one with the universe we have to expand too. That doesn't mean eat more. It means letting go. It means teaching technique in such a way as to allow the learner to use what is learned to "let go" with.
It is often argued that there is a linear progression here, and that we have to master physical form first, before we can move on to mental imaging and spiritual awareness. This is the brick-by-brick approach, and it is a time-honored way of teaching an art or faith. The trouble with the brick-by-brick approach, however, is that it tends to result in brick-like walls that block our understanding of what the art or faith has to teach. The means we use to teach with, in other words, ends up frustrating the ends that art or faith can serve.
There is an alternative way of teaching. It is known as the whole-part-whole approach. Here the student is introduced to every dimension of the art or faith from the very beginning. They are tossed in the deep end, as it were. They are expected to cope with the physical, mental and spiritual dimensions of the art or faith right from the start.
In terms of aikido, the physical tends initially to dominate our awareness, since what we are being asked to do usually feels pretty unfamiliar. We usually feel physically tense and anxious and awkward as a result. This does not preclude a sense of the mental and spiritual coming through, though, even at this very early stage. Indeed, people can catch a glimpse of the spiritual depth of aikido in their very first lesson. Later, as the physical forms become more familiar and more automatic, they become less intrusive and the balance shifts. It's as if the whole art were a seesaw. Over time and with training, the physical end of the beam (which is always connected to the mental and spiritual parts of the beam) gradually moves down. At the same time the others parts move up, into our training and into our everyday awareness. The mental and spiritual emerge, that is, as training objectives in their own right. The deeply meaningful glimpses of them that were had from the start are had more consistently. The physical dimension recedes almost completely. The mentalist dimension follows it, leaving the spiritual dimension (which was always there) to emerge and its emacipatory potential to become clear.
So: what does this mean in practice? A typical lesson in the Yamaguchi style is not so different from that of any other style. We bow on. There are warm up exercises. The teacher demonstrates a particular technique. Students pair up and train, taking it in turns to be attacker and defender. The teacher circulates, providing personal instruction to individual students. The teacher then demonstrates another technique, which students rehearse, and so on. At the end of the class there are warm down exercises and we bow off.
A typical lesson lasts an hour and a half, and covers five or six techniques. There is not usually a lot of time spent on exercises that rehearse some aspect of technique. Doing whole techniques is the basic teaching form.
After the end of every class there will usually be a session of ukemi, where more experienced students throw less experienced ones twenty or thirty times. It is an optional extra, but it is a feature of the Yamaguchi method, and it serves a very particular purpose. When we act as the defender we are usually very self-conscious. We are trying to get the technique "right," trying to get the "correct" feel, and so on. When we act as an attacker, however, we don't have to worry about any of these things. We can simply attack, with a free will and an open heart. In the process we get more of a chance to catch the feeling of good (loving, powerful, spontaneous, relaxed, centered, spiritually expansive) movement. As the attacker, in other words, we get more of a chance to catch the feeling of good aikido. We can be less worried whether we have our left little finger up our right nostril, or our right toe in line with our left ear-lobe, as we tend to be when, as the defender, we are trying to master a particular technique. We have more of a chance to "let go."
Of course, we have to cut our coat to fit our cloth. We can't throw a seventy-year-old beginner around the way we would a twenty-two-year-old youth in his or her physical prime. Even for a young player, we have to be mindful of that student's capacity to take ukemi and we have to work within those limits, carefully extending them as experience dictates. But within limits, nearly all students can do ukemi. They can use the opportunity it provides for them to catch the feeling of good movement, particularly as they get more tired and lose the ability to use physical resistance to stay in control. They can practice "letting go."
Another feature of the Yamaguchi method is the way in which pairs-training is done. The attacker attacks with the energy appropriate for the defender. The attacker seeks neither to over-whelm the defender (“take that, you swine!”) nor to under-whelm him or her ("whoops!"). Either too much force or too little force will deny the defender the optimal learning opportunity. It will deny the defender the most appropriate level of force for that defender.
Judging the appropriate level of force requires great sensitivity. When the roles are reversed, and the defender becomes the attacker, the duty to do the same thing also gets reversed. Each student ends up helping the other, and done like this, the learning process becomes a truly collaborative one. It then proceeds very quickly and harmoniously. The training process is not a street fight, after all. It is a training method, that may eventually provide street-fighting competence, but certainly not to begin with. It is possible to teach aiki-jutsu by competitive means, but aikido can't be taught that way.
This is often the hardest point for beginners to appreciate. As a defender they want to resist. They also want to attack in a competitive way. This makes sense in purely self-defense terms. But aikido is not just about self-defense. It is a way-to-harmony-with-the-universe with a self-defense application, which is something very different. Understanding this difference, and training for this difference, can be very difficult for someone who doesn't understand the principles at stake.
It can take some time for students to appreciate the importance of this point and why the training method must be 100% collaborative. It means training in a way that is consistent with aikidic principles. The benefits of doing so eventually become so obvious that few students want to train otherwise. In the end even the most skeptical, even the most rigid in body and mind, usually get to see the point, and train accordingly. Some find this much harder to do than others, and some seem to resist regardless, either by continuing to compete or by continuing to be such flexible attackers that they are able to stay ahead of the movement and stay in control that way. People like these just have to be worked around, however, in the hope that they will eventually come to understand what they steadfastly refuse to appreciate. Ukemi training can help here, but there is no formula for putting aikido awareness where it isn't. If there were such a formula, we would all be wonderful aikidoka. As it happens, we are not, which should tell us something about how difficult it is to impart aikido awareness, particularly to those predisposed to deny that it works.
A Yamaguchi teacher will verbalize the internal aspects of the art. Takeda Sensei, for example, will describe the feelings he is trying to impart, particularly when he is demonstrating them to the whole class. What he verbalizes is invariably very simple. Getting Takeda Sensei to describe aikido can be rather difficult, since he really does seem to believe that the point of the whole process is in the "feel" not the "say." And to watch him do aikido, or to train with him, it is very easy to agree. Aikido is very simple, that is why it is so complex. Aikido is very easy, that is why it is so difficult. We find a million ways to intellectualize what is going on to stay in control of the movement as it occurs. There are a zillion physical tics that frustrate our understanding of aiki-awareness. We find it very hard, that is, to move in a way that is not egocentric. It takes great trust in the truth of good movement to do so.
Trust like this comes from personal experience. It is usually impossible to persuade someone who thinks otherwise to change their mind and heart by verbal means alone. This is why all of the above is ultimately irrelevant unless there's a chance to feel what is being said too. This is why all that has been written here won't make much sense without practice, practice, practice.
Hope to see you all on the mat!
A favorite bumper sticker I’ve seen says: “As long as there are tests in schools, there will be prayer!” The implication here is that the learning process does not provide an expectation of absolute perfection when testing; rather, the test provides a new environment for self-evaluation of skills. A certain amount of grace is needed in addition to skill or knowledge for the very best score! The added pressure of testing should not be regarded as an obstacle to success, but instead a mirror from which one can discover the future’s path. The shihonage that felt so comfortable every other time could only accidentally morph into a sankyo under the influence of examination pressure. Clearly there is a relationship here to be explored! Importantly, it is less likely that this connection would have so obviously revealed itself without the added pressure of the attentive gaze of Sensei and the audience. Sometimes the best understanding comes after a mistake on a test.
Of course, the martial application of Aikido requires the correct execution of technique without negative influence from mind in order to be successful. Randori cannot have an Aiki outcome if the large gentlemen feigning malicious intent paralyze the Aikidoka with fear. The process of life-long study becomes clear here; I suspect that approximately one-half of samurai to ever enter battle learned of faults in either their technique or minds in the final moments of their life! Thankfully, the study of Aikido provides a peaceful means to develop harmony of mind and body without the corresponding decrease in life expectancy!
Examinations are less a chance to prove what you know than a chance for the individual to discover how well he or she actually knows it. Capitalization of this opportunity for self-reflection can be achieved not through pride regarding the correct answers, but through continued exploration of the mistakes. It is through the continued recognition and evaluation of our limitations can we consistently thrive. Just some thoughts; thanks for reading!
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