148. Samurai Highlander

I have a standing dumb joke with one of the senior’s in the dojo about wanting to get a prescription to the majic pill (no, not that one, not the blue one where if you take too much they have to stand you in the corner like a 12 gauge that’s past ready to fire ……. the OTHER one); the one that lets you live a lot longer than “Four Score and Ten”.  The one that big political figures like Kissinger and Rockefeller (well actually he died recently so maybe not him) and Bro’ Jimmy Carter apparently take that causes all those tv commercials on “telo-years”.  Man.  Those guys are old but they’re still going strong.  And how did they fly past all those health issues I saw in the news.

My goal you see is to make history by having the first 250 year old dojo but with me still in charge and with the same “geezers” around abusing the youngsters; youngsters being those less than a century or too on the mat.  Fantasy huh?  Or at least until the science is in but a nice one for a simple reason.

How do you get to be a Jedi (nods to Lucas)?  Decades on the mat.  How do you get to be that good, that high-level, and that incredibly powerful with your In-Yo-Ho?  How do you become a Tengu; the ones who taught all the mythical kenshi their craft and their art.

Easy (not).  Go to class a lot.  Get corrected a lot.  Get thrown a lot.  Throw other people a lot.  Get lots of correction from the really old guys in the corner (aka “Sensei dogs” who sit in the corner like an old blue tick hound dog and bark ….  a lot).

My, but that’s certainly a lot of “a lots”.  Why yes it is; but it’s important for a couple of reasons.

First, a good system is so large that it can contain hundreds if not thousands (some quote the figure of 1,500 more or less in the original, fully constructed Daito Ryu).  While numbers of total waza in the studies can be discussed (I personally have never done much research in that area of other ryu) the number can be large.  So this means that the deshi must go through the full ryu with all of its waza a sufficient number of times for EVERY SINGLE TECHNIQUE so that the internalization can take place.

I’ve always been taught by my seniors who understand the 250 year idea that to make a brief pass through the system but then only really focus on a relatively small handful of waza and kata (like the 8 Releases and the 17 Attack Movements/Ju Nana Hon in Tomiki Ryu) is a serious error.  While you may become really good at that small grouping, you are leaving out the complete development and full training of your subconscious in the broad and deep range of the ryu; a ryu that could have several hundred years and who knows how many combats and deaths involved in its’ development.  It’s not something a police combat instructor just pulled together in order to have something for a course for cadets.

We’ve trained in koryu jodo for several years now and have finally begun to understand that every movement, every kata, every kamae has a purpose, a reason, a cause celeb’ for existing, and to leave out even one, or to fail to completely internalize its structure and reflexes is a mistake.  Each kata teaches a specific lesson, instills a specific reflex, and teaches transitions from one kamae to another that is reflected in your body movement, posture, and structure.

Since koryu jo came directly out of life and death conflicts (one early kata set is taught as being actual moments of battle directly passed down, the survivor taught it to his deshi, the loser’s ideas were abandoned and buried with him) then the ryu as a whole is designed to change you to its’ requirements; not for you to “make it your own”, a trite, often misunderstood, and totally misquoted phrase popular in dojos that teach for the hobby crowd and not the combat aspect.

Second, only by much practice does your body and neural structures change to adapt to the stresses and requirements of the koryu and of the Aiki-Kiai-In-Yo-Ho.  Developing the ability to use the proprioceptors in your feet and hands (and entire body), developing brute physical strength, core strength, stretching, strengthening, and efficiently using the fascia in your body (internal power) are only fully understood and developed by more practice than what people think to be necessary. 

There are even some studies indicating that physical training when undertaken over a sufficient amount of time even changes your genetics; an interesting idea when the stuff of legends is considered.

The koryu changes everything as shown by examples.  One old training partner trained with me for years and took an uncountable number of ukemi.  He needed his gall bladder removed and after surgery the doctor called him the “sit-up king” and asked how many sit-ups he did every day.  His answer?  None, other than a few as a warm-up before class.  He had simply been thrown thousands of times over the years and had over time developed abdominal musculature normally only seen in professional weight lifters.  His body had hardened and toughened, and could therefore take more punishment than mere civilians.  He had a “combat body” in a very real sense.

The second deshi, also having taken thousands of ukemi had an MRI done and during the scan, the doctor noticed that all of his bones were denser than usual and had micro-fractures running through all of them; also a product of thousands of ukemi, throw and be thrown.

Other examples are legion but one of the most common is catching things out of the air without looking at them.  Putting coffee cups on the top shelf is one, where you put the cup up high and look away as you do.  The coffee cup falls and without turning back, you put out your hand and catch it mid-fall and put it back.  We’ve also observed people catch things thrown at them such as tennis balls (“Hey.  Let’s see if we can surprise him”) or use a sword to knock an arrow out of the air.  You can’t really look or focus on the arrow.  You have to use peripheral vision and just “sense” it; a skill developed only in martial arts with specific drills and not something easily developed (not learned mind you but developed) in normal day-to-day life.

You could call these “Ninja Arts” or “Jedi Arts” or “Tengu Arts” but in truth, your body and nervous system has changed over years of training.  You have come closer to having the same kind of abilities that scientists observe in predators in the wild; abilities not dulled by a soft existence in civilization.  Abilities the ancient Samurai and Bushi had which is where the old stories all come from.

Finally, only by being on the mat a sufficient period of time can you acquire the “mat seasoning” necessary to finally begin to see what is and is not important, what the juniors are doing right and wrong, and what to correct (and how to correct it) so that they too can hit those high levels of performance. 

What subtle moment are they missing?  What reaction is not yet fully developed?  What posture are they carrying (does their body reflect the spirit of the ryu or is something subtly and subconsciously missing, something that can’t be “described” but rather “felt” or “sensed”).  Are they moving like a cougar, or more like an agile and well-trained (but “still-beached”) whale?

You become a better judge of the efficient vs. the non-efficient, the In-Yo-Ho vs. the fakery.  You begin to see the “magic” of waza; the application that is so advanced that the young warrior, lacking the time on the mat, the seasoning, the deep intuitive knowledge becomes frustrated literally to the point of tears as this old guy stands there with a drink in his hand and uses one finger to defeat him and make him harmless.  This is something that is simply beyond being a mere teacher or player.

My Sensei was one of the last of the true Bushi (professional warrior).  He was never a Samurai (royal servant) and in fact was at times a bit of an iconoclast.  He spent every day training 6 to 7 days a week 6 to 8 hours a day so that in comparison to someone only training once or twice a week, he was simply putting in massive hours changing his body structure, his neural pathways, his intuitive reflexes and responses, his ability to utilize all the principles (metsuke, musubi, in-yo-ho, for starters). 

He and I once calculated that it would take the average deshi (training only 3 times a week for 2 hours a time about 8 years to equal what he did in only one year.  So now imagine (for the sake of argument) a Sensei who could train for 250 years.  It would take the normal 3 classes a week student two millennia to equal that.  Consider the differences in ability.

Kind a silly argument but, if one thinks about the impact of just time on the mat …….

His body over time became shaped by the ryu and his walk and mat performance reflected it as did his carriage (and character as he stood back and judged lesser players from his more mature and seasoned position).  Unfortunately, he like we all, aged and time was a bit unkind (but that matters not to his story).  He, like all long-term Sensei, shows the possibilities of the effects of long-term training.  Ergo, my desire to somehow become the first 250 year old Sensei running the dojo and doing "stuff".  Time (or sheer hours on the mat) is what makes the difference.  Plus, that humidor of cigars I’m aging (along with that special bottle of scotch) should be ready to go at the 250 year mark.

L.F. Wilkinson Kancho

The Aikibudokan

Houston, TX April 2017


147. Are You My Mummy?

Over Easter we spent some time with relatives and the dreaded “In-Laws”.  While it was overall fairly pleasant there was one moment where I threatened to leave and to go down to eat the fricasseed Easter Bunny with strangers down at Luby’s as I just wuzzn’t into much drama at that moment.  I was shooting wine coolers and had found the Copa-Coconut much to my liking and had finally mellowed (found my wa) with my entry into Colada City.  The Edge of Night, All My Children, and Dark Shadows were cancelled years ago and I had not the desire to have a “live” recreation at the dinner table as that would damage the wa and lead to much consumption of hard liquor and repetitive keiko of strangulation waza.

Luby’s is a pretty interesting place here in Texas.  When I was a bank examiner many moons ago (well before the Year of the Jack Rabbit and even before the Year of The Road Runner) and examining commercial banks in deep South Texas, I learned that Luby’s was a place of true peace, true Zen, real wa, and a little wabi-sabi thrown in.

During the winter time in South Texas all the northerners fleeing the weather (aka Snow Birds, why is it no one retires and moves north?) would winter over in South Texas where the two biggest businesses during winter were (of course) lunch at Luby’s (old people don't cook much) and the viewing down at “Dead Men Tell No Tales Mortuary” since so many of the Snow Birds were really old and just choose to depart this mortal coil as a temporary and honorary Texan (at least momentarily).

Wanting to stay on the good side of the kami, Texas is always accommodating to the recently departed and willingly grants them temporary Texas Citizenship.  Plus, good sources have it that St. Peter is quicker to open the gate for Texans.

Luby’s has no stress and, the clientele tends to be older and more mature so nothing much controversial ever happens there other than someone yelling “Nurse! I think we have a heart attack at table 37”, or someone needs a tea refill along with some more tartar sauce for the fried “I think it’s fish” patty.  Somehow I just don’t think that fish are quite that exactly square.

Everyone gets along unlike today’s Millennials and the tragic-comic life lived by the public teachers who have to manage them during class, and at lunch in the cafeteria at the local state institute for the criminally insane (er … ah …. public school).

Listening to the tales from the in-laws who teach in public schools of how things have changed from when all of us went was both horrifying and made one wish that the mortuary could be more involved in some cases; although age 4 and up is perhaps a little young for the “Snow Bird Effect”.  Now the parents on the other hand ...................

For starters, they no longer teach cursive hand-writing.  I was blown off my stool by this one.  Cursive, much like good Aikido and Judo, activates, coordinates, teaches, and cross-wires both sides of the brain.  After a lot of OMG and WTF are they doing I suddenly realized that if kids as young as 4 or 5 don’t receive some form of activity that activates and cross-wires both right and left brain halves, will they one day be martially “un-trainable” since they will have never been required to build that level of brain development that good high-level martial artists need?  Will we have to do re-education of new deshi to start that cross-development pathway and end up with way too many years to make dan rank (if ever)?

Worse yet, they are not being taught any raw physical skills as most or all competitive sports have been banned or replaced by advanced social justice discussions (GMLM - green martian lives matter) or saving the whales (ambergris is bad).  No dodge ball.  How does a kid learn to avoid traffic (or that punch thrown at his head) if there’s no dodge ball?  So will you cry if I do an arm bar on you, or will you refuse to take ukemi because you were never allowed to do somersaults on the playground and are psychologically frightened of being upside down?

Everyone gets a trophy, or a ribbon, or a t-shirt; but they don’t actually learn squat, or how to do squat either, and they are mentally and emotionally weak, having never been required to cope with the idea of loss (or that of dealing gracefully and humbly with winning).  Everyone gets a trophy and no one loses or feels bad about being picked last for the soft ball pick up game (no soft ball either, Little Johnny might get hurt and Mummy might have to go yell at the principal again).

These were just the small examples that first got me to thinking about future Bushido deshi.

Then came the big one (or one of the big ones in a long and energetically depressing discussion over wine coolers and melted Easter eggs) but I can’t write a 5,000 page blog today and you likely wouldn’t read it if I did).  In the classes (keep in mind this is one of the top 5 rated school districts in Texas, not some inner city slum) there is a minimal level of measured expectation (the least allowed before criticism or disciplinary action ... bwhaha .. what disciplinary action).  There is also a normal level of expectation (making good grades and good behavior as is expected as a normal course of business).  There is also exceeding expectations for grades and behavior and if the student exceeds all expectations then they get a gift reward card that allows them run over to the cafeteria and receive an extra spoon full of mashed potatoes and green beans, or some such gourmet fare (cookies being bad ... kale is good)

So one child in K(indergarten) did as expected but not exceptional.  No Magic Card right?  Better luck next grading period Little Johnny, please study harder and stop sexually molesting Little Mary by popping her bra strap or I'll have to send you to rendition for re-programming.

You are wrong, baby food breath.

The teacher (my in-law) had to talk to the “shattered child” and explain why he did not get the “Magic Card”.  So far so good, huh.  Normal day with the diaper brigade in kindergarten.  But NOOO. 

Now an email shows up from “Mummy”.  “So you barbarian child abuser who fails to recognize my exceptionally brilliant child's’ lack of performance.  Where is his Magic Card”?  

And this goes back and forth, back and forth with the child all the while asking, "But where's my caaaaaarrrrddddd?"

Long sob story short; after several emails with the Mummy, and a conversation with the assistant principal who bluntly told the teacher to stop complaining and that the coddling of the kindergartner would only get worse next year, the teacher in-law very reluctantly re-signed the contract to teach again next year.  IMO, IF he lasts the full year, it will very likely be his last.  A red vest at Walmart awaits him.  Or, he can do what I did after corporate America turning on my and many other professionals I knew ........ become self-employed.  You don't make as much money but if the mood strikes, you can tell off that bitchy client who's been a thorn in your side (if you so choose).  Less Yen.  More control over your life.

A few blogs ago I described a grown adult (in his 20’s I guess) who I threw out and then who came back and started whining about it. 

Now I know where that came from.  A Millennial who is a product of that type school system.  "Whaaaaa!  The Sensei didn't make me a ... a ... sob ... Samurai and he told me ..... whimper .... that I'm not mature enough.  Wheeeerrreeee's my black belt?"

Now every Sensei who runs a dojo has just more thing to watch for courtesy of the school system and helicopter parenting.  I for one don’t plan on managing their issues as I do not run remediation classes.  I plan on screening them out and not starting them to begin with.  I view the role of Sensei as being more important than babysitting and would rather not take on students who have to be taught be an adult (after the fact).  Protect your mat. 

There is after all one advantage to running your own dojo.  You can fire the student without 'Mummy" whining about Little Johnny.

L.F. Wilkinson Kancho

The Aikibudokan

Houston, TX April 2017


146. Join the Samurai Navy and See the World (recruiting 101)

When I started this blog years ago I promised to write about interesting, or intriguing, or strange things in Budo; things that hopefully make the reader cant their head to one side like a Pug and say, Huh?”  Things that make you stop and think for a second is my intent so here is today’s momentary descent into, “The Budo-verse”.

Back in the gym after two or three years of broken promises to myself and just pure outright laziness.  Promised my Head Hatamoto that we’d “do stuff” at the ‘doj and throw each other around so must get back into fighting trim.  Not all that easy at age 65 but it’s still there.  Just have to reach for it and do the work.

Worked out, had a “healthy breakfast” at the whole food shop inside the gym.  Pretty convenient and they had plenty of black coffee to boot with a go-cup.  My health club isn’t quite as nice as the old-world “Gentlemen’s Clubs” in London; you know, the ones where you do your workout, and then go to the lockers as your man-servant hands you a gin and tonic to cut the edge off those 1,000 sit-ups, and then you perambulate to the steam room as you waddle naked across the locker room, and the shower attendant hands you your fresh, hot, monogrammed towel and the green bar of English pine soap, while you admire your pumped, buffed, and waxed nakedness in the mirror.

No.  Not quite that nice but maybe one day …………..

So on the way into the office, the skies turned black with this weather front coming through with massive rain and spectacular lightening shows. Satellite radio went into a “fem-ale” mode with song after song (by Toni Braxton, Anita Baker, Norah Jones, Tina Turner ……. Old School kind of tunes) so it was a smooth drive in with ‘tunes, nice weather, hot coffee, and good traffic for a change.  Stress-less, not stress-free but close so the mind drifted into thinking about conversations I had heard around me that morning at the gym about people always wanting something from you and pushy salesmen (apparently this is a week for carnival barkers) and I remembered several occasions at the dojo where someone, ostensibly looking at training, actually wanted something other than Budo.  They wanted things but used “visiting the dojo” as the wedge to get into the door and to try to put me at ease for the “close”.

I sometimes think that the world outside the Budo-bubble or the Bushi-verse looks at a dojo as a means of recruitment for whatever they are hawking, selling, thinking, doing, or hallucinating about.  And sometime they can be pushy so a Sensei, who has the best interests of his deshi at heart (and who is concerned about the viability of the dojo as being a “way place of learning” and not just another pit stop on the road to mediocrity) has to be direct, sometimes to the point of rudeness and everyone once in a great while, threatening to do some serious bodily harm if they can’t figure out that they are simply not wanted.

Bwahahaha.  I’ve been an insurance broker and agent for about 20 years now and got my start as a professional telemarketer after I left commercial banking.  Even when I was in banking before going into insurance full-time back in ’97, the big corporate banking centers I worked at actually put us through classes in how to sell and close, to how profile the prospect, and how to gauge, evaluate and control different personality types either as a loan officer, a risk management officer or as a problem loan & liquidation officer (I was all three at times). 

I’m the last person in the world you want to try to manipulate for a sale of anything and everyone once in a while, I’ll just screw with them, just because ………………. “Sure, I’m interested.  Tell me more.  Tell me more.  But what if …… tell me more ………. But would you want your mother to do that?” ….. but, who developed this and did they make any money?” ….. Have fun with it and interrupt their sales script, which throws them off.  Then you get to watch them try to recover so you hit them again.

So …………….. the occasions that popped into my mind during the drive in that were the most unusual and that had the best set-up as in the carnival barker coming in, talking martial arts and then slowly and gently trying to slip the ‘shiv in were …………..

Fellow sends an email asking if he can visit and the email says that he lives and trains in another martial art here in Houston; but that a good friend of his, an Aikido Sensei from Europe is in town and wants to visit several dojo to see what Aikido in the US and Texas is like.  So I say sure, come in Saturday.  They both come in, sit and visit, ask questions about Tomiki Aikido and I explain how Tomiki set it up, how the curriculum works and mention that Tomiki Ryu has strong self-defense focus and a heavy flavor of Kodokan Judo with how we work the off-balance on the attacker and enter for the technique.  This was all information that I already knew the European Sensei didn’t know as he had never seen Tomiki Ryu before.

So during the conversation, the fellow that had sent the original email made mention (after I had to ask several times) finally ‘fessed up that he did another martial art that consisted of punching and kicking and some throws of various types and that he had students and was building a dojo here in Houston.  My thought was …. hmmm but I said nothing.  Then he asked if he could train.  I said no, that I don’t take visitors and that only active students could get on the mat, not visitors, not people who weren’t already Aikido Players, and esp. not visitors from other styles who would be there only that class period.  His response was, “Oh, a cynic”.  Strange I thought, but knew immediately that he wanted to try his art against Aikido; something I had no interest in.  Last time someone talked that game I told them that I’d ask one of the police officers in the class to come over and convince them of the error of their ways.  Then as a test, I turned to the Aikido Sensei from Europe and asked him a simple question; to wit, can you see the Daito Ryu, self-defense, Judo influences. He got a sorta’ funny look on his face and said, “YES. I can really see the Judo influence”. I couldn’t tell if he was surprised at the techniques or what.

So, while they were both pretty courteous and not rude and not outright challenging, I interpreted it as checking out the competition by using the European as the excuse.  Then, the very next day, I received an email from the visitor that he had emailed my senior Hatamoto to visit his dojo; an effort at recruitment as I interpreted it.  So the entire email, visit, conversation was, bottom line, an effort at recruitment as I had several people who had experience in what he was teaching and he must have thought that he could interest them in visiting/joining his school.  No biggie to me.  I only want deshi that are interested in our program anyway.

The strangest attempt at recruitment however was the night a stranger walked in unbidden with no advance notice.  He had a strange aura about him and seemed a little distant but curious.  We talked and he said that he did some martial arts informally (my first thought was “Oh Gawd. Another guy working out with his brother-in-law in the garage by reading books and watching You Tube”).  It turned out that he was claiming to be one of the few individuals in the country who knew “Viking Martial Arts”. 

Bwahaha.  Hokay then.  Thor’s Hammer Ryu.  This must be a joke.  Nope.  Not a joke.  So after prodding him as to what he was looking for he stated that he wanted to learn Aikido and grappling to improve his Thor Ryu.  Then I made the error of asking him what he did for a living.

And for the first time I about fell off my stool.  He ran a sex-club where everyone traded spouses and they had bondage rooms where the audience watched and had martini’s and bacon wrapped shrimp as someone was tied up and …… er …… ah ….. “abused substantially” as the cameras rolled.  So after sagely remaining silent for a minute or two, I just had to ask.  “So.  Thor.  How do you find clients? customers? mattress divers? WTH do you call them?”  He didn’t think that was very funny but interesting enough, his expression never really changed so that told me that he’d done this before.  His response was, “We have to be discreet.  We just offer that we do this and then allow people to approach us and join. We love to have visitors to the club to see what we offer”.

Didn’t take too long to figure out that I was being invited over and by extension, the entire dojo.  Well I thought, nothing like trying to join a martial arts dojo with 50 or 60 people who are physically active and in good shape so-as to have a fresh batch of recruits because he was overweight and didn’t look to me like much of catch for a discerning female with life choices available to her.

So he left and the next morning I went on line and looked up his sex club.  Sure enough.  There it was, less than a couple miles away from the dojo in the back of an unmarked strip center and Google Earth showed blacked out windows with no sign, only the suite number.  His photo was there on the website along with a bunch of other people and the site had photos of the “mattress room” (wall to wall), the bar (lots of interestingly clothed & unclothed bartenders in the photo, "Ah ... say there partner .... what are you stirring my drink with?"), the bondage room (no people in this one but the ladder, handcuffs and pole in the middle of the room with chains were included).  And, lo’ and behold, a group photo of people at the beach at Galveston, wearing Viking clothes and horned (horny?) helmets and carrying wooden shields and swords at what was noted as being a “Viking Wedding”.

So, if you run a dojo, then keep some things in mind. 

At some point, at some time, and one day, you very likely will find yourself dealing with these people.  Keep in mind that these are the extreme examples.  Door to door protein or internet ISP salesmen are a dime a dozen.  These were the ones that were good at what they do.  They are the ones that you have to watch for.  Don’t let them in no matter how badly you need new deshi.  Lying down with snakes never has a good result and if you feel guilty somehow about saying no, then remember the story about the frog and the scorpion.  Otherwise, you may lookup and find deshi quitting the dojo because they came to learn martial arts from you, not be recruited by Thor the Viking Sex ‘Perv. 

L.F. Wilkinson Kancho

The Aikibudokan, Houston, TX

March 2017


145. Harry Hakama and the Gyre & Gimbling Geisha's

I made a mistake a while back.  When changing our dojo advertising with "The Big Guy" (no names but think Alex and bells) their rep' talked me into including a listing of ourselves as a store selling martial arts supplies (in addition to gym, self-defense, Aikido, etc).  They said it would produce more hits during a web search.  Well, it has (I think) but we don't sell to the public yet.  We may eventually but for now it's only to our deshi since we have little intention at this moment in time of going “Bricks – n – Sticks” with a store.

So on a pretty regular basis now, I get a call from someone looking for that perfect birthday gift, that conversation piece to put on the mantle, that perfect tool to carry in the trunk for road rage, that thing to keep by the door to threaten the neighbor who has that dog that keeps pooping in your yard, and that special tool for stumbling zombies.

“Do you sell numb-chucks?”  No and it’s Nunchaku’s, not Numb Chucks.  WTH.  Did Chuck go “numb” all of sudden?  I mean, is he ok or does need an aspirin and some Ben Gay?

“Do you carry gym clothes?”  WTH again.  We’re a dojo, not 24 Fitness and I’m really not interested in gym-rats or spandex.

“I need some advice on what to buy my husband for Christmas.”  Lady.  Please.  Go on-line and do a web search for “Most Popular Christmas Gifts for overweight Pretend Budo-Guys”.  Maybe you can find him a nice potted plant.

“Do you carry combat ready swords?”  Bubba.  If it can cut paper and if you can cut the cheese then you are both ready for combat.

Gawd.  Pleeezzze stop.  Make it go awaaaaaay.

So yesterday I get this call.  Nice guy.  Pleasant voice.  Sincere attitude.  Doesn’t know his butt from a hot rock about martial arts but he caught me in a good mood so lets try to earn some Budo-verse brownie points and help him out.

Him:  “I’m looking for a hakama.”

Ok.  That’s a good start.  I don’t sell them but I know who does.

Me:  “Go on-line, look up this web address in Japan.  They will custom fit it, great price, perfectly sized and fit for you, take about 30 days.  The last one I bought from them lasted about 10 years so they give quality hakama.”

Him:  “Well that’s too long.  I need it next week for the demonstration.”

Me:  “Ok.  What demonstration.”

Him:  “It’s a karate demonstration with swords and she has to wear a hakama.”

Me:  "Ummmmmmm ….. annnnnnd how old is she?"

Him:  “She’s eight.”

It was about at this moment I almost spit out my coffee as I realized that the Budo-verse had suckered me into a conversation with someone who didn’t know the difference and couldn’t be educated.  Must be a kami or two out there somewhere I’d upset a little.  Will definitely have to do some extra ukemi this week for penance.

I was already into it though and didn’t want to be rude so I finally gave him a couple of web addresses that might be able to do an ICBM overnight launch with drone delivery direct to the front porch so his child could “style” in front of the judges.

First off, karate guys do not wear hakama for obvious “how do I keep from getting tangled up in the legs” kind of reasons.  And for the record, I loathe those guys who wear their obi over the hakama.  WTF.  That’s not only declassee but downright gauche; but you see it all the time in these tournament parties with all the “flashing steel” and jumping through flaming hoops.

Karate guys don’t use katana real or otherwise unless they branch out into a totally different art form (which is ok) but karate per se just doesn’t have katana work in it.  Karate = “empty hand” not “sword fighter”.

Children have no business swinging a blade around, dull or otherwise.  It’s fake.  It has no relationship to reality.  Every single move is fake.  Injury is entirely possible and hitting something with that $9.99 wall-hanger and having it break with pieces flying around can, has and does happen.

But Daddy wanted his little girl to look good.

I’ve lost count of the number of phone calls of people wanting me to teach their child, as young as five in some cases self-defense or prep them for tournaments.  No, not a mistype.  “Please – Teach – My - Five - Year – Old – Self – Defense”.

OMG & Jeeesus.  Talk about helicopter parents hovering their Huey Gun Ship overhead, picking off trigger events while playing Flight of the Valkyries on the iPhone.

NO has become my instant response and then I raise their ire by telling them that at that age they are a child who has barely been house-broken out of diapers and their total exposure to martial arts of any kind should be limited to watching Samurai Jack on Toonami on Cartoon Network.  It shouldn’t be swinging around metal and screaming while thinking that they are doing something real.

The disappointing thing about the entire conversation was my remembering how, over the years, I’ve had to deal with adults (not necessarily millennial's although they’re in the news a lot these days) whose view of martial arts and Budo is barely a gnat’s eyelash above that of the proud father with the eight year old.  He didn’t know but had obviously been taken in by Sensei Carnival Barker, on the midway hawking snake oil as having value.

The most recent was before last Christmas when a guy in his apparent mid-20’s starting discussing “techniques” he had seen in what I finally figured out was a video game.  I threw him out quick and I’ll be darned if he didn’t come back and actually whine to be accepted.

I was in shock.  When was the last time someone rejected for reason (an adult no less) start to whine?

I long ago promised that I would preserve the arts as I was taught and not go for the nearest Yen that someone dropped on the floor like a 2-bit prostitute diving to the floor for that quarter someone dropped.  Keeping to reality and the more traditional ways of viewing martial arts and life in general (they’re the same aren’t they, or they should be) changed my life entirely.  Saved me actually, and saved many others I know from a life of following the same insane dead-end path of immature behavior that I was on as a teen-ager and as a worthless scotch-drinking frat-rat in college. They enabled me to do what a recent but now deceased rock and roll singer was quoted as saying before his death.  Growing old is a privilege because it allows us to become who we were meant to be.

I would add my own spin to that. “Ningen Keisi, Bun Bu Ryo Dou” (a tatoo I wear on my back). Becoming a complete human being by living a life in balance allows us to grow in a mature fashion and become the person that we were meant to be all along.  We just had to find him.

We can’t do that if we become overly sensitive and discard the Old School Ways that have been proven and tested.

Do we have to become like Mushashi?  No.  Admittedly, times do change so in general, some things must also have small changes here and there in order to remain relevant.  What disturbs me though is fake martial arts taught to children who don’t know.  They could have been a great Bushi, but that fake start could and very likely will turn them so far from the path that they’ll never find it. 

That becomes my job and the job of any good Sensei out there.  You have to pass my screening in which I look for maturity, sincerity and an empty cup but once you do and we (and other Sensei out there) accept you as a deshi (no longer a monjin) you too can become the person you were meant to be.

After I had the conversation with the dad on the phone I went home that night after keiko and poured some sake to think.  Then I dug around and found my copy of the most recent translation of Hagakure.  By some stoke of serendipity, the movie Ghost Dog was playing that night so I sipped, read, looked up the passages Ghost Dog quoted, and watched and felt a little sorrow for the loss of Old School ways, slowly being replaced by fakery.

Sometimes I miss my Sensei. He was beyond difficult (who am I kidding, he was an ass) but he knew what he was doing and was always sincere about producing real Bushi.  I hope that someday my deshi miss me the same way.  I can only hope that I can rise to the expectations and be a little old-fashioned on occasion.

L.F. Wilkinson Kancho

The Aikibudokan, Houston, TX

March 2017


144. Drive, Cook, Wipe, Fart

Ever been to class and you were working with someone, teaching, guiding, encouraging, showing ………… and their response was, “I’m just not that coordinated” or “I’ve never been any good at anything athletic?

If you run a dojo and have done any teaching of deshi in any martial art and you tell me no ……. well then ….. I understand that hell has a special place for Fibber McGee’s.

Ever been doing kata with someone and you’re working on a kata that you know with all certainty that they’ve seen and done maybe 100 times, and they still get it wrong and they inflect a little pain on you; that’s how bad it was.  And then you correct them and they say something on the order of, “My brain just isn’t wired to be able to easily learn this”?

Ever made the same correction once, thrice, fifty, seventy, eighty times and you start to wonder WTH are they doing, or not doing, or not getting?

Yeah.  Me too.

So I’ve designed a test to counter excuses and hopefully direct the deshi to satori, or maybe nirvana ... or kensho ... or the public library.  Not sure which will work better or where they'll end up after the class bows-off.

I’ve used similar tests in the past but this one, I think, will be more demanding and will require more consideration on the part of the testee as to how they need to answer.  Over the years I have actually asked things similar to this in order to "shock" the deshi into looking at a different learning paradigm.

So the test questions are (and you can apply these to yourself as need be) are ………………

Can you drive a car and not kill yourself, your family, and the stranger next to you in the station wagon or the guy on the corner wearing the clown suit, claiming to be an unemployed Hobbit while he shakes his coin cup? 

(Yes ... really.  I never let the truth stand in the way of a good story but this one is totally true.  I live on the far west side of Houston in an upscale area known as Cinco Ranch and I pass him on the corner of I-10 and Fry at least once a week.  He’s a dwarf and just I love his costume.  I’m waiting for him to one day dress up like Gimli complete with the axe and only then will I give him money and ask to take his picture.)

If the answer to the driving a car question is “Yes” then we now know something about you and may conclude an understanding of several things.

First, you understand responsibility for your actions as you drive a 3,000 pound killing machine made of steel and plastic and rolling on four tires at breakneck speed.  Plus, you are able to multi-channel process as you push the gas, tap the brake, adjust the rear-view mirrors (sides and the one inside the cab), change the channel, talk on the cell phone, yell at the kids, pacify the spouse who is backseat driving, curse at your GPS, and pay attention to a hundred other drivers doing the same things in their car ….. AND ….. being aware of the potentialities of the “Random Event” such as a dog running in front, a board in the road, a meteor strike, the woman in the car next to you driving with her knee while applying eye shadow (this is a tradition of Houston drivers) or someone throwing a beer can out the window at Warp 7 as you look for the turn-off to Granny’s house.

The answer to this question proves that you really can do multiple things at the same time while being aware of everything happening around you and are fully responsible for your actions.

So Grasshopper ….. what’s your problem when you’re on the mat and acting like you have no idea where you are or what you’re doing?  Why are you throwing your uke into other people, why can’t you see where the edge of the mat is, and why can’t you wield the jo or the bokken like the danger that it is instead of seeming ignorant of something you’ve done in class a hundred times?

Next question, can you cook a meal for six family members including the timing of the turkey, dressing, gravy and rolls so that it all comes out at the proper time AND do so while you finish that 3rd martini (and begin speaking in tongues) and then start on the wine while blending that banana daiquiri for your ungrateful brother-in-law who voted for "that other guy" and stick your fingers in that plate of antipasta?

This “Norman Rockwell Moment” better be an unequivocal yes as all of us have suffered since childhood in this moment of eternal family frustration (er … ah … bliss). This answer demonstrates that you can control and time multiple ideas and subjects simultaneously while communicating with other participants, and that you can handle cutting, stirring, mashing, blending, seasoning, plating, and serving, drooling, licking of finger, and visiting all at the same time with no thought or mental blockage involved.  In short, all the cooking activities are on auto-pilot as you’ve done them long enough to internalize them and make them full functional on an intuitive level.

So Grasshopper ….. why did I just show you a simple waza and your response was something about your belief that your brain is not wired such that you can’t do more than one thing at a time and that something as basic as putting the correct foot forward is so complex that you actually have to look at your foot?  Internalization of responses is easy since we know you can cook.

Next question …… can your wipe a dirty baby bottom on a 3-month old and not hurt them or “smear the shared joy” all over everything?

If you answer yes, then why is it that numerous attempts to get you to stop using force and running power or hitting me with the jo or bokken or tanto is so difficult?  If you can handle a baby and not damage them, and not make a worse mess with their “gift” to you, then why did you just try to dislocate my shoulder?  Why can’t you ease up, work a little slower, and use a lot less power.  I know you understand how to be gentle and use a little less power, so do it.

Last question ….. can you fart and chew gum at the same time?

WTF?  Is Sensei serious?  WTH?

Yes I’m serious.  Did you sleep through history class while attending Wasamatta U?

Did you forget the famous comment attributed to LBJ when he was in a meeting in the Oval Office and someone asked him what he thought about Gerald Ford, and LBJ made the infamous statement of, “That guy is so uncoordinated that he can’t fart and chew gum at the same time”; a statement made after Ford keep hitting people with golf balls and banging his head on the exit door to Air Force One.

So if your answer to this serious, but seemingly ridiculous question is yes, then you, yes you Grasshopper, not the deshi behind you but YOU ….. are fully qualified to learn martial arts, in a reasonable time span, given quality instruction, competent and patient teachers, in a good learning environment.

No more excuses please.  No more, “I can’t learn because …………..”, or “My brain doesn’t work that way”, or “I learn differently”.

There is no such thing as a “visual learner” because if you are eidetic, then just copy what you see.

There is no such thing as an “audio learner” because if you are, then just listen and pay attention.

There is no such thing as a smell or taste learner, unless of course all that sweat and aroma of a gym locker room excites you.  What’s that old saying, “Judo is eating your uke’s sweat”.

And there is no such thing as a “physical learner” because WTH do you think MA is?  We learn by touching and manipulating and being attached to others so you get all the “touch” you need.  Martial Arts ARE touch.

In short, what I’m writing here is that the ONLY thing holding you back from learning is the little creature inside your head, not my head,  YOUR head, that keeps telling you that you can’t do it and keeps feeding you excuses to repeat to everyone on the mat.

Just stop that.  Tell yourself that you can do it just as well as you learned how to intjuitively drive, cook, wipe and fart.

No … More … Excuses.

Pleeeease.

L.F. Wilkinson Kancho

The Aikibudokan, Houston, TX

March 2017


143. How to Wear Your Black Belt – Part II (Focus)

Once you get your black belt it’s easy to lose focus, to slack off and take a brief vacation from the intense training that you did to prepare for your demo.  In a word, “Don’t”.  In another word, “DON’T!”.  Part of Humility is the ability to understand and deal with the idea that you don’t everything (yet), likely never will know everything, and worst of all, don’t really know what you don’t know.

The basic difference between Shodan and Nidan is minimal and the time in grade (assuming that you get to class and train) is also minimal.  The longest periods between promotions can fool you because the break-points in learning (and internalization) are not where you think them to be.

The first longest period is from first-night beginner to Shodan.  This is simply due to the necessity to take someone with likely no athletic or martial arts experience and have them internalize the fundamental operating principles of the art form.  Moving off the line of attack, blending and flowing, learning attack and defense timing (Sen-no-Sen, Sen-Sen-no-Sen,  Ato-no-Sen), kuzushi, ukemi, musubi, the basic waza of striking, throwing and joint locking, etc., etc., all mean a long road to internalize and make functional the base essence (the core) of the ryu.  When you hear old players in koryu forms discuss how the actual structure of the ryu changes the deshi, then this is a part of that “re-structuring” of the person.  The deshi “becomes” the ryu.

Shodan to Nidan is, in a very real sense nothing more than setting into concrete your intuitive understanding and ability to use the fundamental principles and waza of your art form.  Shodan means you “got it” and Nidan means you “really got it”.

(Keep in mind here that I never intend to denigrate the achievement, only to set that achievement into its proper context within the larger picture which is IMO necessary to maintain the focus needed to move forward).

Nidan to Sandan has another long period although not as long as beginner to Shodan.  This is due to Sandan being a jump-point in understanding.  In our ryu Sandan is where the deep understanding of flowing, merging and of taking control of the attacker the first instant when they cross ma-ai and begin the attack sequence (and then not letting them regain control until waza termination) begins to be acquired and internalized. 

Sandan marks a demarcation as-it-were; the next really big progressive step in making a high-level Aikido player.  The timing from Sandan to Yondan therefore, much like Shodan to Nidan is also fairly brief as Yondan is more material to learn and internalize but that material is essentially the same as that learned for Sandan; except “more of the same” with added sophistication applied.  Yondan then “firms up” the jump-point; a critical necessity since beginning with the journey to Godan, really advanced material is looked at.

So the first gap is beginner to Shodan.  Shodan to Nidan is fairly close then the next big gap is Nidan to Sandan.  Sandan to Yondan is fairly close due to the similarity in the work required so the next big gap is Yondan to Godan with Godan to Rokudan being fairly close.  Then the next big (I should say “BIG” gap is Rokudan to Nanadan.

I think you see the picture.  The long and the short of it is to not lose focus, EVER!  And, humility is a part of that.  Arrogance retards learning because that arrogance, that failure to understand that you don’t know what you don’t know yet becomes a barrier, a closed door that is difficult to pass.  The phrase, “empty tea cup” does not apply solely and only to the beginner sitting in the rain on the front porch.

The gaps between major progressions is really quite minimal so once you make Shodan just go for the Nidan and quit worrying about it.  Once you make Nidan just go to Sandan because you know that once you get to Sandan then Yondan is just around the corner.

Pretty soon you quit worrying about “just around the corner” and you just “become” Aikido.

L.F. Wilkinson Kancho

The Aikibudokan, Houston, TX

February 2017


142. How to Wear Your Black Belt – Part I (Humility)

Yeesss!  Today I made You-dawn-sha!

I am now an 85th Dan, a Masta’, a Stud-Muffin!

“Attention K-Mart Shoppers, the Stud-Muffin has entered the room, please look for the blue light for your personalized shikishi”.

Sorry.  You ain’t none of those and neither am I, and I’m the Sensei with almost 50 years behind me with black belts in 3 different martial arts forms and senior teacher status in 2 of those.

Making Yudansha (graded dan) which starts at Shodan is, if isolated and taken strictly on its’ own, a great, repeat, great accomplishment and puts the wearer of the coveted black belt in a rarefied part of the atmosphere; but I’m a “Big Picture” kind-of-guy and in the greater scheme of things it is just another step on the way to a higher plane of existence.

I keep statistics and in the 19-odd years I’ve run my own dojo I have logged about 1,000 people who have either kept me on the phone for 30 minutes of discussion, come to visit the dojo, tried out a free class but never came back, actually signed up but never paid anything, signed up and paid money but didn’t last the first 60 days, or who signed up, lasted long enough to get a promotion or two and then quit.

1,000 people out of which I have a total of less than 20 or so active black belts and a dozen or so who would live at the dojo, if I let them.  So if one considers that the real education doesn’t start until Shodan (the term after all means 1st step) then the percentage of people who actually start the trip to Yoda-hood (and then stay with it long enough to really accomplish something with the accrued skill sets) is about 2/10th’s of 1%.  In case you slept through your high school algebra class, that’s not real high even if we’re generous by using the commonly cited statistics form various MA magazines  (of all dojo and all MA styles) of about 5%.

So why can’t you consider yourself a stud-muffin (or studlette-muffin in the case of the ladies) if you are part of that <5% who has enough self-discipline and desire to commit to and stay with a long term study like Aikido?

Humility is why, plain and simple.  Remember that Budo is all about self-improvement, about taking our natural potential and maximizing all that we can be (with the expenditure of enough hard work paid for with blood, sweat and tears), improving mind-body-spirit and by unifying them, our becoming a whole that is greater than the sum of the original parts.

Take a look at one word, “Spirit”.  It has little to do with the mind (that’s all about intellect) and it has little to do with body (that’s all about the physical).  The spirit and its’ improvement in making us a better person, is all about really old fashion things; ethics, humility, self-discipline, morality, honesty, not doing things in excess, the golden rule (do unto others…..), and all the complicated topics Aristotle writes on in Nicomachean Ethics which states in simplest terms that in order to in order to become "good", one should not simply study what virtue is; one must actually be virtuous in one’s daily activities at all times, whether those activities are comprised of issues of reputation (how one acts in public) or character (how one acts when you think that nobody’s looking).

Notice that nowhere in there are any terms like arrogance, abuse of others, taking advantage of others, demanding worship, ordering a junior student to give your left foot a tongue bath, or emotional cannibalism.

This is especially true of the halo effect that sometimes happens when we make black belt; we get a halo, or a small handful of lower level student body (kyu ranks) we just came from puts a halo on our head whether we want it there or not.  In other words we become overly impressed with ourselves (we believe our own press clippings) or the kohai begin to look up to us like a child looking at their father or a teeny-bopper looking up to the latest rock-star hero (or we imagine that they do, thus making us a legend in our own mind).

Humility, humility, humility is the only thing that keeps the new black belt from going ballistically egomaniacal (or as the pundit said, “drinking our own bath water”).

Making “First Step” to someone like me who has 50 years on the mat is nothing other than a sign that now I can really start to teach you some neat stuff.  It doesn’t mean that you are anything more than a beginner or that you are more than one small step removed from the kyu/colored belt that you used to be.

So, in order to keep that ego in check and enlarge your usable quotients of humility (and humanity) remember three things;

First, Shodan translates as “first step” so in reality, you are still a beginner with much to learn and you are a very long way from understanding all there is about Aikido and martial arts in general,

Second, since you are just a beginner, a newly minted black belt, then you don’t know what you don’t know.  In and of itself that should be enough to keep that ego in check and approach every class with an empty tea cup.

Lastly, the black belt means that someone helped you climb the ladder to get you there so you have to return the favor in the same positive fashion as the people who helped you.  Failure to do so means that few black belts above you in rank will likely want to waste any more personal time on a walking ego-trip.

Humility will get you much in life and make you many friends.  It’s one of the more important qualities we all look for in friends, spouses, ukes and the Sensei.

L.F. Wilkinson Kancho

The Aikibudokan, Houston, TX

January 2017


141. MA Training-Positive Attitude

We are what we eat, or so they say.  Given that we’re not speaking of food here it would be more appropriate to say, “We are what we think” or, “How we think is how we act, and what we become.”

This should be of little to no surprise to anyone so I want you to think about it for a second.

How many times during your life have you known people who, for some unknown reason, had the ability to attract everyone to them?  You liked being around them all the time.  Being around them made you feel like you were a battery and just got plugged into the charger and now you were glowing with a full 9 volts; maybe 12 depending on whether you are running a flash light or a station wagon.

Funny thing is, these individuals probably weren’t voted “Most Popular” or “Most Likely to Succeed” since those are political accomplishments and generally have little to do with success in life.  These individuals were just ordinary people who might play sports, maybe did drama or debate (or not), who might have been the person at the water cooler at the office that everyone asked advice of or enjoyed sharing coffee with. 

The thing that made them different is that they had a truly positive attitude and a big smile about 95% of the time (all of us deserve that 5% of just having a bad day on occasion because the planets are out of alignment).  That consistently positive attitude made it easy to be around them and better yet, they glowed with positive “vibes” to such a point that if you felt bad or down in the mouth then they always had a supporting statement or gesture for you that helped just a little bit.

Now think about your life outside the dojo.  Think about each and every person that is a burden to associate with; that has a negative attitude most of the time; that enjoys, that loves, that revels in discussing politics or complaining about their boss or neighbor or co-worker; or just likes to get in some kind of hairy discussion about ANYTHING because they get to express themselves and voice opinions.  For them, the act of engaging in the discussion and drawing other people in validates (in their mind) their existence as a human being and if confronted with that accusation/reality they simply deny it.

That’s the really obvious version of the negative personality.  Now how about the not so obvious?

The not so (obvious) is what I described to my Sensei many years ago (probably about 25 years back) as an “emotional vampire”.  I coined the term when Sensei and I were discussing up and coming high Dan promotions (4th to 6th Dan and up) and one specific person’s name popped up.  The discussion pertained to why no one liked that person even though they were very competent and a highly skilled technician.  I told Sensei that I considered them to be an emotional vampire because their self-esteem was so poor that they needed other people to both validate them and to support them emotionally every time they had their weekly drama.  They were someone who so severely drained your energy by requiring your support and your continual positive comments (needed to outweigh their negative outlook) that when you finally parted company with them you just felt tired and drained (“Hey!  Is it Happy Hour yet?  Is the sun over the yardarm?  NURSE!).

I was impressed that Sensei was impressed.  It had never occurred to him to consider the issue in that aspect and we both agreed that it was pretty accurate.  I had just come off-the-cuff with that description and he took it into a couple of full discussions both off and on the mat.  He had just then formed the opinion that these “emotional vampires” negatively impacted his entire teaching effort and began to discipline deshi (or expel) those who couldn’t maintain a positive line of thought and behavior.

I really need to acknowledge here that all of us on occasion will come to train and have just had a really bad day and that’s ok.  Even as Sensei I’ve done that on occasion too because after all; Sensei, Mrs. Sensei, the Hatamoto, all the Yudansha and each and every player on the mat are all human and sometimes the daily struggles and life’s vicissitudes just get to us every once in a while.  And that’s just part of life.

The personality that I am referring to here as being the issue is the one that exudes negative vibes EACH AND EVERY TIME THEY WALK INTO THE DOJO.  They just bleed negativity, and neediness, and their shoes slosh with self-pity with every step taken as the need drips off them.

So the bottom line is this.

I, as Sensei, could really care less about anyone’s family life, business problems, or personal issues as it is likely not my business (unless you care to share and unless we have a close personal relationship outside the dojo and off the mat).  All of us, myself and Mrs. Sensei (my other half) included, have issues that we deal with everyday and that we never bring into the dojo or onto the mat with us.  Doing a “dump” so-to-speak is completely unfair to everyone in the dojo who comes only train and not to be my or your emotional counselor.  We are, after all, here to teach martial arts and not be your support group.

As Sensei however, I do care about the impact on the mat and on the other players that an “obvious” or a “not-so-obvious” negative person can have on everyone around them.

So, I’ll give everyone the self-same advice that my father and my Sensei both gave me way too long ago (time flies, one day you’re a cocky teenager and the next you’ve lost your hair and what’s left is turning grey).  My father was right and funny thing is; so was Sensei.  So please consider this:

“Go into each and every moment of your life with a positive attitude, positive outlook, and a positive & optimistic view of the future.  If you at least try to think, be and act positive all the time, even when you are in the throes of deep depression, you will eventually find that the positive begins to outweigh the negative.  Acting positive will, over time, actually produce a positive person.  You will create your own positivism and it will push away the negative vibes.  You are what you think you are and what you want to be.”

And once you get this positive way of life (“do” if you like) down pat, the dojo will become (for you) the way in which you create it.  During periods of my life when I was the most depressed, overworked, underpaid and under loved, the dojo literally became my only sanctuary because I knew that the second I walked into the door, that I would have my hair blown back by all the positive vibes coming off the mat and the smiles of people who were happy to see me and who wanted to train.  Funny thing is, more of the time than what I want to admit, I didn’t even know their last name.  We were just friends and training partners and that was all that mattered.

The positive attitude enabled me to learn faster and to actually enjoy class much, much more than I ever had before.  I looked up one day and was 7th Dan and still can’t remember how I got here.  It just happened in the midst of everything.

Let the dojo become that one place in your life where the positives throw down, pin, and then choke out the negatives.

Or to paraphrase Forest Gump, “Positive is as positive does”.

L.F. Wilkinson Kancho

The Aikibudokan, Houston, TX

November 2016


140. Wham, Bam, Thank You Mam

Sempai (solo) - Now rouse her right up boys, for Tokyo town

Kohai (chorus) - Go waay, waaay, throw the man down

Sempai (solo) - We'll choke his butt out then throw the man down

Kohai (chorus) - Oh give me kuzushi and slam the man down

.......... Waaay Ho and slam the man down

.......... Slam the man down boys, slam the man down

.......... Oh give me kuzushi and slam the man down

Sempai (solo) - We fall on tatami of local dojo

Kohai (chorus) - Hi, ho throw the man down .......

............ Sung to the tune of a Merchant Marine Chanty, circa pre-1890's ....

When I first left my old dojo years ago and was asked to open my own dojo and begin teaching independently I approached a YMCA and used their gymnastics floor and then later, when I had the chance to open a stand-alone dojo I worked with people with engineering experience and designed a floor based on an old Kodokan design.  We built it 45 by 50 feet and put canvas and Olympic foam mats on top of a wood frame topped with plywood; but the part that mattered the most was the suspension system, 800 specially designed steel springs, custom drawn and spun to a uniform draw weight to support the floating floor.  Some folks use valve springs and I've even seen designs that used blocks of foam between the lower and upper plywood layers or even car tires laid on their sides.

Regardless of the exact design of the floor the fact remains that in order to learn Aikido (or any throwing art form) you absolutely must do two things and do them consistently over a sufficiently long period of training time.  First, have a floor that will let you throw (and be thrown) hard, with vigor (force) and second, use it for regularly scheduled powerful ukemi practice and not just for walking, rolling, some half-hearted "soft” ukemi/floating leaf falls on it.

Sound repetitive?  Yes it is; that’s the importance of ukemi, real ukemi and not some geriatric version.

I've been to many dojo of the kind my ex-Sensei referred to as "country dojo", as opposed to what he referred to as "professional dojo".  While he never spent much time expanding that discussion topic, I and others interpreted his remarks as setting forth the difference between a dojo that approaches everything as soft and slow (almost like a form of soft, geriatric Aikido) and one that has a more serious, powerfully dynamic, "take another 100 ukemi and throw a little harder please" approach.

Looking back on it now, years after leaving his tutelage, I now realize several things possible about his avoiding (for the most part) this topic and the protestations (and indeed arguments from proprietors of “country dojo”) it can create;

  • First, you have to have a good falling surface and the simple fact of the matter is that most dojo simply don't and never will.  They train anywhere they can whether that be in the back area of a BJJ school or on folding mats at a gymnasium or gymnastics school or they use crude wrestling mats like those at a dojo that I ran a seminar at years ago; dirty, hard, punishing.  They do the best they can but pro-level facilities are just beyond their resources.
  • Second, most of their student population is older or off the bad end of the BMI tables.  Old, overweight players can't take the physical punishment so the entire curriculum is slowed down to something that could be called "NHB" (Nursing Home Budo).
  • Third, they teach a fluid crowd.  That is, they find it difficult to retain more than one or possibly two senior ranks, so for the most part no one sticks around long enough to develop really high-level ukemi ability which retards the development of those who actually do hang around.
  • Lastly, they follow the "internal power" ideas and "soft off-balance" ideas to the point that they forget to do Aikido; instead, training incessantly in arcane exercises designed to teach internal power while barely moving their feet and developing overly cooperative ukes.  They become wonderful at holding hands but unable to do dynamic Aikido.

Any one of these ideas can (and did all those years ago) create arguments, as the Sensei from any dojo that fits one or more of these "country dojo" descriptions will protest since they view themselves as teaching "real Aikido".  The first three I certainly understand (and understand well) since I started at a community ed center myself with really bad folding mats on concrete floors but we still found a way to do better and threw hard onto crash pads and also worked on fast and hard attacks and kuzushi but pulled back just before we blew uke into the floor.

Bottom-line; we do what we can with what we have at hand.  I consider myself lucky to have a large, professional-level dojo with the best falling surface possible.  Others don't have my resources and if I didn't have them I'd probably have a dojo less than half the size I have now and would with a small group of dedicated players but I would still do dynamic Aikido and would still require everyone to throw hard and take hard ukemi; even if I had to aim their flying corpses at crash mats on the other side of the room.

The impact of ukemi (bwaha … small pun) will, over time help develop a strong, adaptable (to stress) and resilient body; one that can take a lot of punishment while enabling the uke (the "receiver") to simply get back up and keep going.  Sensei used to say, and I find myself repeating him in this regard, that each and every time you fall (get thrown) every single muscle, tendon, ligament and organ in the body, including the connective tissue and fascia receives a very brief but powerful isometric tension, even the eyelids, that strengthens the body in  its entirety.  It gives you what he used to call a "hard body" as your innards' strengthen to meet the performance demands put upon them.

I also believe (although he never addressed this aspect) that when we are thrown we briefly hold our breath which serves to "pressurize" the body from the inside out, strengthening the circulatory system with the temporarily increased pressure.  This has been described before by researchers including Moshe Feldenkrais in his writings on Judo.  Plus tactically, we don't really want to fully exhale as we hit the floor since the person throwing us could land on top, crushing our chest, and aside from pushing any last air out of our lungs, totally compress the rib cage and break ribs since the chest is not momentarily locked, but is instead collapsing.

So what else can taking dynamic and powerful throws teach us, and give us ability in?  How about this:

  • When you learn how to take falls as they are honestly and powerfully thrown you begin to learn an intuitive feel for countering those throws because you know when the throw is there, and when it is not.  You learn to intuitively feel the difference between him controlling your balance and posture or only seeming to.
  • When you train, and you are thrown by your uke honestly (and not as pre-arranged "jumping" or "dropping down") then you in-turn get to throw him so you practice both the tori and the uke side and gain a deeper understanding of both, and what each feels like as the "giver" and the "taker" (person throwing and person being thrown).
  • Once you fully understand these aspects then randori takes on a whole new level of sophistication.  If you attack and he attempts a waza using little to no kuzushi then you immediately sense it on an intuitive level and you simply "walk out" of anything he does.  Frustrating for him perhaps but it pushes him to clean up his movements and it makes you "unthrowable" in the sense of every legendary martial artist you ever read about who had control of "internal power".
  • Every time he hits that off-balance you absorb the shock and develop the ability to redirect that impact whether it be a kuzushi, an atemi or an attempt at a joint lock. As your body learns to absorb it, it adapts and controls the attacker via tai sabaki and self-control of posture and self-control of internal power (position of spine, muscle tension, etc.)
  • You learn the ability to push his power back into him. The simplest example would be he takes kuzushi and enters for wakigatamae so instead of resisting, you intuitively follow his power and motion and "feed" him the armbar and take Gedan-ate or Sukui-nage.  By learning to not resist, by learning to relax which in turn better enables you to absorb his energy you become able to combine his energy with your energy and throw him with less effort than you could have otherwise.

So the question should also be posed; should you ever do "soft" Aikido and study little intricate, slowly developed ideas of "soft off balance" and "soft touch" Aikido?

Of course.  That's all part of the broader picture in my view.  However, the "soft" side without throwing dynamically is only a small part.  Even people like Ueshiba who was reported to have once commented that he got to be as good as he was after 60 or so years of hard training used the bigger picture of start hard and end up soft. Morihei Ueshiba O-Sensei: “I am what I am because I trained hard style for 60 years. What can you do?”

Many Aikido players, being raised only on a diet of "soft touch" never learn these basic ideas and thus their Aikido is forever flawed to a certain extent due to their never having experienced what true dynamics can be.

Go find a mat and ask your partner in geiko to slam you into the mat, and in return, you to him as you both sing a couple of choruses of a sea chanty.

L.F. Wilkinson Kancho

The Aikibudokan, Houston, TX

November 2016


139. Wakey-Wakey Eggs n’ Bakey

Wakey-Wakey Eggs n’ Bakey.  How many times did I hear that as a youngster growing up in a South Texas household?  Too many times it seems. Eggs (usually fried in the bacon drippings).  Toast on the side. Butter.  Jam.  Cold milk.  Yum (or as the ‘net geeks say today …. Nom-nom-nom).  65 years old and I still don’t know what the hell “nom-nom” really means.  Must be Martian-Speak ‘cause I just can’t see how that replicates the smackin’ n’ droolin’ that occurs during breakfast (at least at my house some 60 odd years ago with two little boys and parents pressed and in a hurry to get to work).

So what is about bacon and eggs that causes pigs and chickens to be such an important part of our existence?  Why does four legs laying on a plate next to a two legged bird-spawn have such an impact on us?  Basic.  Primitive.  Fundamental.  Primal.  That’s why.  Simple.  Easy to fix.  Not complex.  Easy to eat.  Tastes good.  Real down home country style comfort food.  Not like that plate from the Earth Gaia-Mother food mart.  You know the one.  Granola and yogurt with green tea. Green tea?  For breakfast?  Are you a Communist or do you just hug trees?  Everyone from Alley Oop the caveman to modern man in a business suit can look at abstract paintings and still identify the pig and chicken.  I mean ……. what else could there be.  Compare bacon and eggs to say, haggus (“Hey, that looks like swollen road kill”), sushi (“Isn’t that supposed to be deep fried and served with a side of chips and vinegar”), or coq a vin (“Can’t find the chicken bits there’r being so many mushrooms”).

Bacon and eggs.  Quick and fundamental nutrition; quick to do, fast to digest, puts meat on your bones, just like kihon.  Not complicated or taking days to prepare.

Huh?  “Sensei ……. Chotto matte kudasai ….. How does bacon and eggs compare to kihon”?  So ………. you weren’t listening the first time?  I said ………….. easy, quick, fundamental, nutritious.  Much faster and will put meat on your bones as opposed to the hours, days even it take to prepare much more complicated fare that doesn’t have near the level of basic nutritional values. 

Bacon & Eggs (equals) kihon and fundamentals.  Bacon & Eggs does not equal internal power or ura level kata.  Bacon & Eggs.  Most all the nutrition you need for the training table. Heavy protein and vitamins.  Calcium and potassium.  Why do you think that athletic meals for football teams and the like seem to always encompass some variation of bacon and eggs?  I remember playing high school football and even if it was a night game the coaches always fed us bacon, sausage, eggs, milk, etc. before the game because it was easy to digest and gave energy for the 4 quarters of the game.  The heavy meal (the deep fried chicken platter or the chicken fried steak ……… see the theme here?) only came after the game was over with and everyone had been bandaged and taped and showered and was ready to go home for some sleep before getting up the next day for “Two A Day’s” and prep’ing for next weeks game.

I’ve been off the blog now for about two years but, have been re-posting all the past blogs which has allowed for a review of the old and the inspiration of the new. Seeing what you wrote a decade ago is interesting.  Funny thing happened tho’ on the way to the forum (dojo actually) and that is that some things never change.  When I first began to blog ten or so years ago I wrote that everyone was in love with material that was too advanced for them to really understand, much less become fully functional with.  That is still the case unfortunately but the tendency to ignore the hard work in favor of the quick and flashy is still with us and I suspect, always will be.

So what is the purpose of eggs and bacon?  It’s a fast, cheap, easy way to feed the family for the long day ahead in the fields or the classrooms and it takes little time to prepare; time being one of the most precious commodities these days.  So what is the purpose of kihon?  It’s a fast, cheap, easy way to prepare the deshi for the long randori ahead in the dojo or the theme park outside the dojo and it is the most efficient means by which the foundation of more advanced material can be taught in the least amount of class time.

How much kata and how many waza do we need; really? The concept of tokui-waza demonstrates that out of possibly 100’s of waza, you only really use less than a dozen consistently over the long-term.  By consistent, repetitive practice of the basics done literally thousands of times, the few waza that are truly useful can be made most effective.

Look at more advanced material?  Absolutely, but spend most of your time on the basics; and then have some bacon and eggs to sustain yourself and put some meat on your bones before going after all that exotic, high level but low protein food (granola) and kata (or internal power).  You’ll get more benefit.

Pass the coffee pot and another side of ukemi please sir.

L.F. Wilkinson-Kancho

The Aikibudokan, Houston, TX

October 2016