AIKIDO – make the most of your leaders

October 2, 2010

A very nice piece by George Ledyard.

I just heard the news that Sugano Sensei had passed away. Another direct student of the Aikido Founder whose lifetime of experience is no longer available to us. Here in the United States we have lost A. Tohei, Toyoda, Kanai, and now Sugano Sensei. That leaves Yamada, Chiba, Saotome, and Imaizumi Senseis from that generation of post war uchi deshi who trained directly under the Founder.

The depth of experience these teachers possess is truly irreplaceable, they are an “endangered species”. As these giants pass away, one bu one, I can’t help but raise the question once again of who takes over when these men are gone?

I don’t mean who runs the various organizations presides over testing, etc. That’s just administration. I mean who takes on the responsibility for the “transmission” to the next generation? Who is even capable of taking on this mantle? Did any one of these teachers manage to pass on what he knew? Can you look at the succession and say that any of these teachers created any students who were as good as they were / are? And if not, why not?

In my opinion, many of us senior students, direct students of these giants who trained with the Founder and then pioneered Aikido’s growth overseas, have failed our teachers and failed our art. We squandered the time we had with these people, always acting as if there would be another class, another seminar, another chance to master what they knew. And now, increasingly there will be no more chances. And who amongst us has measured up?

There has been a lot of discussion about the failure both the Founder and many of his most talented students to develop a systematic teaching methodology for transmitting the art. I agree that this was the case. But once realizing this, whose responsibility was it to fix the issue? Once I realized that my own teacher was doing Aikido on a level that he could not break down and explain, whose job was it to figure it out?

If we can honestly and dispassionately look at what our generation to teachers has achieved in 35 to 45 years of practice and find that we are forced to admit that none of us is as good as our teacher, then I think we have to really look at the hard fact that we failed to do our jobs. We can blame our teachers for not doing a better job, we can content ourselves with excuses based on some “special” capacity or experience on the part of our teachers, which we could never measure up to…

We got in the habit of ceding control over our own Aikido destinies to the senior teachers. We waited for them to create training events, do seminars, tell us what they wanted us to know… If they looked satisfied, then we ere satisfied. Just as long as Sensei was happy. But did any of us feel like we had really mastered what our teachers were doing? If we actually did feel that way, did we move on and find the next teacher who could take us to the next level? Did we simply content ourselves with knowing more of what our teachers were doing than the general membership within our organization and give up on trying to be as good or better than our teachers?

I think that the passing of our teachers, one by one, is a wake up call for the community of senior teachers. As tragic as it is to have our teachers passing on, retiring, etc. the one positive is that its our turn now. We can’t blame any failngs on anyone else. If Aikido fails to measure up, it’s our fault. We can’t blame our teachers, blame Hombu, blame Kisshomaru, or O-Sensei. It is our art now and our responsibility. If we don’t feel like we have measured up to our own teachers, well, what is stopping us? The sources for taking our Aikido to the next level are out there. There are very high level teachers who are in the process of entirely retooling their Aikido, even after 40 plus years of training.

It is time for us to start acting like the leaders we will need to be to assure the transmission. I do not think we should any longer be waiting for our Shihan to create events, teach seminars, determine the direction of our training. I think we should be doing so. I think we should basically dispense with all this “style” or organizational nonsense and begin to support each other as senior American teachers. Collectively we have a vast experience which, if we shared, would benefit each other. We have connections to teachers from outside the art who offer some of the “missing pieces” that could take us all up to or even past our teachers. If we network with each other and share these connections, rather than horde them as giving us some advantage over the others, we could get our own training on the right track and model a far superior modus operandi for the next generation.

I look at Ikeda Sensei traveling all over setting up cross style and organizational “Bridge” Seminars and I ask myself, “why do we need to wait for someone like him to do this?” We should be doing this! We simply do not need to wait for someone senior to initiate positive change. It is our job to do so, starting right away.

When one of the giants like Sugano Sensei passes away, if people have to cast about ion their minds for who could fill those shoes, then we have not done our jobs. I do not mean whether the general membership has accepted someone as a future leader… I mean do we as those future leaders feel we ourselves could train another student to fill those shoes? If we do not feel we could do so, then the transmission is broken.

Most of us are getting to be around sixty now. We have perhaps 20 years, if we are lucky, to pass on what we know. If, in our questioning of ourselves we decide that we are not what we could or should have been, then we have only that twenty years to both take ourselves up to that level AND pass it on to another generation. We need to step up to the plate and become the leaders we have been trained to be. If we start now, perhaps we will actually be ready when there are no more uchi deshi left to fall back on and it is entirely up to us.

Every time we lose another treasure like Sugano Sensei, a greater burden of responsibility falls on us. We need to make sure we measure up and we need to make sure we are in position to pass it on. If we are not, then we need to do something about it, right now, not later. Later is too late.


THE HARA – OUR SECOND BRAIN?

September 11, 2010

A great artcile by Nev Sagiba.
Perhaps there is more to HARA than “Oriental superstition.”

Did you know? There are almost as many neurons firing in the gut region as the brain?

I would venture a guess that they are not there just waiting for the next bus, but serve a vital purpose. Deemed to be “controversial” cutting edge research, also suggests that peptide cocktails formed in the gut region are responsible for moods and contribute to the chemistry involved in effector/receptor functions and immediate physical responses.

Really? I thought they were just hanging about ‘cos they had nothing better to do. Controversial? Why? Because they don’t fit in a conceptual box made by some sedentary theorist in a lab coat? Guesswork and rigidly calcified preconceived notions do not win survival situations, contribute to discovery, evolution or achieve any constructive value! Facts do.

Predictable strategic flexibility that can be tested and based on observation and experience over aeons may have some merit after all. Combat, as with so-called meditation, indeed all skills, are sciences as much as they are arts. What works, works because it does. Not because of an opinion. After testing and trialing and the R&D of many centuries, certain predispositions emerge as indisputable, despite the theories and ideas of myopic pseudo-intellectuals.

Perhaps there is more to HARA than “Oriental superstition” after all.

The HARA, a point of reference in the body which can be used as the seat of “mind-flow,” may be more than just an anchor for the mind or a point of focus in the present time moment for engaging in physical activity. Indeed, it does come into play when the physical body is in action mode interacting with the varied aspects of gravity. But it may also contribute to the processes which enable life, mobility, sentience and consciousness as well.

The focal point of HARA is said to be situated at what was thought to be an undetermined point midway between the navel and the top of the pubis (pubic bone), in the centre of the body but can encompass the whole solar-plexus region. This was largely considered hypothetical, notwithstanding the fact that skeletal charts denote the region where the centerline intersects at a point parallel to the Lumbar Vertebrae 4 and 5, as being “the centre of balance for the human body.” (I suspect that there is an inner ear, balance factor or some form of mental or internal biofeedback or meridian connection as well, but this remains to be further researched.)

The solar plexus region, among other things, also incorporates a rather unique network of nerves including the celiac plexus which is an organised infrastructure of nerve ganglia arranged to function as a centre of influence, energy storage, distribution and activity of bioelectricity as it interacts with biomagnetism through fluids and lymphatics to produce the feeding of signals throughout the body in conjunction with the adrenals, kidneys and other glandular secretions, interactions and mechanisms relevant to instant reactions, survival and life.

Natural people are very good at noticing the obvious. I think we call it “insight,” and then we talk a lot, label everything in sight and get lost in a clutter our minds make with often unnecessary and irrelevant complexity, much of it invented by the irrationality of “rationalization,” such as nature does not care about. I too often hear men in ill fitting suits attempt to smother valid debate using inane catch-phrases such as: “complex,” “no evidence” (based on a strictured definition of the word evidence) or “anecdotal” and other gobbledigoop to obfuscate valid discussion and smother research. This egotistical attitude adds nothing of value. In principle, perhaps things are not as complex as some would like to manufacture, or lack the mental capability to grasp. Details and side effects can always be analysed later. And, “no evidence” equals exactly that, nothing to crow about. Nature deals in existing factualities, not ideas. The sun “rises” and “sets” DESPITE OUR OPINIONS. As do all the other processes which hold the universe together. Nature can manage quite well without “experts.” My suggestion is get rid of that tie. It has been proven to restrict blood flow to the brain.

Why did ancient oriental warriors and monks (with comfortably loose clothing, good circulation and lucid thinking) choose this region of the body as a centre of mental focus for meditation? I do not think they arbitrarily invented it because they were bored on a Sunday. It would be self evident to make a reasonable assumption that THEY NOTICED SOMETHING OF VALUE.

If you’ve been a competitive athlete you will have noticed the pre-event tension, jitters, nerves and so called “adrenal rush” as well as the post-event release, highs etc., all evince a “gut response” and this is no different in public speaking, acting or other required or chosen social tasks which test us and put demands on us, such as exams, etc. not to mention a real assault.

We interpret this as “pressure” or “stress” but it is a natural function. Pointedly, all such challenges stimulate this mechanism automatically and involuntarily via the sympathetic nervous system and triggers muscles, glands etc. especially those connecting the cervical, thoracic, lumbar and sacral regions of the spinal chord also including those of the brain, in particular the limbic system and brainstem as it concerns the basic emotions i.e. survival fight/flight etc.

In Aikido training, we consciously and positively activate this dynamic in simple ways that not only effect a positive response but also puts you in charge, clearly and perceptively instead of stressed, as you learn to become more calm and centered despite external influences. For example, we free up the breath (most people hold their breath when “under stress”) and sometimes also through the use of imaging we may picture the arms and legs beginning at the hara as we move mind and body united and coordinated in harmonious interrelationship with energetic flows and dynamics.

Since mind and body are inseparable in the true sense, such visualisation may help activate the natural, pre-existing processes. Almost immediately a difference is noticed in the way we move and feel. Hara immediately integrates breath and balance at each moment in a functionally integrated way related to survival. The mind, body and emotions function in symphony as on under the direction of the superconscious mind active in accordance to the need of the moment when you need to act spontaneously. This immediacy expresses faster than the thought processes and is usually above and beyond the conceptual, analytical intellect.

Therefore, in the midst of action, you do not need to try to consciously catalogue and remember each and every attribute. Rather, as the much criticised by the unqualified; Tohei Sensei coined the phrase…. “KEEP ONE POINT,”… which means to ‘remind’ the one point or hara by momentarily focussing on it, relaxing and getting “connected.” “WEIGHT UNDERSIDE, EXTEND KI…” etc. And then perhaps we better notice other necessary attributes such as zanshin or maai or just staying present with what is, using the mind as a mirror. The rest will follow naturally, timelessly and immediately to your advantage as it instantly computes and causes you to act appropriately for that time and circumstance in accordance to the harmony of the universe, as it is, in that split millisecond.

Each centre of function has its respective purposes and functions. The head centre is more suited for calculation, computing, cataloguing and conceptualising and as we have evolved it is rather well developed, albeit not too well balanced through the rigidifying attrition of the school system. Although I hear they are now starting to treat kids as human beings instead of machines. If that’s the case, it is a good thing. About time. The heart centre is, among other things, the balancer between thought and action, the source of harmony and responsibility and that essence which reconciles opposites. For the main part, all our internal centres are beyond our conscious manipulation. Yet by becoming more conscious of them and their function through exercises designed to unfold and awaken our awareness of ourselves, we become more alive, happy, balanced and functionally dynamic. The three main centres always act in synchronicity and concert during each moment of life. Depending on circumstance one will predominate or take the dominant role and the others assist. E.g. Whilst sitting studying, reading etc. the head centre will predominate. Whilst physically active in sport, work, self defence, combat, emergency etc. the hara will predominate especially if skill is required or there is urgency or danger. If we are still here in the next million years, the heart centre on this planet will eventually dominate all our activities but is now prevalent in more humane and compassionate persons yet momentarily comes alive even for wild animals during moments of warmth, intimacy, closeness and sharing with those which are deemed close, such as the pack, herd, tribe or family.

Breathing, balance, relaxing and a conscious awareness of HARA are vital. I have a feeling that the “juices” our bodies make, those which naturally make us high, low, happy, sad and all betwixt, which enable consciousness, feeling, action, sleep, thought, instant responses and so much more, are akin to a complex vibratory (Kotadama) mechanism (comprising the Hito Jinja), a veritable receiving and transmitting instrument for the whole universe and the endless dimensions it contains.

By discovering yourself and vivifying all your attributes through regular personally motivated discipline, you reclaim yourself. RECLAIMING YOURSELF EMPOWERS YOU and immunises you from external manipulation.

On this basis we can all say, “I am the universe!” But more so when we ongoingly and properly care for the awakening of our united body-mind, clarifying and distilling the value of our existence through the misogi and shugyo of regularly training on a Way or Do.


Aikido Related Injuries – Basic Treatments

September 6, 2010

A neat little article I stumbled upon by Charles T. Taft cthom2@ix.netcom.com

First and Foremost, the Disclaimer:

I am not a medical doctor, I am a licensed massage therapist and a certified neuromuscular therapist in the State of Fla. The information I give here is intended as basic treatment for common martial arts injuries. If the injury causes any immediate swelling and bruising, causes a joint to be obviously dislocated, shows any evidence of a broken bone then immediately seek medical attention. If you re not sure of what is wrong seek medical attention. It is your body, it s your choice.

The Bruise, or the reward for a regretful moment of unskillfullness:

Bruises come in all sizes, shapes and colors, just like people. From the small, perfectly round, uniquely brown yonkyo bruise to the grapefruit size, multicolored lump in your thigh caused when an elbow came from the sky and landed point first in your leg, like people, some are just a pain and others can be dangerous.

First Aid for bruises is, ( remember this, you will see it again ), R.I.C.E., Rest-Ice-Compression-Elevation. Rest: I shouldn’t have to explain this one. Ice: A wonderful thing for all types of soft tissue problems. It penetrates the body quickly, the application of cold to the body causes the blood vesicles to constrict, slowing the leakage of fluid, blood etc., into the surrounding tissue. It s primary use is to control swelling. Compression: Time for the old ace bandage you keep in your dogi bag. Wrap from the side of the bruise farthest from your heart first working toward the heart. Make the wrap as tight as is almost comfortable, if the body parts below the bruise start to go numb or turn blue, IT S too tight, loosen it alittle. Elevation: This is pretty simple, try to keep the affected part raised above the heart. This helps the return flow of blood to the heart and helps control swelling.

Please remember that a bruise the size of your fist, think in 3D, can be very serious. The rule of thumb is, that size bruise means about a pint of blood has leaked into the muscle tissue. You only have a few pints, get medical attention for this one.

Age and medical condition also play an important part in the treatment of brusies. The problem of blood clots in the tissue entering the blood stream and causing blockage of vessels in other important parts of the body, like the heart or brain, is a serious problem for older people and people with other heart/circulatory problems.If you are reading this as an instructor or dojo owner, KNOW your students history in this area.

Please, use common sense. If you have a bruise on your arm, and you can’t open or close your fingers, it s not a good thing. The damage that caused the bruise can also cause damage to the nerves in that area also. Keep aware of your body, if you have problems that bother you in any way, see your doctor.

<!——– Date: Fri, 3 Nov 1995 07:34:11 -0800 From: "Charles T. Taft" Subject: continuation: Aikido Injuries —–>

Sprains,Strains and overzealous nages:

Sprain: When a joint is extended beyond it s normal range of motion, without any dislocation of the affected joint. There will be soft tissue damage, this can be on a microscopic level or look like a good bruise. The only good bruises I can think of are…oh well, back to the reality of this. Treatment for sprains is the same as for bruises, R.I.C.E.. Add to that massage, when you can rub the area without too much discomfort, rub the entire area. Why, you may ask ? The tissue that was damaged consists of tendon and ligament tissue. This tissue doesn’t have a blood supply of it s own, it must absorb oxygenated blood and nutrients then give off their waste products through the cell walls. If this sounds like a slow way to recovery, your right, but it s nature s way. So, if it feels good to rub it, rub it.

Strain: This is a serious one. There are 3 classes of strains. Num.1; the joint is dislocated but returns to normal position. There will be tissue damage and swelling the tissue damage, in this class, is moderate normally over stretching the ligaments and tendons. The integrity of the joint has been compromised and there may be damage to the joint capsule. Compression and ice are very important and should be applied as soon as possible to control the swelling. Remember R.I.C.E., in these injuries the more you can control the swelling the quicker you will heal. After the swelling is over and you can apply pressure to the area, rub hell out of it, it will need all the circulation it can get. As you can put weight on it make sure you don’t feel any grinding sensations as you move it, like the feeling of bone on bone, if you do see your doctor. If after the swelling is gone the joint feels locked in place and you can tell it s not muscle related, see your doctor. If there is any thing you are uncomfortable with, see your doctor.

The remaining two, class 2 and 3, require a doctors attention. They are, 2. the joint remains in an un- natural position, tendon and ligament damage is severe. There may be detached tendons and ligaments but normally just some fibers are torn. 3. the joint remains at an un-natural angle and the ligaments and/or tendons are torn from their attachments. Treatment: Secure the affected joint in the position it is found in. Do NOT move it to try to straighten it. When it is secure. Apply ice and transport to the appropriate medical facility.

<!——– Date: Fri, 3 Nov 1995 20:17:34 -0800 From: "Charles T. Taft" Subject: Continue: Aikido injuries, the final chapter —–>

Rehabilitation of soft tissue injuries, acute and chronic.

I know, I know, this isn’t about crunching calcium. I realized that I was getting ahead of what I wanted. Since most injuries associated with Aikido are soft tissue, I should spend more time here. There is little anyone can do for broken bones in the dojo, unless you are a board certified Orthopedic surgeon with your insurance paid up you don’t ever want to try to set broken bones at home.

I have covered acute, fresh, injuries in the previous text. Remember R.I.C.E. There is something I need to cover about ice. As was said previously, ice penetrates the body quickly. Therefore some guidelines are necessary, apply ice for a maximum of twenty minutes at a time. You may have noticed, if you use ice therapy, that the body goes through 3 stages, first cold, then hot, then numb. When the area becomes numb, it s time to remove the ice for awhile to let the skin warm up. Why? Because the next stage is frost-bite, this will slow your training allot.

There has been some good advice on the list about shoulder and elbow problems. Most of it has been about stretching and flexibility and that is most important. There has also been some advice about strengthening muscles that overlie painful joints in an effort to relieve the discomfort. This needs some clearing up.

What causes chronic pain, why does it come and go? Inquiring minds want to know.

Any time a muscle is damaged it sends a signal to the spinal cord, telling it that the muscle is in trouble. The nervous system, in it s infinite wisdom, sends a signal back causing the muscle to contract. This is to protect it from being over stretched and torn. What happens in the muscle tissue is;

The blood supply to the tissue is restricted due to the contracted tissue around the veins, capillaries, etc. As a result, the veinous return is restricted. This causes the bodies ability to clean the tissue of dead cells and waste products to be greatly impaired. As a result the muscle tissue is irritated, causing a signal to the spinal cord, over the same nerve path as the original, telling it that the muscle is in trouble. The spinal cord sends back a message to contract the muscle to protect it. And the whole process starts all over again.

If nothing is done about the problem, i.e.: stretching and/or massage, eventually the discomfort will drop below your bodies pain threshold and it won’t bother you again. Until, something causes more stimulus to affect the muscle then normal. This will push the irritation back over the bodies pain threshold and it will hurt again. This cycle will continue, each time it will take less and less stimulus to return the discomfort.

As you can see, making the muscle contract more, by strengthening techniques, will perpetuate the problem.

The first thing that must be done to repair the problem is to get the muscle fiber back to its normal anatomical length. Stretching and massage work very well, the most important thing is to return the muscle its normal length, what ever works for you. When everything is back to normal and there is no more discomfort, then start to rehabilitate the muscle how ever you choose to do it. Just start slowly.

I know, this kind of says that you shouldn’t train when you re injured. Maybe you shouldn’t, it s all up to you. If you choose to train the recovery will take longer, you will most likely fix the problem but it will take longer.


Sho-Dan as Rite of Passage

August 8, 2010
A nice piece by Dave Goldberg of http://www.goldbergsensei.com

I just returned from a long weekend in Maine. My cousin’s daughter, Jasmine, had her Bat-Mitzvah and just about everyone from the family was there. It was not as I remember mine or my sister’s, or any others from my generation.

This was an actual rite of passage—an opportunity for Jasmine to be presented to the community as a ready and complete participant. I was impressed by the preparation she obviously invested in it, the community service that she did (and continues to do) as part of the process, and the mature words she had to say about Love when she spoke to the congregation. Mine was sterile and empty in comparison, although I’m not sure I would have appreciated it either way when I was thirteen.

The weekend got me thinking about Rites of Passage, how it’s expressed in Aikido, and what I can do to improve that element. I know it’s very different from dojo to dojo, so I’ll share the way it’s done at Aikido of San Diego. Like Jasmine’s experience, there is a long preparation period when the candidate works with a senior mentor to sharpen their “vocabulary” of the art so that when it’s presented, it is clear and is delivered with confidence. Here is where we may be different from other dojos.

Last year I implemented a new policy where candidates must complete a project of their choice that they relate to aikido before an exam is administered. Jasmine’s community service project at a local senior home clearly added dimensionality to her rite of passage experience, and more importantly, to Her. That’s what we’re trying to accomplish, too—an experience that connects the dots between the formlessness of principle and the form of the manifest world. Yes, this is also expressed (hopefully) in their technique, but the project is there for dimensionality.

The way of Aikido should transcend technique just as Jasmine’s passage into the Jewish community should transcend ritual and “vocabulary.” I don’t know what she has to do, if anything, as a follow-up to her Bat-Mitzvah. At Aikido of San Diego, the last part of the rite of passage is unwritten, comes some time after the exam, and is an integral part of the experience.

I will approach the new Sho-Dan at some point, present him/her with a key to the dojo, and ask him/her to instruct a class. It doesn’t mean I think they’re a teacher—simply that they have a foundation worthy of guiding others in my absence, that they are trusted with the dojo, and maybe most importantly, that they are expected to continue discovering new levels of themselves. Like any rite of passage, Sho-Dan is not an end, but a new beginning.


Internal Power within Martial Arts

July 28, 2010

A very nice piece by by Joe Bellone.


There are many teachers of martial arts that like to talk about internal power and chi as something fantastic and mysterious (especially in the west) this is usually the result of misunderstanding (on the part of the teacher) or outright deceit (because it’s good for business).

The term “internal,” as in internal martial arts, is often misunderstood. The term “internal” refers to working with our inherent and inborn strengths under the direction of the mind.

Any higher level martial art, regardless of style, that works with natural strengths and uses mental (internal) energy most efficiently to produce the most effective movement can be considered internal. Human beings are physical beings and are subject to laws of physics: mass, energy, gravity. Our bodies are constructed a certain way, our minds produce energy, and we are under the influence of gravity all the time.

Teachers of internal arts talk about using chi instead of muscle force, that no strength is necessary for one’s power, that power comes from amassed chi. This sounds wonderful and mystical, and the vast majority of people enjoy believing this type of thing, but without the use of muscular force we would not be able to get out of bed in the morning.

The externally observable result of movement (force) is always a result of muscle movement in the body and the key to internal power is “how” the body is moved. Many mistaken ideas about internal power came about because of the misunderstanding of the mind/body connection. Looking back in history, it can be seen that the large majority of famous martial artists came from similar backgrounds. The typical pattern was for individuals to be from a rural farming community, starting martial arts in a Shaolin based or “village” style art, then moving on to an “internal” art.

Typically, practitioners in the United States today grow up in the cities where they have relatively little physically activity, get a job where they sit at a desk all day, and practice martial arts twice a week at a local school. They then wonder why they have a difficult time developing “internal power.” It must be because they haven’t amassed enough Chi. “Internal power” comes from a refinement of trained strength which has been built upon by adhering to principles of natural body structure over a period of time.

One of the problems today is that practitioners are trying to jump straight into the performance of forms which are specifically to refine martial arts skills and polish “trained strength” without having any strength or skill to begin with. This is why it is imperative for a Uechi/Shohei-ryu practitioner to practice Sanchin Kata all the time. This pattern is necessary for obtaining basic strengths and skills as the foundation for the study of forms and exercises, which work to refine those basic skills.

Martial techniques are based on conditioned patterns of movement and the trained sensitivity (both through sight and feel) which allow applying the right technique at the right time. Conditioned patterns of movement are practiced through repeated practice (Kata or Kumite). There is no way to internalize specific patterns without physical practice. The axiom, “practice doesn’t make perfect, perfect practice makes perfect” holds true for any martial skill. The question becomes how does one practice “perfectly,” or at least maximize the time spent in practice?”

The answer, in part, is through the awareness of a unified mind and body, where the mind controls the physical action. This is referred to in the martial classics as “using the intent and not force.” Using the appropriate muscles without excessive tension is the key to efficient movement, regardless of any task. Where does one start to develop efficient movement using the correct muscles and without excessive tension? It starts with adhering to the principles in correct postural alignment.

By beginning with “awareness”(mind) of postural alignment we can maintain a state of balance and relaxation providing feedback to our mind and body in a kinesthetic sense. During motion, the only way to move and consistently monitor and maintain balance and relaxation is to lead the movements of the body with the intent (which is another way of describing the awareness of a unified mind and body). You “will” it done and it is done. This is the source of internal power and movement without effort. Internal power is the result of the body’s natural, intrinsic strengths that can be brought fully into play (things as mechanical advantage, alignment, the natural elasticity of tissue, body mass, stretch reflex, etc).

The whole process is under mental direction. The mind doesn’t “control” as much as “inhibit” incorrect alignment or tension. At higher levels of training, reservoirs of the subconscious may be brought under conscious control. This is the same mental and physical state that produces internal power that is also conducive to good health. It is through the release of stress and relaxing the body and mind that allows the body to function optimally.
Copyright 1997 Joe Bellone


How to Handle Getting Kicked in the Head and Six Other Life Lessons I Learned from Martial Arts

July 2, 2010


A very nice piece by Renita T. Kalhorn http://intheflowcoaching.com

I had just returned to New York after graduating from business school in France.

I was feeling a little ungrounded career-wise – I had an MBA but no real interest in typical MBA professions like investment banking or consulting – and so, in the meantime, was temping at a 9-to-5 job. Being a night owl, I realized, I still had a good six hours after work before bedtime and the idea of taking martial arts popped into my head (like most of my life-changing decisions do).

Flipping through the Yellow Pages, I found a taekwondo-do school a few blocks from my apartment and signed up for the one-month trial. Within the first few days, I was hooked, going to class four or five times a week. And for the next seven years that I pursued my first-degree black belt, martial arts training was my anchor — through a myriad of jobs, roommates and relationships — a profound source of lessons and references that I could translate into work, music and every aspect of life.

1. Break down the impossible into the possible. When I first started training, I saw the students with advanced belts leaping high up in the air and throwing flamboyant kicks, and I couldn’t imagine ever being able to do them myself. Luckily, as white belts, we began with a basic turning kick, which was vaguely doable and, from there, almost without realizing, I made incremental progress until it was me who was one of the advanced belts breaking boards with a flamboyant kick. This has been an invaluable reference that I’ve applied to everything I do. Feeling that awful “how am I ever going to do this?” pit in my stomach when faced with a daunting challenge – whether it’s distilling reams of information into a client presentation, learning the thousands of notes in a Rachmaninoff concerto or memorizing the names of all the muscles and bones for a fitness-certification exam – I remind myself that I’ve done the “impossible” before and I can do it again.

2. Feel the emotion without reacting emotionally. It’s so easy when you’re contact sparring to get angry and take it personally when your opponent lands a painful punch to the stomach or kick to the head. But when anger – or other strong emotion — clouds your thinking, performance suffers (it may also have something to do with the kick to the head). So, I learned to quickly process (not suppress) my emotions, and not let them (necessarily) dictate my actions or demeanour. (P.S. This is a handy skill to have at the office.)

3. If your first attempt isn’t successful, try it again (or something else). I think this may have been said more eloquently by someone else, but in truth, I often fell prey to the illusion that if something didn’t work the first time, perhaps it wasn’t meant to be. In class, we would learn different kick combinations to counter or initiate an attack. Practicing with a partner, they seemed so simple and effective. And yet, I was frustrated when the combinations didn’t work in actual sparring. What was wrong with me?! In fact, it wasn’t about finding a foolproof strategy or formula that would work right off the bat regardless of circumstances: it was about tweaking the formula or trying different strategies until one worked. (Hmmm, can you think of other situations where this might apply?)

4. No-one is good at everything. Surrounded by talented students — some who competed internationally, had black belts in multiple martial arts or had been training since they were two years old – they all melded, in my mind, into one incredibly fast, strong, flexible super-human composite. Intimidating and discouraging, to say the least, and not even accurate. As it turned out, everyone had their strengths and weaknesses, and it was a better use of time to maximize what strengths I had than to psyche myself out exaggerating those of others. (Corollary: Stop playing the comparison game.)

5. Energy starts in the mind. As passionate as I was about training, I didn’t always feel like going to class after work. Some nights I would drag myself sluggishly across the mat, shoulders slumped, focused on how I could sneak out early. But then one of the master teachers would appear in front of me with a kicking pad, and I would be miraculously flooded with renewed vigour. How strange, nothing else had changed; I hadn’t eaten a Power Bar or gulped down a Red Bull. By virtue of the master’s attention, I simply felt inspired to try harder, to show respect by doing my best. That instant energy surge was vivid proof that it’s the mind that tells the body what to do, not the other way round.

6. Persistence pays off in more ways than one. Okay, it’s one thing to know this intellectually; it’s another to experience the confidence-building effects. The black belt test takes about an hour and consists of calisthenics, forms, sparring and breaking a block of five boards with a back kick. No matter how well you perform on the other parts of the test, if you don’t break the boards, you don’t get your black belt. This was the one part of the test I wasn’t able to practice and, as I faced the boardholders bracing for my kick, I was overcome by doubt. I didn’t break the boards the first time. Nor the second time, the requisite three months later. I don’t think I have ever felt so discouraged and inadequate. But I was determined not to walk away, like some of the other students who never came back after their first failure. It took me five separate tries and hours of practice over the course of a year to finally break the boards, but the intense feeling of relief, sense of accomplishment and confidence in my ability to persist was priceless.

7. Commitment trumps ability. My frustration from not being able to break the boards was exacerbated when I saw students who were less fit or not as strong as me, kick right through with apparent ease. (And I’m guessing the muscular football player who also took several tries to break the boards felt the same.) The difference was they believed they could do it and they didn’t hold back. As the instructors used to say: “Kick like you mean it.” I have yet to use any kicks or punches in actual combat. But the mental muscles I developed – confidence, resilience, ability to adapt, self-control — those, I have occasion to use every day.


Toddler Aikido: What I Learned About Parenting From Martial Arts

June 16, 2010


A cool little article I found on http://mommymystic.wordpress.com/

I studied martial arts for many years, and I have decided that raising toddlers is the best possible training in conflict management. As anyone that has studied martial arts (or watched Karate Kid) knows, classic martial arts are about conflict management first, and fighting second. You are supposed to avoid conflict at all costs – avoid ‘doing harm.’ Only under the most dire circumstances are you justified in using your art. The inner self-awareness and control required to do this is partially how martial arts and spirituality became linked.

That’s why martial arts movies that show training sequences always have lots of standing-in-the-rain-on-one-leg-overnight scenes, or doing-the-teacher’s-laundry-for-a-year sequences. The student is supposed to be developing patience, humility, and self-control. Well, those methods have nothing on raising a toddler – or two, as in my case, with two-year old twins (and a 4-year old big sister to boot.) What requires more patience than trying to get a toddler to drop what he’s doing and go to the car to get in his car seat (or, for that matter, to go anywhere, in a timely manner?) What could possibly be more humbling than potty training? And is there any situation that requires more emotional self-control than dealing with a ‘terrible two’ tantrum?

After reading several toddler management books, I have also concluded that toddler management techniques are basically all variations on age-old martial arts tactics. Consider:

Distraction: What parent hasn’t used this time-honored technique to get their toddler to do, or allow, something they don’t want? Need to change a diaper on a reluctant little one? Give her your cell phone. Want to get her dressed? Turn on the Wiggles. It’s basically the equivalent of a karate ‘feint’ – distracting your opponent with a fake move in order to get at them elsewhere.

Let Them Exhaust Themselves: One book I read suggested commisurating with your toddler’s frustrations for as long as it takes for them to move on. If they don’t want to take a bath, you just keep saying, ‘No bath, no bath, I understand you don’t want to take a bath.’ Eventually they just give up (or so the theory goes), because all they really wanted was to be heard anyway, and they are too tired to keep objecting. This is similar to a suggested fight strategy – let your opponent set the pace and type of combat, and attack as much as they want for awhile, while you just sit back and defend yourself, letting them exhaust themselves to the point where you can make your move (of course this assumes you can defend yourself for awhile.)

Redirect Their Energy To Your Own Benefit: Kind of a variation on ‘if you can’t beat them, join them’, with this technique you try and channel your toddler’s obsessions into productive tasks. Got a toddler who loves to turn on the all the faucets in the house and play in the water? Fill a sink, or baby pool, with all his toys (or your tupperware) and let him clean them. A similar approach is especially popular in ‘softer’ martial arts like Aikido, where you use your opponent’s energy against him, by deflecting his attacks in just such a way that he ends up injuring himself – doing your work for you.