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.

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A tribute to Adam Cooper Sensei. 1979 – 2010

April 14, 2010

For those of you that don’t know much about sensei Adam Cooper, he was an amazingly positive, intelligent man who was loved by everyone that came into contact with him and was one of those very rare, intuitive “natural” martial artist – a truly great Aikidoka, who if not taken away from us so early would without question gone on to become a NZ Legend.

Adam was one of those people that made the world a better place just by existing and we will all miss him terribly – he trained with anyone and everyone and it was always a joy when he popped up at your dojo as you knew the energy on the mat that night would be terrific. Adam leaves behind him a huge hole in the NZ Aikido community.

Please go to the tributes page on Facebook for a bit more background on this great man, and it’s well work checking out his 4th dan grading videos

At Adam’s funeral on Monday, the guard of honour was made up of Aikidoka from all over New Zealand, from many different styles and organisation – a tribute to the impact the man made on everyone who trained with him.

There were many things said during the service about this lovely man, but the one moment I found most touching was this poem read by Adam’s father:

How to observe the flight of an arrow by Paulo Coelho

The arrow is intention projected into space.
Once it is fired, there is nothing left for the archer to do except accompany its path towards the target. From that moment on, the tension necessary for the shot has no more reason to exist.

The archer therefore keeps his eyes fixed on the flight of the arrow, but his heart is at rest and he smiles.
At that moment, if he has trained enough, if he has managed to develop his instinct, if he has maintained his elegance and concentration throughout the whole process of the shot, then he will feel the presence of the universe and he will see that his action was fair and deserved.

Technique makes both hands always ready, breathing always precise, eyes able to fix on the target. Instinct makes the moment of the shot perfect.

Whoever passes by and sees the archer with his arms open and his eyes following the arrow will fancy that he is stopped. But the allies know that the mind of the one who fired the arrow has changed dimension and is now in contact with the entire universe: the mind goes on working, learning everything of a positive nature that the shot has brought, correcting any mistakes, accepting his qualities, and waiting to see how the target reacts when it is struck.

When the archer stretches the string, he can see the whole world inside his bow. When he accompanies the flight of the arrow, this world comes close to him, caresses him and makes him relish the perfect sensation of having fulfilled his duty.

A Warrior of Light, after fulfilling his duty and transforming his intention into gesture, need fear no more: he has done what he had to do. He has not allowed himself to be petrified by fear, for even if the arrow fails to reach its target, he will have another opportunity, because he has not been a coward.

Having fought against cancer for the best part of half a decade, never losing his smile and training right up until the end, I can truly say I’ve known a Warrior. RIP mate.


My Aikido New Years resolutions for 2010…

January 4, 2010

  1. To get in at least 10 hours Aiki a week. Normal class schedules give me a regular 8 hours so intend to get out and about more this year and get to share as much Aikido as possible.
  2. Get physically fitter. Easier said than done when you teach all the time, hence point number one being, well, point number one. Those of you that know me well might also like to make sure I do blood tests BEFORE training to avoid quite so many “Jelly Baby” moments this year..
  3. Get mentally fitter. 2009 was a bit of a roller coater, with some fantastic highs including of course the completion of the new dojo in silverdale, but also had it’s downers, with the loss of some good friends and some financial setbacks that affected me far more than they should have. This year I will focus on all the great things we have and count the blessings.
  4. Avoid all politics. In any form. 2009 and seemed to be a year when our normally small but sociable NZ Aikido community was plagued with political machinations that would make Machiavelli cringe. Not interested.
  5. In line with point 4, I pledge to extend our dojos “open door” policy and actively invite instructors from other organizations to come share their aikido with us, thereby performing tenkan upon the issues mentioned in point 4 ;0) Our Summer Camp on Jan 22nd-25th will hopefully feature several of Auckland’s most senior Aikidoka, and will be a great opportunity for us to show what Aiki path we are all currently treading.
  6. Spread Aikido. It’s really easy to just focus on your own clubs and students, and not look to the horizon. Aikido is a truly wonderful thing to have as part of your life, and the more people who it touches, the better. NZ has a dreadful record for bullying in schools and physical abuse towards kids within families – If Aikido was more widely available, maybe even via schools, I believe it could have a profound effect. If anyone out there in the NZ Aikido commnity is like-minded, please get in touch as this will be a considerable project and we’ll need all ther resources we can muster I suspect.
  7. Bring back the 1000 cuts winter misogi.

Wishing you all a very happy, healthy and prosperous 2010.


AIKIDO – 9 Tips to help you recover from injuries

October 1, 2009

A cool little article I found on the “ehow” website.

Instructions

Step1

Place a small strip of red tape on your uniform, over the injured area. A patch of red tape on your shoulder indicates that it’s still healing. Your partners appreciate this courtesy communication to take it easy.

Step2

Attend the beginner’s class at your dojo, even if you are an intermediate or advanced practitioner of the art. Take this chance to focus on basic techniques at a slow pace to revive your muscle memory. Work joyfully with the people in class who really are just beginning. You carry valuable knowledge, and helping someone else will help you to remember how much you have learned.

Step3

Take two classes a week for four weeks. Then, add a third class per week. If you like to train more than that, gradually add more classes. Even if you’ve been working hard in your recovery exercises, give your body time to get used to your return to Aikido.

Step4

Write down on index cards the names and descriptions of attack and response techniques. Carry the cards with you and review them periodically through the week. Visualize your successful execution of these techniques. This will help you remember movements that may feel rusty and awkward.

Step 5

Ask your dojo colleagues to work with you before and after class on any technique that feels hard to get back. Break it down, take a good look at it. Work as if you’re learning it for the first time. This is your opportunity to find things in “forgotten” techniques that you may never have understood before.

I agree with most of these points – obviously there is a slant towards the newer student (esp. step 4) but I also must stress that if your healthcare professional says “rest it for 6 weeks” DO EXACTLY THAT! I have seen so many students of the last few decades put the limits of their rehab in their enthusiasm to get back into training, only to stuff up the original injury and set themselves back even further!!

At my dojo’s we currently have one guys recovering from a knee op (NOT caused by Aikido!) and another from a wrist op (again, not…). Both of these guys are very dedicated and are already getting frustrated at missing regular training.

Here are a few things that you might want to consider – they greatly helped me when I was ‘off the mat” for about 5 months with a snapped achilles back in the 90’s.

1. Read.

Grab every Aikido book you can, even if it means having two or three on the go at once. This will keep your mind active and also help you process the information you have already bouncing around inside your head!

2. Go to training, but just watch

Yes, I realize this can be frustrating but it keeps you in touch with what the instructor is working on and also let’s you sit back and watch how your peers interpret this It can be VERY useful for analyzing the way in which your own interpretation of technique comes about

3.Exercise the parts of you that are still functional.

ie, if your knee is stuffed for a while, work on your upper body. One aspect of training that is often neglected is the self discipline and drive involved to actually get off your butt and go training 3 times a week. A long rehab period, especially if you are laid up in front of the TV can be a slippery slope into lethargy and apathy. Do something! Build the exercise into your routine, even replace your normal “Aiki-time” with it.

4. Aiki ken, Aiki Jo.

I had a full length plaster on for 4 months after the Achilles op, and as soon as I got the OK to put weight on the leg, I got back into, limited, weapons training. If you can stand you can do something!

If you are currently recovering from an injury or an op, good luck with the rehab!

I’d be interested to hear any other tips as to how people have ‘trained around” injuries.


New Full-time Aikido Dojo in Silverdale, Auckland, New Zealand..

August 8, 2009

At last. it is done. After nearly 9 months of hard graft the dojo is finally finished, and the remarkable thing is, it actually looks like our original drawings!

As I said during the opening ceremony, all building projects go over time and over budget, and this did both magnificently. We ran out of money by about month 6, when the council made their 4th ridiculous addition to “what we had to do to meet compliance”.
Truthfully, there were times when we felt like giving up on the whole project.
Interestingly enough, during some of the most stressful times when we were in heated face-to-face disputes with office-bound Bureaucrats, who clearly didn’t see what we were trying to achieve (and more importantly didn’t want to) and flatly refused to budge a millimetre from the letter of the law (even though common sense dictated that what they were asking was not only unnecessary, it was ridiculous) it was by staying as relaxed as possible and centred, that got us results.
At one point we had a whole day of correspondence with one department insisting we planted a row of trees to ‘block the view of the new building from the road”. The dojo is down a slope, behind a block of 30m high bamboo, and virtually invisible apart from the front metre or so of the roof. None of these guys had actually inspected the site, and were just reading from the planning rule-book. I could understand it if we were in a city area where our building would overlook or have an impact on neighbouring properties, but we are on a 5 acres plot and you’d have to climb on a fence post to even wave to the nearest neighbour.
Change the particular rule being referred to, and repeat on a monthly basis, and you get an idea of what we were up against.
So eventually – it was done. I have personally thanked all the people that helped many times already, but they deserve public credit. Firstly to my wonderful wife and daughter who suffered nearly a year of being skint as literally every penny we had poured into the build – I promise we’ll have a decent holiday next year :0)
Secondly, to the fantastic members of our little organisation – who gave up days and days of free time to pull down walls, dig holes, wheel barrows, paint, sweep, carry and everything else that needed doing – truly without you guys this simple wouldn’t have happened.
Now our dream has become reality – we have a beautiful full-time dojo, on our own land, with 110 sq metres of top class matting, changing rooms and even a washroom. As we speak we are moving a sofa and comfy chairs into the “watching” area and an apple mac so that we can start streaming live classes via the web (watch this space)
. There is even a beer fridge (hey, this IS New Zealand…)
The kamiza (kamidana) was beautifully crafted by a local chippy using driftwood from the nearby beach and finishes off the place wonderfully. We were very lucky to have sensei Frank Burlingham, 5th dan, visiting from the UK and he kindly officiated at the opening and honoured us by sharing some of his Aikido with us. Even with 26 on the mat there was plenty of space, and everyone enjoyed the night, including the celebratory saki afterwards…
We have space now for a couple if live-in students, and plan to start running a ukedeshi scheme in the next few months.


BUILDING A DOJO IN AUCKLAND… Part 3 Getting K.O.-ed

June 13, 2009

At last, we are gradually getting to the stage where we can see this as a finished building. On-site, we grandly refer to this as “Phase III”.


I think this is because basically we haven’t got a clue what we’re doing and it makes us feel more important.

I refer to our incompetence in the broadest sense, with no disrespect meant to Gareth Hodgkiss, my incredibly expereinced Project Manager/Builder/Carpenter/Engineer/Labourer/Drainage Consultant/Digger Driver who is also my neighbour and friend, who has been amazing and worked like a dog throughout the last 3 months.

The point Im making is that ALL construction projects, no matter how carefully scoped, budgeted, planned and drawn-up all end up running over time and costing more money than you actually have and this genuinely doesn’t reflect on the poor people running the project.

Isambard Kingdon Brunel was regarded as a genius and a great engineer and leader in his field, but many of his most famous achievements took waaaay longer than planned at almost double the cost.

I think this needs a name; “Sod’s Law” just doesn’t do it justice. For the sake of argument, lets call it “Knock-on-effect Disorder or K.O.-ED. So why do nearly all building and construction projects end up getting K.O.-ed?

Here’s what happens. You start a project and you get to the point whereby the Council need to come out and inspect the work – for example the concrete footing. They say “very nice, but how are you going to handle the water run-off? You’ll need a drain”. So all of a sudden you find yourself having to hire a digger – again. Then you dig trenches, get drainage pipes and porous stone delivered, pour more concrete and pay for yet another Council inspection. This of course puts you behind time and budget.

Now there was no way that anyone could have planned for this, as there is no way of guessing what each individual inspector will want. They all have their own preferences and bias, within the umbrella of The Planning Rulebook.
So you get that done, then you realize that the truck that delivered the digger was so heavy it has churned up the drive and has broken the concrete. So now you have to re-lay concrete and get 7 metric tonnes of top dressing stone delivered, spread it by hand in the rain (I kid you not – see picture) before you even have a workable, accessible site to get back to.

More cost, more time.

Then came the rain. For those of you that don’t know Auckland, it is famous for being able to produce glorious sunshine, wind, rain anything else the weather gods can conjure up, all in the space of five minutes. But sometimes it just rains. And rains….


The day we spread the stones over the parking

area was one of those days. We had so much water flowing down the drive it looked like a stream, and even when we dug a few “diverting” trenches to push the water elsewhere, we still ended up with so much surface water that we had no option but to dig another set of drains, this time along the front of the dojo so that, should we get rain like this again (likely!) students leaving the dojo wouldn’t have to swim to their cars.


All good fun. To cut a long story short, Sunday evening saw two very tired men, socked to the skins laughing at how much water was in their gumboots whilst standing waistdeep in a water-filled trench, drinking heineken.

So now we wait for a break in the rain and the ‘final’ inspection from the council…..


…All the moves were different but the idea was the same.

April 20, 2009

Recently I was honoured to be one of the instructors on the now famous Auckland Friendships Seminars, where Aikidoka from all over NZ, as well as students of other disciplines including jujutsu, Kung Fu,karate and Judo all take part. the emphasis is on the sharing of knowledge, and to this end in recent years there have been guest instructors from other arts taking a session.

This time around John Tahere, an expert in Karate, Close Protection techniques and crowd control filled the guest slot, and emphasized the “real life” aspect of martial arts.
This, of course, opened the old “Is Aikido effective” can of worms, and after the seminar man, many emails (CC all…) pinged around the country as attendees all said their piece on the matter.

As a writer/blogger/all round opinionated git, I’ve had a couple of people nudge me and ask when I was going to put my oar in on the great “To Bash or Not To Bash” debate, and it’s taken me a while to respond, as frankly, it’s a big subject and I only have a small brain.

Before I ramble on, I think it’s worthwhile giving you a bit of background…
I started Aikido as a ten year old, basically because during 1974 Bruce Lee was doing his thang and every kid wanted to be able to do the same. This meant that me and my little brother spent every weekend at A & E having just punched, kicked or hit each other with something. By coincidence, The Hut dojo, birthplace of Aikido in the UK (est. 1950-something) was at the end of our road, so it was a no-brainer for our parents to start dropping us off every Saturday morning at the kids class.

After a few years my brother grew huge and started playing rugby on Saturdays, leaving me to continue on my own. I left home at 16 and moved into central London to go to Uni, and ended up doing the “local” club martial art (Wing Chun) which was an eye opener, as all the moves were different but the idea was the same. For me the first huge penny dropped.

Life, work, etc dragged me away but within a few years I was back at The Hut dojo – this time my motivation was for overall self-improvement, which of course included fitness and self defense. Anyone that has trained with Sensei Foster at the Hut will tell you it is physically demanding, high tempo, the attacks are committed and the straw tatami tough on the body. I spent about 15 years there training, teaching and assisting Sensei Foster before coming to New Zealand to live in 2005.

At around the same time my Pancreas decided it wanted retire, so I had to start shooting up with insulin and doing all the other stuff the doctors tell you to stop you dropping down brown-bread. What I hadn’t planned for was the fact that for about 80% of the time your blood sugar is either high or low, meaning you feel like crap. Couple this with the fact that for the last few years I’ve pretty much been teaching and am very lucky to get one training session in for my self a week, and you get a good picture of someone who has gone from being fit, strong and used to a regular beating to basically a normal middle-aged Pom trying to get through each class without embarrassing people by falling into a coma. For me the days of relying upon physicality are past.

“Where is he going with this” I hear you ask? Well, my point is that I started Aikido because my parents wanted me to get out the house, and I wanted to be able to do flying ninja kicks like Bruce Lee. I continued with it as a teenager because I was fascinated by it, and quite frankly, it was one of the few things I was good at. I returned to it as an adult as I wanted something else in my life apart from the quest for money to pay bills and the disappointment of seeing Queens Park Rangers Football Club lose every week. I continued with it as an adult as it got me out of a couple of scrapes in one piece and I was starting to see something within our Art that was gradually making me slightly better than the dodgy cockney I am at heart.

And now? Now I have responsibilities to my own students, and to all the years Sensei Foster, Sensei Ron Russell and all the other instructors along the way that gave me their time and energy to pass on how I see Aikido. That of course includes 2000-odd techniques and variations, ukemi, a sack-load of weapons kata and pairs practices, as well as everything that I am greedily absorbing from other Aikidoka, Jujutsu practitioners, my Eagle Claw Kung Fu friends in the UK, Peter Ralston and people like John Tahere.

At this moment in time I now view Aikido as a Martial Art that can give me the best possible chance not to have to fight.

All the moves were different but the idea was the same. It was a great seminar – can’t wait to be a part of the next one.