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.

Star Wars, George Lucas, Aikido, Ki and The Force.

February 13, 2010

I posted an article a while back about how George Lucas was influenced by Aikido when creating the Star Wars movies – here is another great artcile from the site, which goes into detail about the links between Aikido and The Star wars films.

The Star Wars movies have a lot to do with Japan and, through the Force, with aikido. This post is about Star Wars and how it is connected to aikido and Eastern culture.

When George Lucas was in the creation of the concept of the Force of Star Wars he did not just made up something out of the blue. As far as I know, it was his intention to mix a good number of religions and belief systems to create something for his movie(s). He tried to find something common in the religions existing not so far away, i.e. on Earth, but at some point he realised that if he was to mix the major religions of the world he couldn’t be too specific when describing the Force. So the Force became a bit mystical, magical and hard to explain in detail but easy to understand as a whole. Why I think it is easy to understand? Because we had known the concept long before Star Wars: The Force is very similar to the concept of Ki in Aikido. In fact, the Force is highly based upon Ki, even in its name. Ki, which is also known as Chi (or Qi) in China, and Prana in India (and they mean the same about it more or less), can loosely be translated as ‘Life Force’. (A good paper about Qi/Ki can be found at

Obviously, the concept of Ki is far richer than the description by these two words but, at the moment and to me, Life Force describes it in an easy-to-understand manner and it also looks mystical, magical enough, given that I haven’t grasp its meaning and essence completely yet. I know that Ki “flows”. I know that by using Ki, we can extend ourselves beyond our physical selves. Just like when Luke and others use the Force.

When researching the Force, Lucas talked to several Aikido masters because he was very interested in the concept of the mystical Ki. I’m not sure about the extent to which aikido and Ki influenced him when creating the Force (as Life Force can be found in far too many cultures) but aikido and Ki had to have a definite impact on the birth of the Force.

Also, Lucas must have been very interested in Japanese culture and, particularly, the world of Akira Kurosawa whose movie The Hidden Fortress served as a basis for the Star Wars film The New Hope. The Hidden Fortress is similar to Star Wars at several points. Most of the characters in Kurosawa’s film have corresponding characters in Star Wars. There is a princess who is hiding, there is someone very similar to Han Solo (played by Toshiro Mifune), there are the two low-ranked characters (R2D2 and C3PO’s originals) from the point of view the movie is shown. In The Hidden Fortress, all of them cross enemy territory together, just like the main characters in The New Hope and subsequent SW movies. But if purely considering how the movie is presented, we can easily notice that the cross fading effect of Star Wars (wiping the screen to move from one scene to another) is present in The Hidden Fortress and in other Kurosawa movies as well. That is a definite, proven link to Japan where the Ki is strong.

We can also compare the use of the Force with Aikido’s movements. There are a number of photos and a lot of videos about O-Sensei which show him using Ki almost exactly the same way Jedi use the Force. He raises his arm, points with his fingers, moves his palm towards the attacker and they are down in no time, without any physical connection. They can even stay down without actually being touched. The connection is achieved before any physical connection could take place, the ‘presence’ of a person, his Ki/Chi/aura interacts with the other person. Koichi Tohei’s Ki Aikido emphasises Ki more than other aikido branches, there are even Ki tests as parts of grading, if my information is correct (I do Aikikai style aikido). There are two things that seem to be different in Star Wars and Aikido though: 1. I don’t remember hearing about the Hara (centre of gravity, One Point: a point couple of inches below the navel, inside the body) as the source of Ki, from where the Ki energy originates. Midichlorian must have come from another source of Lucas’s. 2. As far as I know, Ki only can’t turn a dice to the number we want to be upwards :), but it might be the case that my Ki level is so low that I can’t even imagine this kind of unity with the Universe, in which moving objects without physical contact is possible.

Let’s consider light sabres now. Their use highly resembles the use of a katana (Japanese sword) or bokken (wooden sword). Light sabres are often held with two hands, just as Japanese swords are. I’m sure that iaido, kendo, aiki ken, aiki jo had a lot to do with the concept and use of a light sabre (and let’s forget for a second that light sabre fights are choreographed to look nice on camera, and that tennis and golf are also sources of how light sabres are used). The sword was an integral part of a samurai’s life; it was in the centre just as light sabres are in the centre of Jedi and Sith life. The use of light just makes it more prominent that you can have the Force and all that but it is the light sabre that is visually in the centre of visual attention. In Japanese fencing (kendo, etc.), when using the sword it has to be your extension. You should be the sword, be the cutting edge and the sword should be a part of you. Be one with the sword and you will be much more effective, flowing; you and your katana will move in harmony. If you take the light sabre, it is visually an extension of the body, just remember how Jedi draw a light sabre: in their inactive state, they are just a piece of metal, but when activated, they quickly extend into a sword that can engage with the opponent’s weapons. These thoughts about the light sabre are my own ideas, I can’t confirm them by quoting Lucas, but even if they are not true, I think, the ideas that everything can be connected and everything can make sense in a context are still true.

What about the Jedi? The name itself comes from the Japanese words “Jidai Geki” which translate as “period adventure drama.” Maybe it’s my limited knowledge of the English language but, for a while, I didn’t know what a period drama was. Then I learned that it was a drama set in a certain age or era, and Jidai Geki is actually a kind of TV soap opera that is set in the samurai days. So Jidai geki basically means samurai films, and to interpret the “period” part of the phrase, here’s an example: “Meiji jidai” means “Meiji period”. Lucas had been in Japan before creating the first Star Wars movie and he simply liked the words and the name of the Jedi order was born.

Probably it’s just a coincidence that the human name Jedi means “Beloved by God” and has a Hebrew origin. On the other hand, in Haitian Creole, Jedi means Thursday :).

Since 2001, Jedi is an officially recognised religion, too. As the whole concept of the Jedi order was based on different religions and traditions, turning Jedi into a proper religion, I guess, was quite straightforward. The Jedi religion has 16 teachings, some of them are following:

  • “13. Jedi use the Force only when it is necessary. We do not apply our abilities or powers to boast or be prideful. We use the Force for knowledge, and exercise wisdom and humility in doing so, for humility is a trait all Jedi must embody.
  • 14. We as Jedi believe that love and compassion are central to our lives. We must love each other as we love ourselves; by doing this, we envelope all life in the positive energy of the Force.
  • 15. Jedi are guardians of peace and justice. We believe in finding peaceful solutions to problems, gifted as we are we remain negotiators of the utmost ability. We never negotiate out of fear, but never fear to negotiate. We embrace justice, protecting and preserving the fundamental rights of all living creatures. Empathy and compassion are vital to us; it allows us to comprehend the wounds caused by injustice.”

Do these points remind you to the teachings of a certain martial art we practice? Yes, it’s like aikido’s teachings. If you study other martial arts (with long history) you can also see the above teachings in those martial arts as well, but that will be the topic of another post some time later.

The concept of the Jedi order is highly based on the Samurai order. Think about honour, loyalty, swords, meditation, etc. Jedi and samurai, aikido, traditional martial arts, religions, traditions, etc: They are all very similar and most of them have love (ai) in their centres, it’s just a bit of difference in interpretations with the influence of various cultures/situations on them.

Now, what about the Dark side? It’s the other half of the ancient duality of light-dark/day-night/good-bad. If you are on the dark side, you don’t use the Force to what it’s meant to be used for. It’s against others, it’s against the order of the universe, it’s only for yourself which ultimately leads to being against yourself (a Sith might be feared which might look like respect but definitely not love). It’s exactly the same thing as when martial artists don’t have control over their ego (and the temptation of the Dark side is always there), and when martial artists use their technique (Force) against others, with no particularly beneficial purpose. If you find yourself resisting and frustrated in aikido training, be aware that it is the temptation of the Dark side (your own ego/devil/anger/etc.). The call of the Dark side is my greatest enemy in a training, that’s for sure. The Dark side is still based on samurai; just have a look at the costume of this website:

Because of the relationship between the concept and use of the Force and Ki, I decided the run an experiment in my Children’s aikido classes: in October, we mixed aikido with appropriate Star Wars elements. For the results of this experiment, please see my next post.