Why do nearly all aikido demo’s involve Zombie-like muppets being the attacker?

May 29, 2010

Click the link above to read the full forum article and all the comments – for once a forum board with some very insightful comments – well worth a read and far too long to post in full here…


AIKIDO – Four Basic Principles of Mind and Body Unification

May 20, 2010

A very nice piece taken from the Virginia Ki society website. There is, understandably a bias toward the Ki society style of Aikido but the outline it gives of the Four Principles of Ki apply to ALL style of Aikido practice, and are often neglected a little in the day-to-day training of non-ki focused styles. Well worth a read.

  1. Keep One Point
  2. Relax Completely
  3. Keep Weight Underside
  4. Extend Ki

Principles of the Mind
Principles one and four of the above list are principles of the mind. This means that the mind is the primary focus of unification relative to these principles: keep one point, and extend ki. Principles two and four are principles of the body, and will be discussed later.

Keep One Point
The One Point is not a physical place in the typical sense of the word, but rather a point within the body upon which the calm mind may focus. It is really a state of mind. People often talk about the One Point being 2 – 4 inches (some measure it as precisely as 10 centimeters) below the navel. Such attempts at objectively describing a state of mind miss the point (no pun intended).

By calmly focusing the mind on the lower abdomen, one becomes centered in the truest sense of the word. Physical movements, such as walking, are much more coordinated, while at the same time being very powerful. One may think of the One Point as the center of the universe. Since the universe is infinite, there is no single “center”, but rather infinite centers.

Thus, each person’s One Point is the center of his or her universe. This universal mind/body centering creates a very powerful and calm feeling, which is very conducive to performing aikido. There are several tests which may be used to demonstrate whether a student has developed the ability to keep One Point, such as standing in hanmi (normal aikido stance) and being pushed gently by a partner on the upper chest, shoulder, and small of the back. If One Point is being maintained, it will be relatively difficult to move the person being tested. The position is maintained by simply holding your place, not by resisting through pushing back.

Extend Ki
Ki is a Japanese word which translates to, among other things, energy, spirit and power. In aikido, extending ki means extending energy. However, it does not mean to simply push with physical force. Rather it is a state of mind used to align the body to permit movement in a unified and calmly concentrated fashion.

The classic illustration of ki extension is the Unbendable Arm test. The arm is extended in neither a rigid nor limp manner, but with a feeling of lively energy coursing through the arm from the One Point and extending out to infinity through the finger tips. This mental image produces an arm which is soft and pliable to the touch, but which is very difficult to bend.

This feeling of dynamic energy extension is used in all aikido techniques. Without it, throws quickly become exercises in muscular tension, largely dependent on mere mechanical advantage and bulk.

Principles of the Body
The remaining principles, relax completely and keep weight underside, are principles of the body. although the mind initiates the “body feel”, the primary focus of these principles is the state of the body.

Relax completely
This is probably the most misunderstood of the four principles of mind and body unification. Complete relaxation in the sense in which it is applied in aikido is not the relaxation of a lump of jello, that of the “dead” relaxation. It is instead the sense of a body full of energy without tension.

Complete relaxation goes beyond simple muscular relaxation into mind/body relaxation. A calm mind naturally produces a calm body. Removing stress from the body greatly enhances freedom of movement, which is so necessary in aikido.

Keep Weight Underside
With all objects, weight naturally falls in the direction it is pulled by gravity, namely down. In human beings, however, it is possible to influence the manner in which the body “carries” its weight. The human body is not solid in the strict sense of the term, but is instead fluid. As water moves within a glass, so may the parts of the body “float” in relationship to one another.

If one concentrates on the weight of the body being underside, or in the lower portion of the body, one finds that the body is very stable. if one concentrates on the upper body, of example the top of the head, the body becomes weight upperside and, as a result, unstable. When moving in aikido, it is important to keep your weight underside. This happens naturally if you are calm in mind and body, whereas tension automatically makes the body weight upperside.

Following the Four Principles
The good news is that it is easy to follow the four principles. If you follow one principle, the other are taken care of automatically. for example, if you keep one point, you are naturally relaxed, weight underside and extending ki. The bad news is that if you break one of the principles, the others are lost as well, for the moment at least. for example, if you are tense, you will naturally become weight upperside. All is not lost, however, for you can regain your composure in a moment, regaining all four principles in the process.

Developing Ki

Ki Breathing
There are several methods for developing the Ki energy. One of the best methods is known as ki breathing. This is usually done while sitting in the seiza position, pushing slightly from the abdomen. Once the air has been completely expelled, you may repeat the cycle, breathing in once more through the nose.

Some people lean forward slightly at the end of the exhalation, bending at the One Point. At the height of their inhalation, they come back to an upright position. If you spend ten to fifteen minutes per day doing Ki breathing, particularly just before bed, you will find that it is very relaxing. Perform the breathing cycle for as long as you fell comfortable in your sitting position.

Developing Ki Through Movement
Aikido is a moving art. The ability to move gracefully in response to the uke’s attack is an integral part of performing all aikido techniques. Keeping this goal in mind, it is therefore beneficial to perform exercises which devlope the body’s ability to move in a centered and coordinated manner.

One of the activities which may be used to develop the sense of unified motion is fune-kogi undo, or the “row boat” exercise. Standing in left hanmi (stance; standing with the left foot forward), place your hands at the sides of your hips, palms facing towards the back, with your fingers cupped in a circle.

Your thumb should be lightly touching the index finger. Imagine that you are holding the oars of a boat in your cupped hands. The movements begins by slightly pushing the hips forward, with the upper body following and maintaining a basically upright position, until the front knee is beginning to come over the top of the foot, but not past the foot. As the motion of the hips is about to end, thrust out both hands from the hips as if you are pushing the oars forward.

The arms should be slightly bent at the end of this motion, and still relaxed. After the completion of the forward movement, bring the hips backward in the same manner as before until they return to the starting position. As they near the end of the motion, the hands are pulled back together as if pulling on the oars. When starting out, perform the exercise to a count of 1-2-3-4, e.g. hips-hands-hips hands. After you have the hang of performing the motion smoothly, you may progress to a count of 1-2, e.g. forward backward (with hand motions).

If you like, you may have a partner test you by gently pressing forward on the small of your back during the forward motion to see whether you are leaning too far forward. If the partner grabs you by the wrists from the front, you may test the amount of forward extension and balance you are achieving on each forward and backward movement. [Editor’s note: in other words, your partner should not be able to tip you off balance from either direction] A related exercise is ikkyo undo. This involves the same hip motion as fune-kogi, but the hand motion is different.

The hands begin hanging loosely at the sides in a natural bend. As the hip motion is nearing completion on the forward swing, the hands swing up on both sides until they are approximately at eye level and exteded forward. Next the hands swing back down, with the hips picking up the motion to complete the backward cycle.

Therefore the movement count for ikkyo undo might be described as hips-hands-hands-hips. Rolling backwards and forwards from a cross-legged sitting position is also a good Ki development activity. begin the roll backward by gently releasing the hips, moving back from the one point. As you come back forward, extend you mind forward, returning to an upright sitting position. Once you’ve achieved a feelign of balance in basic rolling, you may progress to rolling backwards, coming forward and standing up. As you come, forward extend one leg forward and extend your midn forward as if to shake someone’s hand outstretched in front of you. You will find it surprisingly easy to stand. If you try the exercise without extending your mind, you will find standing very difficult.

How to Learn and Practice the Four Principles

Open Your Mind
There is a famous story about the student who approached a zen master seeking the path to enlightenment. The student questioned everything the master told him, until finally one day the master invited him for tea. As the student held out his cup, the master poured in the tea until the cup overflowed. “The cup is full!” exclaimed the student. “Exactly,” said the master, “you must empty your cup to accept more tea.”

Find a Good School
If there is a Ki Society dojo in your area, you’re in luck. The concepts of Ki devlopment are integral to performing Ki-aikido. Other types of aikido may also teach ki principles, but in a slightly modified style. Visit the school and ask to observe a class. Most dojos will let you attend an introductory class for free.

Attend Regularly
As with most things in life, regular practice is required to achieve any meaningful level of change in your ability to remain calm in stressful situations, and to have some success in applying ki principles in daily life. Change takes time and practice.

Keep Training in Its Proper Perspective
Particularly in the beginning, don’t place too much importance on the speed at which you progress. Don’t expect miracles to happen. It takes time to develop and understadning of the relationship between the Ki principles and events in daily life. In time, you will see improvement, so be patient.

Remember, the expert was once a beginner too.

Angular Attacks – An Aikido perspective

May 3, 2010

A really well thought out piece by Todd Jones.

Angular attack theory is a conceptual framework that is taught in many martial traditions in one form or another. A fundamental comprehension of attack theory is essential to successfully effectuating defensive strategy and tactics. Ignorance of the construction, tactics, and strategy of attacking guarantees defeat. That said it is a difficult task to convey these concepts in writing, but here goes…

This treatise provides a glimpse into our approach to its study but is by no means a comprehensive treatment of the topic. Angular attack theory serves as a bridge to understanding and communicating strategic and tactical concepts in various martial traditions. An understanding of angular attack theory will help to ensure that applied aikido techniques possess martial integrity and are truly effective.

Before we delve into the intricacies and details of angular attack theory, it is imperative that certain contextual and definitional issues be addressed first: please bear with…

Perception colors perspective. Perspective affects philosophy. What a person believes is a function of their intelligence, experience, education, and circumstance. Disagreement is usually a matter of insufficient commonality. When one or more parties to a disagreement are sufficiently lacking in experience (i.e. maturity and/or patience), we frequently observe physical altercations.

Physical altercation, controlled or uncontrolled, is nonetheless a form of communication that reveals much about an individual’s psychological makeup. As such, karate kumite, aikido randori, and kendo or judo shiai, represent nothing more than physical “conversations.” If you watch closely, regardless of the art being practiced, you will learn much about any participant’s personal style of, or approach to conflict resolution. This ability to observe a personal style of interaction is not limited to activities in the dojo; the way a person walks, the way a person holds posture, the way they speak, are all telltale signs to be observed and chronicled.

In modern budo, we train for many reasons, but all martial arts eventually require some degree of physical interaction. Whether you train for self-defense, general health and conditioning, sportive competition, artistic pursuit, or some combination of the aforementioned; intimate contact with another human will become necessary at some point. And despite that every human body is essentially constrained to a limited set of biomechanical capabilities and therefore limitations; depending on your chosen martial path that contact will be more or less damaging to your body. Every endeavor has a learning curve and every person learns at a slightly different pace. So, no two experiences are, or can ever be the same. Therefore, how we come together is the essential distillate on many different levels.

Human beings are competitive by nature. And although “winning and losing” is a topic worthy of an article, or book, of its own, it is not the central theme of this article. From a competitive perspective, winning or losing is merely the outcome of a game. From the standpoint of discussing self-defense, it is a matter of life or death. Individuals practicing an artistic pursuit may not even recognize the concept as having any validity whatsoever. Perspective can dictate philosophy. Part of learning to be successful and happy in life is learning to understand the perspectives, and agendas, of others whom we encounter and have to deal with. Knowing where they are coming from and what they really want are critical to finding commonality and seeking agreement… ending conflict. Aikido.

The cornerstones of physical interactive success are skill, conditioning, and experience. All things being equal, a shortcoming in any of these three categories virtually insures defeat. A budoka with superior skill, who is in top shape, and is experienced at physical interaction, should never fail. A budoka with superior skill, who is in top shape but lacking interactive experience may fail, but may get lucky if the conversation drags out long enough. Likewise, a budoka with superior skill and experience, who is not in top shape, will prevail over another who is in top shape but lacking in experience. Thus explains the old adage, “youth and exuberance are no match for age and experience!” Of course, even a skilled budoka who is out of shape and lacking interactive experience is doomed to fail.

Before this discussion can go much further it is imperative that certain concepts and terms are clearly understood. Most disagreements stem from misunderstandings…

The Line is simply understood as a ray extending through each partner’s center, regardless of where they move. Angular attack theory advocates that although the shortest distance between two points may be a straight line, it is not necessarily the path of least grief.

The Gap is the space between the two partners. “Bridging the Gap” is a dangerous exercise worthy of much study, and angular attack theory is central to success. Boxing, judo, karate, kendo, and most other competitive arts focus in this area. It is arguably the Achilles heel of most aikido practitioners and the reason many other martial artists criticize aikido training methods.

Zones: there are several types to discuss. Spatial Zones vary, based on person-specific physical and psychological factors. Spatially, the outermost is the Zone of Influence; this is the point at which an advancing individual causes a physical reaction in their opponent. For example, a step backwards, or a raising of the hands, is an indication that the aggressor has entered their opponent’s Zone of Influence, because they have influenced that person’s behavior.

The next closest zone is referred to as the Effective Striking Range; it is the area between the maximum range of a person’s back leg kick, and the maximum range of a lead hand strike in karate. Many aikido and kendo techniques are executed in this range, because it is the range that karate and kendo practitioners are most comfortable at. Finally, the Throwing Zone is the area inside the Effective Striking Range; this is the zone that judo and jujutsu practitioners prefer, for obvious reasons.

Physical Zones include High, Middle, and Low body areas. Most agree that the High zone is above the nipple line, the Middle zone is between the nipples and the groin, and the Low zone extends from the groin to the feet.

Maai is the Japanese term that refers to space-time/rhythm and distance relationships related to “Bridging the Gap.” How one gets from here to there is the real problem in effectively addressing conflict, physical or otherwise. Functions of maai that must be intimately understood include distance, angle (X, Y, and Z axis), rhythm, and speed.

The Compass and the Clockface are virtually identical concepts that relate the two-dimensional spatial relationship between the two opponents or partners. You should imagine that you stand in the center of a giant compass or clockface; your partner is standing at north or twelve o’clock. These concepts are especially useful in multiple-attacker training.

Defensive Footwork delineates three categories of responsive movement and each reflects a particular psychological persuasion. Jamming is any responsive footwork that moves you toward the attacker between the NE and NW compass points. Jamming is irimi. Jamming is endemic to bold, self-assured, or impatient individuals. Blocking is any responsive footwork that tends to hold ground including movement between the NE and SE or NW and SW compass points. Humans are territorial by nature; otherwise we would need national boundaries. Eighty percent of karate practitioners fall into the blocker category of defensive footwork. Running, or Moving, is any responsive footwork that moves you away from the attacker between the SE and SW compass points. Runners are typically high-strung, frail, and cautious people. Responsive footwork is more important to note than attack style; it is the clue to understanding your opponent or partner. Knowing how they are likely to react is key to successfully bridging the gap.

Initial orientation and stance considerations have four components:

1. Posture, attitude, kokoro. In Japanese, the word kokoro translates as both physical and psychological attitude; how adept! What is the initial placement/orientation of the hands (e.g. boxer’s guard)? Is there torso inclination? What is the stance width and depth? Does the particular stance favor power generation or mobility?

2. The initial angle of the feet. Is the person in riding, triangular, or natural stance?

3. Orientation: The relationship of one partner’s feet to the other person’s. Are you in an open-open (gyaku hanmi) or open-closed (ai hanmi) orientation?

4. Vector: What initial stepping movement occurs and at what clockface angle? Essentially, there are only a few different steps to learn. The pivot step is referred to as tenkai in aikido terminology. An avoidance step is called tenkan. The J step is tenshin-ashi, and shuffle stepping (tsugi-ashi) can be done several ways: lunging, shuffling, slide up, or skipping. Alternating or running step (e.g. normal walking or sprinting) is another, sometimes called ayumi-ashi. Spinning step is sometimes called furi-ashi, and also there is circle stepping where one moves along a perimeter.

5. Consideration must also be given to the vertical or Z axis. In aikido we practice hanmi handachi, in judo it’s a little different, in karate and kendo we target high, middle, and lower body targets. A spinning sickle sweep requires a different defense than a flying, spinning horse kick.

Observation: After years of teaching, it has become apparent that it is just as important to teach proper observation of the demonstration because it facilitates rapid understanding. Students should first observe the demonstrators’ initial orientation (i.e. open-open or open-closed relationship). The next point to note should be the stepping employed by each partner. After understanding those elements, the initiator’s (e.g. aite or uke) first action (e.g. grab or strike) should be observed. Finally, the respondent’s (e.g. shite or nage) redress should be noted.

The Risk-Benefit Ratio is a measure of an attack’s relative risk/benefit. A boxer’s jab, for instance, is a low risk, low benefit technique if executed by itself. You will not incapacitate your opponent with a jab, but you will not be very exposed to counterattack either. On the other hand, a jumping, spinning hook kick has a high risk, high benefit ratio. If the kick lands, such a technique can easily disable an opponent; but usually it doesn’t land. A flying, spinning backhand strike, is a good example of a high risk, low benefit technique. Chancing such a feeble attack puts one more at risk than anything else.

Angular Attack
So, finally, we are at a point where we can address the thesis of this article. There are five categories of Angular Attack for bridging the gap.

Now that we have established functional definitions for basic communication, it is possible to address more technical matters. Martial art techniques are like tools in a toolbox; the more you have, the more you can do. Depending on the tool selected, one can build or destroy. That said the process of learning angular attack theory may require a temporary abeyance of ethical considerations in training in order to permit an exploration of the available opportunities. Technical response and target selection in basic angular attack theory training may not present the highest possible ethical ideals only because the emphasis is on technical simplicity and communicating theoretical concepts. Once the concepts are understood, the user will gradually be able to adjust target and technical selection befitting their personal comfort in any given application. The higher the skill differential, the more benevolently one may respond.

Each of the five major approaches to angular attack can be executed on any of the 360 degrees available, but for simplicity’s sake, we generally restrict introduction to the commonly understood major angles of the compass and clockface. The most efficacious way to practice is via controlled one-steps (i.e. one attack, one defense (if any)). Start with attacking only and have the receiver simply maintain maai, if possible. Later, a defensive response can be introduced.

Direct Approach: This is the simplest form of a complete attack; a single strike. Examples include a boxer’s jab, a single kick, or a shomenuchi.

Regardless of the initial orientation, a single hand strike, thrusting technique, or kick can be applied quite effectively if properly executed on any angle if the opponent/partner has been properly set up. Being direct is rarely successful, but this is all most aikido practitioners are taught to defend against. The reason is that more complicated attacks present less predictability, therefore more dangerous encounters not easily controlled.

Shomenuchi or yokomenuchi, executed off the forward or back side, are classic examples of direct attacks. Tsuki, executed stepping through off the back side is suicidal; but every aikido master this author has ever seen teaches it. None teach defense against the jab, yet a host of aikido techniques are directly applicable. In the West, the jab and the haymaker (yokomenuchi) are the most common striking assaults in self-defense situations. And yet, these are the simplest assaults to defend against. While it is imperative to address theoretical concerns at the kyu level, practical applications can be relatively safely introduced to dan grade adherents.

There are any number of effective direct attacks that can be explored. Jab, various lead leg kicks, running reverse punch, and retreat side kick (none of which most readers will properly interpret) are all examples of effective direct attacks. Exploration of effective application requires the utilization of partner drills and compass angles for both open-open and open-closed orientations.

Indirect Approach: This is simply a direct attack that includes a feint. A feint is defined as anything that elicits a physical response in one’s partner; if they don’t move, it’s NOT a feint… it’s a waste of energy. Worse, it could present an opportunity for your partner. An initial feint is intended to create an opening to be exploited, that’s why boxers throw so many jabs. Jabs are typically followed up by a reverse punch or a same-side kick; react to, or focus on the jab and you will suffer from its partner. Traditional aikido ignores this approach.

Imagine if you will, two opponents of approximately the same size, both in hanmi posture, in an open-closed orientation, standing just outside one another’s effective striking range with their right legs forward. Assume one executes a right jab to the other’s face, and left reverse punch targeting the solar plexus, propelled by a sliding shuffle step in a northwest direction. The jab may be a feint, merely intended to draw the eye and create a distraction and an opening for the body punch; however if the attacker’s legwork is capable, the jab may be intended as an opening salvo… one of at least two. If well trained, in application the attacker will not have committed his attack until having tested the waters to observe the defender’s reactions first, but this is just a training drill… an exploration. In most cases, the attacker will not know with certainty if this initial bridging of the gap is successful until he is committed to the assault and actually makes contact. Then the challenge will be to prevent the defender’s reestablishment of the gap, before he can be scored upon, subdued, disabled, or killed. In application, the actual target selection and ultimate objective will of course vary depending upon the venue.

This drill can and should be modified for angle of attack (the compass and/or clock face) and selection of technique. It is important to explore each of the eight primary angles of the compass, if not all twelve of the clock face. For example, a reverse punch generally has insufficient reach if the angle of attack is east (three o’clock) or west (nine o’clock). And be especially careful never to allow your chest to become perpendicular to the line of attack inside the effective striking zone. In addition, it is just as important to explore using the feet to set up a hand assault as it is to use the hands to set up for a kicking assault. It’s no more or less embarrassing to get swept and punched on the ground, than it is to get kicked in the head. A thorough understanding of the nature and complexities of attacking will ensure a more successful defense.

So, there are two sides to these drills: the attack and the defense. When just beginning to study angular attack theory, it is imperative to focus on the attacks. Later, one can integrate defensive responses with martial integrity due to an ability to validate the response. Bear in mind that the defensive response is an attack of its own; the response can be a technique from aikido, judo, jujutsu, or karate. In reality, there is no difference between attack and defense; those terms are just a way to explain who started the conversation.

One very practical defensive response to the jab, reverse punch attack is an ikkyo applied against the initial jab assault. Applied correctly, it takes no more time than the jab and has an equivalent risk/benefit ratio.

Immobilization Approach: This category includes trapping moves and check kicks; any technique that cripples your partner’s ability to block, deflect, or strike back. Better than a feint is the ability to physically preclude an opponent’s ability to respond. Preventing a defensive kick with a check kick or trapping the forward arm while bridging the gap is superior to drawing a reaction because the opponent’s mobility is compromised. O-Sensei’s text, Budo, clearly communicates this approach in his demonstration of ikkyo. It is nage who first raises his forward hand to shomenuchi, as a means of drawing a defensive response from uke, before applying the ikkyo. This is a classic example of benevolence in action. O-Sensei had a choice to either care for his “attacker” by employing ikkyo, or he could have struck with the shomenuchi. It is the choice made in these moments that defines a warrior’s true spirit and character.

Much of traditional aikido training employs this approach to bridging the gap, but from a defensive mindset. We move at different angles on the clock face, blend with the attack, and execute a neutralizing response. Most of us do not spend nearly enough time studying this approach offensively; the techniques work just as well, and with less risk.

Broken Rhythm Approach: This category addresses timing and rhythmic delivery of an attack while bridging the gap. A metronomic attack is predictable and therefore presents opportunity for your partner to counter.

Bobbing, weaving, ducking, and dodging are not exclusively defensive tactics, nor are shuffling, bouncing, skipping, or circling stepping movements. Employing a Morse code kind of code to describe the timing of delivery is extremely effective in mastering the deceptive delivery of any attack. Broken rhythm is unarguably the most difficult of the five approaches to master, but it is likewise the most effective way to bridge the gap. Most students learning to attack develop natural rhythms; most are metronomic, very consistent tempos. Consistent tempos provide the opponent a wonderful opportunity to find the half beats; that can become extremely annoying. Once one learns to become unpredictable, all kinds of openings and opportunities present themselves. This is the equivalent to being in Aikido’s shikaku for a sport karate player. Traditional aikido ignores this approach because it is the antithesis of the connectedness sought in blending. Further discussion is beyond the scope of this article.

Combination Approach: This category is any combination of the preceding approaches.

All said and done, nothing is quite so gratifying, or effective, from an attacker’s perspective, as to overwhelm and dominate one’s opponent. That includes successfully projecting or immobilizing one’s uke; remember, there is no difference between attack and defense! Any combination of the preceding approaches, in combination, represents the pool of opportunity encompassed by the Combination Approach. Traditional aikido ignores this approach except for the “collar grab with a strike” attacks and the kumi-jo, kumi-ken, and ken-tai-jo exercises. The reason is that without close supervision, exceptional control, and exceptional ukemi, the likelihood of injury is very great. That said it is not impossible, just dangerous. It is best to start slowly, as we do with basic weapons training. Practice free form one-steps at a slow enough speed and the chance of injury decreases dramatically. Gradually, the intensity of training can be increased, but be wary of accelerating too quickly. As with weapons training, mistakes are painful.

This has merely been a cursory explanation of angular attack theory with some very limited suggestions regarding training methodologies. Regardless of the martial discipline being analyzed, it has been this author’s experience that the theory facilitates comprehension and accelerates learning.

Stickers & Bird Droppings

April 19, 2010

A nice little article by my young friend Sensei Nick Engelen.

During Friday night class I was partnered up with Jimmy. We worked on our technique but it seemed something was wrong with Jimmy. I stopped for a moment and asked if he was ill, he told me that he was fine, just tired. We went on with the training but Jimmykept struggling with things.

Sensei who had been watching us walked over to us, took us apart in the corridor and asked; ‘What’s up Jimmy you look very absent today.’ Jimmy had a sad look in his eye and replied: “Sorry sensei, I have a problem which I can’t put out of my mind. It distracts me.”

Sensei thought for a minute and said: ‘I don’t know what your problem is and you don’t need to tell me but it helps to put it into perspective in relation to the whole picture.’ Jimmy first looked at me then back at sensei. “Can you be a bit more specific sensei?”

replied: “Let me show you after I have everyone lined up.” Jimmy protested: ‘But my issue has no relevance to what we do here sensei.’

Sensei smiled: ‘It has relevance to what we do Jimmy’. Sensei stopped class and had everyone lined up. After he picked a sheet with round shaped stickers out of his bag he walked over to the window.

Sensei said: “In the old days the martial arts had a lot of relevance in the daily lives of the practitioners. People were living with the constant threat of dying an instant violent death. These days we call ourselves civilized and live a more peaceful life. Some argue that martial arts lost their relevance to today. However there are many good life lessons if you want to see and learn.”

Sensei pointed to Rob: “Rob can I borrow you for a second?” Rob walked over to Sensei. Sensei pasted one of the stickers on the window saying ‘the window cleaner will hate me for this, Ok, Rob what do you see?” Rob said “A yellow sticker.”

“What else do you see?” Asked Sensei, to which Jimmy replied, “A window, a glass pane in a wooden frame.”
Ok sensei said, “Jimmy what happened?” Jimmy said: “Rob’s attention is caught by the sticker sensei.”

“Exactly. Rob’s attention is caught by the sticker which disables him to look trough the window to see the whole picture. It’s similar to when you drive and a bird drops his waste right onto your windscreen. Although your window’s surface is many times bigger than the surface of the droppings your attention goes to guess what? It is distracting and it seems you are looking at the surface of the window instead of looking trough. Same thing happens with mirrors. When accidentally spatter some toothpaste on the mirror when you brush your teeth you start looking at the mirror instead of into the mirror.

Life is very similar. At the moment you have a problem your mind is occupied by it until you solve it or put it into perspective in relation to the whole picture. Just like the small sticker on the big window and the bird droppings on the windscreen.”

“In the martial arts we often face problems which we solve in order to protect ourselves. Some arts say to keep doing what you are doing regardless of what the opponent is doing. It doesn’t mean that you keep launching headshots at a person that has already covered up his head. It means that you need to keep an eye on the whole picture and have to put everything that happens into perspective related to that picture.”

“Also being grabbed by the wrist makes many people concentrate on the wrist like Bob concentrated on the sticker. They feel limited and will start trying to free their wrist. The limits are imposed by your own mind. At work I have a colleague who knows about my training, he is quite big and strong and he asked me what will you do when I grab your wrist? I told him that I would whack him in the head on which he replied: how can you punch me if I got hold of your wrist? On which I answered that I have two hands.”

Everybody started laughing.

Sensei waited for a moment till the dojo went quiet again.

So remember that whether it’s a restriction during training, bad words by your boss at work or shit on your windscreen always put things into perspective of the big picture… However, in case of the sticker on the window it’s easier to remove it.

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.

The Psychology of Aikido

March 26, 2010

A great piece by George S. Ledyard
Many people are familiar with Aikido, the non-violent Japanese martial art which allows self defense without serious injury to an attacker. Not many however, know that the founder of Aikido, Morihei Ueshiba, intended for Aikido to be primarily a means of personal transformation and by extension a means for the world to better itself.

The mechanism which allows a martial art to also promote Peace is a very interesting one. One often hears Aikido called moving Zen but without direct exposure to Aikido practice it is difficult to know what that statement actually means. Aikido is usually done via paired movements in which one person is designated as the attacker (or person who initiates the interaction) and the other is the designated defender (or person who strives to blend with attacker’s energy, redirect it, and resolve the conflict by placing the attacker in a position from which he can not continue the attack).

This is done without a competitive frame of mind, rather the practice is entirely cooperative with each practitioner striving to act out his or her own role with total commitment in order to facilitate the mutual practice. But what makes such a practice transformational? One element is in the nature of the Aikido interaction itself. Each practitioner’s role calls for total attention on staying “connected” with the other person’s center. In other words after the initial attack is initiated, each partner is attempting to experience the full extent of the movement and energy of the technique not to resist the other. If each partner is devoting his full attention to blending with the energy given by the other partner who is actually in control of the technique?

This is the meditative aspect of Aikido training. Nothing can be forced or the interaction breaks down and becomes merely mechanical. True non-resistance calls for a “letting go” of the various ego generated insecurities which cause conflict in the first place. Just as in Zen meditation in which one does not repress extraneous thoughts in order to calm the mind but rather simply notes each thought in turn without “attaching” to them, one does not “attach” to the force of an attack but instead uses natural movements to allow the force to run itself out and come to a new balance in which the inherent conflict is resolved. As one meditation teacher put it “You can’t stop the wave but you can learn to surf.”

Aikido movements reflect the essential movements and energies of nature. Here we find another aspect of the practice which encourages personal transformation. Jungian derived psychology says that we are not simply one unified personality but rather a set of personalities or selves, some of which are conscious and others are unconscious or disowned.

The process of enhancing mental health is one of integrating these often conflicting aspects into a “whole person” who operates from awareness of all of the various sides of his or her own nature. Since the disowned selves are often the parts of us that carry the socially unacceptable aspects or parts of us that don’t mesh with the primary selves which we show to the world they are sometimes referred to as the “dark” side of ourselves.

Bringing awareness to this side and in some way acknowledging that the energy contained therein is also a part of ourselves is what much of therapy is about. Aikido techniques are designed to be done without injury to the partner. Yet the energies one is channeling are both benevolent such as a flowing stream of water or a cool breeze and at the same time potentially destructive such as a tidal wave or hurricane or tornado.

Both types are natural but one could say that they represent the light and the dark sides of Nature. So within the context of Aikido training one has a means to express the dark side of his or her nature and integrate it with the light side in a way that is safe yet doesn’t repress or disown that dark side energy. A person who is afraid of his own deeply seated anger issues and has therefore relegated them to the unconscious level can find that the energy of that disowned side so long disowned can be safely released because the nature of the practice allows it to be done safely and in manageable doses. A student who had a chaotic and unpredictable childhood might have developed a primary personality which is very controlling, attempting to force predictability and therefore safety on his environment.

Aikido practice will not only encourage that person to let go of the urge to “control” but will actually teach him that true safety lies in not trying to control what can not be controlled. Aikido is about bringing all of the different sides of our selves into balance both psychologically and physically. It calls for shifts of those very blockages which effect us in all the rest of our lives.

It was the dream of the Founder of Aikido that if enough people were to discover his art it would begin to transform society and the world for the better because just as in the individual each society has its own primary and disowned selves. Greater awareness or mindfulness on the part of an increasing number of individual members of society will inevitably begin to bring its issues into the collective consciousness and allow us to work on them.

FIGHT SCIENCE: Moving into attacks by Chad Zoghby

March 19, 2010

I was watching a show on National Geographic last night by the name of Fight Science. It’s basically a show which analyses various martial arts to find how they work, their efficiency and also their pros and cons. In the one I saw, they brought in a Kung Fu master to demonstrate the use of chi. It was truely phenominal, as he was able to stick a spear to his throat and lean on it without being punctared. The part that I was more interested in, though, was what he did next. The master proceeded to get hit with a baseball bat in his stomach and not be severely injured.

It was also impressive, but one thing I noticed was that he moved into the baseball bat. The scientist on-board mentioned that this would make it worse for the Kung Fu master, as more force would be impacting, and I would have to disagree with that. I find that if you move into an attack, it doesn’t have as much power as it could have had if it was followed through.

Now, I’m not a scientist but I do think about this from a logical and experience point of view.

The scientist states that when doing any action, such a punch, swing, etc, the energy is generated all the way from your foot and is brought up through your body. I have to disagree with this as well. Talking from a chi point of view, your life force or chi is generally situated right below your belly button. Now, when throwing a punch, it is my impression that the power is generated from there, by moving your hips (or the center of your body), moves down to your feet to connect to the earth, then comes ‘back’ up through your body and exits through your fist. For those of you that are thinking “what the hell”, I would like you to get up, just for a moment, and throw a powerful punch with some weight behind it.

Think for a second, did the power generate from you lifting you back heal up or did it generate from your center, by moving your hips. A lot of boxers will find that their punches have a lag effect to the movement of their torso, this is because the hips moved first and the arm was simply carrying the energy further through the body and the fist finally delivering that energy. That’s actually quite a lot of power, if you can do it right, getting your weight behind your punch.

In Aikido, everything is generated from the hips, to get the center moving. Our limbs moving around that are either an effect (bi-product) or an additive to fine tune the technique to actually make something of the movement. It’s very rare that your arms and legs play a part of power in Aikido, because that’s what your body does, and if your center is pointing to where you’re going, and your limbs are connected to your center you’ve already got the power of your entire body, which is why Aikido doesn’t need strength to make it work. If you are using your limbs, alone, then strength plays a large part.

Anyway, back to Chi. With the idea in mind that power is generated at a particular part of the body, regardless of where it is, and carried through until it reaches the exit, now think about what happens when you stop that energy before it reaches it’s destination. A good example of this would be against a high, round house kick. Many martial artists will tell you to move into a kick, because there is no power. Why is there no power, though? It’s because the energy generated is at a part of the body which was before it’s destination — such as the thigh or knee. If the energy is not at a certain point at a certain time in the body, then your body-weight is not behind it fully, as well as the muscles which are used on impact are not tensed or in use.

Many martial artists believe in the pull-back effect being the most effective method of power distribution — basically once you are at your point of contact, you pull back your limb to give a whiplash effect. This is excellent for delivering a blow with a lot of power and energy but not giving yourself away. If you can time your kick or punch in such a manner that you know where the point of contact will be, you can pull back allowing yourself to avoid over-extending and possibly losing your point of balance. Another interesting point as well, is that once you pull back from an attack your muscles in that part of your body react by tensing to create that movement, and as such release an explosion of energy onto the receiver.

From an Aikido point of view, we use menuchi-waza (strike) to train with, and one of the commonly known is the Shomenuchi-waza, which is basically a strike straight from the center of your head, down with your teketana (blade of your hand). A very powerful movement, generated from your hips and what follows is the hand. [Looking at the way shomenuchi and yokemuchi work, it’s easy to see how the foot moves first and lands first, followed by a hip movement and then the torse, and then the arm. This would make it a safe bet to assume that energy comes from the foot and moves up the body, however the initialisation of the the foot movement is generated from the center, as a movement from the hip.] If you stop this strike while it’s just starting, the energy is too far back for the correct muscle fibres to be activated, and as such there is no power behind the attack — as well as if you catch it early enough there will be another part of the body moving and therefore no body-weight will be behind the attack. Once the arm has moved past a certain point, the energy is too far along, the body has moved too much and you literally have power behind your attack due to the time it’s taken to get there.

If you stop the attack early, the muscle fibers which are used to make that attack work aren’t activated yet, and there is also no body weight behind it.

Final Words: Once you have discovered and practiced this enough, you can time your interception at such a point that the energy will not be far enough to impact you, but will still be moving through your opponent’s body to give him or her the momentum required for doing the attack.