Monthly Archives: October 2014

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Short video of a columbian seeking out training at the hombu in Japan.  Features Okamoto Yoko as the teacher.  I particularly like his explanation of Aikido as a non-combative art.  As always he mentions the fascination with all things Japanese as a consequence of his exposure to Aikido.  Wonderfully shot.  Enjoy!

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Morihiro Saito is one of my favourite Aikidoists and there are a number of reasons why.  Firstly, I admire his influence in Aikido around the world and the fact that there are many videos of him are a testament to that.  Secondly his posture is without doubt one of the best.  If you’ve been studying Aikido for any length of time you will understand how poor posture leads to poor performance.

Moreover, Saito Sensei has always been a fan of using hips and he rarely throws people with downwards movements but rather tends to throw people with his hips.  It is fascinating to watch but I don’t think I would have liked to have been his Uke back in the day.

In this video he demonstrates some variations from Morote Dori with Koku Nage.  Enjoy!

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Watching this video from the class at Tenzan Dojo has given me pause to rethink our ideas on running a kids class.  Our dojo is run as a non for profit organisation and our instructors work for free, so we rarely have a business mindset when it comes to running our dojo.  For most martial arts businesses, their bread and butter is kids classes.

At this time our current mindset is not to run kids classes as it requires a lot of effort and we couldn’t really see the payoff.  After watching this video and seeing how impressive these kids are it may be time to reopen the argument for juniors classes.

What I particularly like about the video is the fact that Bruce initially began with older kids and then introduced the younger one.  I think this is a brilliant strategy as there is a great divide between the really young and adults.  I think young kids always look up to older kids for inspiration.  If they see someone who is a few years older do something, they naturally think it is achievable.

I am puzzled how Bruce manages to maintain order with so many young ones and how on earth he gets them to meditate and do yoga. I really take my hat of to you on that one.

Furthermore, due to Bruce’s mixed experiences in martial arts, he has designed an Aikido class with a focus on martial effectiveness.  Mixing Judo, take-downs and grappling into the system is a winning formula in my book.  Enjoy the video and well done on a inspirational Aikido video Bruce & Co.

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A wonderfully shot video of Florent Bétorangal and Léo Tamaki exchanging techniques.  Both martial artists obviously appreciate each others disciplined.  It is a wonderful example on how people should approach their martial arts as like all the original sensei from Aikido were multidisciplinary.

On a side note, what a great location, looks like a rooftop space.  Excellent lighting, with that slightly white washed look.  And the video work is amazing, Enjoy!

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Aikido is all about movement.  For most Aikidoists Taisabaki is an essential part of their daily practice.  It separates the movement from technique and allows the practitioner to work on isolated movements unhindered.  Rigorous practice of taisabaki will begin to surface in technique the more you focus on it.  That is why Aikido also incorporates sword to ensure movement and posture are solid.

I can remember years ago practicing taisabaki at the start of class (yoseikan has about 12 different movements).  Many of these I didn’t use for quite a while.  One day while struggling with a new technique, I realized I had been practicing the taisabaki movement for that technique for quite some time.  So I simply performed the movement and Voila! the technique worked.

In this video, Christian Tissier gives examples on how you can move in different direction, maintaining essential the same taisabaki movement.  I enjoy watching his Aikido and he is one of teh very few sensei who has managed to add to his Aikido arsenal.


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Nin: Perseverance

reposted from THE BUDO BUM

忍 (にん, Romanized “nin,” pronounced “neen”)
This is character for patience, endurance and perseverance. I was going through some calligraphy my iaido teacher, Kiyama Sensei, had done and given me and came across one piece that was just this character. It’s a popular subject for calligraphy in budo circles, and Kiyama Sensei seems to have a special fondness for it. He does it often, and he frequently includes at least one copy of it when he gives me batches of his calligraphy.

We’ve never talked about it, but I’m starting to get the message Sensei is sending me. There is a lot of talk about the important characteristics of a good martial artist. This is certainly one of them. Good budoka all have 忍 by the bucket. They don’t expect to master the art in a week. They keep at it whether they feel like they are progressing or not. These are the students who show up week after week whether the weather is beautiful and practice is comfortable and pleasant, or it’s summer and the only way we survive practice is to drink a gallon of water along the way, or it’s winter and the dojo is so cold that everyone is eager to start just so they can stay warm. It’s not a flashy characteristic. This is a quiet characteristic. It’s boring and doesn’t call attention to itself. It can be invisible because others become so accustomed to seeing those with it show up for practice week in and week out that they stop thinking about them.

Most people with nin don’t think they will ever master the essence of their art, but they still come to practice and work at it. They are patient with themselves and their progress. They keep working at it, grinding away at their technique and polishing their basics. They aren’t inhuman machines that never feel frustrated because they are still working on the same movement they first learned 10 or 20 years ago. They’re quite human, and will often be heard moaning into a post-practice beer “I’ll never get that strike/throw/lock/technique right. It’s impossible.” They show up next week anyway.

These students aren’t always the most talented. Often they are remarkable for being so very average in their talent. Occasionally they are remarkable for their lack of talent. What they do have is perseverance. They come to practice and they work hard. They go home and work hard there too. They don’t let the little things in life get in the way of training. In the words of Nike, they “just do it.” Training happens like the hands of the clock going around and around. It’s just what they do.

They collect bumps and bruises and sore joints, but the keep coming. Like everyone, life gets in the way sometimes. This doesn’t stop the student with 忍 from training. They may not train as much as they like but they train when they can. Other aspects of life definitely can be more important than training. Family and friends are critical. Without family and friends, budo is just play, so when the need presents itself good students delay their training or rearrange their schedule so they can train in the spaces in between other obligations.
When these students find themselves traveling down a bumpy stretch of training where progress is elusive and difficult to see, they don’t trade budo for something easier or shinier or newer. They slog away at it, plodding down the path no matter how difficult it seems to be to make progress. There is no final destination on the Way that is budo, so they take satisfaction simply in being on the path.

I have met people who exemplify the spirit of 忍。One of my students stands out. She has had any number of medical issues that would have stopped most people. Each has been a hurdle that she found a way to pull herself over rather than a roadblock that stopped her from moving forward. The most recent is a badly damaged shoulder. Instead of giving up and stopping training, she has turned around and made training her physical therapy. She couldn’t raise her arm. Her range of motion was severely limited. The shoulder was too weak to support her sword. To top it off, the dojo is very difficult for her to get to.

She still shows up every chance she gets. When she couldn’t use a sword, she still worked on the kata. Then she found a bokken light enough for the weak shoulder to handle. Where the shoulder’s range of motion was limited, she used the training to stretch and slowly extend the range of motion. The doctor said that she was healed. She said “No, I still can’t do my martial arts.” and it was back to PT. This didn’t take weeks. It didn’t take months. It’s been. Now she’s been cleared for all training. It took a couple of years, but she was patient and dedicated and embodied 忍.

Looking at my teachers, I see the same spirit exemplified over and over. They are the generation in Japan that maintained the budo traditions even during the difficult years after the war when Japan was rebuilding and renewing itself. This was a time when most of Japan didn’t have any use for budo. Kiyama Sensei and many other people worked patiently and persisted in their practice. Today every town in village has at least one public dojo, many have more than one. 60 years ago there were almost none, and there were no funds to support such luxuries. People trained wherever they could. Even 25 years ago when I first went to Japan, there were lots of places without nice facilities. We trained judo in an aging gymnasium left behind when the elementary school attached to it was torn down. No air conditioning in the summer and no heat in the winter. There were a few leaks too. No showers, no changing rooms and no toilets. You better have gone before you arrived. That was where we trained every week. The mats were real tatami with canvas covering. Can you say “hard?”

People trained. It wasn’t comfortable, but if you wanted to train, you put up with the uncomfortable facilities and did your best. The people who maintained the many budo styles and ryuha persevered in their training when any kind of facilities were difficult to find, and training time was even more difficult to come by. They were literally rebuilding their country, and free time for personal activities like budo had to be fought for with care and delicacy so it didn’t interfere with more critical activity. My teachers and their peers had to work hard just to have the chance and time to train. Summer and winter, they trained regardless of the fact that the temperature inside the dojo matched the temperature outside.

Now, more than 60 years later, Kiyama Sensei is still training. He had knee surgery. They kicked him out of rehab after he was caught walking up and down the stairs for extra exercise. Just being able to use stairs was the doctors’ goal. Here he was doing laps of the stairs in the building.

For all of us, training takes that combination of patience and perseverance that is 忍. There are good days when it’s easy to get up and go train. There are other days when it seems to take almost everything I’ve got just to get to the dojo. Those are the days when I’m really training, because I’m battling myself to get there. What happens in the dojo is secondary. The battle with myself to get out of that soft, comfortable and seductive La-Z-Boy chair, put on a dogi and go is the real training. It’s in doing this that I realized that patience and perseverance are not necessarily qualities Kiyama Sensei and my student were born with. They are qualities I can develop and strengthen within myself.

Instead of just giving in to the seductive call of my La-Z-Boy recliner, the more often I fight with myself over going, the more often I have a chance of winning the fight. The more I struggle with myself, the more I win, and the more likely winning becomes. Now I win the fight with my chair with ease most days, though this wasn’t always so. I’ve learned tricks and techniques for defeating the part of me that longs to lay back in my chair and lounge away the evening. Tricks like this one for just showing up.

We show up and we train. If we don’t show up, we generally don’t do anything. The seduction of my recliner is dangerous. It calls me to sit back, relax, take the evening off and watch some TV. If I do that though, I don’t gain much. I have days in my schedule when I can relax, so I don’t need to add an extra one. As for the TV, this isn’t 1978. We’ve got DVR and Netflix and Hulu. We can watch the box any time we want to. Perseverance, like patience, is it’s own reward. I can’t remember an occasion when I didn’t feel much better after practice than I did before before.

I follow the examples of those around me, my teachers and students. I show up for practice and do as much as I can. It feels good. Even when I’m not quite getting it, when the technique isn’t quite there, it feels good. I feel like I’ve done something worth doing. That’s a feeling I’ve never gotten from watching TV. At best I make a little progress. At worst I have good training and polish my self.. Either way I go home feeling better than when I arrived. If I had to fight with myself to get there, I have the satisfaction of winning another round against myself.

忍is a quiet trait. It’s not flashy like strength or speed, incredibly flexibility or great dexterity. It’s only noticeable because people with it are there, doing what they need to, without anything from anyone else. Patience, endurance and perseverance don’t shout about themselves and don’t call attention to person who has them. The seem to plod quietly down the road. The special thing about them though is that they keep plodding down the road. The progress may be slow, but it continues to happen.

That’s the big secret of budo and 忍. Perseverance makes good budo happen. It keeps your feet going into the dojo, which is the only way you get better. If you don’t get into the dojo, you’re never going to make any progress. Patience helps keep you there on the days you don’t improve as much as you’d like. The good news is that these traits aren’t static qualities you are born with. Just like your throws and strikes and joint locks are polished with practice, perseverance and patience can be improved with practice. Any improvements you make with them, will be reflected in the quality of the rest of your budo.

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Running your own dojo can be a formidable task, especially when you run a non profit organisation where instructors don’t get paid.   Unlike a business where the very survival is based on generating new leads, Aikido dojos tend to lack fresh new faces due to the lack of marketing initiatives.

I regularly schedule video captures of training on my phone on my Samsung S3 camera and do a quick edit, make a 2/3 min video but it mainly for students to see techniques and they are a bit rough and ready.  Most dojos could do with a little more marketing with video, so here goes…

1. Hire a student videographer from your local university.  Many students need to build up their portfolio, so generally will do work for free or very cheap.

2. Simple video edits with random shots make for interesting filler content and can be used for breaks in video.  Take a shot down the line up of students, or close up on an hakama.  For most people not familiar with Aikido they make for interesting fodder.

3.  Slow mo.  whilst I am not the greatest fan of slow-mo, when it comes to an Aikido throw it can be quite impactful.  Especially with an Hamaka flying through the air makes for some great visual lines and is very appealing.

4. Black and white is underrated.  Given that our uniform is generally black and white, it is easy to enhance the Protagonist/Antagonist in the video.  Ever seen a display of Black and White photos, they tend to a dramatic influence on the way you absorb a scene.

5. Music.  You have to find the right balance of music, get it wrong and it can be quite distracting.  If your a Youtube fan they provide free MP3’s which you can download from their site and add to the video.

The video above is a great example of a combination of these factors and makes a great promotional video.  And in my opinion, captures the essence or the romance of Aikido.  Don’t forget, there is a certain mindset of someone who is drawn to Aikido and I think this video would be quite appealing.

Have some thoughts, what else would you add?  Comment below using Disqus…

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