Here at the frontier, the leaves fall like rain. Although my neighbors are all barbarians, there are still two cups at my table.


Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn, a cool breeze in summer, snow in winter. If your mind isn't clouded by unnecessary things, this is the best season of your life.

~ Wu-men ~


Thursday, June 25, 2020

Cook Ding's Anniversay

Today marks the 15th anniversary of Cook Ding's Kitchen. In these fifteen years, over 2100 posts have been made along with almost 1.5 million hits.

So who's this Cook Ding cat? The "skill stories" from Zhuang Zi's Inner Chapters have always resonated with me and in particular, the story about Cook Ding:

Prince Huei's cook was cutting up a bullock. Every blow of his hand, every heave of his shoulders, every tread of his foot, every thrust of his knee, every whshh of rent flesh, every clink of the chopper, was in perfect rhythm — like the dance of the Mulberry Grove, like the harmonious chords of Ching Shou.

"Well done!" cried the Prince. "Yours is skill indeed!"

"Sire," replied the cook laying down his chopper, "I have always devoted myself to Tao, which is higher than mere skill. When I first began to cut up bullocks, I saw before me whole bullocks. After three years' practice, I saw no more whole animals. And now I work with my mind and not with my eye. My mind works along without the control of the senses. Falling back upon eternal principles, I glide through such great joints or cavities as there may be, according to the natural constitution of the animal. I do not even touch the convolutions of muscle and tendon, still less attempt to cut through large bones.

"A good cook changes his chopper once a year — because he cuts. An ordinary cook, one a month — because he hacks. But I have had this chopper nineteen years, and although I have cut up many thousand bullocks, its edge is as if fresh from the whetstone. For at the joints there are always interstices, and the edge of a chopper being without thickness, it remains only to insert that which is without thickness into such an interstice. Indeed there is plenty of room for the blade to move about. It is thus that I have kept my chopper for nineteen years as though fresh from the whetstone.

"Nevertheless, when I come upon a knotty part which is difficult to tackle, I am all caution. Fixing my eye on it, I stay my hand, and gently apply my blade, until with a hwah the part yields like earth crumbling to the ground. Then I take out my chopper and stand up, and look around, and pause with an air of triumph. Then wiping my chopper, I put it carefully away."

"Bravo!" cried the Prince. "From the words of this cook I have learned how to take care of my life."

ZhuangZi (Lin YuTang)

Sunday, June 21, 2020

Inside and Outside of the Dojo

Below is an excerpt from a very good piece from The Thoughtful Sensei - Aikido Musings regarding the difference between inside and outside of the dojo. The full post may be read here.


What we do in the dojo needs to be as real as we can possibly (and safely) make it.  It’s Budo.  It is not a sport.  It is not a game.  It is an activity where we practice the very serious art of controlled violence where mistakes have consequences and even the little things can often be critical so everyone’s head must always be on straight.  The quantum 8-dimensional algorithm may therefore be stated as:

PIE (Physical, Intellectual, Emotional) ………….. R (Reigisaho) Squared. 

Reigisaho can be considered many times more important than simple PIE.  PIE can be looked at as how “teachable” a student is (a measurement of their capacity and potential so-to-speak).  R (Reigisaho) can be looked at as “how seriously” that student views the training and whether they develop the proper mental attitude to understand that the dojo (and indeed Budo) are not sports nor are they games.  Reigisaho should then be looked at as R-Squared.  Maybe even R-Cubed and beyond.  That is how important Reigisaho is to the life of a dojo and to its’ existence in the Budo-Verse.

A dojo, if one pauses to consider, is an unrealistic and impractical idea; a waste in the business sense of unoccupied space and underutilized facilities since 24/7 classes are impossible.  Many Sensei have described the dojo in their own fashion so there are many ways to consider the idea of the existence of such a place.  A place of competition?  No.  A place of combat?  No.  A place of pure contemplation?  No.  A place of self-realization and enlightenment?  No.  An institution of learning?  No.  A place of social discourse?  No. 

What then?

It is not a gymnasium, a sports bar, a church, a social club, a rec center, a temple or monastery, a beer or dance hall, a business or a corporation.  Some Sensei have used the term “sacred place” although that term while more complete than others, is still insufficient.  It’s not even a school although most of the advertising one sees describes it as such because the normal Western civilian is simply unable to grasp the idea that it is something beyond a mere “school” per se.

It is also not a “physical” place.  Yes; it has walls, roof, floors, and other structures that one can walk into and “be” within, but a dojo is more a mental and spiritual state of being than of mere body.  Yes; the dojo is a physical manifestation of the ideals of Budo, and a dojo is said to absorb the “energy” of those who train and spend time there to the point that a sensitive can enter and “feel” those energies.  

A Dojo however is better considered a larger existence with all other descriptive possibilities attaching themselves to that one point; a locus as-it-were.

We all work and struggle and rejoice and suffer in our efforts to prosper or just to survive in our society with its emphasis on achievement, money, politics, etc. so the dojo becomes an offset to that life-battle.  It becomes a space that exists for our larger selves, and that space is energized by us going beyond the binary yes-no, win-lose idea.  The dojo needs several things that create, support, and maintain its “being”.  Those are within the overall encompassing aspects of Reigisaho.

There is a widely told teaching story in Budo concerning kendo and kickboxing.  A high-level championship shiai is held and when the winner is declared there are two differing reactions.  In the kendo match the facial expression of the winner and of the loser both remain the same with no real emotion.  The winner is the one who first bows (to the loser) to show his respect for the efforts made by him.  The respect from each to each is obvious.  In the kickboxing match when the winner is declared, the winner begins to raise his hands in the air, jump up and down and beat his chest as-if to gloat and disrespect the loser.  Two different reactions.  Two different personalities.  Only one understands.

Thursday, June 18, 2020

The 48 Laws of Power, #33: Discover Each Man's Thumbscrew

One of my favorite books on strategy is The 48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene and Joost Elffers.  Where The Art of War, by Sun Tzu is written as an overview of the whole topic of strategy, seeking to provide an overall understanding of the subject; and The 36 Strategies tries to impart the knack of strategic thinking through 36 maxims related to well known Chinese folk stories, Mr. Greene focuses on how we influence and manipulate one another, ie "power".

Mr. Greene draws from both Eastern and Western history and literature as his source material. Sun Tzu and Machiavelli as cited as much as wonderful stories of famous con men. 

Each of the 48 Laws carries many examples, along with counter examples where it is appropriate that they be noted, and even reversals.

It is a very thorough study of the subject and the hardback version is beautifully produced.

One of the things I admire about Greene is that he not only studied strategy, he applied what he learned to his own situation and prospered.

Today we have #33: Discover Each Man's Thumbscrew

  • Everyone has a weakness, a gap in the castle wall. That weakness is usually an insecurity, an uncontrollable emotion or need; it can also be a small secret pleasure. Either way, once found, it is a thumbscrew you can turn to your advantage.

  • How to find weaknesses:
    • Pay Attention to Gestures and Unconscious Signals: everyday conversation is a great place to look.  Start by always seeming interested. Offer a revelation of your own if needed. Probe for suspected weaknesses indirectly.  Train your eyes for details.
    • Find the Helpless Child: knowing about a childhood can often reveal weaknesses, or when they revert to acting like a child.
    • Look for Contrasts: an overt trait often conceals its opposite. The shy crave attention, the uptight want adventure, etc.
    • Find the Weak Link: find the person who will bend under pressure, or the one who pulls strings behind the scenes.
    • Fill the Void: the two main emotional voids are insecurity and unhappiness.
    • Feed on Uncontrollable Emotions: the uncontrollable emotion can be a paranoid fear or any base motive such as lust, greed, vanity or hatred.
  • Always look for passions and obsessions that cannot be controlled.  The stronger the passion, the more vulnerable the person.
  • People’s need for validation and recognition, their need to feel important, is the best kind of weakness to exploit.  To do so, all you need to do is find ways to make people feel better about their taste, their social standing, their intelligence.
  • Timidity can be exploited by pushing them into bold actions that serve your needs while also making them dependent on you.




Friday, June 12, 2020

Old Stories of the Diety Agni

Today we have a guest post byRichard Bejtlich in which he discusses what may be the oldest martial arts manual extant. Richard is the founder of Martial HistoryTeam and a jiu-jitsu practitioner with Team Pedro Sauer.

The Agni Purana

By Richard Bejtlich, founder, Martial History Team

Most martial artists are familiar with East and South-eastern Asian styles through practice and movies, but many are not aware of the martial traditions of other parts of Asia. India, with a population of over one billion people, is home to a rich martial tradition. India offers opportunities for study that are sometimes lacking in other countries.

For example, although there are discussions of warfare in old Chinese documents, one does not find detailed extant (i.e., still surviving) manuals of warfare until the 16th century. One example is 正氣堂集 (Zheng Qi Tang Ji), "Compilation of Vital Energy,” by 俞大猷 (Yu Da-You), who lived 1503–1579, and was a Ming dynasty Chinese general. Another is 紀效新書 (ji xiao xin shu) "New Book of Military Efficiency," written by another general, Qi Jiguang, who lived 1528-1588.

One of the oldest, if not the oldest, extant Indian military manuals is the Agni Purana, a Sanskrit text. “Agni Purana” means “old stories of the deity Agni.” The 1904 translation and commentary titled Agni Puranam (not “Agni Purana,” incidentally) by Dutt M.N. dates the text to the “8th or 9th century,” while Martial Arts Studies of the World (2010) dates it to the 8th century. Phillip B. Zarrilli’s book on the Indian art of Kalarippayattu, When the Body Becomes All Eyes, claims the text was written “no earlier than the 8th century.” Whatever the exact date, this book contains specific material on martial matters many centuries before many other extant book on martial arts.

The Agni Purana is not purely a martial arts text, however. In fact, only four of its 382 or 383 (depending on the edition) chapters address martial content. In this sense the book is more like an early encyclopedia of Indian thought. The four chapters of interest to martial artists are numbered 249-252. They are available online, although split between two volumes, available as Agni Purana English translation parts 2 and 3 at https://www.vyasaonline.com/agni-purana/. The four chapter headings are “science of archery,” (twice), “method of using a noose,” and “the mode of wielding the sword, maces, etc.” In the format available online, the text occupies about eight pages of text.

The emphasis on archery is not unique to Indian martial arts. Those familiar with Japanese traditions will remember that the samurai were first known for their expertise as mounted archers. The four martial chapters of the Agni Purana belong to the Dhanur Veda tradition of Indian martial arts. Dhanur Veda means “science of the bow,” although scholars apply the term to all ancient Indian martial arts. Some Indian martial arts still practiced, such as Kalarippayattu, trace their origins to Dhanur Vedic texts, including the Agni Purana.

The four martial arts chapters of the Agni Purana are short enough to read in their entirety, but in brief they discuss topics such as warfare via chariots, elephants, and horseback, plus combat by infantry and wrestling. The text includes five types of weapons, such as arrows and similar missiles, spears, the noose (as a weapon that is thrown but retained, unlike an arrow or spear), swords, and unarmed combat. Zarrilli noted that the chapters reflect a progression that might resonate with modern martial artists, saying “The consummate martial master progresses from training in basic body postures, through technical mastery of techniques, to single-point focus, to even more subtle aspects of mental accomplishment.”

Readers looking for additional free book-length material on Indian martial arts might enjoy two older texts published by the Internet Archive:

On the Weapons Army Organisation and Political Maxims of the Ancient Hindus by Gustav Oppert, published in 1880, 182 pages, with a special focus on the text Nitiprakasika aka Niti Prakashika aka Neeti Prakashika: https://archive.org/details/onweaponsarmyor00oppegoog

The Art of War in Ancient India by P C Chakravarti, published in 1941, 252 pages. https://archive.org/details/in.ernet.dli.2015.124844/page/n9/mode/2up

Indian martial arts may not be as popular, in terms of practice, when compared to their East and South-eastern Asian styles, but they offer several texts worthy of modern study. In this respect they are similar to historical European martial arts (HEMA), although texts like the Agni Purana are comparatively brief and lacking the illustrations found in many European manuscripts. I encourage readers familiar with these Indian traditions and their texts to share what they know!



Tuesday, June 09, 2020

Kenichi Sawai and Taikiken

Kenichi Sawai brought the Chinese martial art of Yiquan to Japan after WWII, which he called Taikiken. His students were known to be tough fighters and indeed, he was close friends with and influcenced Mas Oyama of Kyokushin Karate fame.

Below is a Japanese documentary about him. Even without understanding Japanese, there is plenty to see. Enjoy.

Saturday, June 06, 2020

The Immovable Fudo Myoo and Martial Arts

Today we have a guest post by Jeremy Thomas. He previously wrote an article for us about his background in both Japanese and Chinese martial arts.
 

Fudō Myō ō:
Immovability and Martial Arts

不 動 明 王

"A sword to cut through our ignorance; A rope to bind our desires"

Immovability

The concept of "immovability" is an attractive one, especially to a warrior or martial artist. The idea that one can maintain an immovable inner stillness, regardless of the onslaughts of external forces, is a virtue also sought by certain religious sects and ascetic monks. This is where the Buddhist deity Fudō Myō ō (Sanskrit; Acala) enters into the warrior traditions of the bushi, or samurai military class.

Fudō Myō ō translates to "Immovable Wisdom King". As previously mentioned, this idea of immovability appealed to warriors both in Fuedal Japan up to modern day Traditional Martial Artists. The famous daimyo and strategist Takeda Shingen, known as "The Tiger of Kai", had a statue of Fudō Myō ō built in his image:

"Famous for his battle standards quoting from Sun Tzu's The Art of War, Takeda Shingen was the 19th family head of the Takeda Clan. In 1559, at the age of 39, he became a monk and was afterward known by the Buddhist name Tokueiken Shingen. A resourceful tactician, Shingen built his position by fighting battles that he couldn't lose, listening closely to the advice of his vassals and building consensus. His armies were high in morale and bestowed upon themselves the title of "strongest under heaven", a reputation which soon spread. Shingen also had a statue of Fudo Myo-o built in his image."

- ninjaya.com

This statue still stands today at the Takeda family temple at Tokueiken Shingen.
In my early days of studying Budo and bushi history, I always found it curious that an adolescent bushi, whose life would almost certainly be spent in military service, would have his combat training interrupted to be sent to a Buddhist monastery, ostensibly, to learn the ways of Peace, or the mental discipline of Zen. After quite a bit of research, what I found was an answer very similar to the aforementioned concept of immovability; these young bushi were developing what could be described as a "stable-inner platform". From this inner stillness, relaxed musculature, and iron constitution, martial techniques could be performed spontaneously and decisively, without conscious thought.

An analogy might be seeing a house cat, laying lazily in the sunny spot of the living room floor; and in a flash, he's alert, on the other side of the room.

These concepts of immovability and inner-stillness is what drew me to Fudo-san, along with his virtues. As a father of two severely autistic children, discovering a deity who despises injustice, protects the innocent and is a guardian of children, the elderly and the infirm was a great encouragement.

For my breathing and meditative practices, it gives me a point with which to focus during meditation sessions, whether I focus on the image or the mantra. For lack of a better term, it becomes a "jump-off point", to practice Mushin (no-mind; empty mind).

A recurring and persistent warning, of sorts, I've gotten from experienced Buddhist practitioners, is to not "get caught up in images".

Virtues and Imagery

In the MAT text, Fudō Myō ō's description translates as:

"He holds a sword and a noose,
His plaited hair hangs from the left of his head.
He is well adorned and one of his eyes squints.
He abides amidst his own light*,
Wrathful, seated upon a rock.
His face is creased in anger,
And he has a robust, youthful form."

 - (MAT II.40. Hodge : 113)

In his right hand, the sword in Fudo-san (as he is often called in Japan) wields is known as "Kurikara" (demon-subduing sword), which is used to ward off demons and cut through human ignorance. The hilt resembles a Vajra (lighting bolt), a Buddhist ritual tool sometimes used as an improvisational weapon. In his left, he holds a noose, or rope (depending on translation), with which to bind our evil, selfish and self-destructive desires.

Fudo-san's fierce, wrathful countenance reflects his hatred of the injustices that exist in the world; as a colleague once pointed out, "If he is angry, he is angry for all the right reasons".

However, in essence, Fudo-san is a guardian and a servant. Fudo-san displays this aspect of his service by having his hair knotted in seven knots, falling to the left of his face, in the style of a traditional servant. He has two protruding, fang-like teeth, a lower tooth and an upper tooth. The upper tooth is pointed downward and this represents his bestowing limitless compassion for those who are suffering. His lower tooth is pointed upward and this represents his desire to progress in his service for the truth. his blue-ish black body and fierce face reflect the force of his will to draw all sentient beings to follow the teachings of the Buddha. The flames that materialize as his powerful and purifying aura are the flames which transform bitterness and blind anger into selfless and reflective wisdom. While he is considered a wrathful deity, his essence is one of compassion, and he has vowed to be of service to humankind for all eternity.

Immovability and Combat-Application

Fudo-san's huge rock base (盤石座, Banjakuza) the flat rock upon which he sits, eternally unmoved, is easy to draw comparisons from, in regards to a fighter's desire to develop body-structure, solid stances and rooting power in combat. Knowing what stance configuration makes one most "immovable", or solid, in the situation is crucial, whether it's ma bu, hanging-horse, sankokutai, neko-washi, bow-and-arrow, misubidachi...whatever the situation calls for (it's worth noting at this point, understanding and considering terrain is a big part of understanding what is the most "solid foundation" appropriate for the situation).

Just like building a house, if the foundation is wrong, it's all wrong.

Weak stance,
Weak structure,
Weak strikes.

Stance-work, rooting, and structure are all things my students start day one, just as I did, and it is the theme of a chapter from Musashi's "Book of 5 Rings", which I revisit often. This could also tie-in to the Pak Mei concepts of thin, flat and round "body shapes", and understanding the strong and weak points of those 3 shapes.

Perhaps more important is the internal "immovability"; not succumbing to fear and anxiety, controlling one's breathing and heart-rate, not being caught in the enemy's fierce countenance, not allowing oneself to be goaded or provoked, being able to control one's emotions so technique can arise spontaneously, without concious thought, and one can strike decisively, without hesitation.

This inner stability is what the young bushi (samurai) were meant to learn from Buddhist and Zen practices; to maintain an inner "immovability", and be mentally and spiritually prepared for the harsh realities of combat and war, and to remain fearless in the face of death.

Fudō Myō ō and My Musha Shugyo

I began studying Daito-ryu Aikijujutsu in 2006. This art comes directly from the Takeda Clan, through Sokaku Takeda, who was the first to teach the art publicly (the art was previously known as 'oshikiuchi', or 'inner palace art'). This was the clan of the Daimyo Takeda Shingen mentioned above, who was a devotee of Fudo-san. Studying the Takeda clan art of Daito-ryu, seeing effigies of Fudo-san and his sword "Kurikara" were commonplace, and I enjoyed seeing the different interpretations, and crafts and weapons with those images and themes.

It wasn't until 2019 that I started to truly feel drawn to Fudo-san, in what my teachers describe as a "karmic draw". Despite his fierce countenance and generally scary imagery, I find the portraits, tapestries and statues quite comforting, especially when practicing breathing or zazen. The mantras are soothing, and if vocalized correctly have a lovely harmonic effect on the skeletal-system. Through developing this inner stability, it allows me to be more disciplined in both my training and in day-to-day life.

According to several active practitioners who are personal friends of mine, as well as fellow martial artists, apparently practitioners specifically devoted to Fudo-san are fairly rare. I am not Buddhist, but I do use the imagery, mantras and words of Fudō Myō ō to help cultivate my own inner immovability. I do not believe Fudo-san is a real entity or deity; simply a mental tool to help me develop and control my thoughts and emotions, let logic and reason take the lead, and, hopefully, become a more proficient martial artists and strategist.

I also really like the artwork and many interpretations of Fudo-san!

I hope this shed a little light on what Fudo represents, and takes some of the "mystery and strangeness" out of his images.

I hope you enjoyed, and thank you for reading!

- Jeremy

Compassion Mantra

If you would like to try Fudo-san's compassion mantra, it is quite easy comparatively. Simply repeat the mantra as long as necessary, while sitting in seiza or your posture of choice:

"Nômaku sanmanda bazaradan,
Senda makaroshada sowataya,
Un tarata kanman.."

Translation:

"Homage to the all-pervading Vajras!
O' Violent One of great wrath!Destroy!*
hûm trat hâm mâm"

* (this mantra is invoking Fudo-san to "destroy" human ignorance and injustice; despite the moniker "Violent One", this is not a mantra encouraging violence)

Special Thanks to: Alan Cicco and Patrick Dunn, for their help with reliable resources for Fudō Myō ō and insight into Buddhist practices.

Additional Thanks to: Chris Wargrimm for recommending "Kurikara: The Sword and The Serpent", and keeping me company through my nights of insomnia.

Last and Most Importantly, Thanks to my significant other, Terra, for putting up with the lifestyle of a relentless martial artist. You are truly a saint, dear.

Dedicated to Saya and Orion

Resources:

Compassion Mantra: Request for Help:
https://youtu.be/nQqi5oyQB4M


Fudo Myoo and Martial
 Arts
https://youtu.be/zCDTMg1ZCg0


Kyoto Festival:
300 Years of Tanukidani Fudo Myoo

https://youtu.be/yaw1-ksvec0


References:

visiblemantra.org

https://sterlingassault.com/products/fudo-myoo-the-immovable-radiant-king 


ninjaya.com

Hodge, Stephen. The Mahāvairocana Abhisaṃbodhi Tantra : with Buddhaguhya's commentary. London, Routledge Curzon : 2003.
Linrothe, Rob. Ruthless compassion : wrathful deities in early Indo-Tibetan esoteric Buddhist art. London, Serindia : 1999.



Wednesday, June 03, 2020

What Makes Great Aikido?

At his outstanding blog, Kogen Budo, Ellis Amdur has a terrific article examining some of the great Aikidoka from history and dissecting just what it was that made their Aikido so great. An excerpt is below. The full post may be read here

Mr Ellis has authored many books on a variety of topics. They may all be found here at one location.

This essay is a composite of a number of mini-essays that I uploaded to a Facebook discussion forum: “Aikido —The Martial Side.” It also includes some of my answers to questions raised by members of the group.
Because aikido is a principle-based martial art, systematized around certain philosophical ideals and very specific physical parameters, many critics over the years have questioned its effectiveness. Aikido is particularly vulnerable to criticism because, for the most part, its practitioners do not do ‘live training,’ (pressure testing against unpredictable attacks, or freestyle competitive training).  Such critics come both from inside the art and without. Even though I share the perspective of many of the critics, at least in regards to much of the aikido I have experienced or seen, something bothers me about such discussions—I wonder if the critics do justice to the art. It is similar to criticizing expressionist art, using a popularizer like Leroy Nieman as an example. Whether one likes expressionism or not, it should be evaluated by its greatest proponents, such as Franz Marc or Maqbool Fida Hussain. Expressionist art may not be a style you enjoy, but criticism should be based on exemplars of the art, not the common mean.

There are some martial arts that one can become relatively effective as a fighter in a short period of time; aikido is not one of them. Yet there are, undeniably, aikidoka who have become quite effective as fighters. My friend and teacher, Terry Dobson, working as a bouncer in a Vermont bar, was once attacked by a guy with a chainsaw—he stepped inside the arc of the attack and threw him with a kokyunage, the saw flying one direction and man another—both hit the pavement hard, with the saw inoperable and the man now unwilling.

Many other aikidoka were known as formidable fighters, taking on people from other martial arts in challenge matches or simply engaging in street-fights. Among them were Abe Tadashi,  Shirata Rinjiro, Kato Hiroshi, Saito Morihiro, Watahiki Yoshifumi, to name only a few. Please note that I’ve deliberately named individuals who did not come from a judo, karate or boxing background—rather, their primary martial practice was aikido  (not to say they may not have done a little cross-training). I am fully aware that stories grow over time, and mundane scuffles become legendary. Nonetheless, unless they are all lies, these men had something special. Perhaps before one improves aikido, it’d be worthwhile to examine what one intends to repair, through examining the best of its possibilities—those who are great.

What I don’t mean by ‘great’ is those who are spiritual exemplars, those who are great teachers, or those who show artistry and grace in enacting the two-person choreography of aikido. In this essay, I am only concerned with individuals who are physically superlative as martial artists—who could fight with this art. And by fight, I mean hand-to-hand civilian altercations—street fights and dojo challenges. (1)

I wish to tease out the components that I have observed among those who were able to – and did – protect their training hall against dojo breakers or people who challenged them on the mat, striving to embarrass them or worse; those who handled taryujiai; and those who had or have a particular brilliance that has garnered them true respect, not only among other aikidoka, but among practitioners of other martial arts as well. I am making as clear a distinction as I can between the excellent aikido  practitioner, whatever their rank, and true virtuosos. Were we talking about music, this would be a discussion about what makes Hélène Grimaud, Emil Gilels, Martha Argerich and Marc-André Hamelin incandescent musicians, rather than merely ‘excellent.’

When I refer to ‘components,’ I do not mean the usual principles that are enumerated by teachers in every dojo worldwide: irimi, irimi-tenkan, musubi, awase, enten no ri, ‘moving off the line,’ centering, extension, etc. Everyone learns these principles—at least to some degree. The virtuoso, however, is able to actually enact them against opponents who are not colluding in mutual kata practice. They are able to enact these principles at will against a struggling or combative opponent. And they are able to do this due to certain attributes they possess, that none of these leading lights has ever discussed—except perhaps over a long evening drinking Suntory whiskey, or Otokoyama Sake.

Two individuals (among many) whom I think exemplify this are Takeno Takefumi (of Yoshinkan) and Bruce Bookman (of Tenzan Aikido). Takeno is ‘classical,’ whereas Bookman is extremely innovative, integrating components of both boxing and Brazilian jiujitsu, but they both possess the qualities I will enumerate below. These qualities number five (followed by two other components which potentially take one beyond the abilities of even the modern virtuoso).
I OBJECT TO THIS PREMISE!
Two objections may be raised to this essay, that what I discuss below does not encompass the complete martial art and training regimen of aikido’s founder, Ueshiba Morihei, and that it is also, to some degree, at variance to the vision, not only of his son, Ueshiba Kisshomaru, but also to the legacy of other leading lights of aikido, such as Tomiki Kenji, Shioda Gozo, or Tohei Koichi.  I will discuss Ueshiba Morihei at the conclusion of this essay, talking briefly about his own training methodology that was largely abandoned after the 1st generation of his successors—and for the most part, even the leading lights each focused only on a part of what their teacher did, not its entirety.

As for the latter objection, one of the things that makes Ueshiba Kisshomaru, the son of the founder, such a great man, is that he ushered in modern aikido , a martial art of the ‘grey zones.’ What I mean is that just as something like archaic martial traditions like Araki-ryu or Kashima Shin-ryu focused on the inculcation of the values of the warrior class of medieval Japan, as well as the question of one’s survival ( your own, your family, your clan or some larger political entity), aikido is an embodiment of modern society, where few situations end in mortal combat; rather, they are conflicts where some kind of resolution is possible. Therefore, modern aikido provides a place for just about anyone who wishes to enhance their lives through practice of a martial art that is not primarily concerned with life-and-death questions. (2) This has enabled aikido  to exert a much greater, positive influence on people’s lives than Ueshiba Morihei’s narrow, sectarian cult of excellence that was his Daito-ryu, aikijutsu, and aikibudo, some of the names of his martial art’s pre-WWII incarnations.

Nonetheless, my question here isn’t what makes one a comfortable participant in an idealistic martial art, or even a very dedicated student of a physically demanding, even dangerous discipline that has become a centerpiece of your life. My question is not what makes one a good teacher, a great leader of a dojo or someone who can apply the principles of aikido in other social settings. Finally, it is not the reverse—an unfounded claim that these great practitioners are the best martial artists on the planet through their practice of aikido. My question is what makes one a virtuoso practitioner, regardless of one’s other qualities (and this include morality or spirituality)—it is the same question I would ask regarding such karateka as Kanazawa Hirokazu or Higaonna Kanryo, or judoka such as Kashiwazaki Katsuhiko or Ushijima Tatsukuma.