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 ~

Saturday, July 24, 2021

The Martial Arts of Minoru Mochizuki

Minoru Mochizuki has a unique place in modern Budo training. He achieved high dan rankings in Judo from the founder Jigoro Kano, Aikido from Morihei Ueshiba and Karate from Gichin Funakoshi. He went on to found his own martial art, combing what he learned, which he called Yoseikan Budo.

Below is a short video. Enjoy.

Wednesday, July 21, 2021

High Performance Through Relaxation

Below is an excerpt from a post that appeared at The Art of Manliness. It has to do with relaxation and high athletic performance. The full post may be read here.

Lloyd “Bud” Winter ranks as one of the greatest running coaches of all time. During his three-decade career at San Jose State College (now University), his track and cross-country teams won several national championships, placed in the top ten over a dozen times, and produced 102 All-Americans (27 who went on to become Olympians). His athletes set 37 world records. As the result of his success, SJSC’s track stadium was known as “Speed City.”

But before he was an illustrious coach of track and field achievement, Winter served as a facilitator of aviation success.  

During World War II, the U.S. military was concerned about the number of pilots who were cracking under the stress of aerial combat. The high tension and high stakes of the job were causing too many lost planes and lost lives.

Winter, who had previously studied the psychology of performing under pressure, was brought into the Del Monte Naval Pre-Flight School to head up a research program designed to help the school’s cadets relax.

Winter spearheaded the creation of protocol that aimed at alleviating mental and physical tension and was built around teaching the cadets to relax every part of their bodies – from the toes of their feet to the muscles around their eyes. The exercises were designed to help the pilots-in-training stay calm and cool in the cockpit, and also to fall asleep fast in their off hours, so that they could be better rested and less fatigued.

The program was a phenomenal success: the cadets who received the relaxation training improved their scores in both the classroom and on the playing field, and heightened their focus, increased their reaction time, and elevated their speed and stamina. 96% also learned how to fall asleep in two minutes or less, no matter the circumstances. (Click here to learn the technique Winter taught the cadets for falling asleep at the drop of a hat.)

After the war, Winter applied the tension-relieving techniques he had helped develop for combat flyers to creating world-class athletes. He wrote of his time at San Jose State College: “We preached relaxation from the time the athletes started their warm-up until they unlaced their shoes at the end of the workout.” Winter believed that trying too hard actually hurt performance, and that an athlete did better when he was going at nine-tenths effort rather than 100% all-out. His watchword for all his track and field athletes, from sprinters to shot putters, was “stay loose.”

With his distance runners in particular, he made their daily chant: “Let the meat hang on the bones.” By this he meant letting go of physical tension and allowing their “antagonistic” muscles — all the muscles not in use at a given moment — to relax. E.g., when you’re using the muscles involved in swinging an arm forward, you let the muscles used to swing it back relax.  

Of course, it’s a little hard to keep track of which muscles are and aren’t in use while you’re in motion, so the two biggest cues Winter impressed on his runners over and over again were “loose jaw — loose hands.” Winter thought that relaxing your jaw and hands “tends to keep your entire body relaxed,” and that this was especially true in regards to the former body part: “Relaxing your jaw is one of the keys to relaxing all over. If your jaw is relaxed, it is a good bet your whole upper body is relaxed.” Winter constantly reminded his runners to let their jaw sag, to let their whole mouth, even their lips and tongue, relax, and go for a “brook trout look.” And he’d get on them to let their hands go limp, instead of being tensely balled up.

Sunday, July 18, 2021

The 48 Laws of Power, #37: Create Compelling Spectacles

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 #37: Create Compelling Spectacles.

Shock and Awe is one aspect. A larger than life extravaganza. We're just sucked into it.  The flyovers, the fireworks. Think about product or movie premiers. 

There is just something about a huge event that is disarming, where we let our guard down and are open to the message that follows. The message takes on the size of the spectacle and itself becomes gigantic.

When you have an important message to deliver, you can make it even bigger by pulling out all of the stops.

Thursday, July 15, 2021

Conservation of Movement in Budo Training

Below is an excerpt from an article that appeared at The Budo Bum. The full article may be read here.

Most people don’t know it, but there is a  Budo Law of Conservation of Movement. Budo is conservative at its heart. We want to conserve movement, conserve energy, conserve time. The Budo Law of Conservation of Movement is:

One movement to do a hundred things, not a hundred movements that accomplish the same thing.

Why learn a hundred ways to do something when one will do the job? There are a number of different ways to cut with a sword, but I don’t know any classical art that teaches more than one of them. The same with sticks. There are lots of ways to swing a stick, but I don’t know of any martial art that teaches more than one (to the Shinto Muso Ryu people who are raising your hands to object, all those different strikes utilize the same body mechanics. There’s really only one strike and one thrust in Shinto Muso Ryu).  

Each koryu has its own way of doing things, and a real student of the ryuha imprints that way into their mind, their muscles and their bones. This is true whether you’re doing Shinto Muso Ryu, Katori Shinto Ryu, Kashima Shinryu, Sekiguchi Ryu, or any other koryu. You won’t find classical systems with an overabundance of techniques or principles to master. Each ryuha takes a few basic concepts and teaches you to apply them to a variety of situations. Again, look at Shinto Muso Ryu. It’s commonly taught that there are four strikes in SMR, but all of  them are variations on the same strike. That’s it. One strike. Add one way to thrust and one trap and you have it.

Each ryuha has one way of doing things. Shinto Muso Ryu and its fuzoku ryu incorporate jo, tachi, kodachi, jutte, tanjo, and kusarigama.  That’s a wide variety of weapons, yet the principles and movement are the same. The student isn’t learning six discrete weapons. She is learning to apply one set of principles to a variety of weapons. Once the principles of movement, spacing and timing are internalized, it doesn’t matter what she picks up. She’ll apply the principles she learned on the jo the first time she picks up a tachi. Working with the tachi deepens the understanding developed while training with the jo. By the time she picks up a tanjo or a jutte, the teacher doesn’t have to teach her how to hold the weapons or how to swing them. She already knows the principles. She just needs a little practice to get used to the specific spacing and timing required by the new weapon, along with the specific patterns of movement that make up the kata. By the time she’s practiced with all of the weapons, she can pick up just about anything and intuitively understand how to use it applying the principles of Shinto Muso Ryu.

At that point the techniques just happen. The student has soaked herself in the principles of the arts. There isn’t any thought.  To move in a manner other than that of Shinto Muso Ryu would require concentration because by that point the Shinto Muso Ryu principles have been absorbed so deeply that they have become part of  her natural movements and responses.

Friday, July 09, 2021

Chen Xiaowang and Chen Liqing Demonstrating Chen Family Taijiquan

Introductory part of the movie "Taichi Boxer" (also called "Tai Chi Chun") 太极神功 released in 1985, showing Chen Xiaowang and Chen Liqing demonstrating Chen Family Taijiquan (Chen Liqing was one of the leading representatives of Small Frame). Both CXW and CLQ served as martial arts consultants in the production of the movie, but did not act there.

Tuesday, July 06, 2021

Sports as Budo with a small ‘b.’

Below is an excerpt from an article at The Art of Manliness blog on the positive and important aspects of sport. Approached correctly, I liken sport to "Budo with a small b." The full post may be read here.

Organized sports, from college athletics to local Little League teams, are slowly coming back to life after being on lockdown. There are those who will say that these activities aren’t “essential.” But they’ve been saying that since before the pandemic. And they couldn’t be more wrong.

There are folks who have long argued that sports are just escapism. Plenty of teachers and professors think athletic teams are nothing but a distraction from serious learning, and even an encouragement to bad behavior.
There are now politicized critics who whine that high-level sports foster too much competition. That they are too militaristic. Too violent. 
One super-trendy claim is that athletic competition encourages “toxic masculinity.” 
Those complaints miss fundamental truths about sports, for males in particular. For many boys and young men, classrooms are uncomfortable places. Athletic teams are often a saving compensation. 
When I first arrived on a college campus, I had a bad reaction. I didn’t appreciate the smugness and sense of superiority that I encountered among lots of smart people at an Ivy League university. I didn’t like the softness of many scholars, and their disconnection from the hard knocks and grueling demands that life places on less coddled citizens out in the real world. I didn’t see much respect on campus for the people I grew up with — who value grit, humility, and hard work much more than philosophical navel-gazing.

To escape some of the things I didn’t like about academic life, and to get closer to people I could admire, I poured myself into sports. I originally played on the Yale football team, then shifted to rowing. I sometimes tell people that I majored in rowing in college, and that’s only partly facetious. 

Eventually I found an academic path that excited me, and managed to create a life of the mind that I’m proud of. But I retain a deep respect for the life of the sweaty, bruised, and exhausted body, as well. 

Because, done right, sport is not just play. It is not trivial. When undertaken as a discipline (which of course is completely different from watching as a spectator) sport can be one of the most formative activities any human ever takes part in. 

It wasn’t in a classroom that I discovered the power of resilience and stamina. It was in sports. That’s where I learned to keep going despite hard blows. That’s where I accepted the necessity of drudging labor, and the irreplaceable value of preparation. 

Sport is where I learned the very most vital lesson of my entire life — which is that in any really fierce battle, the competition is not the person across from you. The competition is your own pain threshold, your internal discipline, your perseverance. Can you defeat your own weaknesses and go beyond your comfortable limits?

So much for athletic competition not being educational. 

Saturday, July 03, 2021

Yoshinkan Aikido in Canada

Kimeda Sensei is the Chief Instructor of Aikido Yoshinkai Canada. He is the highest ranking instructor of Yoshinkan Aikido outside of Japan. 2010 marked his 50th Anniversary in the Yoshinkan. This video was produced for that occasion.

Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Aikido: Interview with Harvey Konigsberg

Over at Ellis Amdur's excellent blog, Kogen Budo, is an interview with one of the most senior living American Aikidoka, Harvey Konigsberg. At excerpt is below. The full interview may be read here. Enjoy.

How did you get started with aikido and what was your first impression?

 Harvey: It all started back in 1965. I was living in Manhattan in a loft on 24th Street between 6th and 7th Avenues. I was also the building superintendent. My friend, Harry McCormick, who is also an artist, and I were in the same gallery in Greenwich Village, the Phoenix. Harry told me about aikido. Since I was living on 24th Street and the New York Aikikai was on 18th Street, it was easy to find my way there to check out a class. My friend, Clem Florio, went with me to observe my first class. He was a professional boxer, who had eighty-seven professional fights with boxers such as Sugar Ray Robinson, Jake LaMotta, and others. So, he was well versed and knowledgeable in boxing. (He was the boxing and racing editor for the New York Post.) We went to the Aikikai to see what this was all about. We entered the dojo, then up the stairs we go. It was a small class, but on the mat were Yamada sensei and Koichi Tohei sensei.

I had never seen anything like this in my life. I had already stopped pursuing boxing because I realized I really didn’t like getting hit. However, I missed the martial aspect and the activity. I saw aikido and asked myself, “What is this?” I think a lot of people associate aikido with the grabbing and throwing in judo or jujutsu, but I immediately equated it with what I loved about boxing—totally free movement—spontaneous movement. But I still did not know what was going on! Clem, who had better eyes than I, said, “You do not know how great this is – this is amazing! Do me a favor – when you start training, grab one of them, and let me know how it feels.”

I started about a month after that. They were a wild bunch, and it was rough training. People were from all kinds of martial arts backgrounds. They had to pry my hands open, since I was used to keeping my hands closed from boxing. Sensei approached me and asked me if I knew how to fall and I said I did, so no one ever really taught me how to roll.  I was persistent and kept going. I loved it so much! I was twenty-five then and physically strong, full of piss and vinegar from working, lifting heavy containers in a warehouse in Florida, before moving up to New York.

One time, Tohei sensei came up to me, and I put my arm out straight, and with one finger, he dropped me to the floor. I said, “Sensei, I was not ready,” He did it again. “Sensei, I was not ready.” He replied, “Are you ready now?” And again, I was on the floor. How did that happen? I had no understanding of what was happening. It became a great mystery for me. I was entranced.  Yamada sensei and Koichi Tohei sensei would train with us and throw us. The encounters were always different. They were always mysterious. I tried to capture that. It became my white whale. What was the difference in that feeling? How did that happen that I was on the floor? This is how I started aikido.

I went to the New York Aikikai for a year or two, then we moved to Montreal, and I panicked. How was I going to train? I started dreaming about aikido. You do not know how deep this goes into you at some subconscious level. By chance, I heard on French radio that someone was teaching aikido in Montreal. That was Massimo di Villadorata. I joined the dojo and trained three or four times per week. I got really hooked. I owe that to Massimo. I will always be grateful for that.

 You are now 80 years of age, and you are still practicing. What continues to draw you to continue practicing and teaching aikido?

 Harvey: This experience with aikido was life changing. I was once with Yoshioka Sadao sensei from Hawaii in Yamada sensei’s office, and Yoshioka sensei said that at a certain age—forty years or so—people in Japan stop taking break falls. I thought, “Why would I stop taking break falls?” My body could still do it, and this was before we got tatami. What we were practicing on at the time was much more forgiving in a certain way. Then Yoshioka sensei said, “When you make a sword, you start with raw iron, and you take a rock and beat it into shape. Then, as it takes shape, you take a finer rock. Finally, you use a rough surface to smooth it out until you have the final blade. In the end, you use a shammy cloth. If you took a heavy rock to it then, you would destroy everything that you had done.”

I still get chills when I think of this analogy; it resonated so deeply with me. What is interesting and what is conversely true is that when you start practicing, you do not use a shammy cloth. You need that process of the heavy rock; it is very important. However, if you start at a certain age, you cannot use that heavy rock. This analogy from Yoshioka sensei was life-changing in my relationship to aikido. This is part of my goal now, my focus, to use a shammy cloth.

We were practicing hard in our twenties and thirties, and physically well-tuned, and yes, I could bounce off the wall and be OK. I was resilient, but as one gets older, things change and one’s practice changes and adjusts. Suddenly, you begin to see the changes in your body and in your practice. As I adjust in my own practice, I see areas of power or areas that are much more profound. In many ways, it is even more fun. I am in a fortunate position in that, and for whatever reason – experience or seniority – I am a teacher. Yet I see many talented people who came along at the same time who feel that they cannot train anymore.

The question becomes how do we tailor aikido without losing its essence, so people can come and still train and be connected? If we have been doing this for all these years and have a passion for it, why should we have to give it up? I am really working at this and have just started a class where people who have physical challenges can do aikido without the falls that may make it unpleasant or even endanger them, but where aikido can still be effective as a martial art.

This fits into my philosophy of aikido right now. When we talk about the efficacy or the efficiency of aikido, I do not think that aikidoka realize what is actually done by nage. It is the encounter. The dramatic and magnificent throw is up to uke. Even after training for twenty or thirty years, what goes through people’s minds subconsciously as they execute a technique is, “Oh, I did that.” If your uke is thrown across the mat and does not have beautiful and impressive ukemi, you have somehow failed in executing your technique. But that is not true. The truth of aikido is that effectiveness is in the encounter itself; and with the encounter you have options. This is what I try to stress to people. It is the mental, spiritual and emotional effort that one brings to the encounter and how one approaches it. This is perhaps the most important aspect of what we do; to work at this does not require one to take falls or stop their training, which they have enjoyed with passion for so many years.

I am eighty years old now, and I am still practicing, simply because I cannot stay away. Today, I went to the dojo. I just came back home, and I am renewed. Even if I am tired, aikido has a nutritional value to the soul, to the psyche, and it is always different. Aikido is like a kaleidoscope. You will not get faster or stronger at eighty, but you will go deeper.