Saturday, October 27, 2018

Aikido and the 1 inch punch

My history with the inch punch began with Bruce Lee, watching him generate all that sudden explosion of energy from an inch away from his target. Later my t'ai chi master, Sifu Choy Kam Man suggested that I research 'inch power'. But my first real experience of it was in Spring or so of 1973 and is chronicled in Linda Holiday sensei's book "Journey to the Heart of Aikido". I was initiated into it by Tojima sensei. From an inch away he uprooted me with a vertical fist. Which he repeated several times. My memory of it was that there was no sense of being hit. No force directed at me. I was just in the air.

Over the ensuing decades that experience has stayed with me When we moved to our current location at Martha Street, Professor Bunch's jujitsu class had some punching dummies. They are heavily bottom weighted. Initially I tried the side kick until I could knock one over a la Bruce Lee. I haven't attemped that in a while. But I would try the inch punch as well. And I can't really recall when I started to get it. I just retained the feel experience of how it felt to receive it from Tojima sensei. I began to realize how it is basically kokyu or breath ........The ability to focus one's power in a single point and unleash it without any sense of weight or force, one's consciousness free and peaceful. Even loving.

And past the feel experience there is a theory behind it. I find I can teach it to most people in 15 minutes or so. But the ability to be consistent takes much longer and involves a theoretical rewiring of force and power.
Basically it is like baseball. Some muscular huge person can muscle the ball and hit a catchable fly ball while someone much smaller can drive the same ball. In his autobiography Sadaharu Oh talks about meeting a huge American, part of an American All Star team playing Japan's All Stars, including, of course Mr Oh. The American looked at Oh, slight by his standards and asked, " How can YOU hit home runs?". Oh answered, rather inscrutably, "I understand the secret of the weight shift''. Mr Oh had been guided by Ueshiba Osensei, who mentored Oh's own coach, Mr Arakawa. The weight shift involves the inner point. Mr Oh was famous for standing on one leg while waiting for the pitch, then when his lead foot touched earth unleashing his power.

Nationally and locally we have only to watch Steph Curry of the Warriors. His range comes from the incredible power of his core(I read once where he can dead lift 400 pounds), focused in that point, translated out into the touch muscles of his fingers. My version of that shot is included in the attached video.

Tojima sensei really researched Koichi Tohei sensei.  I personally never worked with Tohei sensei, so sense of the matrial comes from Tojima sensei.Tohei sensei stressed what he called the 4 rules of Ki. I have updated this somewhat to the 4 algorithms.

1. Relax completely. Let go of what you're thinking, good, bad, or indifferent. Osensei talked of shinku or true  emptiness at a more universal or archetypal level

2. Weight underside. From 1 shoulders relax, arms are firm but not holding tension, and the beginnings of grounding.....Ueshiba Osensei stressed the importance of the 'ne no kuni' or land of the roots.

3.  The inner point surfaces. Osensei linked this to Ame no Minakanushi no Okami, the first point in creaation similar to the Big Bang theory.   And related it to the chant SU. If you look for the point or think about it you distance yourself from the experience.

4. Vital force or enery(Ki) starts moving as a part of the re-organization of the first 3. I am not so much into 'I extend Ki', but Ki starts to manifest for someone who practices the 3 prior algorithms,ie a more natural, original state of being. And since all 4 involve whittling away the'I'. they can be seen as a form of misogi.

The inch punch is the same as the closing motion to the suburi or bokken cut. So that is included in the above video.

Tohei sensei said of his 4 rules if you lose one you lose the other 3. I prefer if you are fully with any one, then you have the other 3.

Tuesday, October 02, 2018

Primal Universal Energies: Art & Aikido

Aikido of San Jose has changed the name of its fall 2018 fundraiser. From Keep the Lights On we have shifted to Primal Universal Energies: Aikido and Art. Why the change? First of course Aikido is a martial art But my feeling is that we now need to go past the martial aspect to simply art. Art is creation. Creation is a process that takes the artist through light and dark, suffering and ecstasy, from turmoil to the sublime. No real art without an artist. Joseph Campbell in his "Myths to Live By" wrote that the shamans of today are the artists, whose job it is to bring new energies into the world. For me the shaman is one who lives in the dark so that he/she may bring light into the world. Ueshiba Osensei had a strong shamanic element  in his aikido. He stressed Takemusu Aiki, which is Aikido as an act of creation through the power of love. I feel for Aikido to go to the next level of itself, we must shift our emphasis from Aiki-do to the aforementioned Takemusu Aiki.

Also very vital to this change of names is that Lou Bermingham sensei is receiving his promotion to 5th dan.
Lou began his training in 1975 in France under Tamura sensei. He then moved to Northern California where he began his training under Robert Nadeau shihan at the San Jose dojo. And after I became the Chief Instructor of Aikido of San Jose in 1980, Lou has continued to train diligently and to be a real force for keeping the pursuit of Aikido's message alive in our dojo. He has also taught the art at Apple and for many years at the Los Gatos Community Center. And he is an artist of considerable note. Those of you who have attended his art shows can attest to the depth and beauty of his work. Working abstractly Lou draws out archetypal energies and forces with his works, especially his acryllics. Part of this event will be an art show of his work. He will also be doing an Aikido presentation.

Linda Holiday sensei, chief instructor of Aikido of Santa Cruz and author of "Journey to the Heart of Aikido" will also be attending  and doing an Aikido presentation and demonstration. I have known her since I believe 1970. We both started at the UC Santa Cruz Aikido club. I was fall of 1969 and she fall the following year.We spent a very bonding period in 1973 when we both became students at the Kumano Juku Dojo in Shingu, Japan. And we were privileged to study there under Hikitsuchi sensei, as well as Anno, Tojima, and Yanase senseis. Check out  her excellent book to get a flavor of that time. She know travels and teaches internationally. I am looking forward to her presentation.

I will also be giving an Aikido presentation. Certain things about the phrase Aikido have opened up fairly recently. And the connection to Takemusu and to the Water/Fire Center/Circle relationships have also blossomed. I will also be asking a couple of my dojo's senior teachers to give a presentation.

The date for the fundraiser is November 3rd, a Saturday. It will run from 4pm to 8pm. In addition to the Art show and Aikido presentations there will be an opportunity to meet and talk with the teachers/artists. There will be items for an auction and raffle. A minimum donation of $15 is requested to get into the event. That will also include 2 raffle tickets. Similar to Public TV fundraisers there will be items or prizes for donations of $50, $75, $100, $200, $300. Glen Kimoto sensei has offered to donate 2 nuboko(3 sectioned spear out of white oak) for donations of $500 or more.

This event is to cover our annual power bill(PG&E). Last year it was $3,800. This year I expect it to be in excess of $4,000. So any and all support is welcome. Please feel free to bring family and friends. Family members will not be charged. There will be items for purchase. And those wanting to increase donation to upper levels to get some of the fundraiser items feel free. Those out of area or dojo alumnus not currently active may leave an angel donation(no prize) by going to our webpage at and finding the paypal link in the middle of our title page . A donation in any amount is greatly appreciated. Please email me at when you do and I'll send you a personal thank you email.

Friday, August 24, 2018

Aikido of Bali Hai 2019

This past June into early August we had Aikido of Bali Hai 2018. Lou Bermingham, David Eves, Meng Ear, and Melanie Baybayan and I trekked to the island of Kauai for training, relaxation, and fun. We alternated a training day with with a vacation day. Some of the activities members of the group did were zip lining, horseback riding, hiking, and of course a lot of shopping. We began certain classes with some energy work/meditation. Similar to lucid dreaming or Jung's active imagination we worked on directly accessing the energies with imaging, sound, and in the training checked that out with some movement. I'm wanting to possibly start a group where we explore in this fashion, ie a meditation group. This was big in the seventies and eighties, but not so in vogue these days. And lots of good work was done then that is in danger of being lost as aikido tries to move forward.

I initially made my first trip to Kauai in summer of 1996. In the sixties listening to a Dodger radio broadcast by the great Vin Scully he mentioned that the island of Kauai was where the scenes for the island of Bai Hai were filmed in the movie South Pacific. So having an urge to visit the mystical island of Bali Hai the best I could do was Kauai. In 2016 a group of us made the first Aikido of Bali and this past summer was the second. The question now is will there be an Aikido of Bali Hai 2019?

I've always found Kauai to be a power spot. In the Castaneda books don Juan said most places take energy. When you feel very active somewhere energy is leaving you. In contrast a power spot is where you gather energy. You feel you can rest and do rest. Healing on various levels can happen. That's what I've always felt on Kauai. So this last visit instead of being busy busy I focused on just opening and gathering life force, which is plentiful on that island.

The training was pretty much without rolls, but we were able to do weapons work as the gateway to the more of things. So my feeling is that things went well. Is there interest in 2019?

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Catch Up Time

What a year so far. Had my 70th birthday last month. But I celebrated it with family yesterday in San Francisco. My sister Judy and my brother-in-law Brian hosted nieces, nephews, cousins in a Saturday afternoon barbecue. My daughter Jennifer, son-in-law Dover, and Nora were there too. I had a wonderful time.
Wednesday and Thursday I went to the Santa Cruz Retreat. Wednesday was a meeting for instructors. I taught a class on Thursday. What a moving time to re-connect with Robert Frager sensei, who started the UC Santa Cruz Aikido Club where I started, Linda  Holiday and Mary Heiny senseis who were such a part of my Japan experience in the early to late 1970's.

And we cannot forget the Golden State Warriors, who overcame injury, bad seeding in the play-offs, to reward us with another NBA title. This is such a rich story. Strength in Numbers. Teamwork.Creativity.
KD. Steph, Draymond, Klay playing through a knee injury, Andrei, Shaun.....Let us hope they inspire us in the dojo to pursue our inner championship, our winning over ourselves to pursue passionately excellence in all its forms.

June also saw Aikido of Bali Hai 2018. Journeying with me were David Eves, Lou Bermingham, Meng Ear, Melanie Baybayan, to the mythical island of Bali Hai, which in the film 'South Pacific' was shot on Kauai. We mixed a day of training with a day of vacation. We did more meditation and process work than 2 years ago. I'd like to do it next year. We'll try and organize it sooner and with advance planning make it available to more people.

In April we had our annual Osensei Revisited Weekend in Occidental. Nadeau sensei shared his memories of Osensei and his understanding of the Founder's process and Cosmology. It was a rich experience.. And if you haven't experienced the beauty of the forest of the CYO campgrounds please make a note to sign up for next year.

I am curently on Summer break from San Jose State. I am back teaching biginning and intermediate aikido through the kinesiology Department. It starts up again in August. So the next several weeks are precious.
I'll be trying to get back to more blogs and videos. Enjoy the Summer!

Sunday, November 05, 2017

Thoughts and Reflectiions

It's been awhile between posts. I started teaching again at San Jose State. I taught there from 1978 through 1994. One of the senior dojo students took it over. He was succeeded by another senior student. Two retirements later I am back. By and large it has been a positive experience. Reaching a group of largely new students and introducing them to Aikido has been entertaining and challenging. I certainly have a new perspective than my last stay. I substitute taught for one academic year 2012-2013. But largely my memories are of my earlier stay.

My challenge here has always been to satisfy the grading requirements of the university, ie quizzes, papers, exams, while at the same time trying to pass on something experiential about what aikido really is. It's still a challenge.One of the things I am reminded of is that a major part of Aikido is blending. It is easy to see Aikido as acquiring knowledge about and motor skills in the techniques. But each of the movements is about blending with what ever the attack is. Blending skills require more than mental knowledge and motor skills. They require that one suspend the 'I' and perceive feel from another view point.

So  blending has different layers of usefulness. On a personal level we blend with ourselves by being more relaxed, centered, grounded, present, here and now. On an interpersonal level it is oftentimes useful to step out of one's own viewpoint/philosophy to see and experience another viewpoint. It allows us to grow in ways we otherwise would not. Martially it makes sense to not oppose force but to unify with it and offer it better direction.

Agreement is when 2 forces decide to go or go the same way. Blending means two forces that are not possibly aligned to come together actually do. And it is a challenge. It is also what makes Aikido very unique among martial arts. The aim of the art is to create harmony. We examine that from different viewpoints, one being from the viewpoint of uke(he/she who attacks) and the other from nage(he/she who receives the attack and blends).. And in training we experience both roles, alternating between uke and nage. This is done in place of a competitive format. One way of looking at this is that both uke and nage are team mates, not on opposing teams. And both are working towards creating a connection with each other that produces harmony. The victory is the unity or oneness that comes with harmony. And it has the potential to take one out of oneself in a way that gets us out of the ego or the 'I'. Ueshiba Osensei referred to this as Masaka(True winning) Agatsu(winning over oneself).

Crucial to this is that both uke and nage must be in a listening mode. Does uke 'go with the technique' and if so what is the use of that in a martial sensei? One thing I have tried to explain to the new students at San Jose State is that uke receives or listens to the movement as opposed to just passively going with the movement. But part of uke listening to nage is ukemi(the art of falling or receiving the movement). And nage performing the movement is also listening or communicating with uke as opposed to just performing the movements with hands, feet, and body position. And where does nage ideally learn the movement? By playing the role of uke.

Sunday, May 07, 2017


Aikido is composed of 3 Chinese characters. The first is  Ai or harmony/harmomizing. The third is do, ie path or way. So Aikido is the way of harmonizing Ki. And then the reference goes to a definition. Energy. Something intangible like mind. Or spirit. Then we try other languages. Chi in Chinese. Prana in sanskrit. But how can we explain this word. Can we simply say that to separate ki from the first character might cause a misunderstanding. That we should just say that Aikido is the Way of Aiki?

Often times in Japanese it is paired with other characters. Byooki is sickness. Genki is health. Kimochi is feeling. So oftentimes ki doesn't stand alone but needs something else to give it context. So Aiki might be something more than just Ki.

It is often common to lump Aikido as a set of movements or techniques.. They have names. They have foot movements. Hand movements. You can from a physical perspective lump them into movement skills and core development.You can research them and study them. And that is a level of development. But let's use another analogy. I was outside with my granddaughter. She is way too young to understand what I am saying. But I like to speak to her because I believe we are conscious at that age and that something is transmitted even if the word recognition is not there. So a wind came up.stirring up leaves and movinig flowers and other plants. I explained that what she was seeing was not the wind but the action or effects of the wind. The wind was not the trees swaying or leaves being swept around. But we could feel the wind. And we could study what the atmospheric conditions needed to produce wind and in that way understand wind. But the direct perception, the feel of it, was immediate and always there. We could say the same thing about electricity. We see the light.  We see appliances move. We turn the computer on, but we do not see electricity. In other words perhaps for now instead of trying to understand ki, we should simply be willing to give it context.

So perhaps the movements of the art, the techniques are the shapes and forms we see that are powered by for want of a better term ki. One of the things to realize is that this can get somewhat confusing. Better, stronger, faster technuique is not ki. But with ki the movement or technique may improve. Perhaps giving context to the term may be somewhat dependent on one's level of personal development. So let's go to the theory of the rabbit and the rabbit hole.
The above photo represents the founder through physical time. You can see in 1936 the movement is much more physical. In 1966(age 83) the movement is related but may appear very diffierent. To my eye I can look at 1936 and see more than the hand foot position. There is something moving through both him and his partner.In 1966 whereas I believe it is that same thing I see it more as a spiraling field that is moving through both him and his partner. So you can say he is older therefore the movement is different. But here we are talking about development , which can come through age, but not necessarily. Let's say 1936 was a land line telephone. Certainly we can have a conversation land line to land line. But let's look at 1966 as the cell phone era. You can have a conversation cell to line line and visa versa. But in addition to the land lines you need a whole satellite system that didn't exist in 1936. That is development. Not just a better, faster, clearer land line. And Ueshiba stated that he saw physical science, which we would now term technology, improve, but what he called spiritual science was lagging behind. And until the two were in balance, we would face the economic, social, and environmental problems we are facing today.

And even though Ueshiba Osensei was pereived as very spiritual,(ie of the spirit, of something not obviously visible) he maintained that it his aikido was not a religion .What we must realize in this age of science is that  
20 % of the universe is now believed to be dartk matter and 75% dark energy. Using tools we can measure things with neither can be measured. And that means what can be measured as our physical universe is a paltry 5%. Now we can see the effects of dark matter and dark energy. Dark matter is somewhat equated to gravity. Galaxies at the edge of the universe should be moving at a different speed than those more cental but that is not the case. To explain this scientist have to postulate the existence of dark energy and to be consistent with the way 5% of the universe behaves, it must be 20% of the universe. So an attractive force, ie dark matter, must exist. And now we get to the fact that the universe itself is expanding and rather rapidly, which is seemingly contradictory to the dark matter/gravity side. So now scientists must postulate the existence of dark energy, a repulsive or anti-graivity force that explains this and also the rate of expansion of the physical universe. And this must be 75% of the entire universe.

So what if the physical movement and forms of aikido are the 5% of the universe and what we term ki is or at least is a part of the remaining 95%. One of Ueshiba's large statements that really captivated my attention was,"There is no time or space before Ueshiba of Aikido. Only the universe as it is." So my question is, what are space and time to dark matter/dark energy? Now onto the rabbit and the rabbit hole.(to be continued)

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Osensei and Me

I started martial arts in 1968 during my junior year at the University of California Santa Cruz. I helped form a karate club on campus and I trained winter and spring quarters..Even though I enjoyed the training I happened to read an article in Black Belt magazine on Morihei Ueshiba, the founder of Aikido. The first thing was not the words but the photos of him. Even though he was of an advanced age, I could not say he was old. He seemed to radiate something. His posture in the photos was strong and natural. And his face seemed to shine with a special light. He was alert, energetic, and it was said he was powerful enough to throw people without touching them. It peaked my interest. One of the other things about the photos was his resemblence to the character of the Ancient One, the teacher of Doctor Strange in the Marvel comics. So for me he seemed to represent the archetype of the Sage/Magician.

So we go onto the summer before my senior year. Still practicing karate. But I came upon an article in Psychology Today titled "The Psychology of the Samurai". It was about the psychological and spiritual growth of the Japanese samurai warrior. And much of the article focused on Ueshiba Osensei..I was fascinated and I remember actually saying to myself,"I wish I could study Aikido!"

Well Summer ends and the Fall semester 1969 is about to start. I go back on campus for orientation and am amazed to see posters up for the formation of an Aikido club on campus. There was a demonstration held on the Cowell College courtyard which I of course attended. And I was present at the first club meeting.
Robert Frager was an assistant Professor at Merrill College. He was a direct student of Osensei and had studied with him during a post Doctorate study in Tokyo. At that time he was closely connected to Robert Nadeau(Frager sensei to the left. Nadeau sensei to the right). Nadeau was also a direct student of the founder and had even received an instructor's certificate signed by Osensei himself. So Frager sensei was my home dojo instructor. And once a month he and Nadeau sensei would hold a weekend workshop Friday night/Saturday/Sunday at Nadeau sensei's dojo in Mt View. It was a sleepover event. There was aikido training, but they both worked together to give us a fuller sense of the depth of Osensei's art. There was a lot of emphasis on meditation, centering, energy movement, and sound(chanting). And they would show(no videos available in those days) home movies of Osensei Saturday evenings. This was before a lot of these films were later collected and archived. They were very rare. And I don't think I can adequately convey the effect they had on me.All I can say is that this was decades before CGI special effects. So the closest thing I had seen to any of this was in the media of comic books. He seemed to disappear sometimes when attacked. He movement was seemingly effortless and people went flying. He would do solo movement with the staff and it seemed  like he was in a spiraling field of energy which formed the movement of the well as himself. His sword work had his weapon moving like a blur. Yes, he seemed like he was in this world but he himself moved like he was a comic book character in a comic book universe. Wow!!!!!

Later, after one of the club practices I approached Frager sensei and told him one of the main reasons I had taken up Aikido was this article in Psychology Today. His reply? "I wrote it...".Another Wow! So that was the chain of events that led me into Aikido. I will always be grateful that I started with these teachers who had a deep connection to Osensei and sort of passed onto me a sense of their love and devotion for him and dedication to pursuing this path. Also the fact that they were not Japanese gave them a perspective on Osensei that many(not all) Japanese seem to miss about the founder and his art.. It has strongly shaped my particular approach to the art to this very day.

After that one academic year I graduated from UC Santa Cruz. I was accepted into Phd programs at several UC campuses, but I chose a Master's Program at UC Davis. I needed to get a graduate degree for my parents, but I really wanted to go to Japan(a dream) to study Aikido. I wound up in 1973, after I had finished my Masters in the fall, going to Japan for a short year. And I trained at the Kumano Juku dojo in Shingu city, Wakayama Prefecture in Japan. This was a dojo started by Osensei and headed at the time by Micho Hikitsuchi sensei, whom Osensei awared the rank of 10th dan. My other teachers there of shihan caliber: Motomich Anno, Motoichi Yanase, and Yasushi Tojima.senseis.
In the above photo we have Hikitsuchi sensei as second to the left in the first row. The second row from left to right: Yanase, Tojima, and Anno senseis.

Whereas I felt I had   gotten a good feel for Osensei's teachings from Frager and Nadeau senseis, in Shingu the sense of the Founder was not just Japanese, but extreme in that regard. I found out that Osensei seemed to have framed everything through Shnto mysticism. On a daily basis Hikitsuchi sensei would chant norito,formal Shinto purification prayers. Twice a month there would be formal ceremonies to honor him.For me it was an intense period of study. I had no language skills. My Masters had been of all things in the Russian language. So here I was struggling to learn a new language but also to assimilate the Founder's teaching from this perspective. Even without the language skills thanks to Mary Heiny , who was fluent in Japanese, and Linda Holiday, who picked it up very fast, I was able to absorb a bit of what was taught to us until my language skills improved.

I made 2 more  major trips to Japan and the Shingu dojo. Finally in 1978 I settled into teaching full time at the San Jose dojo and in 1980 became chief instructor of that school. I continue to have connections with Frager sensei, Nadeau sensei, and Anno sensei, who comes to the states in July to teach at the Santa Cruz Summer Retreat. Yanase sensei I saw in my last visit to Japan in 2015. I took and group to personally accept a promotion.  We visited World Headquarters in Tokyo. Then spent a few days in the Shingu area. Of course we visited the grave of the Founder in his home town of Tanabe.

 I do this everytime I go to Japan. This was something I did with Hikitsuchi sensei then later with Anno sensei.

Nadeau sensei and I meet once a week to try to decipher Osensei's process and bring it into this time period. Osensei hung out with very original deep energies in an archetypal place. What has come out of the work is the Osensei Revisited weekends held in Occidental California. The 6th will be held April 21, 22, and 23rd.

I am probably of a minority now, but I believe that to truly get the essence of Aikido on has to develop a relationship with the Founder. While they are still around try to connect with those who directly studied with him. There are a number of books that have been translated by John Stevens sensei that make much of his work and history accessible. So the journey continues!