Sunday, January 17, 2016

On being granted the shihan title


Last week I was informed that at the New Year's 'kagami biraki'  in Tokyo, Hombu dojo had awarded me the title of shihan. It was a bit of a surprise. Not something I was expecting or bracing for. It has a little bit of history with me. I started aikido in 1969 with Robert Frager and Robert Nadeau senseis. At the time they were fresh off having trained in Japan at Hombu dojo. I consider them both direct students of the founder Ueshiba Osensei. When I went to Japan and started training at the Shingu dojo the term came into my consciousness. Anno, Yanase , and Tojima sensei's (top photo upper row) were referred to by that title. The last 2 held 6th dan. And Anno sensei was at the time 7th. So it was natural to assume the title came with an upper rank. I returned to the Shingu dojo several times in the early ninties. At the time I was a 6th dan and surprised to hear Yanase sensei, definitely one of my all time heroes, refer to me as Jack shihan. I later found out that at the Shingu dojo when you received 5th you had the title of shihan. But when the area leaders here received their upper ranks I found out that the title didn't come with a rank promotion. Sometime in the early 2000's Nadeau sensei received the title. I arranged a special dinner for him on that occasion and got quite a group of his longtime students to attend. He along with Frank Doran sensei and Pat Hendricks sensei now hold the title of shihan. It is an award that must be conferred upon you and not necessarily tied to high rank. Although you must hold a high rank to be awarded the title. Confusing?

The Japanese characters mean a teacher who is an example to other teachers. It is often referred to as Master Instructor. But when Tojima sensei visited in 1979 he stated that there was only one Master in Aikido, and that was Ueshiba Osensei. And I believe that to this day. So I prefer the first definition. Certainly the 3 Shingu teachers were definitely role models for me. Anno sensei does that to this day. And the 3 division heads of CAA also I find wonderful role models.

Along with my fellow CAA members Frank McGourik sensei, Michael Friedl sensei, and Cyndy Hayashi sensei also received the title. So I wish them the heartiest congratulations. I especially want to than Hayashi sensei for all the tireless work she has put into the Association. I am sure this award could not have happened without her effort and dedication.

It was December of 1969. I had just completed a quarter of training at the UC Santa Cruz Aikido Club. I went with Robert Frager sensei on a field trip to the Mt View dojo. Walking around the dojo I came upon this certificate
I wonder how many of even the Japanese instructors ever got awarded one of those? It is signed by second Doshu Kisshomaru Ueshiba and by none other than Ueshiba Osensei himself! Quite a document!

The only teaching certificate I hold was issued to me in April of 1973 by Master Choy Kam Man , certifying me as a t'ai chi ch'uan instructor. But this is definitely quite an honor I would like to thank all the instructors and students of Aikido of San Jose who have supported me over these many years. Without you none of this would have been possible!


Sunday, November 08, 2015

Happy Birthday 2015


Today is my daughter's birthday. Happy Birthday Jenny! She was born in 1978. We along with her husband Dover shared lunch in San Jose's Japantown at Okayama. Moving one building down towards Jackson St she was born at the old dojo on North 6th St. Her Mom and I did a home birth with midwives. She emerged 3:45 in the afternoon after a long labor. I had the honor of catching her as she came out. So we had an immediate connection. This year in January I performed their marriage ceremony. And early next year they are expecting their first child. It is amazing that all this has unfolded thus. I am so proud of her. She is so passionate and caring and really values people. She still styles hair, has become a Pilates teacher, and just keeps going forward.

In late summer of 1974 I left Santa Cruz to ostensibly go pursue a PhD at Monash University in Melbourne Australia. I went via Japan and while there decided to stay there and major in Aikido, not Russian studies.
But my Mom had had cancer surgery just before I left and the prognosis was not good. When Robert Frager sensei was leaving the UC Santa Cruz Aikido Club  in 1975 to found ITP(now Sophia University), the chief instructor position opened up. And I took it and returned. My mom was seriously ill and though she courageously battled the cancer for most of 1975, she finally died in September of that year. I was able to spend most of that year with her. I was at her side the moment she crossed over.

It is interesting how this year has revealed to me how much her death has effected me. To be right there at the moment she passed. It was an honor, and though I was 27 at the time, part of me really had to grow up.
But the sense of loss was overwhelming. What has struck me in the last couple of weeks is that the universe takes, but it also gives and over the long haul everything evens out. Though I was there the at the very moment my mom left, I was also there for the first breath my daughter took. And I see her unfolding and growing, with a wonderful partner in Dover, soon to be a mother herself. Wow!

Some realizations take years, but they hit you in an instant.

Monday, October 19, 2015

My Masters Degree


In a recent conversation with Robert Frager, he revealed to me that the only book Steve Jobs had on his phone was Paramahansa Yogananda's 'Autobiography of a Yogi'. I originally  read that book for The Psychology of Far Eastern Religion at UC Santa Cruz during my senior year(1970) taught by the same Robert  Frager.. A very important chapter of that book for me was "My University Degree". Yogananda attended college yet never went to class, preferring instead to be with his guru, Sri Yukteshwar.. His senior year he did not intend to take his qualifying exams since he never went to class. But he was berated by his guru:"Do you have so little faith in God?" So Yogananda relates in his book how through a series of miracles he passed his exams and got his university degree.

During my senior year at UC Santa Cruz I started studying Aikido with Robert Frager sensei. I was introduced to meditation. I took both the aforementioned class on Far Eastern Religion and a class on Mind/Body Harmony. And in Spring of 1970 started my practice in Tai Chi Chuan with Steven Malamuth, a direct student of Master Choy Kam Man.. Upon my graduation in June 1970 it was pretty much set in my mind that my life path would be internal martial arts(aikido and tai chi)  with an emphasis on the spiritual, ie meditation. But my parents wanted me to go onto graduate school. I was a natural science student at Santa Cruz. I got accepted in biology programs at UC Santa Barbara and UC Irvine. But I had an unofficial minor in Russian and applied to and was accepted at both UC Berkeley and UCLA in Phd programs in Slavic Languages and Literatures. But a Masters Program in Russian at UC Davis surfaced and offered me a full fellowship for a 2 year program. Since I wanted to pursue my dream, basically in the short term go to Japan and train there, I chose to the 2 year program over the Phd programs.

Once I was at Davis it was apparent I really didn't want to be in school. Aikido was only once a week my first year and twice a week my second. Alan Grow, a direct student of Robert Nadeau sensei, taught an Aikido club there. My first year was able on weekends to go to San Francisco and continue my tai chi trarining this time with Master Choy himself.  My second year I helped organize a class for Master Choy to teach on the Davis campus which gave me a chance to take what I had learned from Steven and refine further under his teacher. I practiced both morning and evening. I was also at the time really into Yogananda's Self Realization Fellowship meditation which I also did morning and evening preceding my tai chi. My second year I was slso doing Shotokan karate 3 nights a week. So even though I went to my graduate classes you can see my heart was not into that at all.

My facebook page says I studied Tai Chi Ch'uan at Davis. That is largely true. Much more than the Russian classes was my study of tai chi. It was largely due to Master Choy that I was able to keep my center in the midst of being in grad school, not wanting to be there, yet having at the same time to attend classes, deal with graduate level politics. And it struck me that even though my professors had advanced degrees and lots of mental knowledge, their depth of being could in no way approach that of my tai chi master. He encouraged both my study of aikido and even the karate, saying that would give me a good mix.

Well as I was completing my two years there I was so turned off by the experience academically that I figured I would just to to Japan and not take my exam. So I was surprised that the Professors came to me and asked me to test. So I decided to go home for the summer of 1972, having completed my classes for my Masters, come back to take my exam in the fall. So there I was at my parents' house in Santa Cruz, really hitting the books, dreaming of going to Japan to train basically in Aikido but also to keep up my tai chi practice. And during that summer I kept up my meditation as well. And that chapter from Yogananda's Autobiography was fresh in my mind each day.. Yogananda did it. So could I.

So late fall of 1972 I want back to the Davis campus and took my exam. I think my written was so so . I needed to ace the orals to get the degree. Mainly my feeling was that this was for my parents. Getting an advanced degree was not important at all to me but it was very much so to them. Then I could go off to Japan if not with their blessing, at least with the sense I had completed it for them. I was told that I took a very strong exam and passed. The only thing I can say is that all the meditation, the training daily in tai chi, the aikido classes, even the karate classes had given me enough in the don Juan/Casteneda sense enough 'personal power' that they really did not know what to do with me so they passed me. I was free. Ironically one of my professors, the one I really respected, turned up as the Departmental Chairman of the Russian Department at Monash University in Melbourne Australia and offered me a full Doctoral Fellowship to go there and pursue a Phd. My parents were ecstatic.

But having finished up my Masters I was free. I planned to leave for Japan in April of 1973. I was an Ikkyu, brown belt, so hopefully I would get my black belt there. But to my surprise Master Choy certified me as a teacher of tai chi just before I left. So my thiniking was, that was better than a shodan. Tai Chi had the advantage of being something I could practice everyday. And it sustained me through that difficult period. And I practiced the tai chi morining and evening everyday of my first year in Japan.And even though I have practiced over the years, I am once again on a daily practice schedule.

I returned after a short year in Japan( 9 months). August of 1974 I left for Melbourne Australia to pursue my PhD by way of Japan. But that is a story for another day............

The tree in the photo above is where I did my daily tai chi practice for two years at UC Davis. I am with my friend Vladimir, a Siberian Wolf. I went with my friend Dianna Lynne to the Mother EArth festival at Davis, found the house where I stayed and sought out the tree. It remembered me........

Next June I will be taking a journey with other members of Aikido of San Jose to Aikido of Bali Hai. Here is a video I just completed........

Sunday, September 13, 2015

A Program for Training in Paradise

We now have tentative dates for our group trek to Aikido of Bali Hai. June 15th  to the 27th. We should slso have some sense of what will be covered during the 12 days or so of the event. One thing I would like to prioritize is some discussion about the nature, purpose of Aikido. When I was in Japan there was quite a bit of time devoted to discussion. Oftentimes in Japan, Anno Tojima and Yanase senseis would come over and in some cases we would talk all night about the topic of what Aikido truly was. This is no substitute for training, but traning without this can be directionless. And one can get better in a directionless way. What is tricky as I have found out in the ensuing years is that everyone must find Aikido for themselves. And in some ways you could say the search for Aikido might be a significant part of searching and finding yourself. Nadeau sensei and I still spend significant time at coffee shops and restaurants discussing Osensei, his history, his process, the direction of Aikido as it has been laying out the the last 50 years. I have also had the same discussions with Robert Frager sensei, with Mary Heiny sensei, with Linda Holiday sensei. And when I connect with Anno sensei either here(mostly these days) or on a trip to Japan, the same topics always come up. I want  the people going to in coming times  keep these discussions going.

Now we are all different. And that is a strength. So those going(and those following this) I want you to give some thought to questions you might have about Aikido, Osensei, what training means to you, what your goals are................That is first. Secondarily we will come up with a plan or approach to the training. One thing that was constantly in our consciousness as we were training in Japan, and I am referencing Mary Heiny and Linda Holidays senseis as well as myself, was what is Aikido and what is my purpose in Aikido.

Some thoughts I had. I would like to cover the weapons to some extent. And to cover the sound practices. I had a request for kototama. Here I would like to be able to format practice as opposed to mainly theory and history. Would people be interested in learning some of Osensei's formal chants such as the Amatsu Norito?
My thought is that we should come up with a structure for the training. Also schedule time for discussion. And in addition time for both individual and group recreation..

We currently have 7 people committed with one strong maybe. We probably have room for 3 more from the dojo. I would like possibly 2 more from outside the dojo, but this should be people with either a strong connection to the dojo or to me. So onward!

Sunday, September 06, 2015

Aikido of Bali Hai

I made my first trek to the island of Kauai in 1996. I went alone. I loved the musical 'South Pacific' and of course the sequence with the island of Bali Hai. In the stage presentation the characters onstage just looked out towards the audience with a sense of vastness and reverence. Your own special place. You live on a lonely island lost in the middle of a foggy sea. Bali Hai is your own special island. And I remember sometime in the very distant past listening to the great Dodger announcer Vin Scully where he was filling some space between what was happening between pitches or innings and he said referencing the movie version of 'South Pacific' that the Bali Hai sequence was filmed on the island of Kauai. So having a longing to journey to Bali Hai, a place that doesn't exist in the 'real'world, I decided to make a pilgrimage to the physical island of Kauai. What I found was a lush tropical paradise with mysterious mist covered mountains, verdant plant life, and clear blue ocean on pristine beaches. It was a wonderful stay. And I passed a sign reading 'Bali Hai Realty' and the thought crossed my mind, 'wouldn't an Aikido of Bali Hai be great?'

So that thought always lingered in my subconscious. I made two more trips in 2012 and 2013. I skipped 2013 because of a trip to Japan. But on very short notice my daughter's time share in Kauai opened up and I made a very unexpected trip late last month. And this time in Princeville on the way to Hanalei Bay I saw another sign, 'Bali Hai Salon'. So the thought reawakened. And I put it out again but this time on Facebook accompanying some photos of my trip to the island and upon returning back got a response. A small group of Aikidoists from my dojo would like to go next summer. So game on!

So instead of a physical dojo Aikido of Bali Hai is instead a journey. June sometime in 2015, the dates to be determined. Aikido training 8am to noon so even though we start early everyone will have an afternoon and evening to enjoy 'paradise'. I don't want a huge group so I imagine it will be basically just people from my dojo and those connected to me.

The actual structure of the training is to be determined. I have my vision, but will try to be open to suggestions. But what I want to emphasize as the purpose of the trip is more than just go to a great place and train in 'aikido'. Yes there will be training and I'm sure there will be ample time to enjoy the island and spend time with friends and fellow aikidoists. But I allude to the song. For those of us who'live on a lonely island....lost in the middle of a foggy sea....' it will be about finding our 'own special island'.Our

own special place.

So that is my vision. Now we will all see how that unfolds.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Congratulations! And a Sad Obituary.......


I have to share both a an incredibly happy moment, and at the same time acknowledge an incredibly sad one.First happy: Congratulations to the Golden State Warriors on bringing the 2015 NBA Championship to the bay area. For those of us who have followed you for over 40 years and in particular following you through a magical regtular season of 21-2 that eventually led to67-15 and led to the 16 playoff wins needed for a title, thank you! I must admit having to radically shift my whole paradigm on what it means to be a sports fan to keep up witih you. You passed test after test during the 82 game schedule, then you capped it off with an incredible playoff run that had its anxious moments.

Probably my favorite playoff moment was game 3 on the road again New Orleans. You were trailing by 20 points going into the 4th quarter. Against all odds you came back. Stephen Curry's corner 3 tied the game n regulation and you went on to win in overtime. Also being down 2-1 against Memphis and in the finals against Cleveland and coming back with 3 straight in both to take both series. I must admit my faith was tested.but rewarded.

And what was the overriding theme of the season? Success built on sacrifice. There are many examples of this but two come to mind. First  a couple of seasons ago we made the playoffs and defeated a 3 seeded Denver team to advance. I remember thinking this one player was a real pest. Making shots, especially 3's. against us. Playing lock down defense. I realized he was a pest because he was so good. That was none other than Andre Iguodala. Well he became a free agent and because he sensed what was building here and wanting to be a part of it, he took less money to sign here. This is an unheard of sacrifice in today's world of professional sports. And this season he was asked as a former all star, a member of the NBA;s all defensive team, and a starter his whole career, to come off the bench, which he did. What was his reward? For playing defense against Labron James in the finals and stepping up offensively when needed, he was voted MVP of the finals. And all star Davit Lee willing to sit on the bench and contribute when asked to allow the emergence of Draymond Green was another example.

The commitment to defense, to sharing the ball on offense, and to playing a fun uptempo game on both ends was a fun alternative to the star power based isolation sets of the NBA. Hopefully this is a trend that will continue. And the Warriors will be good for awhile. If Stephen Curry concentrated strictly on scoring, taking more middle distance shots and getting to the free throw line, there is no doubt in my mind he might lead the league in scoring. After all he led the nation his last year at Davidson. But he is willing to be a more transparent superstar to let this team be the focal point. And to have both the regular season MVP, Curry, and the NBA finals MVP, Iguodala, is telling and indicative of team success. And fan enjoyment and pride.

And now for the sad. Yesterday Patrick Macnee passed away at the age of 93. He was John Steed of the British show 'The Avengers' to Diana Rigg's Mrs Peel..And the word sacrifice is important here as well. His portrayal of John Steed was revolutionary as well. Here was an intelligent, powerful male outwardly steeped in tradition, who was none the less able to allow an unforgettabe performance by his female partner literally steal the show. Steed and Mrs Peel were equals, but he was the established star. When first asked to play the role he was given the James Bond books to prep him. He found the violence and obvious sexism 'tiring' so he created a unique character. The recent gentleman spy film 'Kingsmen' owes a lot to the John Steed character. He didn't carry a gun, preferring his steel plated bowler hat and umbrella as well as his intelligence to solve problems..And when things really got tough there was always Mrs Peel to the rescue.He was a gentlelmlan and treated women well, and this was a sixties show. I don't think he really gets his due. He is more Andre Iguodala-ish in his contribution. Not the obvious. I will personally miss you. In 1988 I had a chance to meet him. He had written a book, an autobiography(Blind in One Ear') and was set to have a local book signing. A high school friend and I went but due to his wife's ill health he was forced to  cancel. Oh well. Steed/Patrick, I will miss you. And wherever Mrs Peel may be, I'm sure she is a little sadder as well......

Monday, June 01, 2015

A Very 'Radical ' View of the 2015 NBA Finals

I mean no real disrespect with this blog. Maybe this is just a Warrior fan having to wait 40 years to see his team once again in the finals. And projecting things and truths around this that have not merit. But that aside.....
Ready?

The finals match-up between the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers represents a clash between the old order and the new order that must come. If not in the finals later in some other form...Mainly this is reflected in the stars representing the two teams. Lebron James for Cleveland. Stephen Curry for the Warriors.

Years ago Carl Jung was happy to hear that to the holy trinity of Father/Son/Holy Ghost they were considering adding the Virgin Mary. First the Trinity is a 3. In Jumg's psychology 4 is the number of wholeness representing the Self.. He considered Western Spirituality to be overly masculine based and thus adding a fourth which was feminine made him feel like society was moving in his model closer to balance.Now my uses of the terms masculine and feminine have nothing to do with gender. Masculine could easily be Yang, positive, fire, heaven......and feminine easily yin, receptive, water, earth.....other metaphors could be used to describe what I mean to say. And one cannot really exist without the other so it's just a question of which one predominates. And we are due for the pendulum to shift. So, with that out of the way......

Lebron very easily represents thus what you would call the masculine element, which has ruled for a couple of thousand years. Remember the Goddess based religions which were based on the feminine were buried by the dominance of what  became Christianity. It is revealing that his nickname is "King' James........The basketball hierarchy is in love with size, speed, and power.......I'll make my battleship bigger, faster, stronger, more high tech than yours. The establishment(to use a sixties/seventies word) is about a power structure of haves and have nots.We see this especially economically in our society and culture. Labron has freakish physical gifts that he to his credit, through hard work, personal development, has parlayed into a very successful public image and playing career. But he is definitely a 'have'....
 I totally respect Labron the player, the person, the persona.......But in this way he is the old order......and of the establishment.

Contrast that with Curry. Whereas Lebron's high school games were broadcast on ESPN.......Steph was unable to get a scholarship to a major program and wound up at Davidson. And even though an outstanding high school player he was considered too small, too weak, not athletic enough........which followed him into his professional career for awhile. Even though he made a huge splash in the NCAA's taking Davidson to the elite 8, and led the nation in scoring his last year at the collegiate level. he had his doubters....Was he tough enough to make it as a pro? I found it revealing that he was the leading vote getter this year for the all star team. It seems we are ready to embrance a different paradigm. Curry embodies skills that embrace more the feminine, and again I stress this word has nothing to do with gender. He moves with a deceptive yet very skilled attack, using what Bruce Lee called a broken rhythm. In his movement phrasing he is very much like Chet Baker in jazz. Never in a rush. Seldom if ever forcing a shot or play. Sometimes seeming to play even too casually. Yet tough. As opposed to a 'King' we have a 'baby-faced assasin'. What other name would the basketball establishment give him? Both shooting and driving to the hoop he puts up floating shots which go in from great distance and over the reach of tall long-armed shot blockers at the hoop. We are seeing basketball moving back more towards an art form. Even though the way he plays does differ he reminds me of the great Earl Monroe. So Steph's power comes from an ability to mix his energies and to create basketball 'Magic'......He is Billy Batson/Captain Marvel's Shazam to Labron's Superman..

So I am waiting for the finals to start. Will the new order replace the old? Will the establishment win again or will we be treated to a new order? Let's tune in and find out!