Sunday, May 01, 2016

Osensei Revisited Overview

Last weekend was the 5th Osensei Revisited weekend, again led by Robert Nadeau shihan. It was well attended, with Friday, Saturday, and Sunday classes. I want to personally thank all those from my dojo(Aikido of San Jose) who attended and supported the event. Nadeau sensei's vision and leadership(He was a direct student of the Founder). Inspiring classes taught by Mary Heiny sensei and other instructors. So it was quite an event!

Osensei passed away on April 26 1969. So this workshop falls close enough to that date that this workshop can be seen as honoring him and his teachings. I taught the Saturday 7am class, which was focused on staff work. At the end I chanted Amatsu Norito and Kami Goto, which are Shinto chants of purification that Osensei practiced and was said to be fond of. The actual day of his passing was also honored with Norito and Kami Goto at the end of the noon class at my own dojo.

Nadeau sensei has made his life's work taking the things that were personally passed onto him by the Founder and fitting them into an experiential process hopefully mirroring Osensei's own process. Those who have not attended this event please consider doing so next year. It will be virtually the same weekend, April 23, 24, and 25. Teachers and schedule will be announced as the date draws closer, and this year I will try to keep updates a regular feature of the Osensei Revisited Facebook page.

So what were the takeaways from this year's event?

1,Nadeau sensei feels Osensei's spiritual direction is quite different from what is usually stressed. He views the normal as being very much an upper or awareness based system. Visualize a point as a starting place. Then put an expanding series of half circles above the point. And the space between the half circles can be finer dimensions or astral planes. Heaven is oftentimes seen as an attainment and one ascends there.

2. Now visualize the same point and make a series of half circles downward. In contrast to the upper awareness style, this is often missed. The downward direction represents more an experience/feel unfolding,
which takes us more towards not a finer, but a deeper, more original sense of who we are....Carl Jung once said that any tree wishing to grown to heaven must have roots reaching the other direction. We are not talking about heaven being less than the other place, but more that the journey must balance light/dark and leads to an individuation as opposed to a perfection based on finer to finer.

3. So now see the diagram as a series of concentric circles radiating outward from the central point and ideally balancing the upper finer with the deeper more original. So finer must be equal to deeper. Instead of heaven as an end journey, it represents an original state that is both beginning and 'end'.

4. Now let's take the whole sense of things expanding outward and say there is an equal and opposite movement back towards the core point. So just as the upper finer is balanced on the outward as deeper, so there is movement back, Osensei's 'echo' where the outer heaven returns to itself in the core point. Osensei is quoted as saying " Heaven is right where you stand and that is the place to train.(oneself)".

5. The movement outward becomes a dimensional process. There is a small circle around that point that is aware and feels itself to a certain level of identity. The next larger circle has and even deeper and finer sense of itself as an identity. Most of us are trapped or walled in to that first level. Various processes taught at the workshop such as center/circle, fire/water, chanting(sound vibration/silence) are to help you turn the walls of those first levels into membranes that can be passed through. If you haven't made any of the  Osensei Revisiteds this alone is worth the trip.The center/circle, fire/water, and chanting techniques were passed onto to Nadeau sensei directly from Osensei.  A lot of this is alluded to in Osensei's lectures and writings, but they seem to be obscured by the Shinto that is everywhere.

6. Osensei oftentimes expressed the importance of 'Ame no Uki Hashi', ie the Floating Bridge of Heaven.
Using this model one can theorize what he that. Another revealing Osensei quote:'' Unite yourself to the cosmos, and the thought of transcendence will disappear. Transcendence belongs to the profane world. When all trace of transcendence vanishes, the true person.....the divine manifest. Empty yourself and let the divine function."......

7. So why does Osensei come down so hard on transcendence? Perhaps it's because going finer even if one goes deeper as well perhaps one can lose one's way. The universe is after all a vast place. But if the universe is a vast tree( used in some mythologies) then the original point is it's seed. So uniting with the cosmos probably means an inner one. So that first or beginning circle, a core or fundamental being place, possible not as exciting as the finer planes of the universe, would contain all the finer. This is what Nadeau sensei understands as the bridge. In a world of no sight, one sees. And that bridge extends all the way out, but also returns to itself..

8.Osensei loved the Kojiki, the Japanese book of creation. There there was an original heavely brine. A type of chaos that was all things , ie infinite possibilities, all oxxuring infinitely. And it congealed into an infinitely dense point, Ame no Minakanushi no Okam, and expanded spherically outward in the sound Suuuuuu.
One way to look at this is that there was an original Source, Unnameable, Unknowable, God, whatever, that created itself as an original Soul, which then entered a universe or creation(also coming out of source) to find itself but also to return to itself. This is the echo. And at any point in the journey, there is the here and now of the bridge connecting yourself to both the beginning and the ultimate of yourself. Completing that journey heaven would be where ever you chose to stand.

Hope you enjoyed the summary. Hope to see you all back next year. And in case you're wondering, yes, there was time for some very good aikido training in the event as well........

Saturday, April 02, 2016

Review: Born to Be Blue

I was looking forward to March 25th because two films on my watch list were going to open. The obvious was 'Superman v Batman'. The less obvious was the Chet Baker film 'Born to be Blue'. Well the latter was opening nowhere in the Bay Area, so I went to see the former. Enjoyed it. May see it again even. Well this weekend the Ethan Hawke/Chet Baker film opened in the South Bay and decided to give it a look. I must say I was somewhat uneasy going to see it. After all there is so much negativity around Chet in books that I was afraid of what might be highlighted in this film.

Well, the film is a HIGHLY fictionalized account of Baker's life. It uses the device of Chet being cast in a film playing himself, juxtaposed with flashbacks to his earlier mega-popular years. In an interesting touch his teeth are highlighted. At the age of 12 or 13 Baker lost one of his front teeth in an accident playing with friends. He played with that missing tooth. Later, as shown in the film, he suffered a major beating which not only knocked out his other front teeth(top), but according to Artt Frank, gave him permanent  nerve damage. He was told he would never play again. So in the current time of the film, he is shown wearing dentures.So you can chart his timeline in the film by the way his teeth are shown.

A major part of the film is Baker's comeback from the beating, relearning how to play, and getting another gig(he had a famous one in his very early years) at Birdland in New York City. Apparently Hawke learned to play the trumpet for the film. Anyone who has played the trumpet realized the horn is a cruel taskmaster, and when learning you are going to struggle and make horrible sounds. So this part of the film has some realism to it. For an excellent eyewitness account of Baker's real comeback, ie relearning to play the horn, check out Artt Frank's excellent 'Chet Baker:The Missing Years'

Of course a major part of the film is Baker's drug problem. Hawke's sense of Baker is around these lines. He comes across as high......somewhat passive......very self absorbed......a leaf at the mercy of the wind. Contrast that with the real Baker. He was multi lingual. By his own account during his time in Jail in Italy he learned Italian and came out a fluent speaker. There is an interview on youtube where Baker gives an interview exclusively in Italian. And there is the fact that Baker was a natural musical genius. He could hear any song and play it in any of the 12 keys. If he heard it twice he could solo to it. Very little of this side of Chet if any is brought out in Hawke's portrayal of him.

For me the most interesting part of the film was the apparent wound he had from male figures that he gave power to. The portrayal of Chet's father is chilling. Nothing his son can do is good enough to please him. And the Miles Davis character in the film tells Chet his playing is candy.....and to come back when he's lived some. Baker was very inluenced by Davis's 'Birth of the Cool'. In fact in his autobiography
"As Though I Had Wings' he states that twenty years later he still listened to that album. In an interview when asked what he listened to when he was not playing, one of Chet's answers was 'Miles old stuff'.

The music in the film is a disappointment. Hawke sings several Baker songs well, but it is obvious he is copying Chet. The trumpet solos are skillfully done but none of it is Chet's own horn. So I guess this is where I some it all up. If you want to do something different and want to go see a jazz movie, I think this will keep your attention. But if you want to know or to hang out with Chet Baker, check out HIS music. There is no substitute.

Saturday, February 13, 2016


I've been enjoying 'Supergirl' (Mondays CBS 8pm). I followed the character from her beginning in Action Comics. Then in an 80's feature film in my opinion that was much better than it was regarded at the time. And so now it is a weekly show on a major network. It is produced by the same people that do 'The Flash"
(Tuesdays CW 8pm). Both shows are on my watch list.

So what makes 'Supergirl' an important show? It deals with power from another angle, that of a woman. Comics do overtime evolve and story lines change. Originally in Action Comics she came from Argo City, which flew off when Krypton exploded, and overtime the land under the city was being changed to deadly Kryptonite, so Kara Zor-el was sent to Earth to be with her famous cousin. She was a young teenager, hence the title 'Supergirl'. The plot lines have changed and the character is in her mid-twenties and reacted in episode one to being branded Supergirl by media mogul Cat Grant(Calista Flockhart).

One basic tenet of the show is that while her cousin Kal-el(Superman) came to Earth as an infant and always felt like an outsider, Kara was in her mid-teens and much more fully formed psychologically being raised on her home planet of Krypton.Hence her wanting to bring those around her into her life as Kara/Supergirl. James Olsen (Mehcad Brooks) , her adoptive sister Alex(Chyler Leigh), and Winn Schott(Jeremy Jordan) are all part of her 'team' aiding her as much as she saves them. It is a nice touch. The sense that her friends and sister are family, replacing those she lost on her home world. The Jimmy/James Olsen character is much different and stronger than the Jimmy in Superman lore. So the feeling on inclusion, bringing others on board for support is a major part of the show. Women tend to be more team oriented while men are more competitive and 'fight alone'.

Along the lines of power from the female angle, Calista Flockhart's Cat Grant is a fascinating character. Initially she is portrayed very much as over assertive and ends justify the means. But as the show progresses this gradually changes. She  softens. We see the undevelopped vulnerable parts of her come to the surface.
And she becomes a support and an ally to Kart/Supergirl..

Melissa Benoist is absolutely fantastic as both Supergirl and Kara. The scenes with her and Calista Flockhart are very well done, usually extremely funny."Here's your latte , Ms Grant!". But she portrays Kara with such a vulnerability, which is what makes the show go. 'Supergirl' is a show about becoming. She is finding herself both as Kara and the Super hero as they intertwine and unfold. Superman is an established, finished product. Supergirl is evolving, changing, growing.........And Kara is as Melissa Benoist portrays her, a Funny Valentine...

"Is your figure less than Greek...
Your mouth a little weak
When you open it to speak
Are you smart

But don't change your hair for me
Not if you care for me
Stay little Valentine stay

Each Day is Valentine's Day...."

Watch the show and see if you don't agree....

Here is a video I did for Valentine's Day:

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!