Thursday, December 28, 2006

2006: an Underworld Evolution year

I was cleaning out a jacket and came upon a movie stub for the film "Underworld Evolution". After awhile I began to save the ticket stubs. That means I went to see it at least one more time than I thought I did. I began to reflect on why the movie and its themes grabbed me so. So here are some closing thoughts on 2006 reflected through the film.

I feel that the concept of an underworld reflects our subconscious. Just as the battle between the vampires and werewolves(lycans) is pretty much unseen by the normal populace, there is the movement of energies and forces in our collective unconscious that really shape our world yet basically remain unseen to those held captive by the conscious mind. And I feel that those forces would seem to be at war. This is reflected by the "war" in Iraq and the threat of terrorism we all face. The main question is: Is war the natural state of these energies/forces or is there the possibility for something else?

To a being on the level of Osensei, it is probably apparent that those energies and forces would rather blend and harmonize to create a world of peace rather than what we currently have. So, obviously, there is the concept of Underworld Evolution, that the archetypes and energies in the global subconscious need re-defining and, at the very least, healing.

The character of Selene(Kate Beckinsale) would seem to be a modern day pop/cult heroine on the order of the "60's Mrs Peel. Emma Peel was largely a cultural archetype, surfacing at a time when women were yet to really embrace their own power. I view Selene as much more a psychological archetype. She is a much angrier character than Mrs Peel. I believe she symbolizes the earth. In recent years there have been more than a few tsunamis, earthquakes, and acts of nature to let us know that our control of the environment through technology is a lot more tenuous than we would like to think.

So what can we see in 2006 through the lens of the film? Selene's role as soldier and almost automated assasin in the first film is shattered by the realization that she has been lied to and that her own sense of her own reason for being is flawed. She must face a very chaotic situation more as a warrior, one who operates through conscious choice rather than orders or taking sides. She finds an ally in Michael, which means she chooses to trust, and begins to embrace the human side of herself. And at the end of the film she seems to implore us all to "look into the light with new hope". Hopefully, that is 2007, the journey to trust and conscious choice.

I'm including one of my favorite videos on the film from Youtube:

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Aikido and The Princess of Power

One thing being a parent does is allow you to have a second childhood. You get to watch movies and tv shows with your child. I've already mentioned Dr Who as something my daughter and I did for years and years. Linda Carter's Wonder Woman was another. And then there was She-ra, Princess of Power. She was a late addition to the He-man and the Masters of the Universe line of cartoons and merchandizing.

I enjoyed the He-man cartoons. But my daughter and I both got into the She-ra series. She was introduced in a feature length, theater-released cartoon film called"The Secret of the Sword". She was in actuality Adora, the twin sister of Prince Adam, aka He-man. Kidnapped at birth she is raised in another dimension by the evil Hordak and knows nothing of her past.

Adam uses a magic sword to transform into He-man, the most powerful man in the universe. In the film he is given an almost identical sword by the Sorceress of Castle Greyskull and told he must journey to another dimensional world and pass on this other sword to another like himself with a very special destiny. There he encounters Adora, who has been brainwashed by Hordak. Through his love and through the magic of the sword Adora comes to realize who she truly is and through her sword is transformed into She-ra, princess of power. There followed a cartoon series based on Adora's world of Etheria, which He-man visited as a guest star very often.

It actually bothered my daughter that I got into the whole She-ra thing as deeply as I did. Basically, I saw the stories as modern day myths. Etheria was a very magical world. As Adora, She-ra led a group of heroes called the Great Rebellion, who resided in Whispering Woods, whose magic protected them from Hordak's troops, also called collectively the Horde. In a twist, the Horde used science and technology to enslave the inhabitants of Etheria, while the rebellion and She-ra used magical forces and energies to try to liberate their planet. It is interesting that we have reached a point where technology has contributed to a grave ecological imbalance. We are now facing a time when we must join with the forces and energies of our planet to restore the natural harmony of life.

I found it fascinating that in the series the swords of both He-man and She-ra were not so much weapons as instruments of transformation. She-ra, in particular, could with her intent transform her sword into other forms. And, of course, the sword was Adora-s conduit to becoming She-ra. At one point I remember studying some of the more subtle points of energy and the sword with Koichi Barrish. It was some profound and very fun stuff. At one point we were working channeling various energy shapes through the sword and he asked me where I got a certain move and concept. I replied that I learned it in principle from watching She-ra. I saw him a couple of months later, and after a sword move, he told me,"See, I've been watching She-ra, too."
So she's had an influence on at least a couple of aikido instructors.

Whereas He-man is available on dvd, I'm not sure of the current status of the She-ra series. I know that there is at least a She-ra/He-man Christmas Special available on dvd. It has a music video from the movie about She-ra's origin that is quite good. My favorite episode is "The Unicorn King", where She-ra must earn the trust of the Unicorn King in order to save the unicorns from being made slaves of the Horde. Power alone can never win trust, so, even though it is a cartoon for children, there were some very deep moments.

Thanks to the magic of youtube, here is the introduction to the She-ra cartoons!

Friday, December 15, 2006

jiyu waza

A while back I did an entry on “The Avengers and Me” which included a link to a video of the show’s 1967 opening. As most of you know, the show has had a great influence on me. It was my original inspiration for starting martial arts. So the theme song by Laurie Johnson has always been a favorite of mine as well. The tune always conjures up images of Diana Rigg and Patrick Macnee. I’ve always wanted to do a video to that song, but, given the nature of the show, that would require a partner and a woman.

So who could I get to provide the Diana Rigg energy for the video, which, of course, would be about aikido? Finally, I realized that I knew someone. Then it was just about getting up the nerve to ask her. That person, of course, is Linda Holiday.

I think that I met her in 1970. I was in Robert Frager’s first aikido group at UC Santa Cruz in 1969 and she began the following year. We were training partners at the Shingu dojo in 1973. I actually turned over the UC Santa Cruz aikido club to her in 1977 when I went back for my third training in Japan. And she has turned that into a dynamic and highly successful dojo, Aikido of Santa Cruz. Our friendship has bridged many different stages in both our lives. In fall of 2001 we visited Anno sensei in Shingu together.

So I shot some new footage of myself to compliment some shots I had of her when she guest taught at my dojo. I had the show’s song already downloaded on my hard drive. Then it came the fun part, which is to put everything together in a mix and to see if you indeed have something.

Jiyu Waza means free or flowing technique. So that is what we did. The show had a certain jaunty and very stylish flow which went back and forth between the male and female leads. Though it was not my intent to do a certain thing with this video, I think we captured some of that anyway. Enjoy!


Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Osensei in slow motion

One way to appreciate O sensei is to watch his stuff in slow motion. It is easy to say that his stuff is exaggerated or even fake. I’ve heard that his attackers are hypnotized or that they are conditioned to fall for him. My sense is that it is very difficult to comprehend exactly what Osensei could do because he was doing something that is past the mind’s ability to simply comprehend.

I’ve chosen 3 throws from the video “Budo” taken in 1935. This is a much younger Morihei Ueshiba than in the other videos available. There is a physicality to this presentation that is not so evident in his later videos. On the other hand he is much more fluid in his later videos. Some of the throws are very convincing. Then suddenly something off the charts happens. It is as if some energy or invisible force is suddenly acting on the body of the attacker.

I show the interaction between Osensei and his attackers in regular speed, then I show the major throw in slow motion. What the slow motion shows is that the ukes(attackers) bodies move in ways that challenge one’s ability to analyze what is going on. The first throw is the most spectacular. The attacker’ body actually accelerates the further it gets from contact with Osensei. Notice how the uke’s head is suddenly swept back and up. Then the body actually accelerates in mid-air before gravity finally takes it over. The effect on the body of the energy is exponential as opposed to linear. If the attacker were purely co-operating or hypnotized this could not be effected. This is easy to miss at regular speed. Also notice how high the attacker’s legs go after landing, almost as if the energy there was potent enough to want to send him skyward again.

The second throw also shows that the attacker’s body accelerates the further it gets from osensei, although it is not as spectacular as the first.

The third throw is shown twice, once in an extended cut then once by itself at regular speed. Then I put in the slow-motion cut. Notice even though the attacker is thrown down there is a lift or an up that spectacularly precedes the down. It is as if an energy geyser erupts, lifting the attacker’s body upwards. And there is an acceleration upward.

So what does this say about Osensei? It appears that his body is the channel for an energy or force that comes through and enhances his physical movement. It can be argued that indeed Osensei’s movement actually comes from this force or energy. This energy moves in curves, circles, waves, and spirals. This energy or force is not purely of the mind but has a manifesting effect upon the bodies of the attackers. There is definitely technique or form in much of the video, but it is his command of this energy that is the most eye-popping part of his demonstrations. Apparently aikido for him was not just the techniques but his connection to these energies.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

the mosquito story

<me as uke for Hikitsuchi sensei 1974>In my last blog entry we went into the butterfly story, so it is only fair that we now go into the mosquito story. This took place in Shingu, Japan, in 1973 at the Kumano Juku Dojo. The teacher mentioned is Hikitsuchi sensei. It took place shortly after a group of foreigners(Linda Holiday, Dick Revoir, and myself) moved to Shingu to become students at the Shingu dojo.

The video footage was taken at the same healing conference in San Diego in 1992 as mentioned in an earlier blog entry. Part of the conference was to polish public speaking skills. We were given an assignment to tell a story, and this is the story I chose. The story in question is well-known among the older generation of foreigners who have studied in Shingu, but it hasn't been told in a long time.

There are spiritual traditions where teachings are passed on through story telling. This one hasn't been told in some years. So hopefully new generations will enjoy it. A good story does not have one fixed lesson. As one's path opens, widens, and deepens, the lesson may change as one continues to grow. My sense of the lesson is multi-faceted.

Certainly life in all forms, even a mosquito, is precious. And, at the same time, there is an innocent, very mental level to spirituality that must be recognized and constantly dealt with. Often times a teacher's job is to awaken the student, sometimes with unusual behavior that gets the student out of easy pre-conceived notions about how things are. This is probably one of those.

I believe that life lived in a certain way opens one up to lessons constantly. Life then becomes a form of art. In a period when he was grieving his father's death, Michael Jordan won an NBA championship on Father's day and cried before a national audience. Again, one's life can become like a novel. But who is doing the writing?

Sunday, December 10, 2006

more bending of time and space

As a follow up to my last blog article, I'd like to write a little more about the whole time and space phenomenon. Is it constructive to view Osensei as some sort of super-being? Is it constructive to completely ignore the fact that he was apparently capable of things that "normal"people are not?

I am for today going to take another tack. We tend to assume that human intelligence is the ruling factor on the planet. Technology has given us a strong illusion that we are in control of things and nature in particular. But what if the mind is basically a filter, ie a limiting factor? I've heard that the human brain receives 400 billion pieces of information a second, out of which it processes a little over 2 thousand. What if things like space, time, and matter are all things that only exist within the 2 thousand pieces of information? What if a consciousness that was receptive to greater amounts of the 400 billion bits of information could create a universe where there was much less limitation due to the constraints of space, time, matter, gravity, etc.....? I feel we are in an age where what we call science and mysticism are uniting.

In my last blog we covered an instance where Osensei apparently teleported from the center of a cirle of attackers to the top of the stairs in a dojo in Osaka. Does that seem superhuman or even supernatural? Here's a story about an event that occured about 10 or 11 years ago. My god-daughter Alison, her sister Collette, and their mom and I were at a park just outside of downtown Campbell, California. It was a bright and very sunny day. In the course of just hanging out we bonded with a butterfly. It seemed to be hanging around us as it fluttered in the air. As we went to a tree it attached itself to the tree and spread its wings and body out against the tree's trunk. We all gathered around and just extended love and positive energy to this very special butterfly. It is indeed an extremely special thing to bond in this way with a creature of nature. We got so close to the butterfly that it joined us on the ground just spreading itself on the ground and enjoying the sun on this special, special day. What we forgot was that we were on a path. Suddenly a group of cyclists burst through and one of them drove right over where the butterfly was spread out. We were shocked and very sad. How could the butterfly from that flattened position avoid being run over? We sadly began to look for its remains. We were amazed to see the butterfly fluttering around us again. It was not destroyed.I would like to present the possibility that the butterfly somehow teleported itself away from the bicyclist. Not being bound by the constraints of the normal level of human mind, it was somehow closer to a very basic intelligence that allowed it to escape. And my sense is that things like that happen all the time.

Douglas Adams in his "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" introduces the concept that we are not the smartest species on the planet. Pets have an uncanny ability to sense when their owners are about to return. Tiger(eulogized in Dojo Friends)would send me energetic e-mails. I've had this with several other non-human friends. What if we are way behind other creatures of nature and what Osensei did in Osaka was something that happens everyday in the butterfly universe?

According to Nadeau sensei Osensei had a very human side. Frager sensei has told me that one thing everybody who writes about him misses is that he had an incredible sense of humor. He was a man. Once he was asked if he had special powers and his answer to that was no, he only had aikido. What is he were just expressing what it truly means to be human? Not human as limited but human as much more infinite and even unfathomable?

Since we were discussing super heroes, I am including a video from one of my favorite all-time tv shows, "Lois and Clark", which was about the very human side of being Superman, facing the joys and frustrations of dealing with love and life. Enjoy.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Of heroes and super "Hiro"s

I’ve really been enjoying the NBC tv series “Heroes”. It is about some ordinary humans that suddenly develop super-human abilities. And they are all being drawn together to face or avert an Apocalyptic crisis.

As usual, abilities such as this create as many or more problems as they do rewards. It is very well done and has my highest recommendation. One link that this has to aikido is that one of the heroes is Japanese, Hiro Nakamura. He has the ability to bend space and time, and, apparently, the ability to teleport himself through both space and time. The actor who plays him gives him a character of being very “yasashii” or cute, as opposed to heroic. He in a very more warrior mode bearing a sword comes back from the future to offer guidance and direction.

According to the people who knew him Osensei had the ability to alter time and space. He used the term “katsu hayabi”, which he said was the speed which transcends time and space. On one occasion in Osaka, I believe, he had a circle of students attack him. He suddenly disappeared and was then standing at the top of the stairs in the dojo. People standing on the stairs reported that they had not seen him pass them. When asked to do it again, he apparently replied that to do so again so soon would take years off his life, considering the amount of energy such an act would require. People attacking him would often comment that he would seem to disappear then re-appear.

So, was Osensei also some sort of super-human being? He told people that they could become like him in a few months, and that it did not take years and years of linear training. What if he represented some sort of evolved being that represented the next step of evolution for our species? Was his work essentially to show us our own hidden potential and what we all truly were? What would a whole world populated by beings like him be like?

On one level or another, I believe that is the message of the tv series. The message is that possibly we are headed towards a phase of evolution where a radical transformation is needed for us to continue. The destructive event being worked towards in the show might not be destructive at all and only a metaphor be a for this. It is said that the end of the world for the caterpillar is just the beginning for the butterfly.

I am including a short video of Osensei.

Friday, December 01, 2006

More sword drawing

When I found the iaido demonstration at the yearly celebration of osensei's passing in 1992, I was motivated to continue my practice. It has been a rewarding and somewhat frustrating endeavor, however. I found out that my "I" had gotten so much stronger. I became very self critical and found myself making many mistakes. It is very easy to become skillful in most instances at a set practice or form. That's what makes it set. The more you do it the better you become. Iaido can be that,but, that's not what I find valuable in it.

I was taught the first draw from the front by Hikitsuchi sensei in late spring of 1973. He was an 8th dan in iaido. Linda Holiday was also present at that class. When I went back to Shingu in late summer of 1974, I was taught right, left, and back. He taught details, but what you took away from it was an intense energy and attitude. If you got the details but didn't get that, you got the booby prize. When I went back to the dojo in 1977, another teacher was teaching iaido after the morning classes and on Sundays. After a few lessons, I politely begged off more iaido lessons. What I realized was that the form was being taught, but, the energy and attitude I had gotten from the lesson from Hikitsuchi sensei would be diluted by the experience with the way the new instructor was teaching, or worse yet, lost. Now the new instructor was very skillful and kind, but, somehow, the lessons from Hikitsuchi sensei had a vitality to them, that seemed more important than just acquiring the knowledge of new forms. The new instructor was quite popular. A lot of dojo students went to the Sunday classes. One day Hikitsuchi sensei called me into his office and told me that he had heard that I was not attending the iai classes with the rest of the dojo. I told him I did not want to lose the edge, the vitalness that I had learned from him. He said he was happy and that he would teach me iai personally again. To set the record straight, I never got another iaido lesson from him, although there was instruction in sword to sword aikido practices.

What is the connection, if any, between aikido and iaido? Obviously, in iaido action explodes out of stillness and silence. Everything starts from the center and ends back at the center. The motion of drawing and sheathing the sword involves circular flows from the hips. But more important that anything else, the concept of zanshin or the continuing spirit is vital to both practices. Hikitsuchi sensei wrote out for me a short essay on aikido, iaido, and zanshin, which I had dojo members who were Japanese native speakers translate. Here is the link to the dojo website:

zanshin article

I was taught entirely with bokken. Later, when I returned to America, I started practicing with, first a non-sharp metal sword with case, then with a sharp sword.The sharp sword I thought initially was a "dummy' blade without an edge. I had no problem with it. When i realized that it was very sharp, I cut myself repeatedly when I was re-sheathing it. As I settled a bit more, I stopped cutting myself. The blade I now use has an edge, but is far from razor sharp.

I personally believe that the sword practiced inappropriately can be detrimental to aikido. Sadaharu Oh in his autobiography mentioned that there is a cult around the Japanese blade that he made great efforts to avoid, that his blade was functional but notlhing more. He trained with the blade to master baseball. The lesson I learned from Hikitsuchi sensei's iaido was that there is a realness, a power and beauty to life itself that is dulled and hidden by the way we are normally taught to look at the world. The sword can represent that reality, or it can take you into some fixation about samurais and fighting. The latter is counterproductive to aikido's larger message.

The rest of the draws I got from watching an iaido demonstration done by Hikitsuchi sensei before Ueshiba Osensei gave his demonstration. I'm sure there are technical errors galore in what I do, but I practice to practice. I am under no illusion that what I do is correct. I am aware that the practice has evolved. One realization I had is that even though I was able to technically draw and cut better, I had some sort of original purity in 1992 that I no longer seemed to possess. So now I'm seeking a bridge not back but forward to that. I put a soundtrack in("For You" from the movie "Daredevil"). Sometimes the sword represents the justice of the universe and at times that justice can seem blind unless redeemed by aikido's most important message: love.