Thursday, September 28, 2006

Her Portrait in Black

This piece continues some of the themes in the earlier Metallica shoot. I’m using a longer(4’) staff, but one that is very light. The music is ‘Her Portrait in Black” performed by Atreyu from the Underworld Evolution soundtrack. The song is about life and immortality. One questions whether or not they are synonomous. Is life without death really life? Is living forever really even desirable ?

The movements of the staff are all contained within the body. Yet they also represent something that is just passing through in the moment. Just energy. They come from nowhere and that’s where they return. From nowhere to now here back to nowhere. Creation in the moment. The mind likes to see the process in forms to which it can attach and identify. It is a much more challenging proposition to hang out in the space between the forms, where creation happens. Hikitsuchi sensei said Osensei stressed that yesterday’s budo was already useless. That budo and the purposes for budo must be born and re-born daily and possibly even moment to moment . The self must be forged and re-forged constantly..When this system becomes self-sustaining, meaning that it’s reason for being is internal rather than external, then I think we begin to tune into Osensei’s Takemusu Aiki. I feel what budo really means is one’s life’s purpose or path. And in Aikido that path is or at some point becomes peace or love.

For the record I am not a genre person. I don’t particularly like spies or at this point of my life spy stories and movies, but I still love “The Avengers”. I’m not particularly a fan of “Metallica”, but I find power in moving to certain of their pieces. And I’m definitely not into gothic or vampires or werewolves, but I am a prisoner of the “Underworld” movies. So anything or anyone who moves me at a soul or archetypal level. I am a very dangerous person to assume that since I like such and such I must like so and so……..


Aikido and Music

Deepak Chopra once said that universe means “the one song”. Does this give more meaning to Osensei’s statement that Aikido was about becoming one with the universe? This would seem to be a very daunting task, but what about becoming one with “the one song”? What if the universe was also a system of harmonics and resonances? What if its basic harmony was expressed in a song of some sort?

One of the best gateways to the body is music. Moving to music is one way to get out of the mind and into the moment. In the 1980’s at the San Rafael Summer Retreats Robert Nadeau would have us do Aikido to music or to drums. In the early ‘90’s I was going through some deep emotional trauma and a dear friend, Beth Becker(now Tabakin) and I would do barefoot boogie in San Francisco. I had no dance experience at all. At first we just did Aikido to music. As I got more into it I started to be able to just move. Initially I was terrified, but her warmth and and my trust in her allowed me to just hang out where before I had been very uncomfortable.

We take reality to be so linear. That A must precede B. There is a synchronous gateway that opens when we open to “the song”. In the following piece I did the editing first, chopped things up and then added the soundtrack later. Initially I just chose the piece(Trunkin” from the “Underworld Evolution “ soundtrack) because it roughly matched the length of the edited cut. When I put the soundtrack in, I was amazed how much for want of a better term coherence there was between the Aikido movements and the music. This was not consciously planned. So what if there was an underlying “song” conntecting both the movements and the music that was directing the way the whole piece was done, from the first time I heard the music in the movie theater to when I was doing the aikido at the shoot to when finally I chose the edited cut?

My special thanks to both Harry Concepcion and Steve Tsao for their sincere attacks and very skillful ukemi.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Of Bonds, records, baseball and aikido

Over the past weekend, Barry Bonds tied and passed Hank Aaron’s National League record of 733 home runs. Aaron hit his last 22 as a designated hitter in the American League for the then AL Milwaukee Brewers. It is ironic that Bonds tied and broke the NL his career(with the Milwaukee Brewers).

Because of the controversy currently surrounding Bonds, I believe this has been greatly underplayed nationally. Personally, I am proud that Barry broke this record as a Giant. I was a great fan of his god-father, Willie Mays, and I was very sad when Aaron passed Mays and went on to set the all-time record. I had hoped Willie would be the all-time record holder. So on a personal level, I am happy that Bonds has brought the all-time NL
Home run record back to the Giants. It was previously held by Mel Ott(511) and Willie Mays(646). Mays went on to hit 660, but finished well behind Aaron. Personally, I am rooting for Barry to play another year and to pass Aaron’s all time mark of 755. Remember, this would leave Barry still well behind Sadaharu Oh’s world mark of 868. Barry would probably have to play into his 50’s to break that mark.

Bonds’s recent batting surge has been quite remarkable at age 42. One need only look at the home run numbers for both Aaron and Mays at that age to realize how remarkable it is for Bonds to hit the 26 needed to pass Aaron this year.. According to Andrea Mallis (
) Barry had Saturn in his sun sign of Leo and later Saturn was opposing his moon. Saturn is the planet of limitations and can teach us how to endure and be patient. Saturn is like a traffic cop that is hanging around you when you feel the need to speed. Currently Saturn is in my 5th house(relationships) and that has been very slow. So in addition to age and his right knee surgery, Bonds has also been battling the astrological energies of the planets. When I asked Andrea about Bonds’s recent revival, she replied that Saturn had obviously moved on. This probably bodes well for him, if he plays, to break the all-time mark next year.
Bonds has had to make adjustments. His home runs are now to right and left center as well as to the opposite field. To date he has had only one shot into McCovey cove this year. I believe earlier in the year he was having trouble shifting the weight of his center(the aikido one point) onto his surgically repaired right (front) leg. According to Oh this is all important for a hitter. Just as in aikido, the batter must extend his arms and swing through the ball as the weight of his center is transferred onto his front leg. I believe earlier in the year Bonds’s front leg was bothering him to the extent that he would “lose” his center when he attempted this shift. Some people have noticed that Bonds now appears off-balance when he hits home runs. I believe he has adjusted by keeping his center back and generating torque in this manner and is thus able to retain his center for his swing. After contact and follow through to his front leg he appears and might be off balance. But for the moment when bat meets ball, Bonds again has his center supporting his swing.

For aikido there are no records. There is no won/loss. The Founder achieved a level of being and awareness that are not likely to be surpassed. “Golden Vapors” anyone?

Friday, September 22, 2006

aikido and free form staff

One of the elements I have used for training with the free form staff is music. During one period I was very deeply into Carlos Castaneda’s “The Power of Silence”. Some times I felt that movements were intended into being through me without the process of the mind translating things into conscious form. Don Juan tells Carlos that he uses poetry to contact this power he calls intent, and that one thing a shaman/warrior can do is to transform emotion into intention. For what I was doing I felt that music was aiding me in allowing this process of things intended into being through movement.

The piece with Metallica’s “Enter Sandman” was one of my first. For awhile I was driving to Boulder Creek to teach an alternative PE class to my god-daughter Alison Byers. I began to intstruct her in my approach to aikido staff. She struggled for about 2 weeks, then all of a sudden put it together and could really get into the flow. We started to practice to music she liked, and one of the CDs she played was Metallica’s black album. My favorite was “Enter Sandman”, and later I shot this. This was after class earlier this year. The t shirt I am wearing is a DC comic Starman t shirt, which was a gift from Seth Spitzer and the rest of Aikido of San Jose’s students.

A couple of words about the free form staff; There is definitely structure present in the movement, as there are pattens But these are not the products of a planned mind.. My basics for the staff are from the Shingu style of aiki Bojutsu taught by Hikitsuchi sensei and strongly influence by Tojima sensei and Anno sensei. There is also a very strong sense of some of Robert Nadeau’s energy work. And the sense is that this is a process and not a finished product. I feel that once you have a finished product, you’re finished. As the energies mix and blend, new things and nuances are always created.

I do a lot of this with a very short(by aikido standards) 3 foot staff. I found that some of the torques generated when done with the bo put enormous stress on my shoulders. I spent about 2 years with one shoulder bad and another 2 years with the other out. The 3 foot staff allows for the torques without stressing the shoulders. I also do light weight training and push ups every day to keep the shoulders strong. I have begun using the jo length staff, but have been using very light ones. This, I find, also reduces the stress on the shoulders. I also want to caution others that when the staff starts to really move, it can fly out of your hands and be a danger to yourself and others. So build the intensity level up slowly.

A lot of this work was done during the time I was still living in the Santa Cruz mountains. I had a small cabin with a nice deck overlooking Zayante Creek. Coming home late after teaching in San Jose, energies would call and I would practice to the primal silence of the mountains. My cats would be my only companions, Tiger first, then Angel……I started adding music occasionally to my practice, and…..

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

The "Magic" before Magic

Before Magic Johnson there was Earl Monroe. The white press later gave him the nickname “Earl the Pearl” or simply “The Pearl”, but to those with game he was Magic. Or Black Jesus. Or………He averaged over 40 points a game for Winston-Salem in his senior year and was a high draft pick in the NBA. Flashy, an artist, his game is still ahead of its time.

In fall of 1967 a high school friend told me we simply had to see a player whose team was going to play the Warriors in Oakland. After all, he had averaged over 40 points a game in college. So we were going to see the Baltimore Bullets. In those days the Warriors had a very serviceable team built around NateThurmond and a stable of strong rebounders, but their Magic(in the form of Rick Barry) had jumped to the fledgling American Basketball Association. With Rick gone, I was anxious to see some exciting basketball. I could tell immeditately that Monroe was different. He had an easy, mysterious tempo based on broken rhythm stops and starts, spins and counter spins. And oh those spins. His signature move was the spin move. For all his flash, the guy really understood the game of basketball and used his artistry to enhance, not take away from , the game.

One play stands out in particular. Monroe had the ball on the right side at the top of the key. He beat his defender with a spin from right to left. The Warriors had Thurmond and a power forward, Clyde Lee, waiting for him just under the basket. Both, especially Thurmond, were accomplished shot blockers. With both there, conventional wisdom would have had Earl pull up in the lane for an easy jumper. But Earl thrived at taking the ball into danger and went right to the hoop. For him to put the shot up directly, would have lead to it’s being blocked. He had begun the move with a right to left spin, but if he counter spun left to right it would take him right into the shot blockers. Without really stopping, about 3 feet from the hoop he fixed both defenders with another right to left spin and put up an easy looking shot that tantalizingly floated between 2 pairs of arms, one black(Thurmond) and the other white(Lee) until it was out of both their reaches, then softly settled into the basket net.

I have spent years replaying that sequence in my mind’s eye. Lee and Thurmond were both waiting for Monroe to jump and had fixed in their minds that his jump would set the timing for their block. So he didn’t jump. And obviously they were expecting him to have to shoot quickly, and, instead he shot slowly……..And, dribbling the ball with the left hand, the only way (I think) for him to spin right to left was to go between the legs to the right hand and then spin. As you can see, I have re-capitulated this sequence time and time again.

The response in the arena was fascinating. Absolute silence. I’m not even sure people realized what they had seen. There was no outwardly flashy or thunderous dunk. No exaggerated athleticism. In the terms of Castaneda’s Don Juan, Earl had “Stopped the World”! At the time there was nothing in any of our cognitive systems to describe his ““Magic”. Years later I heard Earl in an interview on radio with Bob Costas. When asked to explain his game, Earl admitted to the fact that he really was not a talented leaper or very fast. So he said he had to do it all with what he called “la la moves”.

Osensei described what he called Katsu Hayahi as being “That speed which transcends time and space’. Something in the way Earl moved leads me to believe he understood that concept on the basketball court. In my own teachers, Yanase sensei with his powerful spins, and Tojima sensei with his talent for going right into danger and making something miraculous happen are examples of this energy in aikido. Earl could do what most can’t, which is to transform sport into art. And the other two could take art into a different realm.

For those who would like to see Earl’s game, I am including a link to a 2 ½ minute highlight reel of his career:

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Of basketball and aikido, and records......

Yesterday I was in Santa Cruz to teach some classes for Linda Holiday sensei. I decided to use that occasion to drop in to the University of California, Santa Cruz for a little detective work. In February of 1970 (my last year as an undergraduate) I won the Men’s Intramural free throw competition. I made 23 of 25 attempts. If you made your last 10 you could shoot until you missed. I hit 15 additional ones and wound up with a consecutive streak of 25. I had been told a few years later that my records still held and I was curious after all these years if somehow I was still the all-time Intramural free throw champ. So I went to the East Field House, looked up the Intramural Director, and had him check his records. He hunted down an old manilla folder and found out that some years ago the competition had been discontinued and that my records still held! My 23 of 25 had been tied, so I only share that record. But my 25 consecutive makes has never been beaten, and, since there are no more contests, it is the all-time record!!!!!

Before aikido, basketball had been my passion. In fall of 1969 I took my first aikido class from Robert Frager at the UC Santa Cruz Fieldhouse. I started going to weekend aikido/energy workshops that were a collaboration between Frager sensei and Robert Nadeau. These were at Nadeau sensei’s original school in Mt. View on Castro Street. The work on centering and energy awareness had a profound effect on me. Films of Osensei were shown and vast spaces in myself that I had not been conscious of started to open. My aikido was very new and undeveloped, but I could immediately see the effect this work had in, of all things, basketball. The awareness of the center point 2” below the navel seemed to integrate everything on the basketball court. I could always shoot and score, but I now had a court awareness and a sense of timing I didn’t have before. Somehow I knew it was the aikido. I could sense where passes were going to go before the passer threw them. I could immediately discern where a defenders attention was directed and instantly create a move or shot. I felt that I had been incarnated into Rick Barry or Earl Monroe, my role models of that age. To put matters into perspective, we’re talking about pick up games at the University of California Santa Cruz gym and its intramural league games. But this gave me the real sense that there was a definite tie between my physical performance(body) and higher states of consciousness(mind). And I had heard that Ueshiba Osensei could dodge bullets, transmat himself from a pointA to a point B, and other things. So, beginning to function from a place of energetic awareness for me began on the basketball court.

For somebody who could shoot as well as I could(it was a talent and an obsession), my free throw shooting was very inconsistent. In high school I used to have to shoot jump shots to make free throws consistently. Somehow with my new centered awareness I found that I was just clicking into a flow and that the whole thing had become almost zen or aikido. There was no performance anxiety(excuse the expression), only
one pointedly being in the moment…. that moment…. any moment…..and my shot was true. Since I was now studying a martial art, I guess I had acquired a toughness and focus that I had previously lacked.

The day of the competition the person who was catching the ball and passing it back to me was a rival on an intramural team my team had beaten. He kept throwing the ball back to me in funny ways meant to disrupt my concentration and rhythm. This had the beneficial effect of having me center even more. Each shot was like a sword cut that determined life and death. Yes, I was very serious about my basketball. When I finally missed and my streak ended, I was surprised. On my own I could sometimes go for 40 in a row.

So what does this mean to me to have this record? In high school I had potential, but overall I matured physically very late. So I did not have a great basketball career to point to. At UC Santa Cruz there was no big time athletic program, so intramurals were very big. And I found that I could dominate in ways that speed and quickness and great shooting ability so allowed. I was relentless. I tried not only to dominate but almost to the point of humiliating the defender. I did not make any friends. Every year each college would pick an all-star team of intramural players and play the all-stars of the other colleges. I was never selected. A couple of years later I talked to some of the other players and they told me how they remembered that I had starred in these games. No, I was left out. So the record, for the record, means an awful lot to me, even these years later.

I am very grateful to have found aikido and to have made it my life’s path. That intensity, that almost inhuman anger and fierceness was in Japan turned into ukemi for Hikitsuchi sensei, Anno sensei, Yanase sensei, Tojima sensei. I would go at them with the same fierceness that I would in taking the ball to the hoop against a shot blocker. Only they helped me to recycle that energy into something loving,’….. something creative…. If I had my choice between being the shooting guard for the Warriors and doing what I’m doing, I go with what I have. No doubt.

I want to thank both Robert Frager and Robert Nadeau for their kind early attention, without which, I’d never have set THE record.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

the sword:triangle, circle, square.....

The sword in aikido refects the energies of triangle, circle, and square. There is a lot of debate over whether sword training is necessary in aikido. Some lineages have made the sword a definite, developed part of the art, while it is not the case with others. So what I myself am going to concentrate on is the sword through my own personal experience.

Most of my experience with the sword comes from Hikitsuchi sensei and from Tojima sensei. Tojima sensei has influenced my sword mainly from the standpoint of a personal suburi practice. In addition to tanren(conditioning for the wrists, hands, and hips) individual suburi practice can teach things that transfer to regular tai jutsu, the body arts that most people associate with aikido.: proper grip, awareness of the center and of the center line, the yin/yang timing of raising and cutting, advancing and retreating. I once asked Tojima sensei which was more important for individual training, the sword or the staff(in his case the bo or long staff)? His answer was the staff, because it contained the concept of tai sabaki or body changing. It is possible to just swing the sword with a rigid, set stance. But the staff ideally forces you to turn the body as you are executing the movements, resulting in the energetic interplay of triangle, circle, and square. Hikitsuchi sensei once told me that Osensei incorporated many spear(the bo is seen as an energetic spear) concepts in his sword work, and that, at one level, aikido was a mixing of sword and spear.

I remember when Hikitsuchi sensei would call me in to demonstrate sword on sword(we used bokken, but the experience was live blade intense).. It was usually during a class or demonstration, and there was no prior rehearsal or set agreement that we were going to do the sword. I myself was probably horrible with the sword but I got the feeling that it was a direct transmission, a lineage going back to the founder that was tapping me. The energy of the triangle was intense. When I raised the tip of his sword was right in my face. The feeling was of very focused light, literally a laser-like quality. You felt it go right through you energetically, yet physically you were unharmed. There was almost a feeling that it was already going through you before you attacked. Sometimes he would time the raising and cutting motions to match mine, but he would turn his hips to the side and my cut would hit nothing but empty air. His would be right on my head. I was told that the triangle represented zettai fuhai no taisei(posture of invincibility), representing ikumusubi, the generating principle of the zoka no sanshin(the 3 forces of creation in the Kojiki). The triangle is about beginnings

The circle represents the second of those three forces, tarumusubi. This force represents blending or harmonizing and is the most visible of the three in modern aikido. As the triangle is represented by the plum, the circle is symbolized by bamboo. I was told “Maru wa chushin ga nai(the circle has no center). I remember the first time I felt this energy. Sometime in fall of 1974 Hikitsuchi sensei and I, bokken to bokken during a class, I attacked as quickly and best as I could with shomen uchi, he literally seemed to travel……..he made a broad movement to the side and behind me and cut with yokomen. I was almost that he moved into a sort of dreamtime and traveled to that point behind me. It is very difficult to execute that broad a movement to the direct, quick timing of shomen uchi, but he did it. Again, I am referring to the energy of the movement, not just to the physical skill factor.

Finally, we have the square. I believe in older times, the square was much more prevalent than it is today. On that same fall day, I went to attack Hikitsuchi sensei with shomen uchi, he side stepped and entered to my right, cutting upwards in an arc and pinning both my arms in the raising position with his bokken. If we were using real steel any attempt to finish my cut would result in both my arms being cut off. The energy of the square was very wide and I felt the upward cut energetically through me. There was no way to continue the downstroke. Many times the square is seen as pinning movements. Again, I was literally pinned in the raising motion of my cut. The square is tamatsume musubi, the energy of completion. It is symbolized by the pine, which has no front or back(omote, ura ga nai tokoro). The square is about endings.

We’ll do more with the sword as we go along

the square as a pin

Sunday, September 10, 2006

ASJ moment #2

If ASJ's number one moment was the home birth of my daughter Jennifer, then the second was a much more extended moment: watching her grow up. She lived in the dojo for her first 9 years until her mom and I separated then later divorced. After that she spent nights on a regular basis with me but lived basically with her mom.

She and I got to spend a lot of time together in her formative years. After she was up and around she would come with me to teach classes at San Jose State. She was around a lot when I was teaching kid's classes. I remember one class when she was really young and her mom was in the hospitol I taught classes holding her in one arm and intructing with the other. She basically grew up watching aikido and had a lot of innate talent. She later joined the kids' class and got all the way up to 4th kyu(blue belt) before stopping in Middle School.

Jenny @ Aikido West mid-1980's
As she grew a little older parents at the dojo would bring their children with them to play with Jenny. Jenny was a great organizer and would lead the kids in mini-caravans along the edge of the mat. Jenny is a definite extrovert(as I am introverted) and I think she might have gotten some of that during this period.

Jenny got to meet a lot of famous Aikido teachers when they came to teach at the old dojo in Japantown. One instance that comes to mind was when Frank Doran brought Saotome sensei to our dojo. In the afternoon period before the evening class
we all went to a matinee showing of the film "Ghandi". Jenny met the current Doshu when he came to teach in the mid 80's. Of course at that time he was Waka-sensei(young master in training). I introduced Jenny to him as our Waka-sensei. She also met Steven Seagal when he taught a seminar here in 1990.

When she was a toddler I used to take ukemi for her after class. I have a couple of photos of this taken at Aikido West during a break between seminar classes in the 80's. As you can see, she had lots of ki. Her movements were very spontaneous, powerful, and joyful.

I know that when we moved from our old place to our current location in 2001, she was very sad. After all, the old dojo was the place she came into the world.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Tales of the Aikido staff

In May of 1974 Hikitsuchi sensei, Aikido 10th degree black belt, visited Northern California for about one month. He stayed at my parents' house in Santa Cruz. I had the possibly unique role of being an uchi deshi(live in student) in my own house. He occupied the guest room. Sugawa sensei accompanied him and took my room. I wound up on the sofa in the living room sleeping in a sleeping bag. I had spent most of 1973 living and training in Shingu Japan at his dojo and my mom felt it was only right that he stay with us during his time in California. She prepared his meals and pretty much took care of him for the entire time. I did most of the driving as he visited various dojos. At the time there was no Aikido of San Jose dojo, although Harv Moscowitz arranged for him to do a demo at San Jose State University.

One afternoon he suddenly appeared in civvies(he obviously didn't wear a gi while at our house) with a bo(5 foot staff) and told me to get mine. He told me that he had just been told by the kami to initiate me into the deeper movements of the staff. He somewhat hinted that this was not his idea and that he himself might not agree to do this on his own.

While in Shingu I had been taught the 30 something movements of bo staff ikkyo. At enbus(demos) Hikitsuchi sensei would sometimes do the spinning type of movements we now associate with Osensei's staff work. But I had never been taught anything past ikkyo. I had no idea what to expect. Hikitsuchi sensei went onto the lawn in our back yard, traced an up down vertical center with his staff, then began to spin the staff in very free movements. When he stopped he motioned for me and my staff to enter the same space in which he had been moving. I moved in and just stood there. He told me to move. Since I didn't know what to do, I stood motionless. Finally, he told me if nothing else, to simply do basic bo ikkyo. I did a very mechanical, stiff, board-up-the-butt version of the long staff set. He said good, that something had been transmitted. I was flabbergasted because I had no conscious knowledge that anything had changed. He seemed to insist that just standing in that space was enough. There was no further explanation or lesson.

Hikitsuchi sensei returned to Shingu at the end of May. I made plans to stop in again in Shingu in August on my way to of all places Monash University in Melbourne Australia to do graduate work for a PhD. However, before I left, I would often go to the space that he had done his movements in. Sometimes the staff would just begin to move on its own, which was both mysteriously wonderful and at the same time frustrating. I was doing movements I could not consciously repeat. I was moving and yet, at the same time, I didn't know how to do the movements I was doing.

I think that that experience might be the basis for a lot of the free form staff that I currently do. Over the years I have found myself increasingly doing things I have never been taught. At first I felt I needed to understand the movements. Now I feel more like I am a channel and that the movements that flow through know themselves. It is a difficult concept to try to teach.

There was one witness to my session with Hikitsuchi sensei that day. My mom. Her observation? "He's a lot better than you, isn''t he?" she said.