Friday, October 27, 2006

of flamenco rhythms, Tojima sensei, and the guitar concerto

Here we have it at last, the first piece that I did to music for free form staff. Years ago I found out that Steve Malamuth, my first tai chi instructor, liked the album "Sketches of Spain" by Miles Davis and Gil Evans. And in particular the Guitar Concerto. Of course Davis plays the whole thing with jazz trumpet. I got the album and was immediately taken by the haunting, lyrical, yet soulful tunes of the Concerto de Aranjuez. Along with Steve, it is one of my favorite pieces of music. I think we both have probably practiced tai chi to it.

Fast forward a couple of years to Japan. Tojima sensei used to practice flamenco guitar. During special nikyo practice after class he would have me tapping out flamenco rhythms. Somehow I came across the idea to do a tribute to him: free form staff to the guitar concerto. Now the concerto is not flamenco, but why let a little deal like that thwart something special?

I've finally succeeded in loading the whole piece I did in 2005 onto my hard drive. I did it after a staff workshop and it was filmed by my god daughter Alison Byers. It is a very different piece from the Metallica piece or the Portrait in Black piece. It is much more lyrical, has slow melodic and hopefully poetic passages. After all, it is 16 minutes long.So, enjoy!


Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

just general musings

I realized I had another picture of Nadeau sensei's group at the Aiki Shrine, so I'm including it in a very general blog. Big Mike Collins is currently undergoing chemotherapy and radiation for his brain tumor. We wish him the best. I taught a workshop over the weekend at the Avalon Arts Center in Sacramento. It was a wonderful experience. My deepest thanks to Peter sensei for inviting me out. Also thanks to Diana, who, along with Peter, gave me a much needed bodywork session between classes to loosen up a troublesome back. It was also nice to re-connect with Gordon Binz, who used to train with us at the old dojo.

The weekend before I was invited to participate in a documentary being filmed by an old training partner Foster Gamble. The documentary is about the changes necessary for us to reach a balance with nature and ourselves and the planet so that everything is self-sustaining. And to go from that state to where everything not only sustains but thrives. I participated in a 2 hour interview and demonstrated the aikido staff movements i have been working on. Among those interviewed for the film is none other than Deepak Chopra. The film is being targeted for theatrical release ala 'Fahrenheit 911". More on that as it develops. My deepest thanks to Foster and to his parner Kimberly for including me in this wonderful project.

The following is a video of paired aikido staff emphasizing the free form approach I have been working on. My thanks to Jim Johnson for his kind assistance.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Dr. Who and Aikido of San Jose

In the early ‘80’s KTEH, the local public broadcasting station, used to run an extensive amount of Dr Who. Created in 1963 by Sidney Newman, who also created “The Avengers”, Dr Who was originally a BBC science fiction program aimed at children. In the 80’s the show gained a great amount of popularity in America by being run by PBS stations. My daughter and I would watch the show almost nightly. Individual episodes would run week nights from 6:00pm to 6:24, and the evening aikido classes would begin at 6:30pm. In addition on Saturday nights from 11:15 to about 1am there would be a Dr Who movie, where all the episodes of a story line would be broadcast back to back. Needless to say, Jenny and I would be glued to the tv set late Saturday nights.

The main reason for the show’s sudden popularity on American television was a British actor, Tom Baker. He played the 4th incarnation of the character, a time lord who traveled the whole universe in a time machine stuck in the shape of a British police box. Upon the physical death of one incarnation, the character would regenerate into another version of himself, played, of course, by another actor. Tom Baker brought a powerful, self-deprecating and humorous sense to the character. Although I am a fan of Dr. Who in general, I am, in particular, a fan of Mr. Baker’s 4th Doctor.

In 1983 there was a Dr Who Convention at the Hyatt in Palo Alto, and, the special guest was none other than Tom Baker. At that time there was a student training at the dojo named Jack Martin. He was none other than the person in charge of security for the convention. When he found out that both my daughter and I were fans, he arranged for me to work security at the convention. On Saturday I showed up and was given a pretty busy day of doing various tasks. When I saw Jack at the end of the day, he asked me what I had done that day. When he found out he seemed a bit embarrassed and asked me to show up at a different location the next day. Well, come Sunday I got to be Mr Baker’s bodyguard for the day. My daughter accompanied me. When she was introduced to him she was so shy she ducked away when he tried to kiss her. After all, we watched this man save the universe 6 nights a week, seeing up front and this close was rather overpowering. Noting her shyness, he smiled and said”She doesn’t want to have anything to do with me, and I don’t blame her!”. Well, fortunately for me none of his real heavyweight opponents(Daleks, Cybermen, Sontarans) showed up, so all I basically had to do was just hang out. After the convention we went to a party for the volunteers who had assisted with the convention. Mr. Baker was kind enough to come. He even came up to me and asked if he could make me a gin and tonic!

For a time there was a real tie through Dr. Who between channel 54 and Aikido of San Jose. We would phone in donations in the name of the dojo during pledge breaks. KTEH even asked me to get a group from the dojo together to be bodyguards for 2 of the later, post-Baker Doctors: Peter Davison and Sylvester McCoy. Even though the later Doctors were in their own way quite good, none of them could match the brilliance of Mr. Baker and the popularity of the show wained.

There was a connection between the character of the Doctor and aikido. Jon Pertwee, the 3rd doctor, practiced a form of martial arts called “Venusian Aikido”. Especially in the story “The Green Death” there is an extensive use of aikido throws. This was not a major part of Tom Baker’s Doctor.

As I speak the show is again in production and is being aired on the Sci-fi channel. I guess you can’t keep a time lord down. Here is a short clip from Tom Baker's first episode:

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

of aiki shrines and fellowship gardens

In June of this year when Nadeau sensei’s group visited the Aiki Shrine in Iwama, there was a very tangible sense that Osensei passed through. When I later talked to Nadeau sensei about this he indicated that it was too bad that the situation didn’t allow us to hang out with or sit with this very special energy. The events that were planned for the day and the size of the group would have made this very difficult. Even though it was a magical time on a magical day, there is something about Japan where one thing just moves onto another. I think Osensei’s spirit is available to us at all times, but the location was an ideal one for just immersing, and that just didn’t happen.

I’ve only had one other comparable experience. It was in Encinitas, California, at the Self-Realization Fellowship Gardens. When I first started aikido many of the students and teachers were influenced strongly by the teachings of Paramahansa Yogananda. I read his “Autobiography of a Yogi” and was very moved by the life of this incredible man. For a couple of years I studied some of his lessons put out by the Self-Realization Fellowship. So I’ve always felt a deep connection to him.

In 1994 I was in San Diego for a 2 week healing intensive. We had a scheduled day of recreation at the beach. On the way the people in the car I was in decided to make a quick side trip to the SRF Friendship Garden in Encinitas. As we entered the garden a part of me sensed something vast was going to happen. It was in late summer and the flowers, plants, and trees were just so alive. There were just colors that were so vivid. Anyway, I found a place on the lawn where I wouldn’t be blocking anyones path and just sat. I believe I was there for about an hour. The others in the group probably sensed something was happening with me and just let me be. As I closed my eyes, it was as if everything in the garden stll existed but in a state of animated colors . The colors in this state were even more brilliant. A huge white bird flew into the scene, landed, opened its wings, turned around and became Yogananda. Remembering his Autobiography, I asked him, as he had his teacher Sri yukteshwar, to show me God. He touched me on the chest and I felt my breath stop. It is the only time in my life that I have been in a breathless state. There was a sense of endless expansion. Things were both dark and cool and bright and alive.. I was able just to commune with Yogananda’s spirit for the hour. At the end he told me that if I ever needed him, to just call.

When I opened my eyes, one of the group said “Boy, I wish you could have seen your face when you were meditating! Fortunately, I got a picture with my camera.” It turned out later that though she had taken a picture, there was no film in the camera. So I’ll just have to take her word for how I looked when I was in that state of communion. Even though the setting in Iwama was very different, the experience, though shorter, was similar. I guess that is what it is like when a major presence passes through.

The following video was shot in 1992 at our old location in Japantown, San Jose. It was the April 26th annual training and ceremony commemorating Osensei's passing. I was taught a little iaido by Hikitsuchi sensei, then later studied him doing a demonstration at the Hongu Grand Shrine. I picked up most of it by studying his movement on film.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Of spins: basketball and aikido

I have a confession to make. I recently got my 58 year old body out in front of a hoop and, inspired by the video highlites of Earl Monroe(see"Magic Before Magic") I resumed my intent to capture the essence of his spin move. I don't know the number of times I dribbled the ball off my knees and ankles trying spin and counter-spin. Kind of like the number of times I dropped the staff learning the free form stuff. So, be it basketball or aikido, it was about spins. As Nadeau sensei might put it, center/circle or circle/center.

Something changed when I got a chance to watch Earl again on video. As opposed to my mind trying to learn how to do it, something clicked at the level of the body. When I was young, I was really good at getting from point A to point B. Direct. Linear. Fast. I could get to the hoop at times but would be going so fast that I would have trouble finishing.I finally mastered a running hook shot I could bank high off the boards and finish with.

The spin move, instead of giving me more options, would tie me up. Stop and go. Crossover. Those were my game. But the spin? What I now noticed was that Earl's spin is tight(not tense) and explosive. After the spin he expands either to the hoop, or to a position from which he counter-spins or re-spins. I was the opposite. i was viewing the spin as a platform from which I could accelerate. No, the spin WAS the acceleration. So in some ways it helps to be 40 years older and a 6th degree black belt in Aikido. I was good at getting the shortest and fastest line to the hoop, ie beating defenders there. Earl said he thought always of the tightest "circle" to the hoop. See, he thought non-Euclidianly......

I got a tripod and shot some sequences of myself. One reason is that there are no videos or photos of me in my playing days, and i wanted to see what I looked like. Actually, not bad. I found I could still shoot. The explosive stop on a dime and elevate has long left my legs. But that is replaced by a slight fade. And I can spin and shoot, which I never could in my young days. The first move on the edited video is an explosive spin and good finish. In bursts, I may still have some speed. So, not bad.....

The soundtrack is Johnny Rivers' "Secret Agent Man", which was a popular song during what were my playing days. "There's a man who leads a life of danger.....". Earl, like Tojima sensei in aikido, could take things into danger, ie defy the tyranny of common sense, and create magic.....

There was one time on a basketball court when i stopped the world. In pick up games i loved to take it to the hoop on the bigger guys, beat them to the hoop, and finish.
When there was a new big guy, I took it as a challenge to go to the hoop on him. One morning before classes at UCSC I was shooting outside the gym. A TALL African-American man wandered up to the hoop and started to shoot. He pretended not to notice me at all. I found out later his name was Tony, and that he was 6'8", and that he was a proctor at one of the colleges. Oh Oh, I thought. All the other shot blockers were 6'2' or 6'3".So compared to my 5'4" he might as well have been Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. I found out later that he claimed to have played semi-professionally.
That afternoon I went to the gym to play some pick-up. The games were half-court and winners(meaning if your team made a shot, you got the ball back. If you were fouled, you got the ball at the side. If you made a shot, you got the ball at the head of the key. Sides were chosen and Tony was there and on the opposing team. He obviously wanted to establish the paint as his. And of course, i had to challenge him. So, I blew past my defender with a crossover from right to left. I was hoping to somehow beat him to the hoop and finish. No such luck. He jumped into the lane, was so huge all I saw was him, no view of the hoop at all. I jumped as high as I could. I was not going to let him block the shot. I felt myself twisting and turning in mid-air, and, before I hit the ground I threw the ball upward as hard as I could over my left ear. I was not hurt by the fall and got right back up. There was absolute silence in the gym and on everyone's faces. I thought maybe I had been fouled. But we had the ball back and someone threw it to me at the head of the key. The shot had gone in.

Friday, October 06, 2006

of comic books, super-heroes, archetypes, and aikido

Recently Deepak Chopra spoke at the San Diego Comics Convention. He said some things that very deeply resonated with me. He talked about comics being the vehicle to really spread his holistic consciousness work. He referred to Super-heroes and Super-heroines as gods and goddesses. He also talked about Super-heroes as representing the ultimate in human potential. The following is a link to his talk:

Chopra talk

And the following is a link to a video of his talk:

Chopra video

All right, I’ve gotten a bad time over the years for the fact that I read comic books. Once or twice a month I go in to Atlantis Fantasy World in Santa Cruz(also celebrating its 30th anniversary) and Joe, its owner, gives me 2 weeks or a month’s worth of comics he has set aside for me. I started reading comics as a kid. Superman. Batman. Wonder Woman. As a young child, I was shy and the world seemed a big and scary place. Clark Kent, Bruce Wayne, and Diana Prince were like friends. Who better to protect a weak and vulnerable child?

As I got into high school, I gave up comics for awhile. Then around 1963 I was pulled in even more strongly by Stan Lee and “The Marvel Age of Comics”. Superheroes now had problems and complexes as well as super powers. Spider-man was my obvious favorite. His emergence in 1963 as a teen-age super-hero coincided with my own teen-age years. He was irreverent, spoke his mind to super-villains and authority figures alike,had a mischievous dark side to his humor, and had a cool outfit that made him look as much like a super-villain as a hero. I also loved Thor, The Fantastic Four, and later Dr. Strange and The Silver Surfer.

Japan, marriage, and fatherhood drew me away from comics for some years. Then in 1989, Michael Keaton “Batman” movie re-connected me. Heroes now lived and operated in a much darker world, often times having to face their own inner demons as well as arch-villains. Upon returning to the shops I found Marvel without Stan Lee in a holding pattern and went to DC, which I thought was the company into plot and characterization. What did it truly mean to be super-human and to have to deal with an uncertain and very complex world?

So since 1989 I’ve been back into comics. I’ve discovered Frank Miller’s gritty “The Dark Knight Returns”. I’ve gone through the death of Superman and his resurrection. I’ve thrilled to “Kingdome Come” and more recently “Secret Identity”. I’ve seen the Superman saga explore new territory in tv’s “Lois and Clark”(one of my favorite all-time shows) and more recently in “Smallville”. And of course there is the burgeoning movie market for super-hero films………

Super- heroes and heroines represent a new mythology. Osensei studied the Kojiki to read the stories about the Japanese kami(gods and goddesses). I wonder if on some level he might have gotten from them what I get from comic books? The gods and goddesses represented by Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Spider-man are to me archetypes. Earlier in the year we did a Saturday afternoon workshop exploring these energies, ie archetypes, with aikido movement. Bill Carter, one of the students attending, had this to say about the workshop:

"During our archetype seminar at the dojo I experienced the breaking down of the barrier that is erected by the ego and stepping into another pattern, a different definition of self...perhaps a no-self? The challenge for me is to find the creation point, where I allow myself to make the jump from my expected social roles, and accepted definitions of self, and become something much deeper...connected...present. This is what I focus on with my Aikido practice. I really enjoy the deeper level of your words in class and contantly focus on increasing my awareness in order to better understand the relationship between energy and self. Perhaps on some level energy is the sum of creation and what I think of as myself is just the momentary execution of that sum. For me, the archetype helps me understand some of the patterns by which the cloud of creation affects each moment on a tangible level. Thanks again for the great seminar."

Makes you think, doesn’t it?

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Of 40th reunions and more aikido and music

On Saturday the last day of September I went to my 40th high school reuinion. I went to
the 20th. 10 years ago I had a choice between the reunion and Hawaii and the island of Kauai won. So I was full of apprehension. Mainly I was very judgmental about how I perceived myself in high school and saw little relationship between the me then and the me now.

I attended Soquel High School from 1962 to 1966. I was mainly into studying, played in the band, and played basketball(and not well). My parents were very insistent that I get good grades and go to college. I had little or no social life, and, apart from a lot of time studying, tended to live a very interior life. That is largely the case even today. So I read comics. Spider-man. The Fantastic Four. Daredevil.The Silver Surfer. Dr. Strange. It’s amazing that the comics that I read then have gone on to become(or soon will) major films. I spent countless hours shooting and dribbling a basketball by myself. My coordination and physical sense came late, so, outside of shooting, I could do very little on the court. So my main sense of myself was mental.

Mainly I got the sense of myself that I could give the illusion of being smart instead of really being intelligent. That who I was there was a false self and was therefore not was really not me. So I’m happy to report that I had a wonderful time and got a whole new perspective on who I was then and how it shaped the way I am today. I hung out with just a few people. In those days they designated you x(college prep), y(possibly college prep) and z(definitely not). Me and my friends saw each other in class after class and hung out in the same after school activities. Being all college prep, you might call us the X-men(or people).

So it was really neat to re-connect with friends. Liz Sparks has taught English all over the world. She was the class valedictorian. Mike Temerin went on to become a research physicist at UC Berkeley. One of my friends, Randy Morgan, decided upon hearing that there would be a reunion/gathering to go to Ethiopia and study plants. That is just so Randy. And John Putica(the best man at my wedding) did not make it, but I traced him, re-connected, and all is well. We are all hoping, that is our little group, to have our own reunion of sorts some time soon.

So what did I learn about myself? I think the reason that I felt I didn’t fit in in high school was that I am an artist, and there was really no outlet for me to express myself. As I’ve discovered lately doing this blog, I am happiest when I am creating. Some how, though, I realized that the body was important, even though all I had was basketball. And the archetypal energies were trying to talk to me through the comic book superheroes. Diana Rigg said that watching herself in re-runs of “The Avengers” was like looking at old photo albums. And that that younger version of herself was okay. Period. After re-connecting to old friends and re-discovering how wonderful they are, I came to the same conclusion about myself. I would also like to thank a dear friend, Suzanne Emrich, for accompanying me to the gathering and giving me the necessary moral support.

The following video has more aikido weapons with music. I hope you enjoy.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Aikido and Weapons

Aikido is often seen as the martial art of peace. So how do weapons fit into the mix? By weapons I mean the staff and the wooden sword(bokken). Osensei apparently told Hikitsuchi sensei that in Aikido the sword or staff represented Takemusu Aiki, literally the seed that gives birth to limitless techniques. So, instead of destruction, in Aikido weapons somehow represent or are included in the process of creation.

To Osensei the sword or staff(which can symbolize the spear) represented something spiritual. A number of senior Americans recall Osensei’s disapproval upon his catching them playing around with weapons. Terry Dobson told of how Osensei caught him with the bokken enacting certain inflated personal fantasies and admonished him. Robert Frager recalled an instance where he was doing jo movements and suddenly realized that Osensei was watching him. Instead of scolding him, O sensei took the staff from him and did a series of magical movements, then told Bob not to play around with the staff until he could do movements like those.

My sense is that for the Founder, the sword and staff represented some sort of interior place. So for him they were something truly deep. Perhaps watching students doing outer forms that did not match this depth was in some sense troubling, even painful, to him. Hikitsuchi sensei would use the sword or staff(at the Shingu dojo the bo or long staff is taught as opposed to the shorter jo) to demonstrate certain principles. When he picked up a bokken or bo, the energy intensity would definitely jump several levels. It would be the same for Tojima sensei. Or Anno sensei. Or Yanase sensei.

Since Aikido is seen as a defensive art, movements to protect oneself against a weapons attack can probably be seen as okay. But what of the sword to sword or staff to staff training? Harv Moscowitz once made a very good point, that in regular training the attacker lived, ie was thrown or pinned. However in paired weapons practice, each exchange seemed to end with the attacker dying, ie being cut or thrusted. My sense in this is that in weapon to weapon training the attacker still lives. The purpose of the training is to show the attacker that such an intent has an opening. So the finishing cut or thrust is to educate rather than terminate. Perhaps the end result of all this is very positive notion that all aggression carries a price with it and in the end is useless. So the aikidoist trains to acquire a positive martial spirit the end result of which is to teach and be taught the ultimate futility of violence. This is probably the number one lesson we must all learn if we are to have a world of peace.

Shochikubai no kenpo(literally the sword method of triangle, circle, square) might then be seen as the harmonious interplay of 2 compimentary forces represented by attacker and defender. Both polish themselves in a martial practice where they represent harmonizing as opposed to opposing forces. More on this later.

The Avengers and Me

As far as all-time favorite tv shows go, my number one choice is the ‘60’s cult classic “The Avengers”. I tend to like things that defy categorization. For a spy show, it delved into time travel, ESP, tributes to film classics, plants from outer space that were here to destroy humanity, the Arabian Nights, and countless other exotic themes. And as much as I loved Diana Rigg, the show really also needed Patrick Macnee. Outwardly Mrs Peel was the futuristic woman(still ahead of her time, by the way) and he was like someone out of the 18th century in some respects. Past and future. Male and Female. He refused to carry a gun. When advised to read the James Bond novels to prepare himself for his role, he said he found the books sexist and tiresome and chose instead to go his own way. He made Steed a modern-day Scarlet Pimpernel,replete with astonishing wardrobe. Steed could be understated and still score style points. He could step aside and let Mrs Peel save the day, or, if needed, rescue her and save the day himself, A strong, secure, witty man of either action or leisure. A great role model, and, in the end, also still ahead of his time.

A couple of years ago I wrote a story, “Mrs Peel, You’re Needed”( Mrs. Peel story) in which I get to replace Steed and have an adventure with Mrs Peel in the Field of Infinite Possibilities. In the Honor Blackman series, Brian Clemens wrote an episode entitled “Don’t Look Behind You”, where Cathy Gale is being stalked by a mysterious and viscious killer. This same script was updated for Diana Rigg in the episode “The Joker”. In both Macnee plays Steed, obviously, who comes in at the end to tidy things up. So he performs a similar act in my story. He wrote an autobiography which is a real delight entitled “Blind in One Ear’. He was supposed to appear locally at a bookstore in 1989, and a good friend and I went to hopefully meet him. Unfortunately, his wife took ill and he was unable to attend. Later, he wrote a book, “The Avengers and Me”, which was timed to come out about the time of the 1998 Avengers movie. A student got me the book and it had his signature on the inside. I figured that it was a decorative Photostat of some sort, but later I saw from the opposite side of the page that it had been written in pen. My student checked with and was informed that Macnee himself had autographed a number of copies for them to help promote the film. So I do have his autograph.

Aikido does work energies that are receptive/positive, yin/yang, masculine/feminine. The Founder referred to the 4 treasures as The sun and moon, the breath of heaven, the breath of earth, and the ebbing and flowing of the tide. I think “The Avengers “ worked because of the special chemistry between Mrs Peel and John Steed, which is reinforced by a deep and genuine friendship between Diana Rigg and Patrick Macnee. Click below to view the opening sequence of the 1967 season: