Tuesday, November 28, 2006

aikido and alchemy/transformation

A couple of weeks ago a group of bay area aikido instructors met on a Sunday afternoon. There was an afternoon workshop about becoming a better teacher. We did not do a single aikido technique, although we did practice one movement/blend. Robert Nadeau(7th dan, City Aikido, Aikido of Mt. View, Aikido of San Jose) led the workshop, drawing upon his experience with Osensei in the 60's and his experience as a workshop leader(Esalen). It was very deep and experiential and, unfortunately, does not lend itself well to a linear process of information sharing.

The workshop does raise a number of very important questions. What is aikido past the techniques? What is aikido past the social experience of the dojo? What is aikido past the running of a dojo? What is aikido past the political networking? What do instructors need to do to keep growing and evolving?

Nadeau sensei once told me that he once told Osensei that he wanted to do Osensei's aikido. Osensei replied to him,"That's strange, no one else does. They want to do 'their' aikido." That was a real shocker to me. Exactly what it means to do Osensei's aikido as opposed to their/our aikido is probably not something that is easily grasped. To me doing Osensei's aikido is somehow honoring that aikido has a source(not simply the man Morihei Ueshiba or the techniques that are practiced) and to do the transformative work on oneself to align to that source. Osensei left us the shortcut in some sense, letting us know that that source is love. He once counselled Nadeau sensei to do the aikido that can't be seen with the human eye(katsu hayabi).

Anno sensei once told me that Osensei would talk about things and that at the present time he wished he had listened. Tojima sensei said that one morning class taught by Osensei was during a snowy winter day. There are slats at floor level in the Shingu dojo and Tojima sensei's toes were freezing from the snow falling through these slats as Osensei lectured about aikido at the universal level. Apparently Tojima sensei was making such a face that Osensei noticed."Are you bored? Let's do some chambara(literally the outer showy level of martial arts). ("Tsumaranai ka? Chambara shiyoo ka?" were the literal words. So even people who were very dedicated to him found his level of aikido very frustrating. Hikitsuchi sensei felt that the essence of Osensei's teachings and therefore the essence of aikido itself could not be grasped with out shugyo, an inner transformative process.

Possibly Osensei grasped that there was an inner code to the universe, and, grasping that code, that oneness with the universe would create a being like Osensei. Let us not forget that he dodged bullets, could make himself or an extension of himself like a staff immovable, and seemed to be able to do things with time and space, the building blocks of the physical universe.

I am including a new video. I am attempting to use the spiral movements of the staff that Osensei did to mix and align energies. In the production of the video I was very influenced by my experience at the workshop.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Happy Thanksgiving

Here's wishing everyone a Happy Thanksgiving. One of the things Osensei apparently stressed is (kansha suru kimochi) or an attitude of gratitude. So here is the perfect holiday for that. Hopefully, everyone will be able to spend the holiday with those closest to them. My daughter and I will be headed up to San Francisco to my sister's house.

I vaguely remember spending Thanksgiving in Shingu in 1974. Robert Frager had brought a group of UC Santa Cruz people to train at the dojo and many of them, including Bob, were soon to return. We had a group dinner, though I remember it as chicken rather than turkey(shichimencho).

In a very complex world where everything is changing so quickly, just the simple act of reflecting on what and on who is important is a very important thing. It is said that we attract to us what is going on inside us. In Japanese that is called inryoku(literally the strength of attraction). Apparently Osensei said "aikido wa inryoku no tanren de aru)", that aikido is literally the forging of this power of attraction.

I'm including a rather unique video for this very special holiday. In 1994 I was in San Diego at a healing conference(Kalos Seminars). I was asked to give a short presentation on aikido. Also attending the seminar was Joan Sylvain, who trained at our old location in the early to mid-90's. There were no mats, so we just presented center and extension, just as we might to a beginning student.

I consider Joan a very dear friend and someone who has been very influential in my life. Unfortunately, we have lost touch. If anyone reading this is in contact with her, please let her know that I think of her often and would enjoy hearing from her.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

more shingu dojo 1973

Here’s another clip of training at the Shingu(Kumano Juku Dojo) in fall of 1973. Hikitsuchi sensei is leading the class. Notice how sustained and continuous is the pace of the class. Often times he would demonstrate the techniques once right/once left , sometimes with a string of ukes. In one sequence the ukes for irimi nage are: Anno sensei, Yanase sensei, Mary Heiny, myself, and Linda Holiday. After the technique is demonstrated, you see a short clip of Anno sensei training and then Yanase sensei. Even though they are doing the same technique and are from the same dojo, you’ll notice how different the quality of their movement is. Both are fantastic in their own way.

One thing Mary Heiny stressed to us when we first arrived in Japan is that often times people pick up a style too quickly, often times at the expense of gaining real substance.
It is really tempting because you like a certain style of movement to try to copy it. This can be useful in the learning process, but truth in motion can never be gained by copying a style. Yanase sensei was dynamic, solid, and was like trying to attack whirlwind of sharp blades. Anno sensei was fluid and you could feel the movement of nature(wind, waves, water) in his motion. Tojima sensei had a relaxed weight and could be very explosive. When you trained with one of them, you just gave your all and tried to pick up whatever you could. Hikitsuchi sensei had a very subtle and mysterious quality to his movement. You could see something again and again and yet it always seemed out of reach.


Saturday, November 11, 2006

Shingu dojo 1973

I am including a short video clip of training at the Kumano Juku(Shingu ) dojo taken in late fall of 1973. Hikitsuchi sensei was teaching and leading the class. You’ll see short clips of Yanase sensei simply training in the class. There are 2 separate segments of this. One at the very beginning and another later. You’ll also see him being uke for Hikitsuchi sensei. Other ukes include Mary Heiny. There are 2 brief clips of me being uke for Hikitsuchi sensei. Towards the end of the clip, Tojima sensei makes a brief appearance.

The class appears to be well attended. Being a dojo in a small coastal town, class size could go up and down. Even though they were shihan level, as far as I remember, Anno, Tojima, and Yanase senseis still paid monthly dues to support the dojo. There was in those days no set schedule for who taught what class. If Hikitsuchi sensei were there, as dojo-cho, he would take the class. If one one or more of the shihan came to class, they would then train. If Hikitsuchi sensei was not there, generally the first of the shihan to appear at the dojo would then take the class. Sometimes in multiple shihan classes they would each take a sub-group: black belts, adult non-black belts, and children. The dojo went through periods where there was no separate children’s class, so they trained at the same time as the adults.

As you will see, the pace was very brisk and could be very intense. Drawing Yanase sensei as a training partner was always quite a challenge. Ditto Anno sensei and Tojima sensei. Hikitsuchi sensei often demonstrated the techniques very rapidly with little or no explanation. Part of the training was to train yourself to perceive what was going on. Hikitsuchi sensei would often lecture in class about the true meaning of aikido. Themes he often stressed were that aikido was not a sport, but rather a true budo(martial art), that training involved the mutual teaching between training partners of each others openings(suki) and moments of inattention. On a deeper level it was stressed that aikido was a path built and sustained by kami(divine energies) and was, in fact, a path of kami. Also, that one’s own true or kami nature could be clouded by less clear energies, and, therefore, aikido involved misogi or a spiritual cleansing of the senses, body, and spirit. All of this, it was stressed, was to be found in one’s day to day training. Past the level of training was that of shugyo, that life was a process of constant inner growth and transformation, and that there was indeed a bridge between the dojo and life itself.

I intend to fish through the old vhs footage I have and see if I can find more such moments.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Yanase sensei

I came across some old super 8 movies that had been transferred to vhs. These are from 1973 and show the teachers and training of the Shingu dojo of that period. I will be editing and putting some of this footage online. You will see Linda Holiday sensei and myself as pre-yudansha. These films were taken in late fall of that year, and we were promoted to shodan shortly after. Much of the footage was shot with the idea that Hikitsuchi sensei would teach some classes that would be filmed so that those of us returning to America could study them there. You will see footage of Anno, Tojima, and Yanase senseis training in these classes. With Hikitsuchi sensei leading the class, your training partner could well be one of these shihan.

The footage I am including is some of Yanase Motoichi sensei. At the time he was a 6th dan. He worked extensively with me both in and out of the dojo. Often times after class he would agree to work with me one on one. As I got to know him better, he would take me and other foreigners on special pilgrimages to shrines in the mountains. I again want to stress how important it is to realize that the amount of time training in the dojo, though important, ideally is to be complimented by work outside the dojo and also after class.

Working with Yanase sensei could be very intense. He was very patient and at the same time could be very explosive. He seemed to know what your real limits were, as opposed to your own self-imposed ideas of them. And he was very clean, so even though you
might be scared, a part of you felt a great trust. This is a combination of abilities that it is very rare to find then, today, or in any age. The Shingu dojo was blessed to have three such teachers: Anno, Tojima, and Yanase senseis.

My one claim to fame at the dojo was that I once took ukemi for Yanase sensei for 40 minutes after evening class. I trust the observation of the people watching, because I was in no position to watch the clock. One thing I want to make very clear is that I never managed to do that again, so that was a one time and very unique thing even for me. I also want to point out that I was around 25 years old and in the best shape of my adult life. But as he threw me I realized that I was getting energy, and, the best way to keep my alignment with the receiving of that energy was to go all out. I did not pace myself. Yanase sensei somewhat obliged by throwing me forward for awhile, then back, then into pins, then forward again. So it was like there was a giant wave or spiral that I could just ride. The only reason it stopped when it did was that he hit me in the face with an entering move and I thought he had knocked out a contact lens(many of my sessions with him seemed to end that way until I stopped wearing contacts to train). Linda Holiday sensei asked me recently what it was like after I had stopped. I was in no way tired or exhausted at all. In fact I was energized, and the whole dojo was like a living energy field, like something out of “Star Trek”.

I saw Yanase sensei again when I went to Japan in June. True to form, both he and Anno sensei saw me and my group off at the train station just like over 30 years ago.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Steven Seagal @Aikido of San Jose 1990

In July of 1990 we had a famous guest instructor at Aikido of San Jose at our old Japantown location: Steven Seagal. At that time Robert Frager and I were co-hosting a series of Aikido Summer workshops. Earlier in the year, when it came time to plan for the summer, Frager sensei asked me whom I’d like to have as a guest instructor for the Summer Seminar. Almost jokingly, I said, “Steven Seagal.” Seagal had already debuted in the film “Above the Law”. And earlier in the year he had hit number on in the charts for “Hard to Kill”. It seemed an impossibility, but Robert Frager peripherally knew a couple of people connected to him, so began a long period of tracing contacts.

For a long period nothing seemed to be happening. We, of course, had made contingency plans in case we couldn’t pull of this coup. Suddenly one night I got a call from Frager sensei. “I just talked to Steven Seagal, and he confirmed for the Summer Seminar!”, Frager sensei stated. So this unlikely idea happened to have legs of its own after all.
I remember going to the San Jose airport and picking up Seagal sensei, who flew in by private plane. I recall he had on a black leather jacket, and he looked like he had literally stepped out of one of his films.

We drove him to the dojo, where he taught a class. At that time, one of my students, Ed Rathman, owned and ran the Eulipia restaurant downtown. We took Seagal sensei there for a private lunch. He then returned to the dojo, taught an afternoon class, did a question and answer, and then flew back to Southern California.

Of course the workshop itself was a huge success. We had over 150 people on the mat for Seagal sensei’s classes. It was covered locally by channel 11 news and in the San Jose Mercury. Though Seagal sensei himself has never, to this date returned, we later had Abe sensei from Osaka to our dojo for a couple of workshops. Abe sensei donated a piece of Osensei’s calligraphy,” Ai Ki Do”, which today still forms the shomen at our current location.

What are my impressions of the man? I found his aikido dynamic, powerful, and innovative. He was respectful and approachable, freely signing autographs and posing for pictures. On a personal level, though I enjoyed his first series of films, I have not followed his latest endeavors. He certainly went on to achieve a level of success and therefore notoriety. And I thoroughly enjoyed his Mountain Dew commercial.

I wish him well.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Aikido of San Jose @ the movies 1985

<Jack Wada as Underworld Death Dealer and Harry Concepcion as Bunny Rabbit from Donnie Darko, ASJ Fright Nite 2006>In 1985 Aikido of San Jose participated in the filming of the movie “Hawkeye”. We were approached by George Chung, then of America’s Best Karate, to participate in this film. George was a national forms champion and was running his own series of schools. He was at that time making films with a martial arts and action slant to them.

So we were asked to play the Las Vegas Grand Temple, where the character George played was to test for his black belt. Some of the students then of ASJ participating were Lou Bermingham, Nick de la Torre, Sunny Skys, Steve Mattern………As I remember the scene we were in was shot somewhere in Campbell. Coffee and doughnuts were provided. I was given a speaking part, the master of the Grand Temple. I get to interview George’s character. One of my first exposures to martial arts was in the first episode of “The Avengers” to air on American TV in March of 1966. Mrs. Peel was helping to investigate a series of murders where the victims, necks were broken by a strike from the side, ie a karate chop. So she enters a dojo and asks to become a student. The sensei is played by the British actor John Hollis(Patrick Stewart before Patrick Stewart). I decided to play my role based on John Hollis’s interpretation of a Japanese sensei.

Just to do the little bit we were in took hours and hours of rehearsal and filming. All in all it turned out to be quite fun. But I have a healthy respect for anyone who is seriously trying to accomplish anything in film.

At that time the 49ers were coming off their second Super Bowl. Also appearing in the film was All-Pro Ronnie Lott. I believe at the time he was studying with George. George later went on to become a conditioning coach for the 49ers. In fact it was through George that we got to appear in the half-time demo at Candlestick Park in 1994.

The film had a local premier in Los Gatos. I was recognized once while walking the streets of Japantown by someone who had seen the video of the film. Here is the brief footage of our appearance:

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Aikido of San Jose at Candlestick Park

In late August of 1994 the 49ers played their last exhibition game on route to a season that would take them onto a Super Bowl victory over the San Diego Chargers. At half-time of that game Aikido of San Jose participated in a martial arts extravaganza. We occupied center stage for the opening of the demonstrations.

For me personally, it was a powerful experience. There were about 60,000 people in the stands, making it by far the largest aikido demo I have ever done. My father had died earlier in the year. As a boy I went with him to countless Giants games at Candlestick Point. We saw Willie Mays, Juan Marichal, Willie McCovey and other Giants greats in the '60's. My dad was also a passionate 49er fan, though the only games we saw in person together were at Kezar Stadium. So I felt that in some way I wanted to dedicate this all to him. It was overwhelming to run around in the same space that in years past had been occupied by Mays and Montana.

I remember that we wore tennis shoes and that there was a lot of running. I had been jogging 2 miles several times a week just to prepare for it. People present included James Friedman(of Suginami Aikikai San Francisco), Sue Ann McKean( of the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology), Harry Concepcion, and others.......

I want to thank all those who appeared with me. And a special thanks to Elise Bauer, who had never handled a camcorder before but who shot this video footage.