Wednesday, February 28, 2007

1980's Warrior Shows

The 1980's were a dynamic time for aikido in the San Francisco bay area. Examples of this are two"Warrior" shows produced by Robert Nadeau sensei starring Sue Ann McKean. At that time Nadeau sensei was, as he still is, one of the most senior and one of the leaders of aikido in this area. He produced 2 what you might call vignettes combining aikido and bodybuilding that were shown locally at major body building events. Aikido and bodybuilding might seem to be very different and unlikely to be grouped together in any format. But that was before Sue Ann McKean.

Always a gifted aikidoist, Sue Ann began bodybuilding in the '80's to re-habilitate a knee injury. She was such a natural that she began entering women's bodybuilding events and doing very well. According to Nadeau sensei, who was her first trainer, they got bored with just the posing and decided to step it up a notch or two. These shows combined martial arts, body building and are set in a mythological/fantasy world. It is a world which could be the distant barbaric past or a future with technology and fantasy elements side by side. To my knowledge there has been nothing like them before or since.

The one featured below was the first of the two. At the very end Sue Ann and Nadeau sensei square off. Though aikido per se is not about fighting, I think you'll enjoy the choreography and the intensity of it. Nadeau sensei apparently directed and produced the whole thing and even selected the background music, co-ordinating action to passages in the music.

So welcome to a timeless piece from aikido's history in the 1980's. Unfortunately I had to put it into two videos. Here's part 1:

Here's part 2:

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Aikido Action and Re-Action

I decided to do a more up tempo video. I'm learning how to edit faster and so I'm mixing in some old with some new. There are a couple of really good(I think) multiple attack sequences, one from the 1994 49er's demo and one from 1992's Osensei memorial training at the old Japantown dojo. I had some great ukes for those sequences, so I'd like to thank Sue Ann McKean, James Friedman, Harry Concepcion, Lou Bermingham, and Richard Paredes for some fast, focused, and energetic attacks.

I used "The Man Without Fear" from the movie Daredevil(one of my favorites. I am definitely NOT a man without fear, but when you're deep in a powerful flow, something else seems to take over. And I liked the unrelenting pace and rhythm of the song. I find that the music or song is the glue that holds everything together.

Aikido has a calm, deep, side, which can be expressed in dynamic movement. Kind of like being the calm center of a great storm. And a storm, while it can be unsettling, cleanses and helps bring things back into balance.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Aikido and the Body

One of the most misunderstood aspects of aikido is its relationship with the body. When I first started aikido it was considered a form of mind/body harmony. I have found over the years that most things in the world have become very mind-based, including some aikido. So what exactly is the body and how does it relate to aikido?

The body is a gateway to the more of things. Training in aikido is body based, or experiential, but it does not necessarily have anything to do with making the body superhumanly strong. A serviceable body is a good thing, although limitations can be overcome. Mainly, the body space contains and does not negate the mind, whereas a very mind-based approach does not necessarily include nor is supposedly supported by the body. It is common in class for a student of any level to freeze, waiting for his/her mind to understand before moving. Another common scenario is for the student to watch what is being taught, totally understand it from the position of observer and yet not be able to do the movement once he/she is back out on the mat.

It is possible to view the body and the mind as forces or energies that, when harmonized, synergistically produce something called flow or power. One may also argue that this state of body/mind unity is actually a more original state of being that existed prior to the separation of body and mind into duality. In aikido we strive to polish this connection to this more original self.

So my vision of aikido is a place one can come to get back in touch with this more original state. This involves recognizing the body as a force or intelligence that is equal to the mind. The journey of aikido is not simply the learning of forms but is a return to the core of our being. Where do we find that core? In the body and through the process of training.

Here is a new video:

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

a trumpeter/hero from my past

Sometime in fall of 1974 I was doing my second major stay in Japan at the Shingu dojo. Bob Frager had brought a group from UC Santa Cruz, and one of these was Mickey Seffinger. The three of us were having a discussion of some sort, and it turned out that the three of us had played trumpet in high school. And a name came up: Rafael Mendez.

Chances are, if you were an aspiring trumpeter of any kind at that time you came upon Mendez. It is said that he as a youth played the trumpet for Pancho Villa, and that he learned his breath control from an Indian fakhir. He had put out a series of albums. He also put out arrangements of very intricate and beautiful trumpet solos that were on these albums. And, of course, I tried again and again to play these like him. And, failed again and again.

Unlike a drum, piano, or even a woodwind piece that utilizes a reed, the sound you produce with a trumpet is almost totally self-produced Of course you need the horn. But from deep inside you you produce a vibrating column of air that then resonates with the embrouchure you form with your lips to produce the tone. This is very much like kokyu in aikido. The energy is connected to the breath, which cannot be too high or forced, and from a total body state, is directed out your hands. I had a good tone or sound. But for Mendez that was the beginning. Range is going high and low, and while I was okay, he could hit notes I couldn’t. The tongue is used to stop/start notes and he could fire out notes like an assault weapon can bullets. He had the quality of a flamenco guitarist. I absolutely could not keep up when he shifted into “warp “ speed. My favorite solo, and therefore also the source of my biggest frustration, was”La Virgen de la Macarena”. This is the song they play as the matador and his entourage enter the bull ring. Mendez turned what was probably a simple march into a bravura performance for trumpet only he could do. Some years later I saw Doc Severinson do the piece on a PBS special. While tone and range were comparable, he slurred the parts that Mendez tongued. For a brief moment I felt vindication.

Some years still after that I was living in the Santa Cruz mountains and was up late one night watching the Disney channel. They used to play Zorro every night at half past midnight. Anyway, they were showing a very old Goofy cartoon with the title “For Whom the Bull Tolls”. It was about bullfighting with Goofy as a very comical matador. In the background there was an electrifying trumpet solo. I waited for the credits at the end, and, indeed, it was acknowledged that the trumpet work was done by none other than Rafeal Mendez.

This latest video is a mix on some earlier ones. The music is none other than “La Virgen de la Macarena” played by guess who? I had thought about doing a free form staff piece to this, but I thought I might tear up my shoulders trying. I took a section out of my Metallica piece, and I think it works out quite well. After all these years I can begin to keep up with Mendez. I just had to shift arts to do it.

Friday, February 02, 2007

underworld avengers

I have just completed a new video which is on youtube. For the first time I am not embedding it to the dojo blog. If you'd like to see it, please just go to youtube and type in underworld avengers and it will come up. The poster was designed by Alwen Laguatan, the father of Ashlyn of the teen class. When I visited Frank Doran sensei at the semi-annual CAA meeting in Redwood City last August, he showed me a movie poster one of his students had designed for him which had him featured in the "film". It seemed like good fun, so I talked to Alwen about a "film" where I would co-star with Diana Rigg and Kate Beckinsale, and we came up with the above poster. After "Secret Agent Gal", which just went over 2100 views on youtube, I decided to try to do a video based on the poster.

I took probably the weirdest and darkest(and, paradoxically, one of the all-time best) episodes of the Avengers, mixed in some cuts of Underworld and Underworld Evolution, put in "Her Portrait in Black" from the Underworld Evolution soundtrack album, and let them mix. The results, which I like, might be a little too dark to just casually connect to the dojo blog,which is loosely supposed to be about aikido topics. I say loosely, because the Avengers was supposed to be about spies and the Underworld films about vampires and werewolves, and I guess the blog tends to follow their lead.

The Avengers episode is " A Touch of Brimstone" by Brian Clemens. It was considered too radical(kinky) for American TV when the series was first brought over from Britain in 1966. I saw it for the first time much later in syndication. Mrs. Peel is dressed in spiked heels and a whale bone corset as "the queen of sin" and is whipped at in the final climactic scene. That, interspersed with the darkness of the Underworld films, made me decide not to directly link up the blog to the new video.

Things that are apparent. Though the Avengers was a '60's show, it holds up well with the current and cutting edge Underworld scenes. Kate Beckinsale's Selene owes an awful lot to Diana Rigg's Emma Peel. In fact one reviewer referred to Selene as "the Emma Peel of the undead". Even though Selene has supernatural vampiric strength and speed, their fighting styles are similar. Their is a strong empasis on sensuality in their movement.

What place does the dark side have in aikido? Aikido cannot be grasped by simply copying what is considered light and beautiful and truthful. The mind's concept of these things is too shallow to allow a deep enough mix of mind and body.And what the mind cannot label or grasp is often times labelled as "dark". Much of what we may consider feminine energy and power is suppressed even to this day. I don't feel aikido can be grasped without this in the mix. Carl Jung talked about a process of individuation, where the ego individuates into the self. It is in this place, where we encounter the archetypal energies, where I feel true aikido can blossom. So for me Selene and Emma Peel represent some very important archetypes. Just as the mind can be seen as masculine, so the feminine is represented through the body, the earth, the belly, the heart......And the task facing aikido and the world is to integrate those energies into our consciousness properly.

Anyway, I hope you will give the video a look, and, I hope you enjoy it. If you find it strange, please consider the source.....