Friday, October 24, 2008

Practical Aikido Seminar

There has been an association between Aikido of San Jose and Robert Koga sensei since the '90's at our old location in San Jose's Japantown. Koga sensei for years would teach his police tactics seminars in our building and I would invite him to teach an aikido class during his week of police instruction. He would usually say yes. And we have had earlier versions of this seminar at Aikido of San Jose at both its old and current locations.

I want to affirm that I find Robert Koga a true resource. I think it is fantastic that he has been able to teach police officers the techniques and principles of Aikido. I think it is fantastic also that someone has put in the care and time to see how these principles and techniques apply in situations outside of the dojo. We are currently in negotiations to have Koga sensei back for a follow up to the just completed seminar. More on that as we get dates and prices.

For those brave first 20 people who signed up and paid in advance, I would like to heartily thank you all. We got a great turn out of 40 people, but without those first 20, there would have been no seminar.

Having tried concepts from Koga sensei over the years, I would caution people who attended a well-presented seminar taught by a very skillful instructor who feel that they now know the concepts. To really be able to do the things Koga sensei teaches requires a very good grounding in more than learning about techniques. I asked Koga sensei to speak about this time with Koichi Tohei sensei. What he said was that whereas other people concentrated on learning the techniques he concentrated on learning what made the movements work. I thought his description given his background of judo and wrestling that aikido movements looked coreographed and impractical until Tohei sensei threw him and others and he could not feel how it was done. People these days probably forget the tremendous influence Tohei had in aikido's inception. He was chief instructor of world headquarters and was responsible for teaching the principles of energy and centering in aikido practice. His split with Hombu dojo in the early '70's has drastically altered the way aikido is practiced world-wide. Whereas some development in these areas comes from training in the techniques, just training in techniques leads to politics, rank consciousness,
and commercialization. Some of this happens anyway, but people often times just see aikido as something that is practiced in a dojo in a practice uniform, and the training becomes evaluated in terms of exericise, fighting skill, etc..... People may get better at training, at techniques, at being in better shape, but they themselves do not grow or transform.

I only saw Tohei sensei on one occasion, as a spectator in spring of 1970. He was god-like, with legs and arms resembling pillars. People would go flying as if by magic, yet you could sense the reality of what was there physically as well as energetically. And I'm sure Tohei sensei himself played a role in the split. But he represented something that mainstream aikido has moved away from and it is probably a very crucial piece of aikido's code.

I thought it was interesting that Koga sensei spent a month out of every year for awhile traveling with Tohei sensei, training and serving as an interpreter. So what he got was direct transmission, direct experience. In Shingu Tojima sensei through reading Tohei sensei's books introduced principles of ki to Aikido training. This was done, of course, when Hikitsuchi sensei was not present. Whereas Hikitsuchi sensei saw these principles in very spiritual terms very reminiscent of the founder, there is probably in importance in understanding the energy laws of things without the spiritual entanglement. We are reaching a time where science and mysticism seem to be coming together. So watching Tojima sensei teach energy classes was very interesting because they were taught in terms of movement and principle. For the record, I am also grateful for Hikitsuchi sensei's influence.

There is a youtube video available of the seminar. But I would recommend that you go to Koga sensei's website, where you can order videos of his approach that are far superior.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Sasaki Kojiro

In my favorite Bond film,"On Her Majesty's Secret Service" George Lazenby, then the
new Bond replacing Sean Connery, humorously says after a long fight scene,"This never happened to the other guy". In the history of Japanese sword fights, Sasaki Kojiro, who lost the famous duel to Miyamoto Musashi on April 13, 1612, is the other guy. Musashi is portrayed as the hero, the "Kensei" or sword saint who travels the path to enlightenment by way of the sword. The character of Kojiro is much less known.

After seeing the 3 part Samurai trilogy, starring Toshiro Mifune as Musashi,I must confess that I found the character of Kojiro more interesting than that of Musashi. He was played by the actor Koji Tsurata, who throughout the film is dressed more like an actor than a swordsman. Kojiro wielded an extra-long sword and was the master of a technique called the "tsubame gaeshi" or swallow cut. It was a technique that was based on the sudden way swallows can change directions during flight. Kojiro's extra-long blade would cut down but could reverse unpredictably anywhere during the down into a wicked and deadly uppper stroke. And the whole thing was as smooth and as unpredictable as a swallow in flight. Tsurata played him with a cool that sharply contrasted with the intense heat of Mifune's Musashi. It was that cool that I found fascinating. Whereas Musashi pursued the path of the sword for enlightenment, there was a sense that for Kojiro it was art for art's sake. A sense of devilish detachment. Kojiro never got his hands dirty, whereas Musashi seemed wedded to pain and frustration.

I think the character of Nemuri Kyoshiro is on some levels an attempt to honor Kojiro. Like Kojiro's swallow cut, Nemuri has his full moon cut. Nemuri has much more in common with his cool detachment and sense of mystery to Kojiro than to the character of Musashi. The irony is that when watching Koji Tsurata as Kojiro I said to myself he would make a great Nemuri Kyoshiro, and I found out later that he played the Nemuri character earlier in 3 pre-Raizo films.

In the history of Jazz Miles Davis is like Musashi and holds a very important place. Chet Baker is a bit like Kojiro, a lot less well-known. If history is any decider of greatness Davis gets it all. However, like Kojiro, Baker's cool and unforgettable lyricism are also worth remembering. I am including another video shot during my August stay in Sebastopol of another of my favorite Chet songs, this time "Polka Dots & Moonbeams" :

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Aikido: Your Best Investment

I want to thank those members of Aikido of San Jose who participated in the October 4th Japantown demo. It struck me today that in this period of economic certainty, what better way to invest your time than aikido? The centering and grounding that we offer are priceless. Just to know that you are learning to be in the body, out of the realm of the minds control(fear), and to find your own harmony with the universe are very important matters these days.

In "The Secret Teachings of Aikido" Ueshiba Osensei states that economics are the basis of society. What we are encountering is the ecomonic structure of things is so off balance that we are facing a time of (some say severe) correction and rebalancing. This is what happens when the mind runs too far ahead of the body. Everything is based on credit. The real worth of everything becomes inflated. It can be scary. So this is a good time to remain centered and grounded through the body, to observe the mind and the stream of thoughts and to realize that we are not the mind and our thoughts. The body is a gateway to a much larger state of being. This can be a time of real transformation and not anxiety.

In the early '90's I was while in Tokyo privileged to have dinner with the current doshu(at that time he was chief instructor of Hombu dojo). I asked him how aikido would change in the future. He said simply"Irimi nage still irimi nage, shihonage still shihonage". Yet while the outer form of the practice may not alter significantly, it is important to realize that the tradition of aikido through the founder is "takemusu" or unlimited creativity. It is amazing that both perspectives can be true. Tradition can still be grounding and comforting and yet at the same time cutting edge transformative. That is why I feel the upcoming period can be truly a great time for aikido's real message. It is important to remain grounded in the core of one's being and at the same time open to the message the winds of change bring us.

I put together a video of the j-town video with the message that training in aikido can be your best investment during these times. Enjoy and hope to see you at the dojo.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Aikido and Times of Crisis

We are all facing the possibility that the world as we knew it will never be the same. The severe financial crisis we are all facing as the government moves toward a bailout is in its own way as dramatic as nine-eleven was. Though no lives have been lost, perhaps an innocence has been. People will probably never look at banks the same way again.

I remember my first year in aikido. It was my senior year at UC Santa Cruz in 1970. We faced the invasion of Cambodia. The campus was closed. Some classes continued to meet but off-campus. I remember Robert Frager teaching students how to center and use the principles of aikido to cope with the crises we were all facing. What are the practices we can all do during this uncertain time?

People who are too mind-based will have a difficult time. If one's spirit goes up and down with the stock market, anyone will have trouble coping. Remember, the mind operates through fear. Washington Mutual went under because so many of its depositors drew out their money, thereby creating the scenario they most feared. The number one thing we must remember is that we are not our mind, we are not our thoughts. One nice thing about coming to the dojo is that we operate through the body. Just being more present and feeling the body will allow you to realize that many of your and my thoughts are just that. To relax and observe them. Often times when something big is about to happen, you will get energy to deal with it. Most people are so mind-based that their thoughts run out of control. In aikido we teach you to be more in the body and to relax and center with the energy. It is a friend. It is there to help you deal with whatever is or will happen.

What did Osensei do around the craziness of Japan before and during WW2? He moved to the country and farmed. He went to a place where he could really check who he was in all that was going on around him. He got away from people who were mind-driven about the war. We are at war, but this for now another matter. Most of us can't just re-locate to some rural location and go back to nature. But the body represents maybe a haven for us during this difficult and confusing time. The mind in its more original, pure state was meant to operate in harmony with the body. For most systems these day the mind is totally out of balance and is way too controlling. The body is a calmer space where mind and body can harmonize. The mind by itself tends to go into fear during times like these. I know not what the future holds for aikido schools, but I know that I will be at the dojo training with those people who make it to class. So grounding and centering through the body will be big in the immediate future.

I am including a new video of a demo I did preceding Hikitsuchi sensei's demo at Monterey Peninsula College in May of 1974. It was a very different world then. But I am very glad I chose Aikido as my path. I don't consider the movements to be very skillful, but hopefully there is an energy and passion that come through.......