Friday, November 28, 2008

Thanksgiving 1974 in Shingu

Happy Day After Thanksgiving. A few weeks ago I had lunch with Bob Frager. He gave me the irimi nage picture above. It reminded me of another Thanksgiving 34 years ago in Shingu. At this time Bob had taken a sabbatical from UC Santa Cruz and had taken a group of students to train for the fall quarter at the Shingu dojo. I was there on my way to of all places Melbourne, Australia, to pursue a full doctoral fellowship in Russian at Monash University. As it turned out I decided not to leave Japan. But that period of training that coincided with Bob's being there was a wonderful experience. Somehow the picture brought a lot of it back.

The training was joyfully intense. Anno, Yanase, and Tojima senseis were all active at the dojo during this time. Hikitsuchi sensei, invigorated by a successful May 1974 trip to the San Francisco bay area, taught a lot. He even had special classes in sword, aiki bojutsu, and kototama(chanting). It was a rich and memorable period. This period started in late August of 1974 and continued into early December when Bob and most of his group left.

Even though in Japan, we celebrated Thanksgiving(kansha suru hi). At the time the foreign contingent was split into two groups, one staying at Teibo-cho(where I stayed during my initial stay in 1973) and the other at the third floor of a Narukawa dormitory for the employees of the Urashima Luxury Hotel just down the coast in Katsuura. Bob and I were in the latter group. I remember we all had a chicken dinner we prepared in the kitchen facilities on the third floor. I vaguely remember we might have invited and hosted Anno and Tojima senseis for dinner. Yanase sensei was still working at the Nachi waterfall parking lot at that time and it was harder for him to get time off. So I don't remember him present.

The uke in the picture above is Karen Chew. She was one of the people in Bob's Santa Cruz group. She stayed for over a year longer than most members of that group. She still makes trips to see the Shingu dojo. At that time she and I would try to figure out the moves. This picture was taken just outside the dojo during one of our attempts to figure out irimi nage. Bob, I believe, shot the photo. With my blue jacket and red backpack contrasting to her red jacket and blue backpack, we form a sort of yin/yang. He commented at the time that it looked like we were a couple of comic book superheroes.

Anyway sometime in mid-December Bob left to go back to Santa Cruz. I remember the holidays. The next picture was taken January 2nd, 1975, when after a brisk training at the dojo, we ran to the Shingu river. Hikitsuchi sensei lead us for 500 bokken cuts. We all then went into the Shingu river. That river was fed by the snowpacks from the mountains and was COLD............As you can see, we were all in great shape then. Though the definition in the abs is a result of the intense COLD.

What is the role of intensity in training? A certain sort of athletic intensity can pretty much only be done when very young. I was 26 at the time those photos were shot. There are things I could do then, mainly stamina, physical speed, a certain go straight out full speed ahead hold nothing back quality that would be foolish to try now. On the other hand in terms of certain other understandings I am much deeper now. One thing Hikitsuchi sensei stressed was that aikido is NOT a sport. Things like endurance and speed and intensity are associated with sports. But what he called "shinken shobu" literally as if you were facing a live sword is about warriorship and can be done at any age. The last time I saw Tojima sensei alive was 1992. He and Anno sensei were having a discussion about just this. Tojima sensei insisted that something that you do when young that you become unable to do as you age is a sport, not a budo. He had the experience of watching Ueshiba Osensei to guide him in this. Obviously certain types of ukemi and training can only be done when quite young. But Aikido is rich and deep enough that the true meaning even deepens as one ages. The sense of coming from one's true self, manifesting sincerity in all ones interactions, valuing life and preserving the beauty of nature must all be treated with an attitude of "shinken". When one is young it is easy to be drawn into a quality of what is really a sport. As one matures, the true treasure of aikido is revealed.

Unfortunately, after Bob left, the celebrated Shingu chaos emerged. A lot of the fun left with him. I stayed until the end of March 1975. My mother was quite ill and I took the opportunity of teaching Aikido at UC Santa Cruz to be with her for her last year. I am very grateful for this. Karen stayed quite a bit longer and returned I believe in 1976. Bob left the University to found The California Institute of Transpersonal Psychology(now ITP).

What is the purpose of this chaos? Somethings are just energy. It is good to not get washed away in a flash flood. It is better to survive a tornado or destructive storm.
Maybe the sense of Thanksgiving Day is implicit in this. Sometimes life will send you a lot of stuff. On the positive side it makes you grateful for the wonderful things that are there. If we focus on the negative, I believe it is endless. If we are able to shift our gaze during these times to those things we have gratitude for, then we create more reasons to have that gratitude. For me these days this is what warriorship boils down to and with it sorcery. And it is a matter of "shinken".

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

More Teaching

One of the most important things about teaching is to have a background in training.
Teaching is a form of training, but there are things one must be very clear about. One thing you always watch is whether someone in the class teaches or trains. If you are working with someone newer, do you teach or train? One thing one can do is to summon the instructor over, and let the instructor convey the information. Training is not just working up a sweat and getting a workout. It is a process of relating to the person and yourself, ie connecting, through the art. It is a real art to be able to teach someone new through movement and the body. A lot of instruction can be way too verbal. This is especially difficult when the person you are working with is new and feels that he/she must understand something in order to move. Movement, feeling, awareness are parts of learning that must be introduced from the very onset of your working with someone new(er). If you stop and over verbalize, you may create a pattern in them that they will always stop and analyze and never move or feel. Tojima sensei was probably the most verbal of the teachers in Shingu, but he always related what he said to a process of feeling. The other teachers tended to move so fast that you couldn't think, which is good, but maybe the concept being practiced might not be clear. The challenge is to get the concept, which maybe a form as well as possibly flow, center, or energy, through the body.

The sad fact is that most people would rather do a form, whether that form is rigid, seemingly flowing, or moving, or static, than to feel and be aware. Real training is to feel what is going on, not to cover it up with flash or knowledge or glitz. And real training has nothing to do with something that is dangerous or effective. Real training is to touch the core of your own being and through that make a real connection to your partner. Training that is too extreme, and that can mean anything from being too mental, verbal, locked into a particular approach or style, too rigid, too soft and flowing, tends to be shallow. A purely mental approach will fail. But so will a purely physical approach. If someone has it, and I mean a level of the balance between mind/body, you can feel it. I remember my early days in Shingu it was obvious to me that Anno, Tojima, and Yanase senseis had something the rest of the people training didn't. And it was more than technique. In fact Anno sensei's shihonage was very different from Tojima sensei's, with Yanase sensei's being even different from the other two. It was something you could feel on the mat, but also something you could feel outside the dojo. These were people you trusted and respected, not just because they had a high number after their name or were addressed as sensei.

So training has a lot to do with forging and actualizing a deeper sense of who we are.We cannot teach that which we are separate from at the level of being. Constantly reflecting, absorbing, transforming are what aikido is about. We constantly run into the ego(the shallow mind-based "I")and must constantly re-direct it into the larger design of things. It is a process instead of a destination.

One of the major things I look at when evaluating someone's potential as a teacher is does that person teach or train when he/she is in the class? When Hikitsuchi sensei was leading the class, Anno sensei would train. If Yanase sensei had started the class, Tojima sensei would train. The other thing I look at, is does this person make the other person better? Often times one can dominate the other person either with an innundation of knowledge or in some cases superior physical skill, but do both people grow as a result of the training? Sometimes truly teaching something goes way past the other person having fun or the other person feeling good. Does the potential teacher have the ability to "wake up" the potential in the newer person? That can sometimes mean challenging outmoded patterns of behavior or destructive belief systems. But to challenge someone else, one must in effect constantly be challenging oneself. Hikitsuchi sensei insisted that aikido is "shugyo", literally a path of constant personal growth.

During a time when due to my surgery I am off the mat for a little while, these are things that have been running through me. I hope they stimulate some important thought.

Sunday, November 09, 2008


The topic of teaching is one that I have been wanting to discuss for awhile. The above pictures were taken in the 1960's and show both Robert Nadeau and Robert Frager with Aikido's founder, Morihei Ueshiba Osensei. These were the men who introduced me to Osensei's art in fall of 1969. They were both instrumental in my becoming a full-time aikido teacher. I got my first chance to run a dojo from Robert Frager in 1975 when he left the UC Santa Cruz club to found the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology. Robert Nadeau sold me the current dojo in 1980, after having invited me to be one of its original faculty in 1976.

How does one go about teaching in aikido? You are usually a student who is asked by an instructor to cover a class. If memory serves me, my first class was summer of 1970 at UC Santa Cruz. Robert Frager was going to be gone for one of the club practices and he asked me to take it. It was a surprise. At the time I was a new blue belt(4th kyu). He probably asked me to take the class because he trusted that I would not do anything too weird rather than because I had tremendous ability. When I was at UC Davis Allen Grow, one of the finest of Nadeau sensei's earliest students and founder of the Aikido Institute in Oakland,was the sensei of the Aikido Club. He could only make it there once or twice a week, so I led(rather than taught) an informal third class a week. Among those who regularly attended was the famous transpersonal psychologist Charles Tart, author of "The Psychology of Altered States of Consciousness" and faculty advisor for the aikido club. Again, no big deal. In those days if you were a colored belt, it was the equivalent of being a black belt today. The only black belts then were the teachers.

After I graduated with a Masters from UC Davis, I was back in Santa Cruz with my parents and preparing to make my first trip to Japan. I was given permission by Frager sensei to start Rec Department classes off campus. I did that only briefly before leaving for Japan and Shingu.

When I returned from Japan my first regularly scheduled class was given to me by Frank Doran sensei. I took over the Thursday night adult class at Woodside High School and then later took over the afternoon kid's class. This was significant because it was at an Aikido dojo(then Aikido of Woodside, now Aikido West), it was my class to teach, and I got a salary for teaching. This may not seem a big deal these days, because the vast majority of the student body makes much more income than I do. At the time, however, I was able to sign over the check from Doran sensei to my father and help him out with a little rent money. And the money I got from teaching the kids was my run around recreational money. I left for a second Japan trip in August of 1974 so my first regular teaching gig lasted about 7 months and change.

My next teaching stint was in Shingu. The nature of the dojo was that even though you had very high ranking teachers, there would be the odd class when I was the only yudansha, and so I would lead the class at the beginning and hope Yanase, Anno, or Tojima sensei would come late. I would always turn the class over to shihan level instructors and even to senior yudansha. I was there to train, not to teach. In the weekdays there were classes for the Accounting School during the afternoons. Hikitsuchi sensei would usually formally teach the Mondays and Fridays. I started showing up the other days. Being a yudansha, I could expect to lead the class. It gave me a chance to try out stuff i saw in class. I was able to empower the girls in the class by calling them out for ukemi. And a lot of the guys were what you might call pretty thick, ie not interested or responsive, so it was a good chance to open up a bit. It was something that I myself chose to do, not something that was offered me. One day I took and afternoon off to get a hair cut. I was then scolded by Hikitsuchi sensei. I realized that whether I liked it or not, those middle of the week classes had become my gig.

I realize that this has much more to it than I originally thought, so I will continue it in my next blog.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Frite Nite 2008

The photos above are from our annual dojo Frite Nite. It was held on Saturday October
25th. As you can see there were a variety of costumes. And there was a lot of food.

I've always wanted to dress up as Superman. Finally this year I got up the nerve to do it. Again, for general information, my favorite all-time Superman is Dean Cain, from the now classic series "Lois and Clark". Above I am pictured with Ninja and Bumblebee, who won awards for best boy costume and best girl costume. The winner of the best adult costume was Mike Brown's ingenius Joker in drag from the movie "The Dark Knight". When I access a photo worthy of it I will put it in a future blog. It was truly an eye opener.

Halloween is truly a lot of fun in that we get to outwardly play at the archetypes that are catching our attention. I was thinking about being Batman, which I did once at the old dojo in Japantown, but I thought the mask might get too hot. An intuitive(psychic) once told me that dressing up as Superman and either being photographed or sketched would be healing for me on many levels. I told her I would, then never did. Maybe there has finally been some healing with this past Halloween.

It wasn't Halloween, but I once saw in Shingu pictures of a dojo event with lots of kids where Hikitsuchi sensei donned a white wig and beard and seemed to be dressing up as Osensei. So maybe there is precedent for that. But my thought is that one had better be a 10th dan to don an Osensei costume.

Last year we watched the full moon swordsman flick "The Human Tarantula". This year the movie was "Iron Man". Andrew Le sent me the youtube links for "I'm a Marvel---I'm a DC" which are truly hilarious, featuring action figures of Batman and Iron Man and some really funny situations and dialogue.

Since due to my surgery I will be off the mat for a little bit, I'll try to catch up on my blogging. Just to let you all know, things with my left eye seem to be going fine. I plan to be off for a week and then see how things are.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

My surgery

I want everyone to know that my surgery, scheduled for Tuesday, November 4th, went well and so far without any complications. The surgery was to remove a cataract from my left eye that I have had for several years. Where I could see through the eye, the cataract made everything very blurry and hazy. Basically I was seeing out of one eye, my right one. Living seeing out of one eye creates a type of two dimensional reality that a lot of other systems must work to compensate for. I was tired of just getting by in a 2 dimensional world. The amount of light that the cataract would let into the left eye seemed to also reduce my color sense.

So yesterday I went in for surgery. I spent Monday night at my sisters. She lives in San Francisco, where the surgery was performed. She drove me both to the surgery and back, since I was in no shape to drive. I was given a strong anesthetic so I would not feel pain, and though the anesthetic dulled my sense of things greatly, I was basically conscious for the entire operation. It lasted about 30 minutes. The procedure went basically without pain and I experienced no discomfort after the operation. I was given an eye-patch to cover the surgically repaired eye and told to come back for a check up today at 2 pm.

The operation was performed by Dr Dean Hirabayashi, an old friend of my sister. She has known Dr Dean since their days at the UC Medical Center in San Francisco. I went in at 2 pm for the post-op, and I am happy to say that after the patch was removed, I could tell that my whole field of vision had been restored. Literally everything seemed new and fresh. I wear dark glasses when outside. I need to take eye drops, one set with antibiotics, several times a day.I shouldn't do extended driving for about a week. I can do light to moderate things physically, but I need to be careful for awhile. I'll be back at the dojo in a couple of days, but I'm not sure yet when I'll be back on the mat. I go in for another check up with Dr Dean next Wednesday and I'll know more then. Just as my friend Mary Heiny was very careful after her successful hip surgery, so I need to watch things for a little bit. But I'll be back on the mat in some form soon.

I was able to watch election coverage Tuesday night with my sister and her family. When I learned that my surgery was scheduled for electiion Tuesday, I made sure to register to vote by mail and did so. Like most people I know I was happy to bask in the glow of Barack Obama's victory. After the last 8 years it is such a relief to see a change in leadership. It is very much like the first Star Wars movie when the Deathstar is blown up. I am not comparing George Bush to the evil empire, but I remember last night recalling the title of the first film released in 1977, "A New Hope". And hopefully that is what we know have.

So it struck me that with restored eyesight I would see the world with new vision and that hopefully we as a nation can from this point go forward with new vision. It all starts at the top. One has only to look at Bay Area sports franchises to see what ownership has done to about all the franchises. I remember the Kennedy years, when we saw life as a great adventure. Hopefully together as a nation we will move forward again with that feeling. I remember Kennedy as someone who united the nation. Hopefully Obama will as well. And that we can move forward into Osensei's dream of a world founded on the original purity from which comes love and hope.