Saturday, January 30, 2010

More Striking and Kicking

Often times aikido is looked at as a purely defensive art of throws, pins, and locks/holds. Yet once I asked Hikitsuchi sensei about Aikido pre-World War II and which was stressed more then, the throws and wrist locks or the atemi/striking movements. His answer was brief and came very quickly.”Mazu, atemi da,” he said. Of course, the atemi. My feeling is that the atemi worked in combination with the throws and take downs as a complete system through the body. All of aikido, especially the atemi, if viewed from a mental or conceptual point of view, creates problems. But I feel that is true of everything in the art.

It seems that what aikido represents is anti-thetical to what kicking and striking represent. But what if kicking and striking represent part of a creative process aimed at the goal of self-discovery? Instead of viewing the kick as something directed towards another person, what if the purpose of the kick was to remove the I and the verb sense of kick and to “just kick”, creating a field of harmony where the person and the action are one? Miles Davis used to work out as a boxer. Artt Frank was a boxer. Chet Baker would have Artt show him how to box. At the level of rhythm, timing, body when kicker and kick, striker and strike are one, there is unity. Or harmony. Expressed in the moment through the body. I once noted to Artt that I felt that like Bruce Lee’s movement, Chet Baker played in a “broken rhythm”. Artt told me that I was correct, and that Chet had a very percussive approach to phrasing. These all tell me that the creative process, whether music or movement, are one. And martial arts, being around movement, are no different. Ultimately, one is a creator, ie of the creative process. And as a creator, one is also an artist. Joseph Campbell once wrote that he felt that the most important channel by which new energies entered society was through the artist. And in that way the artist was a shaman. And he felt that society was in trouble because of the commercialization of art. Whether writers or musicians or what ever, the successful artist where those with numbers, ie popular and financial and social. He wrote this decades ago, and we are facing some of those consequences now.

I had my first session kicking and striking with my daughter Jenny on Thursday. She did very well. Again, as in aikido class, we tried to get back to the body and to function with less and less mind in the movement. So the approach in the class was very aiki. I hope she enjoyed the class as much as I did. I’m sure I’ll find out. In exchange, she taught me some exercises for shoulders with a resistance band. By the way, she is now an excellent Pilates trainer.

The following video was shot in December during one of my jam sessions with Dennis. It is available on dvd as a part of a fundraiser for the dojo at holidaze dvd .

Monday, January 25, 2010

Striking and Kicking

The photo above was taken in the early '80's at Aikido West in Redwood City. After an event, I was taking jiyu waza ukemi for my daughter Jennifer. Being born in the old dojo in Japantown, she had a pretty innate sense for aikido. So we used to work between classes. As she got older, one of the things we used to work on was Bruce Lee stuff. Strikes. Especially kicks. With air shields. It was a lot of fun in that it got her used to her body in a good way. She was very strong with her arms and her legs from a very young age.

She now styles hair and instructs Pilates locally. But sometimes things do come full circle. Later this week she is coming to the dojo for a session where she again wants to explore kicking and striking. Fairly recently I have been back into that on a personal basis. I began by studying Bruce Lee's movement again. Being diabetic I need to exercise to keep my blood sugar in control. I found that shadow kick boxing, especially the kicking, got my pulse rate up like nothing else. Also, after 40 years of aikido, I had gotten to a place where I could "just kick". So I am going to work with Jenny on some of this and see how it translates to possible private lessons.

There is striking in aikido. The "atemi" movements are in each technique. Tojima sensei, especially, really concentrated on the striking aspect and its relationship to showing "suki" or openings in movement. And he could kick. I once saw him in the narrow rear part of the Shingu dojo leap up in the air, execute a flying side kick, kick the dojo wall, propel himself to the other side of the dojo, back roll and come up right next to the wall on the other side without hitting it. Yes, in don Juan-Castaneda terms he could "stop the world". I don't believe he had any formal instruction in this. It was just something he had a predilection for and simply picked up as he went on his journey. And he understood the connection between striking and weapons.

So I have been having an interesting time on my own with the striking and kicking. And so I was wondering if anyone else out there in aikido-land would be interested in exploring the kicking/striking concepts in a way that would be consistent with aikido. That means you wouldn't have to do another art in order to do that. I remember in Japan Linda Holiday sensei and I used to work on kicks. So it has been done. Just not recently. The build up and release of energy through the body in kicking are very similar to some concepts in ukemi. So if you have any interest in any of this, let me know.

I just uploaded the following video yesterday. It is another version of an earlier"Wolf-tunes and Blade Blues". It was done following an Aikido workshop in Sebastopol held in August of last year. Dianna Lynne and I started trying to synch up music to sword drawing. And through it all Vladimir the Siberian Wolf majestically witnesses. The whole piece was shot by James Gauer and goes for over 12 minutes. It has been collected on dvd with 2 other pieces. You can access a link with more information on this at dvd.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Artt Frank Interview

I think it was early October of last year. I was heading home from the city after a Friday meeting with Nadeau sensei and I called Artt Frank. I hadn't talked to him in a while. Artt is a bebop legend, a drummer who plays completely by ear and heart. He has played with such other legends as Billie Holiday, Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, Gerry Mulligan, Duke Ellington. And a host of others. To get more of a complete list and much more information on an incredible man and resource, check out his website And he was Chet Baker's closest friend.

During our conversation Artt let me know that he was going to appear nationally on an internet radio station interview. He kindly e-mailed me the interview prior to the broadcast. But even so I was online to hear his interview with Lisa Raphael on Purejazzradio. With his permission I am putting the interview on in segments on youtube with a photo background.

Artt is one of the most passionate individuals I have ever met. Talking to him makes jazz and jazz history come alive. He has given me more tips over the phone on music than I can ever repay him for. Hopefully my putting these segments of his interview on will do some of that. Artt has also just completed a book about Chet Baker's lost years. In the mid 60's Chet lost his upper front teeth as well as suffering nerve damage to both sides of his jaw during an assault. He was told he would never play the trumpet again. Much of Chet's time during this period was spent locally in Milpitas and San Jose. But with Artt's help along with his family, Chet learned to play with dentures and was able to continue and play perhaps his best music after the beating. And so I am eagerly awaiting the publication of Artt's book.

For me music has been an happy aside, as my main career is aikido and martial arts. But I feel music and martial arts are connected. Much of what Artt talks about in the interview, about responding in the moment to what one has heard, I believe, is similar to what Ueshiba Osensei talked about when he mentioned Takemusu Aiki. I personally believe that when Chet sang or played he was coming from what Osensei called the divine realm. Just a hunch.

Anyway, here is the interview. Even though you might not be a jazz or Chet Baker fan I think you'll enjoy it:

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

A Memorable Event

On Sunday January 10th Aikido of San Jose and I were honored to be a part of a very special event. The Institute of Transpersonal Psychology and Robert Frager sensei sponsored "Osensei Interpreted" at the Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts. The event was hosted by John Stevens sensei, who, almost singlehandedly, has made Osensei' s words and philosophy available into the English language. There was an extended slide show showing Ueshiba's life along with photos of his calligraphy. Following the presentation was a reception where people could meet with the host. There were other instructors besides me who were brought in to give demonstrations. Included among those was Henry Kono sensei from Toronto, Mary Heiny sensei from Seattle, and more locally, Linda Holiday sensei from Santa Cruz, as well as Bob Noha sensei from Petaluma.

Henry Kono sensei was a contemporary of Robert Nadeau and Robert Frager senseis at Honbu dojo in the '60's. As such he is also a direct student of the founder. I was privileged to watch his Friday night class at Aikido of Santa Cruz, as well as to hang out with him Sunday and Monday. Of course it was wonderful to see Mary Heiny sensei, as always. She will be out next month to teach a series of workshops in Northern California. She will be at Aikido of San Jose the second Wednesday of February. Please make a note of that.

The following video is of my demonstration on Sunday. It is graced with some beautiful photos by Beau Summers( . are included with his permission.

Saturday, January 02, 2010

More Happy New Year

Well we are now officially into 2010. I remember New Years Eve of 1999 and the entrance into the 21st century. And now we are a decade into that century. I remember I trained at Aikido of Santa Cruz. I was living in the Santa Cruz mountains at that time. And I watched an Avengers episode, "Escape in Time", which was about time travel. Appropriate. It seems we are in a time machine inexorably careening into the future faster and faster.

It seems no less significant to be heading into the second decade of a century that seemed so distant when I was a little boy. Literally the stuff of science fiction. Yet here we are. The dojo will begin regular classes on Monday the 4th. I will be here for the first official class of the New Year at noon. And I'm looking forward to a year hopefully of training and growth for everybody.

And we are all facing challenges as we all move forward. Hopefully we will all progress forward together in our endeavors. The year ahead looks busy. I will be teaching a couple of times a month at City Aikido on Sundays in San Francisco. Nadeau sensei and I are waiting till after the John Stevens event in Mt View to start. More on that as it becomes clearer. And I will be a attending the Summer Retreat in Menlo College in June, as well as being a part of the Santa Cruz Summer Retreat in July. And I'm sure other things will crop up as well.

I had a wonderful year end conversation with Artt Frank and his wife Lisa. Artt was Chet Baker's closest friend. And he had some nice things to say about some music I sent him through the mail. I had a wonderful New years Day in San Francisco with my sister and family.

I finally got the video that was shot of the Oakland Raider demo on November 22nd. And I uploaded it onto Youtube. So here it is: