Sharing the feeling of the Black Belts – Sean Keogh (2nd Dan)

Looking back a few weeks ago at the newsletters from the Brisbane dojo I found evidence of my first aikido grading in November of 2012 – that seems like a long time ago, but I remember it pretty well – especially my woeful knee walking which I am sure must have resembled an inebriated penguin – but also the relief when it was over! 

Not long after that first grading I asked the black belts at roughly what level they thought a student needed to reach to become proficient enough to use aikido effectively, as self-defence, in a street fight. It was obvious to me that doing a really good rendition of shumatsu-dosa while somebody was coming at me with a bottle was not going to save me! There was much discussion and some disagreement but the general consensus at the time seemed to be around second Dan. That was it then – second Dan or bust! 

That grading, very thankfully, is now out of the way but my journey is still ongoing. I confess that aikido sometimes drives me a little bit crazy while at the same inspiring me – whenever I think I am just about getting the hang of a technique, Sensei shows a better, or faster, or more effective way of doing it. This seems never ending – and I think it actually is never ending – it’s like climbing a mountain and just when you think the final peak is over the next hill you see another peak beyond it. Just out of reach. But it’s good to remember that the further you travel, the closer you get…

No-one said aikido was easy – and it certainly is frustrating when you know in your head exactly what you are supposed to do but your body completely ignores you (you all know what I am talking about) – but that is why I like the challenge so much. 

Thank you to all of my aikido family that have helped and supported me on the journey so far – and may we all have many peaks ahead of us.

Osu! Sean Keogh

Sharing the feeling of the Black Belts – Kayla Holloway

The moment the black belt touches the gi for the first time represents only the beginning of your adventure in the martial art of Aikido Yoshinkan. I was never in a rush to complete my gradings and gain my brown or black belt. I felt that I wanted to take my time and make sure I only graded when I was fully confident that I could accomplish it well with a controlled complexity. To me it isn’t a race about trying to exceed to the highest step as quick as possible nor trying to always stay ahead of the other students who joined aikido after me. To me I believe achieving a grading shows that I am prepared to demonstrate that I am physically and mentally ready for a step up and will do my hardest to show I deserve these gradings. When I was training for my Shodan grading like most people are, I was very nervous, dreading to do it and imagining how I wouldn’t be skilled enough to be able to take on all the difficult circumstances that this step needs students to do. However, Sensei Ryan told me I had been training for this for quite a while and I showed I am ready for this step up so I must grade. Sensei knew I was more then prepared to grade physically however I was hiding my thoughts to grade mentally as I had no confidence in myself. After the grading I then understood I was ready, but I wasn’t thinking positively enough because I was just nervous and nervous for the step up that I’d need to do once a black belt. As a student in Aikido Yoshinkan I can say from the day you first step onto the dojo mats to the time that you will put that black belt on, you will have started a new adventure. A time to train well, show much spirit and honour the hard work you’ve done throughout the years which has all gone into that black belt. From this I give every single person the thought of, be confident in yourself as you are much more skilled than you will ever think, take a chance and go for that grading because if you happen to not succeed from it you will have another chance to take it again, and again and again… We only get stronger from defeat so how will we ever learn and become greater if we don’t get knocked down once in a while. Most importantly wear your belt no matter what colour with honour and pride as each individual worked and trained very hard to accomplish this unknown.

Osu!

Kayla Holloway

COFFEE BREAK: An Aikido experience

You may have come across people questioning Aikido’s practicality in a ‘real’ situation. You might have seen comments on YouTube or someone you know saying, ‘Oh, Aikido is scripted and fake… but what if this happened… what if that happened… or, you need competition test yourself’. I often enjoy having these conversations with boxers, Tae Kwon Do, Brazilian Jiu Jutsu (BJJ) or Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) practitioners I know and train with. I love exploring with them the pitfalls of martial arts competition and rule-bound combat sports where winning a match by points or submission is the objective as opposed to surviving or having to use lethal force against an aggressor that has come to seriously harm you.

Well, I’d like to share a story with you to instil further confidence and offer a ‘real’ example of why Yoshinkan Aikido is an effective and practical system of self-defence (over and above all the other incidental benefits of physical and mental health, wellbeing, community, confidence, strength, flexibility etc.). For other examples of Yoshinkan Aikido being used in life-or-death situations, you may want to read Gozo Shioda’s Aikido Jinsei or Aikido Shugyo. But here is one of my experiences.

I was out at a party at a friend’s place one Saturday night. The party was quite big, full of people I didn’t know and, to tell the truth, didn’t really want to get to know. Anyway, let’s just say it wasn’t the type of party you’d take a first date to; there was quite a bit of drinking taking place and a little abuse of other substances too, unfortunately. The evening continued without too much trouble before people started to spill out into the street as the party broke the boundaries of the house in which it was held. By midnight I had had enough of the party and decided to leave. I said my goodbyes to those I knew and headed for the door.

I left through the front and headed out into the street to grab the taxi I had already called. Out on the street I was met by quite a bit of commotion. People were arguing and as moved past the two main participants I could make out that the dispute was over whether a guy should drive home. Those around him, including his girlfriend, were trying to convince him to get a cab as he had been drinking. He obviously wasn’t drunk, and he thought he was able to drive, despite undoubtedly being over the legal limit of 0.05. Anyway, I couldn’t help myself – I know, I should have kept my nose out of it – and I mentioned to him in passing that he could kill someone else on the road and that, “he shouldn’t be a bloody idiot” (much like the TV campaign). I didn’t really care too much for him, but I was concerned that he might cause an accident and kill someone else. The news was and still is full of drink-drivers surviving crashes while innocent people around them pay the price as victims of their stupidity! Anyway, needless to say he blew up and decided to take his frustration out on me, the stranger who called him on his stupidity. I guess it was better to get violent with me than with his girlfriend, eh?

After hurling verbal abuse at me and not getting the abuse back from me that he was expecting, his frustration soured to even higher levels. Well, he dove into his car and before I knew it he was wielding a crowbar and threatening to kill me with it. Interesting how quick things can escalate. I remember thinking, ‘Is this guy for real? He wants to kill me for trying to save his life!’. Anyway, after fielding more abuse I decided to step into his space, which he wasn’t expecting. I guess he was hoping that I’d step away as he had a weapon and this would allow him to swing with ease. He rose the crowbar to swing at my head and I entered. I checked the strike the same way we block yokumen uchi (side strike) and quickly slipped over the arm into a reverse hiji shime (elbow break). I broke the man’s arm in an instant. He screamed and ran for his car, jumped in and flew off. I guess I had failed in the original plan to stop this fool from driving.

Despite the violence, my point here is that Yoshinkan techniques are dangerous when applied purposefully with intent and are more than sufficient to save your life when confronted with danger. Afterall, these techniques have been practiced for centuries and many Japanese have lost their lives in battle testing them. We need to remember these people and continue to pay them respect as we sweat through our sessions in the Sunshine Coast Dojo striving to improve our proficiency. After all, it is thanks to them that we have this wonderful art to practice still today in a time of relative peace, and it is up to us to train it with integrity and spirit to maintain it! Like any self-defence system or martial art, it takes dedicated training and time to build the proficiency and confidence in your ability. Train hard and take confidence in our martial art and it will be there when you need it most!

Osu!

Ryan Slavin

COFFEE BREAK: A little more knowledge for your Aikido training

The collective nature of training in Japanese Budo

You may have wondered (especially if you are new to the dojo) why we do things in certain ways, especially the warm-up (taiso). What I mean specifically with taiso is the way we count in unison and chant a response to the person leading warm-up. Well, this is an insight into the Japanese psyche and culture; it shows us the way Japanese perceive their role in society and duty to others in community.

Unlike many other martial arts or combat sports gyms, the traditional Japanese budō dōjō (martial hall of training) holds dearly the mandate to holistically develop people individually so that they can better serve the community collectively. Our dojo is no different in its mandate. You may not know, but the kanji (character) for samurai – 侍 – actually means to serve. The word samurai comes from the Japanese verb saburau, which means to serve someone and look up to them. Therefore, the role of samurai in feudal Japan was to serve and protect the emperor and all those within Japanese society – its peasantry, its craftsman, its fisherman etc. Our art Yoshinkan Aikido (養神館合氣道)comes from this time; its roots in Daito Ryū Aiki Jujustsu (大東流合氣柔術)– an unarmed fighting system of the samurai dating back 900 years – means that our dojo’s customs, our martial system of techniques, our methodology of training, our mandate if you choose to live it, is that of the samurai. Yoshinkan reflects the founder Gozo Shioda Sensei’s demanding life before the war; a true budō life under the tutelage of Morihei Ueshiba (O-Sensei) that stems from centuries of martial tradition. It was this martial lifestyle that was preserved in Japan at the Yoshinkan Honbu Dōjō (Yoshinkan headquarters). Needless to say, while the Yoshinkan preserved strictly in Japan the true sense of martial training in aikido as budō, other forms of aikido often failed over time to maintain its true budō roots as a practical martial art and system of self-defence. Unlike many other forms of Aikido that have been developed after WWII, Yoshinkan is more akin to the pre-war aikibudō techniques taught by O’Sensei, and therefore also closer to Daito Ryu Aikijujutsu than some styles of aikido developed after the war which reflect debateable practicality and effectiveness as a martial art.  Therefore, Yoshinkan is true budō and carries the mandate mentioned above to foster the best version of yourself through hard, arduous practical martial training so that you can serve others in any way for the greater collective good of the community. And this collective spirit can all start with a simple chant in unison during taiso (warm-up).

The chanting you experience with ‘ichi-ni’ and returned with ‘san-shi’ etc. is a simple example of the collective approach to doing something. Yes, the cadence set by the leader of taiso is there to help you become warm, stronger, and more flexible so that you can execute techniques and not damage your body. But the cadence is also there so that the group can work as one to pull along individuals struggling or in less shape, ultimately improving the standard of the group collectively. Jacques Payet Shihan offers further insight into this in his recent book ‘ Uchideshi’ (2019:30) where he recalls his time beginning the life of a live-in student at the headquarters in Tokyo in the 1980s under the Yoshinkan founder Gozo Shioda Sensei and taking part in the police training classes. He writes,

I followed 10 cops into the main dojo. They started to run around the room with three or four other regular members and myself. I was really just following the crowd while I tried to figure out what was going on. The man at the head of the line would utter something and the entire group would answer in a cheerful and rhythmic way to keep everyone in step. I was charmed and I fell in with the group. I still had this rhythm in my head when the leader bowed to signify the end of the warm-up.

As I was to learn and experience later, Japan is a country where the group prevails over the individual. At schools, other education centers and even in sports, there would be a song or some other way to cheer everyone along. Getting every single member involved, to work as one, was one way of bringing the entire group together to achieve its highest potential.

The idea of uke (receiver of techniques) offering their body through providing strong attacks is another example of this approach to serving others so that they reach their highest potential in spite of you; uke merely serves shite (the doer of techniques) so that he/she can improve his/her proficiency and all-the-while become a better Aikidoka, a better person, and raise the standard of the dojo so that all others can do the same. Yes, this comes at a cost. The cost is usually individuality or as some may describe it, the ego. Is this such a great price to pay? I guess that’s a question only you can answer.

 OSU!              

Ryan Slavin

SHARING THE FEELING OF THE BLACK BELTS: My Hajime Experience

By John DeVries

We all understand that growth happens when we venture out of our comfort zone. Yet how often do we actively seek out the uncomfortable? Training in a martial art provides me with an opportunity to explore the uncomfortable. However, with close examination I train in a supportive community with likeminded people whom I have grown to trust. So how then do I place myself in an environment where I will experience major growth?
Answer – Hajime.

This year the Hajime class at the Brisbane Dojo was not on the extreme end of the scale. Thank goodness. It still had plenty of moments when I felt my lungs burning and my body screaming at me to stop. You enter something like a Hajime class with the knowledge that you will reach your limits. What you don’t know is whether you will surrender to the little voice telling you to stop, or whether you find that bit extra to keep going. It is a moment you cannot train for; you just have to experience it.

Hajime class is not a 2-hour event with a start and finish. It carries on long after you leave the mat. Physical recovery from these events always takes time. The following days my body took a while to readjust. My mind however, received the most benefit from the experience. I found myself during the week that followed, not allowing myself to take the easy option. I had chosen to do Hajime to remind myself of a particular mindset.

Don’t get me wrong, I love having a slack night and staying home every now and then. However, I do need to remind myself that life sometimes doesn’t give us a choice to take it easy. Training should not start and finish at the dojo door. Hajime brutally reminds me of this. Helping me to understand that I always have more left, when I feel we have nothing. Even when we hit rock bottom there is always a little wiggle room. We just have to look.

I strongly recommend everyone to have a Hajime journey. 

Osu

John

Coffee Break: A little more knowledge for your training

As we start our journey to the end of a tumultuous 2020 and embrace the challenge of a reduced demonstration in the sense of size or exposure, please approach it with the same sense of opportunity to grow, to push yourself to be better. Then you will celebrate more profoundly the end of this difficult year.

In this sense of demonstration, and for some their progress towards Sogo Shinsa (significant grading), I’d like to explore why many high-level techniques may look too simple or ‘fake’ to the untrained eye. A major reason for this is ‘Yoyū’, a martial principle that Japanese budōka (martial artists) have for centuries acquired over many years in their advanced martial training; a principle not seen by the layman eye and only attained after many years of committed and consistent training.

Yoyū’ in its simplest sense means ‘margin’, or the moment and definitiveness of the kill/control of an assailant. But when you dig a little deeper into this principle, it encapsulates so much more, which I’ll unpack later by way of two stories from two distinct masters of their respective arts. In these stories ‘Yoyū’ will mean margin, but will also include the mastery of other principles intrinsically linked to it: such as Mai-ai (combative distance), Ri-ai (the combative intention applied at the perfect moment, distance and timing), Sei-to-Do (non-action to action), Zanshin (state of intent awareness and mindset that remains throughout and after the technique is executed), Fudoshin (conviction, confidence and immoveable/uninterruptable spirit, a serenity of mind that nothing can perturb) and of course Mushin (the state of no mind or no ego corrupting the definitive and natural action of the martial artist – the unfettered mind). In these stories you’ll see references to these concepts implied, yet not explicitly discussed. But it is through mastery of these principles in addition to the technique itself, that these masters are often perceived as effortless and unreal by the untrained and unlearned observer’s eye.

The first story comes from Michiharu Mori Shihan. In it Sensei discusses his time as an uchideshi (live-in disciple) under Master Gozo Shioda and his thinking behind ‘what makes a good Aikido technique’. The definition of ’good’ may differ from person-to-person, but here I believe Sensei alludes to the ‘good’ technique only being achievable through mastery of all the aforementioned principles.

The height of good Aikido technique

The other day, we filmed a self-defence technique class focusing on Nikajo for uploading online to my Patreon students around the world. I told my wife that I was going to demonstrate a ‘bad’ Nikajo as it was for street fight techniques. As she had no idea what I meant I took my son’s wrist standing nearby and put the bad Nikajo on. He screamed in pain. Yes, the ‘bad’ Nikajo can cause extreme pain. My 4th Dan son, who has been training Aikido nearly twenty years, should be somewhat used to joint locks. Still, the bad Nikajo was more than he could bear, and he was in agony. Looking at his face, my wife asked me why I was not keen to teach this in the usual class when this Nikajo worked that much so easily. I replied that it was because this was such a ‘bad’ Nikajo. Well, as I answered her while listening to my son’s scream, I began to think how I really distinguished between good techniques and bad techniques.

The techniques that can take you down or throw you without you even knowing what happened are good techniques, I think, while bad techniques inflict massive pain and leave you feeling that you were pushed down by physical force. You feel good and pleasant when you receive good techniques and you feel unpleasant or even angry when bad techniques are applied. Moreover, bad techniques tend to be ineffective on those people who have thick and strong joints either naturally or through long-term training. On the other hand, the effectiveness of good techniques is universal.

My image of a true master of Japanese budo is an old man who can easily beat up young practitioners with his sublime skills despite the young ones’ superior physical speed and strength. My Master, Gozo Shioda, was the person who absolutely embodied this image. And when Master Gozo Shioda was asked what the utmost Aikido technique was, he replied, as most of you know, “Becoming friends with the person who came to kill you”. The answer sounds very unrealistic and more like a Zen question to me, a riddle for me to seek what he really meant. 

One day, during a black belt only class, I remember Master said to us, his uchi-deshi (disciples), as he was happily enjoying himself demonstrating Aiki-waza on one of his uchi-deshi, “It is not a genuine technique if your uke is not begging you to put the technique on one more time. It’s no good if your uke dislikes your technique or feels unpleasant. Your uke will keep coming back to feel your techniques more with great glee after being thrown hard. That is the right technique.” Truly so, his uke looked to be enjoying the moment fully. This was the time when I understood what the utmost and sublime Aikido technique should be.

I learned from this experience that a good Aikido technique performed properly, based on principles and mechanism, makes one’s uke feel thrilled in its beauty and practicality, and therefore the uke wants more. If I did not learn the “correct” Aikido from Master, I might have misunderstood that a good technique was to cause extreme pain and to force absolute power on one’s uke. Thus, I place importance to teach techniques based on principles and to harmonise with uke’s movements. I believe that a technique applied by force ignoring uke’s movements but with one’s self-centred intention, or you may call it ‘ego’, is the bad technique.

After all, we train Aikido which is the art of harmonising, no matter whether in a soft way or a hard way: “Welcome when it comes, let go when it leaves, harmonise it when confronted.” This is the secret of Aikido. It is pretty simple and reasonable like learning a basic maths equation of adding and subtracting to me, yet the meaning of the principle can be deep and complex. The Aikido dojo is the place where we learn this ultimate harmony with one’s heart through physical training.

I guess anyone can do a week’s training to learn the basic Nikajo technique and perhaps apply it to inflict severe pain in limited situations. But not anyone can apply it effortlessly with mastery in any situation, at any time, against any physiology that may confront them… That is, to inflict a sense of wonder in their assailant as they are controlled seemingly easily. This, I believe is only achieved by way of mastery of ‘Yoyū’ (and associated principles above). This is why training in Budō is so different to simply learning to fight!

We now move onto the second story. This story comes from Pascal Krieger Sensei (10th Dan Shihan in Shodō; Menkyo Kaiden in Shintō Muso Ryū Jodo; 4th Dan in Judo; 3rd Dan in Iaido) writing on his time training in Japan under Shimizu Sensei (SMR Grand Master). Here Krieger Sensei reflects on how Yoyū impacted on his learning and mastery in the traditional Japanese combat arts.

Yoyu ga aru, ne!

When I used to train in Shimizu Sensei’s Dōjō, I heard for many years a comment which I took to be a compliment: “Isogashi, ne!” Translated into common parlance, it means, “You’ve really kept yourself busy!”. I was very pleased that the particular rapid sequence I had just executed had caught the master’s eye, and bowed briefly to make my pride appear more modest.

Later, I came to realize that this apparent compliment was in fact a fully justified criticism. I was so busy “flinging” myself about that I left myself no margin [Yoyū] between the techniques to let things manifest themselves and to take the opportunity to rest.

Over time, the student having reached a certain level realizes that he has attained a certain serenity in applying the techniques. His reactions are measured and the economy of movement he has acquired gives him the benefit of a certain margin, or Yoyū. More and more, he has the impression that the opponent moves in slow motion. He has the time to let things come. If Shimizu Sensei saw a student displaying these characteristics, he might replace the ironic, “Isogashi, ne!” with “Yoyū ga aru, ne!” (You have Yoyū!)

Krieger Sensei goes onto explain in his book ‘Jodo: the Way of the Stick’ (1989) that when a master demonstrates a technique, this concept of Yoyū is absolutely remarkable. Observers who are unaware of this notion are often impressed by the composure, or in a critical (and ignorant) sense the observer might think it to be scripted or prearranged, or even unreal. With Yoyū the master takes his time, ‘his movements are sober and devoid of any fantasy or anticipation’, yet preserve what Krieger Sensei calls, ‘the characteristic grace of natural movements’.

Like all training in Budō, Yoyū is equally applicable to everyday life. I think you all know someone who has Yoyū: they do things methodically, efficiently, precisely and soberly, and throughout their many day-to-day activities save themselves a lot of time. Yoyū is indispensable to the busy person. We’ve all heard the age-old adage: If you want something done, give it to a busy person. Perhaps we should rephrase this, ‘If you want something done well and efficiently, give it to a person who has Yoyū!’. It is but the efficiency of knowing when and using ‘the moments in between’ that demonstrate a grasp of Yoyū in daily life, the moments that many will let slide or squander away in meaningless and frivolous actions. A lazy person has no Yoyū because this concept implies moments of intense activity that some are just not prepared to do.

So, again, please enjoy your regular training in Budō at the Sunshine Coast Dojo. Enjoy it with the mindfulness that you are training to become someone with Yoyū: someone who pursues the ‘good’ technique in a martial sense and aspires to aware of, understand and move efficiently through the day-to-day ‘margins’ to be ‘good’ at life!

 OSU!              

Ryan Slavin

Staying in touch with the dojo – its more than just a place to learn how to fight!

I hope you and your family are doing ok in this time of confinement and isolation and looking after each other. Many people seem to be getting down or depressed during this time despite not actually losing a loved one to the virus. Yes, we are all effected in some way financially or socially, but are we really impacted when we still have our friends and family? (Unlike many in the worst hit places around the world – Europe, the UK and USA.)

I think this time of isolation can be viewed in two ways – i. a time for inactivity, negativity, self-absorption and possible loneliness, or ii. an opportunity to embrace difference, creativity, disconnection/connection and activity. It’s up to us 🙂 The isolation we are experiencing might be possibly a good time to work on something you haven’t had time to do before. Our lives prior to COVID might have been filled with things that now, with time to reflect, seem less relevant or necessary. Perhaps it’s a good opportunity now to reflect on the ‘before-COVID’ and make decisions on whether ‘post-COVID’ will look the same for you. It’s up to you 🙂

In terms of the dojo, people enter a traditional dojo usually with the intention of learning to defend themselves and/or getting fit. People often don’t continue to train in a traditional dojo because over time they are asked to do more than this, they are asked to develop into a better person that will benefit society. They are asked to be ‘we’ people in the dojo as opposed to ‘me’ people by many aspects of society. The name of our dojo is the first reference point for this: (to cultivate) Shin (the spirit) Kan (place/hall). Fortunately, for many this development occurs and their mark on society beyond the dojo is positive and beneficial. I can’t say how happy I am when I see this, and people become the best versions of themselves for the benefit of others – fulfilling the mandate of what a ‘dojo’ is meant to be. Unfortunately however, I often fail in my part of this… in guiding and aiding people through their development towards their best versions. All too often people’s desire to hold tightly onto the ego (i.e. what they can achieve solely for themselves) is too strong for me to help them overcome. I guess I need to be stronger, eh? I must say this saddens me though. That said, it also motivates me to work harder in this; work harder to fulfil the role of ‘the dojo’ in as many people’s lives on the Sunshine Coast as possible.

Now, part of this work at the moment is offering the continuation of training online while we are living in the COVID time of restrictions. Is this the best way to train in martial arts? No. Is this how we should maintain training in our dojo? Of course not. Is this a creative way to embrace difference and facilitate people to stay connected to their training and community? Definitely. I commend all those that are doing their best in the struggle to keep training. Whether it be the conversion of a space at home to do a few kihon daily or using a room at home to do the LIVE Zoom lessons/YouTube tutorials, or even spending a 5 minutes each day completing the COVID Containment Challenge each week I post on Facebook, I am extremely humbled by your spirited commitment to being better irrespective of the obstacles that are being put in front of us. After all, the dojo is more than a series of physical walls and mats in a roomthe dojo is where your mindset is in doing actions that make you the best version of yourself in community.

Osu!

Ryan Slavin

COFFEE BREAK: A little more knowledge for your Aikido training

 

coffeeBelow you will find an insightful window into Mori Michiharu Shihan’s life as uchi-deshi at the Hombu Dojo in Tokyo while Master Gozo Shioda was alive. I hope you too can find little gems of wisdom hidden between the lines of his writing to help you further in your training.

Air-conditioning in a dojo?

Around the time when I became an uchi-deshi, I heard people saying that the dojos in US were all fully air-conditioned. Americans seem to like things for rational reasons: training in bad conditions in the heat or the cold disturbs one’s concentration and thus it is not an effective way to learn something; training in a good condition mentally and physically can improve the quality of training and thus it is faster to master techniques. Thus, the dojo should be fully air-conditioned. Well, I did not know whether it was true or not, but it made sense. High standard gyms are well air-conditioned, and members can concentrate on their workouts in a pleasant condition. This is absolutely right if their purpose is just to build mirror muscles!

Yet, what about for the purpose of Budo training? Is it better training in comfortable conditions? No one really likes training in the extreme cold or heat as it is simply hard. I know that everyone has thought of not going to the dojo to train because of severe weather (hot or cold etc.) once or twice at least. What Master Gozo Shioda told us uchi-deshi’s was, “If it was a real battle. Think in that way always.”  He meant that if we really had to go to war there was no excuse really to be made. No samurai could escape battles saying, “I cannot fight as it is too hot/cold/humid/rainy/windy/snowy.” Or, they could not make an excuse that they lost the battle because the gravel ground was slippery as it meant a death for them. A pleasant environment does not aid you to train both physically and mentally. Besides, even if your skills improve, you cannot display your skills fully in an emergency if your mind is not well-trained. That is why samurais appreciated various mental training like Zen to overcome their fear and earn the mental strength which was critical in the real battle.

In the Headquarters, we had special training periods to develop mental discipline in the hottest summer season and in the coldest winter season, one hour from six to seven every morning for ten days in a row.  Having no break for ten days was quite tough physically and mentally but because it was very hard, we developed mental strength when we achieved it. We know that this is not an efficient method of training scientifically, but from my own experiences I believe that inefficient training is a great means to toughen your spirit.

Since the purpose of training in Budo is about strengthening and polishing not only techniques but the spirit at the same time, I think that training in an easy environment where one eases the burden will not achieve this purpose. However, I do not mean stopping all the fans in the dojo to create adverse conditions under this Queensland hot weather, but take the days of bad or severe conditions (such as an extremely hot and humid day) as a great opportunity to train one’s body and spirit more effectively, and still enjoy the challenge! So, a day when you think, “Ah, I don’t want to sweat, I don’t want to go to the dojo,” is the perfect day to toughen up your spirit. I’ll be welcoming you and praising your brave will power.

Now let me share an episode from the ten days cold winter training, one of my fond memories with my Master. I know it was meant to be cold training, but there were about seventy people training on the mats and I was young in my early twenties full of energy. Thus, I was so hot and sweaty like in a shower as I was exercising my best performance with speed and power in each technique. So, I took off my hakama (then, uchi-deshis were training with hakama on), opened the front of my dogi top, and opened the windows to keep training hard. Then, after the class finished and I went into Master’s room to serve him a cup of tea, he said, “Mori~~, it was cold…” You know, he was taking the class but not actually training. He got very cold when I opened the dojo windows and rather wanted to keep them shut. Yet, he could not quite blame his student who was training with his full spirit, yet he still wanted to complain just a little and show implicitly how he was troubled. I was surprised at his word in the back of my mind that even this iron man felt cold. And at the same time, I felt good in some way, as if I had won in the cold competition being stronger than him. What an inconsiderate disciple Master had!

Time has passed and now I am in my fifties, I have begun feeling the cold even in this warm winter of Queensland. As I endure the cold wind coming in from the dojo window numbing my left side body in June sogo shinsa, I belatedly understand my Master’s trouble and his feeling who was in his seventies then, and I apologise to him sincerely in my mind.

OSU!

Michiharu Mori

 

‘A Voice from the past’ – Advice from the founder of Yoshinkan Gozo Shioda Kancho Sensei (10th Dan) – Episode 3.

Here is the third instalment of insights I’m sharing from the founder of Yoshinkan about Aikido. I hope to share Master Gozo Shioda’s teachings on fundamental points relating to Yoshinkan Aikido and life more generally. You will read personal anecdotes from his writings about his experiences training in Aikijujutsu in the mid 1900s under Ueshiba Morihei O’Sensei, his fights against challengers from experts in many martial disciplines (Judo and Boxing, among others), and his battles to save his life in altercations with various people ranging from Yakuza (Japanese mafia) to Chinese soldiers during WWII. These experiences in which he used Aikido in practical situations (many life and death) helped form the style of Aikido you practice today. I sincerely hope you enjoy reading the Master’s experiences and find ‘pearls’ within them that aid you further in your training.


ATEMI ARE 70% OF A REAL FIGHT

Many of you are likely surprised at how often I use atemi[1]. This is only natural since when we talk about Aikido, everyone is caught up in images of wrist grabs and flashy throws. However, Ueshiba Morihei Sensei [2]himself, who was my master at one point, expressed himself in the following manner. He said, “In a real fight, Aikido is 70% atemi and 30% throwing.” Based on my own experience, I can say that this is precisely the case.

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Image: Master Gozo Shioda using his body as atemi to repel opponent. https://www.aikido-health.com/gozo-shioda.html

“If that is so,” you might ask, “what is the use of joint techniques?” Well, if you are being hassled by a drunkard for example, using joint techniques to control the other person may well be the best route. But in a life or death situation, or when you are engaged with multiple opponents, you cannot defend yourself without atemi and instantaneous throws because victory or defeat comes in a split second. In other words, you might say that the essence of Aikido is revealed in this type of intense fighting.

In Aikido, atemi is not limited to punching or kicking. Any part of the body can become a weapon for executing atemi… The reason these techniques work is that the contact point in itself becomes the atemi. These techniques are made possible by entering into the middle of the attack rather than by avoiding the opponent’s attack and then counterattacking… However, your entire body’s power must be focused…

ATEMI IS ALL TIMING

Well, what is it that is important for atemi then? It is timing. Even if you go and watch a boxing match, for example, you will often see someone get knocked out by a very casual looking punch. This is an example of judging the opponent’s changing movements and punching with absolutely perfect timing. The important thing is to send your punch as soon as you sense that your opponent is about to move. Then you will either hit what is closest to you or, conversely, when the opponent has swung at you and missed, you will hit him when he is fully extended.

 The interesting thing is, if it is timed perfectly, you don’t even need to use a lot of power for the punch to be effective. There won’t be any pain in your fist and you won’t be repelled by the force of the impact. It’s exactly like batting in baseball [or cricket]. When you hit the ball squarely you really don’t feel the force of the ball at all.

 Let me give you an example. This is an episode which involved Ueshiba Sensei during the time when the Korea was under Japanese control. Sensei was invited to go there and give a demonstration as part of a big martial arts tournament. There were a lot of Judo practitioners around and one of them who had watched Sensei’s demonstration came and challenged him, saying that he didn’t believe what he had just seen. The challenger, whom I will call Mr N. was known at the time as the rival of Masahiko Kimura[3]. Of course, Mr. N was considerably larger than the average person and when he and Sensei faced each other, it looked like just an adult with a child.

Suddenly, Mr. N came in to grab Sensei’s inside collar and, pulling him in, tried to execute a hip spring throw[4]. That was it. Mr. N’s gigantic figure buckled and he crumpled to the floor right there. As for Sensei, he was standing very quietly as if nothing had happened. The spectators were thrown into an uproar because nobody quite understood what they had just witnessed.

As it happens, Sensei had delivered a light blow with his fist to Mr N’s hip just as he stepped into Sensei’s chest. The timing was absolutely perfect. From a conversation I overheard later I learned that Me. N’s hip bone was broken so severely that he would never fully recover.

This same principle can be applied in free-for-all fights as well. Discerning the opponent’s movements and delivering an atemi at just the right moment will result in a very effective technique.

(Extract from Gozo Shioda. 1991 “Aikido Shugyo”. Kodansha Publishing.)


Again, I hope you enjoyed this recollection from the founder of Yoshinkan Master Gozo Shioda. It certainly offers valuable insight into the power that an Aikido student can generate in their atemi by focussing intently on timing and the concentaration of their power. Striking in Aikido may well be 70% of our training, but it is the vital places in which focused power is applied and the timing of these blows that makes it so devasting! This is something that many misunderstand about ‘authentic’ Aikido, and I hope may benefit you in your training as you embark on another year.

Osu!

Ryan Slavin


ENDNOTES

[1] Atemi: are strikes in Aikido. They are not restricted to simply a punch like in many arts, but can be any part of the body used to strike an opponent.

[2] Ueshiba Morihei: was the founder of Aikido. He studied both Tenjin Shinyo Ryu Jujutsu and Yagyu Shingan Ryu Jujutsu. When he was involved in the settling of Hokkaido he met Takeda Sokaku and became a student of Daito Ryu Aikijujutsu.

[3] Masahiko Kimura: was an All Japan Judo champion who dominated the sport from 1937 until 1949.

[4] The “Hip Spring Throw” or Hanegoshi: is a Judo technique in which the opponent is thrown by using a springing action of the hip and leg while simultaneously pulling him downwards with both hands.

A laugh with a serious message…

Mori Shihan wrote an article this month that I would like to share with you. I see it as a fitting note with which to end the year. The article might shock you, gross you out, make you laugh, but mostly I hope it leaves you with an understanding of what is at the heart of authentic traditional Japanese martial arts dojos – service! When I say service, I mean it in every sense of the word. Firstly, the dojo as a service to the community in providing a place of strong physical and moral learning, and secondly the people as selfless, considerate, compassionate, cooperative and ethical human beings.

Please enjoy the article.

A dedication to the public, the spirit of Samurai

It was on the first day of Aikido introductory course a few years ago. After we finished the warming-up routine, 15minutes of exercises including only 30 push-ups and 20 backwards falls, a young fellow came to me to tell me he needed to go to the toilet. Well, twenty to thirty minutes later he still hadn’t come out from there, but I did not really worry as he was young with a strong build. But I assumed he had not done any exercise for a while. The class finished without any problems and after the beginners of the course all left, ‘L’ who taught the course went to the toilet. I was sitting at my desk in the office and heard him exclaim, “OH, my God!”, just as he opened the toilet door. It was obvious something was wrong, and I stood up from my chair and went to the toilet.

I expected possibly two accidents; a flooding of urine – a common accident by men’s uncontrolled hose or an enormous poo not being flushed. I looked into the toilet behind L’s back to find that it was far beyond my assumption. Numerous small red and white things were spread all over the toilet, not only the floor but on the walls and even on the ceiling. Then, I remembered that the young fellow was murmuring under his breath with a bitter smile, “Wasn’t a good idea to have lots of pasta before training,” as he left…He did not mention anything about what happened in the toilet and he never returned to the dojo although he paid the whole course fee.

Well, ‘L’ made up his mind to not run away from these archenemies but to battle with them. He stopped me going forward to help him and bravely began to fight against the little red and white warriors with his bare hands. Looking at his back, I thought this man was the true samurai. “He is the samurai,” is the term Japanese people use to praise a person. The samurai in this context means the person who dedicates oneself to the public, working sincerely spending one’s whole spirit selflessly for other people or for the greater good of society. The attitude of ‘L’ was exactly the same as this samurai spirit.

Though feeling sorry, I had to go to take the second class, but my attention stayed with him. I kept hearing his battle roars to boost his spirit and the sound of toilet flushes over and over for forty-five minutes until the second class was done. I knew that the ‘samurai’ needed to have a rest and I offered myself to take over his combat. I still remember his totally haggard face with worn-out eyes which described how strong and outnumbered he was. Yet I volunteered to continue the fight… But I had to be prepared to work another hour at least as I saw lots more enemies were left in every nook and cranny.

“Bushido is really the Way of Dying” is a well-known phrase in Bushido training. It does not mean samurais regarded death lightly, but it was to express their preparedness to die for other people and the public. The other day, I saw a white belt helping out a beginner when he found the beginner looking troubled during wrists stretches. I felt his intention of willing to offer help where he could was small but surely the same samurai spirit. I felt so pleased to see that in my dojo.

Furthermore, some senior black belts always clean the dojo toilet after all the classes of the day. The toilet is not the most enjoyable place to clean; actually, a place where people would like to avoid. Yet, they take the routine as their ‘should-be-done’ task willingly. This is, I believe, the spirit of samurai too, dedicating themselves to the dojo and other students. I would like to take this opportunity to humbly express my deepest gratitude to these samurais for their sincere labour throughout 2019.

This spirit of samurai, dedication to the public, is appreciated anywhere you devote it. If it is dedicated to the country, that country will be a good country. If you work with this spirit, your work environment will improve and will be appreciated by other work mates. And, more importantly for our lives, we need to exercise this samurai spirit at home, especially for your partner, then you can create a harmonious family relationship. Yes, only if we practise!     

Osu!

Michiharu Mori