Ancient wisdom locked inside the system

Following on from my demonstration at our 2022 Annual Demonstration, I’d like to offer you a follow-up article on the theme on which I spoke on that day. I hope you gained something from the demonstration in September for your own practice and I hope that this article provides you with some further detail behind my sentiment on that day. (If you would like to review the demonstrations, you can find it on our YouTube channel with all the other demonstrations from that day.)

Traditional Japanese martial arts like those practiced at our dojo employ the ancient teaching and learning methodology of ‘kata geiko’, which literally translates as ‘forms practice’, and ‘Shu Ha Ri’, the stages of martial development. The stages of Shu Ha Ri literally translate as,

  • shu (守) “protect”, “obey”—traditional wisdom—learning fundamentals, techniques
  • ha (破) “detach”, “digress”—breaking with tradition
  • ri (離) “leave”, “separate”—transcendence—there are no techniques, all moves are natural.

In the Shu stage budoka (martial practitioners) are asked to follow the teacher’s instruction with complete and unquestionable adherence. Therefore, it is so important to make sure you locate a teacher that has access to the origin of the martial wisdom being imparted. It does not matter which art or Budo you practice (the one that best suits your personality is always best and over time you will gravitate to it). The teacher and their connection to the source through a direct lineage is most important to assure you are getting an authentic budo experience and accessing legitimate martial wisdom that has been passed down through generations and tested in combat over the centuries. We are lucky at the Yoshinkan Sunshine Coast Dojo to have such access to an unbroken line of martial arts instruction dating back centuries. Therefore, when we engage unquestionably with the ‘traditional wisdom’ in the fundamental techniques during the Shu stage, we can take comfort in the knowledge that what we are doing is authentic budo and not a diminished version of the past that someone has reinterpreted under their own name. Unfortunately, however, many practitioners never persist past the ‘Shu’ stage of training, and they and other commentators and outside observers base judgements of the traditional art (be it aikido, judo, kendo, karate, or jiu jitsu etc.) solely on this early stage. I guess this is in part a consequence of the ‘now generation’ and the need for instant return on the little time some are willing to invest – something that can often be provided by other less all-encompassing pursuits.

Generally, after many years of consistent, dedicated, and intensive training, a budoka would transition into the Ha stage of their martial training. In the Ha stage budoka have a deep understanding of the fundamental techniques (the kata) and begin to ‘tinker around the edges’ and ‘break open’ the kata to explore different ways of applying their concepts and principles. Here budoka begin to digress from the simple ‘blind following’ of techniques and ask questions of the techniques to begin understanding the system more profoundly. Here is where the ‘study’ of the martial art is really evident if you take up the challenge, while unfortunately, here is also where most will stall their development as they are not willing to commit to what is needed to progress beyond this point. Here is where you really begin to realise how much you don’t know! This is what traditional Japanese martial arts call shugyo, or martial journey of spiritual development. Here is when your life and your budo begin to merge and become one… You begin to find it difficult to separate who you are with what you do.

After many decades of continued study of the art(s), budoka will reach the Ri stage in their martial development. This stage is translated as ‘transcendence’. This is where technique looks nothing necessarily like the movements of the techniques in the kata; one’s movements are the result of internalising the concepts found within the kata, they become natural, personal, and unique to the physiology of the budoka. Traditionally, this is when a budoka might leave the dojo to pursue their shugyo and travel in search of further martial learning and spiritual development. Thankfully, Mori Sensei asked me to take part in this of a sort when I moved to the Sunshine Coast. When we discussed my moving away, he prompted me to teach and explore further experiences in my training through the challenges encountered by others. This he said, would provide me with a more profound understanding and expand my capabilities; and if I didn’t, my progress might stall. As a result, I thoroughly enjoy my shugyo and I am grateful to Mori Sensei daily for his guidance and wisdom. But I must be honest, traditionally budoka would study all day every day and that decades of daily training for 8-10 hours do not equate to decades of daily training for 3-5 hours in the modern sense as in my case. We need to put this in perspective. Even though I train daily, my other commitments around work and family mean that I can only train on average about 3-5 hours every day. This is only half of what a traditional budoka would commit to daily. That said however, the effects of my shugyo on my daily life are still transformative, and I hope I can develop further so that I can share more with you all on the mats and off. Afterall, what is the point of my training if I can’t enhance my life and the lives of others – this is budo after all!

As I mentioned in my demonstration, I have come to truly believe that the wisdom is literally locked in the system in which we practice, and that kata geiko (forms training) is the mechanism with which we access this wisdom over time. From my study so far, I have found Kata geiko to display three distinct attributes of ancient genius in its construction that will never lose its relevance:

  1.  Its systematic nature is a matrix of techniques with junctions that allow for unlimited possibilities. Over time, budoka may explore within the Ha stage of their martial development the endless possibilities that each part of a kata provides. At the beginning (in the Shu stage) we see only one level of the matrix, which are all the techniques within the curriculum – the surface level. But over time, the other layers (much like a 3D version of the matrix as opposed to a singular layer) begin to appear. The junctions within each technique expand to show a plethora of possibilities that can be applied when the practitioner is ready to comprehend and explore them.
  2. Secondly, every technique within kata geiko is a vehicle for the learning of key principles and concepts that become applicable in any unique situation after many years of training. It is this vehicle that has been crafted over centuries of battle testing (and in the practice of Minamoto no Yoshimitsu – the developer of Daito Ryu Jujutsu and origin of Yoshinkan Aikido and Gracie Jiu Jitsu – who would dissect dead bodies in the 11th century to study human physiology and apply this knowledge to the development of Daito Ryu Aiki Jujutsu). These concepts are transmitted from generation to generation via this vehicle and the ancient wisdom is locked in this system ready for exploration and study by the dedicated and worthy budoka.
  3. Thirdly, kata geiko provides ‘hidden sensei’ (or teachers) all throughout the matrix of techniques in all its parts. Budoka in the beginning (and many ill-informed onlookers from the outside) often ‘don’t know what they don’t know’; it takes years of dedicated and continuous practice to develop the proficiency to unlock the learning within the system and gain access to the ‘hidden teachers’ embedded within each technique. Its much like a video game where you unlock new levels after accomplishing new degrees of proficiency. You may find yourself practicing something seemingly so fundamental as shomen uchi ikkajo osae 1 for a decade and then all of a sudden, an insight appears (a hidden teacher speaks to you) that you never saw before, and subsequently it further unlocks new learning across the system for you because you have conceptually comprehended something that was beyond your comprehension due to your proficiency before. This continues forever, so please be patient  The wisdom is locked within the system, and what a system it is!

Well, there is an elaboration on the points I touched on in my demonstration in September. I hope this provides you with an insight into how I feel about our training and the value that I see in what we do. Furthermore, I sincerely hope that this provides you with a little clarity around why we do things the way we do, and why it has been done this way for centuries… And I hope for centuries to come!


Ryan Slavin

Aiki Insights Episode 23

This episode is Part 5 of our series on the principle of CONNECTION. In it we explore the role of connection in the application of the tenchi nage (heaven and earth) technique.

1. Discussion about the importance of practicing strong pulls to be pulled off balance and then retaining balance: 01:00

2. Discussion, demonstration and explanation of the mechanics and angles of ryote mochi tenchi nage 1: 01:30

3. Discussion, demonstration and explanation of connection within the technique to enhance its efficacy: 02:00

4. Discussion, demonstration and explanation of an advanced variation of tenchi nage using connection and timing or ‘Aiki’ to bring uke down: 04:20

5. Discussion, demonstration and explanation of suwari waza kokyu 7 using a similar connection application: 07:20

6. Review and summary: 08:30

Aiki Insights Episode 22

This episode is Part 4 of our series on the principle of CONNECTION. In it we explore the role of connection in the application of the sokumen iriminage technique.

1. Opening discussion about the basic mechanics of sokumen iriminage: 01:00

2. Discussion about the responsibility of uke to be able to take ukemi for a strong technique: 04:25

3. Discussion, demonstration and explanation of shomen uchi sokumen iriminage: 05:00

4. Discussion, demonstration and explanation of sokumen iriminage as an attack, not in defence: 07:00

5. Random attacks and demonstration of the versatility of sokumen iriminage: 08:10

6. Review and summary: 09:00

Aiki Insights Episode 21

The conversation continues about Yoshinkan Aikido and martial arts more broadly. This episode is Part 3 of our series on the principle of CONNECTION. In it we explore the role of connection in the application of the shomen iriminage technique when an opponent grabs with both hands, irrespective of where the opponent grabs.
1. Opening discussion about the usual places an opponent might grab when engaging in grappling conflict.: 01:00
2. Discussion and explanation of the importance of basic movement Shumatsu Dosa 2, and the role of connection in the training of this: 02:00
3. Discussion, demonstration and explanation of the relationship between basic movement Shumatsu Dosa 2 handwork, basic movement Tai no Henko 1 footwork, and the principle connection in the Ryote Mochi Shomen Iriminage 1 technique.
4. Demonstration of variations of the same technique against any grabs by both hands – sleeve, lapel and wrist – by applying the same principles: 07:00
5. Demonstration and discussion of the importance of the fourth point of connection through the head: 09:00

Are you celebrating the small wins?

Life had decided in July that it would present our family with an August in which every aspect of our lives would converge to provide us with challenges of the highest level. I’m sure you’ve all had these moments. (I chose to use this term ‘moments’ here because that is exactly all that they are – a blimp in the flow of time; and this is the key to overcoming these challenges and celebrating their completions as a success!)

Recently Cindy and I had the month from hell – not bad, but extremely ‘full’ – and it provoked thought in me about celebrating the small challenges that accumulate to bigger wins and growth over time.

We are pretty busy at the best of times, but August certainly threw us some curveballs that we had to work hard to try and hit out of the park. I won’t bore you with listing our challenges, but I do want to share with you our celebration after weathering this storm. Cindy and I saw in July that on the horizon August was going to be tough, and we made some clear and organised commitments to each other about how we would tackle it. We know it was going to challenge us and we knew it was not always going to feel good all of the time. When we shared this challenge and acknowledged that it was going to be hard, we gave each other permission to struggle and experience discomfort together. As the old adage goes, ‘a problem shared is a problem halved’.

As we come out of August and move into the month of demonstration in September, I feel charged and empowered by the difficulties that we as a family (and individually within it) faced in August and overcame together. The first message I guess I’d like to share from this is that when we acknowledge upcoming difficultly ahead of time, we name our fears and own our possible shortcomings in preparation. As a result, for us in August there was nothing left there to worry us; it was just up to us to ‘get the job done’ and withstand the difficulty. Some might say that we took the disempowering nature of fear out of the equation and replaced it simply with ‘the void’. Now, I’ll be honest, the month was hard, and at times unenjoyable… but that’s ok. Nothing grows in the shade, after all. But additionally, there were some pretty special moments that we were able to really experience fully and celebrate as we were not caught in the mindset of negativity throughout the month. Secondly, another idea I’d like to share is that every experience we encounter is momentary – there is a clear end to it all, good and bad; and wishing you could perpetually stay in any one of these states is misleading and unnatural. The Japanese have a lovely phrase that is relevant to this: ichi go ichi e. When we acknowledge this, we are more likely to be present and able to engage in a more positive mindset. After all, if we live in the future waiting for ‘when things are perfect or better’ or in the past engaging in thinking that “it would be better if only we could return to…’, then we find ourselves in a negative spiral chasing our tail, and constantly unfulfilled and unhappy searching for the unattainable. Also, we get nothing done because these ‘perfect moments or conditions’ don’t exist and waiting for these to appear in order to do something is fruitless thinking. The only time we can actually experience is now. Why waste it wishing you were somewhere else, even if the experience is hard and unenjoyable?  


Ryan Slavin

Aikido as a Budo, not as a sport

Please enjoy Mori Sensei’s sentiments on ‘budo’ vs ‘sport’ and the importance of the mindset beyond a rules-based approach to training martial arts over a life-time, not simply a sporting peak in a career. I’m sure you’ll find it insightful.

Recently, I had a contact from a representative of “Kuro-obi World”, a Japanese company promoting Budo through YouTube and DVD selling. He asked me to take part in a project to create a DVD and YouTube video with Shihan Tatsuya Naka from the Japan Karate Association. It was Naka Shihan’s wish, he told me. Naka Shihan found me browsing YouTube and he was impressed with my style of Aikido, and he also liked the atmosphere of Brisbane Dojo classes.

Since Naka Shihan is a legendary Karate-ka, who holds a rank of Shihan in the headquarters of one of the biggest martial arts association in the world, I felt very honoured by the offer for I am just a nameless Aikido-ka. I told the representative that I was happy to participate in the project, but I could not visit them due to Japan’s border restrictions at the moment. Since I thought it was too much trouble for them to travel to Australia, I suggested them to find another Aikido-ka in Japan. I know that there are a number of famous Aikido-ka’s, especially a young famous Aikido-ka who appears in YouTube a lot collaborating with other martial artists. 

Then, the representative explained to me that Naka Shihan was not interested in sport-style martial arts but wanted to see me because I train in a Budo-style Aikido. I was truly pleased to hear these words and appreciated Naka Shihan’s perspective as I place importance on this point too. You know, I believe that Budo is not a sport. Most players/practitioners of any sports reach their best around thirty years old (at the latest) and their abilities diminish gradually. On the other hand, the authentic Budo-ka can increase the abilities in techniques as long as they keep training and accumulating experiences until they cannot move any longer. When the quality of performance relies on muscle strength alone it creates a limit in the performance because muscles deteriorate as one ages. Yet, mature techniques in Budo rely on principles and mastery of techniques, thus it does not limit the practitioner in developing their quality of skills.  

For instance, the techniques of Master Gozo Shioda in youth were surely strong, yet his strength derived from his body being young and strong. As he got older, he developed his Aiki power and thus his Aikido was recognised as Godlike in its technique. We hear that O Sensei was the same; that he was at his best, a supreme level when he passed away. I witnessed what the authentic Budo-ka truly was, and I assume there are not many of them at all in this modern time. I believe that there were heaps of old men like them in the era of samurai when they trained and used the real martial arts in the real world. You know, only samurais who survived endless battles were able to live until becoming old in those days.

Aikido techniques performed by muscles and physical strength are described as a sport-type Aikido while a Budo-type Aikido is performed by skills and principles. Using muscles and physical strength is important at the beginning of one’s Aikido journey or when you are young to learn the techniques and make them work. Yes, we should use our muscles and strength when we are young. However, the Aikido with speed and power by muscles is good only until about 2nd Dan level and we hit the limit. This is the start of Budo-type Aikido. All the experiences gathered until this level are critical to move on to the next level where the skills of how to use one’s body (such as concentration of one’s body power, balance of one’s weight and application of one’s body weight) and the principles of martial arts are the essential factors, rather than muscle strength. Simply speaking, you can generate an ultimately effective technique by one’s bones and body frame (feet, knees, hips, spine, arms, hands…) and that is why a decrepit old man can be an authentic master of a Budo. The master’s body is the art itself!

Well, I am getting older, and the dojo’s students are getting older too. We shall all keep training a Budo-style Aikido to keep advancing our abilities in this fascinating art, shan’t we? 

The representative of Kuro-obi World is planning to visit our dojo in June or July to film a class where students are training. Then, he will visit us again with Naka Sensei, maybe in August, to film Naka Sensei training and learning Aikido with us. So, please everyone, make a reminder in your calendar to attend these classes.


Michiharu Mori

I nearly died again last night, and Aikido saved me!

coffee break article

“I nearly died last night”, or at least it was ‘last night’ at the time of writing this article. But I’m not overly concerned as this is now the third fatal accident I’ve avoided. But what is important is my belief that without aikido I wouldn’t have survived the first encounter, let alone two more!

I won’t bore you with all the details of each near-death episode as you read this coffee break article, but I’ll briefly relay the second time I nearly died and detail to you last night’s encounter when I almost died for a third time. It’s true what they say, motorbikes are dangerous, or perhaps the people surrounding them on the roads are the most dangerous element to riding them. After all, humans are the variables that are often most difficult to control in any situation, right? But here’s how I nearly died last night, and how aikido yet again saved my life.

After leaving the dojo on my way home from training as usual, I pulled out onto an almost empty Caloundra Road heading into town on a seemingly deserted Monday night. I sensed a car entering from my left about 50 metres ahead, coming out of the Rollerdrome skating ring. I moved over to the right lane to allow for his/her possible merge into the left lane, yet the speed at which they entered provoked a sense of caution in me. The car sped onto Caloundra Road and traveled across the left lane and into the right lane seemingly without any idea that I was coming. As a result, I was heading for the rear-right side of the car or, alternatively, off the road and down the embankment into trees. Either way, it wouldn’t have ended well for me at 70 kilometers per hour.

Now, I know it sounds wacky to say, but what did take place in a matter of seconds slowed down dramatically for me and I felt like I had an eternity to work through this problem. Firstly, I avoided a skid (the opposite of what I did in #2 near-death experience, where I purposely made my bike skid to survive – I’ll explain this later) so that I wouldn’t end up under the wheels of the car as its rear bumper approached my front wheel from my left. So, I had to break heavily, but not allow the bike to skid or slide sideways. Therefore, I braked heavily on the front brakes and minimally on the back so that the weight transferred forward onto my front wheel. I came up off the seat, placed weight into my feet on my pegs and readied myself to jump either onto the car beside me as it approached or throw myself into a roll to the right and down the bank; neither of which I would have enjoyed! However, the alternative to the jump meant I had to ease the bike to the right and maintain a course along a width of road about the same as the white line – there is next to no road on the other side of the line on this particular stretch of the road. On the other side of this strip lay my doom in the ditch! The car never deviated, it just kept coming and coming and it was all up to me to avoid and blend my deacceleration with the car’s acceleration so that I could time an avoidance of maybe 5cm tolerance before my front wheel moved behind the rear-right hand side of the car as it sped off ahead. I remember my exhale as I did this. It was long and controlled and the low-pitched and audible woahhhhhhhhhhhh was a long and controlled part of this exhale. But It all came together.

The car sped off oblivious ahead of me and I made my way home. I remember taking stock of whether I was rushing with adrenalin or not, or whether my nerves were affected at all, and to my surprise… I felt nothing! Not one emotion at all, just a calmness and a smile. I smiled to myself all the way home at the fact that yet again I would wake up and enjoy another day on this Earth. I guess as I look back on this now, I was experiencing a sense of gratitude; all that I went on to experience that evening especially (and into the following days) was heightened by this sense of gratitude. But more importantly, I’ve come to accept the fact that my time here is fragile and may be gone in an instant. This I continue to remind myself every day and recall this sense of gratitude so that I can face inevitable death (even if it comes tomorrow) with a smile!

The time before this (#2 near death experience), only a few years ago, I was again riding my motorcycle home from training when I came up a hill and over a rise towards an intersection only a couple of hundred metres from home. As I approached the intersection, I noticed I had the green light and accelerated. Yet I was confronted by a car turning across my path, and about to T-bone me. Again, time slowed down, I braked heavily on the back brake and purposefully put the bike into a skid so I could flair out the back and make greater space for the car to move past before I hit it. Again, on this occasion too, I came up on the pegs ready to jump. But this time forward, over the car and into a roll (‘hopefully’ a nice front roll J). In reflection, my subconscious must have assessed the roll not necessary, and the skid was enough. I avoided the accident again with about 5cm of tolerance as my tail slid out to the side and I regained it at the instant the car passed. The Japanese have a saying for this kind of tolerance: Yoyuu ga nai, roughly translated as ‘no margin’ or infers ‘no margin for error’. But in fact, I believe my aikido training allowed me to increase my margin (yoyuu) and avoid disaster. You might think this strange, but I attribute my life in all three dramatic events (2 of which I’ve described here) to aikido and my consistent training, especially in jiu waza. And here’s why.

The first reason is related to reaction. In aikido we have jiu waza (freestyle techniques). It is an aspect of aikido training where a practitioner must deal with an attacker or group of attackers who come at you repeatedly at the timing and speed of their choosing with the intent to hit or grab you. Your control over their choices is minimal, but the control over their effect on you and the environment in which you exist is at your disposal. My reaction in the motorcycle events above were no different to the way I approach my jiu waza training. When the attacker fully commits, I react. I have full control over the timing of my reaction, the way in which I choose to move my body in relation to the force coming at me, and the attitude which I adopt at the most crucial time. That said, this reaction is not governed by conscious thought, but by subconscious action, and it is only achievable after years of ‘programming’, or in other words ‘training’.

Therefore, the second reason why aikido training can aid in positive outcomes in near-death experiences relates to the subconscious response to aggression in the context of jiu waza. The subconscious, automated, ‘true’ reactions in jiu waza contexts usually consist of entering with a strike (atemi), turning to off-balance (kuzushi) the attacker, or even dropping out of sight and the line of conflict. These actions in response to a single attacker’s or group of attackers’ aggression, like my reactions in the motorcycle episodes above, allow the aikido practitioner to increase the margin for error (yoyuu) by moving with confidence at the last possible moment with the ‘right’ action. That is, if you move too soon you run the risk of being hit or placed in a worse position, further out of your control, and if you move too late you are definitely hit and have no time for your body to select the adequate response. Interestingly however, the success of this training is determined by whether your attacker (uke) has ‘your best interests at heart’, meaning, they come at you committed and authentically. You cannot acquire the necessary principles of self-preservation through jiu waza training if the attacker(s) are not authentically trying to hit/harm you. So, when you train as uke in jiu waza with someone and you feel that you are ‘doing them a favour by going easy on them’ and not hitting them, or at least not showing them where they could be hit, you are in fact retarding their development; you’re hindering their ability to acquire these necessary skills through authentic practice of these principles I outline here. Yes, safety is important, but nothing grows in the shade! You must become comfortable with being under pressure and feeling uncomfortable if you intend to grow.

The third reason is the need to feel comfortable with dangerous things coming at you at speed. This level of comfort is only afforded when you actually practice with dangerous things at speeds just beyond your ability and increasing incrementally all the time towards a natural flow of aggression. I guess I learnt this lesson very early when I was told as a kid by my father to ‘train as you play and play as you train’. Therefore, if you expect to perform at a level beyond the effort that you are willing to apply to your training, then you are sadly misguided. Training at a level that pressures you to admit to things that you are not good at or find challenging will over time reap rewards, despite the discomfort; it will allow you to be authentic and, as a result, to not panic or tense up in high pressure situations across a diversity of contexts. For example, when a when a car is about to run you of the road or T-bone you at 60-70KM/H, or even when a semi-trailer moves across your lane to squash you and your motorcycle against a guardrail at 80 KM/H and you are asked to act instantly – accelerate or brake: one option will lead to life, the other to imminent death. This was my #1 interaction with death on a motorcycle. In this instance I chose to accelerate, and I came out the other side again with my 5cm of tolerance! (yoyuu ga atta!) Blending timing to suit speed in which an object/person is coming at you dangerously is as important in budō as it is in everyday life.

The fourth reason why I believe aikido specifically saves your life in difficult situations beyond the dojo is in its ability to build confidence in you to possibly roll out of a bad situation – confidence in your ukemi. Over time, if you commit to training with people who will always throw you completely with all that they have, you will become used to receiving heavy G-forces on your body. As a result, you will develop the confidence to yield when necessary and roll out of anything. Aikido teaches you this providing you search for it. I distinctly remember one particular time training jiu waza at the Brisbane Dojo with Emmanuel Economides, I was uke, and I was attacking with everything I had. As Emmanuel would increase the intensity of his throws, I would be energized by this and spring up faster each time coming at him even harder. This would then in turn create a feedback loop that continued to the point where I remember losing every care in the world… I lost complete attachment and surrendered everything to my attacks. As strange as this might sound, I remember thinking that I was happy to die in that moment as there was no level of intensity beyond what I was experiencing that could hurt me – I felt absolutely nothing and time stood still! So, what does this mean? If you want to reach a stage where you have absolute confidence in your ability to roll out of almost any natural level of motion, then train in jiu waza with people who will throw you with everything they have!

So why do I think aikido is particularly good for self-preservation? Well, it is one of only a few martial arts that allows you to blend with forces and not meet them head-on. Aikido’s capacity as a blending art is priceless. I guess this is why Master Gozo Shioda was adamant that ‘aikido and life are one’ (aiki soku seikatsu). Moving forward, this recent near-death experience has made me think even more deeply about the benefits of jiu waza, and the need for people to practice this regularly despite their level of training. Therefore, above all the other benefits of jiu waza – cardiovascular health; bone density increases; agility development; etc. – I believe it develops you in ways you might not realise until called upon in times you are not planning to experience!


Ryan Slavin