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Tuesday, June 27, 2017

The Sixth Guideline for Practice...and Life

"The purpose of Aikido training is to forge the body and mind and to build one's character. The techniques are transmitted from person to person on an individual basis, and should not be disclosed indiscriminately to outsiders, nor used for evil purposes." Best Aikido: The Fundamentals 
"Aikido training is to develop the mind and body, and to create people of extreme sincerity.  The techniques of Aikido should all be considered secret, and should not in any case be shown to others or applied for sinister purposes."  ​​​From the 1997 issue of "The Aikido" by Aikido world headquarters in Tokyo.  Volume 34, #4.  (Really, from the walls of the men's change room at our dojo).  This recent version makes the most reference to sincerity, or the virtue of Shin.
"Training in Bujutsu is to foster Yamato-Damashii and to build one’s character.  The techniques are transmitted from person to person, on an individual basis, and should not be disclosed indiscriminately to the public (Originally written “non-Japanese”).  Such secret techniques should not be misused for evil purposes."  Budo.  
 The original text did not specify Aikido.  This publication predated the name Aikido, but did not refer to Daito Ryu either.  Bujutsu is more of a general term applying to all martial arts.  The parenthesis within the quote is from John Stevens, the translator.  As the oldest version, Budo makes reference to nationalism. I had wondered if there was an element of racism, and Prof. Goldsbury mentioned in an AikiWeb discussion that this wasn't so much racism as it would have never occurred to pre-war Ueshiba that he might someday teach non-Japanese people.
 "The purpose of Aikido is to train both the body and mind and to make a person sincere.  All Aikido arts are secret in nature and are not to be revealed publicly, nor taught to hoodlums who will use them for evil purposes".  Aikido
 Kisshomaru Doshu offers more expository text:  "Lastly, the aim of Aikido is not to merely produce a strong body but to create an integrated person.  Any educated person knows how brute strength is meaningless in our present-day advanced civilization.  For this reason the Founder forbade Aikido to be misused and severely cautioned everyone.  He would not permit the publication of his art’s techniques and required introductions and guarantees for each student.
In summary, those who wish to study Aikido should have a righteous and fair mind, obey their instructors, and study naturally.  As a matter of consequence, their techniques will be skillfully cultivated in such an atmosphere and a noble character will be created."
(Click here for my favorite Aikido parody, which seems apropos.)
While it is now ubiquitous to talk about Aikido in terms of developing better people, or being more ethical and moral than other martial arts or non-martial artists, the question remains how?  Francis Takahashi discusses if we have any ethics training and Peter Boylan has a great article on the validity of this statement in martial arts in general in his blog, The Budo Bum.  This conversation between Richard Moon and Christopher Li is a great addendum.
Did O Sensei treat teaching as secret?  He was alive for several publications of books on Aikido and was directly involved in a few of them.  There was no way he was not aware of Budo Renshu or Budo, though initially these were not widely disseminated.  This was not true for Tohei's books, or Tomiki's books, or his son's books - these books were translated multiple times and freely sold.  The Ueshiba family is now very involved in publishing and filming as a means to propagate Aikido, so the request for secrecy seems to have evolved/vanished.  Moreover, in "keeping Aikido techniques secret" – Kotegaeshi and Nikyo are the worst kept secrets in the world.  These appear in the combat systems of every culture.  So, what is the secret?  
I wonder who were the last students that had to provide letters of recommendation?  How do I misuse Aikido?  How do I apply Aikido for sinister purposes?  Does Aikido create people of noble character?  If it does, then take on anyone and create many noble people! Create a whole world of noble people!  If there was a process to make sure only good people were allowed to learn in the first place, then even Morihei Ueshiba had limits to his belief that Aikido created better people.  I have seen students who turned out to be wife beaters, child abusers, alcoholics, drug addicts, sex addicts.  I have trained with people who cheated on their spouses and I have seen marriages end.  One high ranked yudansha started sending out death threats to other dojo in his area along with other highly questionable behaviors.  If I did have someone engaged in deplorable behavior in my dojo, would I count on Aikido to clean them up and put them on the straight and narrow?  Frankly no.  Still if I am advertising a way to make people better than they are, emotionally stronger and dedicated to harmony, I should not be surprised if I have some human beings showing up at the door who feel themselves lacking or even broken.  I hear  many people refer to Aikido as therapeutic for themselves; but if I am to show up to the dojo how do I make it therapeutic for others?  I don't know about misusing Aikido, but I have certainly seen sensei abuse their power and standing as the head of a dojo, and their students in turn aspire to someday having their own power to abuse.  "Tradition."
There are many internet discussion boards that will have conversations about Aikido and it's purpose.  Usually there will be one person condemning the martial utility and someone else will reply that their personal Aikido is for more than mere combat; that their Aikido is a vehicle for spiritual, personal, and moral development.  Rarely do people seem to be able to say how.  Bring on the internet trolls if that's now the main venue for philosophical discourse.
Morihei Ueshiba was a very spiritual man.  He was a devote member of the Oomoto Kyo new religion, and a member of the inner circle of Onisaburo Deguchi.  There is ample evidence that Morihei Ueshiba studied the Chinese classics as a boy and that he was of course into Budo, which has virtues associated with it (just not the same virtues or numbers of virtues consistently).  Very little of his actual belief system gets transmitted to us as Aikido students:  Oomoto Kyo is not an evangelical proselytizing religion, O Sensei's religion was is not mandatory for Aikido practice, many students did not share his religion, and a deliberate effort was made to sanitize Aikido away from his religious imagery as the art was being disseminated throughout the world to non-Japanese.  I have seen a number of students over the years when asked about O Sensei's philosophy come up with a mishmash of Daoism, Zen, and the Hagakure - and what seems to be a liberal dash of truthiness.  I have no idea if any of these beliefs applied to Morihei Ueshiba, but he was very famously a member of Oomoto Kyo.  From the Oomoto Kyo website:
"What is Oomoto's basic doctrine?  
God is the spirit which pervades the entire universe, and man is the focus of the workings of heaven and earth.  When God and man become one, infinite power will become manifest.  What is the essence of Oomoto beliefs?  God, with the help of humans, is working to purify and reconstruct the world. When this task is accomplished, God, humans, and all of nature will exist peacefully on earth and in the spiritual world.
What are humans expected to do to help?
They should live according to four teachings and four principles. These are fundamental to the Divine Plan and applicable to the lives of all humans. Oomoto also teaches that God gives humans freedom of choice; they have freewill to decide whether to follow these teachings and principles.
What are the teachings?
They are: 
1) Harmonious alignment with all life and the universe. 
2) Revelation of celestial truth and its lessons. 
3) Innate patterns of behavior for man, society and the cosmos. 
4) Instinctual creative drives. 
What are the principles?
They are: 
1) Purity through purification of mind and body. 
2) Optimism, specifically believing in the goodness of the Divine Will. 
3) Progressivism as a way to social improvement. 
4) Unification or reconciliation of all dichotomies (good and evil; rich and poor; humans and nature; humans and God, etc.) 
The four can be thought of as a code for right living. By practicing them, humans can live in harmony with the universe and lead a heavenly life in spirit and flesh."
I assume this is somewhat representative of Morihei Ueshiba's belief system.  I found this article interesting too: Wikipedia on Shinto deities.  Some of his students had little interest in his religion or philosophy.  Yamada sensei said once in an interview that when O Sensei showed up and lectured, even Yamada wished he would stop talking and leave so that they could practice. Increasingly, it seems that the "incomprehensible words of the Founder" depended heavily on his use of imagery from his personal faith.
Is there a need for a group that encourages deeper thought and questioning?  The early days of the US election have shown that civil discourse, questioning, fact checking, and just good old fashioned thinking don't appear to be "cool" anymore.  Staying calm and rational, having a sober second thought (hopefully a sober first thought too).  Respectful discourse with a goal of a goal of better communication and better solutions.  Taking a stand for the right reasons and when cooperation has failed or led to an outcome that is not just.  Being responsible.  Knowing something about right and wrong.  We need it going forward, and not just in the dojo.



"Always train in a vibrant and joyful manner."  Budo
"Always train in a vibrant and joyful manner." Best Aikido: The Fundamentals

"Practice at all times with a feeling of pleasurable exhilaration."  Kisshomaru Ueshiba's Aikido

"Training must always be performed in an enjoyable manner."  From the 1997 issue of "The Aikido" by Aikido world headquarters in Tokyo.  Volume 34, #4.  (Really, from the walls of the men's change room at our dojo.)

                                          (To be honest, I'd love to feel this once.)

Unlike some of the other Rules, all the translations seem to be on the exact same page. Translations years apart are giving the identical wording. We're making a commitment to being in the same room at the same time for multiple days a week, doing the same stuff with the same people.  Why shouldn't we actually Not Hate the experience? In Best Aikido, it is written that this is the most emphasized of the rules in the Hombu Dojo.

We come to the martial arts promised a life changing experience.  Most of us are hoping this will become a "way of life" - something we do more often, something we think about more often, want to feel more often to the exclusion of many experiences life could offer us.  We're hoping to commit to a practice that pervades and influences the quality of our lives, for the rest of our lives.  We are hoping this life changing experience doesn't change our lives negatively.  And we should.  We don't want a practice that robs us of our enjoyment of life.

I've been to the dojo where angry sanctions against a student for minor infractions are the rule and not the exception, and everyone is always on eggshells.  Psychological and physical abuse is considered mandatory - usually by people who "already paid their dues" so they have authority sufficient to never be subjected to the treatment they hand out.  
I've been to the dojo where the Sensei engages in marathon pontification at the front of the room while everyone else sits seiza.  It usually looks enjoyable for the teacher and those "who drank the Kool-Aid."  I've seen people who I swear think Master Ken's Enter The Dojo is a how-to documentary.

I've been to the dojo that plays Shikko Soccer, or has a number of tumbling games for young kids.  Often adult class is much less oriented towards enjoyment - which means that I have seen only a fraction of kid class graduates who do well in adult classes when they hit their growth spurt. 

Games can develop some aspect of certain martial art relevant skills.  A number of martial arts went on to make games and competitions very important parts of practice.  Competition in excess is no longer fun, and it changes the focus of practice.  The game is the reason for training the art, instead of the game training a piece of the art.

There are excellent posts out there already about spending time in the company of abusive instructors and Toxic environments or how we may come to enjoy practice no matter the Discomfort.  Googling "Abusive Martial Arts Teachers" today returned over 9 million results.  Students may need to be challenged, but not degraded or injured.  Break someone's spirit or body, they're a fraction of the martial artist they should be.

The remaining rules for practice already address other issues that may affect our enjoyment of Aikido practice - that we need to find our own way, that practice should be health promoting, that the people we associate with should be sincere and moral individuals.

I never started training just to have fun.  I have many reasons that I can give for training, but really this would be why I train now.  But, what would I have said ten years ago to someone who said, "I just want to have fun."  Such a frivolous answer, clearly not a serious student!  How dare they!

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Thoughts on the benefits of kata

Gichin Funakoshi wrote Karate Jutsu in the 1920's.  It was an early draft, and even Funakoshi considered it flawed apparently.

"In the old days all of this (training) was kept very secret, but around 1901-02 doctors who had been marveling at the fine muscular development of the primary school students and new military recruits they had been examining attributed their superior physical shape to karate.  Soon karate was incorporated into the physical education departments of normal and middle schools, and it finally made its public appearance in the world...Over a dozen years ago, when Shintaro Ogawa was still and 'Okinawan Prefectural School Superintendent, based on his investigation of the results of physical examinations of students and military conscripts, he concluded that the principal common denominator among those with superior physical builds was karate practice.  Moreover he discovered that this was true even among those who had practiced only a very short time..."

The primary method of training, according to Funakoshi, was kata.  Interestingly enough, even when the kata changed (for example when Heian became Pinan) the original forms were still retained and recorded for history.  The kata have continued to evolve, but the history is there.

As a physical exercise, kata had many of the advantages of dance.  Funakoshi actually talks about the Okinawan culture and history of dance and compares it favorably to karate practice.  It is a healthy and health promoting training method that does not always require a training partner or special equipment.

Kata are also a connection to history.  Shodokan's Goshin No Kata was apparently developed by Kenji Tomiki and one of his students, Hideo Ohba.  Goshin no Kata is an abridged form of Koryu Dai San, a kata that is one of six Koryu kata - and these six are not the whole system either.  

I met a teacher that did not teach suwariwaza.  It is included. 

Are weapons part of aikido?  Some will say no, but it's here. 

I was told (not by Sensei, but by multiple teachers) it was traditional that all techniques ended with a kneeling pin - and here is a time capsule that shows a wide variety of controls including leg locks, standing pins, and pins done from one knee. 

Some will say aikido does not contain strikes, but they are here. 

There are specific names for many movements that some teachers will say have "no names" or fall under "kokyunage."

In non-kata driven aikido, any of these topics can be controversial. 

Saturday, December 24, 2016

The final Omote and Ura piece

I have made several changes to my original article on Omote and Ura, and broke it down by time period and usage.  I haven't written much about why I started going down this path.

I never started with the USAF.  I was a CAF student for about 15 years.  Sometimes Kawahara Sensei used Omote and Ura, and sometimes he just said, "another way," and sometimes he would say a technique was neither.  There was a large number of basics relatively speaking.

I moved to the USA for work, and met my wife who has always been a USAF student.  In 2010, the USAF published a new set of test requirements that added several new technique variations.  The local instructors claimed to not know what was what, and I wasn't sure either.    

I had vague ideas which ways were Omote and which were Ura.  Sometimes I could not understand Why a certain variation was considered Omote and another Ura.  Omote is about entering straight and in front, Ura is about turning and going behind.  Tenchinage is usually defined as entering behind but moving forward and belly to belly - elements of both ideas in one basic but clearly neither one.  Many techniques like Shihonage and Kotegaeshi do get distinguished in Omote and Ura now, but Nage is usually looking at Uke's back if the technique is done correctly.  Jujinage (Jujigarami) is always done looking at Uke's front, it is impossible to fold elbows across each other from anywhere other than the center line.  I learned by being told to do two ways or three ways of some movements and the variations were spelled out and clearly different but there was no overriding Heads or Tails principle that divided all types of movement.  We were specifically told some movements were neither.

For the brief period I spent with a Ki Society offshoot, I could see which was an Irimi and which was a Tenkan variation.  You can Irimi in front or behind, and Tenkan in front or behind - these are terms that describe the Nage's movement and not the relationship described by Omote or Ura.  The Tenchinage Tenkan had a Tenkan at the start.  For Tenkan or Irimi Tenchinage, the initial entries were different but the actual moment of the throw was identical.  More than rudimentary basics were very vaguely named, probably out of necessity.

Months ago, at my wife's instigation, I was surprised with an opportunity to ask my questions of a member of the technical committee.  He has over 50 years of training and teaching.  He is highly respected and highly skilled.  He is a solid innovator and a great teacher. 

I presented my questions to him:  that if Omote is in front and linear and Ura is behind and turning, then many techniques have elements of both and many techniques (Tenchinage for one) are not in either category. 

It speaks highly of this man's character that he heard me out and didn't wipe the floor with me.  He respected my confusion and didn't tell me, "because I said so."  He actually was humble enough to admit he had never been to Japan and didn't speak Japanese.

More than the language used, he told me the goal of the increase in requirements was to encourage students to do a technique in more than one way.  All of our techniques are all multifaceted with many variations.  Jodan, Chudan, and Gedan are different ways to neutralize an attack with the hands.  Irimi, Tenkan, and Tenshin are different basic ways to neutralize an attack with the feet; with body movement.  Uchi and Soto bring both together.  Timing explores our relationships temporally; use of Ma-ai and placement is an exploration of our physical anatomical relationships.

So, it's not about learning the right way or the right two ways.  It's about realizing there are many different right ways.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Onisaburo Deguchi and Morihei Ueshiba

Morihei Ueshiba and his art, Aikido, was said to be a product of his martial and his religious tradition.  Even students who are ignorant of the Daito Ryu tradition but know Aikido will watch a Daito Ryu demo and see something they recognize.  They might see a new (to them) variation, or might decide they want no part of the ukemi, but it will be familiar.  Morihei Ueshiba was officially teaching Daito-ryu until the late 1930s. 

Aikido is often called a synthesis of Ueshiba's martial training and his religious beliefs.  The Oomoto Kyo faith is acknowledged as his chosen religion.  Onisaburo Deguchi is the man who Morihei Ueshiba met when he was returning home to see his sick father.  Ueshiba arrived to ask for prayers for his father's good health, and instead remained with Deguchi for several days before resuming his trip home - arriving too late to say goodbye. Ueshiba then left Hokkaido, leaving both the settlement he had helped found and his Daito Ryu teacher, to move to Ayabe in 1919 to join the Shinto sect.  He opened his first dojo on Oomoto Kyo grounds.  

The First Oomoto Incident would happen in 1921 when the government intervened and denounced the Oomoto Kyo faith.  The promotion of the Imperial Way and the divinity of the Emperor as the descendant of Amaterasu was being challenged by Oomoto Kyo's support of other deities.  In supporting Onisaburo and Oomoto Kyo at this time, Ueshiba risked being arrested along with Onisaburo as several other Oomoto Kyo leaders were.  Released on bail, Onisaburo began dictating   Reikai Monogatari, The Tale of the Spirit World.  Ueshiba would have been present for the writing. 

Ueshiba had two sons die of illness on the Oomoto Kyo property, and he left his third, the eventual Second Doshu Kisshomaru, behind when Deguchi chose to violate the terms of his probation following the First Oomoto Kyo incident.  Risking arrest, imprisionment, and death, Morihei travelled with Deguchi to Mongolia in 1924, apparently in an attempt to set up Onisaburo Deguchi as the next Dalai Lama or reincarnation of Genghis Khan (sources seem to differ, but this was to be a religious utopia, with Deguchi as the leader.)  The attempt failed.  The Chinese men who allied themselves with Deguchi and Ueshiba were killed by firing squad and the Japanese Consul took Onisaburo Deguchi and Morihei Ueshiba into custody.  Ueshiba would avoid arrest during the Second Oomoto Incident in 1935 that left Deguchi imprisoned for several years.

I have some recognition of the Daito Ryu roots in my Aikido.  When I read up on the substance and source of Ueshiba's spiritual beliefs; when I read up on Deguchi and Oomoto Kyo beliefs - I recognize far less of the Oomoto Kyo roots in my Aikido.

Esperanto is a constructed language created by a Danish Opthamologist that was an attempt at an international language; the language is endorsed by the Oomoto Kyo religion and the language's creator is now deified.  Per Wikipedia, the religion has published books and magazines in Esperanto since 1924 until the present day.  Almost all active members of Oomoto Kyo have apparently studied some Esperanto.

A central belief of Oomoto used to be spirit possession - the whole sect was started by a peasant woman, Deguchi Nao, who became the vessel for a spirit that left many automatic writings.  Onisaburo, who had a variety of spiritual techniques already, married her one daughter and became a leader in the sect.  Onisaburo Deguchi banned induced spirit possession, Chikon Kishin, in 1923.  Ueshiba would have been living with Deguchi for approximately four years during the time this practice was apparently most widely practiced.  Onisaburo apparently made the induced spirit possession illegal just before he and Ueshiba would leave for Mongolia.

The whole theory of technical evolution, Aikido evolving away from Daito Ryu, is based on Oomoto Kyo and Onisaburo Deguchi's spiritual influence in the stories.  Not only is there little supporting the O Sensei evolution, but what is Deguchi's influence on Aikido?  This spiritual mentor who guided Ueshiba towards enlightenment- what part of my Aikido can I point to as Deguchi's influence?

Deguchi apparently had a huge influence on Ueshiba himself.  When the story of Ueshiba breaking ties with Takeda is told, it is usually Ueshiba's enlightenments and his spiritual practices that are the motivation.  I have been lead to believe Aikido is physically and technically different from Daito Ryu because of Ueshiba's spiritual practice.  I have not been able to clearly say what this spiritual belief or practice was, so I've been looking into it lately.  I have no concrete conclusions; I'm just enjoying the ride. 

Christopher Li offered these two sources as translated examples of Deguchi's writings.  The Sangenkai website is an amazing, serious resource that I recommend to anyone.  There are materials available there that do not exist anywhere else.

Divine Signposts

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Kano's Olympic Dream

As the Olympics in Rio come to a close, I have been reading up on the founder of Judo.  Morihei Ueshiba's senior, this man dedicated his life to many things and one of them was the modernization of Budo.  He wanted a safe, effective training method that would benefit all parties.  He held regular competitions with local police forces that also amounted to regular training for law enforcement.  He played very important and public roles in promoting Shotokan Karate and Aikido.  He was a passionate, driven, highly intelligent and generous man.  As Japan readied for war, Kano was openly a globalist - a student and a citizen of the world. 

Often in Aikikai, we hear that Morihei Ueshiba was against competition and was prepared to break ties with long time students over this practice.  Competition was a divisive force that would break people apart, not bring them together.  Jigoro Kano's vision of competition is actually the same regarding Judo, but he saw the Olympics as an avenue to peace and a way to avoid World War 2.  Kano's stance against the war is more consistent than O Sensei's.  There are those who say he was assassinated for his anti-imperialism, but this is not the official story.

The following is an exert from The Way Of Judo:  A portrait of Jigoro Kano and his students.  It is great reading - the story behind his bid for the 1940 Olympic Games is profound, and yet this is a small part of his remarkable life.  Highly recommended reading, and thank you to Peter Boylan for recommending it to me.

Kano's Olympic Dream

In 1909, Japan was invited to the 1912 Olympics. At a loss for how to respond to the invitation, not surprisingly, the Japanese government turned to Kano, who was an expert in physical education and experienced in international affairs. After some study of the matter, Kano agreed to represent Japan. 

The Japanese government submitted Kano’s name to the International Olympic Committee (IOC), and he was duly elected its first Asian member.  He was the official representative of Japan in the 1912 Olympics in Stockholm. The Japanese contingent consisted of only two track-and-field runners, but at least the nation established a presence. 

On his way back from the Stockholm Olympics, Kano visited the United States for the first time, stopping briefly in New York, where he delivered a lecture and demonstration. Kano also stopped in the Territory of Hawaii and visited the Honolulu dojo that had been opened in 1909. Kano was to visit the United States two more times, in 1920 and 1938. Each time he was there, Kano exhorted nikei-jin (those of Japanese ancestry) to become “patriotic American citizens.” 

Kano led the Japanese delegation to the 1920 Antwerp Olympics. This time Japan was able to field a team of over a hundred, consisting of athletes, coaches, and officials. Japan had two bronze medal winners—in tennis, of all things. Kano skipped the 1924 Olympics in Paris and attended the 1928 Olympics in Amsterdam, but as a private citizen. During those years, there was a lot of political turmoil in Japan regarding how to participate in the games and at what cost; Kano was evidently on the outs with the various organizations involved. 

However, in 1931, the Tokyo City Council decided to make a serious pitch for the 1940 Olympics. As is the case for every Olympics, there are questions of a sponsoring city having adequate athletic facilities, public transportation, sufficient lodging for visitors, and, most important, enough of a budget. Tokyo seemed to be seriously deficient in all these requirements, not to mention that it was located in the Far East, so its bid seemed like a long shot. Due to his international reputation and experience, Kano was really the only hope as Tokyo’s spokesman. 

Fortunately, Kano relished the challenge of presenting Tokyo’s case, and he devoted himself wholeheartedly to the cause, especially since the odds were so much against him. Kano grew up in the Meiji period, during which the motto of the time was, “Unified in body and mind, there is nothing a human being cannot accomplish!” 

After the new four-story Kodokan opened in Suidobashi in 1934, Kano spent nearly all his time, at home and abroad, promoting Tokyo’s bid for the 1940 Olympics. There were many obstacles: possible bids by other cities (Rome, Helsinki, and London); international politics; economic considerations resulting in commercialization of the games; backroom machinations by politicians, businessmen, and the military; Tokyo’s distant location; bribery of officials; racism; and, not least of all, opposition to the bid in Japan itself. (Of course, such shenanigans plague every Olympic bid, past, present, or future.) 

The 1932 Olympics were held in Los Angeles. Kano spent the days before and after ceaselessly politicking for Tokyo’s bid all over the United States. He did the same in Europe later, between 1934 and the 1936 Berlin Olympics, meeting with top officials in nearly every European country. 

The major stumbling block to a successful bid by Tokyo was the war Japan instigated in China in 1937. The issue was immediately raised: “How can a nation at war hold an Olympics, an event that is intended to promote peace?” Rather than risk losing everything, Kano lamely made excuses for his country: “War in China has nothing to do with sports.” “Japan’s real intentions in China are to make it a better country by ridding it of factionalism.” “As long as Chinese warplanes do not bomb Tokyo, there is nothing to worry about.” 

Kano deftly addressed all the arguments—political, economic, and organizational—against Japan, and after much behind-thescenes drama and horse trading, Kano’s efforts were rewarded at the 1938 IOC meeting in Cairo. Kano said of the meeting, “My opponents attempted to swamp me and drown me out, but I would not be deterred.” The committee confirmed Tokyo as the site of the 1940 Olympics. Kano vowed that Japan would not turn the Olympics into a nationalist spectacle like the 1936 Berlin games. It would be a true Olympics, bringing nations together in a spirit of peace and friendship. 

Interestingly, Kano did not lobby for judo to be included in the 1940 Tokyo games. On the contrary, he was reluctant to have judo put on the program because “judo is not a sport. It is an art. It is a science. It is a way of life.” Kano believed that inclusion of judo in the Olympics would alter its character as a vehicle to bring people together. National judo organizations would fiercely compete among themselves to win a medal “at any cost and by any means.” That is not the purpose of judo. Kano was open to the idea of judo’s inclusion in the games if other countries were in favor, but he did not push it. 

For Kano, the Olympics were all about fair play. When European delegates proposed to hold the games in August, Kano suggested September instead: “The weather in Japan in August is very hot and humid. Japanese competitors, who are accustomed to such muggy conditions, would have a decided advantage over athletes from other countries.” 

Even though Tokyo’s bid seemed secure, Kano sensed that Japan’s increasing militarization and warmongering would destroy all his efforts. On his trip back home from Cairo via Vancouver on the ship Hikawa-maru, it was clear that Kano was exhausted, physically and mentally. While he should have been elated by his success in Cairo, he looked disappointed, almost distraught. Kano was obsessed with getting the 1940 Olympics held in Tokyo—at any cost. Against his doctor’s orders, Kano insisted on making the arduous trip to Cairo in 1938. He refused to take anyone to accompany him; “they would just get in the way.” 

The last thing Kano wrote before his departure was a farewell letter to wife. In my opinion, getting the Olympic Games for Tokyo was Kano’s way of waging peace. If the Olympics were to come to Tokyo, the Japanese military would have to behave itself. If other countries had to field an Olympic team, there would be less time and money to field an army. For the games to be held in 1940, there needed to be an informal truce among nations until then and with hope for its continuation thereafter.

The Hikawa-maru set sail for Japan on April 22, 1938. At the beginning of May, Kano become quite ill; I feel it was a case of “I am sick because the world is sick.” He continued to try to eat food and drink sake each day but gradually became weaker and weaker. Kano died early on the morning of May 4, 1938, at age seventy-seven. The cause of death is recorded as pneumonia. There was not a single Kodokan member on the ship. 

Upon the Hikawa-maru’s return to Japan, Kano’s coffin was draped with the Olympic flag and lowered from the ship. On May 9, Kano was given a Shinto funeral at the Kodokan, with thousands of mourners in attendance. Sadly, within two months of Kano’s death, the 1940 Tokyo Olympics were canceled as “being a distraction to the national interests of Japan.” War had started in Asia and was about to break out in Europe and the Pacific. After Kano’s death, judo was presented at the Kodokan as a “manifestation of the unique Japanese spirit.” Judo became another weapon in the nation’s arsenal. A bronze image of Kano that had been erected in front of the Tokyo Teacher Training College was melted down in 1939 to help with the war effort. 

Given his peripatetic lifestyle, it is not surprising that Kano died on a journey. He was always on the move, seeking better, more efficient, and beneficial means of presenting his message. And Kano’s life was not in vain. In 1958, the statue of Kano was recast. One image was replaced in front of the college (now the University of Tsukuba) and one was placed in the entrance of the Kodokan. His life and message continues to inspire people all over the world. As he believed, “The teaching of one virtuous person can influence many; that which has been learned well in one generation can be passed on to a hundred.”

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Is Atemi-waza or Kokyunage the most common Aikido technique?

"Atemi accounts for 99% of aikido." was a remark once uttered by the Founder."  This is from Saito Sensei's Traditional Aikido, Vol 4.  The quote is given without much context, and there is no indication of the timeline.  

There is much confusion about this, as most of our training does not explicitly involve striking.  Aikido is not a mostly striking art as defined by the Western mind.  I have known students who talk about taking karate or krav maga classes to make their aikido better; to recover this "99% atemi aikido."

There is only one aikido student of Morihei Ueshiba who clearly set up a definition and teaching method of aikido atemi waza that I am aware of (lots of teachers who move with strikes in their techniques, not quite the same thing as what I am talking about).

This is Shomenate, the first movement of Tomiki Aikido's Junana Hon kata, first appearing in the early 1960s.  Shomenate is also first movement in the the earlier kata version, the 15 basic techniques developed in the early 1950s - years before any obvious friction between Mr Tomiki and the Aikikai.  

The first five movements of Junana Hon kata are named "atemi waza."  (And the first three in the 15). When O Sensei said 99% of aikido is atemi, there was a well categorized and developed set of movements called atemi waza codified by one of his students.  The simple atemiwaza sets are ubiquitous, indeed appearing often explicitly or implicitly in the movements and techniques of other schools of aikido.  They just aren't called atemi by everyone.

Many basic techniques I learned certainly contain this Shomenate posture, if only for a split second.  Uchi Kaitenage depends on this for a split second in time, so do most koshinage I was taught.  Yokomenuchi Shihonage and Yokomenuchi Iriminage start with this movement.  How did I learn Tenchinage and Kokyu-Doza?  "Hold on to my wrist, or you're getting my palm in your face."  Palm In Face is what I called Shomenate for years.

I was told many times, "If you step into your uke's center and open them up, put a hand in their face."  This could be a strike, or a distraction, or just obscuring uke's vision while something else happened.  I wasn't given a name for it, nor did I practice it much in isolation.  The movement itself is called atemi waza by Tomiki aikido, not the actual contact only.  The omnipresent threat of Shomenate in Tenchinage and the actual technique Shomenate are still about Shomenate in my opinion.

Tomiki did not stop with defining atemi as a posture.  He was also clear about atemi's purpose:  "Although the atemi-waza and kansetsu-waza can be viewed as techniques that can inflict a severe injury on an opponent, if we study the principles of the martial arts well, we realize that they are exquisite techniques for toppling (taosu) or controlling (osaeru) an opponent without necessarily harming him."  On Modern Jujutsu by Kenji Tomiki is fully available online at

Combine this statement with Gozo Shioda's explanation of atemi in Aikido Shugyo, "In Aikido, atemi is not limited to punching or kicking. Any part of the body can become a weapon for executing atemi. Some of you may have seen me in demonstrations use my back to repel an opponent rushing at me, or my shoulder to send my opponent flying as we pass each other. The reason these techniques work is that the contact point in itself becomes the atemi."  

Neither Shioda nor Tomiki defined aikido atemi as boxing style striking.  Atemi was the throw itself.  As any body surface making contact can be an atemi, and atemi is used to topple an opponent or control an opponent - then indeed atemi defined this way is the vast majority of aikido.  This is absolutely not the same as saying jabs, hooks, and upper cuts are 99% of aikido!

Aikido is said to have changed post war.  From two of the prewar greats to a giant of the post-war era, Morihiro Saito's book, Takemuso Aiki: Kokyunage Vol 4 contains this in the foreword: "Kokyunage are the most numerous and important techniques in aikido, hence my decision to devote an entire volume to this subject.  If Kokyunage techniques were to be removed from the art, it would no longer be worthy of being called aikido."  

The text alone makes it sound like Saito Sensei has disagreed with O Sensei, or said something different, or offered a counterpoint to atemi being the most prevalent techniques.  However, demonstrated here by Hitohiro Saito in Takemuso Aiki: Kokyunage, this is a Kokyunage (pg 141):
Saito's book on kokyunage shows many variations that are explicitly this movement, or derived from this initial movement.  The most often demonstrated Kokyunage demonstrated in the book is arguably the same movement as Shomenate.  
Different Percentages     
Gozo Shioda's Aikido Shugyo on atemi:  " teacher Morihei Ueshiba sensei always had stated that in real fighting occasions 70% of aikido is atemi, and 30% is throwing..."  

Why was Shioda's estimate of the prevalence of atemi 29% less than other estimates?  Was he saying something different?  Maybe not.  For one thing, this movement wasn't called atemiwaza but instead was called Sokumen Iriminage.  Morihei Ueshiba is on the left, Shioda on the right.

This movement is the third atemiwaza technique in Tomiki's Junana Hon kata, called Gyaku Gamae Ate:
The woman demonstrating is one of Mr Tomiki's students, Dr Lee ah Loi.  The palm down is distinctively Tomiki lineage, but the palm up Aikikai style is regarded as a variation.  Certainly I was told by Aikikai teachers that the applied movement was an elbow in the throat.

Morihiro Saito in Takemusi Aiki: Kokyunage, pg 153.  Hitohiro Saito is demonstrating a kokyunage again.  Kokyunage is indeed super prevalent in aikido as Saito defined it - it's just not clearly different from Atemi waza to me, except in name.

As always check out Mokuren Dojo's website and Kaze Uta Budokai's YouTube channel for all things Tomiki, and Stanley Pranin is a never ending resource on Iwama Aikido (but really all Aikido).