Category Archives: Martial Arts

What is Aikido

What is Aikido?  Why do we practice this art of throwing and neutralization?  To begin with, I do not practice for the sake of self-defense, nor have I felt the need to work on that aspect of life for a number of years.  Although it is true that we train through the medium of attack and defense, the art-form  and concept is realized mentally rather than physically.

Physical confrontations develop in accordance with misunderstandings and ignorance.  The higher a person evolves mentally and spiritually the greater the likelihood of a peaceful resolution of a conflict.  This can be likened to a math problem: when an equation is worked properly, the equation will be balanced on both sides of the “equal” sign.

If the attacker is one-half of the equation and the defender is the other half, the Aikido technique used correctly through mental preparation could be considered the equal sign. Or better yet, expericencing correct spiritual preparation one could avoid the confrontation altogether simply changing it to lively conversation.

Life is full of complex problems, trials and tribulations moving sometimes up and sometimes down.  It seems that sometimes we  will not make it through this world or ththat the world will not survive.  But then comes Aikido, these  simple movements.  And  while they may be difficult to learn – like understanding life’s complex problems – something happens; they really become nothing more than simple exercises designed to lift us up to another vibrational level where understanding simply happens.

And we realize that it is just life flowing onward.

Aikido is us dancing life.

Sometimes I wonder! II

Sometimes I wonder what it would be like if the world was without war.  Would the martial arts continue to exist?  As I see it, without war peaceful enterprise would allow for opportunity for all and there would be no need for crime and/or self protection, or as most put it self-defense.  What would I be doing these days?  What would you be doing?  Training or something else?

Sometimes I wonder why I feel this way.  Maybe my beliefs are a result of the my environment, those around me and the sum total of my experiences. I only know one thing for sure.   If you look back over my past blogs you will discern at least one principle thread.  You see I am a firm believer in the principle of “cause and effect.”  Cruelty, abuse, physical domination and hatred are all learned by children and taught by adults.  Of course, some weak-minded adults learn these applications from other adults.

For instance, ( this is no put-down on Joe’s comment) when Vice President Joe Biden commented on not allowing  his family to travel anywhere in a confined environment, he was severely criticized by the  news media and others for possibly damaging the travel industry. The claim was his words might cause a panic because of the swine flu fear.

Sometimes I wonder if maybe that childhood game we played years ago may have had too much influence.  That game was called “follow the leader.” How easily people are influenced by some idle commentary is the real cause for concern, not whether the lead is a proper guide post or not.  Why is it that many, many more will follow poor judgment or commentary and few follow good or great declarations?  Is it possible that negativity is less difficult than the positive?  Most people are too lazy to think for themselves and consequently fall into less than optimum situations then scream for help.  We are our brother’s keeper only up to the point where continuing makes him weaker.

As I was ending my book,” Stepping Off the Mat,” I made a wish: That self-defense become unnecessary and that society reach a level where the martial arts shall be taught for no purpose other than self improvement.

Sometimes I wonder.

The paradox of kata

The paradox of kata.

Is kata present when you think about it?  Kata does not occupy space such as a bowl or table?  But is it simply an abstraction?

The paradox is simply this; while kata does not physically exist like a table, it comes into existence when you perform it. Therefore it can only exist in the present, not in the past or future.

Kata are the manuscripts written by the teacher for students to study when the teacher is not physically present.

My understanding of kata goes something like this:

First of all, kata are not, as has been stated in the past, a continuous fight against an imaginary four to eight opponents. They can be, and most often are powerful “training tools.” I say that because many misunderstand the purpose of kata.

Second, kata are not as old as most think.  While many Japanese kata were originally derived from Okinawan variations, many of these Okinawan kata as well as many of the Korean variety were of Chinese origin. Many others are no more than sixty-five or seventy years old.

The original purpose of kata was to transmit methods of defense and counter for the exploitation of an opponent’s weaknesses. The secretive nature of original practice was essential to keep outsiders from learning clan or family secrets. Also there were many  “okuden,” hidden techniques and methods within kata so a spy or a less-than-loyal student could not decipher them.  In fact many students spent years studying a ryu’s basics and all of their kata thinking that they had mastered the system when in fact they only had a superficial understanding.

Due to this lack of transmission many secrets were lost when a founder or subsequent master died prematurely.

Changes in thought on “Impact”

Pay attention!

Pay attention to your thoughts, they turn into words.

Pay attention to your words, they turn into action.

Pay attention to your actions, they turn into habits.

Pay attention to your habits, they develop your character.

Pay attention to your character, it becomes your destiny.

These words written by an unknown author caused me to reflect on my most recent thoughts and this is where I found myself going.

Cause and effect.  Nothing stands alone. Nothing happens without cause. Everything affects everything else.  Impact as the title implies is what this is all about.

This is a little statement I made at the 2009 Winter camp’s Saturday night event:

“Each of us is born on different days  and in different locations and the process called Life marches on.  We all have a certain number of weeks, months or years to spend while developing on this planet.

We all spend them exploring, studying and learning. We also spend them teaching. For we are all learning from or teaching each other.

As we go about our various ways in this life, we are encouraged from time to time to pause in our journey, to look back and reflect on how far we’ve come or how short we’ve fallen in our quest. With the passage of time it is left to others to grade us or place us in the appropriate category: some successful, some not so successful.

My martial arts quest began when I entered the military in 1963. So I’ve been on this particular journey 46 years learning, teaching, exploring and dancing life and the martial ways.”

We all affect each other and every other living thing in the universe whether we like it or not.  And everything in the universe is alive.  Nothing happens in a vacuum since there’s no such thing as a total vacuum.

As martial arts teachers, to have martial skill is obviously essential, however, our success should be gauged by many other aspects of our lives in addition to how highly we develop those martial skills. Of course I’m speaking more of the “Do” arts here, not the “Jutsu.”

While fighting skills are more necessary than ever today, fighting skills are not nearly enough.  The Roman soldier no longer exists. In this age the thinking man with a “super strong will,” will survive.

Historically we may be measured by how great an impact we had on our students. How great a skill level and degree of knowledge imparted, rather than how many followers we developed.  The wise martial arts teacher must help develop wisdom in his or her students. And while you can’t make that horse drink the water you led him to, you can demonstrate commitment and follow-through, good character and a great attitude, grace, servility and leadership by the way you live, by the way you conduct your life.

The courage to live this way is, in my opinion, a by-product achieved while developing fighting skills.

Your students are watching what you do in addition to what you say…you’re having an…


Here’s Why!

Why do I, here’s why.

My intention in training in these martial arts and  my intention in training my mind and my intention in living the way I do on this planet at this time is simply to gain control of ego.   Now please, I understand that we cannot live without ego.  The control that I’m talking about is making sure that I do not follow in the footsteps of many of my fellow martial artists.

I have encountered so many inflated egos that it is exceedingly difficult to attend a seminar or a simple  gathering and avoid stepping on someone’s enlarged impression of themselves.

I close friend of mine while speaking to a martial arts group several weeks ago  expounded on true self defense after being asked about advanced technique. He is a bit younger than me but you wouldn’t know that by what he said.  He said, “Real self defense begins with self; by doing battle with and gaining mastery over your ego.” By ego, he  meant false pride or a swelled head and little substance.

If you look closely, you can see huge ego problems at the top of many organizations be they martial, business, educational or social.

To correct a possible misunderstanding, there are countless  great martial artists out there just as there are countless superior business leaders around.  There are just not enough of them in the correct roles.

Look at congress and you will see what I mean. If you closed your eyes and listened to the republicans and democrats and did not know the subject matter, you would think it was a bunch of adolecents  arguing over school recess instead of the business of government.

Sometimes I wonder (Who comes to the martial arts)

Sometimes I wonder. Whatever happened to me to cause this direction in my life? Maybe the answer comes from other questions.

Who comes to the martial arts? And why? As in why do they come at all?

While discussing this question with one of my black belt students one concept kept creeping into the conversation: These are people who need fixing. In other words people who have personal problems they cannot solve by themselves. In order to seek an answer, I looked inward.

What was I looking for when I signed up for this controlled mayhem? I believe I’ve answered some of that in earlier blogs but I’ll add one or two of those ideas here. First I wanted self defense. Second I wanted to be physically fit. To follow up on the first statement, I wanted self defense but I had no interest in being a fighter. Was there a secret desire to be admired hidden in my subconscious? Do not all share in this desire?

Many who come are not big or strong enough for football, not tall or coordinated enough for basketball, nor fast enough for track or are just not team players. I’d say many are looking to overcome a weakness. But to me the vast majority of those inquiring about these arts are searching but know not what they are searching for. Some of these thoughts and ideas were first mentioned by my teachers and others are the results of my observations.

What is truly significant is the change affected by large amounts of time spent in a more traditional dojo training under a sensei who challenges the student’s mind as well as the body. He or she who exits the dojo after many years is never the person who entered.

Why did you come?

Technique or Mind

This is an excerpt taken from a book by Gichin Funakoshi, the founder of shotokan karate entitled, “KARATE-DO KYOHAN.”

“True karate, that is, Karate-do, strives internally to train the mind to develop a clear conscience enabling one to face the world truthfully, while externally developing strength until one may overcome even ferocious wild animals. Mind and technique are to become one in true karate.

Those who follow Karate-do must consider courtesy of prime importance. Without courtesy, the essence of Karate-do is lost. Courtesy must be practiced not only during the karate training period but at all times in one’s daily life. The karate student must humble himself to receive training. The student must always be aware of and receptive to criticism from others; he must be constantly introspective and must readily admit any lack of knowledge, rather than pretending to know what he does not know.

Those who follow Karate-do must never forsake a humble mind and gentle manner. It is the small-minded individual who likes to brag upon acquiring some small skill, and those with little knowledge who carry on as if they were experts are childish. It is because of the large number of false martial artists in the world that the public tends to either ignore the martial artist or to consider him wild. Therefore, many serious martial artists are embarrassed. Students of Karate-do should always keep these points in mind.

Those who follow Karate-do will develop courage and fortitude. These qualities do not have to do with strong actions or with the development of strong techniques as such. Emphasis is placed on development of the mind rather than on techniques.”

If you change the words karate and Karate-do to Aikido or most of the other martial arts this statement has much relevance for today’s martial artists. Also, how we think has much to do with how we live our lives. And this is a process sorely lacking in today’s society.

When is the correct time to change? How do you process change, or more to the point, why should you care what happens around you? Today it seems to be all about “ME,” whereas, the correct messages suggests it should be all about “WE!”

As a martial arts teacher, the message is best demonstrated by living it, not necessarily saying it. And by my observation, saying it should happen more than it does.

Choice is not chance

In continuation of my last entry, I hinted at this conclusion: choice is all there really is. I say that because every action, non-action or I should say, inaction is choice, there is no chance. Just as there is no such thing as chaos. There is only “order” not yet understood.

As I contemplate this, I’m reminded of meditations I’ve experienced on occasion. For instance, during the last encounter I realized an unusual sensation, namely an openness, or emptiness. I use emptiness even though that word does not quite fit. I just cannot find one. There is a feeling of movement, sometimes inward and then on occasion, moving off as in moving to another place. The strange thing is it becomes a different place even as it feels like the same place.

I also experience a conscious decision for movement even as it’s done unconsciously, if that makes any sense to you. I seem to recall feeling my body, but from a distance. During some of my transcendent meditations, I lose awareness of my body for brief periods and on other occasions, not at all. To feel my body at an internal distance can be a rather progressive thing. At least I feel that is the case. In these endeavors I occasionally feel as if I’m on the verge of some grand experience that is difficult to explain.

Where am I going with this? It’s the reason I’m training in the martial arts. Namely, developing an intensely disciplined mind to help me move onward and inward psychically and spiritually. While I’ve physically gained good health and fitness, it is my wish that this journey will make me a better human being, with the accent on “being.”

Losing a student

In my last blog I talked about losing my 20 year student Merdy, who passed away. I wish to clarify. A dojo may lose students and a teacher may have students leave. But a true teacher does not lose students. Students move on.

Allow me to go deeper. Any teacher who teaches from the heart celebrates a student’s growth into the next level. While some students merely stop attending class, they should not be vilified just because they may not be able to handle their Sensei’s newer, or should I say, deeper levels of teaching. If the present environment is too stressful, a separation is called for. If the student’s understanding is coming too rapidly and the challenges not as forthcoming, a separation may be called for. Its called kicking the young bird out of the nest, telling him/her “go out, seek a new discovery or new understanding. Then come back and show me what you have discovered.”

And sometimes you experience a separation through the transition of death such as my friend and student Meredith (Merdy) Chaplin last week. As I said, growth requires separation, even though we miss that person deeply. Merdy is one of the most complete human beings I’ve had the honor of knowing. To be called Sensei by someone of his caliber, to have him as a student is both humbling and awe inspiring at the same time. His works of art are unique. The Kokikai summer camp tee shirts designed by Merdy always sold out. The figures on the 2001 shirt appear to be moving. He started a graphics design company but had to close it because he could not get many of his clients to pay their bills. These were some large, very well-known companies too. But that’s business these days.

It is a great responsibility to teach. It is humbling to teach. It is an honor to teach. And finally, there is an obligation to teach. Why? In what other way will the human race advance if one does not pass on what he/she has acquired? We truly are our brothers’ keeper.

Merdy’s large roll-outs were beautiful to behold for such a large man. AS one student put it, “I attempted to copy his rolls but could not.” As Merdy’s Sensei, I had the responsibility to teach him small rolls, back rolls and large rolls. Well, he ended up teaching all of us how to roll large and quietly.
As I’ve said before, if a teacher cannot learn from his students, he is not much of a teacher. This man also taught many of us how to apply our humanity. I have not met many whom everyone liked. Change many to any! Other than Merdy.

He will always be listed as Meredith Chaplin, 2nd dan, an active member still training in Wilmington Dojo.

Worldview (and how you see it)

Many people have described my way of looking at the world as being different from most others. Is that a compliment or a dig? I’ll give you my answer at the end of this blog. I shall start with an idea I’ve discussed previously: Can you change your past?

The most common answer is no, absolutely not! Yet if one would stop and think it out, the answer is staring you right in the face. Last Saturday afternoon I had this very conversation with my old senior student, Bill Groce and a close personal friend of his. He knew where I was going with this line as he had heard it all before and remained silent. I told his friend that I would prove to her satisfaction that one can change one’s past. I had met her earlier that morning and the time we talked about the past was late afternoon. The question I asked her was this: since I met you this morning am I in your past? After several attempts to clarify the question, she agreed that I was in fact a part of her past. At that point I simply asked her if I was a part of her past the day before, or the week before or at any time previously. She said I was not in any part of her previous past. My answer, “You’ve just shown that you change your past continually, as you are always adding to it and I rest my case.”

The young lady sat there looking at me with a stunned look on her face. Groce had been telling her that he operated the way he did because of hanging around me for 20 years listening to conversations like that. After that I had her undivided attention. She said that “no one has ever talked to me about this before and I’ve never thought the past in this way.” She conceded, by the way.

The next idea I wish to discuss is the idea of death. The common thought is we live and then we die. A common statement is that we can’t get out of life alive. So, what is life? Man describes or attempts to categorize life as we know it, yet cannot define what it is. The questions are these: What are we? Are we our bodies? Are we our thoughts? Or are we spirit which animates us? And if so, how does that work? If we are really just physical beings, well, science says that energy cannot be created nor destroyed. Since everything is ultimately comprised of energy and everything is nothing more than units of this stuff called energy, the human body must be made of the same stuff. Our bodies break down and decay in the end but nothing is destroyed. We are animated by spirit which simply leaves the body at the end of a process which we really do not understand and I have never heard of spirit dying. My belief is we merely go through a transition into something new. Or maybe something old. And this brings me to Aikido and a new question. What does Aikido have to do with all of this?

Well, it goes something like this: Last night halfway through the Tuesday evening class I noticed that several students were having problems with a particular technique and I mentioned that most people seem to look in the incorrect direction for an understanding. They strongly attempt to master the technique, however, if they encounter problems they should really work toward mastering themselves. As I see it that is the correct challenge. That’s what self-improvement means to me, mastery of “self.” When I move into that realm called self control, or maybe a better description would be “self observation,” I experience a certain feeling and a technical, but not necessarily clinical understanding happens. It’s as if my inner eye opens and I see things more clearly. All this is looking at the world differently from the way I hear others describe it and it brings about less bouncing around and losing my energy to other things. There’s an added benefit, more youthful vitality.

At 68 years old I can still demonstrate jump, spinning crescent kicks at someone’s head while many of my contemporaries are experiencing hip and/or knee replacement surgery. Of course I could be hallucinating and all of my correctly moving joints and conditioning could just be good genes that I inherited from my parents. But I like to think that positive thoughts and an inward looking approach to life has produced all these benefits. And Aikido fits right in with this attitude. This martial art affords me the opportunity to practice a personal defense which allows me to explore variables of timing, a greater usage of space (or sometimes the lack of space) the experience and occasionally the comprehension of certain laws of physics, sometimes even psychic communication with another person (as when you sense what he’s about to do) and just feeling great.  As I sense uke’s intentions I do not have to destroy him, I merely deny him balance, timing,  coordination and rhythm and I may do many things. What do you think? Where do you fit into this world view? Are you able to shrug off the prevalent pessimistic attitude enslaving the most of the world so you get in touch with you greatness? Do you consider an accusation of being different a put down?

I consider this to be complimentary when aimed at me. I kind of like being different. As a matter of fact my mentor once told me that most of the time the majority is wrong. time and experience have proven him to be correct.

When you think differently, you act differently and the world responds to you differently than it does to others. You just see the world different and you are.