Concussions

Today I received an email regarding sporting participants who get concussions. Attached was a “New York Times” online article regarding this problem. This email was about the lack of reporting the seriousness of the injuries by the injured players. These were the star players who thought they would be sidelined if they showed the symptoms and likelihood of a concussion thereby letting their team down.

This problem should not arise for martial arts practitioners but I mention it for the simple reason that many young students practice organized sports in addition to martial arts. I’ve, on occasion, observed a macho streak running through much of organized sports and I call it the “win at all costs” syndrome. And I remember that attitude as the primary cause of “Watergate.”

There are literally hundreds, if not thousands of great coaches working with thousands of impressionable athletes. And some of those coaches may lack the proper foresight to understand what they produce when they drive their charges to give “all” for the sake of the team. A strong mind in a strong body is a great and worthy goal, however reason must be applied as well. One evening back in the seventies I had a conversation with a local radio commentator regarding the vulnerability of youthful minds when they are not properly directed. I discuss this incident on page 97 in a chapter of my book, “Stepping Off the Mat.” In another section of the book (page 85) I describe a televised basketball game. Actually, I did not see the game. It was a televised news item which showed a player acting like a dog urinating on the sideline to distract the other team as the ball was being inbounded. The chances are slim that the coach of that team did not know about the tactic. I entitled that chapter “Ethics and Sportsmanship,” and ended it with an open letter to my sons on attitude and altitude and I published it in my company newsletter.

If martial arts instructors do nothing other than teach self-protection, I pray that they at least teach by example how to conduct one’s life honorably. Martial arts’ training does not produce students of good character; Training under an instructor of good character produces students of good character. Children pay more attention to what you do than what you say. Change the word “children” to “people in general.” If one wishes to change the world, start by changing self.

I believe the world is getting better, are you working in that direction or the opposite?

Switching Arts

The training and study of several different martial arts just to be able to say I know them is not my style. I believe in being practical. Multi-tasking is not conducive to my wellbeing. Multi-tasking leads to many problems.

After encouragement from my brother-in-law from whom I borrowed several black belt magazines, I stepped on the martial arts path. What I read about people like Gogen ‘the cat” Yamaguchi, Mas Oyama and Tsutomu Ohshima was impressive. Their many accomplishments were inspirational. All of the stories and articles published in those magazines were fascinating and made me want to train in karate. Back then the mystique of karate was bigger than life. To think that a man could shatter bricks and wooden boards with his bare hands was almost unbelievable.

I joined an Okinawan dojo which taught Shorin ryu Karate. After six months I switched to the Korean Tae Kwon Do system called Ji Do Kwan in which I spent eighteen years of intensive development.

I trained constantly, in the dojo and in my back yard. However, as the months passed into years I noticed something strange happening. Little by little a feeling slowly began to develop and it gnawed at the edge of my consciousness. Something was missing.

I began to research deeper but it wasn’t easy. Books on the arts were not easy to come by and magazines was non-existent except for Black Belt Magazine. Later other magazines began to appear. What was missing was the spiritual dimension. No one seemed to be teaching it. Not even my teacher who was a seminary student at the time. He was also a little younger that me. To his credit, he did insist that we run if possible rather than stand and fight. And that if we could not run, win. Philosophically that principle can be carried to a spiritual level if you are an evolved being. Being older, I had already been through the military, was more disciplined and got the message, but most of my dojo-mates were in their late teens and early twenties. They most likely missed it.

In my belief, the omission of philosophical and/or spiritual discussion [and practice] is what led to the almost total lack of humility, discipline and respect demonstrated at karate tournaments in the late seventies and early eighties. That lack of development was what pushed me out of the tournament environment and encouraged me to pursue the change taking place within me. Disliking what they had produced, I wanted nothing more to do with competitions. An inner tranquility was taking place and I wanted my art to reflect it. Karate and Ji Do Kwan have that element but the students in my dojo environment did not, they just wanted to fight(free sparring). I wanted internal energy development and to guarantee the elimination of competition I considered the sword but could not find a school. I then considered Chi gung but the schools I visited wanted to teach me to the entire spectrum of gung fu and I already knew how to fight. Looking back I remembered those black belt magazine articles on Uyeshiba and Aikido and began a search in Philly which led me to the Arch Street dojo. Ki development was what I was looking for.

But even in Aikido I encountered a problem. Ki development was taught, however I was told that in order to get to more classes for that training I would need rank to enter advance classes. Rank was something I was not seeking so I had to make a choice. As you can see for yourself I made a positive choice.

Now some of you may be thinking that I did not teach my Ji Do Kwan students spiritually which may be the reason they just wanted to spar all the time. Well, consider this: I pushed and pushed relentlessly and lost some students. One of my students left for a period and when he returned commented regarding my loss of students. He had entered a seminary, to gain insight as he put it. He said I was losing students because I was like a 220 volt circuit and they were 110 volt toasters burning out as they could not handle the voltage I was generating.

Comments please.

Tell Me About Aikido

A potential student called me some years ago to inquire about Aikido. I asked what he was looking for. His question was “What is Aikido? Tell me something about it because I think I want to try it.” I hesitated as I usually do when asked to describe one of my passions. Telling someone how I feel does not give them the experience. It’s like a salesman selling a bike to someone who has never seen one before. After watching others riding, one wants to enjoy the pastime also. But the first several attempts will end in failure and the purchaser will want his money back, not realizing that much effort is required in the beginning. Balance must be regained.

But getting back to Aikido – I give the first lesson freely. I don’t tell him that he seeks change as that may drive him away. I ask him to come in to see a class for himself. Only then can I explain how this art may help him achieve his goals. I’ve given him an open secret- all accomplishment begins with that first step, be it a goal or a journey.
My thinking goes like this: In order to affect change in your life, you must take a step (an action). That first step means you are willing to change but it usually slows to a trickle after experiencing difficulty, when you seem not to progress very much (non-action). The obstacle blocking your progress is usually not physical but mental. The dojo is not a gym it is the “way-place” or the “place of change”, but most who come to me for change cannot or will not change their way of thinking.

Some students stay around for quite a while. Most simply quit after a few months, some after a few weeks. I can understand why they leave even though they may not; the known is more comfortable than the unknown even though it may resemble a sinking ship. They cannot see that change must take place or they are afraid to make that change. They do not realize that change is all there is; it is life itself. And, if you swim upstream against the current of a strong river, you will still be carried downstream. My suggestion is to turn and swim downstream, letting the current carry you and glide toward whichever bank you wish to reach. That word “river” is a metaphor for “life”. It never stops flowing onward, carrying you with it whether you wish it or not.

So, for humans, the idea of “no change” does not exist. I have said many times, “simply change the way you think and what you think about will change.” Or no thinking. Go beyond thinking. Simply BE! Your vibrational rate will change. It will rise and the positive repercussions will be smooth and flowing. Positive vibrations create ripples which can be ridden. You do like to ride, do you not? “Tell me about Aikido?” It’s about riding those ripples and being happy NOW.

Speaking of happiness, consider this: There are 168 hours in a week, and if you trade 40 of them to a corporation, they will give you enough compensation to support 128 hours for your personal interests and pleasure. You may sleep for 56 hours, leaving 72 hours to play with. Of course, you may need about 1.5 hours per day for traveling to and from the corporation. (You may take a little more time and cruise to that enterprise because nobody says a person can’t enjoy the ride to and from.) Just think, 128 hours of pure pleasure and it’s your choice.

Of course, sleep is pleasurable, is it not? And, when you get past that, there’s a kicker waiting in the wings for all of you who are greedy (and that’s not necessarily a negative word.) It depends on where your head is. In order to have 100% pleasure, a person may, may, I say, enjoy work too. If you wish. If you wish, “It is no longer work.”

My practice of Aikido is exactly that, “Stepping Off the Mat .”  It is Me dancing life!

Aikido: From a Child’s Perspective

This morning I received an email from the parent of one of my young students. He is the son of Don Eastburn, 2nd dan. This young man had a homework assignment. His name is will not be listed here but he is a 6th grade student and wrote a report on his interpretation, or rather I should say his understanding of Kokikai Aikido. I copied his paper just as he wrote it and I quote:

“Aikido is a martial art based on defensive rather than offensive principles. Kokikai, a form of Aikido was founded by Shuji Maruyama Sensei in the mid-1970’s. Kokikai branched off from the art of Aikido that was founded by Morihei Ueshiba in 1942. The predominant philosophy of Kokikai Aikido is minimum effort, maximum effect.

The meaning of Aikido: do stands for method, ai stands for coordinating and ki stands for life force. A person using Aikido would use the energy of his attacker back against the attacker with either throws or pins. the person would not use kicks or punches to attack his opponent.

Kokikai Aikido is a martial art that focuses on defense not attacking. the goal is to reach minimum effort with maximum effect. You can obtain minimum effort by guiding your opponent’s energy into the technique and then guide him into a fall (maximum effect). Aikido is intended to be for any sized individual with any strength level. Even the founder of Kokikai is a smaller man, but he can throw some of the strongest and biggest guys with little or no effort.

Kokikai Aikido was founded by Shuji Maruyama Sensei. Kokikai Aikido is only one form of Aikido and it is practiced all over the world. There are many, many different forms of Aikido there are even other martial arts that are based on Aikido.

When practicing Aikido you learn to defend against all different kinds of attacks. Each kind of attack and defense has its own name. To make the name of a technique, the name of the attack is combined with the name of the defense. For example, tsuki kote-gaeshi: tsuki (pronounced ski) is the attack which is a punch and kote-gaeshi (pronounced cote-ugh-guysh) is the defense which is a throw done by torquing the wrist. Much of an Aikido class is comprised of practicing rolls (to safely protect yourself after a throw) and learning techniques.

Principles are things that you abide by to succeed in life or to succeed in something you are doing. Kokikai Aikido has 4 major principles. The first principle is to keep one point to develop calmness. One point is the center control of your body. It is around and in between your belt belt and your belly button. It is the center of your body where all your power and energy comes from. Everyone has one point. You just need to train it. Basically, the first principle means that when a person is under stress or attack he should go to the center point and draw upon his power to develop calmness and relaxation.

The second principle is progressive relaxation. Progressive relaxation means that while doing anything, a job interview or practicing an Aikido technique for example you should always strive to be relaxed.

The third principle states find correct posture in everything. This principle is very important. It means that you should always have balance in everything that you do. And it also means that you should maintain good posture, for without good posture, you would be very weak and look like the Hunchback of Notre Dame!

The fourth and final principle is also very important. It, along with the other principles, should be applied to your everyday life, not just in the dojo. Develop a positive mind is the fourth principle. It means that you should always have a positive mindset and a positive attitude in everything you do whether it is a 3 page paper about something from Japan or whether you are cooking dinner for the President. Either way, keeping a positive mind will allow you to succeed with any burdens you may have. Plus, if everyone lived by that principle in their lives every day, just think of what the world today would be like. In order to improve the world, start with yourself, and maintain a positive attitude and mindset… Then radiate that positive vibe, that positive energy that positive mind. You will see it is contagious. (Rick Berry).

Aikido is a martial art, but it is not just a martial art. You can practice Aikido not only in the dojo but also in your life. The four principles are four laws to abide by to live a much calmer and easier life.”

Bibliography:

Stepping Off the Mat by Rick Berry. 2004. ISBN 0-7414-2075-9

http:/www.kinow.org

http:/www.kokikai.org

Kokikai News March 2006 Newsletter.

This young man gets it. My mentor once told me that a child sees what he sees without having his mind clouded over by the trappings and add-ons from old, and/or outdated experiences. So I ask you this: Where do you see yourself in five years? Strive to get where this child is now. Why do you practice Aikido? If you expect not to be attacked, why do you train? You can experience a more efficient physical workout in a YMCA or a Gold’s gym.

For me it’s the mental discipline required in avoiding injury while deflecting attacks and experiencing the satisfaction of harmonizing with and neutralizing uke’s aggressive nature. It’s not about winning or losing and not even about competition. When I operate this way it’s not a fight, it’s me dancing life. How I feel is the beginning; how I do is cause for celebration; I am being! Human is secondary and before you claim that my writing is grammatically poor, ponder what I said for about a week. I am being! I AM!

Sensei Rick Berry’s thoughts on the martial arts in general, aikido in particular, and life at large.