Is That Real?

Shemp gets hammered..

“Oh, you do Aikido, huh? That stuff’s not real, man. It just looks like a bunch of people dancing around and then falling.”

We Aikidoists get this all the time from people who study other martial arts. I get it. There’s a lot of Aikido out there that’s not the slightest bit ‘martial’. If you haven’t seen it yet, please read Stan Pranin’s post in about maintaining the integrity of Aikido here. It’s a big issue with our art right now.

To further address the ‘reality’ of ANY martial art, let alone Aikido, I think I need to show something. Most people dismiss Aikido for something more ‘real’ like MMA or Jiu-Jitsu, so they can practice the stuff they see from the UFC fights on TV. Allow me to take the time to display the official rules under section 15 of the UFC Rules and Regulations:

The following acts constitute fouls in a contest or exhibition of mixed martial arts and may result in penalties, at the discretion of the referee, if committed:

  1. Butting with the head
  2. Eye gouging of any kind
  3. Biting
  4. Spitting at an opponent
  5. Hair pulling
  6. Fish hooking
  7. Groin attacks of any kind
  8. Putting a finger into any orifice or any cut or laceration of an opponent
  9. Small joint manipulation
  10. Striking downward using the point of the elbow
  11. Striking to the spine or the back of the head
  12. Kicking to the kidney with a heel
  13. Throat strikes of any kind, including, without limitation, grabbing the trachea
  14. Clawing, pinching or twisting the flesh
  15. Grabbing the clavicle
  16. Kicking the head of a grounded opponent
  17. Kneeing the head of a grounded opponent
  18. Stomping a grounded opponent
  19. Holding the fence
  20. Holding the shorts or gloves of an opponent
  21. Using abusive language in fenced ring/fighting area
  22. Engaging in any unsportsmanlike conduct that causes injury to an opponent
  23. Attacking an opponent on or during the break
  24. Attacking an opponent who is under the care of the referee
  25. Attacking an opponent after the bell has sounded the end of the round
  26. Timidity, including, without limitation, avoiding contact with an opponent, intentionally or consistently dropping the mouthpiece or faking an injury
  27. Throwing opponent out of ring/fighting area
  28. Flagrantly disregarding the instructions of the referee
  29. Spiking an opponent to the canvas on his head or neck
  30. Interference by the corner
  31. Applying any foreign substance to the hair or body to gain an advantage

Fortunately, I’ve never been in a real life-threatening situation where someone was trying to take my life or the life of a loved one. I’d imagine that any would-be attacker may just break one or two (or several, or all) of the above rules. Proper Aikido does create openings for some very effective techniques in a real self-defense situation, but they don’t look attractive on prime-time television, and they mostly involve breaking rules 7, 9, 10, 11, 13, 14, 15, 21, 22, 26, 27, and 28. How ‘real’ is the octagon where the referee steps in at the slightest infraction of just ONE of the above rules?

I’m not discounting MMA or the UFC in any way here (and I wouldn’t go as far as this guy). UFC fighters are incredible athletes and battle forged machines, there’s no doubt about it. Don’t be disillusioned, though. Their full time job is getting themselves to the point of being able to disable someone as fast as possible in a legally sanctioned event. The risks they take are incredible, and include the very likely possibility of physical disability, brain damage, or worse. Outside of the octagon, most of them are very, very mellow. They know their place. Chuck Liddell knows that he can’t as much as breathe on someone before it becomes assault. Most of them train in the true spirit of the martial arts and have become better people due to their mastery of mind and body.

I’m merely recommending you know what you want out of your training. Most martial artists understand this. If you’re training MMA, or any other martial art, including Aikido, for the physical, mental, and spiritual aspects implied in the training, that’s incredible. Good on ya. Please, though. Don’t be sold into believing that you can get away with being pugilistic in real life. Carrying that attitude in daily life may realize you short term gains and an inflated ego, but you’ll soon be met with the harsh reality of life. Nobody will hire you. The skinny guy you picked on at the bar may just be waiting for you in the parking lot with something more than just his two fists. You’re not bullet proof. If you had been training your martial art with the true martial spirit of self-mastery, you would have realized the power of service and mutual respect. You may have gotten the job, and bought the kid a drink at the bar, winning a friend. You can’t have too many these days.


Defining Real

We have to define the difference between a sporting match and a real situation. It can be deemed a sporting match any time the parties concerned know what’s going on ahead of time. I don’t care if it’s a cage fight to the death. If the  people involved agree to show up at a specific time and place, it’s a sport match.

A real situation is when you’re at the beach with your family and someone holds a gun to your throat. Or when someone breaks a bottle over your head when you’re ordering a drink at a restaurant. It’s an ambush. That’s real.

What’s the difference between the two? As Tony Blauer describes in the video below, in a sporting match, you’re able to use your advanced motor skills. Your mind has enough advanced preparation to switch over to your learned martial art / athletic skills.

In a real situation, from what Blauer says, your mind goes immediately to it’s primal fight or flight mode. You duck and cover, your hands come up to protect your head, and your legs want to come up in the fetal position. Survival mode, baby. Your Horse Stance isn’t happening here. Wax on – wax off is the furthest thing from your mind unless you’re a genetic wonder of some sort. If you survive the first few seconds of the ambush, then you may, if you’re mentally strong enough, go into your MMA, Gracie, 10th Planet badassness, whatever. But, due to adrenaline, worldview, confidence in your abilities, etc., you may not make (survive) the switch from primal reaction to advanced motor skills in time. Only awareness and self mastery can help you here.

Lets take this one step further and talk about this day and age and exactly what’s ‘real’ or not. In feudal Japan, the chances of being in a fight were very high. People were, more than likely, actually trying to kill you and your family over territory and power. Goods were incredibly scarce, so guarding that food and shelter with your life was a real concern. When’s the last time your neighboring town invaded your town to rape the women, steal your crops, and enslave your children? Right. Not sure if you’re aware of it, but if you as much as lay a finger on someone nowadays who doesn’t want you to, it’s assault and battery. We live in a much different world now. The ‘real’ of today is much different than the ‘real’ of old. O’Sensei realized this with the horrifying effects of World War 2. He took the old martial arts, which were based on maiming and killing an adversary (which he was a master in) and created Aikido, which used the same martial spirit and mental/physical balance to achieve harmony with everything, including the person trying to take your life.

So why do we practice the martial arts? Seems outdated, doesn’t it? Truth be told, most of it is. I can only speak from my own experience with Aikido, but even though I’m pretty sure Kimbo Slice could probably take me in the cage, the things we work on in Aikido class are far more ‘real’ to me than preparing for a sports match. True martial artists who train MMA will probably agree. Qualities such as knowing how to control my breathing under duress, peripheral vision, relaxed and dynamic movement, spatial awareness, de-escalation, centering, multiple attacker situations, non-aggression, verbal Aikido, blending, leading, dojo etiquette, how to take care of my training partners, the value of non-competitiveness, win-win interactions, etc., are more valuable to me than preparing for a sports match which I’ll never be able to legally take off the mat with me. I, personally, will much more likely encounter an angry customer, tough-to-deal-with family member, yard work, maybe a sketchy dude walking my way downtown, ice on the driveway, or playing with my niece than I will Kimbo Slice (love you too, Kimbo). I’d rather pay my dojo dues with the goal of fostering my self growth and mind and body coordination than turn myself into a fighting machine which will end up landing me in jail or getting me maimed or killed. Because I know I can’t legally or realistically walk up to someone and challenge them to a fight, I’m most concerned about the random mugger, thief, burglar, carjacker, etc.

My teacher just brought something up the other night which rang true about the above horrible situations. “Why even live in that world?” he said. It made me think. This is why I love this art. In Aikido, we usually don’t ‘go there’ more than we need to. We talk more about awareness and staying out of those situations than we do about getting into them. We specialize in creating harmony in our lives, even in the face of physical violence. You usually find what you’re looking for, and most Aikidoists just don’t go around looking for conflict.

Any martial art can be a great tool for everyday life if utilized the right way. Like any powerful tool, it’s forces can be used towards the dark side too. It’s important to stay on the right side of the spectrum with the powers you yield. Have a clear look at our reality nowadays and determine what’s most important for a successful life. Being able to physically beat the bejeezus out of someone? Or connection, inner strength, and self awareness and mastery? Your choice. What’s real to you?

Subscribe to Aiki Living Here!:

Thanks to Larry He’s So Fine for the image!

j j j

Aiki Improv

I love our dojo.  I hadn’t trained in months except for a few sporadic classes here and there, but I was able to train the other night and am so glad I did.  It was improv night.  I saw the post for it on the dojo’s Facebook page and had no idea what to expect.  Vince Sensei had Michael Lewis, the instructor with our local theater improv company, Empire Improv, in  to guest teach.  It was awesome.  We did skits and drills that they do, and, I must say, it was very aiki.   I won’t go into detail about all of the drills we did, but there were a couple underlying principles I picked up from the class:

  • Listening – In improv, it doesn’t usually do you any good to think about what you’re going to say in advance because the effectiveness of the dialogue depends on the energy of your stage partnerin the moment.  You have to be fully listening, with your ears and intuition, for what your partner brings and use that energy to continue the scene.  If you’re in your own head thinking about what to say before the moment arises, it won’t mesh well with what’s going on in the moment and the energy will be thrown off.  I naturally tried to think about what to say a couple times and it froze the energy big time.  It worked out better if I was open to what my partner was giving me.  So very Aikido.
  • Always be moving forward – With the drills last night, I learned that once the energy stops, the scene’s shot.  You have to have such an empty mind to do this effectively because any thinking slows you down, and if you don’t say your line with the right timing, the energy drops and the scene’s done for.  If you are going to freeze, it must be intentional for emphasis.  You always have to be moving the scene forward and, in a way, saying yes to whatever comes up, no matter what.  Drawing back at all, freezing, or resisting is penalized with blank stares and a horrible stutter as you stammer out your line.  I know this by experience from last night.  Any hesitation is detrimental.  Again, so very Aikido.
Improv Aikido.  Brilliant idea by Vince Sensei, for sure.  Another great thing about the class was that my good friends Dan Messisco and Geoff Yudien stopped by on their way to Boulder, Co for a seminar.  Their first time training in Reno and they got to experience the hilarity.  The art of improv is definitely worth taking a look into for both Aikido and life off the mat.


j j j

ya know what you should do….

I hate that. “You know what you should do…”. Always uttered by  busy bodies trying to make it seem like they’re helping with the problem. This usually happens in meetings or social groups when more than two people gather in order to plan to accomplish something. This certain someone usually comes to the meeting with four or five ‘great ideas’.

“You know what you should do,” they say with excitement, “It’d be soooo easy to do this and do that and go back and do that again, because it’s so ugly right now, and it wouldn’t really take that long or that much money to…” Wow. It took you all of 2 seconds to knee-jerkishly dream up that idea before spewing it out on the table for us to clean up. Thanks.

Here’s an idea. How bout’, instead of puking out these half-baked ideas, which are apparently so great, how bout’ you fucking DO THEM. Sure, tell us about them. Make sure they’re good ideas. But execute. Not so easy, right? Oh, that’s right, you never sat down and rationally thought through just how much money, time, and effort that would take. You never thought if it was worth expending all of that money, time and effort to achieve whatever result they you were suggesting.

I think this comes from school. The teacher liked you a lot more when you raised your hand and spouted off the most answers. The more bullshit you could verbalize in front of the group, the more brownie points you got. Way to go.

Don’t tell, do. Don’t suggest, do. Shut your mouth and take action. If you really need to collaborate with the group in order to do it better, please, go ahead. Other than that, tell us what you’re going to do, and do it. Suggesting is one thing but actually doing is another.  Do the aiki thing.  Get it done.

P.S. This post isn’t directly pointed at anyone I currently know. I have experienced these people before in my days and was just talking to my wife about them the other day. Ghosts from the past is who inspired this one.

Subscribe to Aiki Living Here!:
j j j

AikiLiving – now on Tumblr too!

After much research and contemplation, I decided to start an AikiLiving Tumblr page.  Tumblr’s awesome.  After starting my personal page there a while back, I’m pretty sold on it.  Not sure if you’re familiar with Tumblr, but it’s great for images and visual media and makes sharing quality content super easy.  I thought it would be a fun, complimentary 2nd home for AikiLiving. Along with the posts from this home site, it’ll have some crazy cool Aikido images and randomness that relate to living in an Aiki fashion.   Check it out and lemme know what ya think.

Subscribe to Aiki Living Here!:
j j j

a guest post by jeff black – part 3 “sound and breath essential in aikido”

Sound and Breath essential in Aikido

I have been reading interviews with Yoichiro Inoue the nephew of O’Sensei:

“Admiral Isamu Takeshita once told me the following: ‘Mr. Inoue your spirit of kokyu and motive power are different.’ I said that I never executed techniques through kokyu but rather through ‘iki’ (alternate term for ‘breath’ or ‘breathing’). His answer was: ‘Oh, I see. That’s why it’s different. Can you come to my place to show me what you call iki.’ We laughed then. It is only recently that I have begun to use the term iki. We breathe from the time we are born. This is what I said to my uncle while he was still alive: ‘Kokyu power is nothing. Things are created because of the existence of the iki of Aiki and your own iki. This is what musubi (‘tie’ or ‘connection’) is.’ Because these two iki are united things are created through musubi. It is this musubi that created the Great Universe and us with it. We should not forget that.”

It is a slow process during training to begin to see/feel this breath connection, perhaps that is as it should be. However I do wish there was more focus and training directed toward the breath aspect. Every master of aikido that I have read about has mastered the breath.

Rinjiro Shirata (1912-1993) was a 9th dan Aikikai shihan, and awarded 10th dan posthumously.

“Kotodama is not sounds. It is the echo of ki which preceeds the emergence of sounds. Sounds are the next stage. Kotodama comes first and preceding it there is ki. Ki changes into many forms. It becomes sound, light and kokyu (breath). When two sources of ki combine, this results in kokyu. While breathing it becomes sound, light, kotodama and many things. Then it becomes ‘hibiki’ (echos), in other words, the seventy-five sounds. Subtle changes of hibiki become the mystery of creation. First, there was the word and the word was God, this is kotodama and also Aiki.”

As you can see, there is a developing relationship between Yamabiko, Kotodama, breath and aiki.

Rinjiro continues:

“There are many stories of the spiritual world in Iwama. There are many poems concerning the Kotodama. The ‘Way of the Mountain Echo’ means kotodama and of course it also means Aikido. If you say, ‘Ya-ho’ (a mountain call used to produce an echo) and you hear ‘ya-ho’ echoing back, this is called ‘Yamabiko’. This is kotodama. There are a great many poems entitled ‘Yamabiko no Michi’ which means that your mind and your partner’s mind are in mutual communication. I am proposing to Doshu that he proceed one step further in conjunction with this one hundredth anniversary of the Founder’s birth as the turning point and write about the state of mind of the Founder. Otherwise, the essence of Aikido cannot be understood. When we demonstrate techniques in the dojo we should explain that this is kotodoma… We have to show ki in realistic terms. We have to show that this is not a budo for competition.”

I had not thought of Kotodama in that way before.

1 In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.
2 And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.
3 And God said, Let there be light: (2 Cor. 4.6) and there was light.

So before the word the Spirit of God moved. So the ki moves first.

O’Sensei speaks often that Aikido is not technique.

“My Aikido is love”
-Morihei Ueshiba

This Aikido is a wonder, the understanding is limitless.

Jeff Black currently holds the rank of Shodan and trains regularly at Aikido of Reno.  Having trained in the art, off and on, for the last forty years or so, Jeff is a wealth of insight about the art of Aikido.  This is the second of three weekly installments of his post.  

Like this post? Subscribe to Aiki Living by Email!

j j j