Fill it Up

Tai No Henko. In a mall.

“Out of all the Aikido books, one thing is always consistent. What’s the first thing they say? ‘Fill your body with ki.’” This was said by one of the senior people in our dojo last night when we were working on our black belt material. We were just doing the most basic Aikido technique, tai no henko, with only that principle in mind. Another simple, yet profound, Aiki principle that has direct application off the mat. Allow me to explain.

‘Fill your body with ki.’ This does not mean ‘muscular tension’. ‘Tension’ means ‘stiff’, and stiffness is death. We don’t want that.

It also doesn’t mean ‘lax’. Lax is pretty close to dead as well.

Extending ki throughout the body should be a one-step move, but could take a lifetime to really understand and master.

‘Ki’ can also equate to ‘life’. Maybe the more direct english translation of the above principle would be, ‘Feel the life force throughout your body.’ I think we’d be close here.

Aliveness. Able to move in any direction. Not limp. Not tight. ALIVE!

Put life into every teeny tiny square micron of your body. In Aikido, when grabbed really hard (when someone who knows what they’re doing grabs your wrist, you can’t move. At all.) we extend the fingers and feel relaxed energy course through our veins exuding out from our center.

Try it. Have a friend grab your wrist.

Purposefully do it wrong at first. Tighten up. Clench your fist and feel the muscles in your arm and wrist contract. Makes it hard to move, right?

Okay, now, just let your arm go limp like a noodle. Yeah. Not effective. You can be moved anywhere now.

Now do it right. Open up the hand and extend the fingers. Put LIFE into your WHOLE BODY. Don’t just focus on the spot where you’re being grabbed. Open up the other hand and extend the fingers of it, too. Feel the ground. Relax, but extend life throughout everything.

Holy shit, you’ve done it! You’re ALIVE! Your friend’s little measly grip means nothing now! You have the freedom to move wherever you want! That’s Aikido.

As always, such as in life. Finding that middle ground is tough. Think of this principle with relationships. If you’re too firm and unwavering with people, if you’re too set in a certain direction, you may be strong in that one direction, but if pressure is applied in another, unexpected direction, you’re done for.

Same thing if you just let yourself get pushed around by people. If you just go where the wind blows, you will be at the mercy of other people’s bullshit. Put life into your… life. Be able to move in any direction at any time. Relaxed energy is the key here. You should have full control over yourself while not inflicting your will on others, but also not just being a pushover. Extend ki. Go.


Thanks to  marius.zierold for the image!

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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?

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

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Can you just, for a few minutes, be ok. With everything. Don’t tell anyone. Keep this a secret. Just sit there and be ok. Be ok that your life may be horrible right now. Seriously. Close your eyes and breathe (after you read this, of course). Be ok that you have the best life in the world. Be ok that you drive a hooptie. Be ok that you drive a Porsche. Be ok that you can’t afford your lifestyle. Be ok that your friends never listen to you. Be ok that you have no customers. Be ok that you are incredibly fortunate with your life and those in it. Whatever your situation/viewpoint is… Just.. Be… Ok.. It’s just where you are right now. It’s a blip in time. Go ahead, try it. Get crazy, you may have never done this before.

As you sit down to do this, things get really, amazingly light. You’re not denying that things may be really good or really bad, you’re just ok with it for now. This doesn’t mean you’re powerless. You’re putting your mind into a place of acceptance where real change can happen. Keep in mind I didn’t say tolerance. Acceptance, or ‘being ok’, is different. You’re allowing a greater awareness from yourself to take over from which to move from. Be fully comfortable and at peace with whatever. Then go. Now you can move in the direction you desire from this more balanced position.

We go through most of our life being not-okay with things. Out of balance. Our beingness determines our outcomes. Be ok.


Thanks to soukup for the image!


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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.


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Cutting the Fat

The busy culture.  “Hey, how’s it going, ya staying busy?”  “Sorry I couldn’t get back to you, I’ve been crazy busy lately.”  Busy this.  Busy that.  It’s almost like a rite of passage in society.  If you’re not busy, you’re probably not living a productive life.   What are we really doing, though, in all our busyness?  The hamster in the wheel is busy as well, but is it really productive?

Sometimes I feel like that.  But what am I really getting done that matters?  Am I just going through the motions because it’s what I ‘should’ be doing?  The rat race is exhausting.  When getting caught up in it, we need to stop and reflect inward.  The question we must ask ourselves during these ‘busy’ times is:

“Is this necessary?”

Is what I am  thinking right now necessary?  Is what I am doing right now necessary?  If not, what is necessary?  Why is it so hard to do that which is necessary, but so easy to do the other stuff that is mainly just bullshit?

Imagine what you could get done if you only did the stuff that was necessary.  I’m not saying we should just work, work, work.  Spending time with your friends or loved ones may be necessary.  Reading a book that helps our situation may be necessary.  More sleep may be necessary.  Leisure may be necessary.     Just be sure it’s necessary.

It reminds me of sword training.  In Samurai sword duels, there was no room for any moves, thoughts, emotions, twitches, or anything that wasn’t absolutely essential to the task at hand (preserving your life… which usually meant taking the one facing you).  Any wasted movement or wayward thought was an opening for your adversary to cut you down.

Meditation for them was for cutting the fat of their minds and, in turn, physical movements, and, in turn, way of life, in order to survive and lead the best life they could.  It had nothing to do with ‘manifestation’ or ‘the law of attraction’ or materializing that brand new red car, concepts which the charlatans of our day have made a lot of money on (and bought their own red cars).   I digress… anyways…  the best Aikidoists I’ve trained with barely seem like they’re moving at all.  Every movement is concise and necessary.

Life is short.  Do the stuff that matters.  Cut the fat of everything else.  Do great work.  Reflect inward often to constantly re-evaluate, rinse, repeat.


Thanks to  dcafe for the image!



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