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What does the "path" look like?

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If you study any modern Japanese martial art, you are no doubt familiar with the concept of "do." It's most often translated as "way" or "path," which makes for a very handy and versatile metaphor for the long, wonderful journey that is budo.

If, then, the study of a martial art (or really anything) can be likened to a path, what does that path actually look like? To me, it takes on different forms as you progress.

A paved street
When you first start your study of an art, and for some time afterward, the path will probably look like a paved street. That road has been paved by the many who have come before you, who have traveled this exact path a hundred thousand times. It's a solid foundation, and it's objective is firm.

There are all kinds of signs and maps to help you along your way, to guide you in the right direction, also designed by those who arrived long before you. Failure to follow that guidance will likely get you lost very quickly.

Handling Burn Out Part 3

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So, I've talked a bit about my experiences with "burn out", particularly why it tends to happen, and what to do when it does happen. The last dimension of the topic I wanted to touch on was:
How do you prevent burn out from happening?Well, in a word: relax, man.

Pace yourself
As tempting as it may be when you're really into your art, I would advise not going to every single class and every clinic, like I did. Pace yourself, champ. Budo is, as they say, a marathon not a sprint.



There are people who exist as living exceptions to that, of course; there will always be those rare few who seem destined to do this stuff as their primary purpose in life, but you need to brutally honest with yourself whether or not that's you. And for many, that may take years to figure out.

Avoid major life events
Okay, I'm kidding. Obviously, you can't avoid major life events, expected or not. So to that end, you might as well just accept that they will come and they will derail y…

Tenkan vs Tenkai

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A question came up the other today about the difference between the words "tenkan" and "tenkai" which I think gets confused at times. As far as I understand it...

Tenkan 転換 breaks down as:
転 suddenly, quickly
換 change, alter, substitute
and together 転換 as convert or divert

You might think of it as changing direction suddenly, or diverting uke's energy. In aikido, it refers to a turning movement (tenkan ashi), usually 180 degrees:



Tenkai 転回, however, breaks down like this:
転 suddenly, quickly
回 turn, rotate, revolve
and together 転回 as revolution or rotation

In much of the aikido world, it refers to a form of movement, what we commonly call a "hip switch", where you turn 180 degrees but without moving our feet (we do it in the Walking Kata, but there it's called "ude goshi gaeshi" or arm-hip reversal, which frankly is probably more clear):



Both tenkan and tenkai are part of what's called tai sabaki or methods of moving the body.

So, what…

Handling Burn Out Part 2

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Most of us, at some point in our training, will encounter some level of "burn out." In may case, it may even happen a number of times.

The other day, I wrote out some thoughts on what could possibly cause it (at least as far as I'm concerned). Today, I thought I'd offer a few thoughts on what has helped me deal with it.
What do you do when burn out happens?This may sound crazy, but let it.

Whenever you get hurt or sick, your body has ways of telling you something is wrong. Whether it be pain signals or fatigue, your body is trying to tell you to slow down, that something just ain't right. In fact, I came across a study once that showed arthritis can be directly caused by—not just exacerbated by, caused by—severe anxiety and depression. The brain is essentially crying out for help any way it can!

So feeling burned out is probably your body's way of saying, Hey, something ain't right. Or, for the more poetically inclined, life it out of balance, your yin a…

Handling Burn Out

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It doesn't seem to matter how intensely interested a person is in studying his or her martial art of choice, all of us, at some point or another, come face to face with burn out.

Now, "burning out" can range anywhere from a small sort of fizzle—in which your interest dips, or your body is just plain worn out so you take a brief vacation for a week or two—all the way to a complete and utter implosion, where you give up entirely on the art and never set foot in a dojo again.

I myself, have gone through several burn outs, so you might say I'm something of an authority on the subject. Fortunately, in each case, the burn out was never so bad as to prevent me from returning. I took months, even years off, but (so far) have always come back.

So what is "burn out" exactly? Why does it happen? What do we do when it happens? How do we prevent it from happening?

Over the years, I've developed a few ideas, and this post is the first of three on the subject.


Why doe…

Five Elements: Wind

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In time, earth fades, leaving only the wind. These are the techniques which feel so much lighter to uke, unlike earth, and are so ephemeral and difficult to see, unlike fire. These are the techniques which often send uke flying, such as kote gaeshi, kubi guruma, or sumi otoshi. There is a moment of faint connection between tori and uke, but then it's gone again.

Wind neither strikes like fire, nor holds like earth. It brushes against the skin lightly, here, then there, then over there. This is an element that astounds younger, newer students.



Consequently, he can at times begin to believe in his own "magic," indulging in his new role as mentor and sensei. He can also fall in love with the sound of his own voice, philosophizing ad naseum to a room full of captive, weary students.

Wind is open. While fire and earth tend to focus on what's in front of them, wind is constantly moving, aware of everything around it, yet fixated on none of it.

Wind's movements are oft…

Gari & Barai

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If uke refuses to move, load weight into his leg. Root it like a tree, then cut it down.


If he moves, extend his step.  Clear the foot as if sweeping away the leaves. 


Osoto gari & Kosoto gari You can reap his leg from the outside, with either a large or small reap.
Ouchi gari & Kouchi gari You can also reap his leg from the inside, with either a large or small reap.
. . . . . . .
Osoto barai & Kouchi barai You can sweep his leg from the outside, with either a large or small sweep.
Ouchi barai & Kouchi barai You can also sweep his leg from the inside, with either a large or small sweep.


. . . . . . .
The idea of treating a "gari" throw like a "barai" might be unusual in the judo world. But they're definitely worth exploring. It all depends on whether he has weight already on the leg, or if it's weightless. Learn to take advantage of both situations, this yin and yang. Then learn to create both situations.

Controlling the spirit

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When Muso Gonnosuke retreated to the mountain shrine to meditate on his defeat to Miyamoto Musashi, his subsequent revelation led to the development of a new art based on a short staff called a jo.  The heart of that inspiration has become the motto of Shinto Muso Ryu:

丸木を以って水月を知れ maruki o motte suigetsu o shire Using a round stick, know the solar plexus
And if you practice the art today—whether the full, traditional Shindo Muso Ryu jodo or Seitei Jodo—you will no doubt notice that many of jodo's techniques and movements within the kata are based on that very idea: control the solar plexus.





For me, fully grasping this one single precept was one the first important step in learning the art. As a new white belt, it all looked to like a bunch of individual techniques, where you swing the stick about in all kinds of ways, you do this if the sword guy does that, and so on.
Jodo took on a whole new clarity when I realized that so many of those movements were not to random or arbitrary, bu…

Kyusho—Vital Points

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I'm a graphic designer by trade, so occasionally I get the uncontrollable urge to redesign various bits of info pertinent to budo when I get a spare moment. Here's a reference chart of "kyusho" or vital points taken from Pascel Krieger's seminal book on Shindo Muso Ryu Jodo, "The Way of the Stick." 
Feel free to use this JPEG however you like. If you prefer a scaleable PDF, you can download it here.

Coming and going

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I was watching a high level jiu-jitsu match on YouTube recently, and I noticed something. Something I suppose I should have occurred to me a long time ago—after all, as a judo man, I grapple too—but I guess it took me seeing it from the outside to notice.

And since judo matches rarely seem to end up on the ground (and when they do, it's not for very long), I've enjoyed observing watching seasoned grapplers do their thing.

Anyway, here's what I noticed, and this applies to grappling in general. Both parties are only interested in bringing the other guy closer. I know, you're thinking, "Doi! That's kind of the point of grappling, isn't it?" Bare with me...



I aikido, there exists more of a balance. When uke tries to enter, welcome him in; when he tries to get back, send him on his way. In other words, when uke closes the distance, we go with it, typically ending up in some sort of control position, a wrist or arm lock. When he wants to get away, it resul…

Old school judo

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Just thought I'd share this image I recently came across. I think it's kind of funny how everyone is working so close to each other and how one or two gentleman are wearing kimono and hakama. (Click to enlarge.)


The trouble with translations

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I will be the first to admit that it's often a lot easier to refer to a technique or kata by it's corresponding number. "Number 3" is just easier and comfortable for an non-Japanese speaker to say than "Gyakugamae ate", and it's also a lot easier to remember.

But if you have fallen into that habit, I would urge you to take some time and learn the Japanese terminology. Not only that, but do a little research on it, because frankly, the translations we've heard throughout our training are not always all that accurate.



Take the judo throw seoi nage, for example. If you're like me, you've probably heard it translated as a "shoulder throw." But if you look it up, you'll find something a bit different. (FYI, the translation source I was most commonly is Denshi Jisho, supplemented by Google, Babylon and others like that.)

背負
It actually means something more along the lines of "to carry on one's back". Now, does that matte…

What Martin Luther King Jr. Day means to me

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To me—and this is simply my thoughts on the subject as of today—Martin Luther King Jr. Day is about so much more than just the relationship between white people and black people. It's even about more than just "racism."


It's about the seemingly instinctive impulse for one human being, or group of human beings, to consider themselves superior to another person or people, for whatever reason. And all kinds of reasons exist, even today: men believing they are superior to women; one nation believing they are superior to another nation; the young believing they are superior to their elders; the rich and entitled believing they are superior to the poor and uneducated; one religion believing they are superior to all other religions; this politcal party believing they are superior to the other.
I've seen people act with cruelty or indifference (and I believe ignoring someone is just as bad as mistreating them) for the most absurd of reasons: because they were born with …

Five Elements: Earth

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After fire—again, in my mind—comes earth.

Here we find the techniques in aikido which tend to bring uke under control, as with pins and joint locks such as oshi taoshi, waki gatame, or tenkai kote hinari. With earth, one's ki is much, much more calm than with fire. In fact, earth is emotionless, being neither angry nor kind.

Though not as merciless as fire, it stems more from apathy than compassion. Earth is steady, hardly moving. Ki moves in small increments, usually up and down—especially down.

Earth is patient, and will wait for uke to bring the attack, even baiting him. Like a python, earth allows uke to squirm all he likes, all the while crushing him gradually at the right moments with deceptive ease. Uke slowly crumples helplessly under earth, often digging his own hole from which he cannot escape.



Both earth and fire do not evade or escape; they own and command the line of movement, derailing uke.

Earth is comfortable with his tekui waza, his favorite techniques. They w…

Five Elements: Fire

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To me, the element of fire can be represented in aikido by techniques such as the first five techniques of junana hon kata, or randori no kata (or "the 17" as we often call it).

Like these, fire is direct, right to the center line (as opposed to working from uke's elbow or wrist). It often moves in short, straight lines.

With fire, one's ki moves quickly, instantly lighting up the sky like lightning, and fades just as fast.

Fire is definitely not soft. Rather, fire is sharp and capable of taking an opponent down in a single cut. There are no joint locks or pins, no effort to control or suppress; fire simply strikes (hence, ateme waza).



In terms of "go no sen, sen no sen, and sensen no sen", fire lays more in the realm of sensen no sen: our opponent has perhaps only the intention, the thought of attacking. Scarcely can he begin his move when the flames sweep in and level him like a forest fire.

Which means fire can also be impetuous, eager, quick to action.…

Contemplating the Five Elements

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My sensei has on occasion related aikido techniques to what are commonly known as "the five elements", which are of course earth, water, fire, wind, and in the Japanese version, the "void". It's a fairly common concept, really, that seems to permeate most cultures. To students of Japanese martial arts, probably the most familiar association would be Miyomoto Musashi's renown work, "Book of Five Rings".


In the Japanese tradition, the elements are called the 五大 (go dai, literally "five great"). These five are earth, water, fire, wind/air, and void. Or, in Japanese: 地火風水空 (chi ka sui fuu kuu).


Now, I've thought a lot about relating the concept of the five elements to aikido, and frankly, wondered if attempting to do so was merely an exercise of trying to fit a square peg in a round hole. After all, isn't the whole idea of the five elements is one of those cool, poetic philosophical constructs that would be ideally suited to martial…

Many moons

Hey, y'all. Been a loooooong time, I know. I could offer up the usual excuses—life/work/whatever has been busy—but I think you all know how that goes.

Just so you know, I haven't lost interest in studying budo; I've been going to class. I guess it's just that (in addition to all the business) I haven't felt much like pontificating about anything.

Although, in the past couple of months I have had some thoughts along one particular subject, which I  have jotted down offline. So, if I'm going to get back into the blogging game, I suppose that would be a good place to start.

It has to do with the five elements: fire, earth, wind, water and the void. Or at least, my own interpretation on them. Stay tuned.