Thursday, December 31, 2009

On behalf of all the TNBBC (to all the invisible readers who don't leave comments but who show up in the analytics) Happy New Year!

I am leaving work shortly, to go and help my mom prepare for Oshogatsu - Japanese New Year celebration. This is when Japanese families gather to eat too much, drink a bit, and look forward to a new year clean start. For Japanese American's, this is a hangover from the traditions brought by our grandparents/great grandparents, etc... On the menu are salmon, sashimi, red beans and rice, and all the traditional squiggly bits of seafood and assorted vegetables that reflect the new year and seasonal availability.  Soon I will have burned hand from making mochi. Fresh mochi is a good thing! More on Mochi

2009 was a flat out suck year for most of us for work. But for this budo crud, one of the bright spots for me was to see everyone in class get better at some aspect of their practice. Even better was to see the improvements in teaching ability from those teaching. Small things perhaps, but rewarding.  Even more rewarding then the bottles of aged brown liquor I've been given by the guys in the dojo.

For all you guys in the TNBBC, thanks for hanging around. To everyone else reading this, get back to practice.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Is Hapkido???

On Tuesday, Dec 22 2009, 6:15 pm, I will be the guest instructor at the Seattle School of Aikido for a regular Aikido class.

Hmmm… teaching an “Aikido” class. How do I share my experience, knowledge, and attitude toward martial effectiveness without sounding “violent” or haughty? I wish somehow in these situations I could have some sort of billboard, floating over my head, that reads: I wish for the least violent outcome for any bad situation, I don’t want to hit/cut/kick people, in fact, I’ve been working for years now on how to improve my grappling/ aiki/ jujutsu/ body skills so that I may be more benevolent and merciful, if I am able --given the circumstance. I came up from my teenage years and twenties in various striking or grappling or mixture striking/grappling and began to develop my best skills in my 30’s thanks to studying under Neil Yamamoto primarily, among other excellent teachers in other styles. My goals are the goals of Aikido, but I have taken a different road to arrive at the same conclusion.

My “Aikido” lineage comes through my teacher, Neil Yamamoto and his teacher, Bernie Lau. Do a quick online search, and you will find that this line is actually (and weirdly, to my mind) one of the pioneering lines of Aikido in the States, and certainly in the Pacific Northwest. I’ve been lucky enough to have free reign to teach a study group under the auspices of the Icho Ryu umbrella, but with my emphasis on types of physical strategies, based on my experience and preferences in types of grappling and striking. Now, this coming Tuesday, Dec. 22 is the first time I’ve been honored with the trust to teach as a guest at an Aikido class. Thank you Neil, Chris, and the SSA community for this opportunity.

My syllabus will be as such:

Bow in

Core training

Tanren/Chi Gung

Stretching the hips

Proper weight shifting

The shape of Kote Gaeshi: what I’ve found the best form to be to affect uke’s core and structure.

2 straight line, or irimi versions of Kote Gaeshi—- discussion of tenkan and irimi stratgies.

Discuss the connection of the structure of Kote Gaeshi to that Shiho Nage. Illustrate with figure 4 “ki” lock. Practice figure 4 lock.

2 types of pin. Discuss strategies for each.


Bow out

Please join me if you can: cost is included in SSA tuition for members, for guests there is a $15 mat fee.

Happy Holidays and Merry X-Mess!


Friday, December 18, 2009

Thoughts on a Friday...

Crap, whose bright idea was it to give Fritz a sharp pointy sword? Sucka hits hard enough as it is!

Up/down is in/out. Sigh, got it boss.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Heavy hitters?

The substitute list for Chris (igotlotsatime) Moses has just been announced. Crossing over to teach the aikido basics class for the month of December is:

December 8th - Neil Yamamoto
December 15th- Helmut Floss
December 22nd- John (is Hapkido!!!) Connolly
December 29th- Jeremy Hulley

Sign ME up for class! My basics can always use a review. I know 3 can do and teach, even the Hapkido guy, and new guy Helmut ran a highly recognized kids program at Two Cranes. If he can teach kids, he can probably teach this old dawg a few new tricks.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Frog in the Shallow Well

I read this story to my daughter the other night. I've read it before, but somehow this time it jumped out at me. Those of us studying martial arts have all been the frog. Some folks jump back in their well, cursing the turtle. Others find their way to the sea, only to hear about the ocean...

The Frog in the Shallow Well

a Chinese Fable

Once a frog that lived in a well bragged to a turtle that lived in the Sea.
"I am so happy!" cried the frog, "When I go out, I jump about on the railing around the edge of the well.
When I come home, I rest in the holes inside the wall of the well.
If I jump into the water, it comes all the way up to my armpits and I can float on my belly.
If I walk in the mud, it covers up my flippered feet.
I look around at the wriggly worms, crabs, and tadpoles, and none of them can compare with me.
I am lord of this well and I stand tall here. My happiness is great.
My dear sir, why don't you come more often and look around my place?"

Before the turtle from the Sea could get its left foot in the well, its right knee got stuck. It hesitated and retreated. The turtle told the frog about the Sea.

"Even a distance of a thousand miles cannot give you an idea of the sea's width; even a height of a thousand meters cannot give you an idea of its depth.
In the time of the great floods, the waters in the sea did not increase. During the terrible droughts, the waters in the sea did not decrease.
The sea does not change along with the passage of time and its level does not rise or fall according to the amount of rain that falls. The greatest happiness is to live in the Sea."

After listening to these words, the frog of the shallow well was shocked into realization of his own insignificance and became very ill at ease.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Ice Is for Dead People Part 2 - better not to need it.

I'm not one for superstition - I believe more in "Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity." But when significant things in my life happen in 3's, that tweaks my radar.

We do martial arts. We suffer through the mental, emotional and physical pain of failure to get better. In order to improve, sometimes we have to be brutally honest with ourselves to understand the limits of those abilities.

Ignore the subtle stuff at your peril

I know a guy who had a heart attack last year. Mid 50's, thin, exercised regularly, non-smoker, normal blood pressure, and except for high cholesterol, most definitely not your poster child for heart disease.

He was taking an aikido class and was working on a technique at slow speed. He said he wondered why he was short of breath given the level of exertion and eventually stepped off the mat. After his breathing went back to normal, he got up to get a drink and said he felt a little nauseous and a touch dizzy. While sitting there drinking water, he said he felt a slight tightness in his chest, like the feeling you get when you have a chest cold. I asked him if he had any numbness or pain in his left arm and he said all he felt was a little tweak near the brachial artery. He thought it might be the onset of a case of the flu.

Anyways, he told me the shortness of breath was something he'd never felt before and with the other symptoms, it motivated him to call his cousin, who happened to be a cardiologist. After a short discussion, he said the doctor agreed it was best to be on the safe side and get checked out at the Emergency Room.

A friend drove him to the ER where he was promptly examined and after a battery of tests, the doctors discussed the discharge of their apparently healthy patient. It was then that my friend passed out, providing the doctors with an obvious diagnosis and earning him a quick trip to the Cath Lab. He had 2 stents put in 2 separate arteries.

He was smart and lucky. He acknowledged the symptoms, assessed the situation, headed to the ER and was fortunate he only had an intermittent blockage so there was no damage to his heart. He's back to regular training, but not in aikido. Not all is the same though, because he said that physical recovery from his life-threatening experience was easy - he was never in any physical discomfort. But, dealing with the other stuff is a bit more difficult.

So the 3's?

Seattle paramedic, late 50's good physical health - after hearing the friend's story, took a test to screen for coronary artery disease. Totally asymptomatic, but a high score led to other tests and a procedure to insert 8 stents. Still on active duty. Learning points - if you have risk factors, trust your gut. Intuition has served him well over the years. Preparation meets opportunity? Sometimes you're just lucky.

Nephew of TNBBC member - 24, died of a heart attack. Too young. Too sad. Learning points - there were risk factors, but you don't expect them to be critical when you're that young. Minimize your risk factors, at any age. Life is precious, grief can be devastating. Pray his family can get through this with the support of other family members, friends and their faith. You just don't know sometimes.

Aikido teacher - late 60's, good physical health. Knew of former student's heart attack adventure. Developed symptoms on the mat and thought it might be a heart attack. Drove home and had his wife drive him to the ER. 4 stents inserted. Learning points - scores points for recognizing symptoms. Minus points for not calling 911. Time is not your friend.

What would you have done?

How would you have handled the above situations? I have a couple of thoughts to guide you if after virtual simulation you were in need of ice.

You don't die from embarrassment. If you don't feel good, call 911 or have someone take you to the ER. As martial artists, we know our bodies well, so do not ignore things you've never felt before, particularly the subtle ones. Get it checked out! Some things you cannot tough your way through and contrary to the common belief of the young and young at heart, you are not invincible.

Situational awareness is not just about the bad guys. Be aware of those around you. Maybe you're ok, but if someone exhibits mental confusion, difficulty breathing, chest pain, unusual physical issues like slurred speech, facial abnormalities or weakness in extremities...they might be having a stroke or a heart attack. You make the call they can'

Oh, and the first friend who had a heart attack? He told me later that he was actually training with a doctor at the time things started going south. Even when made aware of the situation by overhearing my friend's conversation with his doctor, there was no real offer of assistance. Learning points - take care of your training partners to the best of your ability. Reread the previous sentence and the previous post. Sometimes you wait for others to step up when you may be the most qualified simply because you care enough to do something. That's budo in my book.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

So, tell me a bit about yourself… Wait, you don’t need to, I’ve looked it up myself.

One of the things Bernie Lau told me was “Anyone is capable of anything at anytime.” This was told to him by a sergeant in the Seattle Police Academy when he was a recruit. Given the behaviors we see in leaders in all walks of life, it’s a very true statement. I’ve kept that in mind over the years, it helps keep me from being surprised very often.

One of the things tied to the above idea that I consider important is who gets in the dojo. A lot of things about problem students are very clear in retrospect, but no one had taken the time to connect the dots and see more of the picture.

All too often this is due to the attitude of people in charge of a dojo. There is no thought as to who gets in and who doesn’t, and leads to problems in the dojo. I guess if you look at this from the point of view of “Another student! Yea!! It’s getting easier to make the rent!” it is understandable. Add in the misguided belief that martial arts is about helping people, and you get a messy situation happening all to often.

But my perspective was and is to create a place where the group reinforces the learning process and social aspects of who fits with the group. This doesn’t mean there are not arguments and bickering, it means those involved in an argument get over it quickly and get back to practice.

Towards this end, to filter out those who potentially could be problem students, I do a background check by making use of the wonderful tool called the internet. I check the social networking websites, newspaper article archives, and make use of searches with government public information records.

What’s the point of this? Well, the steps of this background check process tells me:

Social networking – What someone’s interests are outside martial arts. This is a strong tool to see if the potential student will match up with your dojo and class. I’m leaving out a whole lot of detail here. Think about how you are presented online in your own social networking pages. Wonder why you didn’t get me to respond to your inquiry about joining the dojo? Maybe your Myspace page with links to Bondage and Sadomasochism groups had something to do with that. Don’t laugh, I'm not kidding.

Newspaper Article Archives – If someone made the news for good deeds and community work, I want to know that. If they did something really stupid or criminal, I want to know that too.

Government public information records – Criminal and court records are public. This gives me a good idea of habitual behaviors and any actual convictions. While a conviction won’t necessarily cause me to turn someone away, it depends on the individual and the incident.

This last search method is also not free in many cases. So if you are a teacher, be prepared to spend some money when you vet your potential students. Usually, by the time I get to spending more than $20 on a search, it’s pretty apparent the student probably won’t be worth taking in anyway

Is it worth it? I believe so. I’ve seen one or two immature students destroy a whole dojo in more than one instance. Usually, the instructor either ignored the problems, or coddled the problem student thinking they were helping. By doing so, they drove away the majority of other students or caused the dojo to fragment into factions. By comparison, spending $10-$20 for this background check is cheap when contrasted to what one bad student can do to drive out other students or to avoid potential harm inflicted on another student.

Lastly, I use my gut feeling from talking to the person and their reactions to me. This is probably as important as all the rest of the information I gather combined.

Why take the time to do this? Do you teach kids in your dojo? Have you got co-ed classes? Isn’t it your responsibility to provide a safe learning environment for your students? Isn’t the instructor responsible for controlling what happens in the dojo, both in terms of social and teaching concerns? To me, it’s simple. You take the responsibility or you risk possible harm to students. Want to get sued for neglect?

I can think of one dojo in CA where they kept a student around who was known to have issues with women since they felt it would help him get better. Of course, the two women who caught him peeking at them in the dressing room may have felt differently about the matter. I’m sure the third student he groped had stronger feelings on the topic. Want to know the reaction of the dojo leaders? “Oh, he’s been spoken to about the incidents, and he’s promised to not do it anymore.” 

In the above instance, I would not have allowed the student in the dojo at all. The dojo is not a place of therapy. Training can be a vehicle to personal growth if done correctly, but therapy is best conducted someplace outside the dojo and not by the instructor. Ellis Amdur has written about this topic, do some reading on his writings about the dojo and why it's not for therapy and why we should be working on ikkyo.

All this is done to help me get a better idea of whether a student may be a problem or not. I may have turned away potentially good students. I’ve let in a couple who just turned out to be a bad fit in personality for the class. So I’ve been wrong, I will be wrong again I’m sure. I simply do the best I can to make sure I’m not wrong often.

What I can tell you is by vetting who gets in the dojo as best as I can, we have no petty personality issues despite a very broad social dynamic. Students know the reason they are in class is to practice, and drink cold beers and Irish or Scotch whisky after class. I don’t know of very many other groups that can say the same without some sort of filtering system as to who is allowed in the dojo and having that reinforced by the entire group.

Oh, and you do realize this filtering of potential students will limit the size of your dojo don’t you? And it will cut down the rank and testing fees you collect and the mandatory seminar attendance income as well. Balance who you let into your dojo against your dojo needs and good luck.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Ice Is for Dead People

This is a topic from Tom Bisio's book mentioned by The FAB in his previous post.

"Ice is very useful for preserving things in a static state. It slows or halts the decay of food and dead bodies but does not help damaged tissue repair itself. Ice does reduce the initial swelling and inflammation of a fresh injury, and it does reduce pain, but at a cost. Contracting local blood vessels and tissues by freezing them inhibits the restoration of normal circulation. The static blood and fluids congeal, contract, and harden with icing, making them harder or impossible to disperse later. It is not uncommon to see a sprained ankle that was iced still slightly swollen more than a year after the original injury."

Chinese Sports Medicine - it takes a bit to get your head around it. It provides alternate strategies to reduce swelling and inflammation while quickly restoring normal circulation - without the downsides of icing. There's a lot more to it besides the liniments, but I'm all for injuries that heal quicker and chronic issues which have gone away.

Of course, if I really wanted to minimize damage to my body I wouldn't show up on Tuesday nights. TNBBCers don't treat old guys with quite the same respect as equivalently aged scotch.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Aches, pains, and Bruises

Given most of the guys in the dojo are old - I mean at the age where if they were Scotch whisky, they would be very expensive and appreciated- it's not surprising most everyone has some nagging chronic aches, bruise a bit more easily, and need a bit of help for recovery at times.

Massage, ice, heat, ibuprofen, all help. But for us untraditional traditionalists, we have been making our own Dit Da Jow and Tendon lotion. Using formulas from Tom Bisio's book- A Tooth from the Tiger's Mouth - these are surprisingly effective for slow to heal injuries(tendon) and new injuries(Dit Da Jow).

While a lot of people claim these don't work at all, we have had very good results, especially with the Tendon lotion for those chronic aches and pains that take longer and longer to stretch out and don't heal. I personally have had a problem shoulder pain go away, and not return, with use of the tendon ointment. Another friend has had his inflamed thumb, a problem for years, return to normal after 2 weeks of use. And most everyone in the dojo has a similar story.

Our new batch of Dit Da Jow has yet to age enough for use. We are currently working through the last of my 15 year old batch of Dit Da Jow made from a formulation I was given that came from Ark Wong, the 5 animals Gongfu sifu who was based in LA. That batch has helped me through numerous bumps and bruises healing faster than would be expected without. I made a 5 gallon batch, takes a long time to use that much, even giving it away to people.

If you have not tried any of these for your chronic aches and pains, give them a try. Plenty of sources of information online if you want more info or want to buy ready made versions by e-commerce. Or head to your local Asian herbalist and buy a ready made version or get the herbs there. And if you are local or a friend of the TNBBC, too busy to make it yourself, and want to buy some of ours, we can put you in touch with the keeper of the ointments.

Pain is just weakness leaving the body, this stuff makes it go away a bit quicker.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Getting the Most Out of It

I have been training with my dojo, the TNBBC, and under my teacher, Neil Yamamoto since 2002. But that doesn’t mean I’ve always been able to train with them consistently. I took a half a year off to travel, and about 3 & ½ years ago, I moved 80 miles away from the training hall, knocking my training time down to once a week at best. How the heck do I keep up with my fellow deshi, and improve?

Well, I’ll tell ya: The secret is solo training and focus and retention when one has the opportunity to train with others.

When I’m in the dojo: I do my best to “get” what’s being taught. I also attempt to understand how it works into previous techniques or lessons. Doing this allows me to create a system of understanding techniques based on principles and proper body mechanics, rather than trying to remember tons of disparate rote movements (such as “twist arm here, apply pressure here”, etc.).

I’m also lucky to have a very generous group of martial artists to study with. They don’t let me fake or muscle my way through techniques, and they offer observances and advice from their view on how certain techniques, etc. should be performed. Often this leads to a clue to something I was missing. They act as editors to my process and I do the same for them. We push each other to success with criticism, observations, and applied resistance-- we don’t baby each other into delusion with over-cooperation and ego stroking false ukemi.

The dojo can be overwhelming, in terms of revelations and new understandings of mechanics, etc. So, I try to retain what I believe was the focus of that day’s training. Sometimes I’m able to “get” several new or previously misunderstood things at once, but I don’t beat myself up if I don’t. There’s always the next time.

I would also say that in terms of acquiring this knowledge, I don’t worry too much about immediate perfection or total understanding, but rather I focus on relating how it fits with the spectrum of previous teachings, with body structure, similarities to movements or alignments of the body or ways to generate power.

I have a few categories of understanding martial stuff (techniques, power generation, principles, body mechanics, etc.):

1. I understand it fully. It is part of my body’s response. I can perform it AND teach it to others.

2. I understand it somewhat. I can do it most of the time and I can talk about it, but I’m still unsure of what’s missing or why I can’t always perform.

3. I understand the concept, at least enough to begin to develop it in my body and to talk about.

4. I am at a loss to fully grasp the concept, and am working on wrapping my brain around it.

5. It is an unheard of concept or one that is so far from #1 or #2 that I am withholding judgment until I feel it or see it.

With each new thing I learn, I try to relate it to a #1 or #2 concept, to try to distill the principle and the engine behind it. This has been a very successful way of working for me. It has allowed me to take many different types of martial arts I have learned over the years and have the muscle memory of them stay in my body, because I’m always working them in to a whole concept, using the same “engine” to drive them (doesn’t mean they all have the same effect or purpose, but it’s the best way I’ve found to fully synthesize these things within myself). With weekly practice at the TNBBC, I attempt to do the same thing, breaking down each new item into its parts and trying to see how they fit into a #1 or #2 model—how are these things driven, by what common power/structure/angle/motion? It is this kind of reverse engineering that enables my ability to build and improve my skill set.

At home or when traveling: I take the distilled concept or skill and practice it. Sounds simple enough, right? It is, but it doesn’t end there.

Visualization is the key. I remember the distinct point of clarity from the lesson in the dojo, and I relive the motion/moment over and over in my mind. I do it at work. I do it in the shower. I do it while cooking dinner.

Most importantly, I do it while performing tanren/chi gung/solo conditioning exercises and while shadowboxing techniques. When I was a kid, I would move and practice hard for the sheer joy of movement and enjoy the strenuous and flowing exercises, but it took me longer to improve, because I didn’t have the right combination of visualization, conceptual and mechanical understanding AND body performance. Now, I will take each technique or motion and break it down to tiny bits, working on each one as its own important thing, stressing to myself what was significant about each part, what tied it to a #1 or # 2 concept. I do the same thing with structural exercises, even ones in which the posture is just held static. I use my mind the whole time I’m using my body, analyzing, “What should this feel like? Where should there be tension/relaxation?” etc.

I shadowbox techniques a lot, meaning I perform a technique or part of it, without an uke. This is a vital part of learning for me, and has helped me to correct lots of aspects of my abilities/structure. What is important to do in shadowboxing a technique is to fully engage the mind with the body. Don’t just go through the motions. A shadowboxed technique should be as engaging and demanding as any tanren/chi gung/solo conditioning exercise. I have made great leaps in understanding previously misunderstood stuff from my technical lexicon by obsessively trying to relate every bit of shadowboxed techniques to previous revelations, and to correct myself until I could perform well vs. realistic resistance. I also shadowbox techniques in my mind, when not able to practice physically. Believe it or not, I know this has helped me greatly in my ability to break concepts down and understand more fully what I’m doing, as well as help improve the performance of my technique.

And then I take this stuff back to the dojo with me to try out my understanding/ability. I get feedback and tweak what needs fixing. The cycle continues, and I continually upgrade #5s, #4s, and #3s to #2s and #1s.

To sum up, my key to being able to learn more completely and usefully from teachers who are far away, from seminars, from skill share sessions, and to rework “old” techniques from my repertoire is this:


Break it down

Recognize patterns

Recognize concepts that are shared


Practice with intent

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