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|Salsbury Hill and
I just caught, by accident, the Peter Gabriel song Salsbury Hill.
Every time I hear that song I think of the University of British
Columbia, and specifically a lounge in one of the residences. I heard
that song there and I think I wrote a poem while listening to it, but I
couldn't tell you what I was doing there or when it was. I haven't a
clue which residence it was either.
I have similar impressions of Trent University, The University of
Calgary, U.P.E.I., Dalhousie in Halifax and many other Universities
across Canada. The reason being that I did some traveling when I was a
student and I would always drop into the local University, hit the gym
for a shower and then follow the noise of the parties to the residences
where someone would offer me a place on the floor, either in a room or
in the lounge. It was the Brotherhood of University Students, one
looked after a traveller, let him into the gym and gave him a towel,
let him crash for a night and maybe even cooked him breakfast in the
morning, certainly fed him beer the night before.
I have no idea if the Brotherhood of University Students still exists
but I'd like to think it does. Roll into a town, hit the gym and say
"I'm hitchiking across the country and would really like a shower, can
I go in". In my case, I was never turned away, the student on the desk
would look around, throw me a towel and say "go through". I suppose
these days that kid would be risking his job but still, I'd like to
think it happens.
A bit later I started practicing the martial arts and I discovered
another brotherhood, the dojo. To this day I travel from place to place
practicing and teaching those who are my brothers in the arts. I have
been doing this since I was a beginner, I remember sleeping on a floor
in England, in a jail in Ottawa (the local hostel), eight to a hotel
room in Toronto (take the top mattress off each of two double beds and
you've got eight spots for a great night's sleep) and even getting
acupuncture treatments on the tatami of a dojo after a night's sleep
that froze my neck. It was on the third floor over the Future Bakery on
Queen Street West in Toronto before the neighbourhood went upscale.
People talk today about the communities that are created on the
internet but these are not new. I have rolled into strange towns and
found brothers willing to lend me a dry place to lay my head since the
As we roll into a new year I'd like to think that these Brotherhoods
will continue for one more generation at least. My son practices judo
and my daughter is a damned good violinist. When it comes time for them
to throw a backpack over their shoulder and hit the road I hope they
will find a floor to crash on and a shower to enjoy after a long day on
the dusty road.
Hell I may even join them, so if you see a big bald guy with a bokuto
bag over his shoulder and his thumb out, stop and give us a ride to the
next town. We may have a good story or a tune to trade.
|Dec 30, 2008
|Neanderthals and Us
Somewhere around 30,000 years ago paintings started to appear on cave
walls. At the same time beads, statues and other forms of decoration
These were found in places occupied by our ancestors and much less
frequently in the places occupied at the same time by Neanderthal man.
This difference may be one of the most significant things that separate
the two groups of humans.
What does it mean, this decoration? It is of course "art" just as we
recognize it today, something that is done which is not associated with
basic biological needs, food, shelter, sex, that sort of thing. It is
symbolic, it is abstract, something beyond, something that resembles or
represents something else but isn't that thing.
What we can do, that no other animal seems capable of doing, is to
abstract, to represent an idea, to take the particular (the sun comes
up) and categorize it (the sun comes up every day), abstract it (the
sun moves around us) or create a new, symbolic meaning for it (the sun
is Apollo driving his chariot of fire across the sky). It's the most
powerful biological tool / weapon yet developed on this planet.
It's quite possibly why we're here and why Neanderthal man is not.
Let's look at those two groups. They both came out of the same base
humanoid, Homo heidelbergensis
which lived 600,000 to 200,000 years ago and had brains that were twice
the size of ours. They were up to 6 feet tall and heavily muscled, and
hunted large game.
From this group came Homo (sapiens)
neanderthal who lived from 230,000 to 28,000 years ago. Shorter
(about 5.5 feet tall), still heavily muscled, with a brain that was
quite a bit larger than ours, this group dominated Europe from the
Atlantic to Asia and from the Mediterranean to Germany. They had no
trouble taking down the large game to be found during the last ice age
The Neanderthal would have had little trouble in a fight with Homo sapiens, who also came from heidelbergensis around 150,000
years ago and moved into Europe at the end of the ice age. Homo sapiens had a brain that was
12 percent smaller, had less muscle and almost went extinct during that
same ice age that Neanderthal man seemed designed to endure. How is it
that we survived?
Abstract thought, wide social networks, a more sophisticated culture...
What has this to do with martial arts you ask? Well I'd like you to
consider the "art" rather than the "martial" for a moment. Once again
there are arguments online about the Japanese ryuha and how they
prepared their students for war; are kata the best way or should we
have free sparring too. It never ends, this argument, yet the problem
always seems to revolve around the assumption that preparation for
warfare is the basic function of the martial arts schools. There are
some folks, Karl Friday being one of the best examples, who suspect
that the ryu-ha might have been about something else, perhaps more
about the art than about the martial. About what makes us different
from the rest of the animals and perhaps from the rest of the humans
that came before us.
Perhaps martial arts aren't really about training people to fight, but
are instead about the abstract, the symbolic, perhaps they're about
culture and passing on sophisticated ways of thinking through seemingly
basic actions. After all, the same technique that makes a stone scraper
can also make the Venus of Wallendorf. Why can't abstract ideas be
passed along through the same techniques that once were used for
fighting or for killing food?
|Dec 27, 2008
|Tennis Elbow in Iaido,
5 steps to more practice.
Above all, don't give up, if you stay in iaido long enough you get
tennis elbow, and if you stick with it, you can keep practicing.
- Tennis elbow is quite common and most people move through
eventually. You can ice your elbows, take aspirin, do deep friction
massage on the painful spot and around the area (just dig your finger
into the muscle and rub it back and forth over the fibres).
- To stretch the muscles after massage, put your thumb and
index finger (the back of your
hand) on your leg and make a z shape of your arm, now push so that your
elbow is stretched (if you know aikido it's the nikkyo pin with the arm
stretched out rather than bent).
- Check that your sword isn't too heavy. Use a bokuto or a
if possible, or take a break.
- Check that your grip is correct, if it's around to the side
likely using those muscles to try to stop the blade, instead use your
little fingers and your armpits to stop the sword, and put your hands
further onto the top of the hilt. This is the key to doing iaido in the
- Check your keyboard, typing and mouse use will aggravate
Cross train, lift weights, squeeze a rubber ball or do some other
|Dec 26, 2008
always wondered how I would explain to someone who thinks "as long
as I have spirit, i don't have to practice" or "Musashi created his own
techniques, why should i be so focused on doing yours correct", etc...
I used to think about this sort of thing a lot but it doesn't bother me
so much any more. A very long time ago my Tae Kwon Do instructor said
to me "nobody trains in TKD for 10 years on the off chance they will be
in a bar fight" and that just about sums it up right there. I teach
women's self defence, a simple 10 week course that we developed over 20
years ago and I make no apologies for it. It works, 10 classes at an
hour and a half each, and it works. It doesn't take that long to learn
Beginners focus on the techniques. Instructors focus on the techniques
when they're teaching beginners. It's easy and it's necessary. It's the
techniques we teach through so we use them.
But at some point, actually fairly early in the process, the
concentration on technique falls away.
How much time does it take to learn how to swing a sword anyway? What
do you really need to do, chop through an arm or a neck? Well how long
does it take to be good at tameshigiri? Not long at all, once you can
get through a couple of mats or a straw bundle it's all just fancy
curtains on the windows.
How long does it take to learn how to bust someone in the chops while
covering your own head? Not long at all, boxers learn how to punch
pretty hard and cover up in a couple weeks, from then on it's a matter
of getting better at it to beat other boxers, not about being able to
pound someone in the local bar.
So learn the basics in a few weeks and then go out and invent your own
techniques? There's no real problem with that, if that's all you want
out of the martial arts then go for it. As they say, "Musashi did it".
Now the idea that you can substitute spirit for technique is something
a bit different when it comes from the mouth of a beginner. This is
someone who has no technique at all but has read about folks with
spirit overcoming great odds. It might happen, but damned seldom. The
classical story is the tea master who offends the ronin and must fight
a duel. He goes to the swordmaster who asks him to serve tea. The
master does of course and his instructor says "grasp the sword firmly,
resolve to die and face your opponent in the spirit of serving him
OK you have to grab the sword. The spirit of serving tea is a calm,
untroubled one, but the key to the story is the middle part, to resolve
to die. Grabbing the sword and being untroubled is what saves the tea
master's life as the ronin mistakes the calm for skill with the sword,
but it's the resolve to die that allows the tea master to be
He got by on spirit? Absolutely not! He had a lifetime of technique
practice in serving tea to call upon. What does a beginner have to call
upon? A story? Can someone at the beginning of his life resolve to die?
About the best a youth can do is have a conviction that he will never
die. And thank the gods for that, if young men didn't believe they were
invincible we would never get them to go die for the tribe and humanity
would have been wiped from the earth 50,000 years ago. Unfortunately
being convinced you won't die only works until you get busted in the
chops or feel that first bone snap under the stone club, then you're
ready to run and only the old men who are standing behind you with
their own clubs will keep you on the battlefield.
A lifetime of trying to perfect the techniques is what gives the
martial artist that determination to "just do it" when the chips are
down. It's that endurance that makes the old men in the bar much more
dangerous than the kids who can barely stand after a few beers. Take a
swing at one of those guys and you'd better connect heavy because if he
comes back off the floor you're going to wish you were in the next
Spirit is a bank account, it's something that you contribute to little
by little each class you attend, each disappointment you overcome. You
accumulate some every time sensei tells you your form is crap and you
nod and try again, you earn a bit each time you get back up off the
floor and toe the line to be knocked down again.
Ever wonder why sensei never praises the seniors, why he only finds
fault with what looks pretty damned good to you? It's his job to find
something to criticise, something that will make that senior push a
little bit beyond what he can do today, to push them beyond what sensei
can do. Praise may keep you in the dojo for a while, but eventually you
stay because sensei tells you to do it again, you stay because you have
to do it again.
Musashi created his own techniques? Bollocks. Musashi practiced what
his father taught him, what he learned from experience, and eventually
he went beyond technique. He wasn't exempt from technique when he was
learning, he went through to the other side. You can't get there from
here. As a beginner you can't jump to the end any more than you can
teleport from here to Tokyo. We don't have that kind of shortcut, you
have to make the journey. Musashi made the journey, and at the other
end he found what the tea master found, that if you practice the
techniques of any art long enough you become open to all art, you can
penetrate to the core of technique and punch through the bottom of that
well into the place where all art originates. Musashi could swing a
sword, wield a paintbrush, hammer metal and write.
That's the lesson you need to learn from Musashi, not that you can pull
a sword school from your rear end. He wasn't the "lone wolf" legend
says he was, and he certainly didn't tell us he was in his writings.
Read them as a technical manual, not as some esoteric philosophy of
life. He wrote to his students, not to a beginner in the 21st century.
Read him from that point of view and what he says becomes very plain.
Practice. Think about it. Practice.
It is only through practice of the techniques that you acquire spirit.
It is only by mastering the techniques that you can go beyond them,
that you can invent them.
|Dec 20, 2008
|Learning Technique III:
Mushin and Creativity
Beyond this, however, is again
the idea that a martial art isn't
something that you train a couple hours a week. You train all day every
gave examples of how to work your body (technique). Are there any
examples you can think of to translate the mindset of training into
real world applications? i.e. Beginners mind when getting advice from
co-worker/supervisor, calmness when driving in a winter storm..etc. Any
specific instances you found yourself in that your training took over
to help you deal with the situation?
I've been practicing the martial arts seriously since 1980 so I really
can't identify anything about my life that relates to the martial arts.
That would imply that there are parts of my life that have nothing to
do with the martial arts and they simply don't exist.
For instance, one thing I do that you wouldn't think had anything to do
with budo is photography. You'll find a link to my blog on that subject
above and in it you will find several instances where I talk about the
similarity of my photography to my budo. A quick example would be the
way that I shoot in the studio.
I usually walk in with a model, turn the heat up, turn the music on,
ask what the model would like to do that day (most of the time I hear
"whatever you want to do") and then start playing with the lights. As
we go along I see the model is in the mood for this or that, is good at
certain poses, and we move in that direction.
I don't really think about it much, I might have an image of light
falling a certain way in my head, certain light combinations or
physical lights that I want to try out but there really isn't any plan.
Each time I do a shoot I invent or re-invent the lighting and the sets.
I have all confidence that I will find something that delights me as I
work, and I'm rarely disappointed. I also find that my work does fall
into a certain style as I look back on it, but that was never my
intention. I simply "kick the lights around".
When I teach a class of iaido I walk in, ask the students what they
want to work on that day (most of the time I hear "whatever you want to
do") and then start with some basics. As we go along I see that several
students need to work on this or that aspect so I teach in that
I don't ever have much of a plan, I may have a certain feeling I want
to explore, or I may feel like partner practice over solo practice but
I mostly have nothing in my head at all. Each class I teach I invent or
re-invent techniques, suburi or stories to demonstrate what I want to
teach, or to allow the students to work on this or that aspect of a
kata. When I teach I simply start talking or demonstrating with every
confidence that I can come up with something that will get the students
a bit further along in their study, and will delight me in a new
discovery for myself. It's a given that everything I do is in the
particular "style" that I'm teaching at the time, even those exercises
that I've never been taught, the ones I'm making up as I go along.
Last weekend I spent three days in meetings. I had no plan or anything
I really wanted to accomplish, my base purpose was to do the best for
the organization holding the meetings. I simply listened carefully most
of the time, got passionate about some things, tried to keep everyone
else calm when they got passionate. I spoke when I thought I had
something to contribute and shut up when the topics turned to things I
had no stake in. Above all I had faith that we would find a way to push
the organization forward.
When I start writing to answer these questions or to discuss anything
else on the blogs or in articles I simply start writing. I don't
usually have anything plotted out, beyond a vague idea that I need to
think about this or that. It is while writing that I discover what I
really think about a topic, and sometimes I find a wonderful new idea
waiting for me at the end of the article. I mostly just write straight
through and go back later (often years later) and edit the text so
other people can follow it more easily.
All this would come under the heading of "mushin", sometimes translated
as "no mind" but really should be translated as "no extraneous
rationalization". In other words, stop thinking about it and just do
it. I hope I don't get dinged with a lawyer's letter over that last
Shu Ha Ri
One of the keys to creativity is to let yourself create. Stop thinking
and plotting and planning, allow something to appear instead. All your
rote learning, all your training, all your precision and strength
training, all the sweat and blood you spill on the dojo floor trying to
do something exactly as it should be done is to build up the baseline,
to provide you with the tools and techniques to be able to create. A
kata isn't the end of things, it's the beginning.
I have been taking photographs since I was 7 years old, I have taken
well over half a terabyte of images at about 2mb apiece since I started
shooting digitally in the studio. I know how to shape light, how to
achieve an effect, so I don't think about it any more, I just shoot. If
the goal were to achieve a certain ideal light (for instance a
rembrandt light, a butterfly light, a flat light and so on) I would
have quit years ago. I can create all those light patterns but they're
not the point.
I have been practicing iaido since 1983, and very seriously since 1987.
I have learned several schools of sword, hundreds of kata, and I have
every confidence that I can learn a new kata within two or three
minutes. When I practice iaido I rarely think about which kata I'm
doing, and I am not surprised in demonstrations to find myself creating
entirely new kata as I perform them. This doesn't bother me, nor should
it bother anyone else, it's the intent of practice. I can do a certain
kata "in the style of" this or that specific teacher within a school of
iaido. I can copy and demonstrate a kata exactly as it should be done
according to my organization but if that were the point I would have
moved along years ago. That's just the baseline, what allows me to go
beyond the techniques and understand what they are teaching, what they
allow me to learn. That's the Ri of Shu Ha Ri. I am amazed at the
number of people out there that figure keep break leave means copy it,
understand it, go found your own art. What a waste of time, you won't
learn anything new in a new art, you'll spend forever recreating what
you already know. A blacksmith forges his personal tools once, not for
every single job he does. When one breaks or when he needs a new tool
he surely makes it, but one doesn't throw out a perfectly good hammer
simply because it's been made. The point isn't to make new hammers,
it's to make other stuff... unless of course you want to make a living
Where does that analogy get us? Oh yes, those who wish to make a living
selling their "brand new and improved budo". As the founder you get to
be the chief decider which means you get all the profits right? But how
many of the brand new sword schools that have appeared in the last
generation have anything new or more interesting to say than the
Purity of Style
Think how much more pure the
water would have been if we'd only ever
had one hose in our barrel, how much more water from that one source
we'd have had.
love this statement. It is so much more applicable to the Western
audience as well. Nowadays everyone gets bored easily and wants
something new. The use of the word "pure" also reflects the Taoist
influence within the martial arts. It's obvious that with all the
styles available that a person has the opportunity to "fill their
barrels with many hoses" and the choice inevitably is up to
him/herself. But does training in the martial arts help you
that the alternative may be more beneficial to the self? i.e.
training in one or more styles help you realize that it's better to
train in fewer?
I think people get the wrong idea about style. Most people assume that
your style is something that you choose. This is very common in
photography where new students are even told to "develop your own
style" so that clients can then understand what they're going to get
when they hire you. The problem is that "picking a style" means
developing and exploiting a gimmick. That isn't really what style is.
In photography a true style is what someone else says you have. You
just shoot and years later someone looks at the totality of your work
and says "hey all this stuff has a certain integrity, a certain common
ground that identifies it as coming from the same photographer. This is
In the martial arts the kihon define the style. In iaido your cut has a
certain shape, the way you draw the sword and put it away is done in a
certain manner, this is the style of your school and you adapt yourself
to it. When learning, your sensei has a timing which you pick up, this
is the style of your dojo. Eventually after many years of making wildly
uncertain movements you start to make certain movements, your iaido
becomes stable and after all the adjustments you have had to make to
allow for your weak left knee and your short right arm and your rotund
gut you come down to your own personal style. It's not what you choose
to add on, it's what you're left with after you take everything else
Style is the core, not the frills you add on top. It's what you can't
change, not what you choose to do.
Around here we have a lot of different sword arts to play with, more
than most places I know actually. Within practical commuting distance
we have Itto ryu, Niten Ichi ryu, Katori Shinto ryu, Buko ryu, Muso
Shinden ryu, Muso Jikiden Eishin ryu, Shindo Muso ryu, Mugai ryu,
Kendo, and a few others I am likely forgetting. All these are Japanese
budo, all involve the sword to greater or lesser extent but all would
be considered different styles.
In one sense of course they are, and their core principles would be
different enough to confuse a beginner. Most members of each school
would state quite severely that their school is greatly different than
another school and they would be correct on a certain level.
But compare the bunch of them to something like German Longsword and
you're going to find that they are actually not that different.
But compare all two handed sword styles to the English cutlass, or to
the singlestick or another one-hander and again you start realizing how
much more similar than different they are.
There are really only so many ways you can use a sword. While we may
think that learning a lot of different styles and schools will only
confuse us, in fact we would likely not have as much trouble as we
would first think. It would be entirely possible to learn several
schools and not confuse them.
If we had 24 hours a day to train.
What I really meant about reducing the number of kata (and the number
of hoses in the barrel) was that you can distill the learning of any
particular art down to a single kata since that kata will use the kihon
of that school. In fact you can distill a great number of Japanese
sword schools down to common kihon as well. Cut on the centreline, cut
from the hips, grip with the left hand at the pommel and the right hand
at the tsuba...
The purity I was thinking of was the purity of a single kata, Mae for
choice. I'm talking about what all the old farts talk about when they
say, at 80 years old, that "I think I'm starting to get the hang of
Mae". They aren't kidding. There is a lifetime of study and learning
that you can extract from a single kata.
The problem with learning dozens of kata (or even different sword
schools) isn't really that you'll get confused, you can come to the
same base style, the same base kihon by studying 100 kata. The problem
is the time you spend learning the dance steps for those hundred kata.
It's as if our blacksmith made a hundred hammers before starting to
make the horseshoe. You don't need all those hammers, you need one good
Purity is achieved by refinement. The entire curriculum of Muso Jikiden
Eishin ryu can be refined to Mae. All you can learn technically can be
taught in Mae, but more importantly, all those things that you learn
beyond the dance steps can be learned as easily from one kata as from a
hundred. In fact, by spending all your time on a single kata you don't
waste all that time learning the dance steps of all the other kata, and
keeping them in your head, and keeping their names straight and keeping
them in order and...
Life is short. One hammer, spend your time learning what you can make
with it. One kata, how much can you learn using it?
|Dec 1, 2008
|Learning Technique II
A bit more on learning technique with some follow-up questions.
For all of it we train exactly
the same, hard, as if our lives depend
true, I'm not sure how people would take this statement. Too strict? or
even Too unrealistic? What does it really mean to train as if our lives
depend on it. I wonder what term we can use to help the current
generation to relate to this idea? "...as if your job depended on
or how about "what you put in, is what you get out"? This puts the
blame solely on the individual. Part of the self-realization process?.
Don't ever give up on a technique, or on a class, or on the
The easiest thing in the world is to give up, do it enough and you are
on the other side of the grass. Life means trying, you should train
your mind never to stop, to go straight through without trying to be
tricky. It's the effort of going to every class and paying attention
each moment in class that teaches you how to live in the world.
truly does seem like one of most helpful benefits of training is to
understand how to "give effort". Same as going to University is not
about "Learning", but more about "Learning how to learn". I've already
noticed how maintaining the effort in making every class and practicing
hard has paid off in other parts of my life. Sports/Work/Relationships.
I think this can and should be expanded on to the average person as
well. To really understand how you are building character and becoming
a better overall person by doing something that is essentially "playing
While a beginner might relate more to "like your job depends on it", we
don't actually end up training like this in the martial arts, at least
those who get serious about it don't. Learning budo is an all day, all
week process. We train each day and every minute "as if our hair was on
fire". We constantly live as if our life may end in the next minute.
This type of practice isn't restricted to the martial arts and actually
comes out of spiritual practices such as zazen.
It is this very powerful concentration, the ability to ignore
everything else in order to accomplish a task that improves our lives
as well as helps us survive that fight on the battlefield which may
never come. The idea of being "in the moment" to "be here now" to "be
present" to our jobs, our loved ones, ourselves and anything else we
turn our attention to is fundamental to both our practice and our
No matter what we are trying to learn in the martial arts, practicing
as if our lives depend on it will be the correct way to train. This
works even for playtime. How many people have gone on vacation as if
they were heading off on a military expedition? Each and every minute
planned, schedules to be kept exactly, and at the end, exhaustion.
To go on vacation as if we're planning a business trip makes as much
sense as trying to do business from a deck chair with a beer in our
hand. Play is play, be serious about it, it's important. If we're
"playing at swords" in an iaido dojo then really play, be serious,
learn how to swing the sword. There are places where you can simply
mess about with sharp things seeing what you can cut, or where you can
jump about hitting each other with foam boffers. If that's what you
want from your sword practice, do that, and do it seriously. Each dojo
will have its own way of playing, find what you want and join in
without reservation, play hard.
When eating, eat, when sleeping, sleep, when playing, play, above all
don't worry. It is the endless cycling of our thoughts that exhausts
us, creates stress, shortens our lives and makes us miserable. It's the
worry, we worry our thoughts like a dog worries a bone, gnawing on our
own peace of mind as if it were a piece of meat.
When we practice as if our lives depend on it we have no room for
worry, the cycles are broken. We practice as if our lives depend on it
because our lives do depend on it. I have heard that studies of heart
disease always control for stress because stress is such a massive
factor it swamps anything else we want to study. I'm inclined to
If your instructor mentions
you are weak in some area, work on it outside class, if you need to
lift weights, go do it. If you don't have any stamina, do some cardio
on your own time.
to be realistic, who does this? Good idea definitely, one that I've
actually been following (doing squats and ab work to give my lower body
more power and stability). How can we relate this to the average
student who's only time working on Iaido is in the 2 hour classes. The
only non-class time they have available would be the 5-15 minutes
pre-class where most people just stand around. Perhaps a workout plan
for that period would be helpful. Focus on Muscle tension could also be
implied during the actual class, but there's usually enough to think
about with the senseis' instructions.
I do it, obviously you do it. If you are serious about your budo
practice you will cross-train for improved performance and for recovery
from injury. Iaido and similar martial arts can cause a lot of
repetitive strain injury, cross-training will help prevent this.
Beyond this, however, is again the idea that a martial art isn't
something that you train a couple hours a week. You train all day every
day. As an example, in aikido (and in iaido for that matter) we have
the idea of an "unbendable arm". This is the arm in an almost fully
extended position, where the muscles are firing at the most efficient
length, it's used to control the opponent, and it's used to grip the
sword while we're cutting. A very useful position and one that we can
practice each time we go through a swinging door. Drop the elbow, hit
the door with the little finger edge of your hand and push with your
hips. I don't care how heavy the door is, it will fly away from you
once you figure out the most efficient position of hand, arm and body.
When driving, use the correct grip on the wheel, learn to anticipate
the large movements of cars around you by observing the microscopic
twitches and speed changes that happen before the move. When walking
down the street practice small shifts with the feet to one side or the
other so that nobody runs into you, or on another day and depending on
your mood, practice walking in a straight line while making everyone
ahead of you move aside without realizing they are moving.
All this is practice outside class.
The most basic, no, the only
way to practice is with a beginner's mind.
There are countless stories in the martial arts which demonstrate this,
cups overflowing because there's no room for more tea being very
like that tea example. This concept is very foreign for most people. So
the more examples the better. I remember somewhere you mentioned
that there were many examples for describing Jo-Ha-Kyu feeling as well.
Each one teaches me something more about the concept.
I last saw the teacup in the Jackie Chan / Jet Li movie "The Forbidden
Kingdom" as Jackie pours tea into the hero's cup until it overflows.
Without room in the cup you can't pour anything in, your cup is full
already, how can you learn? You mention Jo Ha Kyu, and a story I got
from my sensei is very similar to the teacup.
Throw a hose into a barrel and turn on the water. By the time you come
back the outlet is under an inch or so of water, you look and nothing
is happening. Go away and come back and again, nothing seems to be
happening so you don't worry about it.
Some time later you look and you can see the water rising as it's
getting near the top but it isn't so fast and you don't worry about it.
Next thing you know it's rushing up to the edge and no matter how fast
you scramble you can't get to the tap to turn it off before the water
is flowing down the sides and all over the ground.
The Jo Ha Kyu of Learning
There is a jo ha kyu of learning. As a beginner the knowledge is
flowing into us but we aren't aware of how much is coming in, it seems
like we're learning nothing. A bit later we are amazed at how much we
know but there is no urgency, we have our whole life and there is, for
some, comfort in seeing how much water we have in our barrel. For
others the comfort is in knowing how much space is left, how much time
they have to learn. As the years go by we start to realize that our
barrel is only so big and it gets a bit rushed as we try to figure out
what to do, then it's over and we are no longer around to accumulate
Those who share a bit of their "water" can learn a bit more.
Let's look at our first iaido kata. When we throw that hose into our
barrel, when we start to learn, we get a nice rush of water that swirls
around chaotically for a while, then settles down. This is learning the
dance steps, which foot goes where, how to swing the sword.
Now it seems still and for a very long time we practice but don't
notice anything happening. It is easy to assume we know all there is to
know about the kata so we consider ourselves done and look around for
more hoses, more kata, to throw into the barrel. Each hose that goes in
makes a little splash but quickly nothing, we have lots of hoses but
don't seem to be learning much more.
Eventually of course we get toward the top of the barrel, toward the
end of our lives and we realize that we are still learning but now the
information is coming way too fast. We start jerking hoses out,
savouring every moment we have left to learn what that original kata is
still teaching us until finally we're done and the learning just washes
by our cold, cold bodies.
Think how much more pure the water would have been if we'd only ever
had one hose in our barrel, how much more water from that one source
we'd have had.
Give a kid a cup at the soda fountain and he'll make "mud", mixing all
the flavours together. As he gets older he starts to mix less and
eventually settles on one flavour.
|Nov 28, 2008
From a technical point of view,
how should we practice, how should we prepare for practice, what kind
of mindset should we have?
It's obvious to me that we teach whatever it is we teach in the martial
arts through the techniques. If our primary teaching method was to
lecture, or to meditate, or perform some other sort of ritual than we
would be best described as a temple, church or cult of some sort.
The term "martial art" brings up the image of a bunch of folks
performing some sort of physical techniques which have to do with
fighting, so let's assume that's how we do it.
Now as to what we are actually teaching, it doesn't really matter, the
answer to this question is going to be the same. If we are learning how
to be lean, mean (sword)fighting machines we are going to try to be the
best at the techniques we can be. We are going to practice as if our
life depends on it, we're going to warm up and cool down, stretch, do
extra-curricular training like running and lifting weights, and we're
going to get as tough-minded as we can about it all. Don't feel good?
Go to class. Got yardwork to do? Go to class. Old girlfriend show up
suddenly and wants to make up? Go to class.
After all we're talking about something that can save our life if we
have to use it, right?
What if we're teaching how to be a better person? Or how to handle the
stress of life? How to look really cool as a modern day samurai?
For all of it we train exactly the same, hard, as if our lives depend
on it. We get as good at the technical aspects as we can. We train
regularly and seriously and we don't allow anything to distract us
while we're training. No matter why we're learning or what our
particular sensei is "really" teaching, we learn the techniques and he
How should we prepare for
Come to class clean, neat and tidy. Smelly, sloppy uniforms make for
unpleasant training for everyone. Arriving with a clean outfit is like
arriving with a clean mind, ready to work.
If you're sick or injured, take care of it. If your instructor mentions
you are weak in some area, work on it outside class, if you need to
lift weights, go do it. If you don't have any stamina, do some cardio
on your own time.
Most especially, do what you can to review and practice your martial
art at home. Work on what you've been taught and see if you can move
ahead, through books or videos, to the next section of what you're
going to learn. If you can come to class knowing which foot goes in
front of which, you will learn the fine points much more efficiently
and your instructor will be more inclined to teach you.
Finally, practice in your head, think through the movements as if you
are actually doing them. Believe it or not, this actually helps you to
get it "into the bones".
How should we practice?
Be in class on time, ready to practice. You can't learn if you aren't
there. I have had good students who are consistently late for class but
they aren't really learning to their best ability. The start of each
class usually sets the tone for the rest of the lesson, and the kihon /
warmups are where new ways of looking at the techniques are introduced.
Coming in late is also a terrible example for the beginners, but even
worse than coming late is not coming at all if you're going to be late.
Beginners need to see that the seniors are serious about practice.
The most basic, no, the only way to practice is with a beginner's mind.
There are countless stories in the martial arts which demonstrate this,
cups overflowing because there's no room for more tea being very
The best way to get an instructor to leave you alone is to tell him "I
know" when he makes a correction. The best way to make him angry is to
tell him all the reasons you can't make those corrections, or why you
haven't corrected it yet, or to say "I'm working on something else".
The correct response is "hai" or "oss" or whatever grunt your
particular art uses and then working on exactly what your instructor
just told you to do. When he tells you to do something else, do that.
Assume you know nothing. Assume you can learn from anyone. Try it, even
if you know it's a total waste of your time. Try it, even if you know
you'll never be able to do it.
Pay attention. If we're training for war, you need to pay attention. If
we're doing "moving meditation" you need to pay attention. If we're
getting ready to play a ninja in the school play you need to pay
attention. I can't think of a single reason to be in class and not
paying attention except maybe if your dad dragged you there because
he's practicing and babysitting you at the same time.
Be respectful of other people's practice. That means not monopolizing
your instructor's time. Take your correction and work on it, don't
discuss it for half an hour. That also means listening carefully when
your instructor is correcting someone nearby. Chances are you can
benefit from the instruction and even if you're so good you don't need
to listen to that advice, you can at least give those guys a bit of
space to talk and try things.
Don't teach. Sure, if you're working with someone and they just don't
get which foot goes forward, tell them but don't teach. It's a waste of
your time to tell your partner how you do it in some other school, or
to expand on the instructor's explanations. A waste of your time and
confusing to your partner. Just try it and learn from what you're
doing. The constant jibber jabber of discussion or the random nattering
in your own brain is nothing but a distraction.
What is our mindset for
Shoshin, have a beginner's mind. Be serious, assume every technique you
practice has a meaning. Every movement you make in the dojo has a
meaning. Every thought that bumps into your head has a meaning, even if
that meaning is that you are trying to distract yourself from your
Don't ever give up on a technique, or on a class, or on the art itself.
The easiest thing in the world is to give up, do it enough and you are
on the other side of the grass. Life means trying, you should train
your mind never to stop, to go straight through without trying to be
tricky. It's the effort of going to every class and paying attention
each moment in class that teaches you how to live in the world.
If you're injured, go to class and watch. Practice the movements in
your head. Mitori geiko, watching practice, is almost as good as the
Stop. Thinking. Mitori geiko means watching and doing on the floor as
well as sitting off to the side. Don't think about how to do a
technique, just watch the demonstration and then do it. Too much
thinking and worrying and planning gets in the way. See it / do it.
|Nov 27, 2008
|Technique or Values
|Nov 18, 2008
Just saw a NY
Times article on stretching and was amused to see that the popular
press had finally caught up to both the "old fashioned" stretching
techniques of the martial arts, and the research.
For the last 15 years or so I've been teaching self defence and during
the warmups I always use "ballistic stretching" or "bouncing" or, as I
see it's called now, "dynamic stretching" as opposed to "static
For just that long I've had girls in the class who are accredited
aerobics instructors giving me proper hell for doing dangerous
stretches, and telling me I should be doing the static stuff. That
means, for those of you who never stretch, that you bend over and hold
a stretch for 30 seconds.
I always told them that if they could bring in any research to prove
that static stretches were a good thing I'd do them. Of course they
never did. Static stretches are easy, expected, and no particular risk
to fat middle-aged folks who are starting aerobics classes so they're
good for providing the illusion of value for money I suppose, but I've
never done them.
They decrease flexibility, weaken muscles and do nothing to help you
warm up for exercise.
Ballistic stretches, on the other hand, swinging your body and limbs
through the range of motion and beyond, help warm up muscles and
increase flexibility. They do it fast and efficiently. Unless you're
being coached by a maniac (and I've met a few) they're also quite safe,
it's unlikely that you're going to kick your leg up so aggressively
during these exercises that you tear a hamstring.
So good for the popular press, maybe now those who get their exercise
advice from magazines will start getting some that is backed up by a
decade or so of research.
|Nov 5, 2008
|Self Esteem or Set for
Haven't bothered to look up the study but I noticed in the paper the
other day that the educational experiment we've been running for a
generation is being questioned.
I'm speaking of the self esteem movement, where we praise praise praise
the kids, telling them they are smart and talented at each chance we
get. This is supposed to raise their self esteem. Now a high self
esteem is associated with all sorts of good things, and is something to
be desired in anyone.
So has it worked? Well the article suggested that it did not. In fact,
here's the scenerio, we tell Johnny that he's talented and smart and he
then goes out and tries to do something. It isn't easy, in fact it's
hard and he feels that he's failed, that he's disappointed all the
folks that told him that he was talented, in fact he feels that he
hasn't lived up to his abilities which is just about the worst failure
Now kids aren't stupid and they see through the "everybody is a winner
and everybody gets a ribbon" thing real fast. If everyone is a winner,
nobody is. Kids get it, and discount it as another stupid adult idea so
they usually don't take anything harmful on board. But this praise for
talent is something entirely different. For a kid talent is innate,
something that they inherit or something that is mostly an accident. It
can't be anything else since they're too young to have earned or
learned any talent. So when we tell them they're talented, we tell them
they've got a gift and that things ought to be easy.
Nasty, slippery stuff. Best of intentions getting a bad result.
The study authors recommended praise for effort rather than for talent.
"Good work" rather than "Wow you're talented".
Now we come to the martial arts, something that raises self esteem
apparently without praise. The teaching method is to criticize when
something is done wrong, to encourage more effort, and to say pretty
much nothing at all when something is eventually done correctly. After
all, what praise is to be expected or given for doing something
correctly? It's not that hard to do something as you've been taught, it
just takes a bit of effort and attention.
Of course, all through this is an understanding, an unspoken
encouragement to practice, to work, to learn and try. That effort is
rewarded with attention and more instruction, not exactly praise but
something much more powerful, respect.
So, without saying "good boy" or even "good job" the martial arts still
raise self esteem. Results are not glorified or praised, the results of
martial training are achievable by everyone. Everyone who displays
self-discipline and effort that is. The martial arts reward that
effort, not the result and certainly not the potential. Any kid can
tell when he's tried hard, he's panting and his muscles hurt. He's
getting rewarded for something he has already achieved, not something
he's supposed to be able to do.
He's not set up for failure, he knows he can try, he knows he can work
toward a goal. The martial arts don't glorify the goal, they admire the
work toward it.
So, by criticizing, by expecting, and not by praise, the martial arts
manage to raise self esteem.
Weird isn't it?
|Oct 31, 2008
|Bickering Old Ladies
Over the last several years my daughter has heard me talking about
various martial arts organizations, modern and koryu, they are all the
At the top levels there are inevitably frictions, infighting and
complaining. Recently as I was describing some to her and she said
"it's just like High School, haven't they grown up yet?"
And then she came out with "They're just a bunch of bickering old
ladies aren't they?"
Perfect, just right. Like a bunch of old fishwives, you'll get some of
the top fellows complaining about each other and fighting over imagined
and real slights. The best ones can go at it for years.
Just to be clear, most of the time this is funny. The sensei usually
have the best interests of the students at heart and they keep their
bickering to themselves but occasionally there's a problem.
When you have a boss at work that is egotistical, self-centred and
unreasonable you have your salary to compensate you for putting up with
him. What about the mostly volunteer organizations that are the martial
If you're a member of such an organization, maybe even paying dues, it
might seem a bit strange to spend years putting up with someone who
seems to thrive on negative vibes and making life miserable for
everyone while treating the organization as if it was all there to
Sound familiar? I thought he might. It's unfortunate but we actually
enable these guys by hanging around and doing what they tell us to. Why
do we do it? Because they are the gatekeepers of the arts we love.
That's the payoff that keeps us around, it's not a salary but it is a
reward just the same.
There are several things we can do about this situation. The first is
nothing at all. If the art is worth more than the aggravation we can
put up with some erratic and unreasonable behaviour.
What if it gets to be a bit much? Well they say the greatest pleasure
in life is to outlive those who annoy us. Eventually the guys at the
top will move aside for one reason or another and if you hang around
long enough, it may just be you up there. Take a lesson and behave
If it's just too much to handle now? The possibilities vary depending
on the type of organization we're in. If it's a one-man band, a soke
and a few students in a small art, the only solution may be to leave.
If there are no seniors who have left earlier this may mean leaving the
art because there is nobody else around to teach you.
For those in a larger organization, with multiple folks at or near the
top, there are more choices. You might go train with another
instructor, the other instructors may eventually get tired of the
fellow and have a quiet word, or those higher up the food chain may
step in and have the same sort of words.
Whatever your situation, it's important for you to realize that mom and
dad aren't fighting because of you, they've got their own problems and
probably had them before you came along.
|Oct 30, 2008
|Over and Over Again
A lot of my students are off the net, off the discussion forums after
perhaps two or three years of heavy involvement.
I find that fairly typical, and not all that unusual. In fact the
surprising thing may be that there are people on the forums that have
been there for years.
The process is like this. You discover a large group of people who have
similar interests, some of which are experts. At least they speak with
authority and others on the forum defer to them, which makes them
appear to be experts.
You ask questions, get answers. After a while you stop asking questions
and start answering them. You may become one of the group experts.
Eventually you begin to notice that the same questions keep getting
asked, the same misconceptions keep showing up. You become a bit of a
grumpy expert because these guys don't seem to be learning anything at
all, "go use the search function", "read the damned faq", "hey didn't
you see the sticky up there?". You don't visit the forum as often as
you once did. Eventually you don't look at all, "those guys are arguing
about the same crud they were arguing about 3 years ago".
In fact it's not the same people at all, but a whole new crop of
enthusiasts. Magazine publishers have known about the two year cycle
for years. Most enthusiasts subscribe to a specialist magazine for
about two years, after which they realize that things seem to repeat
yearly. The April issue of the fitness mag always has "ten ways to
killer abs for summer" the women's mag has "ten ways to turn him on"
every third issue and the martial arts mag has its monthly story on
Bruce Lee beside the latest "ten most street effective techniques"
Hey, this stuff isn't new, the martial arts you are learning have been
taught the same way for generations, what do you figure is changing?
It's not the art, it's what you know about it, you're the one who
develops and moves on from one source of information to another.
What about the "stayers", the guys who have been on the forums for
years and years. Why are they there and what's in it for them?
The academic may be there because posting on a forum actually counts
toward his job. By posting he is fulfilling part of his obligation to
educate the masses in his specialty. Tends to be pretty dry and preachy
as befits his training and his job. Doesn't seem to be interested in
listening to the "internet facts", that common knowledge accumulated by
the masses on a forum.
The recruiter may be looking for students for his organization. The net
is a great place to find fresh blood and what better, more targeted
audience for a martial arts organization than a martial arts forum.
Always quick to point out the nearest club to the newbies, even if his
organization is totally unsuitable for what the kid wants, and is six
hours drive away.
The salesman may be using one of the most effective tactics on the net,
become an expert in several forums and make sure your company website
is in your signature. People like to buy from people they trust, or so
the advertising experts say. A more likely explanation is that folks
are a bit lazy and will tend to buy from the place right in front of
them... "oh here's a link". It's also said that an ad doesn't stick in
the mind until at least 7 exposures so keep that link in that signature.
The teacher may simply consider the folks on internet forums to be an
extended bunch of students, they may not be in class learning the
techniques but they can still learn. Takes a bit of ego to believe that
you have anything to teach someone on the other side of the world, but
teachers are nothing if not optimists.
The petty-egotist may simply want to be an expert, to have people
looking up to him. No better place to find the current internet-wisdom
than this fellow. He'll spit out unattributed, uncited (and usually
un-thoughtful) quotes at the drop of a shift key.
The IT worker may be online all day long as part of his job and posting
to the forums may be part of his routine, a way to break the monotony
of keyboarding, a way to wake up and shake out the cobwebs. Let's face
it, chatting about budo is better than data-entry any day.
The family guy may just like joking with the rest of his online family.
May "lighten up" a forum so much that it becomes devoid of useful
The control freak may delight in being hall monitor / forum moderator.
Now a forum run by a control freak isn't likely to have many family
guys around since "off topic" posts get stepped on fast by active
moderators, so does any opinion or information not conforming to the
moderator's ideas. Actually, enthusiastic and proactive moderators are
one the best ways to chase people off of a forum.
The troll is a rather endangered species on the net now that it has
split up into a hundred million esoteric interest groups. This
long-time denizen of the older days is probably not actually gone, but
who in the world can drop in on 10 or 20 martial art groups a day to
say "BJJ rooolz" or "Ninjas kick ass" or "yeah but what would you do
against a Glock 9mm?"
I've probably missed a few long-timers but one that you don't see is
"the student" the information you get about the martial arts from a
forum is fairly well defined and is easily delivered within a couple of
years. Once the student realizes there isn't anything else to be
learned, no new historical research to be uncovered, he will drift off
|Oct 29, 2008
|Dude, You're not that
In 1987 I, along with a couple other guys, developed and started
teaching the women's self defence program for the athletics department
at the University of Guelph. I still teach it. I was also on the
initial First Aid Response unit on campus, and one of our self defence
instructors helped start the Safewalk program. Both those programs are
still running on campus.
Yet each year I have to explain what the self defence course is, I have
to fight with things like hot-pole-dance-pilates for space. Each year I
have to do what I did that very first year and fight for the program,
even though I'm getting much too old to run it.
I keep wanting to yell "Do you know who I am?"
I first heard that about 20 years ago when chasing a bunch of old guys
out of the wrestling room so we could go practice some Aikido. The
fellow running the class said "Do you know who I am?" My response was
"You're over-time that's who you are".
I did actually know who he was, the John Powell Human Biology building
next door was named after him. Powell founded the Human Kinetics
program at Guelph (later Human Biology), was an Olympic track and field
coach (19 medals), member of the IOC, and developer of a lot of low
impact fitness programs for cardiac and back rehab. But really, I had
to look all that up on google, to me he was just an old guy who was
over his time-slot and he was costing me training time.
It's a shame folks don't know who you are, but they don't, and they
won't so get over it. What carries on down over the years isn't all the
wonderful things you did or started, but the programs themselves.
Programs and institutions have no memory, and while those who were
around when you started out may remember, their kids and grandkids
What carries on in the martial arts is attitude and instruction, not
the names attached. Your students will teach as you taught, and the
things you taught will be learned for generations past the time
everyone has forgotten your name.
Understand that and you will understand how to teach.
|Oct 28, 2008
|September 12-14 Jodo
Seminar in Toronto
Here are some shots from the Jodo seminar in Toronto this past Sept.
12-14 kindly taken by Stanislav Vardomskiy.
The seminar focused on Zen Ken Ren Jo (Kendo Federation jodo) and
Shindo Muso ryu koryu for the seniors present at the seminar.
Click the photo to see the rest of the shots.
Instructing the seminar were
Furukawa sensei, hanshi hachidan (front row, sixth from right) and Arai
sensei, hachidan (front row, fifth from right).
|Oct 15, 2008
|They Make It Up
The top instructors, the top top ones who have been practicing for
decades, usually answer a question without any thought at all, you ask
and they instantly answer you.
Now most of the time they've heard the question before or have asked it
of their own sensei in the past so it's no mystery how they can snap
out a response, but there are times when a senior sensei has simply
"made it up". I know because they will sometimes answer, then stop and
think about it, nod and say "yeah that's right".
Absolutely they make it up as they go. Or rather they will
spontaneously answer a question without thinking about it, even if it's
one they haven't answered or thought about before.
At a certain point these guys "own" the art in two ways, they are of
course at the top of the heap so what they say is "what it is", but
also they have been immersed in the art for so long "they own it" or as
we ought to say as good eastern mystic types: The art owns them.
In either case, what they come up with spontaneously is what is
When you're talking about a soke of a koryu, that's an absolute, what
soke says is correct, is correct. Always and forever and the only way
you can disagree or sometimes even discuss it is to leave. In this case
they can "make it up" for real if they want. They own the art in a very
practical way and can follow whatever impulse comes into their head if
they desire. Those in the art hope that they do consider things
carefully, and aren't simply being arbitrary when they declare this is
now that, but who knows.
In the ZNKR where you've got many hanshi at the top it's absolutely
amazing just how few times I've found a disagreement between one and
another. Actually on those times that I have found a "disagreement" it
turns out, after a couple-5 more years of practice on my part, to be
simply two ways to look at the same thing.
I now hunt for these contradictions when I'm listening to instructors
at seminars and use them to figure out why I think it's a
contradiction. I almost always find something new to learn when I do.
Example: In So Giri I'm told by one sensei to pull the blade straight
out of the saya at the beginning of nuki tsuke, straight out from where
the saya sits in your obi. Another sensei tells me to draw toward teki
as I begin.
Assuming always that it's not a contradiction, but that there's some
hitch in my own practice that makes me think it's a contradiction,
what's the lesson to be learned?
|Oct 9, 2008
| Things I Love About
This is from Jeff Broderick, lifted straight out of his blog here: http://jeffsbudoblog.blogspot.com/
- when I'm doing Kasumi no kamae, the way I can feel the heat
radiating off of my steaming forehead
way Furukawa Sensei (at age 75 or something) is the only person that I
can't basically fling across the dojo at will with a strong Tai-atari
- that feeling of excitement and fear I get when he looks
like he's going to practice with me
when I practice with him, I feel a weird combination of terror ("Don't
hurt me!") and total calmness and trust ("I know you're not going to
hurt me ... but you could ... but you won't... whoops, that was close
- that look he gets on his face when he knows he killed me,
and I know he killed me
he puts me through my paces while keeping an eye on the rest of the
class; he doesn't even need to devote his full attention to me
- the almost musical "Spak!" sound of a good hikiotoshi-uchi
Mr. Watano and Mr. Kadomatsu, two of the nicest, meekest guys you'd
ever care to meet, turn into demons of screaming woody vengeance when
they practice together
- the fact that, in this day and age of high-technology, oak
and rawhide are still the best things to make practice weapons out of
- "Ieeeiiii!" and "Ooohhhh!"
after practice, all the problems in my life seem less important. I'm up
to my eyeballs in debt, but who cares? I don't have a girlfriend ... so
what? It'll work itself out somehow.
How about you?
He's got it pegged pretty well. For myself I'd have to modify
a couple of points.
- When I'm practicing with someone who has the ability to
nail me, and we're paying attention, I want them to nail me. I'm not
afraid, I want them to get closer, push harder. I want to see if I can
- If I get hit I don't notice it. I've nailed Jeff (a fellow
student) and haven't cared much about his pain at the time, just been
annoyed with myself that I couldn't pull it.
- I can't describe the pleasure I get when a hikiotoshi makes
no sound at all, it's so soft you don't hear it, but the bokuto flies
away. Well OK it's probably the same sound Jeff is talking about.
And some more of my own.
- When a student suddenly comes after me, when I see in their
eyes that they're actually trying to get to me. Yet they're under
- The feeling I get when I see a student glide into a strike,
and their hips lock in perfectly. I don't see it so much as feel it in
- The feel of a really well balanced jo in my hand, 15/16 of
an inch, light and stiff, the way it shakes ever so lightly as it moves
through the air and the soft recoil as it hits a bokuto. Unfortunately,
those end up being sold or given away and I usually find some warped,
splintery monster in my hands.
- Shibori, I can do it as I'm typing this, nothing in my
hands, just holding air above the keyboard, wring the hands inward and
it all drops away. No need for 20 minutes of sitting, just move the
hands, the arms fall down, the shoulders soften, the breath drops into
my hara. This stuff started happening back when I was practicing Aikido
in the '80s and it's never gone away, just gets stronger, same arm
shape, same drop into the hips... yummy.
|Oct 5, 2008
When beginners start talking about whether or not this or that
technique would work "in real life", they often get stomped on by
senior students in the arts.
This often seems cruel or at least unkind, after all many people are in
the arts because they're fascinated by the Samurai or the European
Knights, or into anime role-playing, and they're just indulging in a
bit of harmless fantasy. What's the problem?
Folks it doesn't matter what budo you train in, whether it's koryu or
gendai, jutsu or do, East or West, whatever you want to imagine you're
doing, if you
practice under false pretenses, if you fool yourself in any way, you're
not going to get it.
The whole POINT of training is to open your eyes, take responsibility
for your own actions and become a better person.
Sure the kids complain when the old farts jump down
their throats, but that's why. Illusion is dangerous,
self-delusion is dangerous, hypocrisy is dangerous.
If you are training in jujutsu and assume for a minute that your
ultimate fighting skills will be unbeatable in an alleyway downtown,
you're deluded. If you worry and fuss about whether or not you can
flick blood off your blade by shaking it like an umbrella or giving it
a good thump with your fist, you're living in an illusion. If you
figure as an instructor that you can order your students around while
not giving them the same amount of respect as you're demanding, you're
All these things have serious psychological, if not physical
implications and they all need to be dumped overboard as soon as
Your physical skills will desert you with time, your ability to
jump-kick someone off a horse will likely go first, followed by your
ability to defeat six people in unarmed combat, and eventually you'll
get to the point where your shoulders are so creaky that you can't lift
your sword to smack that smart-alec fifteen year old. When that happens
When you get too old to do the physical techniques of your budo what is
Don't waste your time, you don't have that much of it. Train honestly
and train with honest, GOOD instructors. Not just skillful ones.
|Oct 4, 2008
Here's a technique I tell the women in my self defence classes to use.
Quite handy actually to keep us honest, decide whether or not we have
any real empathy for a situation or whether we're just taking on the
attitudes that we've been trained into. Empathy is the ability to put
yourself into the same boat as the other fellow, to feel what it's like
to be in his or her shoes.
The technique comes out of the era of radical feminism that existed
when I started teaching self defence but it is still valid today.
Simply put, when you hear something that makes you jump up and yell
"that's not fair", turn it around. For example, if you hear the
statement "women have to sacrifice to get ahead in their careers",
change the gender to "men have to sacrifice to get ahead in their
careers" and see if it makes you feel the same way. If not, you're not
very empathetic and you should think about why not.
Consider why you don't feel the same way about the two statements "when
he was 10 he had sex with his babysitter" "when she was 10 she had sex
with her babysitter". What's the difference? If you are coming up with
all sorts of reasons why you don't (or why you shouldn't) feel the same
when hearing either statement, you are not a believer in the equality
of the sexes.
This technique is extensible to different racial, age, national,
religious or political groups. Keep it in mind and try it out the next
time you find yourself getting upset at the unfairness of this or that
situation, turn it around and see if it still seems unfair to you.
If not, why not?
|Oct 3, 2008
|Blast from the Past
Wow, found a stash of old wordstar files (anybody got a good converter,
I've got one that works in DOS... you can imagine how much fun it is to
try to work from command line prompts again) and included was this
little gem from September of 1993 in an old Iaido Newsletter. I give
you a completely obscure and rare cane school of self defence.
This month we have a special
for the readers. A correspondent has
managed to interview a master of the
famed Daidokoro Ryu and has obtained
permission for us to publish these
instructions on the use of the san
shaku (three foot) cane in self-
defence. The master, who, according
to his traditions, must stay
anonymous hopes that the readers
appreciate the centuries of
tradition that these waza represent.
1. FRONT: You are sitting on a
chair, with your cane on the left
side (in your left hand) when
attacked from the front. Grasp the
cane about 6 inches from the top
with the right hand and swing it
horizontally to strike the outside
of the right knee, or if his other
foot is forward, the inside of the
left knee of the attacker.
Raise the cane overhead and using
two hands in a sword or baseball bat
type grip, strike down on the top of
2. REAR: You are walking along
attacked from behind. Step forward
with your right foot, turn
counterclockwise and grasp the cane
which is on your left side with your
right hand. Swing horizontally to
the right to catch the attacker on
the side of his forward knee, then
raise the cane overhead and strike
downward with both hands. This
technique is similar to number 1.
3. BLOCK AND DEFLECT: You are
walking down the street when an
attacker with a club strikes down at
your head from your left side. Block
his strike using your cane by
holding it in your right hand 6
inches from the top and angling it
so that the tip is downward to your
rear. Your left foot should be
forward at this point and your body
should twist to face the attacker.
Remember to keep your left hand out
of the way by putting it on your
left hip and pulling the elbow
Let the cane swing around as you
move your right foot up to your
left, grab it with the left hand and
swing down on an angle to strike the
attacker on the collar bone or the
side of his neck. As you do this
drop your weight into the blow by
sliding your left foot backward and
sinking your hips.
4. STRIKING WITH THE HANDLE: You
walking along when attacked from the
front and the rear. Your cane is in
your left hand. Grab the cane near
the top with the right hand, the
thumb facing backward to point at
the left thumb. Strike the front
attacker in the solar plexus with
the head of the cane. Right foot
forward at this point.
Turn to your left and use the
hand to thrust the tip of the cane
back into the stomach of the rear
attacker. Turn to the front again
and strike down two handed onto the
head of the front man. Both should
be down by now but make sure to
check the back man.
5. RISING STRIKE: You are once
carrying the cane in your left hand.
An attacker in front reaches for
your right shoulder with his right
hand in order to drag you around and
into a choke hold. Grab the cane
with the right hand, thumb facing
back and use a rising strike to hit
the elbow or wrist of his arm.
Continue this movement until the
cane is over your head, grasp it
with the left hand and then strike
down onto the left side of his head
or onto the side of his neck.
6. TWO HANDED THRUST: There are
attackers in front of you, the
closest with a knife. One more
attacker is to your rear. Cane on
the left again. Once more reach
across with the right hand and grasp
the cane to strike up and over in a
diagonal arc to hit the knife from
the attacker's hand. Grasp the cane
with the left hand and thrust into
his stomach. Right foot forward.
Turn to your left while raising
cane overhead step in with the right
foot and strike down on the rear
man's head. Turn back and strike
down on the third man who was behind
the first. Be ready to hit again as
you check all the attackers.
7. THREE SIDED HIT: Attackers to
front and both sides. Sweep the tip
of the cane across your front as you
strike down right handed onto the
side of the head of the man on your
right. Step toward him with your
right foot to reach him.
Turn quickly on your toes to the
left while raising the cane overhead
and strike down on the left man's
head as he comes into range.
Finally, step to the front and
strike downward onto the last man's
head. Step back and raise the cane
as you make sure all three are out
of the fight.
8. FACE STRIKE: You are attacked
two men, one close in front, one
farther to the rear. Strike upward
with both hands using the head of
the cane to hit the front man in the
face or up under his chin.
Turn to your left to face the
man while aiming the tip at him.
Thrust back right handed with a step
of your right foot to hit him in the
solar plexus. Turn to your left
again raising the cane overhead and
strike down on the head of the front
man as you step forward with the
9. PRESSING HAND THRUST: A man
to your left side thrusts with a
knife. Drop back your left foot to
adjust the distance and hit down
from the left side (using a right
hand grip on the cane) to make him
drop the knife.
Put your left hand on the cane
half way down and step in with the
left foot to thrust him in the
stomach. This will double him over
and let you hit him in the face with
a cross handed strike (like a cross-
check in hockey or a baseball bunt).
10. FOUR SIDED STRIKES: There are
attackers to the four corners, the
one to the right front grabs your
right wrist. Hit down on this wrist
with the head of the cane using both
hands. If he does not let go, trap
his wrist and pull him forward off
balance as you thrust the tip of the
cane back at the man to the left
rear hitting him in the solar
Turn back to the first attacker
strike down onto his head with an
overhead strike as you step forward
with your left foot. Turn to the
right and step forward with the
right foot to strike down on the
head of the man to the right rear
and then finally turn to your left
and step forward with the right foot
again to strike down onto the head
of the man to the left front.
Raise the cane overhead and step
back with the right foot to check
all four attackers. Be ready to
|Oct 2, 2008
|The Stock Market as a
I've been in the market for a long time, since the late '70s when I had
no job but bought a life insurance annuity from my Uncle. Been paying
into that since I was 18. I also bought and sold stocks and options and
made enough on one run-up for a downpayment on my house, and lost
several thousand dollars in half a day another time. I got bored and
bought mutual funds which are still chugging along nicely without much
attention on my part. The main point is that I've seen a bit of what
happens in the stock market.
The market is more like a martial art than one might think. It's a
zero-sum game, which is important to understand and something that
folks really don't get.
Yesterday the TSX dropped over 800 points, the "largest single day drop
in history". That it was less than 7% of its total value is a bit less
dramatic but there you are. The market is plunging and everyone is
"getting out". Panic!
But everyone is not getting out, it's a zero-sum game not a grocery
store. The price of a stock is determined by what someone will pay for
it, not by what someone decides it's worth. For each and every share
that was sold yesterday, someone bought it, and that's where the
martial art comes in.
"Buy low, sell high". You've heard this? It's true and about as useful
as hearing "Hit him before he hits you". Of course it's the right thing
to do but only those that are really good at the arts can do it. The
market, and the martial arts are mostly psychological. To hit someone
first you have to be relaxed, confident, willing to take the risk,
willing to take some damage sometimes, and alert to the timing of your
opponent. You can't listen too closely to what the experts say,
especially those who comment without experience, the kids and the
armchair MMA experts.
In the market it's hard to buy into a dropping market, to hold when
everyone else seems to be selling, and the newspapers are screaming
about a new depression and record point drops. It's especially hard to
figure out where the bottom is on these swings. This is the jujutsu of
the market, to catch your opponent (all the sheep out there that buy at
the top, sell at the bottom and run around as a herd making the market
swing up and down) off balance and "let them fall", perhaps even
helping with a bit of a nudge. You buy low and sell high.
Sell? When the market is going up? Buy when stocks are worthless? Stand
there open and invite your opponent to take a swing at your head?
And yes, there it is, this morning the news is that Europe didn't
follow the US markets down, and the Dow is coming back up again as
folks pour in to pick up the bargains. Two folks, you and "the market".
It's all timing.
Of course, like Ebay auctions and their software bidding systems, the
market isn't quite as much fun as it was. Too many computer systems
kick in and out as the markets swing and the timing is getting much too
fast these days for the average university kid reading a daily
newspaper to move in and out of swings.
If I were to do it again today I think I'd be looking at the long term.
Real estate maybe, city cores and cottages are going to make some big
runs over the next 20 years. Then old age homes as the boomers move out
of the cottages and into care facilities.
|Sept 30, 2008
|Whither Goes the Mind
Just had a question about where to put the mind while practicing the
nito seiho (two swords) kata from Niten Ichiryu.
Good question, and one that will get you hit on the head if you're
considering it while doing the kata, so the time to think about it is
Lots of folks have discussed this over the years, including Musashi in
the Gorin no sho where he devotes the final chapter to "sora", "kuh",
nothingness (the void).
He talks a bit more specifically in the second chapter where he says:
(attitude, intention or mood) of HyoHo
Hyoho kokoro mochi
For the way of
HyoHo, the preparation has to be the "same as usual"
(normal). In the normal situation, during the practice of HyoHo,
without changing to any degree, have your mind wide and straight,
don’t pull it tight, don’t give it too much play, in order to
keep it impartial, place it (your mind) at the center of your being,
gentle and calm. Even if you are being gentle and calm in your mind,
you have to practice well not to stop being like that at any moment.
If you move gently, your mind should not be gentle but if you move
hard or quick, your mind has to be gentle. Don’t let your mind be
distracted by your movement or your movement be distracted by your
mind. Even if your mind pays attention (or gives a lot of care to
something), your body shouldn’t do so. Don’t let your mind be
clumsy (or pay scant attention) but don’t give your mind too much
play. Even if your mind appears weak or sheepish, you must be strong
from the bottom of your heart, and not be seen through the mind
(don't reveal your real intention) by others.
should be the same as usual, normal. Your mind should be calm while
your body is active and your mind should be active when your body is
still, keep it all in balance. Don't get distracted and don't give
away your intentions.]
(Told you I was working on the
So your mind should be wherever you need it to be, not too focused on
one thing, not wandering around distractedly. Just like when doing
something in ordinary life.
Takuan Soho wrote a whole book dedicated to the question but it too
comes down to the concepts of fudoshin (immovable mind) and fushin
(frozen mind). While I always got a headache trying to keep those two
seemingly identical terms separated, they do sort of make sense. An
immovable mind is one that doesn't get distracted and go off chasing
after every stray thought or getting caught up in the details. A frozen
mind is one that gets stuck on something, your left hand, what
your right foot is doing... that sort of thing.
Why did the punk cross the road? Because he was stapled to the chicken.
Don't let your mind be the punk... the chicken is some sort of useless
detail during a kata by the way, in case you hadn't figured that out
So let's not take a kata and discuss it, let's take something almost
everyone does, driving a car.
I suspect all of us have experienced, at least once, the rather
upsetting situation where we suddenly start paying attention to "what
we're doing" while we're driving. It might be caused by getting into a
new car and not being able to find the defroster, but for whatever
reason we start thinking, "where's the blinker switch, it has to go on
now, which way is right? Up?"
It spirals out of control from there, we're having trouble finding
streetlights in the visual clutter, having trouble trying to read
street signs to figure out if we can turn right on a red, trying to
shift without clutching if it's a manual, and on and on.
The best thing to do is to pull over and go for coffee until we "forget
how to drive" then get back in the car and "just do it".
When we're driving properly, when we're doing a kata in the correct
way, we're not really relying on habitual movements. Yes we have
movements like reaching for the radio button that we do without thought
because we've got a muscle memory of where it is, but we rarely get
confused between radio volume and defroster fan. It goes beyond a
habit. What we're doing is allowing our brain to take care of the
non-critical motions of driving in the same way as it takes care of
things like swallowing and itching a scratch. They're not exactly
autonomic actions like digesting food or even breathing, but they're
not something we need to think about unless there's some problem, then
the rationalization (what we usually refer to as "the mind") kicks in
to analyse and solve the problem.
To consciously try to put the mind in this place or that introduces a
needless and often dangerous second level of rationalization into the
process. Thinking about what I should think about while driving is
simply a distraction.
Incidentally, that's why cellphones are so dangerous in a car. While we
usually have periods of thinking space when driving, we need to call
our minds back to the situation at hand fairly regularly. Most of the
time when talking on a cellphone it's no different than talking with
someone in the car, perfectly safe. The difference is that when we need
to pay attention to something like turning at an intersection, our car
passengers will shut up and help us drive. They will actually turn
their heads and look with us at the traffic, and even if they don't say
anything, they will tense and become more alert when seeing something
the driver should also see. We pick that up.
On the other hand, the person speaking on the cellphone has no clue
what we're doing in the car and will just keep talking. This occupies
our rational mind, often just enough for us to miss seeing the
transport truck that is running the orange as we make the right turn on
We don't have cellphones to our ears while doing kata but there are
plenty of other things to think about which could distract us.
Don't think at all, except when you're thinking and then don't think
about your thinking, just move on.
|Sept 23, 2008
It's September again so lots of students arriving back to class from
their summer vacations. I hope they start showing up in my class soon.
I've had a bit of a vacation myself from the blog while I wrote an
article or three and... wait for it... actually did some work on the Go
Rin no Sho translation I've been working on for over 10 years. I hope
to keep pecking away at it so that all those of you that bought it so
many years ago will finally have your copy in your hands.
One thing at a time but I've also started taking some shots for the
cane self defence book I wrote even longer ago than the Go Rin project.
That may show up some time before I shuffle off the old stage...
As regards that project, shuffle on over to Kim's art and photography
blog and see if you're interested in financing my new camera to
replace the one I managed to damage. You can read the whole sad story
|Sept 22, 2008