May 19, 2017

I still have the view that aikido can make the world a better place by its opportunity to cultivate more centered, aware, and peaceful/confident people. However it’s been a continuous concern of mine to see such a proportion of people doing aikido who are insular and isolated, staying within their aikido world, people who have never felt “aiki” and cannot fathom what it feels like other than to experience more strength or pain or fear, and people who are strongly attached to the “lower” concerns of other martial arts, mainly the issue of, is it effective. As for aikido resulting in people making the world a better place, I think it’s the people who overcome the above challenges who will build bridges and communicate and develop relationships with the “other” people.

I recently read an article with a section that put quite clearly what I think is a growing modern problem: miscommunication.


The argument that’s most convincing to you is not convincing to your ideological opponents

There’s a dynamic playing out in the current health care debate, and in health care debates of ages past. Liberals make their arguments for expanding coverage in terms of equality and fairness (i.e., everyone should have a right to health care), while conservatives make their case grounded in self-determination (i.e., the government shouldn’t tell me how to live) and fiscal security (i.e., paying for health care will bankrupt us all).

…Moral foundations explain why messages highlighting equality and fairness resonate with liberals and why more patriotic messages like “make America great again” get some conservative hearts pumping.

The thing is, we often don’t realize that people have moral foundations different than our own.

When we engage in political debates, we all tend to overrate the power of arguments we find personally convincing — and wrongly think the other side will be swayed.

On gun control, for instance, liberals are persuaded by stats like, “No other developed country in the world has nearly the same rate of gun violence as does America.” And they think other people will find this compelling, too.

Conservatives, meanwhile, often go to this formulation: “The only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”

What both sides fail to understand is that they’re arguing a point that their opponents may be inherently deaf to.

It’s very hard for a person to not say what he/she thinks is fundamentally important. It’s hard to talk from a place that is not your core common sense. I think it takes people who are very self-aware (to notice that this is the situation they face), very adaptable, unfettered, and unattached, not to mention clever (to communicate and relate in a way that is likely not easy or natural), and proactive (to take the trouble to communicate and build relationships rather than being reticent and “just leaving other people be”).

There was another blog post that resonated and connected these particular dots for me that I’m writing about here.


It Is Very Compelling To Be Pulled Into An Opponent’s Strength.

When invited to spar, inevitably we are being invited to spar on the terms of the inviter, and there is a very insidious and compelling force that draws us into doing so without critically examining what is happening. Unfortunately, this same thing happens when we get drawn into online (or in-person) debates about the merits of various martial arts; we start using the terminology of the person on the other side of the debate, and measuring our art against what they value and easily understand while simultaneously forgetting what is important about Aikido.

Sometimes we find the lure of defending our art in these online debates irresistible, because we hold in our most secret of hearts a deep insecurity about what we have been taught, and whether or not we could “measure up” if we had to. “How dare you impugn my training!” I think it’s important to be aware of our motivations for responding to debate; Aikido doesn’t need to be defended on this front, and if we were truly confident in our training and convictions, we wouldn’t feel the need to be defensive. It’s up to us to discover if we have that insecurity, and as Saotome Sensei said, “go out and fix it.”

In the above excerpt, we see the opposite phenomenon. Instead of overly operating from his own “common sense”, he overly adopts the other persons’. I think both result from insecurity and becoming perturbed. I would also imagine that overly staying in your own common sense is easier and feels more secure. The sensation of familiarity being confused with security is something that I think the practice of budo gives us the opportunity to face and overcome.

The above excerpt’s author relates some ways that he tried to bridge the gap with some disparaging MMA people. One way was to show a fast randori with shinai.

By showing one of the strengths of Aikido, it removed the visitors disrespect of Aikido.

But in these episodes that he relates, his goals were to shut up the other people’s disparaging comments and convince those MMA visitors that Aikido wasn’t worthless, while displaying some level of adherence to aikido. However he slightly contradicts himself in his conclusion, which is that aikido is about life itself, not just the practice on the mat. The fruits of one’s aikido practice in that case are harder to show to a skeptic as resulting from the aikido practice.

And in the author’s earlier experiments relating with the disparaging MMA people, in doing aikido technique, he “generally succeeded” but didn’t convince them that aikido wasn’t worthless. That is, he showed them some proof that he probably thought was important enough to be convincing at the time, yet they weren’t convinced.

From yet another blog, this time responding to the question, how will I know what “aiki” looks and feels like when I encounter it?


Real Aiki looks fake, and fake Aiki looks fake. So which one is which?

What does one feel for in person? The feeling of Aiki! It is a feeling different from the overcoming of resistance with force. And it is a feeling different from the overcoming of resistance through technique (usually leverage, timing, and/or psychological manipulation). It is the feeling on behalf of the non-Aiki person of full physical effort, with the result of no sense of resistance, no expected outcome, and no proper explanation for what is occurring.

I think the author is describing some very high level of aiki. For those with “just” medium level, then the non-aiki person probably feels some muscle power and resistance.

In my experience, presuming that I’m somewhere between low and high level of aiki, the other person often interprets what they feel as only muscle power. There is no convincing based on what they feel, no puzzled headshaking. I think there are a number of factors at play, none of which can be isolated and defined. But it comes down to one person having an imperfect way of expressing something and the other person having a set, assimilating way of taking in experience.

The easy question that has popped into mind long ago for me was, in order to convince the other person, do I need to do some highly painful, highly muscular technique? I actually have done that and the other persons universally are not won over, suddenly full of praise. On my side, it does not feel good or right to express myself in that way.

There is no magic silver bullet that will work in all cases and with all people. However I’m currently thinking, regarding communication with people who have fundamentally different perspectives: it’s important to stop wasting effort as early as possible continuing to express what’s important to oneself if that doesn’t click with the other person – it’s simply ego and attachment to continue; it requires cleverness and inventiveness to think up ways that might possibly click with the other person; it requires compromise and flexibility to express oneself in ways that are not fully in line with one’s usual, familiar mode. Finally, it requires conviction and persistence. One cannot always be expressing oneself with the aim of convincing another person. That would be reactive. (And of course, being talked to as “one of those ‘other’ people” never feels good.) If one can continually and consistently express themselves as they really are, in a way that is not narrow but more and more expansive and variable, then one is likely increase the probability of clicking with those “other” people.


August 19, 2016














WWE Aikido

August 19, 2016

Recently I happened to read one of the perennial Youtube comments of a video of a skilled aikido teacher and her average student. The comment said, “It’s just WWE (professional entertainment wrestling)”. That stuck with me because it rung so true.

A comparison of the two: It’s comprised of two people, one of them flinging themselves at the other to be thrown and apparently “defeated”. The roles and throws are largely agreed upon. When it looks “good”, an outside observer has more trouble discerning the level of complicity i.e., how much the person falling is cooperating, assisting, and aware of what is being done to them. People tend to give approval when they judge that the amount of pain, force, or unintended consequences apparently experienced by the person falling is real.

How do aikido people typically refute skepticism? They usually claim that the pain, force, or unintended consequences (i.e., loss of control) is real. However, the skeptics likely cannot avert their attention from the prearranged, predecided aspects of the interaction e.g., the roles, the attack. However true it may be, it’s not very convincing to say that the pain, force, or loss of control is much greater than you woulda thunk!

The above way of refuting skepticism is actually a low-brow way of fighting low-brow criticism. In addition to its ineffectiveness, doing it more convincingly is the same as doing worse aikido (i.e., more painfully/forcefully/out of control).

Another way to respond to skepticism/criticism, while not more likely to win over critics (in fact, dismisses the low-brow skepticism), leads us more to the essence of budo practice. The difference between WWE and aikido is that we in aikido examine and improve the relationship between the partners. While repeating the agreed upon forms, we strive toward sincerity – a sincerity that is austere and demanding. The interaction may not end with a spectacular fall because, in contrast with WWE, that is not the objective.

In addition to the relationship, the other objective is about the individual practitioner. Is the person developing an unfettered mind? a more functional body? a finer perception and concentration? These aspects may develop in a person practicing other sports and arts – but is it the objective? I believe this is where the difference lies.

There are people who do aikido with the WWE mentality. They learn to generate power, they develop athleticism, and they cultivate certain mental aspects. But these are byproducts – not the main purpose – if a person just practices the low-brow, sport-like aikido.

I have two criticisms of low-brow aikido, closely related to the fact that, in the real world, it is not practiced vigorously. Imagine the difference between the WWE stars on TV and doing the same moves with you and your cousin in the living room, with little to no practice – one is going to be unmistakably more spectacular and more demanding than the other.

The first problem is that the physical techniques are not actually performed in a way that is fine or outstanding enough to beget the mental benefits, let alone the physical. Physically, is the person learning how to generate or receive power? to use exacting timing? to operate with thin margins? to use their body to the utmost? It is possible to do techniques with pain, force, and unpredictability without any spectacular results. If you are being neglectful of the spectacular or sublime results and also not emphasizing the mental objectives, then your practice is lacking.

The second problem is relying on the measures of pain and force, and the resultant suffering and fatigue, to judge your practice as “real”. Becoming numb to the poor, haphazard use of pain and force, both as the giver and the receiver, is in direct opposition to the individual objective of budo, which is to preserve oneself physically and become perceptive and mindful mentally. The physical and mental toughness are simply byproducts of good practice and requisites to continue along “the Way”, just as acquiring technical knowledge is.

These days, I worry when I see that most aikido fits the above description. There is little looking inward, little development of connection with partner, while also little spectacular results (and the standards for calling something “spectacular” are apparently dropping, too). There is negligent use of force and almost meaningless inflicting and receiving of pain. This is the easiest target for skeptics and poorest representative for the fine aspects of aikido.

There is some of the kind of aikido that is spectacular in the WWE way, benefiting from the byproducts related to physical function, durability, exacting timing, etc. However, practitioners that do this well are few and are likely limited to the most youthful and vigorous practitioners.

To people who advocate an aikido that is more inclusive, the low-brow, neglectful aikido is easy – people will naturally default toward it. As teachers, and leaders within the tradition of aikido, I think it is a responsibility to make an effort to keep out in front the positive aspects that distinguish aikido from bad WWE acting. If it cannot be the most strict, mentally/attentively focused kind of practice, then some infusion of the exacting, sincere relationship as well as inward examination should be paramount.


August 18, 2016


Now, Guterstam and his colleagues have tricked humans into actually feeling our peripersonal space.

To do so, they turned to the well-known rubber hand illusion. In the standard form of this illusion, the experimenter uses a paintbrush to stroke a volunteer’s hand (which is hidden from view) and an adjacent, visible rubber hand. The stroking is done simultaneously at the same speed and place on both the real and rubber hand. Within minutes, most people report feeling the touch of the brushstrokes on the rubber hand as if it belonged to them.

In the new study, which involved 101 adults, the researchers made one important change to the experiment. They never brushed the rubber hand directly. Instead, they moved the brush above the rubber hand, again at the same time as brushstrokes that touched the real hand.

This meant the volunteer felt touch on their real hand but watched the brush move in mid-air, say, about 10 centimetres above the rubber hand.

Most volunteers reported feeling a “magnetic force” or “force field” between the paintbrush and the rubber hand below – as if the brush was encountering an invisible barrier.

The first thing that came to mind upon reading this was the phenomenon in aikido where both tori and uke unwittingly collude to an extent that they might both report actually feeling an effect when in fact it’s illusory. Always make sure you maintain some contact with “other” i.e., people not in your in-group.

Becoming a thief

August 10, 2016

In budo practice, one must learn to become a thief.

Not a beginner, but experienced student. The beginner is still purely absorbing methods and learning various goals. Through experience, the beginner (hopefully) develops the ability to judge those various methods and results. Learning to be a thief means that student also develops the ability to regulate his own critical judgment and non-judgmental acceptance. That is, the student can discern whether something that others claim to be valuable may not, in fact, be so; the individual person judges whether the proclaimed or acknowledged value of something is truly as high or low (or ignored) as is they are told.

The thief must be deliberate. He observes his target and its owner. He considers how much time and effort it will take to steal the thing. He considers whether he will use the thing in the same way as the owner, and accordingly, whether it will have the same value to him as it does to the owner. If possible, he observes other similar targets – are they of higher quality? and will he have the opportunity to steal from a higher quality target? If not, he needs to be clever and extrapolate what a higher quality target is like, compared to the one he is able to actually steal.

The above is largely about judgment. There is a second component:

There is a potential distraction. The owner may be telling you how to take the thing from him i.e., the teacher may be teaching. But it’s possible that that method that they are putting forth is not the most suitable way to get it into your body and mind. You yourself have to figure that out  – probably first and foremost. That ability is your ability to steal other things from other teachers. It’s like the straw with which you suck in the good nectar. When the teachers teach you, “Their instructions are based on their own paths, their own lifetimes of building understandings”. To understand their teachings, you unavoidably have to do some translation. What they mean. Where they’re coming from. Like learning language, if you are forever translating in order to understand what someone says, you are stuck at a stage of not making that language your own. There needs to be a flipping back and forth between translating and saying to yourself, “This is the gist of the message”, with less and less translating and more and more “This”.

When a student goes back to his home dojo, he experiments on how to achieve the same results as the original owner. He uses that which the owner gave him, as well as what which he himself has accumulated thus far. Again, back to the crucial component of judgment: some people do not exercise that judgment and are instead simply greedy and ignorant. They try to steal that which doesn’t suit them at that point in time. Because it doesn’t suit them, they cannot achieve the same results as the original owner. If they are properly clever, they will put that original target away in the back of their mind to steal later. In the meantime, they will steal other “nuggets” to throw into their pile. As that pile grows bigger, each theft becomes easier and easier.

Stealing is essential. You almost have to want to steal something. Otherwise you need to do the whole process by yourself, of finding some need that must be fulfilled, figuring out what skill you need to fulfill it, and then figuring out how to get that skill. (This may be the way of stark survival. Even then, you’d have to just hope to be lucky enough that another potential opponent has not figured out some skill before you have.) Keeping an open mind toward others means you will learn of needs before encountering them yourself, and you will encounter skills that will not only fulfill needs but open your eyes to other areas of study and other ways of looking at things.

Be scientific

August 10, 2016

In the pursuit of aikido, one must be very scientific.

First and foremost, a student must be observing and noticing. They should always be thinking, did I really see what I thought I saw just now? There can always be more detail and other perspectives. There should be a sense of curiosity and wonderment, particularly when presented with something one cannot do oneself. Observing may be as straightforward as observing what the teacher is putting on the “main stage”. It is more interesting when one also observes all the subtler things, such as how the main stage is being set up and what’s happening on the lesser stages. Observation should of course be with the eyes and the body, but also viscerally. When one is watching other students take uke for the teacher, one should strive to imagine how one would feel in the other students’ place. Thus, even in the observation stage, imagination has an important function.

The second piece is intellectual smarts and imagination/creativity. The observations open the way to action. In order to make any change toward progress, the student must formulate hypotheses and carry out experiments around those hypotheses. If a student is unthinking, then they are just going through the motions with no purpose i.e., they are performing the experiment as the teacher shows, but noticing or monitoring nothing, nor answering any questions. Formulating hypotheses and thinking of experiments both require imagination and creativity. Discipline is also important as a student must continue performing the experiments and not simply give up or neglect them because they are not as interesting as they were in the first few minutes. The initial interest should be connected with a drive to actually find out – being  committed to finding out.

Having intellectual intelligence is important also because one must discern the variables at work. They are often extremely difficult to see in real time and rarely completely duplicated. Creativity is crucial here, too, to extrapolate what happened was because this or that variable was different, same, etc. All of this needs to be on an intuitive, not intellectual, level – it is just too much to know with one’s head. Knowing with one’s head comes after knowing intuitively/with the body. Even if the same two people replicated every interaction perfectly, there is such a variety of people in aikido that the learning curve is steep. However, learning from and making use of observation is very important.

Discipline was mentioned earlier. Discipline is also important because one cannot perform endless experiments and gather mountains of data. Discipline is necessary to do some minimum amount of experimentation, but it also controls you from doing too much. In many cases, you will have to go forward without 100% reassuring evidence. In fact, you’ll need discipline to always keep your eyes peeled for further data on a previously started study – the data keeps popping up everywhere, unexpectedly.

The noticing/attentiveness is important later in the game, too. Even when you think you have a grasp of something, you should always be on the lookout for any contradictory or inexplicable evidence. If you can notice that and reconcile it with your existing grasp, then your existing grasp will only deepen.

Intensity and Sincerity

July 1, 2016

Aikido practice is very cooperative. We have both partners who know what end result is trying to be realized. They know what the starting conditions are (e.g., a grab, a strike). Even then, what exactly is supposed to happen is fuzzy, especially during the technique. Mostly people tend to find some “safe” area to agree to work within. However, the myriad understandings of what is supposed to happen means that there are just as many ways that one might think to take it out of the “safe” zone and be more sincere or intense.

There is the ‘uke’ doing the initial attack strongly or fast in a way that eliminates the possibility for responsiveness. There is also the ‘uke’ breaking contact and/or decreasing engagement during the technique. The ‘uke’ person does various things to thwart the end result(s) and ‘tori’ is expected to a) continue to try to execute a technique or b) execute various evasive actions and maintain some control of self and situation. Supposedly this way of doing ‘uke’ makes the practice more intense because ‘tori’ must deal with various unpredictable actions by ‘uke’ and is under more pressure to be in complete control of ‘uke’.

In very small amounts, I believe this kind of practice may be eye-opening. It may show ‘tori’ how little control he has and how much he normally depends on uke’s cooperation. The downside is, the interaction between the partners is inherently decreased. This makes for a shallower practice. Furthermore, establishing some form of connection and consequently more interaction is something that the stronger and more aggressive person can do. That is, that person can grab on to the ‘uke’ or counterattack more. This makes the practice better suited to certain physiques and temperaments. Another piece that makes this “intense” is often speed. Unfortunately, speed is not truly a big problem and more meaningless still when the action is more-or-less predecided. In all of the above cases, the ‘uke’ is mostly taking away any need for ‘tori’ to do anything. It only looks “intense” when ‘tori’ tries and continues to try to do anything, as it isn’t appropriate to the situation anymore. And from what I’ve seen, ‘uke”s priority seems to be more about self-preservation than hitting ‘tori’.

Personally, I would consider two kinds of practice to be “intense”.

First is a variation on the breaking contact/decreasing engagement scenario above. The crucial caveat would be for ‘uke’ to be very discriminating about when it is opportune to do so. Oftentimes, there are many instances in which a) ‘uke’ is just running away or b) ‘uke’ is oblivious to their own openings, in part thanks to ‘tori’ being busy trying to execute a technique and not hitting ‘uke’. I think that including the possibility of ‘uke’ not cooperating at any point during the technique increases the intensity and necessary concentration of both partners.

Second is practice in which you give and receive from each other all your power. As ‘uke’, you place yourself where ‘tori’ can throw your center as optimally hard as he can while absorbing his power with your center as much as you can. When attacking/during the technique, ‘uke’ maintains some muscular tension all throughout while always moving in accordance with ‘tori’, not in some other direction nor too late or early. This practice is not restricted to both partners being of similar physical build and mutually interested in youthfully vigorous practice.) That is, there are adjustments made to be appropriate for each partner’s limitations of power and endurance.

At this time, I’m mostly inclined to view “serious” practice as more appealing than “intense” or extraordinarily “sincere” practice. I try to make this the norm as best as I can. While working to keep the engagement continuous, respecting and accepting the natural ebbs and flows, not forgiving ‘uke’ opportunity to break connection with any advantage, and being fully “available” to any kind of adaptation in the moment.