Kinds of strength

August 30, 2017

At a recent roundtable discussion, someone mentioned that they thought that it was crucial for uke to always be giving energy to the nage. Uke should not emphasize just being there to fall down or have their posture broken. Often in aikido there is confusion between the two, with most people expecting the uke to be someone who falls down regardless of what happens, and by extension, if they continue an effort to stand back up, they are being antisocial and difficult.

In Endo sensei’s seminar classes, he often has uke use one or two hands to grab and raise the nage’s arm up. Nage then practices how to extend the arm downward. Even here, the behavior of uke seems to be interpreted in two ways. In one, uke continues to give energy, whether like a strongly flowing current or less strongly. When nage extends the arm downward, uke may allow their posture to be broken, but the priority is to continue to extend upward or return to how they were initially. In the other interpretation, uke raises the nage’s arm up and tries to remain fixed there. There is no more effort to raise the arm up. When nage begins to extend the arm down, uke 1) has no ability to regulate their effort to maintain the initial state strongly or less strongly, and 2) if nage starts to succeed at lowering the arm and accordingly uke’s posture starts to break, uke still does not extend any energy toward nage – they only try to stop the process of their posture breaking. This effort to stop can include using bursts of effort, repositioning, and changing the connection i.e., grab. All of these changes make the partnered, agreed-upon practice difficult.

There is no clear line between the first and second interpretations. This lends itself to confusion between the two kinds of strength, or the two kinds of challenge nage encounters as they try to lower the arm.

As nage, it is important to discern between the two kinds of challenge as one may waste effort trying to make something impossible happen, or make something improbable happen smoothly or quickly. Also, the effort toward the first goal can be all-captivating, but when one notices one is dealing with the second kind of strength, one can remember there are other goals. The first effort doesn’t need to be completed. The more important thing is that one can still be available for other efforts and goals.

As uke, it is important to discern between the two kinds of strength because the objective is different. It is nonsensical to devote a significant effort toward something one doesn’t even understand, particularly when that something seems to interfere with the partner’s learning. Also, as uke, one is continually experiencing having one’s posture broken yet somehow being available to the nage partner for it to continue happening or happen again and again. The process that uke is undergoing is being disrupted yet not disrupting oneself i.e., receiving and mediating nage’s efforts to disrupt/break posture. This mediating process is the crucial piece. It is not just about receiving nage’s efforts and energy, but how one is receiving it and interacting with it. The interaction is quite spontaneous and vague, so the objective is all the more important. Should the uke be trying to insulate oneself from any of nage’s efforts? Should uke be nakedly open to all of nage’s efforts? The answer is somewhere in between, but hard to define, since in words it is to end up having one’s posture broken and falling down, yet not make it excessively easy to do so.


Curiosity / 気づくこと

August 29, 2017

Curiosity / 気づくこと (kizukukoto). The tendency or inclination to notice things, and the relevance to luxury services, as mentioned in the article, as analogous to very fine individual “fitting”, a salient feature of budo. In the context of an organization, this kind of curiosity behavior being encouraged, rewarded, and normalized is crucial for leadership to do.

Businesses design standard processes to make sure they get good ratings by checking all the boxes on the agencies’ lists. These ratings are then used by company marketing departments to impress customers, thereby driving volume and revenue. These ratings cannot be ignored. Get a bad one, and your competition will use it to sell against you.

However, trying to provide luxury service by implementing standardized processes that will ensure compliance, with checklists designed by third parties that do not know your business as you do, will inevitably fail to address individual customer needs. These kinds of checklists address the fundamentals of good service — but meeting the requirements of the ratings agencies with standardized processes will inevitably disappoint the individual that you, as a luxury business, most need.

Catering to the individual is what defines luxury; in the luxury segment, it is the critical competitive differentiator. The challenge for any business seeking to deliver a luxury experience is to be knowledgeable enough to go beyond the standard, to have hair spray for the person who needs it whether or not it’s on a checklist.

Curiosity is a quality we look for — and hire for — in staff. Without curious employees asking questions and listening to guests, we can’t get the information to build future dossiers: “What brings you to the hotel?” “What can we do to make your stay enjoyable?” And we reward employees who engage, making their successes part of our hotel’s oral culture.

“They were not authentic, but they were sincere”

August 29, 2017

IT was going to be the biggest presentation of my life — my first appearance on the TED Conference main stage — and I had already thrown out seven drafts. Searching for a new direction, I asked colleagues and friends for suggestions. “The most important thing,” the first one said, “is to be yourself.” The next six people I asked gave me the same tip.

We are in the Age of Authenticity, where “be yourself” is the defining advice in life, love and career. Authenticity means erasing the gap between what you firmly believe inside and what you reveal to the outside world.

But for most people, “be yourself” is actually terrible advice.

A decade ago, the author A. J. Jacobs spent a few weeks trying to be totally authentic. He announced to an editor that he would try to sleep with her if he were single and informed his nanny that he would like to go on a date with her if his wife left him. He informed a friend’s 5-year-old daughter that the beetle in her hands was not napping but dead. He told his in-laws that their conversation was boring. You can imagine how his experiment worked out.

How much you aim for authenticity depends on a personality trait called self-monitoring. If you’re a high self-monitor, you’re constantly scanning your environment for social cues and adjusting accordingly. You hate social awkwardness and desperately want to avoid offending anyone.

But if you’re a low self-monitor, you’re guided more by your inner states, regardless of your circumstances. In one fascinating study, when a steak landed on their plates, high self-monitors tasted it before pouring salt, whereas low self-monitors salted it first. As the psychologist Brian Littleexplains, “It is as though low self-monitors know their salt personalities very well.”

Low self-monitors criticize high self-monitors as chameleons and phonies. They’re right that there’s a time and place for authenticity. Some preliminary research suggests that low self-monitors tend to have happier marriages and lower odds of divorce. With your romantic partner, being authentic might lead to a more genuine connection (unless your name is A. J. Jacobs).

But in the rest of our lives, we pay a price for being too authentic. High self-monitors advance faster and earn higher status, in part because they’re more concerned about their reputations. And while that would seem to reward self-promoting frauds, these high self-monitors spend more time finding out what others need and helping them. In a comprehensive analysis of 136 studies of more than 23,000 employees, high self-monitors received significantly higher evaluations and were more likely to be promoted into leadership positions.

Children who see abilities as fixed give up after failure; managers who believe talent is fixed fail to coach their employees. “As we strive to improve our game, a clear and firm sense of self is a compass that helps us navigate choices and progress toward our goals,” Herminia Ibarra, a professor of organizational behavior at the business school Insead, notes. “When we’re looking to change our game, a too rigid self-concept becomes an anchor that keeps us from sailing forth.”

If not our authentic selves, what should we be striving to reach? Decades ago, the literary critic Lionel Trilling gave us an answer that sounds very old-fashioned to our authentic ears: sincerity. Instead of searching for our inner selves and then making a concerted effort to express them, Trilling urged us to start with our outer selves. Pay attention to how we present ourselves to others, and then strive to be the people we claim to be.

Rather than changing from the inside out, you bring the outside in.

When Dr. Ibarra studied consultants and investment bankers, she found that high self-monitors were more likely than their authentic peers to experiment with different leadership styles. They watched senior leaders in the organization, borrowed their language and action, and practiced them until these became second nature. They were not authentic, but they were sincere. It made them more effective.

Next time people say, “just be yourself,” stop them in their tracks. No one wants to hear everything that’s in your head. They just want you to live up to what comes out of your mouth.


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.