So who really was O’Sensei?

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As time moves on, more and more of O’Sensei’s original students pass away. O’Sensei lives in the memory of those people that trained with him and those memories are in some cases recorded for those of us that were born in the generation after his passing. From these memories we get a picture of who we think he may have been.

In some cases you might get the feeling that O’Sensei has been elevated to sainthood. He is held in high esteem by a number of people and a for many good reasons. His wisdom passed down to us today is a light for many people that is true. His hope that Aikido would be something that would become the Art of Peace in the modern world is a goal that many Aikidoka believe in and strive towards. His words are often quoted and used to encourage people.

Here are some things I have learned about O”Sensei which I feel give me a window into his life, perhaps it is very different to the way you see O’Sensei. Yet I would like to share it with you anyway!

First off he was a Soldier and a War Veteran as a young man. He had served his country on the front lines in the Russo-Japan war. He was reported to be a physically strong man, he worked in heaving logging by hand clearing farmland. It is suggested that his arms were the width of a normal persons legs.

O’Sensei was trained in Daito Ryu Aiki Jujutsu, he became a master of Daito Ryu and taught it to others, his physical capacity was matched with his razor sharp techniques taught to him by Sokaku Takeda a hard man who had killed many other men in his lifetime.

Yet he was also religious and a non conformist, he rejected Confucianism and embraced a small known religion of Oomoto which was / is monotheistic as opposed to the common polytheistic religious forms of the time.

I have never understood the reasons why, nor what the turning point was, yet its my view that his Oomoto theology influenced him to reject the ideals of striking in Daito Ryu and to turn to the creation of Aikido, a martial art based around non violence and a hunger for peace.

During WW2 he became aware that the leadership of Japan were wanting him to train people for war and he refused, leaving for his farm in a rural area and acknowledging that defeat was coming, yet that it would also be a good thing as finally the true nature of the art of peace could be finally realised.

Post WW2 the rest is history that most people are aware of, a number of people were his apprentices and set off locally and across the world to teach the art of peace to others. Now many of those people are joining O’Sensei and it is the rest of us that are taking up the challenge to promote Aikido and the message of peace that O’Sensei has for the western world.

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Training Etiquette

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Do you train in more than one Dojo / Gym? Are you perhaps looking at increasing your training hours with the only option to do so being to train at another Dojo or Gym apart from where you currently train? Are you looking at cross training in another style apart from the martial art or combat system that you currently train in? If this describes you – read on, here are some simple tips to help you on your journey.

1, Yes, you should advise your current Sensei / Instructor of your intention and your reason why. If you feel uncomfortable about doing that, be assured that your feeling of discomfort will only get worse over time. If you are serious about your training you should aim to have a policy of open honesty with your Sensei / Instructor of where your training is at.

1b, – It may happen that you advise your Sensei / Instructor that you wish to take additional training elsewhere and their response is that “you can only have one Sifu / Sensei / Instructor”. If this happens you will need to re-evaluate your training, either to stay or to move on. Personally I don’t agree that you can only have one Sensei, yet in some more traditional dojo that is the case and you should respect their wishes and make a determination to stay or go. Being of the understanding that it is not permitted and going ahead and doing it anyway thinking they will change their minds or they are simply wrong and you can do as you please can often lead to problems later on.

2, It may happen that your Sensei / Instructor will be supportive of your goal to increase your training hours elsewhere. If they do, give considerable weight in your decision to any recommendations that they make about appropriate people to train with. This can also work well for you if you are moving geographically to another location and wish to pick up your training elsewhere. Often your Sensei / Instructor will be across a considerable network of contacts. Being that they know you and your capacity, they can often pair you up with an appropriate person that can give you quality training as opposed to trying places at random or from those places that have the best advertising as opposed to content.

3, Yes, you need to advise your potential Sensei / Instructor that you are trained and graded in another dojo / gym and that you are there for x and x reason and gain their approval before you begin training with them.

4, Depending on your reason for seeking extra training, it can be wise to try and stay within the same denomination if possible, this can be an easier transition for you and your grading will be recognised accordingly if it is registered with their governing body.

5, If you wish to train in the same style, but in another denomination, wear your white belt or patch. It is great that you went out and earned your coloured or black belt with your current training group, having the expectation that a different Aikido / Krav Maga / Karate group is instantly going to recognise it is both unlikely and disrespectful. Have the expectation that you will begin in white and grade as their syllabus allows. Your new Sensei / Instructor will make their own deliberation if they wish to recognise your grading and often they want to see the content of your personal character before the decision is taken. If however you wish to go somewhere where for a set fee where they will award you your coloured belt with the certificates signed on the bonnet of your car for the necessary $$$ then perhaps try and think a little more carefully about the quality and standard of what you are getting as well as your own motivation for doing so.

6, Decide where your ‘home base’ is going to be. Try to be realistic about your expectations at your second training centre. Be cautious of overextending yourself and this then impacting your training in a negative way as you journey on. Bear in mind that family, work and your other interests can have peak and trough times in your life and the time that you have to commit to something may need to change into the future.

7, Do not make reference to Dojo A or Dojo B and most certainly do not make comments like “Well our Sensei demonstrates it this way”. That can only ever lead to problems irrespective of how good your intention is. When you train on their court you do it their way and suck it up, even if you think it is wrong. If you don’t like it your best option is to leave and stay at your home Dojo where you can do it that way every time.

8, If you are required to spar, resist the temptation to introduce content from another marital art or combat system simply so that you can ‘win’ the sparring session. Bear in mind that serious injuries can happen on the mat and this is why you are asked to use the techniques that you have been taught and graded in. Breaking someone’s arm or shoulder because you thought a Hoshin Jujitsu styled shoulder lock might be a good idea is going to bring you and your dojo / training centre more problems than you know what to do with.

Above all, consider carefully before you start out what your goals are and what it is that you realistically expect to get out of cross training or increasing your training hours. Regular readers of dontmakemeangrymrmcgee will be aware that my personal choice is cross training in Aikido and Krav Maga. My reasons run around the content of the Aikido techniques that are already in Krav Maga, yet also because I want to have the capacity to choose between aggressive and compassionate self-defence training. It is also my experience that Krav Maga and Aikido also compliment my personal life in what I would term in a way yin and yang. That said, I enjoy martial arts and combat systems in general and often enjoy the exploration of how different systems work. I choose to set no boundary or limit on what I wish to learn. Systema, Karate, Jujitsu and  Iaido all have my interest and I would not hesitate to train in any of them if an appropriate circumstance came up that led to that. It is a good reason why Dojo and Training Centres that host “meeting of styles” training days are onto a good thing, where students can be trained and exposed to different techniques to expand your skill set. – It has worked for me over the years, I hope you too will find the same experience!

A simple tip to improve your techniques at training.

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Recently I came across what appeared to be a relatively simple tip that was suggested to help improve your capacity to not only learn, but to retain the knowledge that you have learned into following weeks of training. Being willing to try it out, I began to put it into practice at training and as you may have guessed, it works!

So what then is this great tip that will help you in your training and improve your Aikido-Krav Maga-Wing Chun – MMA and pretty much any other martial art or combat techniques?

Drumroll….

  • “If you are right handed, offer your left hand / arm / shoulder / side  first”… if you are a left handed person, do the reverse and offer your right hand first….

I took this advice and gave it a try and can tell you that it very much does work to improve your capacity to learn your technique and also to assist you to actually retain that knowledge for the next time that the technique is trained!

Yet the question that I wanted to go a little deeper with is to examine exactly why this is the case?

Despite their being plenty of theories, there is no definite reason why any person is right handed, left handed nor ambidextrous. Theories range from,- Division in the brain hemisphere to right side, left side, Genetics, Hormone levels in pregnancy. Yet what is known is that when examinations are made of people that are naturally left handed, Chris McManus of University college in London  found that “Left-handers’ brains are structured differently from right-handers’ in ways that can allow them to process language, spatial relations and emotions in more diverse and potentially creative ways”.

Clearly you cannot simply rewire your brain to be structured in any different way, yet I do wonder if by offering your left side first you overcome the problem presented to you in terms of co-ordination and technique and bear it to memory coming to a point where your techniques begin to come naturally from  the opposite side of the one that you naturally favour?

My personal suggestion and endorsement is to go and try it out for yourself and see if you have the same positive response that I have experienced.? In both Aikido and Krav Maga the training exercises are structured in such a way, that when you are to receive the attack your training partner will generally automatically come to you on the side that you choose to offer and once the technique is completed to the required standard then the alternate side is offered and practiced. By creating a situation where you can train in this manner you can get it right on your non favoured side and I suspect your next discovery will be that the technique then seems to come much easier on both your favoured side later on and in your memory afterwards.

If there is anyone out there with a scientific background that might care to expand on why this may be the case, or anyone else that has any ideas, please post on below, please also let me know if you do give it a go how it works for you. My view is that three training sessions are generally enough to see if you can identify a positive outcome or pattern with this technique.

Enjoy your training!

Practicing Techniques

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I had perhaps one of the best nights at training last night that I have had in a while, it seems that it is not unusual for students in any given martial art or combat systems to experience a situation where you have good nights at training where it all simply clicks and you are able to perfect and train the techniques to the level your Sensei / Instructor requires from you. Yet it is also common to have nights where the technique does not really ‘click’ at all, it can also be common that a technique or parts of a technique that you have completed well in a previous lesson suddenly seem to not go the way you wish and you can end the night in somewhat of a daze wondering where all that training went.

Last night we were training a technique which in Aikido is called ‘Kotegashi’, in Krav Maga the technique is varied and is commonly referred to as a ‘rotational wristlock’. It Is an interesting technique and just for observation it is interesting to note that these techniques are ‘illegal’ in martial arts that are meant for sports with the exception of Tomiki Aikido which is sometimes considered a blend of Judo and Aikido. These types of wristlocks can easily break a wrist or an alternate joint if they are applied incorrectly and they are taught carefully as a result – often it is the experience of this type of supinating wristlock that causes people to appreciate the ability to tap out early when they feel the movement coming on.

We hit the mat and the dan graded students demonstrated the technique with our Sensei at which point the rest of us were brought on to replicate the technique. The first thing I discovered was that I had paid careful attention to the action of the wrist, but not so well to the pattern of the feet for which it suddenly seems logical to have to move to keep the centre of the technique in balance and poise as opposed to being overextended and vulnerable to being countered. Getting the feet movements right, following through to the break and take of the wrist through to the application of the technique into the wrist and down to the elbow, then to the completion of the technique. Sounds easy enough, but in practice getting each of the steps in order and correct proved to be quite difficult.

Until my Sensei wandered over and told me to ‘slow down’.

I am incredibly fortunate in that I am able to learn these techniques from someone who is both qualified and has the gift of being able to teach. Often these two things do not always go together, being a good student and practitioner does not always translate to being a good teacher to others. My Sensei spoke with me and suggested to me that rushing to complete a technique can lead to failure. She told me that I should not be placing myself under self-inflicted pressure to rapidly complete a technique and to be prepared to allow myself to take the technique slowly and not be under pressure to complete it. I took on board her advice and then had one of those moments where the technique ‘clicked’ and it simply worked as demonstrated several times over.

I have reflected on why I have this tendency to feel like I have to rush through the technique at training. I suspect the reason is because I want to feel like It is being done as a dan graded student would do the technique, yet here is the thing, we are there to ‘train’ and to learn. Baby steps to the technique and taking the pressure off are the way to learn these techniques. Speed comes with experience. I am told that experienced Aikidoka can modify the speed and ‘feel the techniques out’ as they are being completed. That is the place that I hope to come to in training, yet what I can tell you is that feeling that you have the flexibility to train at a pace that works for you is a great relief and perhaps a discovery that I wished I had made earlier in the journey!

Reconciliation

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For those readers that have had the experience of being involved in a physical conflict where you have had to utilise your training to defend yourself, – how did you feel afterwards?

A number of years ago I was involved in an incident where a drunken idiot attempted to assault me on a crowded tram on new years eve. I had done nothing to provoke the person, he simply climbed on board the tram and began shouting abuse at the Vietnamese kid that was sitting next to me. His stream of abuse was not enough and for no reason at all he walked to the tram and attempted to swing a punch into this kid. Back then my only training was in western boxing as taught to me by my grandfather, with which I parried his blow and returned a right cross to the side of his face, he took two steps backwards and I shoved him as hard as I could into the footwell of the entry point into the tram where he banged his head onto the handrail that is used to walk up the steps into the tram. He crumpled into the stair well,  the tram stopped at the station, at which point the Vietnamese kid and two of his friends jumped up and pushed the man out onto the platform of the tram station. I guess the tram driver did not see what had happened and drove the tram on down the tramway. That was over 15 years ago and I have no idea whatever happened to him. What did happen to me afterwards is that I felt no sense of euphoria at all, it was nothing like what you might picture happening on television or in a Hollywood movie. More than anything I felt incredibly bad and ashamed that I had been in a position where I had responded in that manner and that someone had been hurt as a result.

It is my observation that many people that train in Martial Arts and Combat systems openly have an aversion to and eschew violence. I feel that people from outside our communities perhaps find that hard to understand. Yet many of the great masters such as Imi Litchtenfeld and Morihei Ueshiba openly created their training systems to put an end to violence and to change people’s lives that the issues that create violent intent might be resolved. Many students of Krav Maga and Aikido amongst others reach the point where they can exercise control in a violent situation and act to shut it down without violence or with a minimum of violence to end it and keep people safe as a result.

It has become my philosophy that feelings of shame can be a good thing. As we learn and grow in our chosen martial arts,  I would like to challenge you to face what you might do in a post conflict situation? It’s great that you won the fight with a drunken family member or anyone else, but what really should happen next? It is my view that my training teaches me to seek reconciliation with my attacker if it is at all possible. The fact that someone has tried to harm me does not mean I am going to necessarily feel hatred towards them. Yet I do admit that can appear to be the opposite of what your natural inclination may be, or may have been in the past.

One of the things that has shaped my view is the memory that I have of the time in 1981 when the pope – Pope John Paul the second was shot. What I remember most about that incident was the fact that after he had recovered, the Pope went to the man that had shot him and forgave him of what he had done and the chap responded by kissing him and accepting his forgiveness. I can’t tell you if I could do that if I were placed in a similar circumstance, yet I would say that I would like to think that I could become the kind of man that could go to someone and offer forgiveness and be reconciled in the manner that the Pope did.

It is my view that living your life in an attitude of aggression and a lust for revenge or having to have the need to ‘square up’ over various things is a futile way to live your life. I have come to understand that being prepared to offer forgiveness and a hand up to another person is one hundred times better a way to go, that has been my experience anyway!

Skill vs Strength, martial arts for Over 40’s-50’s-60’s and beyond.

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Often the question can be asked “I am over 40-50-60, can I learn martial arts or a self defence system? The answer is a resounding Yes.

Still it is wise to be cautious at this point, many people will get quite enthusiastic and tell you that their martial art is suitable for all ages and is the one you should go with. This is often not the case in practice. Like it or lump it, many martial arts and combat systems rely on the student to be able to exert maximum amounts of physical force to complete the techniques. If a person has low muscular strength or is struggling with arthritis, many marital art and self defence techniques are openly useless.

Aikido will come up on my list below, yet I wanted to point out that I have noticed a trend from mature age martial artists to move over or to pick up cross training in Aikido as their body ages. Sometimes people can see this as some type of sign of weakness, that Aikido must be in some way a lesser martial art because it attracts these people to it. The fact is that Aikido works on a premise of using an attackers own force against them rather than using explosive force of your own to counter attack. The other interesting fact is that Aikido is proven to be very effective self defence for elderly people. An instance occurred in Australia where a 70+ year old elderly Aikidoka couple were awoken from their sleep to the sound of smashing glass as a meth addict entered their home with a knife. The attacker came up the stairs and attempted to attack the elderly man who stood in the stairwell, using Aikido the gentleman was able to reverse the knife into the attackers own body and potentially saved his own life along with that of his wife.

It is my view that for a martial art or combat system to be useful for self defense by an older person or a person with disabilities then it needs to be one that utilises the attackers own strength against them, and or teaches the correct atemi points to strike such as the knee or ankle that can be broken with a minor amount of force with the correct technique.

With that in mind, here comes some suggestions. I have deliberately not rated them with a number / best of pattern because different martial arts work for different people and this is meant to be general advice only. The best way to find out is by going along and having a go yourself. Google each of them and see if one of them might be for you.

Tai Chi Chuan – This is the martial art of Tai Chi that retains the striking component. It uses an attackers own force against them and teaches striking to the correct atemi points to disable an attacker with a minimum of force. It can be hard to find a good teacher of it as it is not a popular martial art which is not a bad thing, http://www.wustyle.com/site/

Cane Fighting – Sometimes confused with Bartitsu because it contains a component of Cane Fighting. Essentially it is a set of techniques that utilise a walking cane to defend yourself. Some Hapkido schools include it in some of the programmes also. http://www.canemasters.com/index.php?main_page=index&zenid=fc475a0cf95c2204f0efc14a82bebc65

Aikido – Comes out of the Jujitsu family tree, created specially to be done by using an attackers own force against them. Not a great focus on striking, more based towards defensive techniques as opposed to pre-emptive striking. http:www.kiaikido.com.au

Jujitsu – There are various styles of Jujitsu, some of them use techniques similar to what is found in Aikido, some forms of Jujitsu have a specific focus on soft techniques as opposed to hard techniques. http://www.ajja.org/

Wing Chun – Wing Chun is from the Chinese family tree of Martial Arts and some Tai Chi Chuan techniques are not foreign to Wing Chun students. Strong focus on Chi energy and using your attackers force. Low kicks, does have a strong striking emphasis that needs to be taught with consideration for aged people. https://www.wingchun.edu.au/

Karate – Shito Ryu – Not all Karate is about high kicks. The Shito Ryu discipline is in close and not overextended in attack. It is not unusual to come across older Karateka still practicing and they are an inspiration to me in that regard. Its my suggestion that this can work in well with another Japanese martial art such as Jujitsu or Aikido. http://www.seitoshitoryu.com/

When your training partner is an idiot.

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So what do you do when you hit training and make the realization that the person who you have been partnered to train with is in fact an idiot and someone that you would rather not train with?

People from all manner of backgrounds can be drawn into martial arts and combat systems. 99% of the people that I have met on my journey have been great people to train with, I have at times come across a very small number of people that I would not train with again. Sadly if you have a growing group of people letting someone loose amongst the group that does not know how to behave will ruin it for the group and cause people to leave if swift action is not taken over it. I feel that this is likely a part of the reason that in times past, Sensei’s and Instructors would let new applicants know that acceptance into their dojo or training was not automatic and that person would need to prove to them that they were of the right character to be taught accordingly before being accepted as a student. Nowadays with the pressure on to grow training groups these types of requirements are often relaxed and sadly it can happen that idiots creep into the group.

So what do I mean by ‘an idiot’. Foremost essentially someone who takes little care on the mat and injures people and largely could not care less or attempts to justify it with the response that ‘this is what happens in real life training’. Another example along the same lines can be people that repeatedly do Aikido / Jujitsu styled techniques with as much force as possible, in order to injure the shoulder / joints of their opponents, in some attempt to reinforce to themselves that they can do the technique. There is no situation where causing deliberate injury to another student is acceptable, irrespective of how any of these clowns might seek to justify it.. If you belong to a Dojo or Training centre where this type of thing happens unchecked you have every right to leave and to not pay them another cent, irrespective of what contracts have been signed or agreed upon.

I know of a case a number of years ago where at an Aikido dojo one such student broke the arm of another student, putting him out of work for several months and causing him and his young family economic loss. Times have changed and these days it could easily be ratcheted up to the local courts for compensation, especially if it was proven that the person alleged to have caused the injury had a previous history of injuring people..

Clearly however we are training in physical combat techniques and accidents do happen, yet there is a world of difference between a genuine accident and something caused by someone acting out like an idiot at training.

Whilst perhaps not as serious there can be some other issues that can be a problem. Body odour – that training partner that has not showered since last week and turns up for training or whose breath is overpowering. Whilst it might appear to be a funny joke in the media, training with someone that has little clue on personal hygiene can be a real problem. Sadly the only real option that you really have here is to let them know discreetly that it is a problem. Doing as someone I know did and giving them a gift pack of soap and deodorant on their birthday may well not be enough to give them a simple hint… Sometimes there can be issues with people that have either a narcissistic attitude or bullying attitude towards other students, usually because they are insecure about their own techniques or it can simply be that they are just clowns in the rest of their personal life that turn up and train there and act out accordingly.

As I see it there are three ways you can go about dealing with a situation like this, 1, you can leave and this is what a number of people actually do and often the Sensei / Instructor has no idea why they have gone as they are often not even consulted. 2, You can approach your Sensei / Instructor and advise them of the problem and then allow them to deal with it. 3, You can speak directly with the person concerned in a pleasant and polite manner and tell them to pull their head in. 4, As a student you can also reserve the right to not train with a specific person if you do not wish to. There is no requirement that you have to train with anyone if for whatever reason you do not wish to. In my Krav Maga centre there was a chap there that had hit three different people and the only way that he could get a training partner was if someone new to the group turned up and trained with him.

For those here that are the Sensei, the Instructor or who are in leadership roles at your club, these are issues that you will need to keep an eye on. We all want our groups to experience numeric growth, yet letting poor behaviour go unchecked can often be one of the fastest ways to lose people. Give some consideration to having either a probationary time for members, often around three months, or reserving the right to accept or reject anyone from training at any time and for any reason related to common sense. It is wise to have a set of by laws for your group and for new students to be furnished with an introductory pack upon joining with clear instructions on what is considered acceptable behaviour and what is not. If you come across a student that is causing some problems and is acting out, you do not necessarily have to throw that person out nor suspend them from the club. It is a true saying that ‘hurt people hurt people’. Whilst you may be used to being the role of a Sensei or Instructor out the front, it may well be that you may become a parent style figure to people, especially young teens that may be struggling with some pretty horrendous personal circumstances at home. One of the benefits of traditional martial arts training is that it can actually help people to improve their personal character, yet that will not happen simply from a set of techniques on the mat. It takes a personal commitment to real leadership to help people. If you discover that a student has problems and that you would be in over your head to deal with, have a go at trying to get them some help from the right people. More often than not, your best students could be those that have had a hand up, not a hand out.