Hayashi sensei performing an Kochi-nage

Women in Aikidō

Hayashi sensei performing an Kochi-nage

I bought Women in Aikidō by Andrea Siegel, on a whim, it was in the shelf with the other aikidō books, and I felt it could be different from the one I had read until then, which very often centred on some important aikidō figure – although ironically the woman on the cover is one teacher I train with when I’m in Silicon Valley.

Women in Aikidō

North Atlantic Books
ISBN : 978-1-55643161-6

The book was published in 1993 and consists of 12 interviews of various women who have attained the rank of black belt in aikidō. The actual content of the interviews is pretty diverses: some of the interviewees seem completely left the aikido universe, while other are still teaching, their perception of the art goes from pragmatic to very new-agy.

The interviews are pretty general, and while aikidō is the common thread, this is not a book where you are going to learn much on how it works, the book is more about how these woman experienced aikidō, integrated it in their lives, and took control of it. The issue of control and adapting the art to oneself was the most interesting aspect of the book for me, probably because this is something I’m struggling with myself.

While the book has some interesting parts, it also feels a bit lightweight, each interview starts with a description of the place the interviewee lives in, and there is a lot of connecting talk between the interviewer and the interviewee, while I suppose this is supposed to give a more connected feeling, I felt it made the presence and the experience of the interviewer transpire in the whole book, which I felt was a bit misplaced. At the same time, the interviews also feel very unequal, some going into deep questions, while other remaining pretty superficial.

All in all a book with interesting parts, but I found it a bit light on substance: 180 pages in a huge font. Worth a read if you find the book in a second hand shop, like a did…

Aikido for Life – Gaku Homma

Aikidō for Life

Aikido for Life – Gaku Homma

There is a nice second hand bookstore in Mountain View called , I alway go there when I’m in town, even if it is only for the smell of old books. One book I bought there is Aikidō for Life by 本間 学 (Homma Gaku), a direct student of Ueshiba and Iwama Ushideshi who moved to the US and opened his own dōjō. While the book is basically an overview of his beginner program, I found the observations and the insights around it interesting.

Aikidō for Life

North Atlantic Books
ISBN : 9781556430787

Clearly Homma is an outsider, 日本館 (Nippon-Kan), his dōjō, is un-affiliated and he seems un-impressed by most of the talk about ki or any mystical force, his book concentrates on the pragmatic aspects of running a beginner’s class. There is a quite a bit of work separating aikidō from other, more competitive and/or agressive martial arts, but also quite a lot of interesting insights in how the students behave, how they sit on the mat, how partners are chosen. In that sense, the book is refreshing because it describes what really happens in a dōjō, certains persons preferring cute girls as partners, people being tired, confused, or simply out of sync with their partners.

These explanations are interleaved with a few actual techniques, and some illustrations that help give a idea of what the author is trying to convey. I liked the fact that Homma insists early on that there is not so much right and wrong techniques, but more a sense of consistency between the techniques and that each technique must be adapted for the practitioner (tori) and the receiver (uke). There are also some insightful explanations on the relationship between tori and uke.

With 110 pages, this is a quite a short book and certainly a worthy reading. A scan of the book is available on the web-site of his dōjō.

Consciousness and Aikidō

🏯

Consciousness is a fascinating subject, and the subject of many contradicting theories. A recent article entitled How the light gets out, generated quite some buzz (meaning: I saw it in multiple social network streams). The article is quite long, but presents some interesting ideas, notably that consciousness might not just be a side-effect of our brains, but a specialisation of our attention and help projecting ourselves on other beings and even objects. I like the idea that consciousness is not a bug of our intellect, but the model of our perception of the universe.

While consciousness is a defining feature of humanity and something useful, it is not without side-effects. While we spend a good part of our childhood and our studies learning consciousness and thought, the fact of the matter is that we humans are really efficient went that consciousness is toned down, nearly anything can be killed by over-thinking.

So we strive to get back to a more natural state of mind, the flow, which is basically the state of a young kid playing, but this is the one thing we were never taught, during one’s study courses of non-thinking are rare, I was lucky to get some yoga while in high-school, but that was pretty exceptional in those days. Generally we were taught to think more, not less.

While yoga was interesting for me, I felt it was too passive, and I need some form of sport and so I settled on Aikidō. I tried other martial arts, shōlin-ji kempō while I lived in Japan, and some karate at work. My main problem with theses arts was that they rely a lot on ( kata ). A kata is a sequence of moves that you learn, a mock fight against an invisible adversary. Because there is no adversary, the moves are not linked to any external input, except maybe somebody counting, so you body has to learn the full sequence, in the correct order, without switching sides.

Aikidō has few kata, in my dōjō they are mostly about body moves (and short) and some sword techniques. For the rest, you do the technique with a partner, an uke so the techniques are about something you body can feel and react to: your partner. What technique you should do is pretty implicit in the context, and if once in a while you do the wrong one, people are very gracious about it. Even when doing shōlin-ji kempō, an aikidō technique would slip out, the teacher’s comment was insightful: 体が覚える (kara ga oboeru ) – the body remembers.

The notion of not consciously doing a technique, but just let the body do the right thing is far from new, Musashi mentions it in the book of five rings as the technique of no-technique. Many martial art teachers have repeated to me the same concept in one form or another. A key aspect of martial art techniques is that they are supposed to work even when I’m busy panicking, thankfully I never had to verify this in a fight, but when falling from the bike, they just happen. This is why I think that mock fights, 乱取り (randori ), are important: this is the moment when the brain must switch off from the tactical problem and learn to think in strategical terms, i.e. figure out where the adversaries are, and not concentrate on the techniques.

Aikidō Weapon Bag

After some time of usage

My work is not exactly manual, so once in a while, I like to do things with my hands. I have a weapon bag of the brand Budo Nord for my Aikidō Jō and my Bōkken, whose bottom go pierced. This seems to be recurring problem with weapon bags, as the two wooden sticks eventually pierce the fabric. The fact that in my case, the bottom was just built from relatively soft fake leather did not help.

I had an old leather wallet that I had bought in Japan, the zipper was broken after five years of usage, but the leather was still relatively good, so I stripped away the fake leather from the bag, cut the wallet into a reasonably regular piece of leather and sewed that piece unto the bottom of the bag.

Now this sounds very professional, but my sewing sucks, in particular with leather. I had a strong needle, but I though I still had my sailmaker’s palm from my sailing days, but I seem to have lost it, so I ended up using a thimble. The result does not look really nice when you look closely, but it was sturdy enough to survive a hectic train trip.

Aikidō – my spiritual journey

Gozo Shioda throwing two uke in a dark dōjō

塩田剛三の『Aikidō – my spiritual journey』を読みました。『合気道修行』と『合気道人生』の本が組み立て音訳したほんです。全然面白かったです。

I have read Aikidō – my spiritual journey by , this is the translation and assembly of the books Aikidō Shugyo and Aikidō Jinsei. Extremely interesting.

J’ai lu le livre Aikidō – my spiritual journey de , c’est l’assemblage et la traduction des livres Aikidō Shugyo Aikidō Jinsei. Une lecture très intéressante.

Aikidō – My Spiritual Journey

Foreword: Yasuhisa Shioda
Translators: Jacques Payet & Christopher Johnston
Kodansha USA
ISBN: 978-1-56836-411-7

Gozo Shioda was among the earliest students of Morihei Ueshiba, the founder of Aikidō. He trained with o-Sensei before the war, and founded his own dōjō, Yoshinkan, in 1955. This book gives an overview of Shioda’s perception of aikidō, and what he learnt from Ueshiba.

While there was always a mystical component to aikidō, and the book’s title suggest something mystical, Shioda appears as a very pragmatic person, explaining his experiences, how they relate to the various aspects of aikidō, and the teachings of o-sensei. The book reminded me a lot of the Book of Five Rings, with its no nonsense approach to Būdo, and the ideas are pretty consistent: the plan of no-plan, de-emphasising techniques and an insisting on the importance of a good posture. The book also has five chapters.

Besides the principle of Aikidō, the book, through its anecdotes, gives a glimpse into the adventures of Morihei Ueshiba in Mongolia, which sound like something you could do an adventure movie out, but also the rough relationship between dōjō before the war, the scuffles with the yakusa, it felt like a grimmer version of Ranma ½.

Yoshinkan is known as the aikidō that is taught to the japanese cops, and reading this book, you understand why, this is the aikidō that branched off when o-sensei was young, the practice rough, and japan very disorganised. There is certainly a huge effort to change a mystical experience into something structured that can be taught, even while admitting that techniques are not the real thing.

While certain ideas, like the fact that aikidō is 70% atemi would probably make my teachers cringe, nothing written in the book feels inconsistent with the practice I have done. Shioda admits that he really understood aikidō when he was in a fight in China, and wonder how people living in less troubled times will get that experience, but I felt no regret, no nostalgia, just a teacher pondering on some fact and how to teach best in those circumstances.

One section I found very interesting is Shioda explaining why there is no competition, as this is one thing that sets aikidō apart from other martial arts, like Judō or Karate. He makes a pretty good point that a sport cannot be a martial art, as competition will always impose rules that warp the martial idea. I also found interesting the fact he stated there would be not static principles that would be repeated often, something I experienced during my short practice of Shōlin-ji kempō.

The text is pretty short, 200 pages including ≈15 pages of afterword by Gozo Shioda’s son, Yasuhisa, which I found moderately interesting. One thing I must say is that the paper and the printing are gorgeous, making it a pleasure to read.

All in all I found this to be an excellent book about aikidō, which gives a pretty sharp picture of the characters and the idea that underlines this martial art, certainly a much more concrete narrative than what I read in the Shambhala Guide to Aikidō or the Wikipedia. I really recommend this book if you are interested in aikidō, in particular the non mystical parts, and I think it is a worthy read, even if you are training in other branch of aikidō, like I do.

The book of five rings五輪書Livre des cinq anneaux

Myamoto
Musashi
The book of five rings
Translation by William Scott Wilson

五輪書を英語で読みました。面白い本です。武道だけに当てはまりないと思います。プログラムも。

I have read the english translation of the book of five rings, a very interesting book. I don’t think it is only applicable to martial arts, but also to coding.

J’ai lu la traduction anglaise du livre des cinq anneaux, un ouvrage très intéressant, qui ne s’applique à mon avis pas seulement aux arts martiaux mais aussi à la programmation.

The book of five rings is considered by some as the second book of strategy after Sun Tsu’s Art of War, and Musashi is some kind of legend in aikidō circles, so when I found a copy of the book of five ring I bought it. These days I’m reading a lot of stuff about martial-arts, so it made it to the top of the pile.

The book of five rings

William Scott Wilson
Kodansha International 2002
ISBN : 978-4-7700-2801-3

While the text present itself as a martial art reference, it borrows a lot of metaphors from other workmanships, a carpenter in the introduction, a sailor later on. To a large extent, the text is about management and focus, and a no nonsense approach to things, and I found a lot of ideas could be applied to programming: understanding the problem, aligning oneself with the rhythm of things, and changing approaches when ones does not make progress. Musashi advises against any form of preferences, be it for stances, techniques, or weapons, such preferences prevents one from choosing the right approach for the problem at hand. The same could be said about the various techniques, languages, frameworks and paradigms that pullulate in the computer science world, and probably many fields of human endeavour.

In the martial arts, when your opponent is going to use some technique on you, it is important tat you let him do it if it’s useless one. But, if his action is functional, suppress it and keep him from completing it.

Another important notion of the book is the void ([ MU]), not having a stance, not thinking the martial-art part, instead having your mind observe the situation gathering information. The underlying idea, to be part of the flow, and not let the intellect interfere with that flow, seems to be recurring thing in my life these days, both for work (getting myself and the team in flow of coding) and in aikidō.

While I felt the translation by William Scott Wilson was pretty good, and the provided notes were insightful, the text still has the heavy handed feeling of religious texts: while short, there are many repetitions, and each section finishes with a sentence explaining that this section is very important and needs to be studied further.

One last note about this edition, while the assembly of the paper jacket was pretty weird, the book itself is quite well made, good paper, and a nice layout, not intrusive, but very elegant with a few nice illustrations. All in all I think this book is a worthwhile read, in particular if you are interested in martial arts.

Daitō-ryū – the missing link…

Family tree of martial arts

While I lived in Japan, I could not find an aikidō dōjō near the place I lived, so I trained in shōrinji-kenpō. One thing that stuck me was that half of the techniques, the soft ones, were very similar to aikidō techniques. At that time, I just assumed this was due to some vague influence and the fact that there are only so many possibilities. It turns out that aikidō and shōrinji-kenpō share a common ancestor: .

The origins of that martial art are a bit nebulous, the main fact is that it was taught by Takeda Sokaku, who probably inherited the art from his clan. Takeda had multiple students, among whom Morihei Ueshiba, who founded , and Okuyama Ryuho, who founded Hakkō-ryū. In turn one of the students of Okuyama Ryuho was Nakano Michiomi, who founded and took the name Sō Dōshin.

The Shambhala Guide to Aikidō

Cover of the Book, with a picture of Morihei Ueshiba

While I have been practicing aikidō for many years, but was not that interested in its origin, I was just doing aikidō, and I always felt a strong dichotomy between the japan I experience and the japan that seems to underlie aikidō. Still stories kept accumulating so I decided to learn a bit more. I found a book in a second hand shop in California, only to misplace it. I finally read it.

The Shambhala Guide to Aikidō is a short book written by , a buddhist scholar and 7th dan aikidō teacher. It contains four parts:

  1. A presentation of 植芝 盛平( Ueshiba Morihei (
  2. A presentation of aikidō
  3. A chapter about the philosophy of aikidō
  4. A presentation of the schools and styles of aikidō
The Shambhala Guide to Aikidō

Shambhala First edition 1996
ISBN: 978-1-570621703

I found the first part the most interesting, the life of the founder of aikidō, o-Sensei, would probably make a good action movie: he fought for the preservation of shrines, then served in the army during the Russo-Japanese war, went as a pioneer to Hokkaidō were he met 武田 惣角( Takeda Sōkaku ( who taught him daitō-ryū, another martial art that would heavily inspire aikidō. Ueshiba then joined a shinto sect, went to Mongolia, got arrested by the Chinese army, returned to Japan, where he spread aikidō, training even during the period after the war, where such things were forbidden.

The second part that presents aikidō suffers from the usual problem of trying to explain something inherently complex and dynamic using still images. The explanations made sense, but I know these moves. I always have to wonder about people learning martial arts using books, I can’t imagine things coming out right…

ムユウウウ–アオスウヱイ

The third part explains the philosophy of aikidō, a good part of the ideas were already known to me, as they are transmitted in any aikidō course, the rest was interesting but was way to esoteric for me, like for instance Morihei’s mandala. This chapter felt like it had a different tonality than the rest of the book, nearly as if a different person had written it. While the rest of the book has a strong new-age feeling, this chapter felt paradoxically more grounded.

I found the fourth part about the various schools of aikidō very interesting. Fragmentation is very present in aikidō, with various federations and schools coexisting often without acknowledging each other, this in turn causes a lot of politics and various things that are never openly talked about and causes a lot of confusion, in particular to people who are not privy to the intrigues.

All in all I found this book quite interesting, it is certainly a good introduction to aikidō, although most of the information can be found on the web nowadays. I felt that the chapter on the philosophy should have been either lighter or heavier, this just felt like a strange compromise and I have my doubts about anybody understanding aikidō from the still images (there are plenty of movies on youtube). Still it is a fast read that can give a feeling of what aikidō is.

Mürren 2013

Aikidō Seminar
<br />
Mürren Lauterbrunnental
Mo.15.7.2013 - Sa.20.7.2013<br />
Cyndy Hayashi 6.Dan Roland Spitzbarth 5.Dan
Special Guest: Robert Nadeau Shihan
4th International Aikido Seminar in Mürren Summer holidays in the Bernese Alps! We are proud to announce this very special seminar to Aikido practitioners of all styles and levels. Families and accompanying persons are welcome. We provide 6 hours of training daily in the spectacular Bernese mountains with a stunning view on Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau.

今年も一回ムッレンに合気道のセミナーを共にしました。先生三人と合気道研修受けまして面白くて楽しかったです。今年の特別ゲストはナドー師範でした。

This year, I once again participated in an aikidō seminar in Mürren. I received training from three teachers, it was very interesting and fun, this year’s special guest was Nadeau Shihan.

Dieses Jahr hab ich wieder an einem Aikidō Seminar in Mürren Teil-genommen. Den Unterricht, der durch drei Lehrern gegeben würde, war interessant und spaß. Dieses Jahr war Nadeau Shihan ein spezieller Gast.

Cette année encore, j’ai participé à un séminaire, d’aïkidō à Mürren. L’entrainement a été donné par trois enseignants, c’était intéressant et très sympathique. L’invité spécial cette année était Nadeau-Shihan.

Si la grande partie des cours étaient classiques, avec beaucoup de technique du bâton et du sabre pour Roland Spitzbarth, et des techniques à main nues contre les armes et des préparation au randori pour Cindy Hayashi, la partie donnée par Robert Nadeau était assez différente, avec une grosse emphase sur le flow, la dissolution de l’égo, et de technique conscience, let the body flow. Pratiquer l’aïkidō sans se concentrer sur la technique, sans même y réfléchir n’est pas chose aisée, surtout, pour moi dans une situation statique, c’est un état que je n’atteins que durant une séance de .

Chercher à enseigner cet état relève du zen au mieux, et à ordonner aux gens sois spontané !, au pire. Il est relativement aisé de me convaincre que je pratique mon aikidō de manière trop mentale, mais beaucoup plus complexe de m’aider à la pratiquer sans impliquer mon esprit, à fortiori si l’on construit une théorie avec sa propre terminologie, ses métaphores et leurs problèmes sous-jacents.

Ce que je trouve fascinant, c’est de retrouver le même concept de flow revenir encore et encore, que ce soit en aïkidō, dans la programmation, ou la pratique du jeu de rôle. L’idée sous-jacente semble toujours être la même, mettre l’intellect au second plan et laisser l’action suivre son cours, mais dès le moment où l’on admet que le concept est le même, on ne peut s’appuyer sur la dualité corps-esprit, car soyons clair, mon corps ne sait pas programmer, il s’agit de quelque chose qui est plus liée à la nature de l’action que simplement le corps.

The other uke

Aikidō is generally trained in pairs, one person plays the role of 受け( Uke), the attacker, the other person is the 取り( Tori), who receives the attack and does the technique. After some time, typically four times, Uke and Tori switch their roles. Depending on the dōjō, pairs switch either between techniques, or when the teacher says so.

The building up of pairs for training is supposed to be spontaneous, which means there is a lot of group and social dynamics in play: typically everybody would prefer to train with somebody more advanced than oneself, and some people, some styles are more compatible than other, some seek out higher ranking people actively, while other lower level persons tend to shy away, not daring to impose oneself. At the end of each technique, there is a subtle dance, as people place themselves so they can ask spontaneously their neighbour for the next technique.

As the number of people practicing is pretty random, there is often an odd number of people training, which means that one group in the dōjō where three people practice together. The protocol for the remaining single person is to join an existing pair, typically sitting in seiza and waiting for the pair to notice her. What I find interesting is the speed at which the practicing group notices the person waiting. Some immediately notice the waiting one, while others are so engrossed in the technique it takes them ages to acknowledge the third person, to the point that some other pair typically invites the third one.

The thing I started noticing is that people who don’t notice the third waiting person are also often the ones that get overwhelmed during 乱取り( randori). Randori is the mock fight practice: tori is now attacked by one, two or more uke, typically on a fixed attack, and defends himself using a free technique. I find two things difficult in randori, first keeping my breathing in check, as it is quite easy to be overwhelmed by two attackers, the second is tactics, i.e. being aware of where the various uke are, and selecting a technique that places you in a good position relative to the other uke, i.e. not in the middle, not with them in your back, ideally with the falling uke between you and them.

So being aware of position of the second uke is very important, and so being able to notice such a person during regular training is in my opinion a good training for randori.