Category Archives: Aikido

On Recreating Knowledge

@ Brian H: Yeah – the important thing is to approach with fresh eyes. The importance of questioning things is not to question them for questioning’s sake, but to try to figure things it for yourself. Like Richard Feynman would work on physics problems. He would try to work through a problem himself. If he go stuck, he would open the literature, peek a little ahead, then close the book and continue on his own. This meant he spent a lot of time recreating things that others had done, but allowed him to develop a keen intuition, and sometimes he would come up with a simpler or more intuitive solution.

He wasn’t really so iconoclastic as he was using existing solutions as reference. This is how we train martial arts – in the same way as how Nobel laureates understand their material.

The more we pay attention to norms and standards, the further we get from this sort of organic learning.

This sort of thing should be fun. Not a chore, but recreational.

The Link

I studied Aikido this afternoon with a friend. He is a new to it, and has lots of questions. As we train, I realize that I do not have explicit knowledge of the answers to the questions he is asking. I have been led to them by years of practice and experimentation. Movements in martial arts are those movements that were originally left behind by those that survived wars. They come to us from the deep past, and are largely passed down from person to person. They are not really mine – I only channel them.

I can hold these techniques and movements for awhile, but only while I am alive. They are mainly for me to pass on. I am a vessel for these thoughts. I am the river to gather streams of thoughts and channel them to the great sea of infinite time and space.

I am not the first to think these thoughts, nor shall I be the last.

It is the Lunar New Year, and the Taiwanese believe the ancestors are close. They burn offerings of ghost money to comfort them, they set firecrackers to scare away the restless souls that still wander the earth. I am not afraid of ghosts, in fact I think it would be nice for me to meet the ancestors, and learn how better to use what I have been given.

We are all given a finite time in this world, though we don’t know how long. Today we are just a little closer to the end.

The knowledge of the ancestors comes to me in sensations, some learned, like en-trained reflexes in martial arts. These originated in battle, and have been preserved, refined, and transmitted from person to person in an unbroken chain. Some ancestral knowledge is instinctual – I crave bananas when I am low on potassium, for instance. I know this because in between the time I took my last blood test and saw the results, I ate a lot of bananas. They looked good on the fruit stand, so I bought a lot. When the results came, they showed me that I had been low on potassium. This instinctual knowledge has been passed down to us from organism to organism in an unbroken chain, reaching back through deep time. We are just the latest link.

A prayer to the ancestors while they are close: show us the Way, protect us as you would protect your Legacy, let us channel you in work and in play, remind us that life has just one source, and that we are all children of the common beginning. May all restless souls find a listening ear, and be able to rest in peace.





こうして、一ヶ月ほど稽古をしていなくて、体育館で生徒と久々にすることができて、嬉しかった。一時間ほどほとんど無言で動いていたら、残りの三十分で道場の端で座った中学生らしい男の子に「ほい、稽古しよう」と誘った。三人で掛かり稽古そして取り受けAB, BA, AC, CA, CB, BC と組んでやった。これも、ほとんど無言。話さないのは相手への敬意。相手を動かせて、自分で気づかせる為に。こうすると技は私から教えるものではなく、私が相手に技に気づかせる為の物となる。師弟関係を敢えて設けない。こうしてお互いの稽古のためになる。





This is a picture this morning of a tree growing from the fourth floor of an apartment near where I live. Note the person on the ground, for scale. I have a line of sight to this tree every time I enter or leave my apartment.


Not a bush. A tree. Apparently, despite my walking by that apartment every day for the past half year, I had not looked up.

Yesterday I had martial arts and dance practice. I was so happy going home that I must have been looking up. Walking differently, carrying myself differently

How simple is the communion of two people engaged in Aikido or dance. It is pure individualized giving – irreducible, clear, truthful, creative, playful, and utterly fleeting. For a time, we can raise each other up to where timing and place are perfect, where mind and body are one, and help each other to be better, fitter, happier people.

Correcting Duck Feet

Since I was a kid, I’ve had outward-turned feet – duck feet. Years of Aikido and dance have helped me to improve my posture, but it’s never gone away. I’ve been experimenting this week with a method that I developed.

When going to bed, get a web-belt, place feet shoulder-width apart, and secure the belt just above the knees. Sleep on your back with feet pointed up. Normally, the feet would be relaxed and splayed out, but with the feet unable to splay out this way,  other parts of the body have to accommodate. Outward rotation of the legs is controlled by contraction of the Sartorius muscle, and the inability to relax it completely can cause duck feet.

Satorius Muscle



Improper alignment of the legs will cause tension in other parts of the body, because you are no longer balanced on your skeletal structure, but having to use muscle to stand and move. I noticed tension in my shoulders, upper and lower back. The idea is to relax these during sleep and allow them to stretch.

I have also noticed when I sleep  with the web belt affixed this way that I have a tendency to flex my getanden (下丹田) when I shift during the night.




The getanden is the muscle between the navel and the pubic bone. Flexing this muscle is important when doing certain martial arts movements, as it promotes a relaxed upper body, good breathing, and good posture.

So, I conclude that if the Sartorius cannot be fully relaxed, the legs will turn outward. Simply turning them in will pull on the Sartorius and cause anterior pelvic tilt, meaning that your butt will stick out, resulting in more curvature of the lower back (lumbar lordosis ) as you try to compensate. Everything is above continues to build on top of that, so there will be tension in the shoulders and neck.

Gently constraining the legs with the web belt puts the lower body in the right alignment. The Sartorius will be gently stretched as everything else tries to find alignment. Flexing the getanden will then use the extra stretch in the Sartorius to bring the pelvis into vertical alignment, correcting excessive lower-back curvature. This brings the spine into alignment, and the shoulder muscles can relax. I can feel my Trapezius relaxed – I must have been pulling my shoulders up and forward.


8:03 投げられて受身を取ると言うんじゃないですね。体を痛めるから受身を練習するのじゃないんですね。柔術の場合は相手に投げさせて、自分が回って行っちゃうんですね、先に。で、相手に返し技をしたり、崩したり、その隙に腹を切って行ったり… 投げられたから、負け、そういうルールはないですね… かと言って自分勝手の速さではだめですね… 相手がいるわけですから相手に合わせて。

8:03 不是被摔而受身。不是因為要避免受傷而練受身的。柔術的受身是讓人摔自己,再自己先滾出去。然後做返技阿,破勢阿,趁空隙切腹對方的腹部阿。被摔而輪了這個概念是沒有的。然而不是按隨意的速度滾出去。因為有對手,所以要配合。

8:03 Ukemi is not about being thrown. Avoiding injury is not the point of practicing ukemi. In Jujutsu, one let’s one partner throw, and rolls away of one’s own accord. In doing so, reversing the technique on one’s partner, disturbing his posture, or cutting his abdomen in the opening that results. It is not that one loses because one is thrown – there is no such rule. Yet, it is not that one takes uke at just any speed. There is a practice partner. One must move with him.

Shimokawa Sensei of Lihue Aikikai once taught me something similar when I had the honor and fortune of training with him for an hour one-on-one. It was back when I was in the habit of resisting technique. Throughout the practice, he would perform techniques with greater vigor when I resisted, since the more the recipient resists, the easier it is to apply joint lock techniques like Shihonage. Most of the time, the lesson was non-verbal, since the more I resisted, the harder I fell. Sometimes, it was verbal, like “if you resist here, this becomes an opening for an elbow break.”


With a co-worker, he was explaining theory. I wanted to know about application. I had been trying to ask a question, initiating with body language and verbal grunts. “Does that mean…” “um…” “hey…” “well…” with increased frustration, until I said to him firmly. “I have a question – do you want to hear it?” And he said “No.”

“You don’t want to hear my question.” I said, stating it more than asking it.
“No.” He shook his head.
And this was a bit of a relief. He had helped me understand the theory, which I had not done on my own, but he was not interested in understanding its application. I’ll take what I can get, I reasoned, and find the rest somewhere else.

I recalled Jean-Paul Sartre’s “Huit Clos” in which the characters involved make each other miserable because of their personalities. Compromise is not possible because they cannot set their self-image aside. I recalled James Nalepka’s “Capsized,” where three crew a boat that capsizes in a storm, and they drift, surviving on fishing, gathering rain, and food stores until they hit land again. Their personalities bump against each other because there is no way off of the boat, but they are united by their common goal.

The latter is how I like to think of my company – united by a common goal.

The boat has been weathering a storm recently, but letting go of the urge to protect myself has enabled me to see more clearly.

Two weeks ago we were in a meeting. My boss called in. We hit a rough spot. My boss panicked, jumped in, and took control of the meeting. A few days later, my boss told me that I was being taken off the customer. I was upset, but agreed. We made plans to transfer the customer to my boss, and I offered to remain as backup help, internally working with our engineers to get answers. I viewed it as nothing personal – just a judgement of my ability to culturally handle this customer. The next day I was reinstated to the account. I now have a co-worker (not my boss) playing the role of cultural intermediary. He’s a top gun, switching in and out of dialect and talking the exact style with the exact phrasing that the customer wants to hear. We can say exactly the same thing in terms of content and get two very different reactions from the customer. They love him, which is fine. All I have to do is get him what he needs to answer questions.

I have been working overtime to get those answers from our engineers. They have been working overtime, too. Everyone is under pressure due to the product launch, but I handle it by being unattached to the outcome at this customer. Maybe we win, maybe we lose – I’ll give it my best shot.

That’s what Japanese warriors would tell themselves. They would train for life and death encounters, try to avoid conflict if at all possible, until for reasons beyond their control – shifts in balance of power of the land that led to war – they had to face off with an opponent who had also trained similarly. They would train to face this with equanimity. Maybe he’d lose, maybe he’d live, but he’d give it his best shot.

Giving it one’s best shot is all that matters. Accepting where you are. For example, not being ashamed of your current capabilities. I have a friend getting married in Japan to an accomplished martial artist. She practices, too, but has not yet attained a high level of training. To celebrate the occasion, their teachers will be present. With teachers and students all counted, there will be some seven black-belt Aikido practitioners, four of which are 4th-degree black belt or higher, and there will be a martial arts demonstration as part of the festivities. We were talking about this, and finding this really funny – “It will be less a reception than… ‘Sensei presents – team Aikido!'” My friend has asked me to be the “uke” – the “follow” – so to speak for her fiancé as he performs. Why not you? I asked. She’s afraid that she’s not good enough – and wants someone more skilled and better matched to her fiancé’s level. I told her that that was the wrong reason – that we are the sum of our training, and that for the amount she has trained, she has nothing to be ashamed of. I would do it to help her celebrate, but not because I have trained more. This leads me to another thought – why we do something does not have to be for the same reason that someone believes we should do it. The action is the same, but the narrative that we assign to it can be different. Maybe I’ll write more on this later.

Accepting where you are includes being in the present moment. Fear or striving both bring us out of the present moment. Anything that takes us out of the now leads to poorer results. Dancing makes this very clear. If I am dancing, and trying to play it safe, it’s boring. If I am trying to impress, I’m forcing it, which leads to loss of harmony.

The ego is the source of the should-bes and might-have-beens that cloud our judgement and separate us from the reality at hand. Strength is not in the rocks that can stand against the river. It is the river itself – water that flows, finding the easiest way moment by moment, and in time, wearing down the rock. This is a prayer that we might be less like the rock, and more like the river. At moments of conflict, or more frequently, let us let go of the ego which projects us where we think we should be. Let us see ourselves and others where we are. Only then, relaxed and with power, can we give it our best shot.