Monday, 23 April 2012

Shodan Grading Prep 1

Running through the CAA's curriculum starting with 1st kyu, they call out the attack and request several techniques. Some might find these responses of mine useful, at least I do. Shodan grading coming up for me this November so I'm practicing these solo as kata, daily.

Suwari waza ikkyo nikkyo sankyo yonkyo.
I added in gokkyu just because. Omote and ura for all above.

Tachi waza yokomen uchi, three techniques.
Thinking of seven: Ikkyo nikkyo and sankyo omote and ura.
Nages? Kotegaishi omote and ura, irimi nage and udekime nage. Also kokyu nage (step in enka down to one knee).

Shomen uchi three techniques:
Irimi nage omote (step forward with leading foot raise leading hand to meet attack, strike with a cross to the face with the trailing hand and split uke as you tenkan) and ura (step in behind)... ur

Friday, 9 December 2011

Let Aikido Happen

A lot is written about spirituality and aikido, more so than most martial forms I suspect, but it is not inherently more spiritual than any of the rest of them.  We can make it a spiritual practise, or we can practise on the level of form alone.  It’s all good.

We practise Japanese martial arts in a dojo, which translates I understand as, the place of training in the Way.  The Way is a term used in Japanese culture to describe a practise in which we totally immerse ourselves, and use it to enter a state of flow, mushin or ‘no mind’.  It is this state that allows complete creativity and responsiveness without the conscious mind processing everything first and slowing it all down.

Anything can be practised like this.  Thich Nhat Hahn speaks of washing the dishes.  When we wash the dishes are we complaining to ourselves about having to do this, or looking forward to the cup of tea afterwards?  Are we thinking about work or recalling a past event?  We could try placing our entire attention on the act we are engaged in, feeling the warmth of the water, the smell of the soap, the glint of sunlight on the clean glass.  Washing the dishes this way we pay less attention to thoughts of future and past and more to the present moment and perhaps discover that the act of washing the dishes is an enjoyable one.

Obviously the same applies to martial arts.  So we pay close attention to the connection between ourselves and our partner. See everything in the moment, as it is, not anticipating, not thinking ‘I will move this foot next, then this hand’ but being in the moment.  Practising aikido one realises that the more we pay attention to the moment, to our partner, to our surroundings as they currently are at any moment, the better we act as martial artists, the freer and more creative we become, the less likely to be hit in the face.  Zanshin is used to describe this state of mind.  Know where everyone is in the dojo at all times.  Know where you are placing your attention.  Is it here?  Now? Fully?

We can practise alone like this. We can practise walking meditation alone. We can sit in meditation alone.  In aikido we practise meditation in a group. We move from person to person throughout the practise and attempt to put aside our egos to let aikido happen.

Saturday, 29 October 2011

Elbow (hiji) power

Use the elbow of your partner to cut his own hips, to block his own attack. Particularly with techniques like kote gaishi, shiho nage, tai no henko etc, extend into uke's elbow and use their forearm like a sword to cut into their hips.

Thursday, 4 August 2011

Meeting a master

I met my wife's teacher this week, a monk called Swami Purananda, who speaks beautifully and intelligently about God/Truth/Brahman/Spirit or whatever label one wants to attach to that which will not be described.

For forty minutes I sat there listening as he answered questions and spoke from experience, most obviously.
When I speak of the indescribable I am limited by my untrained mind, having had glimpses of true freedom but still being very much a seeker. I could have soaked up his presence for hours, he radiated groundedness.

The topic this particular night was recollection. Now recollection in this context means remembering not the past but remembering who you are (not your jumble of thoughts and ego) and remembering the universal in every moment. Remembering to train.

It was said: "Negligence in the act of recollection is the ultimate evil".  Negligence in recollection is a cocos choice which we later label ignorance. But we choose to ignore the life within, the abundant energies available to us all when we stop and pay attention. Ignorance is an active choice.

So we know that what we seek can be found within. Every great teacher tells us the same thing, yet we ignore this fact and continually look outside of ourselves for satisfaction... And we can't get none!

So letting slip or daily training results in it being that much harder to do it the next day and so it escalates from there. But if we know what we must do there is a choice we can then make: do what we know we should do, practice daily, allow the feeling and peace we cultivate to spill over into our day, our other arts, our relationships or we can ignore this sound advice and what we have found to be true in our dabbling practices and perpetuate the ignorance. This is not a moral stance but we must all make a decision and live with it.

I'm practising daily.

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

What holds up those hips?

I believe what we are missing as we stumble around the dojo is good strong, supportive, sensitive and responsive legs. Too often we forget what's holding up and moving our hips.
Our feet connect us to our world a hell of a lot more than our hands but we place all our attention in the arms and shoulders. Maybe this is simply because they are in our visual field.
Train your legs more. Stretch them daily. Massage your feet, feel down into them frequently.
You should be able too move slowly from one low posture to another without gaps or bumps.
Recommend maka ho, torifune, weapons and sumo shikko.

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Patrick Cassidy Sensei, 6th Dan Aikikai, Henshin Aikido Course

Henshin Aikido at DefendU Ireland recently hosted Patrick Cassidy Sensei (6th Dan Aikikai) for a weekend course.  To practice aikido for a whole weekend and perform but a handful of techniques might make most aikidoka balk, but exploring and feeling the natural, responsive movements that underlie the techniques and occasionally tasting the principles for ourselves was a hugely rewarding experience.  We have a lot to digest.

Techniques, it has been said, account for the last 5% of aikido in action. The rest consists of whole body movements that embrace the attack, blend with and direct whilst keeping uke off balance and one’s self in a safe place. Then there’s the unseen, the principles at work within the movement, the spirit of uke and tori both, gravity, unconscious reflex, ki, connection, the martial creative.  In aikido all this happens and then you apply the technique.

Cassidy Sensei introduced us to the weekend by describing aikido in terms of Technique, Principle and Perspective.  Using a conversation as an analogy, the words are the technique, the listening is the principle and friendship the perspective.  The perspective aspect of this concept could perhaps be looked as the context or relationship which frames the action. Friendship on the mats may be antagonism on the street.

Another analogy is that of a building. The top floor of it is technique and it extends to infinity, the infinite amount of techniques possible in aikido. A lot of teachers and so practitioners of the art will explore this level their whole aikido careers. There’s nothing wrong with this, it’s fascinating and martial and fun but there’s another level.  One day you’ll find the elevator that takes you deeper to the second floor, principle, also extending to infinity.  More to explore and it all educates you for your next trip up to technique. Then the ground floor, perspective, deeper still and forming a foundation for the levels above.

Simpler yet: Technique is How, Principle is What and Perspective is Why.

So, putting it into practice! We practiced slowed down fighting. Tori throws the punch very slowly, choosing a target on tori’s body and throwing straight at it. Tori at first waits until he feels the pressure of this attack on his body and absorbs it, folds around it as if they we wet clay. When the attack reaches its conclusion, uke attacks from this position. Tori again receives, moulding themselves around the attack, leaning, bending or folding until they lose balance and have to step. Uke attacks again from this new position.

Moving on from this, tori next imagines that there is a force field extending around the punch by about an inch, tori blends around this field instead of waiting for the punch to make contact. We extended this practice after a while to applying appropriate aikido footwork and blending around the attack and linking, as Sensei put it. Allow the attack in, blend with it, move around it appropriately and link with the attack, over extend uke and place them off balance.

This was great fun. Like a slow motion bar brawl, and produced some brilliant pictures. We look like we were beating lumps out of each other! Until you see the big smiles on all involved of course.  The next step up from this was tori practiced with eyes closed.  Tries to sense the attack before it makes contact and move to avoid it or blend with it. At times I felt my body saying ‘move now here!’ and I’d move and sometimes avoid an attack almost magically. Other times my mind would interrupt saying ‘Why? What are you basing that on? I’ll look like an idiot!’ and I’d get hit.  Lesson learned there – heed your body’s advice.

Whilst practicing with bokken I found something similar. Starting with bokken connected and facing each other in ai hamni, I found that with my eyes closed I moved better blending with the thrust when it came in, stepping out and counter striking.  Eyes closed I’d feel the attack and move appropriately and attacked pretty much on target. Eyes open and I anticipated the attack, responded slower, put myself in a poorer position.

Patrick Cassidy Sensei threw me repeatedly over the weekend and gave me the opportunity to hit him repeatedly (mostly in slow motion).  He was encouraging, funny, philosophical, enlightening and flowed like water.  And of course, like all good aikidoka, you knew underneath all that there was a bad ass martial artist ready to kick your ass (and a couple of the throws he occasionally blitzed me with confirmed this without doubt!).

I’m glad he will be guiding our aikido practice under the CAA, he’s got a lot to teach us.  So I’ll sign off by paraphrasing the man himself.

Don’t be soldiers. You’ll want to be a good little soldier, but don’t.  I could sit here all day drinking coffee and telling you what it’s like but you’ll have to drink some yourself to know what it’s like. Have a cup of aikido.

Monday, 25 October 2010

Start deep, finish deeper

Having recently moved back to Ireland I am no longer training with Tom and Maria Helsby and have rejoined John Roger's dojo in Dublin, Gyo Fu Kan

It's challenging getting used to another club's style. Despite previous and current teachers being Aikikai the individual style of each person's Aikido makes for subtle but distinct differences that take some getting used to.

Two things for me to keep in mind.  I take way too much pride in my ukemi and jump around more than is required, 'performing' as it has been labelled.  Stop performing,

Practicing Irimi Nage it was pointed out that I'm floating up and sinking down instead of staying level throughout the technique.  Better to start deep (always with hips lower then partner's, stay deep and finish deeper in every technique.  Practicing this way I find that an troublesome technique that's not necessarily effecting my partners balance properly becomes devastating to their balance.

Monday, 15 March 2010

The middle produces the end

A good friend of mine once pointed out that the middle of the technique is the beautiful part and what produces the quality of the outcome, so placing one's attention on the outcome and ignoring the beautiful center is counter productive.  The lower quality of the work done in the middle of the technique produces poorer quality results at the end, no matter how hard you reach for the end result you want.

How true is this for every day life?  Looking forward and trying to figure out how to make the future work, fretting over financial commitments or simply mulling over what if scenarios takes one's attention away from the now, and results in stress.   For if one is here but one is constantly thinking about over there, there is inevitably a pulling apart, a stressing of the material and the result is a lower quality now which will produce future lower quality 'now's.

The centre is where it is all at, on the mats or in your home or job.  Focus on your immediate nowness and centre.

Saturday, 6 March 2010

Diseases of a Swordsman

From Zen & Swordsmanship part 2 by D.T. Suzuki

Yagyu Tajima no kami (grave pictured) listed the following as 'diseases' to be overcome by any swordsman (aikidoka) wishing to truly master the art:

The desire for victory.

The desire to resort to technical cunning!

The desire to display all that one has learned.

The desire to overawe the enemy. (haven't suffered with this one yet myself)

The desire to play a passive role.

The desire to get rid of whatever disease one is likely to be infected with.

Which disease do you need to work on removing?

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Sugawara Sensei, Edinburgh Feb 2010

I have not blogged in a long while but thought that whatever I've managed to take away fom my second Sugawara Sensei seminar in Edinburgh, might just be worth rambling about.

This time last year I think I was reeling from the ego crushing blow that I had to learn to take backwards breakfalls completely differently from how I'd been training.  This time I went back armed with a year's worth of practice at the Hombu dojo's preferred style of ushiro ukemi, and found it still lacking!  This is why I am glad to know aikido can't be rushed and everything takes years to learn and years more to polish - I find it reassuring!

So whilst finding the backwards ukemi still challenging I wasn't taken by surprise this time and was able to keep up with the practice without resorting to sneaky forward ukemi half the time.

The most satisfying thing I took away from the course I gleamed towards the end of the last session.  I think many of us were running out of steam and at one point I felt like I wasn't too far off passing out.  I was starting to run into the wall but quitting was not an option, so I resorted to - breathing!
Get thrown, breath out powerfully all the way down, breath in powerfully getting up, centre and make proper distance, attack breathing out, get thrown and breath out powerfully all the way down and repeat.  If the technique is a longer technique, ie it has more 'beats' to it's rhythym you may breath in and out twice before the technique is finished.  If you try not to think and just breath naturally in sync with the rythym of the technique it all becomes much easier.

I've been told this many times but this was the first time I'd actually had my breathing and practice in good synchronization.  The exhaustion passed and the practice grew stronger and more satisfying.  Fantastic.

There was alot to learn from Shihan Sugawara Sensei, more than I can recall or convert eloquently into words but if you're interested, these points stood out for me :

He explained the difference between Ikkyo and Nikkyo pins.  The Ikkyo pin involves a twist along the straightened arm which prevents uke from bending his arm at the elbow, the wrist is held at the base of the hand.  The Nikkyo pin does not utilize this same straightened and twisted arm to pin and applies more pressure on the wrist via the grip further up the hand above the base of the thumb.  When uke then tries to bend at the elbow to break the pin, the classic bent arm nikkyo pin (the second part of the technique, if you like, in Nikkyo Ura) naturally happens - uke places himself in this lock.  We tend to work to hard to make Nikkyo happen and have forgotten that the technique happens naturally.

Imagine a triangle in front of you, the bottom of the triangle the width of ones hips (not the outer hips!) and the top point in front of your face, this is pretty much where your hands move around whilst practicing aikido, they don't leave this space.

Grabbing of your uke's arms only happens after you bring the arm into your centre, literally.  The area immediatly in front of your abdomen is the only place you grip your opponent's arm, until it's there you make contact and keep contact and follow/lead - obviously no pulling.

We turn our hips too square on, presenting too much of ourselves to our partner.  Although our tanden should be focused on our partner, our hips should be turned so we present a smaller target with our torso.
Whilst doing this we need to extend down through the back foot, spiralling at the hips and out through the leading hand.  Both sides of the body, both hands in all techniques should be used, letting the hand 'doing nothing' hang limply does not create a good energy.

On ukemi Sensei mostly spoke about ma-ai, appropriate distance.  On the occasions that he threw me he told me to make my backwards ukemi longer, repeatedly and in Japanese, until I eventually got the correct distance.  Personally with this ukemi I am finding putting energy into both arms and cupping the hands as they hit the ground helps with this.  Keeping extension in the first arm to contact the ground also helps to extend the distance to create proper ma-ai.  This is the whole point of the way we are now taking backwards ukemi, safe distance and observation.  Keep your eyes locked on nage all the way down to the ground and, another point Sensei stressed, when getting back up taking in your partner from the feet up to the neck all the time.  There should be no unconcious gap in one's awareness at any time.  This is a martial art.

I was playing about with this last point at home today with Catherine and Jude.  Showing Catherine the whole point of this ushiro ukemi I moved back down into the yoga mat keeping my eyes on her and as she stomped in with a kick I was able to abserve it, respond with a protective block that pushed me back the appropriate distance.

Many thanks to everyone I practiced with and to Azami-Kai for organizing.
Picture shows Artur Kozlowski and I preparing for the second day.

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Forget your life situation and pay attention to your life!

Excerpt from Eckhart Tolle's 'Power of Now'

Your 'life situation' exists in time.  Your life is now.  Your 'life situation' is mind-stuff.  Your life is real.

Find the "narrow gate that leads to life".  It is called the Now.  Narrow your life down to this moment.  Your life situation may be full of problems - most are - but find out if you have any problems at this moment.  Not tomorrow or in ten minutes, but now.  Do you have a problem now?

When you are full of problems, there is no room for anything new to enter, no room for a solution.  So, whenever you can, make some room, create some space, so that you find the life underneath your life situation.

Use your senses fully.  Be where you are.  Look around.  Just look, don't interpret.  See the light, shapes, colours, textures.  Be aware of the silent presence of each thing.  Be aware of the space that allows everything to be.  Listen to the sounds; don't judge them.  Listen to the silence underneath the sounds.  Touch something - anything - and feel and acknowledge it's Being.

Observe the rhythm of your breathing; feel the air flowing in and out, feel the life energy inside your body.  Allow everything to be, within and without.  Allow the "isness" of all things.  Move deeply into the Now.

You are leaving behind the deadening world of mental abstraction, of time.  You are getting out of the insane mind that is draining you of your life energy, just as [the collective mind] is slowly poisoning and destroying the Earth.  You are awakening out of the dream of time and into the present.

Tuesday, 25 August 2009

There's always a bigger fish

Just back from a four day hippie festival in Somerset and the moment that stands out for me was finding Jude, my son, wandering back towards our tent one day crying.

Jude is six. When I asked him what was up he said that he'd gotten into a fight with another boy but that the other boy was so strong. He wasn't so upset at this point, more genuinely surprised and worried. Jude practices Karate on Saturday mornings and he said that this boy was so strong he just blocked even Jude's powerful punches and then hit Jude repeatedly.

What could my little dude do?

I think he learned an important lesson, which we talked about :
There will always be someone physically stronger than you.

So we discussed options. The best is by far, do not get into a fight with anyone, big or small, but if it's unavoidable and you find yourself up against someone stronger, strong punches won't do it. You need good technique, good technique will always overcome physical strength and you need enormous spirit, good spirit will always overcome technique and strength.

Reassured that there was more than just physical strength to rely on, Jude felt better and we practiced some aikido techniques.

Thursday, 16 July 2009

Ikkyo, Nikkyo, Sankyo, Yonkyo

Ikkyo, Nikkyo, Sankyo, Yonkyo.

1st principle, 2nd principle, third principle, 4th principle.

Ikkyo is the primary technique in aikido. From ikkyo flows nikkyo, sankyo and yonkyo. The same opening movement is used in all four techniques. Indeed, if you get the opening movement right you don't need the specific pin that defines a paticular technique.

The reason we apply the pin is to protect not only oneself from further attack but to prevent the attacker from continuing to try and hurt himself.

I love aikido for it's spirit of non aggression. Without the spiritual principle aikido is ineffective. If fear or anger are present you become too visible to your attacker, physically and mentally. No thought, or mushin and no body tension allow you to flow around your attacker. A piercing focus allows you to direct the mass of the whole movement to where your attacker must fall. A continuing of feeling down and through his body allows you to pin him safely.

Then as soon as you start thinking about it, or competing with it, it all falls apart.

Try again.

What I took away from tonight's class was, when striking or meeting a strike, your hands should not move apart two much. They should stay maybe the distance apart they would be gripping a sword. Strike almost as if attacking with bokken. If you spilt your hands wide apart that focus is lost, the strength of the form broken. I found this much more satisfying then waving a hand up in the air and it kept my centre focused ahead on my uke.

Monday, 15 June 2009

One Point

I decided over the weekend to approach aikido slightly differently. I will take one paticular aspect of aikido and focus on that for the whole class.

So yesterday I chose my stance, in paticluar, making a nice deep stance in every technique and exercise.

This obviously demanded more of my body yet I found very early on in the session that my legs were getting hot but me head was cooling down. After 20 minutes of practicing like that my mental dialogue had practically dissappeared and I felt like beaming for the rest of the evening.

In an art as technically complex and sophisticated as aikido it's easy to get lost in techniques and angles and figuring out what you're supposed to be doing.

Take one aspect of it and do that really well.

Friday, 29 May 2009

The Camping Bug

So we've got the camping bug. After my first ever succesful (as in enjoyable and comfortable) camping trip last weekend, we are off to Bodiam, east and a little north of our current location (which is how you start thinking when you become a seasoned outdoorsman) this weekend for our second trip of the summer! And it's supposed to be a hot one. And I've made a deal that ensures we are back in time for me to make it to the dojo on Sunday also - having cake AND eating it, awesome.

So, best bits about last weekend :
Learning how to make fire without firelighters and charcoal.
Lying flat on the ground watching shooting stars with my son, Jude.
Walking through the woods with my family at night.
Lying flat on the ground by the campfire later on when it was even darker watching the milky way and passing satellites.
Roasting marshmallows.
Not thinking.
Staring at the campfire.
Having the space to swing my jo.
Hiking through mud and a downpour as we upped our pitch and headed home.

Looking forward to hitting the road again later today.

Wednesday, 29 April 2009

Rib damage

So am recovering from misogi finally. Quite achy the last two days! Foolishly tried to do my hundred sword cuts the morning after the 2500 cuts and got to about 25 before I had to stop from screaming wrists. Found a bit of jo swinging much nicer.

After some googling on t'internet I have concluded I cracked a rib a couple of weeks ago falling onto Tom Hume's knee in the dojo! Still quite tender to touch but OK to breath - just every now again I use one particular muscle group and the pain! Ouch.

Jesus - aikido mastery (hah!) does not come cheap!

Sunday, 26 April 2009

The Collective

So after at least a year in which I proclaimed myself free of the awful burden of needing to play music I am back on that paticular wagon. Went to see my friend's band, Super Kasanova, play in London last week and was inspired to get a band up and running again. Watch this space for new songs from Catherine, my wonderful other half, and I. If you want to partake in recording or performing in any way just contact the collective.


Just back from Misogi. This is a ritual undertaken by aikio practitioners on the anniversary of O Sensei's (Aikido's founder) death every year.

This year we spent 50 minutes doing saburi, or sword cuts with bokken. Interesting when you do something like this in that after about ten minutes, wherever your technique is flawed it will start to give out. But as you've started and committed and everyone else is doing it you must keep going. So you alter your technique and then after about twenty minutes your shouting the count out using aggression to keep going and get through it.

This gets you so far but not far enough. After half an hour your in and out of a state of no mind (mu shin) and egoic reeling and ranting and complaining about the pain and the blisters. It's then that you either join the people wobbling and flailing about but keeping going and getting through it or get really clever with your cutting and improve it enough to make it to the finish. Either way, no one gets off at this stop.

Would be interesting to do misogi more often and take an aikido technique and do that one technique a thousand times, see where you fail, what you have to do to make through the wall.

Thursday, 16 April 2009

Gavin Darcy, MCP

Just back from my first Microsoft exam and I passed! I was pleasantly surprised. I can now place the three letters, MCP, after my name, hurrah!

I've spent years in IT and never bothered before but it feels great to finally get a professional qualification.

The last month has been coloured by at least an hour every evening mostly boring myself stupid studying, with occasional bursts of interest when I learned something usefully nerdy. So I'm going to take a well deserved rest for a week or so before booking my next exam and starting the process again.

MCDST here I come.
MCSE, you're on my list.

Monday, 2 March 2009

Step back and dis identify

Been listening to Eckhart Tolle speaking about the inner body the last few days on my MP3 player. This is a great teaching which I've not heard from anyone else, not to say it's not been taught by anyone else. Focusing on the feeling of the body from the inside as both a meditation and as a means to bring oneself back from the incessant stream of thought during daily life. And what a martial practice, to be constantly aware of one's own internal energies from moment to moment in the maelstrom of bodies flying around the dojo.

Eckhart's other main teaching is to dis identify from one's thoughts and emotions, and what he calls the pain body. The pain body is basically accumulated emotional baggage that has been repressed over the years and rears it's head as an overwhelming emotional burst. When you can step back, so to speak, and witness your thoughts and emotions for what they are, realize, there are my thoughts, and there I feel my emotions, and hear I am, then you are automatically free from them. You are free to choose to change your behaviour, to feel good instead of bad, to take the higher path.

It is my mission to maintain that awareness constantly. When I feel I am being over-run by negative emotion or thought pattern, no matter what apparently reasonable excuse I might have, I will not identify and react but will step back, breath, feel my body from within and make an original decision.

Thursday, 12 February 2009

Backwards Ukemi

Just back from the dojo - another night of the freezing toes at the wildpark.
I am currently vexed by the 'new' backwards ukemi - it feels terrible crashing in a heap on the ground and half arsedly slapping the mats. My head is knocked sideways, my hips hit the mats, I get up unsteadily! It's not fighting!

And yet, I watch Tom Helsby doing it and it looks like fighting, it looks right. I saw so many aikidoka at the weekend doing it properly (and so many not) that I am just going to have to get it down. I'm trying not to think about how many years I've spent so far trying to get forward rolls down!

I think after tonight's practice that I have an idea what I am doing wrong. Like in the forward and standard backwards rolls, there is a circle that needs to be made with the arms, like the rim of a wheel. I have this pretty much down with the flying version of this new ukemi, I need now to reduce that architecture down into the more compact version.

Keiko keiko keiko...

Tuesday, 10 February 2009

Sugawara Sensei, Edinburgh

Just back from Edinburgh and a two day course with Sugawara Sensei, a Hombu Shihan.
My thanks to Neil Blacknell of Azami Kai Aikido for organizing and translating.

Sugawara Sensei is amazing. Lovely to see him taking ukemi towards the end of the course, right up on the balls of his feet, bouncing around almost - reminded me very much of footage I've seen of Goza Shioda Sensei.

I found that whenever he came round to me it was my ukemi he was correcting. And there was me taking pride in my good ukemi! Always comes before the fall. Aside though from minor corrections in how I take ukemi the thing I noticed from the two days was the almost complete lack of forward rolls. The 'new' backwards ukemi seems to have replaced it almost entirely. And I must admit this saddens me to some extent as I do like to fly away from a strong technique and bounce back up. I believe that is the point though, the flying away from your partner is not fighting. Keeping contact all the way down through the eyes is martially better maybe?

Who knows? I'm thinking maybe the 7th dan Shihan from the weekend who teaches the Tokyo riot police knows a thing or two more than me so I'll shut up and listen and try to do better!

Another point I really liked about ukemi was uke keeps his focus aimed straight at his partner's centre as long as he can, every chance he can, turn, face tori's centre.

On the other side, techniques that is, he spent alot of time stressing the basics and, for me, revealing the stuff I've forgotten because it's so basic. One's hands should never move outside of this rather small locus from the top of the head down and out to either hips and never extended too far out from the body. Sensei's hands never left this space and every technique he did was fast, powerful, unstoppable and looked amazingly easy! The effortless power referred to so often in the martial arts.

Every entering move went straight for the jugular, so to speak. There is no consideration for the limb being swung towards you, just straight in for the centre of the person attacking and then move from there.

Looking forward to getting back on the mats and practicing what I or my body remembers from the weekend and passing it on.

Friday, 30 January 2009

Basic Aikido Techniques

Youtube playlist containing most of the basic techniques in Aikido - demonstrated by various random Aikidoka. Enjoy.

Thursday, 29 January 2009

Take a moment

My job can be stressful, when I take myself too seriously.  There are so many people around me taking themselves and what is done unto them seriously, that it's hard not to follow suit.

My teacher is always saying one should take what you do seriously, but not yourself.
I think this works really well with the philosophy that what people do or say to you should not be taken personally.

Whenever negative intent is sent at you it comes from a place of unconsciousness.  The person stood there in front of you as the ranting customer has slipped out of reality as it is and into their role of the affronted, offended, cheated or otherwise unsatisfied 'customer'.  They are no longer themselves, they have identified with the role they are playing out and so feel they have to behave in such a way to you, the representative of of, or as they more likely see it, you are the company.

Thinking about it like this it's very easy not to take it personally - well, maybe it's not very easy but it gets easier with practice.

Whilst all around you are losing their heads and getting caught up in roles, 'the unhappy customer', 'the stressed engineer', 'the underpaid overworked employee' you can breath, refuse to take whatever is said to you as a personal attack.

I would rather practice this surrounded by superficial role playing then try it for the first time when someone, identified with the role of axe murderer, comes charging at me with murderous intent!  Think about it in martial terms if you like.  If you are still taking flippant remarks about how long it has taken to fix some one's computer as a personal affront and feeling the blood rush to your head as your ego screams at you to 'Say something!  You can't let her talk to me like that!' (for example) how the hell are you going to stay calm and centered enough in a violent situation to help matters or at the very least save your own skin?

So today, in the wake of senior managers sticking in their oar, in the midst of colleagues raging against the machine, under the weight of a never ending list of service requests - I pruned my banzai tree.  

Take a moment for yourself and breath.  For a moment, don't do anything for anyone else.  The voice in the back of your mind urging you to 'hurry up, move on, what's the next thing?' doesn't have to be listened to.  You can take a moment and not 'do' anything with it at all.  The more you do this, the more space you will see around the events in your life, the less reactive you will get and the more intelligently you will act.

Tuesday, 20 January 2009


Although I have been meditating on and off for some years now, it's only the last 3 weeks or so that I have finally succeeded in habitualising at least ten minutes twice daily.

The results so far?  I am exceedingly aware of the constant chatter my mind produces every single moment of every single day.  How was I not aware before of this mental noise?  I was aware when I was thinking, but it seems that even when I'm not consciously thinking there's a stream of babble that is mostly useless regurgitated information spilling through my head.

It's doing my head in.

I am told by reliable, worldly and spiritual sources that the next step is to accept without judgement, as I try my best to do with the world outside my head, every thought that comes.  And yet one of the thoughts that comes quite often now is 'Oh shut up you're so annoying!' which, of course, just adds to the mental clamour.  In fact, my head is doing my own head in.  Making sense?  Of course not, it's mind!

So where do I take refuge from this noise?  There's no way out!  So I must enter deeply instead.  Morihei Ueshiba is quoted as saying : 

'You cannot see or touch the Divine with your gross senses.  The Divine is within you, not somewhere else.'

I do find from time to time in my meditation that towards the end of my session, I am left calm and the noise has quietened significantly.  I remember one night last week which felt truly blissful and I did not want to leave my position.

I feel my practice must be extended now to start just when I start to reach that state.  Ten minutes to quieten the mind's chatter merely by watching it and then ten minutes mediation, sitting in the calm state.

Too Fast

I awoke this morning to my daughter Anabel doing a monologue of some sort.   She's saying she's going to go round to her friend's place and they're going to dress her in a nice dress, put on some makeup...  and I'm thinking, ah, my seven year old daughter being all girly again, playing dress up... and then they're going to straighten her hair, or maybe curl it, she doesn't know yet, and I'm thinking OK yeah, I should really get out of bed now, and then she's going to go across the road to his house and knock on his door...  wait a minute, what?!!

It was then that I found myself fully awake and musing that my seven year old daughter shouldn't be - should she?  Isn't she too young to be trying to attract boys?  Oh dear god, it begins!
Yes I know it's just an innocent way of copying the adult world and making it her own experience, and I know that the event she's actually describing is never going to happen (no way, uh uh) but it left me knocked sideways.  

So who is this boy?  What about the little fella you previously were calling your boyfriend?  Oh, you dumped him.  I see.  And this new fella's available now because he's just been dumped by your other girl friend.  Hmmmm.

They grow up so fast.

Friday, 16 January 2009

Mixing it Up

This last seven days I have trained more with strangers than I have my regular aikidoka and it's been a terrific experience.

I spent Sunday morning and early afternoon with the fantastic and formidable Gordan Jones (6th dan, UKA) and at least forty other people studying kaiten (thank you Mark Walsh for explaining, after four hours of practicing it and getting it wrong, what kaiten actually is).

And this evening I have just come back from a two and a half hour class with Nick Doyle (3rd dan, Brighton Aikikai).  So lovely to find eight people throwing themselves round a dojo at half ten on a Friday evening when everyone else is hitting the pub.  Excellent class.

So it struck me this evening that you can tell a whole lot about a person practicing in the dojo that you might never learn from talking to them.  There's a great line in the Matrix that says 'You do not truly know someone until you fight them'.  Aikido is even deeper than that.  You walk up to someone you've never trained with before and make contact by holding their wrist and then you listen to their whole body, down to their very core.  You might not pick it all up on a conscious level at first but you'll pick up everything about them, their childhood, their current mood, their energy level - it's like taking a complete psycho physical profile of another human and giving all that you've got right back.

I experienced this a few times at both practices this week but you can tell across the mat, before you even pair up, who you're going to enjoy training with the most.  You know who you'll come back for more with - who you're favourite play mates are going to be. Because when you strip all the martial art away, that's what we're doing.  We're playing on the mat, risking injury for the buzz of sailing through the air.  And playing is something that the adult section of our society has mostly forgotten how to do.  I prescribe aikido all round.

Training with new people is also a fantastic way of truly testing your aikido.  When you don't know how someone is going to react you have no preconceptions, you have to truly open up to the possibilities and listen to your partner and how they move.  

When someone doesn't know you or how you move you are pushed sometimes to your limit as they sound you out.  I remember, in particular this week, training with a dan grade on Sunday and trying desperately to keep a good grip on his wrist as he moved me very powerfully and incredibly swiftly.  I kept finding myself behind the movement of my arm attached to his, and this resolved itself in my body as a jarring sort of energy, a non too pleasant one that I couldn't leave unchecked.  I really had to focus, breath, stop thinking and loosen up to move fast enough to smooth out the motion.

Sore all over for four days afterwards I kid you not - but there's a masochistic side of me that loves that in a kind of no pain no gain kind of way.

So this year for me, start grading (I haven't graded since my 6th kyu six years ago!) and attend more classes and courses outside my usual dojo.  Loving mixing it up.

Friday, 9 January 2009

Own the Mat

Am currently reading several books and have put them aside temporarily to go through a nice, if somewhat cheesy, little book by an American sensei, George Leonard.

He writes about this lovely little concept that could be misunderstood as ego manic but is actually a brilliant way to put into practice acceptance or non resistance.

He talks of 'owning the mat'.  So when you step onto the dojo mats you say to yourself, 'this is my mat'.  You treat everyone as your guest and act accordingly, including everyone in your gaze, sending out welcoming feeling or intention toward them, taking responsibility for them.   And you acknowledge that they own their mat also.

But this expands way beyond the dojo.  When walking down the street, try, 'I own this path' and smile accordingly at everyone walking along it.  Welcome to this space I am walking through.

I love this concept and am using it everywhere I go today.  I visit alot of different sites in my job, entering alot of offices as a face that may not be recognized by most that work there daily and thusly encounter spiky energies from time to time that can be uncomfortable.  I am entering someone else's territory if you like.

But when 'I own this office' my energy is transformed completely out of discomfort and into acceptance of all around me and good intention to those I meet in it.

When people are a guest in your home it is your responsibility to make sure they are comfortable and relaxed yes?  If they fall over you rush to pick them up.  If they ask you for something you do your best to get it.  What if everyone you meet is met as though they're a guest in your place?

Recommended practice.

Friday, 2 January 2009


I am thankful and grateful for this healthy mind and body.  There are many that have not this blessing and I appreciate it on a daily basis.

I am thankful and grateful for my partner, Catherine and my children, Anabel and Jude and especially thankful for their health and happiness.

I am thankful I do not live in a war zone.

I am thankful and grateful to have chanced upon great teachings and teachers in my life.

I am grateful for Aikido, my teachers and fellow aikidoka for throwing me to the ground repeatedly.

I am thankful for my job and other life circumstances that allow my family to live in comfort and security.

I am thankful for the thin envelope of air that gravity has stuck to this beautiful ball of rock.  I am grateful for the spinning molten metal core that has generated just enough of an electromagnetic field to protect us from the searing solar winds and radiations of the universe.

I am grateful for the incredible set of circumstances that have resulted in this life event I call 'I'.

I am thankful and grateful for this moment.

Happy New Year.

Wednesday, 24 December 2008

Ten Minutes twice daily

So I've been kind of lazy in that I've not been meditating regularly of late. Just using it as a tool at crisis points when it all became too much and I felt like exploding!
But last night and this morning I sat for ten minutes in my room and breathed.  And got carried away by a thought or ten, and remembered what I was doing, and came back to my breathing again.
Ten minutes and I was out of that room more aware of my self and surroundings, more aware of my breath, more aware of those around me and how I interact with them.  And then there's something more than just that.  A peace around and between everything that draws me closer to the world.
So my new years resolution, and I will follow this one through - ten minutes sitting each morning and evening, come hell or high water.

Monday, 15 December 2008

Sinking into Seiza

Training again at the dojo last night when I had an epiphany of sorts.
Taking instruction form Tom Helsby, he told us to place our bodies on the floor when rolling, to see how quietly we could do it.

I went back to my rolling and concentrated on placing my body on the ground and placing my attention there.  I found that, suddenly, my awareness had shifted and I was heavier, a lot heavier and more compact underneath, so to speak.

Let me try to explain.  I have been reading about how to allow one's weight to 'sink down' naturally.  Everything wants to sink down to the earth due to gravity.  Our body is designed through thousands of years of evolution to stand up under this pull, to move under this pull.  Now I think a problem for a lot of people, and certainly for me, is that our minds get in the way and tell us how to stand.   Or we distract ourselves completely from our body awareness and get lost in thought, hunching out of alignment and loping around under the pull of gravity.

So in my reading about sinking weight, I have spent some time just standing and feeling from within, how my weight sinks down into my feet.  Last night I was suddenly able to feel how my weight sunk whilst rolling and it made the rolls quieter, faster, smoother and my stance coming out of them stronger.

Then sitting Seiza (see O Sensei's sitting posture above) at the end of class I could feel how all my weight sank down into the triangulation made by my body.  The weight could be felt almost as a tangible pyramid shape encompassing my body.  Hard to put into words, it's not something the mind can label easily.

I was reminded later after class of a training accident some years back when I was thrown forward, landed on my left shoulder too heavily, snapped my collar bone, continued my roll forward and came out of the roll sitting perfectly and very stably in seiza.  As soon as I felt that bone snap my mind shut up, my body relaxed and the roll and the sitting position happened perfectly naturally.   Interesting to note that my rolling and sitting are only now beginning to catch up consciously with what my body was able to do spontaneously in an emergency some five years ago!

Wednesday, 10 December 2008


I have been reading 'The Principles of Effortless Power' by Pater Ralston and came across a fascinating experiment yesterday.

Lift your hand.
Now ask, who lifted your hand?
My first response is that I did.
So ask, how?
After answering that I just did and questioning this again one eventually comes to the apparent answer that one did it with one's mind.
So, leave your hand in place and ask it to rise with your mind.
I find that I can talk to it with my mind, scream at it and it won't budge.
The mind does not lift the hand.

There seems to be a translator, if you like, between mind and body.  Peter Ralston calls it intention.  Tom Helsby explains it like this : Decide to lift your arm with your mind, send out your intention, Ki follows this intention and your body follows this Ki and raises the arm.

I am finding this fascinating.  As I move about I find that, if I am conscious and sensitive enough, my mind's chatter, the 'I' that I relate to even, has little to do with how I operate in this physical environment.  There is a broader, deeper part of my mind that has everything to do with it. 

So is this field of intention 'I'?

Further writings on Intention can also be found in Carlos Casteneda's books. Recommended.

Thursday, 4 December 2008

Take the head off

Just back from the dojo.  We were looking at entering into the attack but off the line of attack.  Meeting the attack with our arm as a result of stepping in and placing our hips into it.  Then we turn around to let the attack continue down into the space we previously occupied.

This is called Irimi (entering) and Tenkan (turning).  The technique then happens naturally, and which technique happens depends on the distance and timing (ma-ai) and what the attacker does in response to your movement.

Too often we forget what we're doing.  We meet the attack, then turn away and grab the limb and do the technique.  This is a martial art.  We should meet the attack, stay focused on and into uke (the attacker), take their head off with our counter attack or atemi, our spirit or gaze, then sink under their centre, roll our body around their body movement and finish off with the technique that happens naturally - the last 5%.

Till I forget again!

Wednesday, 3 December 2008


The more I worry, the less life flows, the more it all knots up until it comes to a head in thoroughly crap day or an explosive argument with Catherine, my beloved partner.

On a moment to moment basis I am aware (when I am alert enough, conscious enough) of my mind as it churns out possible things to be concerned about.  Future events that may happen (Ooh, I hope not!) or may not happen (Ooh what if that doesn't come through?) that my mind would mull over and, indeed, does mull over fairly constantly.

As I remain sober almost a year on, meditate and study all these amazing and simple teachings available to us,  I am becoming aware of how much useless activity is being generated by my mind.   And it's not just useless, but it generates worried and fearful emotions that cost me energy.  This in turn costs me in body tension and posture.

What I find myself doing in response to this realization is waiting for this process to stop.  And so, of course, it never does.  I am once again looking to the future when all will be well, when in reality all is well now.  As Eckhart Tolle is fond of urging us to ask, "What problems have I got now, in this moment?".

The real challenge is to accept in full the totality of one's self and where you are at now.

Interesting side effect of meditation or mind watching, is as one becomes aware of how much mental chatter is going on, it feels as if it is increasing.  I don't believe that this is actually the case though.  It's like, you see trees every day but only when you look at them closely do you notice how many leaves are on them.  And the closer you look the more leaves you see.  Sooner or later, if you're going to see the tree as it is, you have got to step back and stop following every branch.

Monday, 24 November 2008


The practice of Ukemi is, in my limited understanding, the most important part of Aikido practice. This is where you attack your partner and allow them to perform a technique. You lend your body to them if you like, generously and with a big spirit.

If the technique is performed in a fluid, more advanced way than you are literally sucked in and projected back out again. It's a fascinating feeling, sort of like accelerating to the crest of a steep hill before freewheeling down the other side. If the technique is performed staccato, when your partner is figuring out the technical movements, then you allow yourself to be lead, whilst always maintaining a good healthy posture, and a good all round awareness.

My teacher has been saying for some months now, look past your partner's fingers as you take ukemi. Follow the energy that is projecting from his/her fingertips. I feel like I finally got what he's been saying about this last night practicing one of the last techniques, Irimi Nage. You attack, allow yourself to be taken and then follow your partners fingers with your eyes. They sink, you sink, they raise up, you follow, they turn, you turn. Instead of following your partner and thinking, 'Oh what's happening now, this isn't the way the technique should be done, I'd do it othrewise... etc', you end up simply following the line of the fingers, the energy of your partner's movement and much less thought is involved. A flow happens.

The less thought is involved in Aikido practice, the better. It's much like music. You get the basic forms, practice and think about them alot, then you try to throw that away ('cut off your legs' as they say in Japan) and go for flow. Technique does indeed seem to be the last 5% of the action.

In the end it all comes down to the same thing - Ukemi, losing oneself. Opening yourself up to your partner, to life, to the flow, accepting whatever happens and not resisting. Apply it to whatever you want.

Friday, 21 November 2008

Birth and Death

Check these pics of my littlest sister, Laura's, baby in her belly.
Has ultra sound gotten better in the last 6 years, because I don't remember ever being able to make out so much detail in my children's scans?

Truly awesome and amazing.

So from a baby growing that doesn't yet know where it is or what's happening to, it to my five year old son getting out of bed the other night suddenly realizing his mortality. He says, 'I don't want to be in this life! I'll have to feel it when I die!'. What can you say? It's just a game Jude. We never really die, just this 'crude matter' (Yoda), passes on.

I remember when I first became aware of my mortality and it felt like a great big scary dark thing looming up in front of me, inevitable as, well, death! But what is death really? How much of I will survive? I used to have epileptic attacks as a youngster. All the neurons in my brain would fire off in a chain reaction that would shut off my brain for a brief time. One second I would be here, 'in this life' as Jude put it, the next I am not. There is no me. No time. But there is awareness. Then all of a sudden I am back in this life, in a different position physically, a different moment in time and everyone has gathered around me. And you know what, the peace and relaxation after an event like that was always deep. The dialogue had shut up.

I've lost my fear of death. I still fear the pain that may be involved but what's to fear in death? The ultimate release of all worries and concerns. No me to deal with!

Tuesday, 18 November 2008


Reading Musashi's Book of Five Rings at the moment and I am fascinated by the statement, and I paraphrase somewhat, "When you strike at the enemies face, he becomes rideable".

This works. I've been told in the dojo many times, use atemi (strikes) to help focus the technique, or help focus your attention on uke (your practice partner). But it was when I went to practice a more aggressive style, White Crane kung fu, and we did their version of a technique I was familiar with in aikido, Kote Gaishe (outer wrist twist) that I realised how important the strike before the technique is.

If you do not at least jab at your partner (or enemy's!) face there is no way that they are going to go with the technique in a real life situation. They will stiffen when you try to throw or pin them, very few people will relax in a fight situation.

A good smack in the face on the other hand will instantly put you on the back foot, startle you 'up into your head' if you like and make you 'rideable' as my book's translation of Musashi's Japanese puts it.

I enjoy it as uke when someone strikes at your face doing the technique. It's a reminder, yes, this is a martial art. Yes, you are open to attack there. Yes, you could wake up!

Sunday, 16 November 2008

Human Evolution

The evolution of the species is not so much a biological thing in humans, it's faster than that.
Whilst we're still passing on genes to the next generation, we're also passing on behavioural patterns, emotional loads and mind patterns.

The majority of humanity for the majority of it's existence has been passing these traits on, on an unconscious level, but this is changing now.

We are aware of how our behaviour effects our children and that it will, in turn, effect their children. So our responsibility as humans is to do better than our parents in loving and teaching, and most importantly, in being a living example of how to be human for our children.

It is my job as a father to do a better job than my father. It will be my son's job to do a better job than I have done. In this way, humanity evolves.

Saturday, 15 November 2008

Back on the horse.

I have decided to start writing and recording music again.
After making 'music making' the main goal in my life many years ago I pursued it as a means to an end. To get that elusive record deal and make a fortune.

Since going straight earlier this year and getting back together with my partner and kids I've hardly touched the guitar. I found it brought up too much ego in me and could not justify picking it up to myself.

I'm finding now though, the urge to start recording music on the PC again, just for the love of it. I've always found recording to be my favourite aspect of musicianship, totally immersive, unlimited scope to create, the ability to play with onself!

Wednesday, 12 November 2008

Pain-body Attack!

Eckhart Tolle talks about the pain body as part of his teachings. A clever way of looking at the schizophrenic behaviour of humans. To paraphrase, we all have a pain body built up from years of (mostly self inflicted) suffering that takes us over from time to time. We then freak out and try to draw another human into an argument, or get wasted and/or do something we later regret.

So I'm looking at my bank accounts today and I am shocked to discover there's nothing left! Instant sinking feeling that comes out of years of living with 'not quite enough' and I'm taken over by the pain body for the next several hours.

Now I used to spend most of my life in the pain body, identified with my pain, angry at it, sad about it. I had several ways of dealing with it but they all involved escaping it temporarily.

Nowadays I feel it, and when I'm taken in by it I act it out but I always know it's just the pain body, it will pass, it's not me. I am not the sum of my thoughts and feelings, I am the witness, the observer.

This however does not quite cut the mustard when you apologise later to your partner for acting like an asshole over a few pounds. In fact, I find my pain body has succeeded in activating her pain body and I am now apologising to an entity that doesn't take any prisoners!

We could find ourselves in a vicious circle of abuse very easily, and the human race regularly does.
Jesus said, turn the other cheek and forgive them for they know not what they do. He knew the score. When you hurt someone it's not you doing the hurting. When they hurt you, it's not them. The trick to overcoming this madness, to evolving out of it is forgiveness. Don't take it personally. Laugh at yourself. Breathe and accept the shit for it's all completely temporary and impersonal.

Tuesday, 11 November 2008

Blue Arsed Fly

I find that my mind is constantly reminding me of what I need to do next.
"Customer's waiting, more work incoming, get this done fast as you can, move onto the next job. Gotta do this, make sure I do that!"

Like a crazed monkey it will go on and on running around in circles creating a tense and stressful head space which ultimately is the opposite of the headspace required for truly fast and effecient work.

So I breathe. I slow my pace. Notice the sunset, the colours in the sky over Brighton at dusk. The peace that lies underneath all the noise.

Ahhh. Breathing in, 1, Breathing out, 1. Pause.
Now I can crack on.