Koichi Tohei Book 7: Way to Union with Ki

August 15th, 2011 by twistingwrists Categories: Media reviews 4 Responses
Koichi Tohei Book 7: Way to Union with Ki

This book is the last book written by Koichi Tohei. It is the largest, the most detailed, and also the most difficult one to find. It was only sold to Ki Society members in 2001 – which I was at that time. As with almost all his books, there are chapters on his philosophy and the techniques of Aikido. Of particular interest in this book is that there is a chapter where he talks about what he learned from his 3 teachers (and what he disagreed with!).

Walking in the snow with his wife

The main theme as is in all of his books is mind body unification. Here he explains an interesting point that mastery of one art doesn’t mean mastery in all situation:

When we unify our mind and body we are healthy and feel good. Whenever we lose harmony between mind and body we feel out of sorts, and things do not go well. A person who has achieved mastery in any field learns how to coordinate mind and body from years of experience. However mastery of one art does not guarantee that a person will be able to coordinate mind and body at any time in daily life. For this reason, to unify mind and body has always been considered to be the most difficult of tasks, requiring constant vigilance and effort.

Tea ceremony

Another common theme of Tohei’s teaching is one of maintaining a positive attitude:

If you want to extend Ki you must do it with your mind. No one ever achieves anything with a negative spirit. Successful people are those who maintain a positive attitude in the face of any difficulty; people who extend Ki.

However our lives are not always smooth sailing. Things don’t always go smoothly for your convenience. When things do not go your way, it is easy to become negative, to complain, to experience doubts. This is a critical time at which your attitude makes all the difference. Whenever you feel anxious about something, it is important to change your attitude by using positive words. When you think or speak positively, this penetrates into your subconscious mind and things go accordingly.

Seated techniques

And finally, Tohei brings back the all important point that the lessons from Aikido should be applied to your daily life:

There is no such thing as a principle that works just for aikido and cannot be applied in daily life. There is but one universe, and its principles are universal, applicable equally in any time and any era. There is no limit on what you can apply the principles to. You may apply them equally to martial arts, sports, fine arts, or business, but they must be applied correctly.

Training with the jo

Koichi Tohei Book 6: Kiatsu

August 8th, 2011 by twistingwrists Categories: Media reviews No Responses
Koichi Tohei Book 6: Kiatsu

It was now the mid 80′s and Koichi Tohei had just released a new book. This one was not on Aikido but on Kiatsu – the massage style developed by Tohei. Later there would be a Kiatsu school built on the grounds of the Ki Society HQ in Japan (Ki no Sato). This book showed the massage lines all over the body and included stories of how the art came to be and various treatment experiences.

Original & revised edition covers for Kiatsu

Tohei’s teachings, although the message is the same as in previous books, his explanations get a little more detailed:

When our Ki is interchanging with the Ki of the universe, this creates the most natural and strongest state with the most vigorous state of our life power. This state is called mind and body unification and by living with mind and body unified, one can stay healthy all throughout one’s life. That is why I teach the four basic principles.

The massage lines of the legs

Through Kiatsu, Tohei says we can help those who have become ill:

We must supply Ki to this person, just as when the power of the battery of a car has become drained and it must be charged from the outside.

Kiatsu for the back

After treating a lady for stiff shoulders, he warns her that she will have stiff shoulders again:

When you were a baby, you did not have stiff shoulders. Your shoulders became stiff after you became adult. That means your mistakes in your daily life made the shoulders stiff. If you repeat the same mistakes your shoulders will again become stiff.

Shinichi Tohei performing kiatsu

The Kiatsu book is out of print but sometimes there are copies available here or here.

Koichi Tohei Book 5: Book of Ki

August 1st, 2011 by twistingwrists Categories: Media reviews No Responses
Koichi Tohei Book 5: Book of Ki

Printed in 1976, “Book of Ki” is the 5th book of Tohei’s that was publishes in English. At this time, Tohei’s Organization, the Ki Society, was in full swing and there was worldwide demand for his teaching of Ki.

This book feels like a sequel to “Aikido in Daily Life”. Again, there are no techniques in this book, it is filled with what I consider to be Aikido’s greatest teachings – the application to daily life.

Right in the preface, Tohei writes about the importance of the pillars of his teaching – the four principles to unify mind and body:

I regard my four basic principles to unify mind an body as having been given to me by the universe to spread the way of the universe. There have been many who have grasped unification of mind and body. Very few, however, could teach it. Fewer still could teach how to teach it.

Ki training can even improve your golf game

While everyone knows that we need sleep to recharge ourselves Tohei writes:

New Ki flows into your body as you extend Ki. The better you are at extending Ki, the more efficient this “instant recharging” becomes, enabling you to restore physical and mental power with just a little sleep at night.

There was a time in my life that I was attracted to what some would consider the darker side of life. At that time I felt like I was being pulled in two directions. On one hand I liked the positive and healthy message of Aikido. On the other hand I liked dark music (Current 93, Death in June, etc). It was this paragraph that showed me that I had a choice and the choice became clear:

It is valid to say that God is love. It is justifiable to say that the universe is unmerciful. Everything depends upon your outlook. If you want to live a happy, vigorous and healthy life, you should look at the light side. If gloom and misery attract you, look at the dark side. If you want to walk south, you should walk south. You will never get there if you continue to walk north. You can spend your life crying or smiling. It’s up to you. If you want to look on the positive side of things, you ought to believe that the way of the universe is the way of love. You should practice using your mind positively and extending Ki. If, on the other hand, you want to look at the dark side of life, the path lies before you: believe that the source of life is unmerciful, use the mind negatively, complain, and pull Ki.

Demonstrating "weight underside"

In the chapter titled “How to overcome disease” comes the excellent advise of not letting a physical problem become a mental one:

When you are sick, your extension of Ki becomes weak. The life force becomes enervated and the disease worsens and lingers. “If you have an ailment of the body,” goes a Japanese saying, “do not let it affect your mind.” If you keep a strong mind which extends Ki, your life power cures disease quickly. If, on the other hand, you worry over a slight headache and an odd feeling in the stomach, you are inviting trouble.

“Book of Ki” is out of print but sometimes used copies are available HERE.

Koichi Tohei Book 4: This is Aikido

July 25th, 2011 by twistingwrists Categories: Media reviews 3 Responses
Koichi Tohei Book 4: This is Aikido

2 different cover variations

This is Aikido was Koichi Tohei’s 4th book in English and it was his largest and most ambitious. Early editions were just titled “This is Aikido” while later editions were titled “This is Aikido with Mind & Body Coordinated“. The new title differentiated Tohei’s Aikido from the mainstream Aikikai which he had since separated from.

Unlike his previous books which were half or more psychology & talking about the spiritual side of the art, This is Aikido was mostly filled with techniques. His 4 principles of mind and body are covered, then all of the aiki taiso, followed by 36 different techniques. The large format along with the ample photographs made following the techniques easy.

Sankyo

In the preface, Tohei talks about the different attitudes toward learning of students from the east and from the west.

Occidental peoples use reason I an attempt to understand the nature of their problems before taking action. Peoples of the East prefer to tackle a question head on, without resort to theoretical quibbling, and to learn by doing. Each system has its own evils. The Western approach risks encountering problems impossible to understand by mean of reason alone; the Oriental system could lead to a mistaken concept of the goal.

In fact, Tohei built his whole system of instruction after going to Hawaii and trying to teach Aikido there. He soon realized that the traditional Japanese training method would not suffice. He had to watch O sensei (founder of Aikido) closely and try to put into words what he was doing. I see Tohei as a genius in this regard. While other instructors were just repeating the same movements over and over, Tohei had the insight to see beyond the techniques and to be able to formulate the 4 principles – the psychology and foundation of the art.

On the lack of unification of body and spirit in modern society he writes:

The alarmingly large number of people who, in the dizzying pace of our age, try to read a book while thinking of something else, or turn to their work with an ill will, or go to bed at night still angry about over something that happened during the day reveals the extent to which we use our spirits and bodies separately.

This was Tohei's first book to have weapons techniques.

While it almost sounds like a 6th sense, Tohei explains the power of keeping one point:

Concentrating your spirit in the single spot in the lower abdomen renders you capable of catching the full significance of a situation in a flash and of disassociating yourself entirely from the situation once it has passed. The effect is much like a well-polished mirror which accurately reflects an image only of what is before it.

In one of the last sections titled “Refining the sixth sense”, he writes about one of the highest levels of coordination:

The unified spirit and body, when the spirit is in repose, are like a still, glassy sheet of water that reflects all things as they are, that can catch the slightest reverberation. A calm body of water, even should a light breeze blow across its surface, still reflects the moon like a mirror; a troubled body of water shatters the moon into a thousand fragments. In the same way, when the spirit is calm, it can perceive the slightest movement, in the form of spirit waves, from the opponent.


This is Aikido is out of print but sometimes used copies are available HERE.

Koichi Tohei Book 3: Ki in Daily Life

July 18th, 2011 by twistingwrists Categories: Media reviews No Responses
Koichi Tohei Book 3: Ki in Daily Life

All 3 versions of Aikido/Ki in Daily Life

Originally titled “Aikido in Daily Life”, Tohei’s 3rd book in English was later retitled as “Ki in Daily Life” and even later, there was a new revised edition. The core of the text remained the same although the latest edition goes into more detail in the breathing section.

This was the first Aikido book I read, back in 1990 and after already having studied martial arts for a few years, I was eager to get into the spiritual side of the arts. I enjoyed sparring but I was always looking for the deep meaning. After I started reading I couldn’t put it down. So many things became clear to me from reading this book and even today – 20 years later, I still consider it the best book on Aikido.

While his 2 previous books were split half & half with philosophy and technique, this book is all philosophy. First published in 1966, Tohei’s 4 principles of mind body unification are laid out for the first time. These principles would become the basis of his life teaching from here on out.

Tohei ki testing Kenjiro Yoshigasaki

On choosing to study Ki or not, Tohei says:

Lives filled with laughing and lives filled with weeping are both possible. It is for the man himself to decide which he will choose. If you would be always healthy and always walk through life with your head held high, you must begin by studying Ki.

On the importance of mind body unification, Tohei writes:

When we say we are good at the things we like, we mean that we are able to make progress if we like the kind of thing we are doing. Conversely, if we do not like what we are doing, we find it difficult to concentrate our mind on it. Though our body may be pointed the right way, our mind will fly off in some other direction. Progress in things we like is slow because we cannot achieve a state of mind and body unification. The critical thing to learn if you want to make progress in anything is to first unify your mind and body and then give play to your own abilities.

In the chapter “The basic nature of Ki”, Tohei writes about Ki in terms of keeping a positive attitude:

Both a plus and a minus thinking method apply to practically everything. For instance, a person might see a few of his friends talking together. The person with a plus attitude will think nothing of it. The person wit a minus attitude will immediately wonder if perhaps they are not saying something bad about him. By thinking more than is necessary about such things this negative person’s attitude will become more and more negative. Some people put a bad interpretation and some a good one on the very same words. Moreover, the same words sound different to the same person depending on whether his Ki is plus or minus when he hears them.

One of Tohei’s 4 principles of mind body unification is to relax completely:

Why do people feel that it is impossible to relax when something big is happening? First of all, this notion arises from the illusion that when one is relaxed he is weak. The fact is that if you relax properly you are very strong. We relax at important, trying times because relaxing makes us strong.

Demonstrating unliftable body

In teaching the importance of another of his 4 principles – keeping one point – Tohei teaches that:

As one tries to improve his one point in daily life, one should be able to maintain a perpetually relaxed state of mind and body. He will develop a mind which is immovable even though the world around collapses, and a mind which is as vast as the ocean which can engulf everything and remain unpolluted.

Tohei further explains when to practice keeping one point:

However busy you are, you can do it in your daily life if you have a will. The busier one is, the more one should practice it.

On the importance of practicing Ki breathing Tohei writes:

Plenty of people can see a loft tree but few notice the roots. A tree can grow to be lofty only if its roots are firmly planted. Such things as breathing methods are disciplines that form the roots of progress.

Demonstrating ki breathing

In teaching the spirit of love and protection for all things Tohei shows how to always have a feeling of gratitude:

When you are ill, you can consider it a heaven-granted rest and use the wonderful opportunity you have for training your spirit. When you are well again, you can enjoy the feeling of good health. Nothing in the world will be unpleasant.

Tohei teaches that changing your subconscious is no easy task. It is a long and difficult task but is worth it:

One drop of water added to a cup of tea will change neither its color nor its taste. Two drops will do little more, but if drop by drop we continue to add water, both the color and the flavor will alter. People generally leap to the conclusion that because one or two drops of effort cannot change the subconscious, it is impossible to change it. The truth is, just as with the cup of tea, if we continue the effort, it will alter.

At this time, Ki in Daily Life is still in print and is available here.

Koichi Tohei Book 2: What is Aikido?

July 11th, 2011 by twistingwrists Categories: Media reviews No Responses
Koichi Tohei Book 2: What is Aikido?

Hardcover & softcover variations

Printed in 1962, What is Aikido? was Koichi Tohei’s 2nd book published in English. He had just finished traveling to Hawaii and California spreading the art and this book was in response to the questions his American students were asking.

Tohei demonstrating unbendable arm

In the forward, he writes:

The purpose of Aikido lies not in trying to make people strong in the arts of self defense but in helping them learn the eternal truths that form the basis of Aikido and manifest themselves in Aikido practice. Aikido helps the individual to attain the greatest heights of human personality, cleanse his mental and spiritual environment and help to make the world a brighter place to live.

Further explaining the goals of Aikido, Tohei writes:

The aim is not to conquer the enemy but to conquer oneself. This is why Aikido is said to have leaped from the material, physical martial arts to a spiritual martial art.

Tohei demonstrating kotegaeshi

Tohei is going to great lengths to explain the art of Aikido and also distinguishing it from other arts. He writes:

Aikido is not merely an art of self defense but into it’s techniques and movements are woven elements of philosophy, psychology, and dynamics. As you learn the various arts, you will at the same time train your mind, improve your health, and develop an unbreakable self confidence.

Tohei demonstrating shihonage

Some people teach Ki as some kind of mystical energy. Tohei explains it very naturally. He says:

Since one’s own Ki is part of the universal Ki, one has only to let nature take it’s course, allowing Ki to flow constantly. This sounds simple but we have all become accustomed to stopping our Ki or pulling our Ki in that it becomes extremely difficult to let nature take its course. It becomes necessary to change our habits so that we may at all times be able to pour forth Ki at will.

This book is out of print but sometimes there are copies available here.

Koichi Tohei Book 1: Aikido- The Arts of Self Defense

June 28th, 2011 by twistingwrists Categories: Media reviews 2 Responses
Koichi Tohei Book 1: Aikido- The Arts of Self Defense

Koichi Tohei’s teachings have played a major role in my Aikido life. His book “Ki in Daily Life” was the first Aikido book I read. I remember when I started reading it I couldn’t put it down. That book got me interested in Aikido. 20 years later I feel it’s time to go back and read all of his books again. This time I’m going to share with you the points I find most meaningful.

Cover version 1 (hardcover) & version 2 (softcover)

 

Tohei’s first book to be translated into English was the 1960 book titled “Aikido: The Arts of Self Defense“. He wrote this book while he was teaching and living in Hawaii durjng the years 1957 and 1958. As all of his books, it was part philosophy and part technique. Under section 1B Tohei says something very important about the nature of training. He says

“whether throwing or being thrown, if there is some sense of displeasure in the act, it is time to observe if there has not been some unnatural strain somewhere, some violation of Nature’s laws. It will be time also to begin again from the beginning. To throw another without feeling that you are throwing him, to be thrown without feeling that you are being thrown, working as one with your opponent, showing your obedience to Nature’s laws in every movement of your bodies, body and spirit invigorated by a magnanimous feeling one for the other, every act in the contest a manifestation of natural love -that is Aikido.”

A huge part of Tohei’s teaching is the topic of mind body coordination. On this subject sensei says:

“You will find by learning to coordinate mind and body that you have tremendous power not hitherto known to you, that the realization that you can call forth this power at will can calm your mind, and that you enjoy a feeling of gratitude and of being constantly refreshed. You put behind you thoughts of aggressiveness or competition, yet you have the courage to meet dauntlessly all obstacles placed before you.”


I feel that much too much emphasis has been put on the technique side of aikido – how to throw someone. Aikido’s real value in my opinion is the mental and spiritual side of the art. In a subchapter titled “Relation between Mind & Body” Tohei writes:

“Aikido is a way to train, study, and understand through practice in our daily lives a method of mental and physical coordination. There are those who think of Aikido as an art to throw an attacking opponent in a split second, or to hold down a strong man with just one finger. They think of Aikido as a highly developed self-defense art. This is a superficial view. Aikido is not merely an art to throw others but a way to apply the law of Nature to our daily lives. One who does not understand this does not truly understand Aikido.”

Tohei teaches 4 principles to develop mind body coordination and one of them is to “keep one point” meaning to concentrate your mind at a point 2 inches below your navel. On this topic he writes:

“At first, this state of being is easily disturbed. If you become aware that you are not in this state, you can think of the one point and create this condition again. You can gradually lengthen the time you are in this state and finally you will be able to continue this state of being even in your sleep. When you reach this stage of development, everything can be done by the power of mental and physical coordination and you can use your new power to your heart’s content. When you are confronted by problems, you can at any time demonstrate your ability, often to your own amazement.”


Towards the end of the book is a chapter on the positive use of the mind. Tohei writes:

While you are living, think about life- how to spend every day worthily and how to attain the perfect life so that you can die at any time in a relieved state of mind.”

The term “Immovable mind” is a somewhat common term in martial arts. Sensei has this to say about it:

“In Aikido, you must practice to keep your mind unshakable on your one point. If your mind is unshakable, you can maintain a strong posture at all times.”

In the last chapter Tohei gets more philosophical about self-defense in a chapter called “Self-defense in its deeper meaning”. He writes:

“Do not think to prevail over your adversary: think rather of prevailing over self. Do your best to do what you should do. In other words, you must train yourself to follow the principles of nature and improve and integrate your personality.”

Again the point of this book review was simply to point out the parts of the book that jumped out to me as being very important. In actuality I think all of Tohei sensei’s books are a treasure trove of guides to develop the mental and spiritual side of the art and of life.

This book is out of print but sometimes there are copies available here or here.

George Ledyard on Aiki, Kaeshiwaza, and more

October 18th, 2010 by twistingwrists Categories: Media reviews, Words 2 Responses
George Ledyard on Aiki, Kaeshiwaza, and more

George Ledyard, long time student of Mitsugi Saotome and head instructor of Aikido Eastside in Washington state, was kind enough to take some time out of his day for an interview. I asked him about some of his views on Aikido, his training in Systema and Daito Ryu, and also his 2 new DVDs: Aiki & Connection and Principles of Kaeshiwaza.

TW: You spent a long time training under Saotome Sensei and are a well known instructor in your own right. How has your understanding of aikido changed or developed from what you learned from your teacher?

GL: I have been with Saotome Sensei since 1976. It would be hard to say that my understanding of Aikido changed or developed from what I have learned from Sensei, more that he formed my understanding of Aikido from the start. What really distinguishes Saotome Sensei’s Aikido is the balance between the art as a martial art and as a spiritual practice. Many folks these days do not seem to be able to hold those two aspects together. The art seems to have split into a group of folks who think it has something to do with “fighting” and spend their time preparing for some imagined and anticipated “street” encounter. I think these folks tend to be running a sort of modern day “samurai wanna be” story in their heads. On the other hand, many folks who are quite serious about Aikido as a means of personal transformation, or as a way towards conflict resolution, whatever are simply incapable of executing their techniques in a situation of real conflict.

Saotome Sensei taught us that one informs the other. If one stops fighting, stops “contending”, ones martial effectiveness is actually enhanced. Sensei has stated over and over, as the Founder himself did, that the art of Aikido is not about fighting. It is about “not fighting”. But, as a practice designed to be trans-formative, it operates with a martial paradigm. In other words, every aspect of ones spiritual understanding should be demonstrable in the physical realm on the mat. Spiritual ideas without the ability to actualize those ideas in our physical reality are just “wishful thinking”. Too many folks focus on the nice ideas and can’t back it up in their technique.

So what I received from Saotome Sensei, and he believes he received from O-Sensei, is the idea that there really is no separation between the martial and the spiritual in Aikido. If one really understands one side, he understands both. I am part of a direct transmission from the Founder to Saotome Sensei to my generation of students. Each generation takes what is given, to the best of its ability, and hopefully adds something from its own experience and then, in turn, passes to the next generation. Through Sensei I feel this connection to the Founder very strongly. I don’t think that everyone who does Aikido necessarily has this feeling.

TW: You have 2 new DVDs out. One is called Aiki Connection. Most of us think about connecting with our partners by blending and moving in the direction of the attack before redirecting. Is that what this DVD is about?

GL: I think this idea of “blending” is hugely misunderstood. We were all told, way back when we started, that Aikido meant the way of “harmony”. While the term “aiki” can have that flavor in Japanese, it is not how the term is used when talking about martial arts. A far better translation of the term for understanding technical issues is “joining”.

This isn’t just semantics… because we were told that Aikido was the art in which we “got off the line” of an attack, then redirected the energy of that attack into a sort of resolution, Aikido, which is fundamentally a study of connection, has tended to attract people who didn’t actually want to connect. The “martial” folks are busy trying to defeat the attack and the spiritual folks are trying to avoid it. Neither results in anything that can be considered “aiki”.
“Aiki” requires that one “join” with the energy of an attack. It requires first, a connection to the attacker’s center (this is physical at the beginning and later has more to do with connecting to their perception). One has to “touch” the attacker’s center and simultaneously balance that outflow by receiving the energy of the attack into ones own center (the spine). This balance between out and back sets of a neutral balance at the point of contact, whether it’s a grab or strike. It’s like the “scales of justice”… you could have twenty tons on either side of the scales and if they are in balance it takes only finger tip pressure to move it. If I can establish that balance with my partner / attacker, throwing is effortless. It is difficult to counter technique done in this manner because there is little or no feedback available to the partner about what’s happening because there is so little force applied at the point where they could feel it. There’s actually quite a bit of scientific information about how and why this works having to do with the myofascial structure of the body and how the gamma nervous system functions. Suffice it to say that in Aikido we strive to move the attacker’s mind so that his mind moves his body. A teacher, whose name I don’t recall summed this up by saying that “if the attacker understands what was just done to him, it wasn’t “aiki”. That’s basically the subject of this DVD set on Aiki and Connection… how does this work and how does on e actually do it. It’s not rocket science; it’s a totally teachable set of principles and skills. What is hard is doing them under pressure and that takes a lifetime of practice. But anyone can do Aikido with some “aiki”.

TW: The other DVD is something that hasn’t been covered much in book or video form and that is Kaeshiwaza (reversals). Do you feel this is an important part of training? At what level do you start teaching reversals?

GL: One of the biggest problems Aikido has is that somehow it has evolved into an art in which the practitioner strives to understand some very sophisticated techniques and principles while working with a partner who acts handicapped. Ukemi, as it is generally taught, has evolved into something that makes the teacher look good. This is terrible martial arts and really doesn’t require any degree of skill on the part of the practitioner to do technique. If you partner breaks his own balance,  disolves his own structure just because his attack missed it’s target, throws himself simply because he perceived incoming in tent from his partner, no one really has any idea what is going on. The practitioner can’t know whether he actually did the technique or his partner “tanked” for him.

Ukemi needs to be re-tooled entirely in Aikido. The ukes role is to enhance the learning of the partner; not to “collude” and not to resist. Being a good uke is far more difficult than most folks realize. They think it means taking the fall. But for a true “aiki” interaction, both partners must actually be doing the same thing. Kaeshiwaza is the functioning of the principles of connection as shown in my earlier videos as it functions in the role of the uke. If an uke can deliver an attack and then properly stay connected with no break throughout the movement of the technique, then the least opening or break in the nage’s connection to uke’s center, the smallest tension or push-pull, an the technique can be reversed instantly with no “contention”, no warning to the nage that it is about to happen. This is why so-called “resistant” practice is bad martial arts. Resisting simply gives away that the technqiue is going to fail or will be difficult. It tells the nage in advance that he needs to make an adjustment. But correct kaeshiwaza is relaxed and doesn’t “telegraph” what is coming. The nage feels like O-Sensei right up until the technique disappears and his balance breaks.

In my opinion kaeshiwaza is at the heart of Aikido as a martial practice. It doesn’t make sense to try to teach it until the student has enough technique in his or her repertoire that they can be free about allowing the reversal to be what it needs to be and not something they are forcing. I think any time after thrid kyu, which for us is Brown Belt, you can start to teach it. What I like about that is it REQUIRES good ukemi skills to do. The uke simply must stay connected at all times with nage’s center in order to take advantage of an opening which is there. Without that connection, the nage can make a mistake and the uke isn’t in a position to do anything about it. So, even if one isn’t that entranced with the idea of reversing ones partner’s, it is simply the best practice I have found to develop a sense of continuous connection on the part of the uke.

TW: Other than Aikido I understand you have an interest in other arts such as Systema and Daito Ryu. What do these arts do for you that Aikido didn’t?

GL: I get to dabble with Systema when I have the chance. We have a very good Systema program under Kaizen Taki who teaches twice a week out of the dojo. Not only is he incredible but he has many of the very best Systema instructors in North America come for seminars. So, I have had some wonderful exposure to their training and principles. Additionally, we have a Daito Ryu Study Group going at my dojo once a week. Both of these art do a better job than what you see in most Aikido on teaching the principle of relaxation. Systema is easily the most sophisticated art I have ever encountered in terms of their understanding of how the nervous system works and how the breath effects the whole structure of the mind and body. The Daito Ryu has far better, principle based instruction on how to use ones body correctly, how to execute technique with connection and power while being totally relaxed, than any Aikido training I have seen. It is quite easy to take what one learns from the Daito Ryu exercises and translate it back in to ones Aikido because the outer forms are so similar. It takes a bit more doing with the Systema principles simply because they have no set form in their practice, so you have to do the work yourself in figuring out how to apply what you learn  from their practice into your own.

TW: Do you have anything else you are working on?

GL: My Aikido has been changing at an almost exponential rate since the first Aik Expo in which I encountered some other arts and teachers who could explain to me what my teacher, Saotome Sensei had been doing all along but which I simply wasn’t getting without some additional assistance. Now it is just a matter of practice to get these principles into my body and mind so that they are the “Default” setting. I am starting to play with some “internal power” work, largely with some teachers who have been training with Dan Harden who is a fabulously talented teacher of these skills on the East Coast. While I have been able to train with him once in person, I am largely experiencing what he is teaching through other senior Aikido practitioners who are working with more frequently. I have found that, while it would take years of practice to really be accomplished at these skills, even a rudimentary exposure such as I have had, completely changes your Aikido and how you think about what you do wit your body. So between all of these things, I have a full plate in terms of what I need to be working on. I am never bored, that’s for sure.

Aikido with Ki DVD with Koichi Tohei – Reviewed

July 19th, 2010 by twistingwrists Categories: Media reviews 2 Responses
Aikido with Ki DVD with Koichi Tohei – Reviewed

Aikido with Ki makes this the first DVD of Koichi Tohei that is available to the public. Other videos of Tohei sensei were very hard to come by as they were not only very expensive, but also only in Japanese and only available to Ki Society members.

When I heard that Stan Pranin was putting together a DVD of Tohei I was very much looking forward to it. Well it just came out and it was worth the wait! The footage is all some 30 and 40 years old so this was all filmed while Tohei was still the chief instructor of the Aikikai.

Now I’ll break down this DVD, section by section.

Documentary: Stan Pranin presents an overview of Tohei’s career in Aikido from the beginning of his training, to his military service in China, and up until his departure from the Aikikai. I had seen most if not all of the photos before but it was nice to hear Stan’s audio accompaniment – especially since he was active in Aikido during this period.

Warm ups and preparatory exercises: All members of Ki Society (or their offshoots) will recognize all of these “aiki taiso”. These are done at the beginning of every class that Tohei taught. While there’s nothing new here for many of us, it’s always great to see the movements done by the man that invented them.

Techniques: This is a collection of videos of Tohei demonstrating techniques. He demonstrates a few moves from just about every traditional Aikido attack. I had not seen any of this footage before. Nothing surprising but good strong technique -as you would expect. There is also some kokyudosa at the end.

Seminar: This was the highlight of the DVD for me. Stan did a great job of improving the quality of this 1974 San Francisco seminar footage. Everything is very clear and it’s fun to see Tohei performing techniques on the students.

Demonstrations: I’ve seen a lot of All Japan Aikido Demos but I hadn’t seen all 3 of these. One of them featured a (six man!) randori and another featured a randori where Tohei had a jo and threw everyone with jo nage. Excellent demonstrations and very different from the typical demo seen at modern All Japan Aikido demos.

The bottom line
Whether you have seen a lot of video of Tohei before or none at all, this is a great reference to have. Not a lot of people teach Aikido like this anymore. Aiki taiso and ki tests were a regular part of Aikido before Tohei left the Aikikai. This DVD shows what was once the standard of Aikido practice and to see that is invaluable to any Aikido student.

Get it HERE.

Shomenuchi Basic Practice Methods with Seishiro Endo

February 12th, 2010 by twistingwrists Categories: Media reviews 2 Responses
Shomenuchi Basic Practice Methods with Seishiro Endo

Seishiro Endo (8th dan, Aikikai) has for a long time now been my favorite instructor to watch at the All Japan Aikido Demo. He always appears relaxed, calm, and in balance – 3 characteristics that I always look for and try to maintain. Endo’s short demonstrations were about all the video that was publicly available on Endo sensei.

Starting at the end of 2007 however, sensei started releasing a series of DVDs outlining his instruction. He has 7 DVDs at current count  and he describes them like this:

In Kihon no Kata we focused on the essential form.
In Atari & Musubi we focused on the principles of aiki, and in Sabaki & Tsukai we focused on how to use the body and how to hold one’s mind.
In Basic practice methods we can see how these manifest naturally in practice.

His newest DVD is called Shomenuchi: Basic Practice Methods. This is seminar footage (professionally filmed in Japan) which includes a verbal English translation done during the seminar along with optional Japanese and English subtitles. The subtitles are perfectly done and you get the feeling that you’re not missing any of the subtle details that sensei is teaching.

Unbalancing uke through his entering movement.

The DVD starts off with sensei talking about proper vision – kan (perception) vs ken (eye vision). This is a point that my instructor (Dan Kawakami) often talks about. Basically the point is to rely on your peripheral vision to see all around – rather than looking directly at the point of conflict.

From there, sensei teaches how to properly strike shomenuchi. This is a topic that not many instructors talk about. In many dojo you get a wide spectrum of guys striking like wet noodles to guys striking like they’re trying to break a board. Endo shows how to strike, and how not to have too many openings during your attacks.

The next chapters are spent showing how to enter when your partner strikes shomenuchi. Sensei’s subtle entries often off balance the attacker. When entering, Endo says “Your feeling should be quiet and relaxed.”

Endo then shows a shomenuchi blending exercise. Similar to the Aiki Push Hands video I recently uploaded, this exercise emphasizes moving from your center, keeping the upper body relaxed and maintaining contact with your partner.

Shomenuchi blending exercise.

In the next section sensei shows ways of connecting and moving your partner. Interestingly, Endo’s hands are almost always open. You don’t see him gripping much. He simply connects with uke and unbalances him through whole body movement.

Connecting without gripping.

After about the half way mark sensei starts to show some standard aikido techniques (ikkyo, nikyo, sankyo, yonkyo, etc). Even though many of you have done these techniques over and over, I think there’s always something to be learned by watching someone of Endo’s caliber demonstrating the basics. For sure I picked up a few things that I’ll be working on in my own training.

Get Endo sensei’s new DVD here.