Friday, April 22, 2011


"The Art of Peace is the principle of nonresistance. Because it is nonresistant, it is victorious from the beginning. Those with evil intentions or contentious thoughts are instantly vanquished. The Art of Peace is invincible because it contends with nothing."

Morihei Ueshiba

How can this be true? If we are attacked and do not resist isn't the immediate and uncontroverted result defeat? How can "evil intentions or contentious thoughts" be "instantly vanquished?" The answer is embodied by the essence of the philosophy of Aiki. The spirit that is in harmony is unchallenged and unchallengeable.

As we go through life we are in constant contact with others. Some of our contact is pleasant and convivial and some is measured by conflict and agression. This is a condition of society and few escape conflict with our fellow human beings. Whether or not a conflict escalates into violence, it can still have a profound effect upon our well being and health. How many of us have had conflicts with the "office bully" or the "security Nazi?" Sometime the residuals of such an incident can trouble us for days or longer. There are sick individuals who take pride in subjugating the will of others to their own. When we are attacked by such people the conflict can become long and bitter. We are raised with the admonitions to "stand up for ourselves" and to not allow others to "push us around." Nonresistance is equated with being a doormat and allowing ourselves to be walked upon.

Surely pointless submission is not what O Sensei had in mind when he conceived the notion of Aiki. But, Aikido is a martial art. We learn how to defend against an attack with powerful techniques and well honed fighting skills. When we wield a bokken or jo isn't it with the intention of doing harm to our attacker in order to protect ourselves against evil? A good whack with a hickory weapon doesn't sound like nonresistance to me. So, is it vigorous defense or not? If nonresistance is the message what is all the emphasis on hitting?

In order to answer that question we must examine the nature and purpose of our training. If we don't understand the nature of an attack how can we understand how to defend ourselves against the attack? Whether the attack is a hand grab, kick or a strike we learn, through our training experience, how it looks and feels. We learn to time our movement to be reciprocal to the attack. We learn how to blend with the energy of the attack thereby turning it to our advantage. Finally, we learn how to apply a technique to resolve the attack. By repeating this process over and over we learn to be savvy to all attacks. Further, the knowledge that we develop is not just intellectual it becomes part of our very being.

Throughout the training process we learn to maintain a posture of non-competitiveness. Though our training partners may present challenges that escalate in their degree of energy, speed and power, the object of the training is not to "win" or cause our partner to submit. Rather, it is to hone skill levels and to train our reflexes and martial timing. Competition on the mat only tends to diminish this result. By eliminating competition on our training we also become accustomed to dealing with a physical assault without becoming drawn into the conflict. In other words, we learn to maintain our center and focus rather than allowing an attacker to usurp that presence either physically or by intimidation. Our training also enables us to develop a sense of confidence and control that eases our emotional susceptibility to an attackers purpose. This is the essence of nonresistance.

If we allow someone to attack us, either physically or by intimidation, and do not attempt to protect ourselves we have lost. If we enter the fray in an attempt to defeat or injure our attacker we have also lost since we are diminished by the experience. Victory is only attainable by blending with the force of the attack by maintaining our center and then resolving the conflict without injury to either party. This is true victory through Aiki.

Sunday, September 5, 2010


[Note: This is my first post in 6 months. During that time I have been recuperating from cardiac bypass surgery. I am anxious to "get on with my life" and continue my participation in the life of Nashville Aikikai. It is my intention to post on a more or less regular basis. If you have a question or suggestion of a subject you would like addressed please contact me at Thank you!!]

It is my belief that most people observe and measure the world through the lens of their own experience. This is human nature and not necessarily a negative. It is said that some people look at the world through "rose colored glasses." Some see the glass as half empty rather than half full. We all are the sum total of all of our experiences whether they be good or bad and whether we like it or not. What makes the difference is how we choose to integrate these experiences into our world view. If we choose to let our negative experiences dominate our thoughts and actions then we will begin to see the world through the lens of negativity. Persons who persist in this type of thinking become revengeful and suspicious. Persons who focus on the positive aspects of their lives tend to be more forgiving and open.

We would all like to feel that we are good people who make a positive impact on those around us and the community in general. History has shown us that even notoriously "bad" people (Adolph Hitler, Al Capone and Vlad the Impaler come to mind) had positive self images and believed that their actions were carried out for the better good. Of course, these are the extremes but they serve to show how persons can delude themselves by filtering their motives and actions through faulty self justification. Where Al Capone justified his crimes and violence as "business," it is not hard for persons to justify a lesser crime, such as shoplifting, as a prank or going along with the gang. For the better good, society enacts laws to limit this self-delusional behavior.

Another traditional lens employed by society to moderate behavior has been religion. Since the beginning of recorded time civilizations have relied upon religious leaders to set forth standards of behavior. These various codes of conduct have ranged from "do unto others...." to elaborate schemes of religious laws that govern every aspect of a person's public and private life. Religious law has the extra added authority of being proclaimed by God and thus disobedience often carries the threat of eternal damnation. The idea here is obey the law and all will be well or at least forgiven. As history has shown, law, no matter how minutely and exactingly written, is open to interpretation. It seems that in the end analysis responsibility for conduct falls back upon the individual.

The concept of Aiki provides another prospective. By embracing the discipline and philosophy of Aikido we can see the world not in terms of winning and loosing but in terms of cooperation and peaceful coexistence. Much of the evil inflicted upon humanity is the product of fear based greed. In an environment where there is little to eat the competition for food is a life and death struggle. If one doesn't win then he/she or his/her children may die. Obviously where the stakes are this basic and high it is easy to ignore the needs of others and act only in self interest. This fear driven self interest can easily result in conflict and war.

Both war and individual conflict are wasteful and costly enterprises. Unlimited conflict can make any bad situation many times worse. Additionally, wars and feuds do not just end. There is inevitable fallout. Even when there is an apparent winner and loser, the enmity and hatred remain. These deep seeded resentments fester into the urge for revenge that can last hundreds and even thousands of years. The end result is more wars and an eventual decline in prosperity for all who are remotely involved. Given the same circumstantial environment the philosophy of Aikido allows us to envision another outcome.

It is essential that we recognize that peace is not just an unatainable goal but a real possibility. In our ever shrinking world, world peace must be our ultimate goal. It is important to understand that strife and conflict are not preordained to be irrovocable conditions of human life. It is also essential that we recognize that the enormous waste of energy and resources that are a natural byproduct of conflict are no longer affordable by a world economy. Nations must conserve these assets in order to relieve the conditions that serve as the root initiators of the conflict.

This is the message and the challenge presented by Aikido. Whether the conflict is between individuals or nations, harmony through the spirit of cooperation and humanity is effective and fundamental to ending want through strife. Looking at life through this Aiki lens enables us to take on the role of peacemakers. In my experience making peace is the higest calling and challenge for any human being.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Aikido, A Way to Reconcile the World

How can we possibly make a difference in the world? There is violence and killing on a scale that is so overwhelming it is almost impossible to comprehend. Sure, when we train in our nice dojo we are practicing a discipline that is designed to provide a defense to a violent attack without injuring the attacker. This is all very nice, but does it fit into our view of the dangerous place that the world has become?

Often we view peace as an abstract. We see it as an unlikely prospect that is dangled before us by politicians the way an apple is dangled before a recalcitrant mule. We are told that if we fight long and hard enough there will be "peace in our time."

The reality that confronts us is, however, an entirely different matter. We have never lived in a world that is at peace. Since the beginning of recorded history there have been nations and peoples waging war against one another. Even our religious leaders have told us that war, not peace, is the norm. And yet, we are convinced that by waging war against the "evil ones" and prevailing against them we will have peace.

The Twentieth Century was a century of war. The first decade was marked by the Boxer Rebellion in China, the end of the Boer War in Africa and Russo-Japanese war in Asia. The second decade saw the "war to end wars" or then known as the Great War. The 1920's and 1930's saw revolution and a build up to World War II (the Great War was now renamed World War I). When World War II was brought to a conclusion with the dropping of nuclear weapons on Japan we entered a new and terrible age of Cold War. This era included the Korean and Vietnam wars. It was defined by the threat of mutual destruction and the stockpiling of thermonuclear weapons. There was no peace.

The last twenty years have been pocked by war after war after war. The threat and reality of terror have permeated our existence. Our nation now has armies engaged in two separate wars in the Mideast and Asia. We accept war as the normal state of affairs. We have stopped asking why. Even our most vehement anti-war protests are a cry in the wilderness. Despair is the meat of our existence.

How can this overwhelming tide be reversed? How can we avoid being swept away by the waves of destruction? Can peace ever be more than an ideal that will never see fruition? The answers to these questions are crucial to our very existence. If humankind is unable to wean itself from the drug of war, the future of our children and grandchildren is bleak indeed.

The roots of war are elusive. The vast majority of the the world's population is against war. Very few individuals identify themselves as being "pro-war." Even those who express support for a particular war or wars will, if pressed, add that some wars are necessary or justified but agree that war in general is not a good thing. Most people will agree that an enterprise that is marked by killing, destruction of property, conquest of nations and subjugation of peoples is inherently evil.

Why then do we persist in waging wars? Why don't the victims of war (that would be all of us) say, "enough... it must stop!" The reason is, of course, that even overwhelmingly popular opposition to war is not enough to bring about peace. This is the hard lesson learned by those who protested the war in Vietnam. It is unrealistic to believe that peer pressure will cause nations to throw down their arms and declare peace.

In order to bring about world peace it is necessary that a philosophy of peace, that will replace the current (and historical) philosophy of war, be generally embraced. Only when the security of the world can be assured, by this new way of thinking, without resorting to threats, intimidation and agression can peace flourish. Such a philosophy is embodied in the principles of Aikido.

The principles of Aikido are, by no means, bleeding heart capitulation to the will of aggressors. Naked aggression by any nation, religion, political sect or criminal enterprise should not and can never be tolerated. Through Aikido we defend ourselves against attack, from individuals, by blending with and redirecting force. Nations must implement like tactics and diplomacy to achieve these same ends. The current philosophy of defense is one that foments violence, revenge and distrust. In order for the world to be peaceful it must be replaced by a philosophy of understanding and acceptance that still projects the futility of aggression.

What does this mean to us personally? It means that we hold the seeds to world peace. We have been entrusted with the knowledge that war does not have to be the normal state of affairs. When we are confronted by the argument, "there will always be war" we can state categorically that it does not have to be so. We can also say that peace is as real as the implementation of the effective principles of Aikido. The world may not know about or understand Aiki but we can be more than a voice in the wilderness when we study and spread the Aikido philosophy.

Peace in the New Ages through Aikido

Tom, Sensei

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Take Your Aikido Training to a New Level

How can I be sure my Aikido works? Is my training effective? How can I rid myself of the feeling that I'm "treading water?" These are some of the nagging questions that plague most of us about our training. We all want to learn and we want to learn in the most efficient manner possible. It's only natural to feel this way and it is a positive symptom of enthusiastic commitment to the art of Aikido.

There are myriad ways to improve our technique in both Nagewaza and Ukemi. We urge our bodies and minds forward to chip away at the intricate and difficult demands of the art. We endure pain and exhaustion in order make sure we are"getting it right." We do this class after class and we rightfully expect results. We are, in short, hardwired for success. And yet, we often miss the most productive, effective and simple way to achieve our goals. Though simple, it may be the most challenging because it involves self analysis and behavior modification. What I am referring to is allowing oneself to be assimilated into the Aikido "process."

The process of Aikido is a subject worthy of miles of ink. But, in a nutshell, it is essentially the fundamental principle of blending energies. When we train Uke provides an attack. During the course of this attack he/she transfers energy to Nage. In order to achieve aiki or blending Nage receives this energy and moves in a reciprocal manner that allows a redirection of the energy. Nage is thereby able to use Uke's energy to perform a technique that resolves the conflict. It is this principle of blending with the energy of an attack that is at the very core of Aikido.

With that said, let's take a look at the dynamics of training. Since we usually train in partners we are dependent on each other to make our training effective.

Uke must deliver an effective and well centered attack. It is imperative that the attack have sufficient energy to get the process started. Nage is charged with blending with the energy of Uke's attack and transforming that energy into a technique. It is then the responsibility of Uke to blend with that reconstituted energy and execute an appropriate falling or escape technique.

During the course of this engagement both Uke and Nage must perform their responsibilities carefully and diligently for learning to take place. If either losses concentration, or breaks the concentration of the other, the process breaks down. This occurs most often as a result of inadvertence. Sometimes focusing on ones partner results in a breakdown. This can happen when the thought, "what is he/she doing?" interrupts our concentration. Of course, "shadow teaching" can also cause the process to breakdown.

It is often said that one should train with an "empty mind." This doesn't mean be stupid but rather to focus ones concentration on what he/she is feeling rather than analyzing what your partner is doing. Also, Uke and Nage should be on guard that they are not doing something to interfere with the process. For instance, should Uke tighten up and impede Nage's ability to perform a technique it will cause the learning process to completely break down. Likewise if Nage decides to interrupt the process, to correct some aspect of his/her technique, it stops the flow and prevents Uke from blending and executing proper ukemi.

When Aikidoka engage in the Aikido process they develop both the skills and principles that provide a basis for their art. The more diligently one adheres to this very simple form of practice the faster one progresses. Also, this simple formula avails one to the discovery that is inherent to efficient learning.

Maybe the hardest part is having faith that the process will produce the desired results. It is easy to second guess the process. "If I just let Nage do the technique will he/she ever learn to do it correctly?" "Can I develop the type of self-defense skill that I can use in any situation?" The answer to these questions is a resounding YES! O'Sensei developed this style of training with great care and forethought. It works! And it works so well that everybody can learn and grow by diligently emmersing themselves in the Aikido process.

Yours in Aikido

Tom, Sensei

Friday, November 20, 2009

Shadow Teaching

Shadow teaching is the term we use to refer to the practice of offering unsolicited instruction to your partner, either verbally or non-verbally, during the course of training. It has become a current topic of discussion and a mild concern for the dojo. The simple solution is "don't do it." There is, however, a need for more than a simple admonition in order to adequately address this problem.

At the onset of this discussion I must emphasize that all or nearly all (there may be a few saints amongst us) of us have been guilty of this transgression at one time or another. The temptation is overwhelming. While training with a partner (especially a junior person) it becomes obvious that if only he/she would do such and such then a minor miracle would occur and that person would instantly understand exactly what they are trying to do. The error of their ways would become apparent and they would thank you to the end of their days. This rarely occurs. Instead Junior Partner tends to look at you, makes a noise that sort of sounds like "huh?" and goes on their merry way. So Senior Partner becomes a shadow teacher and responds with no, no, no, do this or that. This usually elicits an evil look from Junior Partner and no change in behavior. If shadow teacher and Junior Partner are lucky Sensei claps and the awkward exchange is over. No real learning has taken place but maybe no real harm either.

Another scenario (and maybe a more harmful one) is where Junior Partner listens intently, tries what shadow teacher says and thinks, "That was wonderful." Later, this same person also decides to "help" their partner with training. I think you may see where this is leading. Pretty soon information is being disseminated all over the mat and none of it is coming from Sensei. Shadow teaching becomes a well meant but insidious blight on the dojo.

The problem becomes even more complicated when a junior student asks for help. What do you do then? Be rude and say nothing? That's not a very good way to establish good dojo relations. What about when your partner says, "What did Sensei just do?" How, as a training partner do you handle that? Let's see if we can sort this all out.

In traditional dojos the problem is solved with one simple rule, "No Talking During Training." Strictly enforced it solves the problem of shadow teaching by default. No talking means no asking questions and no shadow teaching. In dojos like Nashville Aikikai, although we discourage talking while training, we see it as a lesser evil and tolerate it to a large extent. (Note to Self: Time for silent kaiko) I think that though rules are important, the best way to solve this problem is to approach it head-on. In order to do this we must understand the harm and then adopt a philosophy that counters and corrects the problem.

First let's take a look at the harm that shadow teaching causes. Shadow teaching is, as mentioned above, an impediment to learning. We all learn differently. If you interrupt your partner with unsolicited advice, no matter how well meant, it interrupts his/her train of thought and lengthens the learning curve. It also creates ill-will. We are at our most vulnerable when working with another person on a technique or concept we don't thoroughly understand. It is insulting and annoying when your partner starts instructing you like they have the inside skinny. This is especially true when it is obvious to even the casual observer that they are just as lost as you or, as is too often the case, more lost than you.

In addition, it is insulting to the Sensei. And I would remark, it is highly insulting to visiting (especially Shihan level) Sensei's. It presumes that Sensei just isn't up to the task of teaching class and that he/she need the students help to instruct and augment what has been shown or explained. In truth, since Aikido is an art beset by subtleties Sensei's routinely limit what they say in order to prevent confusion or fact overload. Also, Sensei's are always alert to those who aren't "getting it" and need help. To elaborate on Sensei's instruction is, to say the least, demeaning to his/her ability to teach class.

Now, here is the fix. Be alert to your partners' needs and training. Concern yourself with being the best training partner that you can be. If, and only if, your partner is so confused that it impedes the training process help in the most unobtrusive manner possible. Start by taking the Nage position and doing the technique yourself as well as you possibly can. If your partner is still unable to do the technique on their turn, sit briefly and watch those students that are training without a problem. Then, if your partner is still not catching on, as Uke, move your partner slowly through the technique. That should be enough to get the inexperienced person training. Also, have patience and make sure you are not going to fast.

Some dojos seem to embrace shadow teaching as a matter of routine. We at Nashville Aikikai do not. Mary Sensei and I have had to deal with this problem from the onset of the dojo. It is usually isolated instances and a word is enough to silence the offender. Let's all work to keep this from becoming more than isolated instances. Respect your partner and your Sensei and we will have a more productive and enjoyable dojo.

Yours in Aikido

Tom Sensei

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The Secret of Aikido

I like to tell this story about my early training in Sarasota Florida. Sometimes I would ask Ikeda Sensei (what I thought were) deep and insightful questions regarding technique or principles. He would always give me the same"you're such a dumb-ass" look and the same answer; "Tom, you need to train more." After a couple of these encounters I was convinced that he was just not interested in answering my questions so I took the hint and stopped asking. It was only later in my training that I realized how wrong I was. The truth of the matter was that this seemingly terse and evasive answer was right on the money.

Not only was his answer the best possible answer, it was incredible advice. "You need to train more." This is a very simple statement that gets right to the heart of the matter. Training will enable you to discover the answers to your questions. This is because Aikido is a discovery process. Though explanations and instructions are useful, Aikido can only be learned by doing. One simply cannot learn the art of Aikido by talking about it.

To take this a step further, tapes, videos, books and even this blog (though I am loath to admit it) are just sideshows to the main event. The main event takes place on the mat. Doing is the secret to success in Aikido.

I recently read that, for the average person, to become highly proficient in an art it takes approximately 10,000 total hours of practice. If you do the math, you find that by training for 3 hours a day, every single day, you can reach 10,000 hours training in about nine years. It can be done but the sacrifice and discipline required to do so is far beyond what most people, including this writer, are willing to or are capable of expending. I might add that even with this incredibly intense schedule 9 years is a very short time to obtain true proficiency.

Let's look at a more realistic scenario. If you train 2 hours daily 6 days a week you can reach the 10,000 hour mark in about 16 years. Is it starting to look more attainable? Well, let's look at another schedule. Training for 1 hour and 30 minutes 4 times a week gets you to 10,000 hours in a mere 32 years. Ouch, 32 years is over a third of an average life span.

Though 32 years seems like a long time to invest, lets remember our aims. Add 32 years to your present age. A person who is now 25 years old will be 57 at the end of 32 years. If he/she has trained regularly and diligently during that 32 years he/she will be rewarded by both enhanced health (assuming a healthy lifestyle) and a proficiency in Aikido. This deal is looking better all the time.

But this is all just speculation and arithmetic. It's not the nitty-gritty of life. It doesn't take into consideration education, careers, moving, families (babies can put a real hitch in your giddy-up) or any of the other multitudes of factors that intervene in your Aikido training. But, let's examine one more time. We are just talking about 6 hours a week. Most physicians agree that this is a minimum amount of exercise needed in order to maintain good health. Just 6 hours a week leaves the other 162 hours free for all of those other things. And the real payoff is the tremendous boost to your Aikido skills and understanding.

The old adage is that if you want to get something done, ask a busy person to do it. We are all busy people. Life in the twenty-first century extracts an enormous toll from every one of us. Aikido, however, gives us a much needed and enjoyable reprieve from the daily grind. Making a lifetime commitment to Aikido and regular training ensures a more healthy and productive life. Oh, and don't forget there is mastery of the art thrown in for good measure.

Monday, October 26, 2009

10 Ways To Be A Better Training Partner

This list is posted on our bulletin board in the Dojo. I have had several requests to post it on the blog page.

1. Avoid Teaching Your Partner: We all perceive and learn differently. Stopping training to "instruct" your partner is not only rude to the Sensei, but is also disruptive to your partner's learning process.

2. Give Your Partner a True and Spirited Attack: You cannot help your partner by delivering a "wimpy" attack. Aikido training replicates actual physical conflict. Though it may be slower than full speed, your attack should be both True (strong grab or accurate strike), and Spirited (well-centered and delivered with good posture and ki).

3. When Nage, Blend with the Speed of Uke's Attack: Training half speed or slower is not a sin, but rather a virtue. However, the benefits of slow training are greatly diminished when nage attempts to rush the technique. Rushing the technique can also result in rough handling, making uke's job much more difficult.

4. When Uke, Relax and Blend with Nage's Technique: After a true and spirited attack is delivered, uke's job shifts to maintenance of the attack and escape. When practicing the "escape," choose the technique (front/back fall, roll or break-fall) best suited and execute it in coordination with nage's technique. Try to time your fall or roll to be neither too early or too late.

5. Respect Your Partner's Training and Reasons for Training: Our reasons for practicing Aikido are as varied as our body types and athletic abilities. Avoid trying to impose your own reasons for training on your Dojo Brothers and Sisters. Each person has his/her own set of goals and expectations. Acceptance of your partner's goals and abilities creates an atmosphere of harmony both on and off the mat.

6. Protect Your Partner by Making His/Her Safety a Priority: An injured student cannot train effectively. Often even a small injury is enough to convince a student to quit training altogether. Though a Dojo will inevitably experience injured students, it is every person's responsibility to train in a manner that promotes the safety of all persons (not only your partner) on the mat.

7, Senior Students Should Not Expect Junior Students to Train at Their Level: With new people joining the Dojo on a regular basis, it doesn't take long to become senior to somebody. Though Aikido can be confusing and sometimes frustrating, your understanding of the art continues to grow as you train. When you are working with a person who is less experienced, exercise patience and allow your partner to "discover" through a healthy training process.

8. Avoid Competition with Your Training Partner: Aikido training is noncompetitive by nature. In order for both partners to fully benefit from the process, it is important for both partners to engage in a blending of energies and movements. Competition interferes with this process and makes learning more difficult. Additionally, trying to compete with your training partner can cause the training to escalate beyond a safe level.

9. Leave Your Ego Off the Mat: "Nuff said!!"

10. Make Your Partner's Training the Most Important Thing Happening on the Mat: "There is a Japanese parable that explains Heaven and Hell. In this story people are sitting around a huge bowel filled with rice, but are compelled to eat with chopsticks that are much too long for personal use. In Hell, everyone is gaunt and starving because they are only concerned with getting the rice into their own mouths. By contrast, in Heaven everyone is well fed and jolly because they are all merrily feeding one another. Make your partner's training Heaven and yours will be also!!

Please take these to heart. Not only will your training and learning benefit but the Dojo will continue to be the great place it has become.

Yours in Aikido,

Tom, Sensei