Showing posts from April, 2014

7 Things About Kokikai Aikido That Sensei Doesn't Want You To Know

Most people in Kokikai Aikido have a few misconceptions. Here are some of the facts.
1. Sensei's English is very good. In class, Sensei will often recite a poetic phrase or metaphor in Japanese, and will ask someone who speaks Japanese to translate it. Invariably they can't. Then he'll provide a perfect translation. Or sometimes he'll say "Please, how do you say 'resist'?" These are teaching techniques. Think of it as a little performance, to help you remember his point. Sensei's English is in fact excellent.
2. Sensei's high-ranked students are very strong.Often Sensei will ask a high-ranked student to try to throw another high-ranked student. Usually they can't. Don't make the mistake of thinking this is because the student's aikido is not good, or that Kokikai "doesn't work" until you reach Sensei's level. Remember: not only is the high-ranked nage strong, the high-ranked uke has been trained in Kokikai, too. …

Is Kokikai Aikido Effective as Self-Defense? (Part I)

I'm always a bit taken aback when people ask this question, especially when they have practiced for a while. I guess I thought it was obvious:
Kokikai Aikido is an Effective Form of Self-Defense
I can see why some people might be confused.
Why People Might Think Kokikai Aikido Isn't Self-DefenseWhen we train, we treat each other with respect and make sure not to hurt each otherWe learn ways for the attacker to roll/fall out of each technique safely We don't counterstrikeWe spend time on techniques that "could never work on the street"We practice defenses against attacks that "don't seem realistic," like being grabbed, or being hit on the head with someone's handWe don't practice at "street speed"We don't often practice defense against "realistic" attacks like kicks, backfists, uppercutsWhen Sensei teaches, he calls up high-ranking students, has them attack each other, and shows that neither one can defeat the other, …

Practicing When You Can't Practice

For an entire month I was not able to keep up my regular piano practice schedule. I had other commitments, between aikido, music gigs and the omni-present day job, that disrupted my little routine.

It was a little stressful, because musicians are conditioned from a very early age:

You must practice every day!There is always someone who is better than you because they practiced more!If you are sitting down right now, relaxing and enjoying yourself, you shouldn't, because You Should Be Practicing!!!!
(Even as I am writing this, a little voice is telling me that I should be practicing instead.)

When I came back to my piano, I realized that I had made progress nevertheless. I hope I can even say I have learned something from this, and maybe my experience can be informative in some way to you, dear reader...
I paused in playing music because I was practicing a lot of aikido. But when I came back I found that the "burst" in aikido really helped my piano playing. When I had trou…

How I Learned to Say "Sensei"

"No, Sir!" When I first started practicing Kokikai Aikido, I was an adult. I had never in my life called anyone "Sir" or "Ma'am." A child of the egalitarian '70's, I had grown up with a disdain for titles.  I knew from my son's karate lessons that in a martial art class the teacher would expect to be addressed with some title - my son's teachers had been "Sir" and "Mr. Dave."  I wasn't looking forward to it. It felt...awkward.

At the same time I wanted to make a wholehearted attempt to try this martial arts thing, and if that meant bowing a lot and adhering to some strange Japanese etiquette, I was willing to give it a shot.

Like any traveler setting foot in a strange country, I kept my eyes open and my senses alert in my first aikido classes. But as it turned out, my instructor was pretty informal.  I saw that some people called him "Dan Sensei," others seemed to avoid saying his name, and still othe…

Widening our Circles of Compassion

"A human being is part of a whole, called by us 'Universe,' a part limited in time and space. He (sic) experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings, as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circles of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty."
-Albert Einstein

Breathing Exercises for Kokikai Aikido - FAQ

In a previous post I outlined step-by-step the practice of breathing exercises for Kokikai Aikido. Here. are a few answers to frequently asked questions about breathing practice.
Of course, it should go without saying that if your lungs are compromised, for example you have emphysema, COPD or asthma, you should seek a doctor's advice before trying any new practice.
Q: Why is this type of breathing practice any different from relaxing and breathing when you are doing other things, like swimming, running, yoga? A: The reason that a focused, attentive breathing practice is different from all of the above is that you are only doing one thing. When you are only breathing, not breathing-and-exercising or breathing-and-driving, you can pay attention to fine details of your breathing: relaxing particular muscles, opening up particular areas of your chest, and even noticing the thoughts that come up as you do so.

Q: How long should I practice breathing? A: I think it's less important ho…

Breathing Exercises - Step By Step

Many of my Kokikai Aikido students have asked me about breathing exercises, and I thought it would be helpful to have some simple instructions in a place that is easy to access.

These simple exercises increased my lung capacity by more than double within about a month, and as additional months went by, I could exhale continuously for 400% longer than when I began. If you're wondering what are the benefits of a breathing practice, (other than being able to exhale for a really long time!) here are three previous posts:
PowerbreatheWhy Teach BreathingWhen the Dog Bites Please keep in mind that other Kokikai instructors may have additional, or different ideas about how to practice breathing. Additionally, Maruyama Sensei occasionally modifies his instructions about breathing practice. The practice I outline below represents my understanding. It has worked well for me and for others I have instructed.

Of course, it should go without saying that if your lungs are compromised, for exampl…


At the beginning of nearly every semester at Rutgers Kokikai Aikido, I have at least one new student who says something like this:
"Sensei, I really love aikido, can you tell me how I can practice more often than two days a week? I want to practice every day."
I always tell them that two days a week is optimal, especially considering how much school work they are likely to have. My teachers always said that two days a week was just enough for people who have a "life in the world," whether it's work, school, or taking care of family.

I have heard that the cheetah is the fastest animal on land at 113km/hr, but cheetahs can only maintain top speed for short bursts. A slower animal with staying power can overtake a cheetah. There are plenty of martial arts stories about students who are in a hurry to become masterful, and the moral is always the same: there are no shortcuts and consistency is key to mastery.
If the student is insistent that they want to practice m…

Outside the Comfort Zone

My piano teacher told me to mark the parts of the music that were hardest with a highlighter, and, when I'm practicing, practice those parts first, skipping past the parts that are easy.

This of course makes perfect sense. But it's not what I want to do. I want to play the parts that are comfortable, that sound good, that are easy. I play them great, and when I get to the hard part, I fumble through it and then go back to the easy part. My overall impression is "I played that pretty well, except for a little bit here and there." But unless I pay attention, I won't actually work on that "little bit here and there."

I attended a music workshop, and one participant asked the leader "How can you possibly do such-and-such?" The workshop leader said, "You are having trouble because your fourth finger is weak. You have to practice playing slowly and evenly to build up strength and get good habits." "It's always like that," the…

The Strength of Women in Aikido

Women are some of the strongest practitioners in my aikido school.  In Kokikai Aikido we train to practice with "minimum effort for maximum effect." We see proof in every class that using lessmuscle is more effective. And yet, when faced with a challenge, most people fall back on muscle power.
Why women are strong in Kokikai:
Women take self-defense seriously. To cite just one statistic, nearly 75% of family violence victims are female, (while nearly 75% of family violence perpetrators are male). Learning to defend ourselves against a strong male attacker is real-world stuff.Women are not naturally endowed with a great deal of muscle strength, therefore we don't spend years of training learning how not to use muscle.Women don't tend to fall back on using muscle when the technique doesn't work. We know muscle won't work.Women therefore address the principle of "relax progressively"more wholeheartedly, with more trust that it will work.Women, in my expe…