May 29 e-news

Greetings to all members and friends of Aikido Hokuryukai! Some items to note:

Thursday schedule change: The water will most likely be shut off in the building by the landlord on Thursday night to facilitate plumbing repairs (we just found out about this). That means there will be NO WATER in the showers, sinks or toilets that evening.
Please make sure you are prepared for this when you arrive at the dojo. Under these circumstances, we will be shortening the class to one hour, from 7 to 8 PM. (This might not be too disappointing for Raptors fans!)

Kids’ class tests: Congratulations to our most recent successful test candidates in the kids’ class! They are:

  • Daniel Mohammadi – Yellow belt, 8th kyu.
  • Lee Pasikatan – Red belt, 6th kyu
  • Victoria Katcherovski – Red belt, 6th kyu

Seminar Saturday: This is a reminder about the Kawahara-shihan memorial seminar downtown on Saturday morning. There will be no adult classes in the dojo on Saturday, but the kids’ class will be held as usual. The Sunday schedule is as usual.
The seminar is $25, cash only, and registration opens at 10 AM. Please try to take at least some of the classes.

CAF Summer Camp: Summer camp, to be taught by Osawa-shihan in Victoria, BC is coming up… it is not too late to register!

Please let us know if you have any questions or concerns.


Jim Barnes
Aikido Hokuryukai

About experts

I have been reading some thought-provoking remarks on expertise in a book by Joseph T. Hallinan.

“.., experts, no matter their field, usually have certain things in common… innate abilities—either physical or mental—don’t matter as much as people think they do… But what does matter is practice. Experts practice—a lot. No matter the field, it is generally agreed that it takes about ten years of sustained effort to become a world-class expert.”

The next comment is telling.

“But not just any practice will do. Experience and expertise are not the same thing; simply repeating the same task over and over… is no guarantee you will get better. Instead, the practice needs to be directed toward improving the memory of the performance. When performed correctly, prolonged, deliberate practice produces a large body of specialized knowledge—a library, if you will—in the mind of the person doing the practice. This is important because having a big library allows an expert to quickly recognize patterns that others don’t… Pattern recognition is the hallmark of expertise, allowing experts to anticipate events and respond quickly.”

To become expert, years of committed practice are needed to build fitness, muscle memory and a cognitive map of what you are doing. Repetitive practice isn’t enough. Many people with ten years of experience actually have one year of experience, ten times over. You must become immersed in your practice.

What made you think that learning Aikido would be easier than learn to play the violin?

Hombu New Year’s promotions

We were honoured to see two of our members named in the Hombu New Year’s promotions list… Aubrie Appel and Pascal Dennis, both promoted to nidan (2nd degree black belt). Congratulations!

Sincere congratulations also go to Rob Carroll of Aikido Tendokai (our sister dojo downtown) on his promotion to rokudan (6th degree).

Other friends and colleagues promoted to rokudan included David Yates (Kanata), Hillary Dawson (Victoria), Marcel Lavigne (Montreal) and Steve Erickson (Calgary).

We were also very pleased to see several other Canadian Aikido Federation promotions: yondan (4th degree): Nan Yien Chin, Masaru Matsubara and David Bursey; sandan (3d degree): Chris Rosenquist; nidan: Theresa Wojtasiewicz and Ed Wass; and shodan (1st degree): Lorraine Schubert and Diane Smeltzer. Congratulations to all!

A good attack

Sharing a Facebook posting from an old Aikido friend, Kim Taylor, SDK Martial Arts Supplies.

A good attack

Aikido last night, and two things came up right away. Aikido is not self defence, and it is not fighting. It’s not even competition. If you think of it in those ways you will be missing the point. There are lots of self defense courses out there, some of them very good. There are also lots and lots of judo and MMA and BJJ clubs around, so why try to get apple juice from an orange?

Can you use aikido for self defence? Of course you can, it’s a martial art. You can use a screwdriver for a dirk, a garbage can for a shield, the proverbial broomstick for a jo. That doesn’t mean that’s what they are for.

Aikido is the iaido of the grappling world, it’s where you can perform the whole of the art without modified weaponry (techniques). It’s where you can go freeform without fear of hurting each other, using techniques that, if you were competing, would have to be modified. Kotegaeshi is dangerous, Sankyo is dangerous, Nikkyo is dangerous, we’ve all suffered damage to our wrists from these things. The pins can roll a shoulder joint out of the socket quite easily. Thankfully, we don’t compete with aikido, we cooperate to allow each other to practice.

How do we do that? By paying attention and never opposing force with force. You counter force with movement and movement with avoidance. Last evening I heard, across the dojo, “oh, I’m holding on, I can’t do the technique, you grab me”. Nonsense, you can do the technique, you just won’t be doing standard aikido. Our attackers hold on to us so that they can let go at their correct moment, in order to fall or roll away safely.

Self defence says break that hold and run like hell. Fighting says break that hold and hurt them. Aikido says that uke hangs on and keeps hanging on until nage throws him.

Without a good uke you can’t do nice aikido. It’s hard to cooperate with a beginner uke, you need someone who is skilled to work full speed at the edge of control. You get to the edge of a beginner’s control really fast.

A good uke works at it, has good rolls, fast feet, a good body sense of where they are in the room. Good uke do not crash into other students or the wall. Most folks think it’s nage who throws uke but it’s really uke who leaves the technique when he feels it’s done, it’s uke who stays just ahead of damage in order to draw nage into good habits.

There are no pain throws in aikido. There are painful throws, but that’s not the same thing.

An over-helpful uke falls down way too soon and so we get woo-woo aikido. Some seniors may even convince themselves that their technique is magical. Watch those magical folks and you’ll see a couple of uke who are really, really good. A good uke makes nage look good.

Good aikido (on both sides) becomes a joyous challenge (I won’t say competition but that’s what it is, a caring, careful competition using full control, just as a weapons kata can become) at the edge of the cliff. No falling over, one or the other will snatch their partner back before that happens. Can you imagine the sensitivity that requires, the attention?

What, exactly does uke do? Well he doesn’t just punch and stand there waiting for nage to drag him around, he attacks, he continues to move and attack toward nage’s center. A good uke freezes nage to the mat if nage tries to come straight back on his force. A good uke moves ahead of the technique, but doesn’t “break” it. Nage should feel uke at the end of the kotegaeshi, he should feel the bones and tendons at the edge of locking up. This is how a good uke trains a beginner, by giving him that feeling so that the beginner won’t then turn around and damage another beginner.

Uke should understand attacking. A punch that doesn’t reach the target isn’t useful. A sword strike that misses requires nothing at all from nage. After ten years or so of weapons training I attended a class where we were doing sword, my partner swung and missed me by a foot. “How come you didn’t do the technique” he said. What technique? Without a strike to the target there is no technique to do.

So do it anyway you say? Not a good idea, training with “helpful” uke will train you into doing stupid things like breaking your posture as you chase the weapon to get hold of his wrist. That break in posture will get you hit on the head when you meet someone who can actually hit, and hit fast. Trust me on this.

There is lots of video out there, watch the superstars of today and the founders of two generations ago. Don’t think of what they are doing as competition or self defence, and don’t watch nage, watch the uke for a change. It’s a whole other art.

It’s a good attack that makes good aikido.

Kim Taylor
Nov 24, 2017

Comments on training

The Examinations Committee received the following comments from Osawa-shihan and wished to pass them on to all members, especially instructors.

At seminars and daily practice:

  • Osawa-sensei commented it was important to focus on the basics in training, especially in the beginning. More dynamic practice naturally comes later.
  • He said it is important to emphasize the correct connection between nage and uke.
  • He added that it is very important to keep students moving during practice and not stop them to talk or discuss technique unnecessarily.
  • He said that the technical level he was seeing in the tests was generally improving.

I would like to emphasize:

It is vital that white belts spend most of their time mastering the core techniques: irimi-nage, shiho-nage, kote-gaeshi, kaiten-nage and kokyu-ho. Less time should be spent on other techniques, including koshi-nage and especially kokyu-nage. It is not acceptable that students appear in front of grading panels with an inadequate understanding of the core techniques as applied to all conventional attacks, including proper ma’ai, connection and ukemi.

It is a mistake for students to interrupt their practice with discussion of how a technique “works.” It is much more important that they practice intensely and dynamically, without stopping. If you somehow feel obligated to teach your partner despite this advice, try to do it without speaking, i.e. helping by performing good ukemi. If an explanation is absolutely necessary, ask the sensei on the mat to provide it.

About haste

I have been talking a bit about “haste” in class lately. I thought I would explain it at greater length.

I was watching an Iaido demonstration recently, and it struck me that one of the practitioners was truly excellent and the rest were merely “quite good.”

So what made the difference between excellent and good? After all, they were performing the same forms, basically the same way.

It struck me that the excellent practitioner had no “haste” in his movement, though he was quite fast. He was “in the moment” of whatever part of the movement he was in. The other students, it seemed to me, were thinking ahead to their next movement… not living in the movement they were currently performing. The level of “presence” was quite different in the excellent practitioner.

We see this in Aikido. It usually takes the form of students rushing to throw, almost skipping the preliminary movements to try to get quickly to throwing or pinning the uke with force.

The most important part of any technique is the beginning. If you have made the preliminary movements properly, the throw is much easier and more effective.

First you have to use correct footwork to enter and position yourself correctly for the technique. This requires perception and attention.

Next, you have to unbalance the partner. Again, this requires your attention and commitment.

The throw or pin comes after that, and is usually simple if you have executed the first two stages properly.

You have to be “present” in the first two movements to do them well… you shouldn’t hurry through them to rush to your goal of throwing uke.

Once this becomes second nature, the stages become invisible to an uninformed eye since they are executed very quickly.

Congratulations to Nakamura-shihan

All members of Aikido Hokuryukai would like to congratulate Yumi Nakamura-sensei on her recent promotion to shihan by Doshu. It is a great honour and a significant milestone in a long Aikido career.

If you are not familiar with the term “shihan,” it is one of the very highest ranks of instructor.

We will take the opportunity of our upcoming Winter Party on Jan. 23 to congratulate her as a group.

We would also like to congratulate our friend George Hewson-sensei of Aikido Seishinkai, who was promoted to shihan at the same time.

With these two promotions, there are now four shihan in the Canadian Aikido Federation: Osamu Obata-sensei of JCCC Aikikai and Ishu Ishiyama-sensei of Vancouver West Aikikai previously received this honour.

About injuries

Injuries should be few and far between, but they do happen occasionally – sometimes originating from outside the dojo. How can you keep training when injured?

An article in Aikido Journal presents a few pointers in this regard, “Nine tips to help you safely recover from injuries.”

For some reason, the author omits mention of the common practice of rolling up a sleeve on the injured side of the body. When you see that your partner has rolled up a sleeve, make sure you know what the injury is and how to practice safely with him/her, without reinjury.

The meaning of rank

Nakamura-sensei’s comments on our recent black-belt promotions got me thinking about the meaning of rank in Aikido.

New students sometimes ask me, “How long will it take to get a black belt?”

Sometimes I’m tempted to answer, “How long is a piece of string?” or “You can buy one tomorrow at any martial arts store.”

Respecting the intent of their question, though, I usually say it is up to them. The minimum hour requirements have been published – it is theoretically possible to attain shodan (first-degree black belt) with just over 660 days of practice, though that is almost unheard-of. How often do you intend to come to class? How hard will you practice? How quickly do you learn?

I think the question itself reflects a misunderstanding… These students are really trying to ask, “How long will it take me to achieve mastery of this art?”

A first-degree black belt is not mastery. It is just the beginning. When you are promoted to shodan, it means that your ukemi (attacking, following movement and taking falls) is correct and that you are familiar with a wide variety of standard techniques. Next, you must spend a few more years vigorously training with other black belts and attending seminars with prominent senior instructors to add depth to your knowledge. Without this training, you have no mastery at all.

Some students rarely leave the safety of their own dojo, practicing only with their friends. I tend to think of these students as “hothouse flowers.” When they finally go to a seminar and practice among the weeds, they sometimes get rude awakenings about their technique. Even when such students do go to seminars, they often train only with people from their own dojo! Their knowledge remains shallow.

Shodan is a difficult and remarkable achievement, but it is not an end. There is no end. As your knowledge gets deeper and you age, your practice changes. You are always learning, beginning something new. Aikido is a “do,” a life practice.

It is important to want to progress. It is also important to enjoy practicing and learning at the level you are on.

If all you want is a black belt to impress your friends and family, it is more efficient to buy one at a martial arts store.