Wednesday, December 26, 2007

This is weird

For a while now, I've been aware of a guy named Neal Yamamoto who is a cartoonist/artist. I've gotten emails for him as well by people looking for his books and think I'm that guy.

Now, I tumble across his work on the Nikkei page. Link follows:

What is strange is his middle name is close to mine, Nobuo (mine is Noboru), his sense of humor is pretty close to mine, and aside from the description of "doughy gut" and "fueled by pastrami" he sounds like me as well. Easily annoyed, short and stocky, near sighted, still got hair, sleep deprived, indeterminate age due to good genetics, etc... all features in common.

He is yonsei, I'm sansei and spelling of Neal(Neil) are the major differences.

I wonder what else we have in common, but he seems to lack the martial arts aspect(no one's perfect I guess) I wonder if he likes Scotch too.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Pimping a friend's artwork

Brian Snoddy is a friend of some of us in the TNBBC, and he's a very talented artist as well.
Check out some of his work at his webpage.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

You don't call, you don't write, you don't send flowers

I got a couple emails asking me to post more info, a summary technical how to really, about my workshop experience with Akuzawa and Rob John, his senior student.

My first response mentally was "Who cares what you want?" My second response mentally was "I don’t care what you want!" This is not just because I’m not a nice guy, it’s because it’s not meaningful to try and do that.

To start a discussion (or have any relevance in a post for my blog) there has to be a common ground. Once that common ground is there, meaning those involved understand: A) the terms as used by the instructor. B) The intent of what the instructor is trying to do is communicated. Then you can then start a discussion that has meaning using terminology in proper context. Sure, you can have a discussion with skilled or semi skilled people who have never met or touched hands, but there has to be a clear agreed upon understanding of the terminology as used by those in the discussion.

All too often, since the meaning of terms is so varied in how it is used in different groups, a discussion without that common ground will just turn into a steaming pile of crap. It gets pretty tedious to have an arrogant jerk continually saying "You don’t get it" and lashing out at others because others don’t use terms with the same exact narrow definition as said arrogant jerk.

So, start with a hands on session, then you can discuss what you did at the hands on meeting with more productive results using terminology as used by the group or the instructor being discussed. But that initial "hands on" is the starting point in general.

BTW, this applies for martial arts as well as team sports, where the skills are taught in a group but are developed via personal efforts. By personal effort, I mean each person’s native intelligence, work ethic, innate talent, and physical capabilities.

To truly function as a team, each team member has to understand the context each other team member brings to the party. For a dojo, each dojo member has to work to fit with the sensei’s social dynamic for the group and contribute their own in constructive ways. When this is done right, everyone benefits.

Back to our topic, I’ve had some passing experience with "internal arts" via Andy Dale, Harvey Kurland, Dave Harris. The approach they take is different from Ark’s but closely related as well. The problem comes about with those differences in approach and intent. Subtle but important differences can make a huge difference in how material is understood or misunderstood. So, you should try to absorb the instructors meaning and intent, not just overlay your own right away. Insert your favorite Asian metaphor here if you like.

As one example of what I mean, we did a workshop with Andy this last summer, I had enough familiarity with Andy to get his context in an exercise and why it was being done without much explanation. But a few others didn’t get the exercise since they were unfamiliar with Andy’s approach. They later told me they had the thought "This is bullshit" until they got a few minutes of hands on time and one on one explanation. Then, the thought became, "Oh, I get it, I should be doing…" and could understand the essential basics, maybe not the advanced ideas, of what the exercise was seeking to develop.

So, that’s another reason why I’m not responding to the requests. I’m sure don’t think I’m qualified to try and sum up Ark’s methods. I get much of the basic reasoning and intent, but not well enough to be talking about it all over the internet and email without misinterpretation, either on my side, or on yours. With more personal effort, I’ll hopefully develop a better understanding.

Training is always a work in process, and it’s important to frame the experience that goes with the explanation properly. So, if I were to have a discussion with one of the TNBBC dojo members, we try to preface explanations with qualifications. Such as "What I got from Andy was…" or "Here’s what I got from that drill we did with Ark…" or "From the Icho point of view, it’s like this…".

I’ve also had people ask me about Bernie Lau, Don Angier, and Jon Bluming. I’ve also glossed over those requests for any technical information with people I don’t know. If I know the person asking well enough to be sure they won’t take things out of context, it’s not a problem.

But for you who asked me for more details, this is why I didn’t respond. Online, it tends to bring out the stupid and arrogance in some people. Don’t believe me, go read aikiweb and some of the foolishness that can crop up there. Likewise, in emails, it’s easy to not get the proper context. Rather than have someone blab that "Neil said that…" without understanding a damn thing that was written in the proper context. So I just tend to ignore most requests.

Without understanding why I don’t respond to such requests, you would sure think I’m a major league conceited ass, wouldn’t you? Now that I have explained why you didn’t get a response, I may still be a major league conceited ass, but a major league conceited ass with a good rational reason for not responding.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Raiders of the not so lost Ark

Actually, it’s Akuzawa Minoru, who goes by the nickname Ark.

Just spent the weekend at the Akuzawa seminar and ‘twas oh so much painful fun for all. It’s nice to once again be a slightly below average intelligence guy in the mix of people on the mat instead of trying to teach when you have so much you want to work on for your own progress. The seminar once again conclusively proves "I suck" and I am only teaching because I suck a little bit less than the guys I teach in the TNBBC do.

While some of the material overlaps things I’ve been taught and try to practice, the approach Ark teaches is different enough to make me get tunnel vision in trying to piece his teachings together in my own head and body. That is, I focus too much on getting on one part, while screwing up the rest, thereby screwing up the whole exercise. I should know better but obviously still screw up a lot. I don’t really mind that happening since that’s how we learn. But I’ll still bitch about it. The goal is just to screw up less as you go.

For anyone who has debated going to see Akuzawa, I highly recommend you do. First, Ark is a nice guy, and Rob John, who is his senior student, is a nice guy and great translator too. There is no status game with them. They present the exercises and training methods of the Aunkai and you can try to absorb what you can physically and mentally to your own benefit or you can leave it on the mat and go back to what you do. There is a bit of evangelical "Spread the word", but this time the word has value and depth and is worth the listen.

Second, the skill in what they do is very apparent once you touch hands. Ark’s approach streamlines the body connection work. When I say streamlines, I mean it leaves out the foo-foo and woo-woo that infects too many so-called internal martial art approaches to the detriment of students and teachers. This doesn’t mean there are any shortcuts to the work process, it is still a very demanding effort on the part of the person learning.

Out of those who I have met, had first hand contact with, and consider having real skill, Ark is one of them. Many people with out feeling it have slammed Ark’s approach. I was one of those who looked at some of the videos and thought, "I know that and have seen it done." I wasn’t wrong on that. But I was wrong on how good Ark is and how well he presents it. This is a large jump above many "masters" I’ve encountered. Combine that with being a nice guy, it’s worth the time and cost to go see him if you can.

I am not saying the Aunkai method is all things to all people. There is no long pedigree of history for those who are interested in that aspect. It’s just Ark and the methods he developed from his study of Chinese arts and Japanese arts. There is no newaza, but the things Ark teaches can help a grappler understand body connections for better power and balance, just as it does for standing and striking arts. That of course, is up to each student to figure out by practice.

I’ve met numerous "good" martial artists, who in reality, were not "good" but simply at the top of a pyramid organization having little pickles thrown at them by worshipping students. Others I’ve met may be good, but they are so arrogant, vain, and major league asses, they destroy their own message and wonder why they have no students and think they are unappreciated, while never considering their own faults.

Of course, I realize many people would be happier living in denial that there is something missing in their approach. Part of me would be too; I’d sleep better at night. But I’m more interested in actually learning so I try and put aside my position as head fluffy bunny of Icho Ryu and try to relearn what I do know, what I think I know, and understand the intent and goals of the instruction and teacher. Then it is up to me to understand how to implement that in my own practice and teaching. Along the way, I make lots of mistakes and try to learn from them. I wish the same for all reading this since good instruction is valuable, but personal experience, failure, and learning from that failure make the best teachers. Read my blog on Gawande.

You notice I’m leaving any mention of what was done at the seminar out. That’s intentional. Go and see for yourself. Will Ark be back? Hopefully, and maybe I’ll see you there.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Under the Influence

I’ve been lucky to have some good mentors influence me. Even if I only had a short period of time with them, these are some of the people, outside of family, who made an impact on me.

Bernie Lau was my first mentor in a martial arts context, he had the confidence in my having the potential to be good at the budo stuff, to drive me and push me to exceed what I could have done otherwise. Bernie taught me to drive myself, to not be afraid to try and fail, but to learn from that experience.

Andy Dale was another in my early days, he really worked with me one on one a lot since quite often it seemed like I was the only one or one of only a few people in class. Andy was Bernie’s first student in Seattle, and he reinforced what Bernie did, as well as frame it in his own words. Physically, I’m more built like Andy, so he was able to help me understand how physique affects technique.

Doug Tsuboi was another darn good influence on me. Doug spent a lot of time helping me when I was teaching at the University of Washington. With out ever being too much of a pain, along with Andy, he helped me learn to communicate ideas and the idea of being a role model. Though I was far too young and stupid to realize it back then.

Don Angier was another major influence on my martial arts. He was kind enough to treat me as a student in his dojo, and help me understand how things connect in what I thought I knew. Which helped me to understand the idea of "self learning". Though I was never an official student, he treated me as one and helped me to frame what I was learning in a manner that was understandable and far more communicable to others.

Fujiko Gardner is another unrecognized aikidoka outside the Pacific NW. Even in the Pacific NW, she is not really recognized as the pioneer woman in aikido. She was teaching in the early 1970’s, a few years before Mary Heiny came to Seattle and founded the Seattle School of Aikido. She is perhaps one of the finest examples of believing in community and expressing that through her aikido I’ve ever met. When I was dumped on for Icho Ryu leadership, Fujiko was one of my models for approach of what I wanted to develop in my role as head fluffy bunny of Icho Ryu.

Jon Bluming is surprisingly one of my mentors in how I approach things. Big, strong, tough, crude, and a very good man to those he cares about. In a very short period of time, he got through to me on some very important aspects of what it means to actually live up to being a teacher and what that really means.

But one of the influences in this mix of my life is someone not at all in martial arts. This is someone I’ve met as a kid only a few brief times, but still saw everyday. His name is Chris Wedes, and he played a character on local Seattle TV called "JP Patches". JP Patches, the mayor of Seattle City Dump, was on KIRO TV from 1958 until 1981.

I watched his TV show daily, morning and afternoon after school, and was on it twice. Even when I was in high school, I still enjoyed his show if I was home sick (or skipped classes) and watched TV. JP and his TV sidekick Bob Newman, more than any one else I can think of, shaped my sense of humor and the twists and turns my mind travels for laughs and how I view things. You notice I still refer to JP, not Chris or Mr. Wedes? Real fans, known as "Patches Pals" will always first think of JP, not Chris Wedes, the man behind the makeup.

For anyone not from the the Seattle area, it’s hard to understand, but this man, along with Bob Newman, really shaped the children of two generations locally. Here is a link to JP’s web page.

There were a few local kid shows at that time, which along with JP, really were off kilter in humor. Stan Boreson on KING, Brakeman Bill on KTNT, along with JP, were the leaders in local kids shows. And to me, they rocked.

But JP Patches was king of those shows. Captain Kangaroo? Far too wholesome. Sesame Street? Sorry, can’t hold a candle to JP in my mind. Want more on these guys who shaped Seattle humor for decades? Here’s some more links.

Why do I include JP in this influence and mentor blog? JP recently announced he’s got blood cancer, and has canceled his upcoming appearances. This is sad to several generations of Patches Pals. It also got me to thinking what a major influence he really was, in a good way to the entire Puget Sound area.

How so many so called martial arts kids programs (really just expensive baby sitting with pads) fail to do as much as this one man did to reach out and help foster a lot of what kids needed for success in life with his simple show and good humor. Despite the humor, there was a good solid message for kids to do well for their own sake.

JP’s public appearances have never failed to draw a crowd and he always, always, had a kind word and time for kids and us Patches Pals. A few years ago I was at the Northgate shopping mall and JP and his sidekick, Bob, dressed up as JP’s erstwhile girlfriend, Gertrude, was there. Read the website history, it will make sense. (maybe)

I stood by the sidelines, and watched parents who grew up watching JP Patches, taking their kids to meet JP Patches. And watched with real pleasure, kids who had never seen this man before, responding to his encouragement to do well in school, help at home, and both children and parents laughing at the humor and teasing he gave them all.

JP Patches, regardless of how much time I spent with him personally, is one of my major influences in how I try to look at things in life. Off kilter and twisted, so tragedy becomes humor, and humor helps you to get through the tough times in life. And honestly, that way of looking at things has helped me to better understand martial arts and the way things connect in not so obvious ways.

JP, if you can see me through the I.C.U.2-TV, best wishes to a recovery.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Hold the Meiyo...

One thing that has been a pain in my rear since I took over Icho Ryu is the topic of honorary rank. In Japanese, that would be: Mei(distinguished) - yo(honor) - dan(step) I'm not against honorary rank as long as it's understood that's what it is and not a authorization to teach or to a position of authority in an organization. However, too many people for my taste tend to think that's what honorary and gifted rank conveys, authority and knowledge.

Part of this is culture clash. In a small group in Japan training, people in authority and earned positions tend to know who is who and what's real and realize the rank is a status symbol. For example, my uncle was on the Waseda Karate team in college. When he graduated, he was promoted to 7th dan. Everyone knew it was not earned, but it fit with his position in society. His family was rich and well connected in business and politically. His father in law was a government high official. He sat on the board of FAJKO and WUKO for a time, and to do that, you needed to have a high rank. Everyone knew the rank was just so no one would feel like they were dealing with subordinates, a simple mask, but in Japanese culture a needed one.

But when you have more than a small group, who's who and rank can be a problem when the group is too large for everyone to know each other. Than in those cases, how honorary rank is viewed can be abused. It's a mistatement at best, and fraud at worst.

Now, just like he was taught to do by his teachers in Hawaii, Bernie viewed a teacher of a martial art as needing to be at least a 3dan(sandan) for teaching purposes. At that point, a sandan should be skilled enough to start standing on their own two feet. They should be able to self learn more, and be able to teach fundamentals to new and intermediate level students.

So, Bernie would award a sandan to someone who had minimal training if they were teaching another art. It was a recognition of their rank and status in the other art, and you were supposed to honor that. So, 3dan was given. In most cases, this was not a problem. Most people have enough sense to know it's not truly earned and don't try to pass it off as earned. But when the group is too big or a person is far removed by distance, things can happen.

Here's one particular case. There is a teacher who based off two weekend trips to train with Bernie and one weekend seminar trip by Bernie to teach at his dojo/dojang/kwoon has been portraying himself as a fully authorized teacher certified by Bernie Lau and as the only sandan not an LEO(Law Enforcement Officer) to reach that rank.

That frankly, is a load of smelly brown stuff. Here is a list of people who earned that rank or higher rank from Bernie through training on a consistent basis for years who are not LEO.

  • Andy Dale 6th
  • Wayne Gorski 6th
  • Fujko Gardner 5th
  • Mike Bissonette 5th
  • Wayne Brannon 5th
  • Glenn Kondo 5th
  • Sam Lovell 5th No longer affiliated -retired
  • Loyd Lovell 4th No longer affiliated -expelled
  • Lonny Grimm 4th deceased
  • Gene Tucker 4th
  • John Spiers 4th
  • Luis Cabral 4th
  • Phil Pederson 4th - retired
  • Randy Beamer 4th
  • Irene Cabral 3rd
  • Nel Bettis 3rd deceased
  • Steve Shoji 3rd retired for health reasons
  • George Smith 3rd retired for health reasons
  • Scott Cornelison 3rd
  • Dennis Perkins 3rd
  • George Gouger 3rd
  • Mike Belzer 3rd
  • Bill Belser 3rd no longer affiliated
  • Dana Ahola 3rd no longer affiliated

Depite repeated requests to remove this information, it is still up on his website. Now despite the man in question being a pretty decent martial artist from all reports, he obviously didn't earn his rank through training.

This is more a question of integrity as to what is being taught than anything. Now, if Bernie had thought to do this certificate with a chop showing it was honorary, this would not be a problem. But it's one I inherited and will cope with. I do this simply by telling what I do know of the man's time with Bernie to anyone who asks. I don't go and try and deflate him by name, but I'm not going to ignore it totally either. Especially when the first thing he asked me about was Bernie coming back out to promote people, but he was not going to pay for Bernie's trip expenses.

What I find amusing more than anything is Icho Ryu is a pimple on a fleas butt on the mangy dog that is martial arts. If you have to bask in Bernie's reflected glory to look good to students, than you need to go and get a life change since you have bigger problems than can be solved in martial arts training. Too bad there isn't a Jiffy-Life place where you can get that done for $20.

So I dislike the idea of honorary ranking. But I do see why it exists and do understand why some people like the use of it. So, while I don't plan on having to do this often, I'll award honorary rank if someone in Icho Ryu can convince me the reasoning is good enough. However, these kanji for Meiyodan, pictured at top right, will be on each certificate next to the person's name and rank.

Now, to the idiots who would be dumb enough to try and pass themselves off as having earned this rank, they simply reveal themselves for what they are. To anyone who can read the kanji, this is a bit of a joke on the person with the certificate.

Why do it this way? Well, simple really. This reduces honorary rank to what it truly is. A thank you from the group awarding the honorary rank to someone who has been helpful. Now, to a person who earned honorary rank, they will appreciate the gesture as a nice "thank you" and something to hang on the wall or put in a drawer under their socks.

To anyone who is a waste of breath (and mistakes do happen, people can be misjudged as to their real intentions), this is a way to see them embarrass themselves if they try to pass as a martial arts instructor teaching Icho Ryu.

So, most of the time, I'll hold the meiyo. But for some, they want lots of meiyo. They can order their own budo sandwich with all the meiyo they want and stay away from mine.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

A really great article

This article at the above link is one of the best I've read in a long time. Let me explain…no, there is too much. Let me sum up.

Atul Gawande is a surgeon. In fact, he is an outstanding one based on his accomplishments. He is questioning the established methodologies used by doctors. Here are a few key points made in the article.

“as in almost any human endeavor that is complicated, there is a bell curve. There are some who are on the poor end of the curve, there are a few who are at really the top, the great end, and then there are the vast majority of us in the mediocre middle. And there is a real distance between the bottom and the top.”

According to Gawande, what distinguishes a great doctor doesn’t turn out to be genius or brains, science or skill. Successful doctors don’t “have a pill no one else knows about,” he says. What they do have is an outstanding ability to monitor failure and learn from it. They identify and seize opportunities for small changes that end up making a big difference. ... What made the success possible, he says, is a “willingness to recognize failure and innovate."

In great doctors, “their ego was not so overwhelming that it prevented them from seeing the facts of the situation.”

“In a certain way, I’m attracted to blunt criticism. I ended up in surgery where there is the general sense that when you are in training, no one is there to make sure your ego is not hurt. People put it to you straight: ‘You suck at this. You’re better at that. Do less of this and more of that.’” Today, when Gawande hands over an essay to the New Yorker, he prepares himself to see its flaws. “I always make myself think, there has got to be something we can do here that will make it better.”

By no means am I comparing what we do in martial arts to anything as vital as a surgeon and his skills. What I am saying is the mindset he is talking about is exactly what I have been asking, demanding actually, people in the Icho Ryu group to develop.

For far too long, what was imposed on people in Icho Ryu due to Bernie not taking an active leadership role was an attitude that created stagnation in students as well as the teachers since it relied on dogma. By that I mean an American militarized version of Japanese etiquette used as a means of keeping people in place, rather than challenge them to learn.

Rank and authority were handed out for the wrong reasons. Training was all to often done by rote and that got very comfortable for people. This is all too common a story by the way. Not that some good people were not involved, they just were not in authority positions and didn't know what to do about the situation.

And then Bernie stuck me in charge and retired.

And as with any drastic change in expectations and methods, the attitude was from many people, "Better the devil you know rather than the devil you don't know who is demanding things be done differently." I believe that I've managed to get most everyone to comprehend that to grow, you can't rest too much upon status. All it took was having having a bunch of people resign or thrown out and A LOT of time spent working at modeling and teaching what I wanted to communicate.

In any case, read this article, perhaps read Atul Gawande's books too. For Icho Ryu members, this is not about being a samurai, continuing a great tradition, pretending to understand Japanese culture by using some Japanese etiquette, basking in the reflected glory of training with someone who earned his status like Bernie did through hard work and personal sacrifice. It's not about acceptance by society and polite behavior so people will like us.

It's about, as Bernie put it "Through training, research, and further development, we can get better at this."

If there is anything I get out of this article it is a sense I can do more to live up to what budo is supposed to be teaching me about life in and out of the dojo. I hope all of you reading this (and training in what ever martial art is your preferred way) feel the same.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

I am the "Budo Whisperer"

When Bernie Lau decided to put me in charge of Icho Ryu, it was really not a well thought on move on his part.

First, I had really not been involved at all with Icho Ryu for years. I was off studying on my own quite happily. What had happened while I was not involved was some people had played upon Bernie's friendship and trust. They tried to use Icho Ryu as their own petty fiefdom to be big fish in a mud puddle. They were only in charge since they were of high enough rank and Bernie didn't try to be in charge. Bernie, for all his talents, is not a good leader for day to day things. He's a good inspiration to people, he's a great friend. But he is not one to want to be in charge and lead. So, if someone else wanted to be in charge and only told him what he wanted to hear, he was happy enough to let that happen. It created some real problems, which I ended up taking steps to remedy.

Second, I was stuck in charge not for the right reasons, I was simply the only one that nobody would try to confront and mess with openly since they were all unsure or outright afraid of what I would do. Fear leadership is not a good place to start. But it was what I had to work with.

So, what to do? First, change the priorities. I cut off yudansha rankings, with a few exceptions which really don't need to enter this blog. That started the change from status based culture to one of learning, skill, effort to learn, and consistent practice base to determine someones status in the group.

Second, demand more from people in terms of performance, understanding, and communication of what they are doing. Ties right into the above.

One tool we use is to have each person get up in front of everyone and demonstrate a technique. The first time through is at about 75% of full speed and power. The second and third time is done at slow speed and is to show technical points, and the person must explain what they are doing. Then again at near full speed and power. Then, we flay them bare with critique. It's a real ego crash to find out you can't actually make most of what you do work when under pressure.

This is not a kind thing to do to people. Yet, if you can't take the criticism from this, how can you expect to deal with the stresses of an actual confrontation where the psychological stress is even greater? This has become along with my "you suck" theme, one of the most useful tools for making a student really think about what they know and don't know.

And when students who get up and perform and explain what they are doing extremely well, honest praise must be given. It's a great contrast tool for showing to each student and teacher, honest praise and criticism is far more valuable than false praise, unearned rank, and vanity.

Third, use humor with the demands for better skills and understanding. Be aware you must be willing to take jokes leveled at you, make jokes about your self, as much as the ones you lay out to others. Frankly, if someone can't take some joking, and critique, they will not be worth much as martial artists.

Fourth, be honest about what you are doing. As much as possible, try and be honest with yourself about your motivations for doing this martial arts stuff. My motivations are pretty clear with everyone finally, but to do that took time, consistent modeling behavior, and single episodic teaching methods.

Fifth, tied to #4 above, train more and think about the method and results. This means you will have to be willing to face your own screw ups, and will probably make more screw ups than your students actually make. But that is how you improve, learning by experience and experiments.

Sixth, be very patient about the message delivered and people really getting what is expected. This takes a long time. People got my message finally, but still disagreed with what I expected. That's fine with me, as long as they didn't try and undermine my authority. I expect and want people to question me and my authority. But when they rest upon what's comfortable and familiar and what has been done in the past that created the problems, I stick it back on them and don't let them get away with it.

This has to be done with a level of respect and empathy. All too often, those last two things are missing entirely in the message delivered. It doesn't change the standard of performance expected, but it makes it human, understandable, and achievable.

Am I doing anything unique? No, it's just what Cesar Milan does as a dog trainer. I saw him doing all the same things at a dog park. I am the "budo whisperer"..

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

The wretched hive of scum captured

At a recent event, we posed for a group picture. Note the suave elegant dress and fine quality beverages (Corzo tequila, Sotol Anejo, Mexican beers) being served. Note the Cuban cigar in the right hand of the short ugly guy in the front row.

Now you know who you are reading about. No names are being given in order to protect the guilty.

A Tale of Two Egos

Three if you count my own.

I could have been better in how I did handle these things, but my sense of humor and a wayward follicle in a bodily orifice that doesn't see much sunlight dictated otherwise. That means I had a hair up my ass for those of you who don't get my sense of humor. Besides, I was much younger and very stupid.

Ego #1
In the early 1990's in Woodinville WA, there was a TKD and Hapkido teacher who I'll call Master P. Master P had a 8th degree black belt in TKD and a 7th in Hapkido. I'm sure it was legit, and I'm sure he could show you the receipt for the purchase of those ranks.

Not that he was all that bad, it's just that he was not all that good. What made it bad was his attitude.

Master P taught in a health club and strutted around like a rooster in a farm yard. His dobak was always spotless white with colorful affiliation patches on his chest and shoulders. His custom made black belt gleamed with the bright gold thread embroidery of his name and ranks. Master P was short, round faced, and had a very bad haircut. He wore white leather shoes and matching belt, and when in street clothes, looked like a caricature of a yakuza.

One day, at the health club, Master P was on the pay phone, and was hogging the phone. A rather large body builder got a page (remember this is pre-mobile phone days) and was waiting for the phone. Despite his asking Master P to please hurry, Master P ignored him. Finally, he asked if he could make one quick call and he would be out of Master P's way. Master P replied to him, "Don't bother me, don't you know who I am?" and turned back to his phone call facing the wall.

Said body builder picked up a 10 lb dumbbell and clocked Master P, dragged him into the stairwell and left him there to sleep off his rude behavior. When Master P woke up, he couldn't describe the body builder, but had to explain why he was knocked out in a stairwell, banging on the door to be let out, had a lump on his head, and missed teaching his class. Which is how this came to be known by the staff at the health club and was relayed to a friend of mine who did aikido - jujutsu, sometimes taught in Master P's Hapkido class, and who told me the story.

Fast forward 3 or 4 weeks. I'm asked to take part in a demo of various martial arts. Several teachers are taking part, including Master P. My aikido -jujutsu friend asks me to take part as a favor to him. I hate demos, but I agree since he makes me custom bokuto and had just done a very nice one for me.

I show up to go to the demo with my bag. My friend sees me, waves, thanks me for showing up, and offers to take my bag for me. I hand it over and he's not ready for the weight of the bag and nearly drops it. He asks me "What the heck do you have in here?". I open the bag and pull out a set of 10lb dumbbells, and explain that I thought I would teach defenses against dumbbell attacks. For some reason, I was not asked to do demos again.

Ego #2
In the early 2000's, I was asked to take part in a seminar for raising money for charity with numerous other instructors. The organizer was Jerry Dalien, and his Judo Bash was a yearly event. Jerry was one of the old time judo men in the Tacoma WA area. A strange but wonderful man. When Jerry passed away a few years ago, there were over 400 people at his funeral, including people from across the country, many of whom had studied judo with Dalien as children who came to pay their respects. He's one of the good guys and was well thought of locally. I'll post about him as one of the good guys later.

But this post is not about Jerry Dalien. This is about a Hapkido Master who I'll call Master Pity who was teaching at the event. He was high ranking, I believe he was 6th degree, from California. I took part in Master Pity's class and couldn't stomach it, and bowed off the mat about half way through. In truth, I did have to leave and go to an appointment, but was happy for the excuse to leave.

What was so bad, was he presented his techniques as "inescapable" "can't be defeated" "most powerful" "deadly" What ran through my mind was Pat Morita in the first Karate Kid movie going "If done properly, no can defense." And the things Master Pity was teaching were no more than basic entry level aikido or jujutsu. Yet, to many of the people there, lots of beginners, and including his own senior level black belt students, they were swallowing his crap like it was all you can eat shrimp night at Red Lobster and they hadn't seen food for weeks.

In my session the next day, I taught counters to everything Master Pity taught. I never criticized him, I never mentioned his name. I just showed how to counter locks which were most powerful, deadly, inescapable, and which couldn't be defeated.

I gave lots of attention to Master Pity's seniors in how to counter things. About 30 minutes into my class, Master Pity had left the mats. After class, one of the 3rd degree black belts from Master Pity came over to me and told me Master Pity was very upset with me and had told his black belts to leave my class. None of them left, they stayed and practiced my whole session for some reason. I've never heard from Master Pity since, despite giving him my card and offering to buy him dinner.

Later, some of the old time judoka, came over and told me they liked what I was doing, it was what they thought was weak in modern Judo since it was structured towards too much competition now, and loved to see it was still being taught well.

Another friend, Aaron, also took part and taught his Yabe Ryu tachi waza techniques in his session. Afterwards, the old time judoka complimented Aaron saying he did old time judo and it was nice to see someone do it the way they remembered it being taught when they started judo.

Surprising that two punk snot nose kids were well thought of by veterans. And gratifying to our egos too really.

OK, make that A Tale of Four Egos, not two.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

A template for group dynamics

This is a framework for how I try to approach my position as head of Icho Ryu.

While there is an overlay of Japanese culture at times in how I apply this, and my own personal preferences as to formality, or better put as "my lack of formality", there are regardless of my personal strangeness, numerous common factors in this summary of how a group interacts and bonds that go across cultures and is valid for any group.

Despite the differences in cultures, these same factors are always there in a stongly bonded group and lacking in a dysfunctional group. This is very abbreviated, and leaves out much detail, but a study of these things on your own will fill in holes. If you are part of Icho Ryu and want more discussion on this, please let me know. If you are not part of Icho Ryu, too bad.

Group interaction dynamics can be summed up as - ACTCC (B optional)

A stands for Appreciation - If no one shows appreciation to each other in a group, the group will not function or bond, leading to dysfunctional behaviors. This must be non sexual for it to work.

As one example, a strong well knit group notices what can be termed "little things" or "invisible work". That is, things that are only noticed when not done. Like cleaning the bathroom, sweeping the mats, missing paper towels or TP. A well knit group notices those things and acknowledges the person who did them.

A also stands for Affection - The group must have people who do care about each other and want to fit. Again, expressed in non sexual behaviors.

We at the TNBBC express this by making fun of each other, finding as much humor in ourselves and our mistakes as we find in others, (and a very important point) listening to each other. As in any male dominant group, we have male bonding with booze and food regularly, and show this affection by always having too much money in the pot when its time to settle the tab and buying each other drinks regularly.

A very important note as well, is those of us in committed relationships are lucky enough to have partners, wives, girlfriends, who somewhat understand the importance of the dojo relationships to each of us and supports it(that support ranges from tolerates to encourages) most of the time.

C stands for Committment - The group has to have people who believe in what they are doing and this will show by interest in the activities of the group and efforts with the group. There must be a unifying goal and purpose for this to work.

You have to be present and active with each person in the group. And that means interest in the people off the mats as well as on. As a good example, a dojo member and his wife recently adopted a little girl from China. Everyone was interested and wanted to contribute to a gift. A small thing perhaps in monetary value, but an important small thing to group bonding.

We also try to take part in things off the mat together. I can only think of a few examples of group social activities where there were less than 80% of the group in attendence, and those missing were gone for family activites.

In any case, for us at the TNBBC, the unifying goals for all of us are found in the wisdoms posted on September 10.

T stands for Time - No such thing as quality time alone exists. You must have the drudge time in order to have peak or quality time happen.

Pretty simple really, put in your time with the group and on your own in training or nothing good will come of your efforts. either as an individual or with the group. The peak experiences only happen when you go through the drudge and day to day time and effort.

C stands for Creative problem solving - Figure out how to solve problems in ways that intrigue the group and individuals.

This is the role of a good teacher, not to rely on dogma and "sensei says" as answers. This is perhaps the hardest part for most people to understand as a teacher and senior, is to help guide and influence the group and individuals to creative thought on their own. But it is perhaps the most important.

As an example, in a healthy group, fights and disagreements will take place just as often as in a dysfunctional group. But in a healthy group, the fights end quickly with creative solutions and results in a better group dynamic. In a dysfunctional group, fights will drag out and become intertwined with non related issues, resulting in more fighting in the group.

C stands for Communication - If you do the above things, you will be communicating.

Nuff said, I hope.

One thing I leave out on this most of the time is belief.

I usually lump belief in as part of commitment for most people in discussion. This means belief in the group as valuable at a basic level. Or it can be taken to be a belief in a higher being or power. Many martial arts teachers make the mistake of confusing the two belief ideas into one which destroys the validity. Can you say "cult behavior?" I think I pretty much covered this point in my first post explaining the reasoning for why this blog exists.

So, there you have it, by direct transmission from the head fluffy bunny himself, a template to work on for group dynamics in your own dojo.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Some wisdom from the training partners of the TNBBC. This will be modified as other wisdom which we find useful arise.

Does it work?
Just keep trying to get better.
Now matter how much you suck, it's always possible to suck more.
No shots to the kidneys. That's for after class.
More good stuff happens in our damp dark stinky basement than your cute dojo.
You have no clue what you're getting into.
No piece of wood is safe.
There are no secrets. It's all hidden in plain sight.
If you ask about the secrets, we'd explain them but you wouldn't understand.
Ark's exercises hurt so good.
Ark's exercises don't get any easier.
Don't drink the Kool Aid.
There are two things you can learn if you look at your feet, how many feet you have and that they match.
Every class is a history lesson.
Relearning and rewiring your body makes a lot more sense when the techniques are taught correctly.
Turning on your toes keeps the orthopods in business.
Hip sockets move?
If it's complicated, I'm lost. If it's simple, I'm lost.
Illegal? Does it hurt? Cool.
Did I mention irreverent?
If it works on Neil, you know it works.
If it works on Fritz, woohoo!
Don't buy a (jo, hanbo, bokken) until Neil tries it on his telephone pole.
It takes longer to learn to be good martial artist than a brain surgeon.
We don't use belts to keep our pants up.
Take the red pill
What? Ray Charles asked Stevie Wonder for driving directions? (In reference to two guys trying to give each other advice when both don't know what they are doing)

A long time ago in a city on Elliot Bay...

A strange man named Bernie Lau decided to teach what he could in aikido. Aikido for those not in the know, is a Japanese gendai budo. Bernie was lucky enough to study with some of the best and brightest in Hawaii, and eventually received his 1st and 2nd degree black belts directly from the founder of aikido while he was visiting Japan. That's Bernie to the left, locking up an old friend, Kregg Jorgenson, who is quite a character in his own right. Kregg served in Vietnam with Company H, Rangers, and later with Apache Troop, the 1st of the 9th Cavalry. Kregg is an author, buy his books.

At the time, Bernie began teaching in Seattle, he was a young, tough police officer and had learned much by the school of hard knocks as a police officer to supplement his aikido. Along the way, he also did some Goju ryu karate with the local group, who were higher class thugs, just like Bernie.

Bernie eventually came to the realization that in order to teach what he thought was important, he had to form his own group and leave the aikido world behind. The emphasis was to be practical Defensive Tactics and personal defense training for Law Enforcement, Security, and selected individuals. What he taught became known as Icho Ryu Aikijujutsu, which Bernie now prefers to call Icho Ryu Aikibudo.

Using his martial arts training as a basis for the teaching methods, it also included some trapping of Japanese culture in the teachings. Over laid with use of weapons, empty hand skills, negotiation skills for defusing situations, it was a good place to be.

Trailing along behind him, was a young kid who had issues, but was willing to work hard and could absorb pain and punishment like most kids absorb candy and soda pop. And this kid was stupid enough to keep coming back. Plus said kid's parents made him go to class.

That kid was me, one of the selected individuals.

And when I was old enough to have quit, I discovered I didn't want to quit. Besides, where else could a misfit teenager beat up cops legally? And I wanted revenge on the adults in the class who thought it was fun to beat up on the kid.

Now, some 34 years later, I'm in charge of the little world of Icho Ryu aikibudo. We are a bunch of guys who choose to practice a modern day version of an archaic martial form and find meaning for those things in our modern day lives.

The Icho Ryu group in Seattle has taken to calling ourselves the "Tuesday Night Bad Budo Club" or TNBBC for short. Hence the URL. This is a riff off Sheryl Crow's "Tuesday Night Good Music Club" album since we do our main weekly class on Tuesday Nights. The Bad Budo idea comes from what most people on call the fakes, egotists, made up histories, and such.

What we do is simple. We don't lie about our history, we don't pretend we are any good, and generally piss off the lousy and fakes since we make them look bad. As a result, some people criticize us and say we have a "bad reputation". We don't care. We simply practice and try to suck less at what we do in martial arts each time we practice. The top compliment you can hear in class is "That didn't suck."

We don't take ourselves too seriously. Nor do we take many others seriously. We do take what we do seriously, but not ourselves. It's a fundamental attitude needed for learning in my opinion.

We are not a large group, nor do we wish to be. We are simply people who find Asian martial arts, particularly those of Japan, and the modern day arts known as goshin budo, which are derived from Japanese budo arts, to be something we value and find meaningful. We try and keep functionality of what we do in mind as the major rule. In Bernie Lau's words, "Make it work, try to understand why it works."

Along the way, I and those who train with me, have been fortunate enough to encounter some very high quality people and a lot of scumbags. Sometimes those thing overlap in the same person. As Obi Wan Kenobi said to Luke Skywalker about Mos Eisley, "You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy. We must be cautious". The same applies to martial arts and the lowlife scum inhabiting the arts. Hence the name of this blog.

This blog is to tell the story of those encounters with the good, the bad, and the ugly. It's also a place for what passes for humor with us and a place to waste time while drinking your coffee.

I will update this as I see fit. Enjoy or not.