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.