Tuesday, October 7, 2008

A Round Trip that only took 53 years

I got an email and a snail mail from Bernie Lau the other day. He’s retired back to Hawaii to work on his book and to find some sanity and peace after spending a lot of energy on family matters. Now, at 67 years old, he’s gone full circle to home. Like a homing pigeon that got swept away by a storm, it took him a while to get there.

Bernie started aikido in 1955 by getting thrown by Koichi Tohei on Hapuna Beach. And yes, we are referring to the Koichi Tohei who first spread aikido as the Aikikai’s chief instructor and whom later founded the Ki Society.

As an aside, if you ever get to the West Side of the big island north of Kona, stop and visit Hapuna Beach. It’s one of Bernie’s favorites and one of mine as well. Here are Bernie’s words about what happened that day:

It was a beautiful hot summer day at Hapuna, one of the best beaches on the Big Island. I was walking along the beach when I saw a group of Japanese folks doing what seemed to be Martial Arts. What they were doing seemed interesting so I stopped to watch.

The man at the center of attention noticed me and invited me to come up and throw a punch at him. "Come, you try hit me please. " were his very words. So I stepped up, stood right in front of him and threw a punch towards his face. Next thing I knew I was flipped onto my butt and ended up on the warm sand looking up at this individual who still had a smile on his face. This guy was totally at ease, totally relaxed, totally confident. And like I said, had this most pleasant smile on his face.

Helping me up, this individual said, " You try one more time please. " So, OK - this time I focused on his chest and threw a faster punch. However, when my right fist arrived to where his chest had been, there was absolutely nothing there and I again ended up on my butt.

"Darn" I thought, "How the heck does he do that?" The half dozen or so Japanese folks there were all laughing at me. Not however in a disrespectful manner, the group’s energy was totally non-threatening. Everyone seemed relaxed, happy, and friendly.

Standing up, I brushed the warm sand off my butt. The man with a smile then came up to me and introduced himself. " My name Koichi Tohei. I from Japan. What I do is Aikido." He continued, "Aikido non fighting art, is good for defend but good also for develop mind and body. Where you live?"

"Hilo", I responded, "I live in Hilo Town on the other side of the Island."

Tohei then said "Ahhh, very good, next week I teach Hilo Town. You come my class. I teach you Aikido. Will be very good for you. You come please? OK, you come my class?"

I answered that I would, and was given the date, time and location of Mr. Tohei's Aikido class - scheduled for the following week in Hilo Town. Turns out Mr. Tohei was teaching at a Japanese Teahouse located on the grounds of Queen Liliuokalani Gardens near Hilo Bay.

I shook hands with Mr. Tohei, made a slight bow of respect, said " Thank you very much. " I then continued my walk along Hapuna Beach.
I won’t give away any more of Bernie’s story here, you will have to buy his book when it’s published, hopefully sometime early next year. I knew most of the stories already, but to see it all in one place is cool. Not just aikido and the acrimony behind the outward harmony, but the dark black lurking behind the cop in blue, Bernie’s time undercover as a Narc, and the effect that job can have on a person.

For anyone who is interested in the WahMee incident, Bernie has some good material on that too. Then there is living down the block from Aaron and Elmer Dixon, the Seattle Black Panther leaders, and I should shut up now.

A bit of pimping for Bernie here, if you are interested in being informed as to the book release, please email me or send an email to John@johnspiers.com and we will make sure you are notified. So, for anyone interested, here’s a few "then and now" pictures of Bernie.

Then - In his early days in the navy, and as a teenager getting a taste of sankyo applied by Tohei in his first class referred to above.

Now-On a visit to the TNBBC, showing his shodan certificate presented to him by Uyeshiba and contemplating the idea of having another beer.

But this blog is about how he has now gone full circle. He’s gone from Hilo and his early days in aikido, to developing his own methodology to teach martial arts / tactical defense developed from his martial arts and practical experiences on the streets as a Seattle cop. And now, to being back living in Kona, just down the road from his first encounter with Tohei at Hapuna beach. Bernie is an occasional guest teacher at Meyer Goo’s dojo as well and manages to give those "young kids" studying with Meyer a good hard run for their money still.

Meyer Goo, for those who don't know of him, was a student of Bucksam Kong in Hung Gar kung fu and an early yudansha in the Hawaii Aikikai. Meyer also taught in the early days of the NY Aikikai while working at the Brooklyn Navy yard. Back in 1960’s Honolulu, Meyer was Bernie’s mentor and looked out for the "haole" kid

Recently, on a visit back to Hilo to visit friends and students, he went back to see the Reed’s Bay, Coconut Grove area, and the tea house at Queen Liliuokalani Gardens where he started in his first formal classes in Aikido, and it all came back together.

As Bernie told me in his email:
"Here in Hilo, walking around it all, it seems that I am in fact coming full circle from where I first grew up. Reed’s bay area still looks as it did some sixty years ago, not much has changed. It’s where I first went into the ocean, and hung out with my friends as I grew up. This was my place to go when home life was too much to deal with for me. It's still an exotic but funky place. I feel very much at home and at peace there, the energy is all good.

The Tea House at the Liliuokalani Gardens is where I met Tohei for class that night back in 1955 - and where I started my Aikido journey. Coconut Island back then had no bridge - the Tsunami of 1946 had taken the bridge out. I remember an old Japanese man in a row boat who would row us out to Coconut Island for a total of five cents. Around 1957, I worked as a bus boy after school and on weekends at the Naniloa Hotel, right there next to Coconut Island. So, I’m back to where I enjoyed myself and found happiness as a child and as a teenager some sixty years ago - to now - as a senior citizen - looking for inner peace and happiness - and a place to call home, which is back where it all started."

The point of this blog is sometimes what we seek in budo is really back where we started. Not just in techniques and what we miss in learning those physical techniques the first time around, but also in the human elements and what we let get in the way on that journey, be it relationships with people or our preconceived notions of what we wish things to be.

Bernie, despite being someplace far away, shares something of himself with me- and now vicariously, you - and jars my thoughts to something important to the study of martial arts, be they koryu or gendai, or goshin budo, and our personal growth via that study.

We seek to gain knowledge with study, but most of us lack the wisdom to use that knowledge in our lives. Wisdom is a sharp edged and pointy object, it’s very seldom comforting since it reveals our own weaknesses when applied to ourselves and cuts painfully to our cores as we so often seek comfort rather than the pain of growth.

So, go back to your roots of training, and think about what you missed the first, second, third, forth, fifth, etc. time through on different levels of interaction. Not just in the physical technique, but in how you interact with that supposed knowledge beyond technical performance. If it doesn’t cause you to pause and think, or face something about yourself, you ain’t doing it right.
Mad at your sensei? Or maybe you can’t figure out something you are being taught?

OK, maybe sensei is a jerk sometimes. Maybe sensei can’t frame what he’s teaching you any clearer. Did you ever stop to consider what you might be missing may be due to your lack of applying it to yourself and working at it more? And could it be that because you are mad or frustrated you are letting what you want to believe interfere with what is really happening?

Of course, if you are like the majority of people I’ve met in martial arts, none of the last three paragraphs above this matter. Reality is, none of us can do this all the time, but we should be trying to if you talk about spiritual practice or personal growth via budo at all.

As a final note, here is an image of the Cow Palace (where the Hilo Aiki-Kai had it’s dojo space in those early years) following the 1960 tsunami which destroyed much of downtown Hilo. Sadly, despite the best efforts of the local researchers back in Hilo, there were no pictures to be found in their files of the Cow Palace before the tsunami. If any of you know any of the old aikidoka from those days who might have any photos of the cow palace interior or exterior, contact the Lyman Museum and pass on a copy to them: http://www.lymanmuseum.org/

Monday, September 22, 2008

Gone but not forgotten..

I’ve promised I would blog on some of the good guys I’ve met too, and just hadn’t done it. Now, I’m correcting that oversight.

Dave Harris, one of the great but mostly unknown of martial artists I know, died on September 9, 2008. Dave was a great influence on my attitude towards learning and along with several others, pushed and coaxed the stubborn punk attitude kid who is now writing this to look beyond the obvious. That was over 20 years ago.

Though I didn’t have a lot of time with Dave, and didn’t get the approach he used to teach for a long time, at least not enough to apply it to myself, I did finally start to get it and it changed how I learn. Dave was very much more of an influence on me than I realized. It’s only now when I sat down and think about it after his death, that I see how much it tied to what others, such as Bernie Lau and Don Angier taught me, only from Dave’s own perspective and play oriented approach.

Dave’s approach echoed that of my teachers, but Dave’s presentation didn’t get through my thick skull until much later. He was always so loose and ready with a joke, I missed far more than I absorbed. In those days, I needed someone to push and bully me a bit, and I regret I didn’t get more time with Dave and was too immature to absorb much back then. This is one of my favorite pictures of Dave, the casual dress and low key appearance hid a brilliant mind, talents, and remarkable skill.

Dave was a good but hard man to know. But for those students who put in the time and work with Dave, he was as Andy Dale called him, "Dumbledore". He was truly a master who delighted in learning and sharing his craft.

At Dave’s informal memorial, students and colleagues from his martial arts classes and his classes as a College teacher in art and ceramics, gathered to share their stories and memories. Students from 20 to 30 years ago came in on short notice including from Hawaii. All had roughly the same experience with Dave as I did. Being made to feel like a complete dork, only to have Dave’s good humored and open attitude bring your curiosity out and overcome any embarrassment at being trashed so effortlessly.

Dave was very much an inquisitive mind, he was forever looking for new ways to absorb and to teach. He was a very strong behind the scene influence on numerous students in the Pacific NW. That I believe, is the job of a good teacher, to give the student the basics needed to grow and learn on their own. But all too often, the student remains oblivious to the depth of impact of the teacher upon them until later. Dave, we will all miss you.

Another friend with over 40 years in judo, Mark Feigenbaum, passed away last spring, but I hadn’t heard from him since just before he passed and his family would not have known to contact any of his friends across the country. He had lost his eyesight, had a few other health problems rising, and didn’t respond to calls. He had indicated he was somewhat embarrassed by his condition, and I thought he was just choosing to stay low and out of sight. We had gone for long periods with out contact before, but this time felt different. I discovered his cell phone was no longer in service, and trying to find a new contact number for him, I found instead his obituary.

I had gone through his mother’s illness and death with him a few years ago. In email and phone calls, he shared much of what he considered important, his concern for his mother, his love of music of all kinds, playing the trumpet, his pets and animals of any sort, martial arts, but in particular Judo. Mark taught kids for years in community centers and YMCA for nothing but the joy of sharing his judo and learning more about his chosen art. In March 2008, about a month before his death, Mark told me about his contact with a judoka at the London Budokwai and was very enthused about learning more about the Go no kata and the Nage Ura no Kata.

There is a great article on judo as Mark experienced it in his early years in the November 2000 EJMAS Journal of Combative Sport. http://ejmas.com/jcs/jcsframe.htm I had sent him a picture of my wife, Amy, my dog Mochi, and I to him last year. He told me it was on his computer as wallpaper and on his wall. He said, Amy looks fantastic, Mochi’s a real looker, and your hairline is receding." Later, in another email towards the end of his life, he said about the picture "I can’t see it clearly, but I like knowing my friends are smiling at me."

The last thing he sent me was a large assortment of music he loved in his life and wanted to share it with me. Now I understand why he sent it, it was his way of saying this was important to me, and I want to share it with you, and maybe that was as close as he could come to saying goodbye outright.
I was going to post a good picture of Mark, but don't really have any. Instead, I'm posting a picture of the fun Mark, it's quite appropriate, a bunch of grown men acting like kids. That's Mark in the front, with the glasses and white cap. Hey Tomato, (as he called himself) Save some of that bottle of Scotch for me and the guys. We will see you before too long.

Jerry Dalien was a strange guy. But, one of the strange guys there should be more of. An old time judoka student of Iwakiri Sensei, Jerry was a big man, and by the time I met him, ill with complications from diabetes. That didn’t stop him from getting on the mat and still doing some pretty damn impressive judo, despite his legs not always working well. I don't have any pictures of Jerry, sorry.

When he passed in late 2001 over 400 people from across the country turned up for his funeral service. Joe Svinth and I went to his service. We listened to stories about Jerry helping out his students with cash and his personal credit cards to help pay moving expenses or to get through tough times. Numerous adults who studied with Jerry as children over 30 years ago, made the trip across the country just to say their farewells. My favorite was Jerry trying to reenlist in the army following 9/11 and his disappointment at the Army not being able to find use for a 60+ year old man in a wheelchair with advanced diabetes.

As we sat there, Joe leaned over to me and said as close as I can remember: "I don’t even know 400 people. And I know you don’t know 400 people who would cross the street to spit on you much less come from across the country to your funeral to say nice things." And then Joe laughed. But it was true. Think about that, a man who was such a positive impact on so many people, they pack up their family to fly across the country just to say goodbye to a man they hadn’t seen in 20 to 30 years. The same thing happened with old students at Dave Harris’s memorial.
I include that bit above because it’s a nice addition to the next bit on Dalien. In an article on Pacific NW Judo history Joe wrote, he included comments from Iwakiri Ryoichi Sensei, made to Jerry Dalien just prior to Iwakiri’s death.

"Jigoro Kano told me once that I must be strong in mind and body always, and help others in life. I appreciate all you peoples who come and see me. I am old now and peoples have no time for them. Mr. Yamashita, Mr. Bush, Mr. Demorest, and you Mr. Dalien are fine students of Kano’s judo. Mr. Uchida, he is important man in Judo – you tell him good-bye for me. I am not important persons, I have done nothing great, I have no schooling. You please make any honor for me, just judo. Okay? I do not have long time left to live anymore, but want you to keep my judo, please? Okay? "

I think Jerry, Mark and Dave tried to live up to the sentiment of this comment from Iwakiri. Mark was always helpful to people, on and off the mat, and he taught judo as a passion in his life. Jerry did too. Dave was always helpful and cheerful to his students, even when his own life was harsh., He had retired to care for his wife Geri, who had developed Alzheimer disease. Yet one would never know from his conduct he was hurting inside since he and was always ready with a joke and smile and to share what he knew.

When I was dumped on by Bernie to take over Icho Ryu, one of my influences was Fujiko Tamura Gardner, who is the sister of Vince and Mas Tamura, also students of Iwakiri Sensei. Small world, but as I’ve been told, "good people attract good people and foster that behavior."
I don’t know that I do that so well, but one of the things I tell students is "Work to be good at your martial art. Failing that, work to be known as a bunch of good guys to train with and hang out with." Excuse the bad English and grammar. That’s about as good a legacy as anyone can ask in budo in my opinion.
I doubt I’ll ever be as well regarded as these men, (I’m far too antisocial and grumpy) but I’ll try to instill some of the attitude of Dave, Mark, and Jerry in my teachings and hope it sticks.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Random thoughts about abuse

Not too long ago, I was watching a black belt test at a local cult, err, I mean highly regarded martial arts school here in Seattle. The only reason I was there was to support a friend’s wife, who was taking her test for black belt at the place. While I was there, I put in some eye-drops for my contact lenses. I then turned to another friend who was there and offered him the bottle, asking him if he wanted some bleach for his eyes to try and remove what we had just watched.

And I’m not joking about needing bleach to remove what I had just watched. When you have a woman who just had an acute subdural hematoma drained 1-ONE- week before the test, on the mat getting hit in the face and being taken down for grappling, you are not talking "Eating bitter". You are talking outright abuse. And that subdural hematoma was a result of getting hit in the head in class.

For those of you who are not aware of what a subdural hematoma is, a fast overly simple explanation is this is a large traumatic injury (bruising) where blood and fluids gather between the outer layer of the brain membrane and the inner membranes. This creates pressure on the brain. Enough pressure, guess what happens?To be on the mat taking a test that involves falling, getting hit, and grappling one week after this operation to drain the hematoma is not just foolish on part of the student, it is criminal neglect on the part of the instructor in my opinion.

The test was more a test of endurance for those testing, running through the entire curriculum of the school for each rank level. I only watched 3 hours of the test, but I saw more swaggering aggressive egos, passive-aggressive and abusive behavior concentrated in one location than I have seen in years.My friend’s wife only got a broken nose in no facial contact sparring. Gee, how did that happen? Yet, over the years of abuse she and others took at this place - I can’t bring myself to call it a dojo - it was claimed that these things were OK "Because we love each other."

Upon that I have to call "Bullshit!" Just because someone hugs you and says "I love you" after purposely injuring you doesn’t make it all right. I don’t care who you are, that right there isn’t funny. This situation is a description of an abuse cycle. From numerous students and former students, there is a steady consistent stream of stories of abuse and injuries to students. As well as fights between the instructor and the on again - off again girlfriend (who is a senior black belt in the school) serious enough to warrant hospital visits for broken bones, concussions, and other varying injuries.

My friend’s wife has finally left the school, by the way, so at least she has managed to break the chain of abuse for herself.

Oh, did I forget to mention the above mentioned instructor consistently tries to get most of the female students to have sex?

I’m relieved for the students who have left and broken free of this cycle. But for your consideration, here area a couple similar situations with greater or lessor degrees of abuse.In a school up north of Seattle, the instructor has a good lineage, was the head of his region for the organization he belonged to in another country. A friend still trains there.

Broken bones and other injuries, some pretty serious, are common in the dojo. I usually see blood on keiko gi when I’ve visited. I can live with hard training and injuries are part of that. But when you have people training with broken ribs, and are expected to stand still and then take additional kicks and punches to those broken ribs just to show spirit, that crosses the line into physical abuse. This training is said to be "traditional" in Japan by the instructor, who trained in Japan for all of a month. More like a bunch of sadistic bastards beat him up, so he does it to his own students.

I can also think of another group with a head sensei who does lots of the right thing organizationally. He doesn’t charge excessive fees, but does run it as a business for a living. I don’t disagree with the business side. But his personal conduct is a bit out of line. Asking students in women’s dressing room if they want to "massage sensei" goes past the line of acceptable behavior. His fondness for alcohol is well known; he is known to drink his lunch at some seminars, and his students try and cover that up from others for him.

A good story involves this sensei’s wife slamming her elbow into his ribs as she was walking by, enabling a young female student to duck away from "sensei" and his drunken attentions.

And this repeated behavior is pretty common knowledge, but is dismissed by seniors in his group as "no big deal." I normally wouldn’t care except for the hypocrisy of this mans behavior as opposed to what he teaches. He goes on about character and budo, but doesn’t apply it to himself.

At one of the seminars I attended years ago, this sensei was already in the bag at a potluck dinner. He was calling out "Boy" repeatedly and it finally dawns on me, he was calling out to me. This was apparent since I noticed everyone else in the room staring at me. When I realized it was me that was "Boy", I asked, "Yes sensei?" and he told me, "Boy, get me beer." I of course politely replied "You can get your own f-----g beer."

Now, in recognition of his rank and senior status, should I have gotten him a beer? Yeah, maybe so. Now if he had been a total ass all the time and said the same thing, I probably would have gotten him a beer and ignored his comment since his jackass behavior would at least have been consistent. Still rude, but it would have honestly reflected his character.

But to have spent time hearing him preach about the dignity and spirit of budo beginning and ending with courtesy earlier that day and an hour before at the potluck, I realized the man was only talking about one way courtesy to him. So, no beer for him from "boy".

But I’m not part of these groups and have no real place to say anything except to observe from afar and state "That’s a bit screwed up."But what’s the common theme to all this? A fine old-fashioned recipe for abuse. One shake of abuse, followed with a pinch of affection, praise, reward, a bit more abuse, followed by more affection, praise, rewards to make up, and pretty soon, students are catering to the instructor’s ego and emotional wants in a roiling pot of dysfunction.

When this dysfunctional recipe is done, you have a steaming pile of crap with the instructor at the top of the pile as chief turd. This is really no different than someone covering up for, enabling, and staying in a bad relationship with a drug abuser or alcoholic in some respects.

It usually makes no sense at all to one observing the situation from outside the group. And these are not stupid people I am discussing here; the people I have met from these groups are often people who have done well in their chosen careers with good families. Yet they were blind to the ways they had been used and abused for many years. They say it’s not abuse, using variously, love and discipline, as the most common excuses for the continued relationships.

Recently, there it seems like there have been more incidents of abuse and what I consider predatory behavior in both localized incidents and in several national organizations in various martial arts groups. At least, they are more publicized but it doesn’t seem to stop the conduct and people in their organizations still try to protect these abusers.These are individuals, not an organization, which commit these acts. The acts are sometimes criminal, sometimes moral or ethical violations not in violation of the law in their country. This topic goes across the board in not just martial arts groups, but in all levels of society really. The usual pattern I see is these people use their power in an organization to perpetuate their actions.

Me, I think we can approach this several ways.

1) Tolerate the behavior and act surprised publicly when someone gets abused. This is the most common thing I’ve seen.

2) Accept it can happen, try to watch for it, and try not to be part of the problem. Work to influence those in your group and don’t tolerate the behavior in your group.

3) Don’t belong to organizations that tolerate the behavior.

4) Quit preaching moral and ethical values that are not held by the people in the group and for those in the group, make your leaders live up to their words. Which is really just another way of saying both 2 &3.

But then it’s hard to get money and energy out of people looking to martial arts with dreams of being a master or discovering themselves, or the ideal of being a better person via the secrets found in martial training.

Try telling potential students "This is just physical training based upon martial training methods of civilian or military origins from (insert country origin here). Any betterment of you as a person comes from the simple hard work that goes into your training and the values of personal responsibility you learn from that work, as well as the responsibilities you have to the group."

See how many want to hang around for more than a short time with that marketing pitch.

This is exactly why I don’t like teaching publicly. False expectations of students who make paying the rent easy and suddenly it’s easy to cater to the wants of students without even realizing it since they pay the rent, gas, food, etc. I'm not saying it can't be done, I'm saying most sensei don't want to work that hard or set an example for their students with hard work themselves.

So the final point is:Regardless of the set up in a dojo, kwoon, dojang, etc.…the social structures and teaching methodologies which allows a teacher of martial arts to commit these acts needs to be better scrutinized by the group itself. Checks need to be in place to prevent an individual or individuals from developing the mentality that they are above responsibility to students and respect goes both ways.

My questions to you, the reader of my blog, is first, Haven’t you got anything better to do than read this? Second, is do you find yourself or others in your group regularly making excuses for your teacher(s) for their behavior and abuse - emotional, psychological, physical injuries, sexual misconduct, of others in the group?

If you are one of those making excuses, I would encourage you and other students in your group to think about what kind of people you choose to associate with as teachers and peers in your martial arts training.

And no, I don’t have any easy answers, far smarter people than me have been trying to explain and prevent this crap for decades. But this is why I filter hard on whom I let in the dojo and what I will tolerate in the dojo, so I don’t have these problems.

Friday, February 29, 2008

Hall of Fame CRAP and history tidbits

Recently I noticed Bernie Lau’s name was on one of those "Hall of Fame" websites. This one is pretty much the same as the soke-ship councils and other hall of fame associations in my opinion. People of various backgrounds, some good, some not, giving each other their 15 minutes of fame. I personally fail to see the point of these groups, but a lot of people like these things and that’s cool. That just tells me whom not to hang around.

Now, Bernie, even though he does like to be in the spotlight, doesn’t go for these things either. So I wrote an email to Bernie in Hawaii, sent him the link, and asked if he knew he was on this hall of fame site. So I asked if prior to my being placed in charge, if one of the senior yudansha might have done something on Bernie’s behalf.

Here is Bernie’s response:
No - I did not know I was on there- I'm certain it wasn't "(name removed) ". Seems like everyone and their brother is on that list - (at least it's not the " American Grandmaster of Soke-ship list "). Aloha, all is great in Paradise!

(BTW, I did have Bernie removed from the list he is referring to, and which shall remain unidentified, a few years ago.)

So, I sent an email off to the contact for this hall of fame association under discussion. This is what I sent, and what I got back. I’ve inserted a snide commentary of my own, and those comments are in parathenses and italicized.

Dear Sir,

I am Bernie Lau's heir for Icho Ryu. He has asked me to have you remove his name from your website since he has never accepted induction to your hall of fame. Please respond to this email with confirmation of removal.

While we wish you well in your efforts, neither Bernie nor I consider this an honor and desire no association with your organization. We request you remove his name immediately. (Yes, a trifle snarky but I thought it was needed)

Neil Yamamoto

The response to above:
Dear Neil, Osu!
Please be advised... I will look into the validity of your request...
However, there is a process for induction that does not permit someone to be listed or removed without personal written notarized authorization. Politics is not of interest for us here.
Thank you.

(Name removed)

(OK, fair enough, prompt response, and explains their point of view and concern. So I sent a second email to state I do have the authority to act on Bernie’s behalf. Here is the second email and the response.)

Dear Sir,
I have the power of attorney for Bernie Lau, I will provide a copy of this if needed. However, please be aware I have spoken with Bernie about this and he has NEVER ACCEPTED INDUCTION to any association. Please let me know who approved this induction and who nominated him.

Thank you for your attention to this matter.


Response to the above:
Dear Neil,
Respectfully, I refer you back to the original reply, regarding this matter. Thank you.

(Name removed)

(OK, I can be patient. After all, with the number of people listed, it’s a big shoebox to have to sort through to find the nomination forms and acceptance. After a couple days, I got the following response)

Dear Neil,
Your request can be granted, upon you forwarding information and documents of verification.
1. Your personal I D.
2. Award received, title, year and place of induction.
3. Bernie Lau's written request for removal, notorized, with your power of attorney document.
4. Foward the same to (Association name removed).
Thank you

(All right, I have a few problems here. First, notice they can’t or won’t tell me whom nominated Bernie or who accepted the induction?

Point #1 My personal ID? So you can have all my vitals and particulars? I think not, especially since I’m already providing a notarized request, which means the notary public will have checked and verified my identity.

#2 The information they are asking for Bernie to provide in order to be removed can’t be provided, since I can’t provide what was never accepted. So, #2 can’t be done.

#3 means I go spend $10-$15 for notary charges for this. I’m a cheap bastard, but I’ll do it.

In the meantime, I’ll play along and see what happens, so I’ll take a softer, but still sharp stick approach)

My response to the above:

Dear Sir,

The problem here is Bernie never accepted induction for the Hall of Fame. As such, he should not be listed. Since we can't provide what was never received, that being "award, title, year, and place of induction", What do you recommend doing?

Thanks for your attention to this.


Response to my email:

Dear Neil,

The immediate concern is not to disrespect Bernie Lau or anyone listed!

If Bernie Lau or Representatives for the same, never made formal application to (Association name removed).... It is highly unlikely and unusual for his name to be included. I recommend patience.... UNTIL VERIFICATION CAN BE ESTABLISHED OTHERWISE... IF IT IS DETERMINED THAT THERE WAS NEVER FORMAL APPLICATION... AS YOU SUGGEST... HIS NAME WILL BE REMOVED.

Thank You.
Best regards.

(Name removed)

(But it’s perfectly acceptable to have people submit their nomination via your web site with no proof of identification. Anonymous nominations and acceptance to the Hall of Fame are allowed but jump through hoops legal paperwork needed for removal?

So if I contact all the people on the list, they all have accepted? I already know a person on there beside Bernie who didn’t accept.

OK, I’ve been patient, but it’s been 4 weeks. They have not answered nor removed Bernie from the listing)

Do you see this going in circles like I do? I can’t have Bernie removed since we are supposed to supply when he was inducted. We can’t supply that since he was never inducted. I can have Bernie send an email, but it will get the same response since we can’t supply the induction date or who nominated him. And they won’t tell me who nominated him or who accepted the induction. What a load of stinky brown stuff!

In actuality, this is not a big deal. It was more a "What the heck, let’s try and clean it up" and it got to be funny, in a Catch 22 weirdness sense. Since it’s really meaningless, I’m not going to pursue it any further. If they respond and remove Bernie, great, if not, it doesn’t really matter.

All I can say beyond that is if they think basking in Bernie’s Hawaii sunshine glow is cool, OK, but I’m also going to dull the glow just a bit with this post.

Side notes:
In doing a bit more research, it looks like Bernie was perhaps the first or one of the first Caucasians in Hawaii – North America to start Aikido. Michael Frenz, Bernie’s childhood friend, was the second, in 1955.

It’s a safe bet Bernie was one of the first Caucasians to be regularly training at Hawaii Aiki Kai in Honolulu as well given the dislike of Haole’s prevalent at that time.

This is interesting to me since it’s been told to one of the Icho ryu yudansha, and relayed to me, that there is no way Bernie studied with Tohei, nor did he have his rank certificates signed personally by Uyeshiba. He would be famous if he did. This bit of information is from a Pacific NW aikido instructor in Oregon.

Bernie sure isn’t famous (infamous perhaps) but he did start with Tohei in Hilo at the Queen Liliuokalani garden teahouse. Check with Nonaka Sensei in Hawaii about the Lau kid if you want confirmation of that.

Next on the history update, Two items courtesy of Joe Svinth. http://ejmas.com/ reported in the September 2,1958 Montana Standard Newspaper article, aikido was found to be too rough for the Honolulu Police department. Here’s the article text. The spelling and grammar errors are in the article, not me mistyping!

Training Too Tough For Policemen
HONOLULU Wl - If the local jendarmes can't take care of themselves, they can't blame it on soft training methods.

Nearly half of a class of recruit policemen learning the rough-and-tumble
tactics of aikido has needed medical attention. The city safety director is worried
about the number of casualties. "The thing has gone completely haywire," he said. Aikido has supplanted the milder judo as the main means of self defense employed by the police force.

Another cool bit on Aikido history for you researchers. Mary Howie, wife of Clarence Howie Jr. serving in the US Navy, was training at Aikikai hombu in 1962.

Yamada (NY Aikido dojo) was overseeing her training at the time. According to a quote from Yamada in the article in the Jan 23, 1962 Stars and Stripes, only 7 other women at that point in time, all Japanese, had achieved ikkyu or better. Anyone know more of Mary Howie?

All for now.

Thursday, February 14, 2008


For some reason, the old Black Belt magazine articles on Bernie have been popping up on line lately. They have been received with some scorn, and that’s OK. See Aikido Journal- http://www.aikidojournal.com/index?id=4354 and Aikiweb forums for what I’m talking about.

I had these pointed out to me by John Connolly and Chris Moses and ignored it. But upon reflection, something is needed here, perspective of why those articles exist at all. This is for those in Icho Ryu to get perspective of why those articles were written. For anyone else reading this, enjoy or not.

First, the Black Belt articles were aimed at one thing: Generating some notice of Bernie in order to plug his videotapes. It is no coincidence there are ads for the tapes in those issues too.

One of the articles was based on what others provided to Bernie in research. At the time, the article stated the oral traditional history of Daito Ryu and aikido. Never mind many of these people knew it wasn’t really true, it was what they told Bernie. Now, we know better don’t we?

When Bernie contacted Takeda Tokimune, Takeda was very supportive of Bernie’s efforts. My thought is this is because Bernie approached him correctly with a nice letter and gift, and because Bernie was a cop, as was Takeda.

Takeda sent Bernie information and videotapes that contradicted Aikido history as popularized by the Aikikai and aikido sensei that came to America. I remember thinking it was a revelation, and disappointing too, that we had been mislead or outright lied to about aikido origins.

For fun, go and read the old Aiki News articles available on DVD from Aikido Journal and see if the history there hasn’t changed over the years as Stan Pranin ventured outside the aikikai framework for his research. We owe Stan a big group "Thank you" for his research and efforts. No sarcasm here guys, much of what people who have done any history research on aikido now take for granted, wasn’t common knowledge or even talked about in the 1970-1980’s.

So, let me sum up three key points:
They were aimed at publicity for Bernie’s videotapes
Writer’s perspective
One of those articles is based off some inaccurate historical information relayed to Bernie. This was prior to Takeda’s information.

So, those articles were publicity fluff in my opinion. First, they were in Black Belt magazine. Given the time frame though, it was what was available for press exposure in the martial arts world.

Second, Gail Nelson, who wrote one of those articles, isn’t a martial artist. And as with most people who write about a topic they don’t know much about, they tend to gloss over important points and details. The second piece isn’t much better, but at least was done by Bernie and a few assistants on the writing who did martial arts. No, I was not one of those who helped on the article text. I was in the pictures though.

To me, these articles and them popping up now are a distraction from what Bernie’s original intent was, which was to get people to train and realize what they were doing can be effective if they train with practicality in mind. That applies for any martial art.

One comment posted on Aikido Journal was about Bernie not being able to handle someone not who was not being confrontational. This was from someone who skim read the article I think. One key point is in the conflict mentioned and overlooked by this writer, the lumberjack mentioned was about 6’ 7", weighed about 300lbs, and was very violent and drunk. This drunk had not only injured patrons in the bar; he injured Bernie’s partner. I’ve fought guys that large, and I’m only here by luck and fast feet. A luxury Bernie didn’t have as a cop.

Along that line, Rick Soriano in his comment makes a good point about the article. Bernie trained with strong well-regarded aikido sensei. But had any of them really been up against strongly focused violence as Bernie encountered with the big drunk in the bar and as undercover LEO? Probably not. Mr. Soriano also makes a valid point about aikido and aikijujutsu being like apples and oranges. You can decide for yourself; which fruit is aikido and which is aikijujutsu? This is why Bernie left behind the aikido world; he had a different intent and purpose in mind.

The tapes those articles were meant to draw notice to are misinterpreted as well. Bernie’s goal with the tapes was to provide a basic syllabus for entry level training and as a reminder for those who studied with him and lived a distance away. Never mind the techniques as we did them in the dojo only vaguely resembled what’s on the tape when done at more advanced levels of skill. Bernie’s thought at the time was people would have him come and teach, come to train, and use the tapes as reminders of basic points, and refine in classes with him. Well reality check time, it didn’t work that way!

Now, those articles and tapes are what lots of armchair budoka (and not so smart students) judge Bernie by and that’s a shame, since they miss most of what was good, and why I hung around him. Bernie, unlike any other aikido/jujutsu based guy up here, or even the West Coast at the time, could make his stuff work on multiple levels. Hell, that statement holds true even now.

I know, I know, I’ll get people going on about their sensei who can walk on water and lights his own farts without matches, but I had trained at seminars with most of those Western USA big name sensei too. And to me, none of them came close to being able to control people as Bernie did in a practical manner. That means combining not only performing the physical techniques, (some could do this aspect better than Bernie could) but non-contact body language and verbal de-escalation skills as well. Since that time, I’ve met people who can and do as well and better than Bernie, but Bernie was ahead of the curve. Not bad for a kid who barely graduated high school.

Side story. Sticking in my mind is one of the big name sensei that told me that if really attacked, an aikidoka should empathize with the attacker and just hold the attacker firmly until they realized they were unable to use violence against you. Yeah, sure.

So, if you don’t like the content of those articles, join the club. I’ve never been too fond of them either. But the question I have is how are those fluff articles any different than using an Internet martial arts forum to plug a sensei’s seminar, book, or DVD? It’s not really, is it?

Fluff is fluff and it was then, and still is, about getting something sold with PR and publicity. Doesn’t matter if it’s a book, DVD, or seminar. And as the TNBBC Head Fluffy Aiki Bunny, I know fluffy when I see it.

Good stuff did come out of the articles. Some people got introduced to training in aiki arts because of those. The videos and exposure to Bernie helped some people who needed it. And they accomplished the purpose of the articles, publicity for Bernie. I know those tapes ended up in a lot of dojo and helped expose people to new ways of approaching training. Bernie did numerous seminars as a result too.

For me personally, I did meet good people across the country because of those articles. It was fun to do the photo and video shoots. I got to be on the cover of a national magazine. Now raise your hands. Who thinks I was picked just because I was of Japanese ancestry for being on the cover? I do! And Bernie will be able to confirm that if you like.

And it’s surprising how many people recognized me over the years from those videos and articles. Even more surprising is how many people want me to sign their copies of that issue. Even better is the number of strangers at seminars who have bought me lunch or beers because of those videos and magazine articles.

So, take those articles for what they are and get back to training.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Chop Chop Salad

I dropped by to see Bernie Lau before he took off for Hawaii. He’s going to work on his autobiography about life as a Seattle cop, martial arts student/teacher free from interruptions in a warm sunny environment.

For those interested in history, it’s a glimpse of the early days of aikido in Hawaii and the people involved. This will undoubtedly upset some people since it also shows the not much talked about side of those aikido pioneers. Not all was happiness and harmony.

Other parts of the book, just like Bernie, will be strange, off kilter, and probably be irritating to those he refers to in the book. Should be a good read, what I’ve seen so far is stuff you just can’t make up. Bernie’s done some very strange and interesting things in life. He’s revealing the funny, raunchy, dirty, and slimy underbelly of Seattle law enforcement from the 1970’s to 1980’s. Enough time has gone by to protect the guilty as he put it. And just to be safe, names will be changed too.

Bernie also served in the submarine service and was a hard hat diver. Back then, that was kind of like being a minor movie star in the service. You got treated well since you did dangerous work sometimes. One of those stories involves Bernie diving in severe storm conditions to check possible damage on the Gato class sub he was on during the Cuban Missile crisis while off the coast of… well, you have to buy the book when it comes out.

Bernie wanted to give me a few things before he took off. One was the Inkan for Icho Ryu. ‘Inkan’ or ‘hanko’ are seals. The term inkan tends to be used for more formal situations, the term hanko for the everyday seal. These are also commonly called ‘chop’ from a Malay term.

The use of these is one hangover from Japanese culture we have kept in Icho Ryu. Why? Because Bernie thought it was something cool and gave the aura of tradition to his newly formed Icho Ryu. I have no problem with that. Traditions all started for a reason, usually in response to a day to day need, a personal whim, or political.

In Japan, an everyday seal or hanko is usually called a "mitome-in" is needed for everything that requires a signature in the western world. And there are also registered seals called "jitsuin" for legal purposes.

For martial arts certificates, there is usually a personal seal of the person awarding the rank, and an organizational seal used. On some, if you look at a formal ranking certificate, there will usually be half a seal on the edge of the certificate too. This is so it can be matched up to the records kept by the organization for proof if needed of the authenticity of the certificate. Sometimes the organization’s inkan is the half one used on the certificate. Though, on my old aikido yudansha certificate, there were all three of these.

The hanko system is archaic really, and cases of fraud using hanko are becoming more common from what I read about the topic. Sad really, but out of this comes the modern day "digital inkan" for digital document verification. Sad to see an old way die out, but neat to see it reborn for the digital era.

I have a number of chop kicking around now. In my drawer I have:
The above mentioned inkan for Icho Ryu as an organization
My name for certificates and official letters
One I was given as a gift with a nickname for use on informal letters
One for signifying any honorary ranking awarded, which I mentioned in "Hold the Meiyo"

And I have a couple more Bernie had made just because he liked them. These are like an artist’s personal seal, no special meaning except to the artist. I won’t use these, since I consider these to be Bernie’s and they have meaning to him. Bernie asked me to take care of these for him and these will be for his use alone.

Now, if I make hanko with any meaning for me, I guess I should get a kanji like this.

This is rabbit, usagi. Given the guys call my class and Icho Ryu "Yamamoto-ha fluffy aiki bunny ryu", this would be appropriate and could be construed as insulting to those with sticks up their backsides about such things.

Other things Bernie gave me were:
Copies of his rank certificates personally signed by Uyeshiba Morihei.

Stacks of photos, including another copy of the autographed picture of Uyeshiba he had. Fun little story here. When Bernie was at Aiki Honbu, and met Uyeshiba, he pulled out a picture of Uyeshiba that he brought to Japan to have signed for the Hawaii Aiki Kai dojo. Uyeshiba was happy to sign for Bernie, since Bernie had brought him a bottle of whisky. The senior yudansha present were angry with Bernie for asking, but Uyeshiba sensei was all smiles and happy to sign it for Bernie. (Gee, sounds like an episode of "Entourage") And Uyeshiba got his thumbprint on the picture as he signed it.

Bernie went and got a copy made of the picture, gave the copy to the dojo, and kept the original with Uyeshiba’s thumbprint for himself. Bernie sold the original photo when he needed cash quickly a few years ago. Koichi Barrish now has the original photo with Uyeshiba’s thumbprint that Bernie sold to him. So, if you want to see Uyeshiba’s thumbprint, go up to the Shinto temple in Granite Falls.

The last thing Bernie insisted on me having was a tegata with the date and documentation as proof I didn’t steal the inkan and it’s legitimate passing to me. Except Bernie decided to put an additional finger on the thing as a joke, so it’s got 6 fingers. Given I’m in charge of Icho Ryu and the unbalanced people in it, it seems just perfect to me.