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. 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- 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.