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.

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