Don’t Confuse Niceness for Weakness

throw2A certain football coach has been at the forefront of the news lately.  The overwhelming majority label him as a “nice guy”.  However, the context and tone of the phrase leads me to believe that when they say “nice guy”, it is not actually a compliment, but almost a character defect.  It is as if the coach will not be able to perform his duties or rise to greatness because he is “nice”.  This is a cultural myth perpetuated by the media and movies; that if you are nice, then you are somehow weak, uncompetitive, and do not “have what it takes”.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

This idea starts from the notion of “tough love”; common in sports and athletic endeavors.  This idea is that you have to be hard or harsh to a student for their own good – to make them take the step to the next level.  On the same thread, a student must develop a strong mental attitude to overcome the inevitable hardships and setbacks one must endure to get to the next level.  They also must have a strong mental attitude to face their competition.  Often, an opponent can mentally derail a fellow competitor with trash-talk, jibes, insults, etc. so that they do not perform their best.

Where this notion has gone wrong is the next idea that a competitor/athlete must therefore become “mean” in order to be tough enough to face the competition.  By extension, a person who is not “mean” must not be tough enough to excel in athletic endeavors.

In martial arts, courtesy is taught right alongside lethal and joint-destructive techniques.  The most terrifying people I know are the ones who will smile, say hello, and then take you out,  without so much as a hint.  These people have nothing to prove, they are confident in their own abilities, and they will not provoke or insult, because there is no need to provoke.  They have the greatest desire to excel; to become constantly better than their opponents, and themselves.

So you can then, have courtesy, and be nice without compromising your competitive spirit.  Trash-talk, insults, and being “mean” is about trying to prove something to someone else.  It has nothing to do with being an excellent competitor, improving your abilities, developing a tough mental attitude, and being strong, mentally and physically

Integrity – Its What You Do When No One Is Watching


GambatteAs an Instructor, I often move about the martial arts mat making corrections to techniques, and offering advice.  Even with Adults, I often notice that the student will adjust their technique if they think I am watching them. For most students this is an unconscious action, but even so, I still ask the question “Why”?  What are you trying to change now that you think I am watching?  If you are changing, then which is the “real” technique, when I am watching or when I am not?

Most of us are social creatures; we interact and respond to the people that are around us.  Have you ever acted differently because you knew someone was watching you?  Have you ever been singing in the car to a great tune, only to stop  when you see the guy laughing at you in the car next to you?  We are often embarrassed in social situations when we perceive others are judging us or mocking us.

However, as I tell my students, eventually you must become comfortable with yourself as a person; what you say, what you do, what you think.  The term I would use for this is Integrity.  Integrity is the steadfast dedication to the truth, be it scientific truth, historical truth, or personal truth.  There is an easier way to think about it, however.  Integrity is what you do when no one is watching you.  You sacrifice your integrity every time you change your behavior for others.  In order to take your character (and your training) to the next level, you must find a way to become a person of Integrity all the time; 24 hours a day / 7 days a week.   Find the person that you are when no one is watching, and make that person who you are in all situations.  You will be one step closer to becoming a more happy, comfortable, fulfilled person.  A person of Integrity.

Its OK to be a White Belt.

white beltArticle provided by Paul Fanning, 6th Kyu

Think back to a time when you learned a new martial arts technique.  Did you get it right the first time?  Probably not.  How did that make you feel?

If you were a white belt, you probably didn’t feel surprised at all, because you knew you were a beginner.  You knew it was natural to make some mistakes when starting something new.

If you were a more advanced student and didn’t pick up the new technique immediately, how did you feel?  Did you

feel stupid?  Incompetent?  Did it make you wonder if you really deserved the rank you wore?

There’s a challenge to learning in martial arts that tends to grow as we move up in rank.  The farther we move forward, the more we are tempted to feel frustrated when we don’t pick up new things instantly.  When our sensei shows us a new move and makes it look effortless and even magical, some of us think, Wow, I’m a [insert belt color] so why can’t I do it like that?

Let me suggest that the problem is that advanced students frustrate themselves because they think they should be experts right away.  My previous martial arts instructor told me that sometimes you have to give yourself permission to be a white belt.  His point was that anytime you learn something new, you’re still a white belt as far as the new material is concerned—no matter what color belt is tied around your waist.  So if you tell yourself it’s okay not to get something right the first time, you can avoid the self-doubt and frustration that come with expecting perfection.

This has been one of the most valuable lessons I have learned in martial arts.  I came to aikido less than a year ago after training for much of my life in taekwondo.  Although I hold a black belt in that style, I could not expect to do perfect aikido the first day I stepped onto the mat because most of the concepts in aikido were new to me.  As I put on

a fresh gi and a white belt for the first time in 30 years, I had to give myself permission to be a white belt.  I knew I wouldn’t do aikido like a black belt the first night or anytime soon—and that was okay.  It was more important to acknowledge I was a beginner if I was going to give myself room to learn and not grow frustrated.

This is a valuable lesson in life off the mat too.  Some people don’t try new things because they think they wouldn’t be any good at them.  Maybe they are right, but so what?  Maybe people would try new things if they would give themselves permission to be beginners.  When you take up a new hobby, start a new job or take a new class, you are a putting on a white belt in that new hobby, job or class.  Suppose you’re learning to play the piano.  Work hard, but don’t demand that you will play like a black belt in piano immediately.  Tell yourself there is no shame in not getting something right the first time.  Then you won’t get as frustrated about your mistakes and shortcomings as you polish your new skill.

Can an advanced student catch onto new material faster than a beginner?  Sometimes, because the advanced student has spent more time on the basic material that leads up to the new technique.  But even for an expert there is a first time for something new.  If the expert admits that, he is ready to learn with the open-mindedness and humility of a beginner.

Remember, no matter what rank you wear in class or what you do outside the dojo, we all have moments when it’s okay to be a white belt.

The “Art” in Martial Arts


In any athletic endeavor, there is a progression of understanding  as to how to perform.  In our martial arts school, my instructor taught that you started by learning;

  1.  the form of the technique (or movement)
  2. the function of the technique (or movement)
  3. the effectiveness of the technique (or movement)
  4. the art of the technique (or movement)

I believe that this applies to all athletic endeavors, from yoga to football.  The progression of form to function to effectiveness seems self-explanatory.  We must work to make our movements more efficient, more effective, with less thought, whether its blocking an incoming attack, or returning a tennis serve.  Where then, does the “art” phase come in?  We all have seen the “art” in watching games or performances in which athletes went “beyond” themselves.  But what did they actually do?

I tell my students that hopefully, if I train them properly, someday they should be able to walk in to another martial arts school and perform their techniques the way that school performs them.  Why?  Because I did not teach them techniques; I taught them how to move.  Thus, if I taught them how to move properly, they should be able to instantly adapt to the new movement they are seeing.

The art of the technique, then, is the ability to perfectly move in any given encounter.  This is not easy.  It requires precision, timing, and an understanding of oneself, and the environment that one is placed in.  But when you see the perfect tackle at the goal-line, the perfect lay-up in basketball, the perfect serve in tennis, it is because the athlete has moved beyond technique, and has entered into the essence of movement.

Look for the “art” in your chosen field.  Practice until you can move exactly the way you want.  Remember, it may take years of practice until you move with this kind of precision.  Work on your techniques, but ultimately, find the essence of the movement.

Learning’s Just the Beginning

Aikido 468Article provided by Dave Lehnert, 3rd Kyu

I read quite an interesting article on the web the other day. It had to do with learning through practice, and why it’s important to keep practicing even after you’ve ‘learned’ whatever it is you’re trying to learn. The author cites research involving manipulation of a robotic arm, and applies the findings to music performance and playing tennis, but she could just as easily have discussed the implications for the practice of Aikido as well.

It’s no big surprise to hear that when we first try something new, our initial efforts are usually awkward and full of hesitations and mistakes (remember the first few times you tried Katatetori Ikkyo?). As we repeat the task, it becomes less awkward; we smooth out the hesitations and correct the mistakes. Eventually, the task that at first seemed difficult and strange becomes familiar and easy. Instead of a jerky, barely-controlled careening toward the mat, the tenkan becomes a graceful, swooping circular descent around a firmly established center. We feel we’ve learned the task: “OK, I know this one now. What’s next?”

The research the article discusses, though, suggests that once you’ve ‘learned’ the task, the real learning is just beginning. When we learn a new movement, our brains start setting up neural pathways – the article calls it a “sensorimotor map” – to help us execute it a little better, and more efficiently, as we repeat it over and over. The more we practice the movement, the more the brain “updates the map,” and the more efficiently we move. The technique requires less and less effort (less and less muscle). You finally reach a point where your physical effort is about as efficient as it can be: executing the technique “feels effortless.”

Here is where the article became especially interesting: the researchers found that even after maximum physical  efficiency had been achieved, energy use in the brain continued to drop. The brain, apparently, isn’t satisfied with mere metabolic efficiency: it makes its own neural processes more and more efficient, too, after the motor skills have been mastered. And if your brain is spending a little less energy doing one thing, that means there’s a little more energy available for something else: lightning-quick calculations of the speed and angle of an incoming yokomenuchi, say, or being aware of everyone’s position during jiyu-waza.

This is why it’s not enough merely to learn the exercises and the techniques; we must overlearn them. Continue to practice over and over and over, even if you think you’ve already got the moves down pretty well, and don’t just “go through the motions.” Pay attention to what you’re doing, even if you’ve done it a thousand times before. The final paragraph of the article sums it up beautifully:

“The message from this study is that in order to perform with less effort, keep on practicing, even after it seems the task has been learned. We have shown there is an advantage to continued practice beyond any visible changes in performance.”

In other words: You’re getting better and better, even when you can’t tell you’re improving—a thought to keep you going through those long hours of practice.

The Power of “Thank You”

Za Rei - saying "thank You"If you just came in off the street and sat down at Aikido of Nebraska, you would probably say to yourself that the students say “thank you” to the instructor and to each other a ridiculous number of times.  Why does anyone need to do that?  Is it some power-game of the instructor? Some constant need of the students to stroke their self-esteem?

I find that I myself say “thank you” much more than I used to in everyday life.  Yes it can be a non-thinking habit, little more than any other habit that you do mindlessly, such as brushing your teeth, or hitting the turn-signal. But for me, saying “thank you” is still in the forefront of my mind.  It reminds me that I live in a society that does a vast amount for me personally everyday.  It reminds me that everyday people do things for me that they didn’t necessarily have to do.  If I have any success in life, it is a result of finding that success through other people.

In martial arts training, people train to get certain benefits for themselves, but at least at our dojo, they help others as part of their training.  Thus, it is important to say “thank you” for every last thing another person does for you.  They did not have to give to you; or they did not have to give to the extent they did.  Saying “thank you” for all these “gifts” makes you realize of the thousands of little things that people do for you every day- whether you pay for them or not.  It allows the student to gain 2 new character traits; 1)Humility, and 2) Gratefulness – character traits which will go a long ways to having a happy life.

The 8 Tenets of the Aikido Student – Courtesy (Rei)

This article is part of a  8-part series  on the Samurai Code for Modern Times.

” Samurai have no reason to be cruel.  They do not need to prove their strength.  A Samurai is courteous even to his enemies.  Without this outward show of respect, we are nothing more than animals. A Samurai is not only respected for his strength in battle, but also by his dealings with other men.  The true strength of a Samurai becomes apparent by showing his character during difficult times.”

My students will tell you that they receive training on courtesy and etiquette ad nauseam!  Why? Because I believe that martial arts schools are one of the last places in our society where manners, etiquette, and courtesy can be taught.  I also believe that courtesy and manners can vastly change your life, and it costs you almost nothing.  How often can you get a deal like that any more?

I learned about courtesy the hard way when traveling in Europe. My friend went up to a person and said “Where is the plaza?” The person turned their back on us, and only after several tries on different people did we understand that the proper protocol was “Hello, how are you? And your family? Excuse me please, but can you tell me where the plaza is located?” Otherwise, they would not give us the time of day. We were “Ugly Americans” because had no basic manners when greeting people.

More often than not, we demonstrate a lack of courtesy when we feel we are entitled, or when we want to badger or belittle people into doing what we want.  It’s a power struggle – we don’t feel confident that our argument will carry, so we try to intimidate others to make ourselves feel better.  The person you belittle, however, will retaliate in some petty fashion, be it a rude retort, making you wait in line as long as possible, or spitting on your hamburger.

How different would life be if we were actually courteous, and got the other person on our side, because we treated them with respect? you already know the answer; pleasant conversation, getting through the line fast, and no spit on the hamburger.

As I mentioned in another article, people are so programmed nowadays to expect you to bicker, complain and whine, that they are stunned when you are courteous.  And, the next time they need or want something, who will they choose?   The guy who treated them like crap? No, the one who sticks out in their memory as being pleasant/mannered.

So would you like to increase the results of whatever you do in life? Great, just keep doing it, and add exceptional courtesy. It costs very little, but it will get you to stand out in the crowd.

The 8 Tenets of the Aikido Student – Courage (Yu)

This article is part of a  8-part series  on the Samurai Code for Modern Times.

“Rise above the masses of people who are afraid to act.  Hiding like a turtle in a shell is not living at all.  A Samurai must have heroic courage.  It is absolutely risky.  It is dangerous. It is living life fully, completely, wonderfully.  Heroic courage is not blind.   It is intelligent and strong.”

As I mentioned in another article, living and acting with courage does not mean that one lives without fear. Fear, in fact, is quite necessary and a very valuable tool when used correctly. Author Gavin DeBecker, in his great book The Gift of Fear – and other Survival Signals that Protect Us from Violence reminds us that we don’t want to eliminate fear from our lives , but the manufactured emotions of worry and panic.  The relationship between real fear and worry is analogous to the relationship between pain and suffering.  Pain and fear are necessary and valuable components of life. Suffering and worry are destructive and unnecessary components of life (Great humanitarians, remember, have worked to end suffering, not pain).

Therefore, courage is not trying to eliminate fear, but acting without letting fear overwhelm us.  This is easier than it sounds.  While sitting in the comfort of our homes, we say to ourselves “Sure, I won’t let fear overwhelm me, I will be courageous!”, but when we are truly faced with a life-threatening situation, our fear takes over our logic, and we “talk ourselves out of ” doing what we know we should.

The Aikido student, working on his courage, tries to place himself in scary situations during his training (such as testing, free-styles, or fall training) in order to become familiar with the feeling of fear and work on acting calmly.  Notice I said scary, not dangerous, since the two are not necessarily the same.  Needlessly injuring oneself does not address fear.

Like many things in life, courage seems to be a character trait, when actually it is a skill to be learned and practiced.  No one is born courageous, but we slowly learn to master our fear, and act and do what is right with courage.

The 8 Tenets of the Aikido Student – Compassion (Jin)

This article is part of a  8-part series  on the Samurai Code for Modern Times.

“Through intense training the Samurai becomes quick and strong.  He is not as other men.  He developes a power that must be used for the good of all.  He has compassion.  He helps his fellow man at every opportunity.  If an opportunity does not arise, he goes out of his way to find one.”

A vital requirement of the Aikido student is the developement of compassion, and one of the most difficult.  How can that be, you ask?  Most of us believe ourselves to be compassionate people.  After all, we love our wives and husbands, we love our children, and we care for our friends and colleagues. We are nice to people in general, but what about the people we don’t like? If we are honest with ourselves,  deep down there are always people we don’t like, for a thousand good reasons. Being compassionate to these people is the real test.

Here is my definition of compassion; the understanding that each and every person is doing the best that they can, given their temperament, environment, and experiences.

For example, many of us have turned up our nose at the rude, smelly, dirty, homeless alcoholic lying in the street and asking us for money.  Would it have made a difference how you felt, if you knew that his person grew up with alcoholic parents, was beaten and abused in childhood, and had never even seen a lifestyle that did not include alcohol?  For better or worse, people accept and live in the reality in which they are presented. If you or I had those parents, and grew up in that environment, would we be any different? Probably not.

There, but for the grace of God, go I . . .

So, finding compassion for our enemies as well as our friends allows us to live a life without hatred.  I’m sure you will agree that hatred has produced more undesirable consequences for society than compassion.  And because you are compassionate doesn’t mean we have to embrace our enemies, nor protect ourselves, we only need to understand that even our enemies are doing the best they can, given their temperament, and experiences.

In their studies of combat, the Samurai never took life indiscriminately; they valued life.  In studying killing, life became more precious, and all life had value; even your enemies.  This is compassion.

The 8 Tenets of the Aikido Student – Justice (Gi)

This article is part of a  8-part series  on the Samurai Code for Modern Times.

“Believe in Justice, not from other people, but from yourself.  To the true Samurai, there are no shades of grey in the question of honesty and justice, there is only right and wrong.”

When you are about to die on the battlefield, things become very simple.  There is no pondering, and agonizing over which choice to make; if you happen to choose wrong you never know it anyway.

Justice is actually a simple concept.  Justice is understanding the difference between right and wrong, and doing right.

However, in the modern world, things become more complicated.  We have developed into a society that decides justice in the courtroom. I recall a line from Tom Cruise in the wonderful movie A Few Good Men  “It doesn’t matter what I believe, it only matters what I can prove . . . “.  For better or worse, we have adopted this mentality, and justice in our society has become “fuzzy”. For many, they will only acknowledge that they have done something wrong if you can somehow prove it to them, and will continue to do morally questionable acts with no remorse.

It’s time to take justice back into our own lives, and make it personal again. Like the above quote says, you must first decide right and wrong in you own mind and own life.  Only then can you dispense your obligations with honor.  Justice is our moral compass that guides us through life.  Some decisions are not clear as to whether they are “right” or “wrong”.  We must weigh all the factors and alternatives, and choose the course that is the most “right”.

Finally, personal justice has no meaning if our actions ultimately create an injustice.  For example, the mafia and the Yakuza have very strict codes of conduct for its members.  They dispense their obligations, they take care of each other, they obey, support and protect their leaders.  This sounds honorable, until we recognize the central theme of the organizations; to raise money through crime.

Don’t allow justice to be decided by someone else; it is your moral compass, and the only means by which you can make good decisions in life.  Justice is too important to let your lawyer, the courts, or society decide for you.

What No Student Wants to Hear – Your Rank, Your Belt, Mean Nothing

There are a lot of people in the martial arts world who love titles.  Sifu, Sensei, Shihan, Master, Semapi etc., are all valid titles depending on which kind of martial art you practice.  And prospects often come to the school and tell me what rank they made it to before they quit their previous martial art – yellow belt with black stripe, black belt, green belt, etc.  While I respect the time and training that anyone has put in to their chosen art, I remind my students not to get caught up in what belt or rank they are, because ultimately, their belt or rank MEAN NOTHING.

Don’t get me wrong, we use a system of ranking and belts at our school as well.  It is helpful to the student to see what his/her short-term and long-term goals are, and how they are progressing through the curriculum.  But ranking and belts are an arbitrary system, and arbitrary systems are, well, arbitrary.  They have no connection to the real world.  They are “made up” for our benefit.

For example, even students in the same art, but from different schools, will have a different ranking system.  Some schools have 4 progressions before black belt, some have 10.  How can I get students from these 2 schools to work together at the same level? The answer is I really can’t.

Do you think the Samurai cared about what “rank” they were?  No, they cared about one thing – not dying on the battlefield.  They trained relentlessly, because many times, there was no way to quantify how much they knew, or if they were better than others.  If they were better, they survived, if not, they never got to review their training again.

We all like the feeling of being competent, and many like the feeling of having junior students look up to them; to see them as the “top dog”.  It is easy to become arrogant, and tell yourself how good you are, just because you have such-and-such rank.

In order to keep our skills progressing, we remind ourselves to keep the mindset of the japanese concept of Mushin.  Mushin means “beginner’s mind”.  It means that no matter how much you know, you can always learn more.  It reminds us not to get caught up in rank, or belts because once you “know it all”, learning stops and you become complacent – which means death on the battlefield.

Mushin reminds us to look at every technique like you have never seen it before – to do every technique like you have never done it before.  Mushin reminds us to be careful.  If I allow myself to “know ” a technique, then I will stop trying to learn its subtle nuances.  With Mushin, I remind myself to keep learning, no matter what my rank, no matter what my belt.

As for rank – forget it, it means nothing anyway.  All that matters is what you know, and what you can do, right now.

A Center to Hold On To: My Relationship with Aikido

By Genevieve Ellerbee, 5th Kyu.

I discovered Aikido during a miserable year. I was sixteen, heading into my junior year of high school – a time when emotional ups and downs are routine. But I was also living in the Philippines, missing my friends, struggling through advanced classes I wasn’t really prepared for, and watching my parents’ marriage fall apart in slow motion. (A bout of chicken pox probably didn’t help matters.) I was completely at sea, but had no real idea why, or what I could do to fix it. Outwardly, I did my best to look like the dutiful eldest daughter I was supposed to be, but inside I was confused and lonely.

It was my math teacher who suggested I try Aikido. I hadn’t heard of it before, but he was encouraging, and it was probably partly the crush I had on him which made me agree to give it a try.  The dojo was in an athletic club near my house, so I bought my gi, tied my belt on (incorrectly) and was dropped off to start my first class.  I remember standing outside the door to the dojo, dodging the exiting kendo students who used the space first, and wondering whether this was going to work. I had studied Taekwondo as a little kid, but aside from a few photos of my six-year-old self throwing determined punches, I hadn’t retained anything from my first foray into martial arts.

What I found was a space where I could be reassured by an orderly world, which then permitted me to feel safe about attempting more and more. I had never been any sort of athlete, or attempted to discover what my body could do when I pushed myself. The formal courtesies and expectations of the dojo gave me an anchor, and feeling secure gave me the confidence to try doing things that I had no notion I could ever accomplish. My fellow students were kind and supportive, and although I rarely saw them outside of the dojo, there was a strong sense of fellowship. My sensei was a blend of gravitas and good cheer, which meant that I tried to do my best but wasn’t locking up at the possibility of failure. And the feeling I got when I did a technique correctly, when I felt how it was all supposed to work, when class was over and I was tired and sweaty and happy – it was incredible. It made me feel alive in a way I didn’t expect, and it gave me a center to hold on to.

It didn’t last very long, unfortunately. Our family returned to the US after a year, and I was soon caught up in my senior year of high school, applications to colleges, reconnecting with friends. I attempted to find another dojo that gave me what I had to leave behind, and couldn’t. None of them had that feeling of fellowship, and it seemed like Aikido was one of a dozen martial arts offered, salad bar style. Many of them had cultivated a weird machismo that made me uncomfortable, especially since there didn’t seem to be any women around. The dojo that came closest to what I wanted was too far away for me to get to classes on time. Eventually, I gave up looking. I made sure that my gi and weapons were always safely stored, but I wasn’t sure I’d ever have the chance to use them again.

Nearly twenty years later, I finally managed it. I was in my thirties, married, living in the Midwest. At some point, I noticed that there were several dojos in the area, and it occurred to me that if I wanted to study Aikido again, I could make it happen. I picked a dojo more or less at random, telling myself that if this was the wrong place, I could move on. Squashing down my nerves and clutching my weapons awkwardly against me, I walked in and asked if I could start training. By the end of the first lesson, I knew that I had found the right dojo.

Training as a 36-year old is, unsurprisingly, quite different from training as a 16-year old. My body creaks a lot more, and my knees ache, and there’s a lot more huffing and puffing. But the important things still remain. I have the good companionship of my fellow students, who keep me going forward. I have a sensei who guides the dojo with humor, calmness, and expertise, who helps me when I struggle and tells me when I’ve succeeded. And I have a space where I can enter, shed some of my preoccupations, and focus down on my self, my body, and my mind, hopefully learning something and carrying it with me when I leave, tired, and sweaty, and happy.

Balance Revisted – Its Time To Get Back To Class!

Newton’s first law of motion is one we have all heard; ” A body in motion tends to stay in motion unless acted upon by an outside force”.  We human beings, being of the natural world, obey this law as well.  The momentum of our lives carries us forward, regardless if we truly want to go in that direction.  As the New Year begins again, we reflect on our choices, and build up our “outside force” to get ourselves moving in the direction we want to go.

An amendment to Newton’s rule I would like to propose is; ” A body in Aikido tends to stay in Aikido, unless acted upon by a life circumstance”.  What does this mean?  It means that the time you took off for family and friends over the holidays, makes it that much harder to get moving, to get going back to class.  It means the longer you stay away from class (“I’ll go next week”), the more likely you are to never come back.  It’s not good, bad, or indifferent.  It’s just Physics.

Most of us got into Aikido for the healthy benefits to our lives; the stress relief, the physical activity, the mental clarity, the spiritual cleansing.  Even though these excellent reasons, we still get “distracted”, and we let more urgent (and less important) life events get in the way.  With the best of intentions, we promise ourselves that we will get back to class.  Then a day becomes a week, becomes a month, becomes a year . . . .

Now here is the good news.  You can also use Newtons law to your advantage!  Build up your “outside force”, and go to class until it becomes routine.  Once it has become routine, you will stop fretting over whether you “need” to go.   Do you think about not brushing your teeth or making coffee in the morning, because you got distracted?  Rarely.  These behaviors are routine.

Start the New Year off right, by continuing to do what you know is good for yourself.  In order to be strong for your loved ones, you must start by taking care of yourself.  If Aikido was part of your lie, and it was good for you, get back to class now!  If Aikido was something you always wanted to do as something good for yourself, get to class and plant yourself there.  You won’t regret it.

Courage in Everyday Life

One of the things that martial artists do is take warrior concepts, such as honor, duty, courage and discipline, and try to make these concepts more concrete so that they can be used in everyday life for “average” people.  Just because most people do not have to face life-or-death decisions everyday in modern society, does not mean that they have no use for courage and discipline. In no where is this there a more important example than the recent Penn State scandal.

As I tried to come to terms with the information coming out from Penn State , I tried to understand what I was most upset/angry about.  I came to the conclusion that , oddly enough, I was not most upset at the main suspect.  Don’t get me wrong; if the allegations are true, I view him as a monster that should be put away forever.  But you can only get so angry at a predator that does what predators do; prey on the young or the weak.  I realized that I was much more angry at the others involved in the scandal.  I was angry at the good people who did not have the courage to do the right thing.  I was angry at the people who stood by and did nothing, to the detriment of several little boys.  They did not understand the concept of courage.

Courage has many definitions, I’m sure, but the definition that is most useful for me is; courage is taking action in the face of fear.  Courage is doing the right thing when fear tells you not to.  Those other people involved in the Penn State scandal were (and are) good people.  They pay their taxes, they work hard at their jobs, they take care of their families.  But when faced with a criminal act, they knew what they were supposed to do, yet didn’t, because they were scared of the consequences.  They justified it by saying to themselves, “I didn’t commit this crime.  Why should I have to suffer the consequences of reporting it?”  So, they either did nothing or the bare minimum, and tried to ignore it ever happened.

This lack of courage has catastrophic consequences for society.  When good people do nothing when they see crimes against humanity, it allows ever-increasing atrocities to occur.  It is this mentality that allows countless wives to be beaten, that allowed slavery as a way of life, that allowed the Nazis to commit horrible crimes.  One can quickly see that not having the courage to stand up and report wrongdoing damages us all.  It certainly did not save the Penn State staff from consequences.  Karma always comes around.

Here is the question you must ask yourself right now.  I am willing to bet that you are a good person.  Do you have the courage to report wrong-doing?  There will always be criminals and crime.  But good people who do not have the courage to do the right thing make criminals 10X more powerful.  It is very difficult to know what to do when you are in the middle of the problem.  Remember, courage is taking action even though you are scared. So, get a hold of your fear,  go ahead and do the right thing.  Not only will you be able to live with yourself better, society will benefit as well.

Competitive martial arts training: “What you get, what it costs,” by Robert

Reprinted unchanged from

We just received this well-thought out comment in response to an article we published a few months ago titled “Martial arts practice and the deceived mind,” by Stanley Pranin. It is a succinct description of the various categories of training for competition and their applicability in real street encounters.

 Sparring is a form of training like any other form of training. Even the most brutal MMA matches are not fights. They are sparring.

As with any form of training, the questions are: What does it get you? What does it cost you?  Every kind of sparring, from light to no contact “tag” to MMA matches serves a purpose.

Tag type sparring (light to no contact)
What you get: You learn control. You learn to put your fist or foot or elbow where you want it to go.
What it costs: Very little.
The non-physical dangers: But the student has to be certain they understand this is far, far from any kind of actual fight. So don’t get cocky because you’re the school “tag” champion.

What you get: You improve your stamina and strength. You learn range, speed, combinations, positioning and…you learn to take a heavy hit (or several) without stopping.
What it costs: You can expect to always get bruised up, and occasionally there will be more serious injuries.
The non-physical dangers: For safety reasons there are lots of rules with kickboxing. These limitations on what you (and your opponent) can do make this EXERCISE a very unrealistic imitation of a fight. As before, don’t get cocky because you can do this well.

Grappling & ground fighting
What you get: Practical experience and a “feel” for grappling, joint locks, throws and so on, for people of different weights and sizes.
What it costs: Like with kickboxing, expect bruises and abrasions. And, unfortunately, the occasional injury.
The non-physical dangers: Some Jujitsu consider themselves to be the toughest guys around. That doesn’t count for much if you’re ground fighting your assailant, but his friend is kicking you. As will all sparring, it’s an exercise.

With any of these exercises (and many other variations), always remember what it gets you, what it costs you and remember the non-physical danger that you might start to think that’s how fighting works.

Whether any of these is worth the risk, that depends on each practitioner, and how prepared they want to be if they’re attacked, and what risks they’re willing to take for that level of preparation.

In many cases the more dangerous kinds of sparring can be done for a while, until those particular lessons are learned, and then one can move on.

Early on, one of the most valuable things that a beginner can learn in sparring is that you CAN continue even if you have the wind knocked out of you or a charlie-horse. That is a critical lesson to learn for self defense. If you don’t learn it, should someone unexpectedly hit you hard in real life, you’ll crumple. You won’t know if you are hurt badly or not. All you’ll know is that you’re hurt more than you’ve ever had to deal with before. And when your life depends on it is NOT when you want to learn to handle that.

Once you HAVE learned that (painful) lesson, there’s no need to continue getting the stuffing beaten out of yourself.

As for sparring competition, that’s another matter. It’s not a bad thing to spar for sport. No worse than playing football or rugby. But it’s not about preparing to defend yourself. It’s just a different animal.