Practical Aiki Applications
Don't confuse kata for applications! Too many people see aiki connection drills and assume that is what we're teaching as self defense or combative techniques. Instead, they are biomechanical exercises meant to isolate and develop various principles. In this video, headmaster Bret Gordon shows those principles can translate into real fighting techniques...
What Is A Sendai Soke?
Author: Bret Gordon
Since becoming the headmaster of American Yoshinkan Aiki Jujutsu on January 12, 2020, I have posted several pictures of Steven Hatfield sensei and I where we are listed as "Sendai Soke and Soke." Of course, this is not a very common term so several people have asked what the term "Sendai Soke" means, does this mean we are both Soke, and if so then who is the head of family for the system?
Sendai Soke 先代宗家 is the retired headmaster of the system, a title used while that person is still living. When Hatfield sensei stepped down as headmaster, this became his position. I have also officially named him as a Komon 顧問 (advisor), but his title in the hierarchy of the ryu is Sendai Soke.
This is not a title we came up with on our own, and has been used in several other ryuha as well when the previous headmaster is still alive yet the art is completely passed down to another. The title is used in both gendai arts, such as Enshin Itto Ryu Bujutsu (Machida Kenshinsai is the Sendai Soke now that his son Machida Fudoshin runs the art), and koryu arts such as Hokushin Itto Ryu Hyoho, which is currently under the leadership of Otsuka Ryunosuke (born Lösch Markus) who first studied the art in 2010 and was named the 7th Soke in 2016. From the official Hokushin Itto Ryu website (click here):
"On the 26th of March 2016 Ōtsuka Yōichirō appointed his dōjō-yōshi (foster-son) and menkyo-kaiden, Ōtsuka Ryūnosuke Taira no Masatomo as his successor, and made him the 7th sōke of the Hokushin Ittō-ryū Hyōhō. Since that time, Ōtsuka Yōichirō officially retired and became sendai-sōke (previous headmaster). Despite his retirement, he still actively supports and advices the several keikojō in Tōkyō and also visits the honbu-dōjō from time to time. Nowadays, the Hokushin Ittō-ryū Hyōhō is solely led by Ōtsuka Ryūnosuke, the 7th sōke, in Japan and abroad."
Author: Bret Gordon
Yesterday, my instructor Steven Hatfield and I put out a video together showcasing various aiki and jujutsu techniques taught in American Yoshinkan Aiki Jujutsu. It's nothing spectacular, just a one-minute highlight clip, but it's special because it's the first time we've put anything out together for public consumption regarding aiki. I'll include the video at the end of this article. True to form, our personal press corps took less than 2 hours to share the video and offer some constructive criticism.
One of the most consistent criticisms of demonstrations like this, in addition to the assumption that aiki is fake, is that the responses of the uke do not match the physical output of the tori. They are used to large, external movements being required to throw someone. The very foundation of internal martial arts, Aiki Jujutsu being one of them, is that power is generated in a subtle manner that is imperceptible to the untrained eye. There's nothing esoteric about it. It's not based on magic or anything mystical like chi. It's just a different way of transmitting force through the body (and into another person through physical touch) that is generated through cohesive body movement rather than segregating a limb from the rest of the core. I'll write more articles on the subject in greater detail, but here I'd like to focus on the uke.
Author: Bret Gordon
As a subject matter expert on Aiki Jujutsu, I was asked to review the first two editions of the "Aiki Secrets" book series written by Bill Dockery, student of Tomiki Aikido and Yanagi Hara Ryu Aiki Jujutsu, with the help of Chris Parkerson and Joel Copeland. This series provides cutting edge information regarding the transmission of "esoteric" training practices, breaking them down to their fundamental principles of physics and biomechanics. I've published these reviews on my Facebook page in the past but as this blog site gains a lot more attention, I thought it only appropriate to include them here too. It's also a great way to start the New Year, promoting positivity and improving the quality of information readily available on high level martial arts. For more information on this highly informative series or to purchase your own copies, please click here.
"I want to highly recommend this book by Bill Dockery. It breaks down in unique detail many of the core principles of applying Aiki, explaining them in ways that will benefit all practitioners regardless of their current development of the connected body. Mr. Dockery was able to put into words the principles many of us in the internal community express unconsciously, leading to a greater understanding of the biomechanics and kinesiology of our art. Whether you study Aiki Jujutsu, Aikido or any of the other internal martial arts, this is a book you need to add to your collection."
Originally published December 31, 2018
"It's been my pleasure to read Bill Dockery's second installment in the "Aiki Secrets" series. It's clear that the author has progressed significantly in their journey and understanding of aiki since the first volume, which already was a solid foundation, and I greatly appreciated the references to Chinese internal arts as it mirrors my own studies into the universal principles of internal power. As an Aiki Jujutsu instructor, I highly recommend this book for the advanced martial artist looking to gain insight into how to manifest aiki. This book, along with Mr. Dockery's first volume, are both honored editions in my collection."
Originally published January 28, 2020
Titles In Japanese Martial Arts
Author: Bret Gordon
After a rather long hiatus, I am happy to announce the return of the USAMA blog as a source of information relating to news, history, traditions and training methods of the martial arts. In this article, I'd like to address the very misunderstood customs surrounding titles, specifically those used in Japanese martial arts.
The first title I'd like to address is that of Soke... There is a lot of misinformation about the title of Soke 宗家 in the martial arts. First and foremost, it does not mean the founder of the style so let's just get that out of the way...But more recently there has been the misunderstanding that Soke is not a martial arts title at all, that it's purely a legal position connected to one's koseki (family registry). While this is one use of the title, there is documented usage of it in the martial arts among both Koryu (pre-1868) and Gendai (modern) systems to designate the lineage holder of the art. Just off the top of my head, Japanese arts that specifically use the title of Soke (or Soke Dairi if there is no current headmaster) are:
Mugai Ryu, Hokushin Itto Ryu, Toda-Ha Buko Ryu, Daito Ryu, Hakko Ryu, Koden Enshin Ryu, Hyoho Niten Ichi Ryu, Yagyu Shingan Ryu, Shidare Yanagi Ryu, Tendo Ryu, Kurama Ryu....
I could go on but I believe I've made my point. There is enough precedent in the Japanese martial arts community to warrant the use of Soke to designate the inheriting headmaster of a system. We can further argue as to whether or not is it appropriate for arts outside of Japan to use the title, but still the historical precedent is set. To quote an article on Koryu.com from William Bodiford:
Author: Bret Gordon
Many people are probably familiar with the video of the street performer walking up a stairway of glass bottles. If not, you can view the video here. Her ability to balance on such a small surface is impressive, but that's not why I'm referencing it now. Serious practitioners normally assert the cliché that Budo is life, but that can only be true if we find educational martial value in everyday activities.
I belong to several aiki discussion groups on social media, through which I've been able to establish connections (no pun intended) with numerous, top level instructors in the aiki community. One such group is led by Bill Dockery, the author of the "Aiki Secrets" book series which I have had the honor to review and highly recommend (to purchase a copy, click here), who is the inspiration for this article. An engineer by trade, Mr. Dockery always surprises me with his ability to articulate the fundamental principles of an otherwise misunderstood and somewhat esoteric practice such as aiki.
Mr. Dockery shared the video of this performer with the following analysis:
"The two most mis-used words in Aikido: Balance and Stability. This woman was balanced the entire time (she never fell), but had extremely little stability (a good shove from a toddler would have toppled her). Pop Quiz: A flat foot on the ground improves which: stability or balance? Have you though it through? Read on...
You are no more balanced with your entire foot on the ground than you are with just the ball of your foot, or even a toe. In all of these cases, you are not falling, so you are balanced! But they do vary in their stability. Thus, Uke's balance is not broken until you throw Uke, i.e., until Uke falls. What most call a 'balance break' is actually de-stabilization, the reduction in stability. It sounds pedantic, until you ask yourself,
'How do I make Uke unstable?, How do I 'willow' them?'
'What is the measure of stability?'
'If I know, will I know better how to create it in my opponent?'
'When, or at least what happens in that 'break' between stability and falling?'"
Spotlight: Nakamura Eishi
Author: Bret Gordon
One of only six men to receive the Shihan Menkyo from Horikawa Kodo, Nakamura Eishi is a rather obscure figure in Daito Ryu history with not much known about him. During the 1960s, Nakamura began the study of Daito Ryu Kodokai under the art’s founder, Horikawa Kodo. His classmates and training partners included Okamoto Seigo, founder of Daito Ryu Roppokai, and Inoue Yusuke, Menkyo Kaiden. It was through Horikawa that Nakamura would also meet Shioda Gozo, founder of Yoshinkan Aikido and fellow student of Kodo in the late 1970s.
As one of Horikawa's highest ranking students, Nakamura would often accompany him when traveling to give demonstrations and seminars, one of the most famous is the 1973 NHK Documentary on Daito Ryu Aiki Jujutsu (picture below).
In 1978, Nakamura would visit the Daito Ryu Kodokai North American Hombu in California under the direction of Kiyama Hayawo. After Horikawa's death in 1980, Nakamura began teaching Daito Ryu independently of the Kodokai and traveling across Japan. Although not much is publicly available about Nakamura sensei, given his close relationship to Horikawa Kodo and his prominence in the Kodokai we feel it's important to let the world know about this highly skilled aikijujutsuka.
Not Always What It Seems
Author: Bret Gordon
There is an excellent book by Ellis Amdur, called "Hidden in Plain Sight: Esoteric Power Training Within Japanese Martial Traditions" (to order it, click here). I feel it's absolutely required reading for anyone serious about developing internal power or aiki. In a nutshell, it describes how mundane conditioning exercises and warm-ups taught to beginners at the start of class are actually the deep secrets everyone is searching for in order to develop these very advanced skill sets.
Now, the title of the book is what got me thinking. Hiding things in plain sight is all too common in the world of traditional martial arts and it is up to the student to uncover them. This journey of discovery is a crucial element of one's martial arts progress, and to this day I still find myself having lightbulb moments that I can't wait to call my instructor about. This article is actually one of those lightbulb moments that I had awhile back, and maybe it'll help cut down on the time it takes for you to understand the connection of what I'll be discussing.
One can hardly engage in any physical endeavor without hearing the term "balance." Depending on the context, this could mean anything from the way your bodyweight is distributed to making sure you're addressing all of your needs on a physical, mental, emotional, psychological and spiritual level. As martial artists, we tend to focus so heavily on the physical aspects of training that we neglect everything else. But as my last article addressed the spiritual refinement in Budo (click here to read), I want to get even deeper.
Historically, many of the most prominent martial artists were also healers. They were doctors, bone setters, massage therapists and energy workers. The truth is that these endeavors are not separate from martial arts. Rather they are an extension of them, so much so that to practice martial arts without delving into the healing arts is to never reach mastery. Unfortunately, the Chinese internal martial arts (Taijiquan, Xingyiquan and Baguazhang) seem to be the only arts that prominently feature the healing arts as a staple of their training, to the point that most people ignorantly believe that the classification of an internal martial arts signifies that it is meant solely for healing and not for combative purposes. This couldn't be farther from the truth. In this article, I want to highlight both what it truly means to be an internal martial art, what the healing arts are, and the necessity for studying them as part of your journey of Budo.
Author: Bret Gordon
Recent events in my personal life have caused me to re-evaluate everything, which has lead me on a rather interesting journey with deep implications. In the past, I've written about how Budo is the study of life and death. Essentially, by training in the arts of war you understand both the fragility of life and your own ability to take it. Therefore, having such an appreciation for the sanctity of life should (in theory) lead you down a path of seeking a peaceful resolution to the majority of life's problems. But even this just scratches the surface to understanding Budo.
When you understand the character Do 道 (Tao in Chinese, as in Taoism), it does translate as "The Way," but the way to what? In this context, we're speaking about the path to enlightenment. When you couple it with Bu 武 (which refers to the military, war and combat) you come up with a rather interesting translation. What most people simply translate as "the martial way" is in reality the path to enlightenment through combat. Looking at enlightenment as having attained a higher level of spiritual knowledge or insight, where does the study of combat play a role in this?
About Our Blog
The articles posted here have been shared from the US Association of Martial Arts website, run by our headmaster Bret Gordon, for their relevance to Aiki Jujutsu. For more of his writings, please click here.