Archive for the ‘All’ Category

Aikido – the first five years

Just under a week ago, I underwent my Shodan exam (see here) . For a while now I’ve been wanting to write a bit of my experiences, and I figured this would be the perfect opportunity.

I started training in Aikido some five years ago. At the time I was also practicing kung-fu, and was looking for another type of martial arts. I remember stepping into the Dojo that first time, and for some reason the image that stuck with me is Chaim Noy Sensei, during warm up, warming the feet and ankles, going through toe by toe and warming them up. The attention to every body part, and care taken to properly attune oneself to training got to me. A few months later, I joined Seidokan Aikido, and within a couple of years I had left kung-fu in favor of having more time for Aikido.

Not long after I joined, Chaim invited the Dojo to his house, and we watched Aikido videos – starting with O’Sensei, and continuing through the years with Tohei Sensei, Kobayashi Sensei, and Robin Heifetz Sensei who established the Mt. Scopus Dojo where I train; Watching and discussing the development of Aikido through the years, and variations of technique style and teaching style. Discussions of technique style may be common in martial arts schools; but for me, discussing teaching styles is something I was very unused to. Years later, I can understand how this relates to a truly open system where teachers and students learn and develop together, an idea that I feel is revolutionary in martial arts where traditionally each school and teacher had been busy defending its reputation, rather than being open to continuously learning and developing. The idea of the student / the teacher / the Dojo / the system all growing together, is to me analogous to the idea of one-ness of Aikido, and also to the type of movement/body structure that is prevalent in Japanese martial arts, where the body moves as one rather than by tension between the body parts.

That year, Dan Kawakami Sensei held a seminar in Israel, at the Maa`le Hachamisha Dojo. Kawakami Sensei emphasized proper posture and concentration. In the following years I was fortunate enough to have been at seminars taught by Joe Crotti Sensei, Larry Wadahara Sensei, and this last year Doug Wedell Sensei. Each Sensei being with his unique style, for me these seminars feel progressively more meaningful, as I am able to grasp more of what is going on on the mat. At times training in Israel seems like a disadvantage, as Seidokan is headquarters in the US and Aikido in Japan; yet I realize how fortunate we are to have some of the best Aikido teachers fly over and share their knowledge and themselves with us – it is a great privilege, and every year we contemplate how to better integrate the lessons from the previous seminar into our everyday practice.

This year I was also able to attend the Summer Camp along with Chaim, which was a tremendous experience – on the mat, but just as much off the mat – meeting so many members of Seidokan whom I had never met, yet somehow we had something in common, far beyond technique or etiquette. Celebrating the 40th anniversory of AIA and the 30th of Seidokan, in the midst of the intensive training, was especially touching, though I realize the huge gap between myself, and the many present members who have been with AIA since the beginning. I was very glad to finally have met Michio Kobayashi and Mrs. Kobayashi, as well as Mark and Jenine Crepo and many other wonderful teachers and practitioners.

Looking back, I recall how confident I felt when I was starting out in Aikido, a result of lack of understanding of the art. For a while, with each rank came a new understanding of my faults and weaknesses. I feel that now it is replaced with a sense that the way is open – there are no limits to how much can be learned; If we can keep Docho-no-sei – calmness in action – on our journey, then there is no reason to wonder how much there is to go, but rather we can enjoy the Do – the way.


2009 Yamada Sensei Seminar

For the past two days, Yamada Sensei held an Aikido workshop in Israel. This is the first time that I got to see a practitioner from the founder’s time, and it does look like what Yamada teaches, at least, is probably similar to what he would have tought thirty or fourty years ago. The stances are low, with emphesis on stability; Uke always keeps Nage at arm’s length (full arm’s length), movements are large and open. This, more so than other Aikikai practitioners and teachers one sees these days. In addition, there is an emphesis on practicality – he shows the alternatives to Aikido techniques, for example by reaching a choke rather than throwing.

An intersting thing were the similarities between what we practice in Seidokan Aikido and what Yamada Sensei showed. Some techniques which are rarely done in Aikikai, but are often practiced in Seidokan, were shown; he even demonstrated the Funakogi aiki-taiso. This shows the common roots of Seidokan Aikido with the rest of the world’s Aikido.

On a personal note, I felt much better in this seminar – partly because people are not used to having Yamada Sensei in Israel (as opposed to Seki Sensei), and therefore maybe are trying to learn more rather than practice what they know. Partly I get to know my Aikikai partners better with time, and know who I like to work with, and who leaves a negative impact on me. I am constantly impressed by their excellent Ukemi – but I need to remind myself many Aikikai practitioners are also lacking in many areas – it’s just that in these seminars I have the privilege to meet those who have been practicing for decades, and I made the mistake of comparing myself to them. In whatever system, Shodan is still a beginner level and, from my perspective at least, it’s the years after that that make a profound difference in the skill of the practitioner.

Sensei Larry Wadahara Seidokan Aikido Seminar

Last week Larry Wadahara sensei held a seminar at our Jerusalem aikido dojo. Larry teaches along with Joe Crotti sensei at the main Seidokan dojo in L.A. I thought I would write a little about it, mainly for myself.

After this seminar, I feel that beforehand I did not really do Aikido. Larry stressed keeping the one-point, and a feeling of unification – with the attacker, or with other objects around us. As an attacker, once Nage connects with you, this feels as though you’re moving as one piece, without quite understanding why. The touch is very light – not relaxed-collapsed, but rather just ‘there’.

I notice this is very hard for me to do, as while blending with Uke I already lose my one-point by ‘trying’ to blend – pushing and leaning on Uke.

Something else to remember is the feeling of control from the first move – from the first touch and beforehand. In order to do this we need to keep the body’s structure – Larry used the analogy of holding a large (and later small) rock, and staying relaxed, holding the feeling of ‘one’ with Uke. Then when moving, again we need to move as one – not to start by moving the leg or hand, but rather moving it all as one piece, so that Uke does not feel separated from you.

This reminds me of something Haim once said Dan Kawakami said – when training, not to blend too quickly, not to ‘fool’ the Uke into not holding you. With good aikido, Uke can hold you as best he can, and you should still be able to blend without a feeling of effort (being felt by Uke OR Nage). Skipping this step is what I’ve done so far, which results in Aikido that may look alright, but misses the essence – truly accepting Uke, yet keeping your own and merging the two into harmonic motion.

A main difference between Seidokan and Aikikai aikido, is in talking about the principles and Ki. With Larry, one can feel the essence of it, with or without performing a technique. The Way – Do – continues..

Hitoashi Yokete – avoiding a strike

As I’m preparing for my Aikido Kyu-2 exam, I have some thoughts on some of the terminologies we use.

Hitoashi Yokete – literally, ‘take a step aside to avoid’ an attack. The terminologies on avoiding an attack have a lot of hidden meaning. Some say the basic human / animal instincts in case of conflict are Fight or Flight. Fight, in terms of ma-ai (range) in my opinion is ‘hold your ground’. Do not avoid the strike – block it, reject it, fight it – the defender’s Ki is projected towards the strongest point of the attack. Flight, on the other hand, means extending the space between you and the attacker as much as possible – with the Ki or intention focused away from the attacker. In both cases, we lose the possibility to have proper Ai – connection with the attacker.

In Aikido the options of flight and flight are not the preferred option. If we wish to have Ai with the attacker, we must meet him (not flight), but not to meet him at his strongest point (fight). We may want to meet him before the strike reached its full force, as in Irimi – as O Sensie once wrote, ‘do not try to avoid a strike when it comes – disarm it right at the source!’. Or, we might want to meet him just after the strike reached its full potential – with a Tai Sabaki. In either case, these strategies could be thought of as examples of Hitoashi Yokete – we strive to make a single step – a single movement, the purpose of which is to avoid the strike, but not to ‘lose’ it – to be in range to use the strike, merge with the strike, but not to be in its way.

Thus Hitoashi Yokete holds the meaning of all of Aikido – do not run from a strike, do not resist a strike. Find a way to avoid the strike, keep your Ki  – intention and options – close to the opponent, and stay in range to blend with what comes.

Ipod “product red” under linux

I wanted to write a little about my experiences with Ipod under Linux, which may help some people out there.

I’ve got an Ipod Mini which was initialized using ITunes, and then worked just fine under Linux. I’ve also got an Ipod Nano 3rd generation (video-capable), black, which worked, but now that I think of it, I did have a little trouble getting the Artwork (covers) to work with it. Yesterday I finally opened my Ipod ‘product red’ which my sister bought me for my birthday (thanks Orit!!).

The Ipod was uninitialized, so I attached it using USB, and opened gtkpod. It offered to initialize the ipod and asked me to choose a model. Unfortunately, ‘product red’ was not on the list, and my model number (A1236) was not there either. Eventually I found a post that said it worked with the ‘nano 3rd generation, silver – 4gb’ model. So I chose that, my ipod was recognized and all seemed well.

I usually use Amarok to transfer music to the ipod (and also to listen to music – I really like Amarok). I transferred a few records, but checking the ipod, the covers were not working. I run on Ubuntu 8.04, where gtkpod is version 0.99x, and libgpod is 0.6. I played around quite a lot until it worked; tried (in Amarok) to go to the ‘ipod’ menu -> update artwork; didn’t take.

I think what eventually helped me is when I changed the ipod model IN AMAROK to ‘nano video 3rd gen red xB257’. Then I did ipod->update artwork, and uploaded another album, and they all had covers; after that, the artwork worked. So it seems like I needed to use the Silver 4GB model under gtkpod to initialize the ipod, then under Amarok choose the Red 8GB model – I guess Ipod Product Red might use a similar song database to that of the silver 4GB model, but the artwork datafiles are formatted like in the xB257 series.

I hope this works for you – feel free to comment if you’ve had other experiences with this.

Ubuntu Linux and XP on ICH10 with AHCI

I recently bought a computer through the Intel Chip Loan progam. The motherboard is a Gigabyte EP45-DS3R, and I had some issues with getting AHCI to work, so I wanted to share my experiences to help others who might want to do something similar…
This might be useful for anyone who wants to work with AHCI on this particular board.

My desired setup:

– A small partition for XP (~50GB) – NTFS
– A small partition for Ubuntu (~50GB) – ext3
– A shared Fat32 partition over left-over space (~900GB).

By default, the BIOS came with AHCI disabled. I did not enable it because I needed to install XP first (Ubuntu later installs Grub which will take care of boot loading for both OSs), and not having a 1.44 diskette, I could not install the AHCI drivers during startup. So, I installed XP with AHCI disabled. The only issue I encountered was the for some reason XP no longer lets you format FAT32 partitions. There is no way to create FAT32 partitions either during or after the installation – I had to do it through linux later.

After the XP installation, I tried installing linux. The Ubuntu CD failed every time right after I chose ‘install’. After changing the BIOS to use AHCI, the installation worked like a charm. So: Ubuntu did not work with the AHCI turned off; XP did not work with AHCI turned on. Nice…
The Ubuntu installation was very quick (about 10 minutes I think) and passed with no issues. Right after the installation I used Parted and mkfs.msdos to create the FAT32 partition I needed for OS interoperability (you can install gParted or qtParted through the Synaptic Package Manager to make your life a little easier here).

Next is the ugly part: getting AHCI to work on XP.
This might be worth doing whether or not you’re installing Linux as well; AHCI has better performance than the failback IDE mode.
I rebooted, went back to BIOS, turned off AHCI, and loaded Windows (yuch). Installing the motherboard drivers was simply not enough – booting with AHCI turned on causes blue screens. Finally I found this post which proved very useful..

I downloaded the drivers for Intel 4 series chipsets from here.

I started the installation process and got a question on whether I want to proceed and override the drivers the motherboard CD installed. At this point (while the files are extracted), go to %systemroot%\temp (I think), find iaStor.sys and copy it to C:\WINDOWS\system32\drivers. Next I created the registry entries from the post above: Create a .reg file with the contents below, then double-click it to load it to registry.

Windows Registry Editor Version 5.00



"Group"="SCSI Miniport"
"DisplayName"="Intel AHCI+RAID Controller"









That’s it. I rebooted, turned on AHCI in BIOS, and that was that. Both Ubuntu and XP working with AHCI !

If you run into any problems, turn to the post I linked above – that’s where most of the complicated stuff is from 🙂

Good luck !

Crusted Butte

I continued on to Crested Butte. It looks like a German village – houses in a beautiful lush valley with surrounding mountains. It really is one of the most pastoral places I’ve seen. Unfortunately I wasn’t in the mood for photography, so you’ll have to go there yourself to find out…
I also thought a lot about photography on this trip. The perception of space and color is very different between a human’s and a camera’s. But that’s only the first problem – the second is the difference between how a picture comes out, and how a person interprets what’s in the picture. That’s why it’s so difficult to take a great landscape picture – that’s where the biggest transformation occurs between what a person who is in the place the picture is being taken feels, and what a person watching the picture perceives.
But enough of that – what’s probably the last picture from this trip is that of a dam in an amazing valley, after sunset.

Black Canyon of Gunnison

I continued on to the Black Canyon. Unfortunately I took the North-Rim way, which turned out to be a dirt road – not a good idea in a rented Pontiac G6. I made it to the rim, although it was almost sunset. The Canyon is amazing – gave me vertigo just looking down. It’s a straight fall down some 2000 feet.. It was an almost scary place, especially since there was no-one around for miles and I was 14 miles of dirt road away from anywhere..
I couldn’t get a good shot of the Canyon, but here’s something I captured on my way to Gunnison – I eventually arrived late, when the roads were dark and it was quite hard to drive through the mountainside. I was just happy to get off the road…

National Monument state park

I spent the night in Glenwood Springs and in the morning headed out towards the National Monument state park.
The views along the way reminded me of Clint Eastwood’s westerns – which is probably because he must have filmed them nearby. Hugh canyons on both sides of the roads, with the Colorado river alongside the road much of the way.
The National Monument state park is essentially a road running up and down a canyon ridge, with trails going off the road every so often. The views were very nice, the rock formations formed by eroded mountain side are the main attraction.

Just a picture..

An interesting picture I managed to take at the RMNP…