Just wanted to share a short video I did after Friday class. For about 40 seconds I go through a progression of ukemi drills from the absolute first beginner level up to more advanced type of drills. Don’t blink or you’ll miss it.
This short text is based on my own aikido journey as well as my research of the life of the founder of aikido, and that of Morihei Saito sensei. For this research I give almost 100% credit to the work of the late Stanley Pranin.
Morihiro Saito sensei was a student of the founder of aikido, Morihei Ueshiba sensei, in Iwama between 1946 until the founder’s death 1969. In particular, the first 9 years after the war (1946-1955) when the founder had retired to his home in Iwama – about 2 hours on train north of Tokyo – Saito was present and was given the unique chance to work one-on-one with the founder. Often he would be the training partner for the founder during the latter’s training with the staff and sword.
One thing that the founder did often was to work solo with the 4 foot long wooden staff, the jo. A noticeable product of this solo work, we today know as the 31-kata (三十一杖型). Saito would try – and succeeded quite well, I think – to assemble the “rest” of the founder’s solo work into a set of solo exercises (called suburi) as well as a second kata. This particular kata ended up with 13-movements and, thus, became known as 十三杖型 (jū san jo kata), i.e. 13-kata, here seen performed, broken up in steps as well as done in one flow, by the author after class.
There is an old beautiful video from 1964 (5 years before the founder died) where Saito is seen demonstrating a couple of basic techniques, first without, and then with bokken and jo. In the end of that clip (see video below) he shows the 13-kata, but… it’s clear that this is before he had actually finished the process of refining it into the form we know today. Take a look.
A couple of years later the 13-kata was basically down, as this video from 1973 filmed outside the aiki shrine in Iwama testifies to.
Saito said that the 31-kata was completely Ueshiba’s creation and that Saito himself only formalized the division into 31 countable movements in order to facilitate learning. But when it came to the 13-kata, or what in time became known as 13-kata after much refining, he said that he basically managed to make something out of what he remembered from an even longer jo flurry that the founder would do.
Saito sensei would also teach a paired form of both 31-kata and 13-kata, where the choreography of the solo kata were given their raisons d’être as it were. These paired forms, 31 jo-awase (also called 31-kumijo when done in one continuous flow) and 13 jo-awase, were the creation of Saito, not the founder per se.
The founder would teach the jo to those few present in Iwama, like Saito M. who he trusted, and perhaps in other places too on occasion. But, he would just show them short segments and say, to the effect, “this is what you can do when they come like this/…/if they attack like that, then you can counter like this/…” and so on. From all of the stuff the founder did with the jo, all of the solo movements, together with the longer solo kata, Saito would pack, categorize, and catalogue it all down into the system of aiki-jo we know. In this treasure chest we find:
the set of 20 suburi (+ some more), these were basically all Ueshiba’s stuff but lifted out and ordered by Saito,
then we have the short paired blending exercises, also Ueshiba’s work,
then the two solo kata: 31- and 13-kata, these were Ueshiba’s although Saito formalized them,
then the paired versions of these kata, these were Saito’s creations,
the set of (today 10) kumi-jo, these are a mix of Ueshiba’s and Saito’s creations,
then the ken-tai-jo, or jo against sword attacks, some of these were also mostly Ueshiba’s doings but Saito had a hand in codifying them and mixing the rest up from what the founder did,
and finally the jo taking (jo dori), and throwing while uke tries to grab jo (jo-nage) – these were all Ueshiba’s.
Where did the founder of aikido draw technical inspiration for the jo forms?
This is a good question. For his aiki ken, for example, it’s clear that the sword school he was formally enlisted in, Kashima Shinto ryu, gave him much of the material he drew upon; this is evident from the paired sword kata called kumi tachi. For aiki jo, however, there seem to be no such single equivalent school.
In short, Morihei Ueshiba was a genius who was incredibly adept at observing budo demonstrated by others and immediately grasp the essence. It’s also not unlikely that his Daito ryu teacher Sokaku Takeda gave him some material for spear or staff. It’s likely that he would draw from his spear and bayonet training from the military and previous bujutsu training, and his Shinto misogi routines, add what he had observed, and just innovate the rest to match his aiki training through research and inspiration.
Why, then, do we train weapons, and in particular the jo, in aikido. Well, for me, I return to the founder of aikido. He trained with bokken and jo; these became his tools in training. To the founder, training with the bokken and jo, or training jujutsu techniques without weapons, training solo or with a partner, it was all the same: aikido!
The purpose of the training with the jo was for him not necessarily to make sure that everything fitted or trained a specific technique done upon a person, like ikkyo or yonkyo but with a jo; instead, the point, of most of it at least, was for the founder of aikido to:
build his aiki body by daily repetitions of solo exercises,
research the tools themselves and their characteristics – a jo behaves differently than a thicker and longer bo-staff, and the sword behaves differently than both of the others – and by understanding the weapons better it made it possible for these tools to add layers and depth to his aiki/budo training, such as the concept of “tying his ki” with that of his training partners (気結び, ki-musubi),
and, perhaps most importantly for the founder, to help him in his misogi (禊 – shinto ritual purification of body, mind, and the space around).
I’m not a shinto believer, so the misogi part to me becomes less of a spiritual journey or purification – for now at least – and more of a tuning, building, and shaping of my body into a vessel for aikido.
I finish off this short text with the following two clips of the founder himself seen using the jo in his training. They come from a single video recorded in Iwama 1961. Enjoy:
Text by Jakob Blomquist. Photo, and top video were shot in the dojo of Lunds Aikidoklubb by Jakob Blomquist. The 2nd video clip was first published by Aikido Journal, courtesy of Robert Nadeau sensei. The 3rd clip is courtesy of Lars-Göran Andersson sensei. Bottom 2 video clips are taken from the video “Morihei Ueshiba and Aikido” originally published by Aikido Journal.
At about now a lot of you have your shoulders half way up to your ears due to stress, tension, family, commerce, long lines of people, and lack of training (yeah… holiday season is great, I know, but I do miss my dojo, what can I say…)
Here are two exercises I recommend that you try.
1. Breathing using your belly
Close your eyes.
Breath normally, and start to observe your breath; listen to it, not with your hearing but with all your senses.
Transfer your breath from the unconscious act of using your upper chest, into a conscious act of moving your abdominal area, perhaps centred in your lower tanden (or dantien for those of you who can relate to this). Expand your tanden outwards to bring air in, and compress it to push air out.
Listen to your shoulders, observe that they cease to heave and move as your breath moves from your chest down to your tanden.
Press a palm against your lower belly to help you listen to the action of your breath.
If you are very tense in your neck and shoulders you can slowly move your neck side to side, up and down, and ear towards shoulders, also rotate your shoulders a little, and push them up and press them down a couple of time to release some of the tension.
Keep listening to your breath with your hand as you start to breath in through your nose, and out through your mouth.
Count silently to 4 as your breath in, keep it for 2 counts, then count to 4 as you breath out. Keep it silent for a count of 2 then breath in again.
Repeat it 10 times.
2. Silence your feet
First time you try this exercise stand close to a wall. Stand as balanced as you can with relaxed shoulders over your hips, hips over your knees, and knees over your feet, more towards the heels and less over the ball of the feet.
Observe and listen how numerous small muscles around your ankles and feet are constantly moving to keep you in a state of dynamic balance. If you have trouble sensing this, try the following:
Stand close to a wall, with one ear and shoulder facing it, in as balanced posture as you can. Let your knees be unlocked but don’t bend them too much. Lift the foot closest to the wall slightly off the ground. It should be much easier to hear (feel) the noise from the muscles working to keep you balanced.
With the hand closest to the wall, reach out and barely touch it, perhaps only with a finger. See if you can transfer all your balance to the wall with this feather-light touch, and listen as all of the noise disappear from your ankles and feet.
These are the silent feet you are after.
Lower your foot to the ground again but keep your feather-light touch of the wall. Listen and make sure your feet and ankles are still silent.
Transfer your senses up to your hips and observe if they are stiff and locked. See if you can transfer the balance restoring action from your ankles up to your center and hips by moving them around in figure 8s or “hula-hula” in a very relaxed way.
When you feel ready, lower your hand from the wall back to your side. Listen to your feet and ankles.
A while back I started to produce 2-3 minutes short video clips of the most basic techniques required by Aikikai for shodan exam (according to standard aikikai Hombu dojo form). I will not include all possible variations, and the techniques might sometimes even differ from the ones I teach as basics according to Saito Morihiro sensei. I will continuously upload them to my YouTube channel, Jblom, until I’m done, and more specifically on my Playlist there called Shodan.
The focus is on quick and dirty edits (I mean really quick!) of recordings done mostly directly after class – beware of interfering sound and people in the backfround! Nothing fancy, no music or flashy intro.
The general idea of the videos is that they might be useful as a quick reminder of sorts, not a complete and comprehensive tutorial – that’s what the dojo is for! Therefore, few, rather than many, repetitions are included.
To make it easier for myself and others to find these clips I will add them also here in The Dojo under the menu “Videos” on the top of this site.
A Thursday the first week in March, 2018, I sat on a plane bound for Hong Kong, then Manila and finally Davao City, Philippines. I had previously been invited to teach aikido there exactly two years prior, and so this was my second time I travelled to the southern most major city in Philippines. Two years ago I had also delivered a donation collected from my many friends around the world through an online campaign I hosted. That time it was for an organization called House of Hope, and I had the privilege to visit the local branch, speak to staff, and briefly spend time with the wonderful Children of Hope. Unforgettable!
This time the host of the seminar, SNC Southern Mindanao Aikido, had chosen the organization Bantay Bata 163. It’s basically a nation-wide organization with a hotline – #163 – who for over 20 years have helped children in need of support and sometime protection from abuse. The organization do other things as well like education and community outreach, and they have offices in several places in Philippines. Like two years previously, I had this time again reached out to my friends, through my blog and social media, to ask them if they would like to support this cause. And they, that is you, my friends around the world, did!
I want to take the chance to express my passionate congratulations, amazement, and gratitude, to the host Simon and his students Yeza, Don, Nat, and all the rest – none forgotten – for the success of the seminar and all of the activities surrounding my visit!
I landed in Davao City airport, Friday afternoon, and Simon Cruz, my friend for many years, and his aikido student, Nathalie, picked me up and drove me through the massive rush-hour Davao traffic with their many colourful, and smokey, Jeepneys, crammed with people on their way home or perhaps out for a Friday drink. It was very nice to see them again, Simon and Nathalie, that is, not so much the Jeepneys. They drove me directly to Matina Square where more friends met up. Even if I had only met them during my last short visit two years ago it really felt like getting back together with long time friends.
Aikido does that: generate friendships that last a lifetime.
After a nice dinner I checked in for some rest before the seminar the following day.
The actual aikido seminar had the theme: “Aikido for Peace in Mindanao”. Mindanao being the island in the south Philippines where Davao is the region capital of. The classes were alternately led by myself, and Herda, a 4 dan instructor from Jakarta, Indonesia. Further more, the sessions were split between children’s and adults classes.
The first class in the morning was a children’s class and Herda was teaching. Next I would teach adults, followed by a lunch break. As the temperature difference reached some 40 degreed Celsius between the unusually cold Sweden at the time, and the warm Davao, my body was having a laugh at my expense.
After lunch I would teach two children’s classes and Herda would teach two adult’s classes. Sunday schedule basically mirrored the previous day’s except Herda and I switched places.
The venue itself was Matina Square in central Davao City. This is a place with bars and restaurants spread around a square and parking lot. That parking lot is not used during the day, so in the morning puzzle mats were brought out, and cleaned, and after the last class each evening the mats were quickly removed. Outside seminar is an interesting experience!
During the lunch break the second day I was able to visit the local group of Bantay Bata 163. The location was inside the building of the local branch of the nation wide broadcast network: ABS-CBN. It was this network and the ABS-CBN Lingkod Kapamilya Foundation that initiated Bantay Bata 163 over 20 years ago and the organization still uses the broadcast network facility to this day.
Every Sunday the children and parent (often mother) meet with staff from the organization to discuss the week, receive supervision and other support, for example arranging for the children to get back into school or provide counselling to the children and/or the parent. A staff member I spoke to told me that the funding only allowed for 20 children at the moment, some of whom you can see in the photo below. Therefore, it felt extra nice to be able to help them with that by handing over the envelope of donation you, my friends around the world, gave.
As a pale male outsider pushing himself into these children’s lives, some of whom might not have favourable history with adults, particularly men, it was quite a challenge to keep ones composure. As a parent I might also have been particularly sensitive to these issues… yes… most definitively! No matter the reasons, it was emotionally a tough situation with feelings moving like a roller-coaster between “happy and proud to help and even be in their presence”, and “hard to even look them in their dark all-too-experienced eyes”. Still, they were all amazing, and so were the staff.
Let’s be clear… I’m a privileged person. I grew up privileged. I have been privileged to be able to start my aikido path in a dojo with many classes every week, with lots of great training partners and great instructors. I have been privileged to be able to meet, train, and befriend many hundreds, even thousands, of people around the world; the great majority of them on the aikido mat.
One of these people is Simon Cruz and two years ago, because of him, I was privileged to make new friends in Philippines and extend my aikido family even more. Because of this I was privileged to do some good for the children of House of Hope. This year I was privileged to meet my friends again, make even more friends, including the lovely and talented Herda. And, just maybe, make a positive impact for even more children with the help of the people of Bantay Bata 163, your generosity and, of course Simon and his amazing students.
So in my previous post I wrote that I’m going back to Davao, Philippines, early in March next year to teach Aikido at a seminar hosted by my good friend Simon Cruz and his students over at SNC Southern Mindanao Aikido. Like the first time, the seminar 2018 will also be an event to help raise money for a charity – you just have to show up and pay the seminar fee. The excellent aikido is a great bonus! – Last time it was House of Hope (read about it here). This time around the seminar will benefit the organisation Bantay Bata 163.
In short: Bantay Bata 163 offers several services and programs, for example a hotline – you just dial 163 – where anyone can report cases where children are in situation of crisis or imminent danger/risk of exposure of trafficking, sexual or physical abuse, and/or other forms of serious neglect. The organization can act on the information they receive and arrange for rescue operation whereby children are removed from danger and placed in a safe environment. They also provide families with legal assistance, home visits, counceling and family service as well as community outreach services. Here is a Wikipedia link where you can more about their history and amazing work.
Basically it’s about helping children who have had, or are at the risk of having their innocent lives destroyed. Children who have been exposed of, or in the risk of being involved with, trafficking, sexual abuse, neglect and… other unimaginable things. Unfortunately, as hard as it is to believe but the fact is more and more children are exposed to these things and therefore an increasing amount of help is needed.
If you live in Sweden and read this you might realize that it is the very same theme as this year’s Musikhjälpen, and if you, like I did, felt very emotional about these things and want to help some more, then you have a chance now.
That goes for all of you who read this around the world. Last time so many of you around the world really pulled through – you helped me deliver a whopping 30000 PHP to House of Hope! – and I would love to feel that love again this time.
This is what you can do! Like last time I have a designated PayPal account where you will be able to donate however much or little you feel like into. All of your contributions will be added to the money brought in during the seminar and delivered by me, and my friend and local host Simon Cruz, to the representative of Bantay Bata 163 in Davao at the conclusion of the seminar.
You simply click on the PayPal button below and follow the instructions on the page you are directed to. It should work for the whole world. You have the option to add a small message to the donation and that would be appreciated.There is no minimum amount and every single donation will make a difference.
If you don’t have a PayPal account the link above will help you to set one up for free, or you will have the option of just using your credit card directly. Please let me know if something isn’t working.
Being able to do something… anything… for children going through things they absolutely should never have to means the world to me, as I’m sure it does to all of you.
Let’s make difference together!
Photo: From the author’s last visit when we helped the Children of Hope at the House of Hope.
Edit: New post HERE with more info about how to help
First week in March I’m going back to Davao, Philippines to teach aikido again. Although teaching the art I love to people around the world is great on its own, it’s almost secondary in this case. The reason is that not only will I be able to see my friends there again, after two years apart, but, perhaps more importantly, I will have the honor to, yet again, be able to do something truly good:
Basically it’s about an organisation helping children who have had their innocent lives destroyed. Children who have been exposed of, or in the risk of being involved with, trafficking, sexual abuse, and… other unimaginable things.
If you live in Sweden and read this you might realize that it is the very same theme as this year’s Musikhjälpen, and if you, like I did, felt very emotional about these things and want to help some more, then you have a chance now. That goes for all of you who read this around the world. Last time so many of you around the world really pulled through and I would love to feel that love again this time.
Like last time I will set up a PayPal account where you will be able to donate however much or little you feel like into. All of your contributions will be added to the money brought in during the seminar and delivered by me, and my friend and local host Simon Cruz, to the representative of Bantay Bata 163 in Davao at the conclusion of the seminar.
Stay tuned for more posts and updates where all the relevant info about the PayPal account and what YOU can do to make a difference.
Photo: From the author’s last visit when we helped the Children of Hope at the House of Hope.