Thursday, 3 July 2008

I'm not here

Someone asked me in the offline world whether I still keep writing this blog or quit blogging for good. Well, I only write messages like this here:

In case the link to the continued blog is not clearly visible in my previous post (which Szabi also mentioned) please follow the link below to get there:

In addition to my posts, you will find there posts by my friend Connor as well.

In case you simply want to subscribe to that blog, you can do it using our RSS feed or email subscription.

Thursday, 15 May 2008


I have several announcements to make.

1. The blog got an 8.3/10 rating from editors and I'm proud of this.

2. I've submitted my PhD thesis (at last :D) so now I'll be back with posts.

3. The new posts won't be posted here. I decided to move to because I'm working on that site anyway, and I think it will be better if the blog is displayed in a context where more aikido related stuff is present. I hope it will not be a big problem for people reading this blog. I'll keep writing in the same style, only the place will change. Please follow me there ;).

Thursday, 1 May 2008

Ueshiba Mitsuteru got married

I've just read in AikidoJournal:

Letter of Doshu Moriteru Ueshiba to all aikikai affiliated organizations:

April 20, 2008

Dear Sir/Madam

I hope this letter finds you in the best of health.

I am very happy to inform you that my son, Mitsuteru Ueshiba, was married to Miss. Keiko Kusano on March 2nd of this year.

Your continued and good favor on the young couple would be much appreciated.

Sincerely Yours,

Moriteru Ueshiba
Aikido Doshu (original signed)

Congratulations! I guess they are happier now than in the picture below :).

I'm looking forward to hearing from the birth of the fifth doshu :).

By the way, Mitsuteru was born in the same year as me.

Tuesday, 15 April 2008

A bit of delay in posting

The deadline of submitting my PhD thesis is very close so I need to focus on that these days and don't have much time to post to the blog.

I'll be back soon, some of my new posts are in a half-ready state but I want to read them once more before posting.

I'll write about cherry trees and topless aikido soon :).

Please be patient until that ;).

Wednesday, 2 April 2008

Relative time

Why is that when you go somewhere you haven't been before it seems to take much longer than to come back from there? Why is it that when you go somewhere for the first time it seems much longer than the second, third, etc. times?

Last week I went to a school to give away a Children's aikido poster. I didn't know the area and it seemed to take at least thirty minutes to get there (I wasn't watching my watch but I looked at my map frequently thinking "is it still so far"?). Today (at the time writing this post at home) I went to that school again because last week it was completely empty (it turned out that they had half term and noone was around). It took me 15 minutes only and I wasn't walking any faster than the previous time.

The same thing happened when we were looking for flats to move into (which happened several times over our four years in London). It's certainly not only me who finds the first walk longer. But why is that?

Are we more alert to make sure we don't miss the destination and, at next time(s), we know the way already so we can think about our own business which makes time pass quickly? Maybe it's the same relativity Einstein described once.

"A man sits with a pretty girl for an hour and it seems shorter than a minute. But tell that same man to sit on a hot stove for a minute, it is longer than any hour. That's relativity."
Relativity - Which one is hotter?
If the above logic is right and I try to apply it to my aikido studies then the idea is that I should never experience this slow-fast passing of time. I'm supposed to be alert at all times, "be present" as others call it. Indeed, I don't really experience time differences between doing a technique first and second but I guess it would be a pretty good exagaration ("lie" as others would call it :)) if I concluded that it's because I'm alert all the time :). That is the aim, to be alert, but sometimes I tend to sink to comfort and stop discovering new technical bits when we are practicing. This happened on Wednesday as well: we had a beginner and I tried to make fun of ryokatadori (grabbing the gi at both shoulders) because she had a t-shirt on and not a gi jacket (uwagi). It wasn't funny at all when Karesz immediately shouted to stop that and start showing the beginner how to do the technique and start focusing on connection with my partners (it was a technique done in groups). I was pretty ashamed of myself and came home disappointed (again, in myself) but I understood and learned the lesson. From time to time, it happens that I go to trainings and let time pass quickly but there's always something that awakes me sooner or later (a grading date, if nothing better) and I realise that I should use my (and others') time to study harder, improve more and don't let time fly away.

Next time if I notice that a training (even if it's only an hour long) is too short I will need to think about what changes I have to make. Even one hour should be enough to get tired of properly practicing, I guess it's not a coincidence that the Hombu classes last an hour, too.

So I still can't properly answer my initial questions but at least I gave a couple of thoughts to relativity theory at an aikido training :). Let me know though if you can answer the above questions.

Wednesday, 26 March 2008

A friend of mine (also the master of the dojo where I started aikido) has come up with an idea of creating a website that explains and illustrates basic aikido principles, movements and techniques to beginners. I joined the site team... :)

The basic idea is that although aikido can't be learned from photos of videos, these can be used to train the mind or to understand and digest instructions of your aikido classes if there are proper explanations and instructions accompanied with these photos and videos. So we started creating short presentations explaining the very basics of aikido, for example, tegatana (hand-sword), mae ukemi (forward roll), hanmi (guard/ready position aka. half-stance), etc. The presentations contain photos, illustrations as well as explanations as to what is in the pictures and why what we see is important to understand (see picture below).

Tegatana illustrations at

To properly set up the site and to go live, first we will need some testers (the creative manager came up with the expression Test Pilots :)) who provide useful feedback, possibly some suggestions, for the site and its contents. So this is an advertising post now, if you would like to help us, learn something and get discounts later, please visit and register into the test team.

Tuesday, 25 March 2008

Aikido3D review

A couple of months ago a friend showed me the Aikido3D software. I hesitated a lot until I actually started writing about it (which I'd been planning since I got to know about its existence) because I have mixed feeling about it (and so have my friends).

It gives you aikido techniques demonstrated by a skilled master (Donovan Waite). You can watch the demonstrations in 3D, you can stop or slow down any time, you can change viewpoints and there is also some commentary to the techniques. The 'videos' can be grouped by they type of attack, technique or kyu grades. There are buttons to turn features on and off, for example, whether to show the footsteps of tori (aka. nage, who throws the other) during the execution of a technique. You can also switch between hakama and simple gi and you can even turn off either the display of tori or uke. There is another option to turn on the "center radials" which show the centres of practicing partners. You can also adjust the playing speed and turn on/off commentaries.

All this is nice but there's always a question in my mind when using aikido3d: what is it good for? Why is this needed? I understand it's different because of the 3D display but why is that better than series of videos?

I think the main problems that made me think about the possible purpose of the software are the commentaries and the limitations of the display. To explain the latter, I can adjust the camera's position, rotate around the aikidoka left to right or right to left, I can zoom in or out of the centre of the scene, change between top, front and 'follow' views but I just wanted to grab the screen with the mouse pointer and rotate the view freely - left to right, up and down, zoom to one certain thing I wanted to understand. Maybe it's just my personal preferences, it's not really a crucial problem.
However, my main concerns are the commentaries: they don't say much to a beginner and don't say enough to an advanced student about the techniques. For example, comments such as "to drop Uke's center, Nage must extend and relax his arm" are exactly like this. It reminds me of a childhood tale about the girl who was asked to "bring something but don't bring anything" to the King*.

The interesting bit with Aikido3D, however, is that when you slow down you can see the minor mistakes and problems. I was watching hanmi handachi kaitennage and I was like "Ha! He's losing tegatana now! Ha! Again!". It was even funnier when I "turned on the footprints". Sometimes I could see the irimis and tenkans in the line of attack as I was taught but, particularly for longer techniques, the footprints just looked like blood splatters on the mat :).

Maybe I'm a bit too much of a perfectionist but I would have preferred the digitalising of the moves of top shihans such as Yamada Yoshimitsu who's in the "special thanks to" section of the software. Waite shihan is really good but I don't know much about him and would have trusted the demonstrations by very top masters more.

A note to myself: as a technique can't be done twice exactly the same way to be 'perfect' (O'Sensei famously refused demonstrating exactly the same technique once again after being asked so because the first photo might not have been good enough) and different technical bits are usually emphasized in different demonstrations so I think I keep training and reading about aikido but don't watch the same recording 100 times unless it is really instructional with loads of explanations and helping instructions.

My rating is 3/5, what do you think?

*the girl brought a bird but she released it just before giving it to the King. She brought something but didn't bring anything...

Wednesday, 19 March 2008

Are you a slow walker?

In one of the recent trainings I showed tenchinage (heaven-earth throw) in the kids' class. First we started with gyaku hanmi katatedori (left hand grabbing right hand or right grabbing left) and I showed only the chi (earth) part where you just slide a bit sideways and forward and point into the irimi (unstable) point of the attacker who then rolls or sits down the mat smoothly. This looked nice so in the next training I also introduced the ten part where the not-grabbed hand goes to control the attacker's chin and you step forward causing the same effect on the attacker as before (i.e. roll or sit).

However, when we started practicing, one of my young aikidoka speeded up and wanted to throw me quickly. This was the moment I suddenly remembered having read a quote from Abraham Lincoln:

I'm a slow walker, but I never walk back.

I will explain the speed of practicing much more when the speed-up next happens (which is totally expected as children have a lot of energy to release which makes the class lively and, for me, more enjoyable). I guess I will talk about speed after playing some tiring aikido-games such as the one where you need to throw your opponent off balance from a hand-shaking position :).

To switch to my own training experience, this quote is a very good one. It is said that speeding up has a certain balancing effect and you can obviously use more of the attacker's energy, but to learn the basics, especially how to do ukemi (fall, breakfall) without risking injury, high speed doesn't look ideal. If you can do a technique slowly you will certainly be able to do it fast when you learn the necessary skills to handle breakfalls.

I recently complained to one of my friends that their aikido demonstration for recruiting new students was too slow. He didn't respond to this comment which made me think about why he chose that particular speed (I was sure it was a deliberate choice). After a while, I understood why the demo was like that. I understood that he just didn't want to decieve prospective newcomers by showing what they won't be able to do at the beginning. Now I think it was fair because people who would have joined their trainings based on an over-exciting, fast (also, populist) demo would have left soon having been disappointed. I guess it's better to attract less people but keep them for longer than to attract a lot of people whose majority will leave the class very soon (which happens in most martial arts, aikido included, unless you get that addiction).

Although they say "You can't cross a chasm in two small jumps" (David Lloyd George), in the beginning of learning something new wouldn't you rather practice jumping over small ditches if it was possible, to gradually prepare for the great jump?

Tuesday, 18 March 2008

Black hakama - black eye

Last September when I first officially* trained in hakama I got a black eye. Not as black as Captain Jack Sparrow's but it could still be noticed.

I didn't watch Little Britain at that time but I could have surely repeated stage hypnotist Kenny Craig's famous lines when I saw people staring at me in the street:

"Look into my eyes, look into my eyes, the eyes, the eyes, not around the eyes, don't look around my eyes, look into my eyes, you're under"
It was also funny when I went to watch the others play football the next Saturday wearing sunglasses on a particularly cloudy day. Some other players actually believed that I didn't play because I hadn't passed the ball enough times the previous Saturday and things had turned nasty when discussing the matter :) (I couldn't say that one of the aikido girls kicked me in the face, that would have been so unmanly! :)). Truth 1. I didn't want to play because I still felt some fluidy material 'being shaken' below my left eye so it wouldn't have been wise to kick the ball and run around. I turned into manager instead and directed the team. Some players liked it, the others didn't want to say anything in case I started picking fights :). Truth 2. the Saturday games are far more friendly than it seems from the above paragraph.

There's another joke I immediately remembered when I saw myself in the mirror (I knew this joke with another nationalities so no offence to anyone):

Three Scottish men were sitting together bragging about how they had given their new wives duties

Macbain had married a woman from America and bragged that he had told his wife she was going to do all the dishes and that needed done at their house. He said that it took a couple days but on the third day he came home to a clean house and the dishes were all washed and put away.

Macgregor had married a woman from Australia. He bragged that he had given his wife orders that she was to do all the cleaning, dishes and the cooking. He told them that the first day he didn't see any results but the next day it was better. By the third day, his house was clean, the dishes were done and he had a huge dinner on the table.

The third man Cameron had married a Scottish girl. He boasted that he told her that her duties were to keep the house cleaned, dishes washed, mowed, laundry washed and hot meals on the table for every meal. He said the first day he didn't see anything, the second day he didn't see anything, but by the third day most of the swelling had gone down and he could see a little out of his left eye. Enough to fix himself a bite to eat, load the dishwasher, fill the washing machine and call a landscaper.

God bless Scottish women!!!

Apart from laughing at it, I tried to do something 'scientific' about it and documented my black eye's gradual disappearance. In case you want to fake a black eye for whatever reason, have a look at the pictures and apply the make up with respect to which day you are faking from the supposed injury (the idea comes from a CSI episode when the sharp-eyed CSIs noticed that a women applied the same black eye make up for several consecutive days).
The other reason for taking photos every day was that the person who accidentally kneed me in the face felt guilty about it although we immediately agreed after the incident that 'accidents happen, next time both of us will be more careful'. It would have been silly to make a scene or point to someone else even if I felt like that anyway. But I didn't.
I'm putting the photos of my mornings-after-project here on the right. Note that I didn't take pictures every day when the bruises became hardly visible (click on it to enlarge).

Now, how the eye got its nice, dark colour: it had all happened before the training even started. I put my hakama on properly for the first time so it had to be tested. Simple tachi waza was ok, I felt comfortable. Mae ukemi, ushiro ukemi were fine, I rolled exactly like before. I knew suwari waza would be more complicated. I expected that when I move in suwari waza I would step on my hakama and possibly fall over (I had heard similar stories before). Simple suwari movements were not so easy but at least I didn't hurt myself. So we tried some techniques where I'd be thrown in suwari waza: I think kotegaeshi was the first (and last) technique to try. I'm not sure whether it was the first kotegaeshi immediately or the second, but when going down to roll I felt a sudden blunt force trauma (too much CSI at that that time) below my left eye. My first thought was that I'd be fine because I hadn't felt any cracking noise which would have meant that something had been broken. The left part of my face was a bit numb so I laid down on the mat to get over it but I wasn't in shock or anything similar. I got a cold, wet towel to put on the 'wound' as we didn't have ice in the dojo. Then I trained like before, the only difference was that thing at my left eye which made me colour some tissues red from time to time during the training.

That was the only injury I have had in a training visible for more than a week in my 7 effective years of doing aikido. I think it's much better injury rate than for any other martial arts where you can easily get a broken rib in a competition.

*I count the Sunday training as official because there are kickboxing trainings before and after the training on Wednesdays and, although I had practiced tying and folding my hakama at home before the first Wednesday training, the pressure of having to change to gi and hakama quickly before training and changing back to normal clothes even quicklire after training was high and I couldn't tie and fold my hakama as nicely as I wanted to.

Wednesday, 12 March 2008

Integral Transformative Practice Seminar in Brighton

I attended the first ITP (Integral Transformative Practice) workshop held in the UK by ITP teacher Pam Kramer, ITP President. Thanks to Mark, who I know through our blogs, I was invited to join and learn about ITP which is strongly based on aikido as it was developed by aikidoist George Leonard (and Michael Murphy). So I went to Brighton on my name day...*

The first thing I noticed as a good start of the day that I got to Brighton in 20 minutes less than to the university where I go twice a week. Vive la TFL. The weather was typically British but the workshop was an indoor event so nobody had problems with a little rain (and I'm used to it by now, anyway).

We started at 10am with an 'informal check-in' and started doing the various exercises planned for the day. I don't want to go into the details of each of these exercises so I just write a couple of thoughts about the ones that interested me the most.

Firstly, we did the ITP kata which is an appr. 40 minutes long series of centering, balancing, stretching and meditative exercises. Around 80% of what we did were very familiar, I even do many of them in the children's classes (for example, the rowing exercises and the 'water' exercises). It was a good feeling to do something I knew with people I did not know, and at the same time, see that there are small but interesting differences in how these techniques are done in our trainings and at ITP. One of these differences, for example, is how we hold our hands when doing the 'stirring in a big bowl of water' exercise: I simply learned to draw horizontal circles while resting one of my hands on the other (well, kind of...) but we imagined a large spoon in our hands on Saturday and also, that we were stirring water. I liked it very much and will probably change to this method in my classes as children can probably get the exercise more easily.

I also liked the 'soft eye - hard eye' exercises. I have already heard and read (and written a bit) about how and what to look during aikido trainings but the exercises on Saturday helped to understand the importance of this more. Using 'different eyes' while doing taisabaki in pairs was really interesting experience. At one time you see only the face of your partner, then their whole body and then the whole room with others doing the same steps. Definitely something to practice more in aikido trainings: Awareness and connection (two of the letters from the acronym GRACE of ITP).

The third memorable exercise** was the one that tested our ways of communication. Whether you push someone when talking, whether you just surrender or run away from pushy people was tested through a simple moving-pushing exercise. I learned about myself and realized that I'm usually not too pushy but tend to give myself in more easily, possibly too easily. I can now watch myself, change this behaviour if I want to and, next time, test it with the exercise. Liked it.

The fourth one was easy but also a lot to learn from: how to listen and how to be listened to. It's a very good feeling to be completely listened to (be heard), not to be judged or just be able to listen and not interrupt others when they want to tell something and they simply need to be understood and accepted. Good one, too.

There were several other exercises as ITP appetisers but I think the above four are the main ones that I learned the most from.

I also met several interesting people, aikidoka as well as civilians :D which was good.

*My name day also happens to be the International Women's Day as well as the day right after my birthday but I'll rather write about this later, in another blog :). I bought flowers and ice cream to Heni on my way home and she prepared a Japanese dinner by the time I got home. It was definitely a good day :).

**I selected the memorable exercises by sleeping on them, and whatever exercise I was thinking about on Sunday morning got selected for this post.

Monday, 10 March 2008

What needs changing

I said some time ago that it's very easy to identify when someone is not doing something well. I myself can criticize almost anyone or anything which is a bad habit and I'm trying to get rid of it. More precisely, I'm trying to get rid of criticizing only. For me, it has been a long process to learn how to criticize constructively and not just saying what's wrong even if I can say how that wrong could have been done better. A bit complicated statement but to cut it short: I am changing from negative to positive.

It's like a long lasting (maybe everlasting?) learning of the steps of how to improve. My current guidelines for myself regarding changing things are something like the following (and it doesn't really matter whether or not I'm thinking about aikido when applying these steps).

  • It's easy to see what's wrong. I should note these things and think about whether I can or want to change them.
  • There have been some wrong steps that happened in the past, those can't be changed so I need to learn from them (My affirmation from Saturday: "I accept the unchangable". See later in another post about ITP). Sometimes I'm still struggling with wanting to change the past. When this happens I usually take my little book about peace and read from it, especially the parts saying "let go the past". I feel much lighter after reading a couple of these lines.
  • If something is happening in the present, I still need to think about whether I can or want to change it. For example, there was an article I read about communication, thanks to Mark for posting the link in his blog. One paragraph from this article was particularly interesting and gave some lighter feeling, too. It described the sunset and the main idea was the following. When you see the sunset, you just admire, look and accept it. You don't say "Soften the orange a little on the right hand corner, and put a bit more purple along the base, and use a little more pink in the cloud color.", why would you want do it another times, especially with human persons. It's easy to try to control others, especially if you are in a higher position, but is it really necessary? When I feel unsafe for some reason I tend to try to control others, too. One of my aims is to look at them like I look at the sunset. Maybe I want to look at them as sunrise in which there is the opportunity for a nice day and I don't even need to want to change in the way other's day will go unless they ask for it (or threaten me like an asteroid which is nice to look at but can make a lot of mess upon impact). It's similar to moaning about the rainy wheather. It has to rain sometimes, doesn't it? I take my umbrella or go faster to get some shelter (just like this morning I was running away from the London storm as I didn't want my laptop to become wet). I'm learning to let happen whatever doesn't need changing.
  • When I decide I want to change something I should do my best to make it to as good as well as possible. Sometimes it's not the 'doing my best' part which is hard but to completely decide and be committed that I want to do it and it also needs my best. This applies to my current PhD work. For a long time I was almost convinced that it was useless for what I felt I needed for myself. I'm still not entirely convinced but at least I'm close to finishing and the other thing is that I haven't really experienced any alternatives (workwise) for which I could say "that's definitely better both for short and long terms". So I convinced myself that I needed to do my best to finish, even if I felt there was some lie in it.
  • When I have changed something I should look for something else that's worth making better, more importantly, it feels better to make that thing better. This is the hardest part for me. To leave the safe and finished business (university, finished contract, PhD, etc.) and start a new one. I'm currently thinking hard on what to do next after submitting my thesis and probably I should have started looking for work but I haven't made up my mind yet as to what I should do, should I continue what I do (and should I stay in academia or apply for some research job at a good industrial company) or should I change completely (for probably less money which is currently a big thing as my PhD funding has run out exactly a year ago)? This is the current question of the month for me, possibly the question of the previous and upcoming months as well.
Change is an interesting thing. Probably I shouldn't think about it this much but make it happen if I can and want to. What do you think?

Wednesday, 5 March 2008

Bowing in London where Steven Seagal is not bald

I read in the aikiinseattle blog that the blog is accessed through strange and recurring keywords from time to time, namely "Steven Seagal bald". I guess it's general interest :).
Based on this observation I conducted my own research into how my blog is reachedvia keywords and key expressions.

The most polite I found was "Bowing in London" :D. Although it's pretty straightforward that and 'l' from Bowing is missing or, less likely, the 'B' was supposed to be an 'R'. Nevertheless, I imagined how someone from the Far East wanted to come to London and learn about the customs of greeting here, just note the capital 'B' :).

My other favourite occurs almost every week, I'm not sure why it is so fascinating or how it is connected to the blog at all: "mother organisation". It is one of the top keywords/key expressions to access the blog. I guess either someone really likes this expression or Google Analytics is playing a game with me :).

Another web-based observation:
My hakama folding instructions post must have been very good because somebody immediately copied it and hosted it along with two tons of ads (I only got to know this from the technorati widget and because I included a link to the previous hakama folding post from this instructional one). I don't mind if someone copies things but I would appreciate if the source was also given because, after all, I made the effort of taking the pictures and writing some instructions to them. Shame on you copycat :).

And finally, in case you are interested: most of the blog's readers are from the UK which is followed by the US, Hungary, Canada, Australia and Spain. Thanks to everyone for reading the blog!

Monday, 3 March 2008

Awards and certificates

Aikido is against competition (except for the Tomiki style). The only person you need to fight and win against is yourself. So it's a good thing to get some feedback about how the fight is going. It's good to get some recognition for the level someone achieves which is exactly what gradings are supposed to give you. Yesterday Karesz handed out the grading certificates to people who graded at the end of January. The certificates came from the Hungarian Aikido Foundation whom Karesz visited last week to learn more from his master and get the "paperwork" done :). Congratulations again to the 6-5-4th kyu aikidoka!

He also introduced awards now which work well for the kickboxing children and adults at Holistic: he gave away certificates and medals of achievement in 2007. I got the "Biggest Effort" award for writing the blog, running the children's classes and for whatever he felt I had done right :) so I'm not completely impartial when I'm talking about these awards. It felt good to get one which is good. It boosted my inner ego which is not too good. So I have a double-standard feeling about myself because to get an award that distinguishes you from anyone else can lead to some kind of competition between people in the next year. However, if the award makes you work harder and help yourself improve more, it's good. It seems that by this line I have successfully managed to convince myself that the award is good for me. I wonder how others who haven't received one of the three awards feel about it.

Since the master gave away certificates and he wasn't going to get one for aikido before his next dan grading :), we decided that it was time someone got the "Master of the Year" award, so he received one together with an aikido mug. He immediately put it into use by drinking his Guinness (with blackcurrant) from it after the training. A well deserved drink :D.

I think the smiles on the faces of people receiving kyu certificates, awards, mugs as well as people just training to receive certificates the next time tells a lot about how joyful aikido trainings can and should be.

"Always practice the Art of Peace in a vibrant and joyful manner.

Wednesday, 27 February 2008

When maturity begins

I came across a quote the other day which feels very close to what I've recently been thinking about.

Maturity begins when we’re content to feel we’re right about something without feeling the necessity to prove someone else wrong.
Sydney Harris

For me, this means to be positive (or, turning it to negative: stop complaining and harming others). Stop commanding and start co-operating. Criticise constructively or, if you can't, learn more and criticize only then. Before anyone thinks I'm talking about how someone I know should behave (which could easily be the case as there have been several people recently whose actions I don't understand) please note that, selfishly, all this is for myself to learn to be a better person living a more harmonious life... or for you if you find that my thoughts can benefit you as well.

I'm writing the background chapters for my PhD thesis which is supposed to involve the 'critical discussion' of relevant literature. I'm finding that most of the things I do in my own research can be backed up by these discussed research papers so I need to discuss and write about their findings. However, I also found that it's very easy to find mistakes, errors in anything you read. If there isn't any better you can spot the only spelling mistake in the 12 page article. It is a temptation to write "this result of the paper is very good but these and these statements are not properly backed up". If I want to write this I have to prove it. But my aim is not to prove that someone else is wrong but what they are right about is useful for me. So I just write the positives, mention the negatives if I improved those and that's it. So it's still not maturity as in the quote but at least it's not complete immaturity.

This maturity can also be tested on the reviews of papers submitted to various conferences or journals. I know several people who got two reviews for their submitted paper (it's standard procedure to have at least two reviewers for one paper), one review said: "Very nice, very relevant to the topic of the conference, let's accept it" and the other was something like "no, it's utterly rubbish, can't even express their thoughts in proper sentences and paragraph 2.3.1 and 3.5.1, etc... has spelling mistakes here and there". Maybe both of them were right in some sense but the latter didn't show maturity for sure. It's just the inner child crying that something is not prefectly presented to them. I guess this might be one of the reasons for doing the reviews anonymously :).

I even read a paper somewhere about how many of the world's most significant scientific publications have been rejected when the authors first tried to publish them somewhere [1][2 - ppt, slide 7]. A famous example is that certain Mr Brin and Mr Page with their Pagerank algorithm have been first rejected at SIGIR (the top of information retrieval conferences)...

As always, I also try to connect both the quote and its relevant real life examples to my aikido studies: Sometimes I feel that I need to say to a beginner "you are not doing this and that right, look I'm better!", and then I think "Hmm...would I have been happy at the beginning if everyone had just listed my mistakes and showed off their skills?". I would have dropped out very soon. It wouldn't be much different for a shy beginner if you showed them how to correct all these mistakes, especially if they are aware of the problems but haven't yet practiced enough to correct them. So if I can I try to show only one thing at a time to avoid total confusion.

One other thing in a training, and I think this is more serious, that sometimes you see or feel that students with more experience and higher rank than you make mistakes. You know what's wrong so you could prove they are not right but you have no idea how to do it better as your mistakes are at a lower level and you need to get to the level where these mistakes appear in your practice. This is real immaturity in the above sense but I think I'm improving in this sense as well. Slowly, but I know I do :).

The good thing in all of these though is that you can see there's always a lot to learn, a lot to improve and a lot to think about how to learn and improve more. To become a more mature, harmoniously living, positive person. Amen :).

Monday, 25 February 2008

How to fold a hakama 2 - instructions

After the story of my hakama folding here's my folding instruction post. The pictures can be enlarged by clicking on them.

Hakama folding instructions
Hold the hakama and pull the inseam to the right.
Put the hakama down as if you wanted to drag it on the floor. This will help you to start with a reasonably arranged fold set.
Arrange the pleats within less than 45 minutes :). Make them parallel and don't forget that there are pleats you can't see from the picture but you can feel if something's not right when you `stroke' your hakama and find some bumps . (I tried to understand how to fold the hakama from some freely available hakama sewing patterns [1][2] but they didn't really help much, I just learn the proper and nice pleat arrangement gradually.)
Also, arrange the cords (himo) as well, you will finish the whole folding process with tying them.
A closer look with the pleats being nice and parallel.
Fold one of the sides so that this fold is parallel to the other pleats in front and the fold is approximately at the same height as where the cords are attached to the hakama. If your hakama is well ironed and of good quality, simply start folding from the side, the fold will arrange itself :).
Fold the other side as well.
Now start folding from the bottom, fold a bit less than one third of the length of your hakama (because we need to consider the thickness of the fabric when calculating these folds).
Another fold from the bottom.
Last fold here, the top of the last fold should be just above the top of the whole hakama (koshiita).
Enjoy the view of the spider :).
Start folding the longer pair of cords. The number of folds might be different for different hakama, the aim is to arrive at a length that, when the cords are folded on top of the hakama, it should just reach the other end of the folded hakama. this.
Now take the shorter cord and arrange it as shown.
Do the same with the other. Then fold them back to the side and tuck them back from between the crossing long cords.
When it's done with both cords, fold the rest of the cord into half.
The folded end will go beneath the short cord on the other side.
Well done!

ps. I found a good folding guide yesterday.

ps2. The secret of my photos: I folded my hakama nicely in 45 minutes at home and took the photos when I was unfolding it :).

Wednesday, 20 February 2008

How to fold a hakama 1 - my story

In our Aikido Foundation when you reach 2nd kyu level you are entitled to wear hakama. I already wrote about how hakama should be tied on and who can wear hakama in various aikido organisations in earliest posts. Until now, however, I haven't posted anything about how hakama should be folded although it would (almost) complete my hakama-related instructions. The reason I hesitated with this post is explained below.

A friend of mine who successfully graded for 2nd kyu a year before me said that it took him 45 minutes to fold his hakama for the very first time. Later this time was obviously reduced but I always remembered that certain 45 minutes and I couldn't wait to try to fold my own hakama and show that I can do it much quicklier. It looked obvious that I can do better because all the senior students with hakama always finished with folding within maximum five minutes. I thought I could probably do it within half an hour first and go down to 5 minutes within the matter of months. However, this is not how it happened.
Another friend lent me her hakama after a training (but months before my 2nd kyu grading) because she needed to go somewhere and couldn't take her hakama with her. I felt "this is the opportunity, I can show myself that I can do it well and quickly". So I folded hakama first at home where noone could see and watch me after training. Trying it at home was a lucky decision (my friend with the 45 minutes record tried it at home first, too). It took me more than 45 minutes... and then again it took me more than 45 minutes. I followed all the instructions I was given or could find online [1][2][3][4 - my favourite][5][6 - a pdf], why did this happen? I had several versions of how to fold a hakama printed from various websites and they still didn't help me much.

Here is why: All the instructions I found on the Web start with the same 'position': the hakama is on the floor, it's just lying there and looks neat and nice. The five front folds are all parallel and there isn't a single wrinkle nor is a not well aligned fold. If I start with this layout I can finish folding my hakama in less than two minutes. But to get to this properly aligned position is not as quick as it may seem. If you have a very good quality hakama with extremely well ironed folds, I kind of tend to believe that you can put your hakama down the floor so that all the folds are in the right position. But usually they aren't and it often happens that while trying to bring order to one side by arranging the folds you pull another part of the hakama destroying an already well aligned set of folds. This is the process that takes time, at least for me.

Some people even 'cheat' by sewing a bit here and there making 'permanent' folds.

So what happens when you see people packing their hakama in 5 minutes? They either have a very well ironed hakama made of a very good fabric or they are cheating by not folding the hakama nicely and properly. This kind of cheat, however, is much more acceptable than sewing because what they do is they take the hakama home to hang it and fold it properly before the next training.

This is what I do as well. I don't have time to fold my hakama properly after a training, so I do my best in five minutes. Maybe I could do an acceptably good job in five minutes but I'm a bit more perfectionist than that. Besides, hakama folding at home has become a kind of meditative process for me (as another friend pointed it out). It can still take 45 minutes but I don't mind that anymore. I arrange a bit here, a bit there and at the end I'm satisfied with the quality of my folding (I also use my clothes-brush as I don't wash my hakama as often as I wash my gi). A couple of hours later training begins, my nice folds are destroyed but it feels much better to put on a hakama that is in order and taken care of. As part of my folding procedure I enter I kind of shallow meditative state when I just focus on what I'm doing and not really on how I am doing it. When I'm finished it feels much better.

When I was told that what I'm doing is actually a kind of meditation, I immediately realized that I used to do (and feel) the same when I composed music 5-10 years ago. At that time I called it a 'flow' which comes from psychology but I think these two things are very much related. For example, my father almost completely forgets about himself when he works in his workshop assembling some small mechanical devices. It is flow but it is also meditation.

In case you are looking for instructions on how to fold a hakama please wait until my next post.

Monday, 18 February 2008

Fire with fire, fire with water

The paragraph that started my philosophical thinking for this week is from another blog:

"Most people are taught in life (and in most other martial arts) to meet force with force – to fight fire with fire.[...] However, isn't it more intelligent to fight fire with water, not with fire? When was the last time a fireman showed up at a burning home with a truck full of fire?"

In a normal case, you do meet fire with water: an aikidoka answers to an attack with water, i.e. we are not supposed to add any force to that of the attacker but redirect the force and make the energy flow.

This is the basic case but let's play with the ideas of water and fire and their use in aikido.

I think an attack can be fire or water, doesn't matter. If fire is concentrated into a sudden blast it can destroy everything. If water is focused into a tiny ray it can cut the toughest diamond.

An aikido technique can be fire or water, too. As water, it finds the least resistant way and lets the opponent's energy flow so that water itself doesn't have to 'use' its potential energy. As fire, if you absorb the energy of what creates fire (a log, for example) and emit it back as heat and pressure then you used the energy of the attacker and threw him with his own energy. If there's no log to feed the fire, there isn't much to emit back, only a tiny spark is enough until the attack comes.

So is it fire with fire, water with water or what? :) And what if I bring in the rest of the basic elements, i.e. earth and air?

Are these two things (fire and water) the same as yin and yang? Or yang and yin? I don't know but it was good to think about it in the morning.

Wednesday, 13 February 2008

You might be an aikido addict when - part 2

Here's the sequel to the first post about aikido addiction symptoms.

The list has grown since Monday so I will just add those to the end of the list.

You might still be an aikido addict when...

  • you open (fire)doors with tegatana and your hip (essentially the same as extending yourself into the door but I had this item before reading the Aikiweb entry)
  • when you are a bit drunk you start doing aikido's dance-like moves on the dance floor (it just comes naturally)
  • if you are there with a group you even do the rowing exercises together ('in a crazy world only crazy people are normal')
  • you all think these look nice and fun (especially if the party is preceeded by an aikido demonstration)
  • you always see your dance partner's irimi points and find it hard to resist throwing her (see handshake in previous post)
  • going home from a party you can't resist doing mae ukemi on concrete and then you are delighted to see that your camera in your backpack is still intact (Fudoshin san did it, I wasn't drunk enough)
  • in a training camp, you change to keikogi at home (or wherewhere your accommodation is) and get on the bus with your bokken in your belt (when you see people watching you you say you are from the bakery)
  • you never hold the handle or hold onto the pole in a bus or train, you try to keep a stable hanmi position without using your arms (but the bus isn't attacking in a straight line so it often finds your irimi point)
  • walking in an empty corridor you think about how much space you have to do ukemi (the space you need gets smaller as you advance in your aikido studies)
  • walking in an corridor you imagine what your boss and colleagues would say if you pretended to stumble then did mae ukemi and stood up as if nothing has happened (copyright Szilard(o) Sensei who also had baseball cap with a Sensei print created by erasing 'Security' from a cap of Sensei Security company)
  • you let your friends try to 'draw the sword' from your bokken (sorry, that's mean but many of us do it)
  • admire your tegatana in the mirror (but you can always see some place for improvement)
And the three extras:
  • You teach your whole family how to roll after just three months of training
  • You play with children of your friends/family in shikko dachi and you both feel very happy about it
  • You teach ukemi to your dog and the dog loves it: runs around, attacks, rolls and runs around and attacks again (ryotedogi kokyunage or, the Hungarian version, iriminage kutya, the latter meaning dog, obviously). As the aikiweb forum says, ikkyo doesn't work on dogs. I have never tried that one, only kokyunage :).

Monday, 11 February 2008

You might be an aikido addict when - part 1

I couldn't help but continue the list of Aikiweb's 'You might be an aikido addict if...' topic with my own entries. Initially I thought I would find a couple of entries there which are relevant to me but then it turned out that I can add a couple from my own aikido addiction. Moreover, it's not only a couple of lines but 24 :) and it's only 24 because I can't remember more but I'm sure there are a couple more to make the number 30 :).

First, my favourites from Aikiweb regardless whether I have experienced them or not (but it's likely that these are my favourites because I've experienced them at least once :) ):

You might be an aikido addict if...

  • you don't just open a door -- you extend into it from your center
  • you immediately stop what you're doing and sit down whenever you hear someone clap their hands
  • you find yourself with an irresistible urge to bow every time you enter or exit a room
  • you eagerly wait for Halloween (or any other costume party) to wear your gi and hakama outside the dojo
  • when you see a strait wooden stick, such as a broken broom handle, you automatically refer to it as a jo
  • any building you are in that has a large area in it you think, "Gee this would make a great dojo."
Finally, my own list with my own comments (1-12 for now, 13-24 are coming in the next post). Enjoy and add more if you want.

You are (I am) an aikido addict because...
  1. on your way to a tranining you warm up your neck and wrists (these are the warm-up moves that attract the least attention)
  2. you go home from a training and keep thinking about when the next will be and what you should focus on more (immediate withdrawal symptoms)
  3. on your way home from a training you play the training's techniques in your head (usually you are tori)
  4. on your way home your arms are always in tegatana and sometimes you walk in aiumiashi and tsugiashi (it's usually dark already so you think noone notices you)
  5. on your way home you think about ways how some basic principles can be taught to beginners even better (frustration over not being thrown enough times to get so tired that you need to take the bus home)
  6. when you are cold at home you don't turn on the heating or put on more clothes but do an aikido-style warm-up (and you say it's just because you are saving on the energy bill)
  7. you close your eyes after going to bed and see aikido techniques played in front of you (not as scary as it sounds)
  8. sometimes you participate in these techniques as tori (but that needs much more concentration)
  9. you can't sleep because you suddenly remembered a good topic for your aikido blog and can't beat it out of your head until you have it 'written' in your mind (usually starts at 2am and finishes at 4am)
  10. you see something on the street or hear a word somewhere and you immediately start thinking about its aikido connection and how it could be written down and posted in your blog (that's how the car alarms inspired me)
  11. you treat a handshake as aihanmi katatedori (very hard to resist 'harmony')
  12. you redirect other pedestrians on a busy street with tegatana and aiumiashi (detailed experience description coming in another post :))
Others coming next... :P

Wednesday, 6 February 2008

Live free or try hard

Alright, the title is a bit too newspaper-like but it really captures what I want to say (and my favourite male actor is Bruce Willis, anyway :D). One of the reasons I kept doing aikido for so long is that I usually try things too hard and trainings slowly teach me how not to. I want to control my life, plan everything ahead so nothing is unexpected and for everything I have a plan (or plan B, C, etc.). Obviously, this control-freakness doesn't allow much flexibility, spontaneity and creativity. You always tell yourself how things should be done and you lose the freedom of acting in different ways easily. That's why if you try something too hard you can't live free although you will need the freedom do decide whether to throw your opponent to left or right, step back or forward in randori, etc. When you are attacked, it's practice and quick thinking only, there is no time to make up plans.

About trying too hard: many people say "Try not. Do." I try :) to organise my life accordingly but it's hard :). Whenever I catch myself just trying - and that my jaws are locked from that much concentration - I have to remind myself to let things happen simply the way they do. As another famous saying/prayer goes:

"Lord, give me the strength to change what I can, give me the strength to resist what I cannot change and give me the wisdom to understand the difference between the two" - St. Francis of Assisi.
Ok, this is probably enough life philosophy for this post, so let me explain how this is connected to my aikido experiences. When you need to connect with your partner and redirect the attacker's energy you can't lock your muscles (although the initial shock reaction is usually muscle contraction). They have to be relaxed to connect and lead your uke which is not so easy, especially if you are similar to me and tend to try things too hard. I tried too hard on Sunday. I didn't consciously want to try too hard but I wanted to do that nikkyo omote so well and, as a result, I messed up each technique. I became frustrated and tried even harder, guess what the outcome was :). So I tried to relax by shaking my hands and legs to relax my muscles. Then I tried again but then I guess I overrelaxed because now I messed up the other way! :)

It's a never ending process to find the balance between too hard and too easy ways. To find the right tones of muscles that allow me to do the techniques the right way. This can be said about almost anything in life, I know: don't go towards the very extremes unless you just want to find how not to do things (and obviously the extremes should not cause something 'final' because if you got stuck there you can't come back and do things the way you think they are worth doing). Hmm...see? I'm looking for control again. :) Plans for everything. :) "Blessed is he who" doesn't worry about planning and gets to shodan within 4 years :D.

So I think this should be the Question of the month:
How do you balance between extremes? How do you not try (doing an aikido technique) too hard yet you don't fall apart from being overly relaxed?
I appreciate every idea from the simplest to the most philosophical.

Monday, 4 February 2008

Our club - the very beginning

Apart from the grading and starting of the children's aikido classes, our club had also happened to be exactly two years old on the 27th January 2008 so now I take the opportunity and write about how it started.

In 2005, thanks to a friend, it turned out that there are more than one aikidoka in London who used to train at the same organisation in Hungary. It was time we met and continue what we had started before and train together. The first time we met with Karesz (aka. Karol, Charlie san, Sensei :)) was very similar to the current, regular after-training events: we went for a beer. We discussed (among many other things :)) that we should find a club and train together. So we started looking for a good club. He looked where he lived and I looked where I could. However, finding a good club wasn't very easy and quick process, given that our financial situation caused some restrictions in terms of travelling distances and training fees as well.

So in the beginning we decided to train on our own where no fees needed to be paid: in the park. With Szabi's arrival, there were four of us so that made two pairs which was almost perfect for us. Karesz, Szabi, Heni (my wife) and me went to the Bishops park near Putney bridge and trained in several weekends of the autumn of 2005, obviously, when the weather allowed us to. There were several people in the park looking at us rolling and flying. We didn't wear our gi on the grass so that's why it was only 'several' people staring. As winter came, the park had become more and more muddy and wet so we had to stop these outdoor trainings.

In the meantime, we visited several clubs. Since we trained in Aikikai style which is the traditional aikido style currently overseen by the founder's grandson, Ueshiba Moriteru, we wanted to find an aikikai aikido club. There weren't a lot of them, and we had also seen several 'aikido' trainings which weren't really resembling to what we had seen and learned from our 3-4th dan masters previously. Maybe these training were just too different and they weren't what we needed but we always thanked them for letting us watch the training (I sometimes participated as well) but then did not return. We also found a good training in Maida Vale led by a 6th dan master. We even attended trainings for roughly a month but for some reason neither Karesz nor me felt that it was the training we want to settle in. Although a bit different, they were technically very good, but I felt something wasn't right with the atmosphere. It might have been just me, someone who wasn't ready to accept a training which was not exactly the same as the trainings I was used to (my former master had even warned me about this) but at the end, we just simply stayed away.

Our trainings, however, had to continue because having skipped 2 years and having tasted trainings again I wanted to continue my aikido studies and Karesz and Szabi didn't want to lose their (aikido) shape :). We decided to look for a place where we can rent a large room and mats for an hour and train as we could. We had a 1st dan and 1st kyu in our group so to keep up our levels it was fine. Karesz was the person who found a place to train. It was in the Open door community center in Southfields (the aikido listed in their website is something very different). It was there where we first trained as a 'club' on 27th January 2006. There were three of us plus a friend as spectator.

The first aikido training in Southfields. Note the smiles :).

Not much later, other friends and friends of friends joined and started their aikido studies. After a couple of months, we moved to the Holistic Fitness studio in Wimbledon and have been training there ever since but I'll write about that when it will be two years since starting trainings there.

Wednesday, 30 January 2008

Hiro Nakamura and the Japanese language

I know so little Japanese that I can construct only one proper sentence by myself (as, unfortunately, none of the aikido technique names make a full sentence): Watashi wa Hangari-jin desu (I'm Hungarian). However, this (lack of) knowledge doesn't stop me from trying to repeat words and sentences heard in Japanese. I can even think about the language and grammar when a suitably simple sentence comes up in a film.

The example that made me wonder is from the TV series Heroes. I heard the following expression in two episodes (and I watched both twice), so it was enough to remember two consecutive words: "Sayonara desu". In case you are a Heroes fan: Hiro said it both times. First, to the Japanese princess Yaeko, then to his father Kaito Nakamura (Nakamura Kaito according to the Japanese order but in the series they use Kaito Nakamura when talking in English). I had heard sayonara before, that's basic enough. It means good bye (and you two will never see each other again) and it is in many movies, even in non-Japanese movies not translated. But it was never accompanied by desu in those movies and so I didn't have a clue what additional meaning these four letters carried.

I asked a friend who's been to Japan and speaks Japanese reasonably well (she says :)). She'd never heard sayonara desu and she risked that it wasn't even proper Japanese. But it was said by Hiro who is obviously Japanese if you look at him and hear him talk! So this friend sent an email to a friend of hers who's Japanese and can surely resolve the issue.

Before the answer email arrived and was forwarded to me I had a look at IMDB and found that Hiro, Masi Oka, has actually been living in the US since the age of 6 and the Japanese language is only listed as 'speaks fluent Japanese'. But his mother is Japanese, Heroes is an expensive series so they should take care of the language and the guy has an IQ of 180 so I guessed he would know the language properly.

The tension had been growing and growing... :)

Finally, my friend received the official answer from Japan:

You made me laugh! [...] I heard many times on TV as well.
[...] "Sayonara Desu" does not exist for proper Japanese. I think someone wanted to say "Sayonara" as polite, and then added "desu" after that. It has no any special meaning.
Now as the issue is resolved I can live my life with one less mistery :). I'm just wondering why I can't find anything about this expression online but I might let others worry about it.