Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Hakko Denshin Ryu; S&M Anyone?

You really have to be sick to enjoy this stuff as much as I do; why else would I willingly—eagerly—submit myself to the chokes, joint locks and other various ministrations of my friends both in Japan and the U.S.? Maybe I should be questioning the sort of friends I have! All’s fair in love and Budo, though, and my friends are always willing to submit themselves to equal punishment when the time comes.

I have written previously of my experience traveling to the dojo of Soke Yasuhiro Irie, founder of Kokodo Jujitsu, but I have not yet touched upon the Hakko Denshin Ryu Jujitsu I have practiced in the States. Hakko Denshin Ryu traces its roots to Okuyama Yoshihara (1901-1986) who dedicated his life to the study of various styles of bujutsu and oriental medicine. Okuyama Sensei, through government contacts, was introduced to Shihan Toshimi Matsuda and later to the founder of Daito-Ryu Aiki Jujitsu, Shihan Somi Takeda. As Takeda Sensei grew older, Okuyama Sensei found himself taking on more and more of the responsibilities for the daily running of the Daito-Ryu association. By 1939, when it became apparent that the leadership of Daito-Ryu would be passed to Takeda Sensei’s son, Tokimune Takeda, Okuyama Sensei began to split from the Daito-Ryu Association. He was interested in establishing himself as a master in his own right and, in 1941, performed a ceremony proclaiming the birth of Hakko-Ryu at the Shiba Tenso shrine.
On August 5th, 1997, an organization of Hakko-Ryu Shihans from around the world appointed three directors for the further advancement of the art. In a spirit of cooperation, directors Michael LaMonica and Antonio Garcia named both the American and European styles Hakko Denshin Ryu, the Heart of the Eighth Light.

In his life, Soke Okuyama Yoshihara studied Keiraku therapy (circulation medicine using the meridians of the body), Shiatsu (finger pressure medicine) and Amma (massage). The unique and most powerful feature of hakko-Ryu and its offshoots is the combination of the martial practices with the founder’s deep understanding of the body and its pressure points and meridian lines. A practitioner of Hakko Denshin Ryu is able to deliver varying degrees of pain to control an attacker; as one progresses in the art, the techniques require less effort and cause increasing amounts of agony. Unlike with many other martial arts, however, the techniques of Hakko Denshin Ryu leave no lasting physical damage.

In this video of my friend
Sam and I,
Sam has grabbed me katate dori (single, same side wrist grab). I circle the hand he has grabbed up and around and bring it to rest on top of Sam’s arm… effectively turning his hand sideways. I use my free hand to hold Sam’s hand trapped and create a point of locked joints. This can be used to move Sam around as it creates a rather sharp pain through the wrist. Then, I drive my arm forward and across the back of Sam’s elbow, turning his arm and shoulder toward the ground.
Once Sam is on the floor, there are any number of pins I can use to hold him still. Our Sensei, Matt Pinard, is showing me one such pin. If you listen closely, I ask Sam if it hurts at the end of the video…. He says that it does… actually, he says, “haiiii” in a rather cute voice.

In this second video,
Matt and I
Are reviewing two techniques we worked on this particular evening. In both techniques, you drive your knuckle up into one of the meridian lines underneath your friend’s arm. This line is referred to as shabori, I believe. I am still learning the vocabulary related to Hakko Denshin Ryu.
In the first technique, I simply throw Matt away from me. In the second technique, however, I keep control and bring Matt to the ground. Then, bracing his arm against my knee, I continue to drive my knuckle deeper while sliding it up his arm. Another nice little trick is to start cutting the knuckle toward the side of your friend’s arm while continuing to press it into the meridian. I use the term “cut across” because it does create a pain similar to having someone cut you with a hot knife.

Pinard Sensei and Sam are both great people to train with. We laugh as much as we cry during these sessions; as I say in the introduction of this blog: if you can’t laugh, then you’re not in good enough shape. This has been only the briefest of glimpses into Hakko Denshin-Ryu Jujitsu. If you practice Aiki-Jujitsu, it’s nothing you haven’t seen before. If you don’t train in this art, though, it’s really worth the pain. As the pain fades away, it leaves you feeling a little giddy and exhilarated. Or maybe I am just a little sadistic….

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Judo at the Kroc Center, Grand Rapids

On my recent trip to the States I took the opportunity to train with a great group of Judoka in the Grand Rapids, Michigan, area. I have known Jim Murray and his son Alex for just over a year—since I visited home last summer—and never have I met two people who do more to encourage a positive Judo spirit. I was excited then, in January, to hear that Jim Murray Sensei was starting a Judo program at the Grand Rapids Kroc Center.

The Kroc Center
2500 S. Division Ave
Grand Rapids, Michigan 49507
Judo: Children’s class (under thirteen years of age), 6:00-7:30 Mondays and Wednesdays
Judo: Adults (thirteen and older), 7:30-8:45 Mondays and Wednesdays

The Salvation Army Ray and Joan Kroc Corps Community Center, one of many such centers across the United States, was founded with the intention that all people, regardless of social status, have access to a world-class recreational, educational and cultural arts facility. Joan Kroc—wife of McDonalds founder Ray Kroc—established the first center in Sandiego, California in 2001. Since 2001—and with the aid of an impressive 1.5 billion dollar donation from the Kroc family—the salvation army has continued Joan Kroc’s dream by establishing many more such cultural centers.

The first time I joined a class at the Kroc Center—back in February—I was immediately impressed by the fact I was hearing as much Spanish as English spoken amongst the members. An excited group of twenty kids between seven and 14 years of age were gathered to learn Judo, wearing judogi that the Kroc Center even provided. The students were energetic, friendly and, above all, excited to watch Jim Murray Sensei throw me and other adult judoka with Ogoshi (major hip throw).
Six months and more have passed now. When I joined the Kroc Center’s Judo club these past couple weeks, I was delighted to see that there is still a strong membership with children and adults from a mixed variety of races and ethnicities. As Murray Sensei put it, “With our visiting Sensei from Poland and Nick in from Japan, I think every major culture is represented here tonight.” This is what I, personally, love to see. Jim Murray Sensei, with the help of the people at the Kroc Center, is bringing Judo into the lives of people who would probably never have the chance to learn under normal circumstances. You hear stories of great basketball and baseball players being discovered in poor inner-city neighborhoods…. Why not the next Judo gold medalist?

Jim Murray is a third degree black belt in Judo and the president of Judo Affiliates of Michigan. He is a USA certified national coach and a USJF certified Kata instructor. He has taken silver and bronze medals in both the USA Judo National Championships (Masters Division) and the Pan-American Masters Championships. He also won the gold medal in the 2005 Midwest Judo Championship (Masters Division).

Monday, August 22, 2011

Rinzai Zen Training

While on my two-week vacation to the U.S., I revisited an aspect of Budo training that I have yet to mention in this blog. That is to say: meditation. Though meditation is rarely a part of Judo or Jujutsu training, it is a very integral part of Aikido. Especially in the United States, where the founders of many of the major Aikido organizations have been practicing Zen Buddhists and have made Zen a part of daily training.

At the
Kyoseikan Dojo
in Grand Rapids, Michigan, members regularly meet on Sunday mornings for a Rinzai Zen study group. Rinzai Zen was first brought to Japan from China near the end of the twelfth century, where it became popular with the newly formed Samurai class. Unlike other, gentler forms of Buddhism, Rinzai Zen was characterized by a more martial practice.
In 1979, Omori Roshi—a man considered to be one of the greatest Zen masters of the twentieth century—founded the Daihonzan Chozenji temple in Honolulu, Hawaii. This was the first Rinzai Zen headquarters established outside of Japan. From Honolulu, Rinzai Zen spread to mainland United States through the activities of two of Omori Roshi’s disciples : Tanouye Roshi and Hosokawa Roshi. Rinzai Zen training was further supported by the actions of Toyoda Tenzan Rokoji, founder of the Aikido Association of America and a Zen Master in his own right. Toyoda Sensei promoted the study and practice of Zen through his Chicago based Daiyuzenji temple.

(Zazen with Mata Sensei)

Though it seems difficult to believe that the practice of sitting still and clearing one’s mind can have beneficial results, it has long been an integral part of both religious and martial practices. Modern science has demonstrated the changing brain-wave patterns in people who spend time meditating and nearly everyone has heard stories of monks who have endured great cold and suffering through meditation. The sheer difficulty of “not thinking” should be enough to prove its importance. I will gladly train for three hours at a stretch, but thirty minutes of Zazen seems to last an eternity. But how can meditation possibly help your Budo?
One of the most important things that Budo teaches us is to develop control; both over our mind and body. He who fights in anger fights himself. A good budoka must have his complete concentration on his art without falling prey to stray thoughts or emotions. The practice of meditation helps us develop this control and focus. I like to think that meditation is a form of training for our concentration. AS with other practices, it becomes easier over time. The time you put in at the zendo will prove useful in the dojo or in competition where you need a clear mind.

In the Rinzai Zen training I have seen, the goal is to completely empty one’s mind of all stray thoughts; a seemingly simple task which proves itself to be much more difficult than it appears. For beginners, such as myself, counting one’s breath is a simple, first step. Focus your mind on the number… “one” inhale—exhale… “two” inhale—exhale. Each time a thought enters your mind, you must begin the count again from one.
There are many ways to sit for meditation and the exact form varies from school to school. The most important things to keep in mind are posture and breath. One’s posture should be straight with the hips pushed back. As Chiba Sensei—founder of the Birankai association of North America—once explained, “Show your ass-hole to the universe.” Pressing the hips back opens a space for the stomach to fully expand. This allows for correct breathing; deep breaths that fill and expand the stomach without moving the chest cavity. The chest has a very limited range of motion, whereas the stomach can expand much further. Try, for example, to inhale into the chest. When your chest is fully expanded and you can no longer draw breath, push out your stomach and notice how you can now continue to inhale.
As you exhale, try to maintain the stomach expanded. It is difficult, but the expanded stomach will act as a cushion upon which your internal organs can comfortably rest. This will actually help your posture.

Meditation is something I have long been telling myself I should practice more regularly. Its surprisingly difficult, however, to take those twenty or thirty minutes—even once a week—to sit. Perhaps this is a result of the busy lives we have created with our constant need for stimulation.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Oops, Sorry About That

Have no fear, I have neither forgotten nor abandoned these tales of the Iron Goat. I developed a social life about the same time the university semester was ending and I found myself rather occupied during a three week stretch. Though the social life thankfully remains, I have more stories to tell!

I am currently on vacation in the United States and will be returning to Japan on Thursday the 18th. I've been taking advantage of my summer vacation, however, to practice a little Judo, Aikido and Jujitsu. Pretty much what I do every other day of the year.

It is, of course, always interesting to return from Japan and train in American dojos. For one thing, people speak English... there's a surprise. What is facinating, though, are the differences in teaching methodology. I jokingly said to a friend, "I'm going to take advantage of my vacation to learn Judo..." which may seem strange as I am studdying Judo full-time in Japan.
Sadly, there was some truth to my statement. No one can deny that the Japanese train hard. On a typical day in judo bukatsu I may do anywhere from one to three hours of randori. In Aikido, we will do ten to fifteen techniques over the course of two hours. In dojos in the states, however, much more time is dedicated to learning and reviewing throws in Judo and, in Aikido, I often see a smaller number of techniques demonstrated but with a greater stress on the relation in the movements between techniques.
This is not to say that American dojos are better or worse. In the U.S. I do not feel like I have enough of a work-out during class. In Japan, on the other hand, I do not feel I've learned much during training. And in these two sentences I have written, without consciously intending to, the real difference: Japan has "training" whereas American dojos have "classes".

Though this is not a hard and fast rule--there are always differences from dojo to dojo--this has always been my experience. I can state very firmly and very infatically that dojos in the States are better in one aspect: working with people's with disabilities. During every class I have attended in the past two weeks, someone has stood next to me while the sensei demonstrated a technique or throw. That person, without my asking, has shown or told me in as much detail as possible the key points the sensei was trying to make. In Japan, someone must show me what the sensei has demonstrated after the sensei has finished. It becomes that person's sole responsibility to both remember everything the sensei has shown as well as teach it to me.
This subject is of particular importance, obviously, because I'm blind and have to learn martial arts in a specialized way. I do not feel this means I must go to a special dojo, however. I have been invited to speak at a seminar in September in Japan about this very topic: disability sports. I've been thinking a lot recently about how I learn because that is what I'm going to be asked. The other interesting twist is the fact I'm not only a person with a visual impairment trying to learn Judo in Japan... I'm a westerner who is accustomed to a western teaching style trying to learn Judo in Japan. I have much to think about.

Over the course of the last week I've been taking a lot of videos and photos and I'll have some great stuff to put up shortly on the blog. May the training continue--