Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Part II of Keep a Martial Arts Journal

  Last column, I discussed the physical needs of the journal keeping.  Namely the journal itself.  For this post, I'm going to go over two important ideas.  First, what to write in a martial arts journal, and second, how to keep writing in your journal and not loose the battle to complacency.  Now I'm not claiming that these are my ideas, or that I invented any of these things.  I'm just going to tell you what worked for me, and what other people have suggested.

Typical page from my journal
What to write.
    I usually start off with the date, the class I'm taking (our system has several different arts rolled into one), where I'm taking the class, and who the instructor is.  If I can, I write down who was there in class, or at least with whom I was training.  After that, I write down a general idea of what I did that day.  Which kata we worked on, what techniques we did, who and how I sparred.  Then the tricky part.  I write down any observations I can think of.  By concentrating on these observations, it will make you pay more attention next time.  Included in these observations is any weaknesses I notice in my own techniques, kata, or something I got caught on in sparring (or randori if you do something similar).  This is where you have to be honest with yourself.  The journal is a road map of your martial path, so not being honest will influence how you train later.
Vocab pages
I also like to keep a reference section in the back of my journal.  I keep a list of vocabulary (including kanji for the Japanese words), books people recommend, people's contact information,  and even quotes from books I read that apply to martial arts, or specifically my martial arts.
    In between my dated entries, I include any information gleaned from other sources (say a martial arts blog).  Sometimes, I get inspired by a piece of art, a poem, or even a TV show.  When this happens I write it down what the source was, and what the inspiration is, and why it was important.
   Personally, I like to sketch things as well.  Again I reiterate, you don't have to be great at drawing to do this.  Stick figures work.  In fact sometimes they can show the ideas of the form more clearly.  Simple drawing usually work the best.  I'm a big fan of the simplicity of Oscar Ratti's art.  If you've read Secret of the Samurai, or Aikido and the Dynamic Sphere, you've seen his art.  I draw postures, or specific aspects of locks or throws.  Then I add specific notes pointing out things I learned or noticed about them from that particular class.  To make things more dynamic, I usually have different colored inks for writing the notes.
    If you don't like drawing, take pictures.  I found these things called Picture Corners from a craft store.  You know those little white corners that used to hold pictures into photo albums?  You can take pictures and use the picture corners to hold them in your journal.  I take pictures with my iPhone (or whatever) and can send them to Walgreens who will print them out for about $.40 a piece.  I then use a ultra thin sharpie marker to write notes on the picture.

Tips for keeping the journal 
    Here are a small list and explanation of ideas or tips that I've used, or heard about from others that may help you continue to keep your journal.
Pages with sketches

1. Record your journal information as soon as possible. 
As soon as class is over is the best.  The ideas and impressions are still fresh in your mind.  If that is not possible, then as soon as you get home.  If not then then at least within 24 hours.  If you don't believe me, try it.  Write a journal entry right after class.  You'll have a lot to write about.  Then next time, write the entry a day later.  You'll be amazed how that little time erodes your memory.

2. Make sure your write both positive and negative things.
If you end up just self criticizing, you'll stop writing.  Write about what you did well that class as well.  It is just as important to know what your doing right as it is what your doing wrong.  Sometimes trying new things can be negative and positive.  Write about both aspects.  What worked, what didn't work, and why.

3. Review your own work occasionally.
Don't do it everyday, but every once in a while go back and read over what you wrote.  It will help you look at what you've done, as well as review what still needs to be done.  If you notice that every time you spar, you're not happy with the result, then maybe you need to talk to your instructor as to why that is.  Are you missing something, or is it something else?  Sometimes just identifying

4. Keep at it.
Everyone will fall off the journaling wagon occasionally.  When you come back, don't try to cram everything in that has happened in the mean time.   Start each entry just talking about what happened that day.

5. The Journal is for you.
Don't write the journal for anyone else.  That is why the physical aspect is important as well.  You have to feel like writing in it.  If you want it to be private, keep it private.  You don't have to have anyone else read it.  They don't have the need right to read it.  It is OK to tell someone "no, my journal is private."

If you have any more ideas to help please feel free to add them to the comments. 

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Part I of Keep a Martial Arts Journal

My Current Journal with Dojo Sticker
    Welcome back!  In a previous post I talked about why it would be beneficial to keep a martial arts journal.  This time, I'll give you some ideas or hints for what to put in your journal, and how I've done it, and have kept doing it (that's the tricky part). has a couple of good articles about keeping journals in general, but I'm going to be specific to a martial arts journal.

On a side note, in one of the comments, though in support of journals, Shawn Howard said "...I know what my instructors would say: instead of writing about my techniques, katas etc... I
should be practicing them."  I would respond with a hearty agreement.  However, if we make martial arts only about the physical, we loose all the mental, spiritual, and historical goodness that combines to make martial arts.  A journal is a good place to keep those other aspects.  Those are the reasons most of us do martial arts in the first place.  The second thing, is I in no way have any affiliation with any of the brands or websites listed below, except through my own experiences as a customer.  Now on to the column...

    If you are reading this column, the idea of writing a martial arts journal has already piqued your interest.  Now that you think this is a good idea, you may be wondering "how do I start one."  The following is just some advice.  Everything in your journal is
ultimately for you, and you can pick and choose what you like and don't like.  What you want to do, and don't want to do.  It is all just suggestions.  Whatever works for you, works for you. 

Step 1: The Journal
3.5" x 5.5" Journal
    The first thing you'll need is a journal.  This can be an important step for the long term use.  If you get a journal that doesn't fit your way you're using it, you're going to stop.  The journal can be any type of consolidated writing book that you want.  There are only two real requirements.  It has to be paper, and it has to be bound together somehow so that it keep the
papers organized.  That being said, there are a bunch of options for you.  Here are some things to consider in what you want.
    First is the size.   There are couple of common sizes that would work well for a martial arts journal, but each has its advantages and disadvantages.  The first size is 3.5x5.5 (inches for those from
countries smart enough to use the metric system).  This size is very portable.  It can almost fit in a front pocket comfortably, but it has less area to write/draw in.  Personally, I keep mine journal in my gi bag, so the size isn't as important issue for me.  The next size up is 5.5x8.5.  This is my favorite.  I think it is a happy medium between size, and writing space.  It is easy enough to
carry around in a bag, but small enough that carrying it by hand isn't a bother.  I feel there is enough space to write/draw on any given page.  The largest size I would recommend would be a full sized notebook, 8.5x11.  There are sketchbooks that come even larger, but I honestly think this would be too big to carry every time to the dojo.
Interior of my journal 8.5"x5"
    Second, there are four basic layout options.  Lined paper, no line paper, graph and dots.  Some people like the lined paper because it helps them write neater, if that's you, have at it.  I like to add pictures, and the lines bug me, so I opt for the unlined.  The dotted is halfway in between.  It gives you guidelines for writing straight, but it isn't so structured that pictures get overwhelmed.

    The final consideration is quality.  The paper and the binding are the two main parts of this.  Thinner paper means more pages in the journal, but you get "ghosting" when you write on the backs of pages.  For me, that irks me, so I opt for what are called sketch Gfeller that fits on my Moleskine sketchbook journal.  Besides looking more rugged and personal, it protects the cover of the journal.  My journals get thrown in my gi bag, and banged around pretty regularly, so for me quality is a more important quality.  Rhodia is another very good, high quality brand.  If you're looking for one of these, I would recommend The Goulet Pen Company.  I've dealt with them numerous times, and they're extremely quick and very good with their customer service.  If you're looking for less price, there are plenty of options at the local giant books stores. 
paper.  There is absolutely no ghosting from the backs.  The binding also tends to increase the cost.  Some are just constructed better than others.  I went a step farther, and purchased a leather book cover from

My Lamy Safari Al-Star
Step 2: The Writing Instrument
    This step isn't crucial, but I think it is important.  If you make writing in your journal a special process, you're more likely to enjoy the writing, and continue doing it.  I've started using fountain pens, and now I can't stop.  It makes everything I write feel special, no matter what it actually is.  Plus, I can change the ink color every couple of days to any color I can image.  Fountain pens just give a little bit of class to the feel of the writing.  If you're interested in using a fountain pen, again I suggest Goulet Pens.  I use Lamy Safari, which is an affordable version.  You don't have to use a fountain pen, some people prefer ball point, or gel pens, but I would suggest using a pen that has a special feel to it.  This is your martial arts journey, might as well make it look nice as you go.

Now that you've got your supplies, next time I go over some tips and examples of writing for a continuous and joyful experience.

Monday, September 16, 2013

A seminar first for me.

    I know I said my next column would be about how to write a martial arts journal, but I had an unusual experience this weekend that I wanted to share.  I post the "how to" next.

That's me teaching a way to get into shiho nage (sorry about the blur)
    I study a form of aikido called Chendokan aikido.  Chendokan is part of an overall martial system that includes Atemi ryu Jujutsu, Atemi Arnis Jutsu, and Sogetsu ryu Kenjutsu.  I've been involved with the revamping of our system.  It started about a year ago when we the instructors were asked by the founder of the system to start to make sure our aikido was still a martial art.  That it was not as soft as some other system had become.  So a couple of dedicated individuals, including myself, set about figuring out how to do this.  As a way to introduce this, we had our first seminar of what we're calling "Combat Effective Aikido" this weekend.  It was a small seminar, mainly inhouse, with only our own people from the aikido and the jujutsu side (anyone else is welcome to find out about us if they are in South Florida.)
    Here's the weird part. Because I've been helping rebrand the system, I was asked to help teach the seminar.  There were mainly three of us teaching.  It's not that I didn't know the material, or that I haven't taught before, but there were people who WAY out rank me on the jujutsu side.  I kept asking myself, "Why are they listening to me?.. They have been doing this longer than I have."  Now I've been doing Chendokan for over 11 years now, so its not like I'm a beginner, but still.  Halfway through the seminar, one of the jujutsu people, whom I respect a lot, came up to me and complimented me on how my aikido has improved.  It was an unexpected compliment.  It was overall a very good was just kind of a sureal experience, being asked to teach at a seminar. 

Anybody else had similar thoughts teaching their first seminar?  Let me know about it in the comments.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

A Travelbook for Your Martial Path

      This column is my plea to have everyone start using a journal to write down their martial arts experiences.  I've recently become a fan of using a journal myself.  I, like many people, have tried to keep a journal in the past and have given it up many times.  I had the same problems everyone does, I would start strong, and then teeter off with lack of use.  I always wanted to continue, it was just hard to keep up with it.  Sounds like a lot of people who start taking martial arts right?  Just like martial arts, the perseverance ends up being worth the effort.  I've been keeping my journal for about 2 years now and I wish I started it earlier.
Old "Ki"
    I use my journal to record a lot of different material.  I study Japanese arts, so I record any of the Japanese terms used in my art including any kanji I can figure out.  This by itself has lent itself to discoveries.  For example, the kanji used for writing the word "aikido" has changed.  In 1946 the kanji for "ki" was redone.  Every class I go to I write down the techniques practiced, and any new ideas or insights I got that day, as well as any particular difficulties I had with the techniques.  I record information from any book that I read that gives any martial arts philosophy, or history.  I have
Drawing from Bruce Lee's Journal
learned to sketch (partially by doing the journal), so I include pictures and diagrams to help me remember different aspects of a technique, idea presented in class, or presented in a book I'm reading.  However, you don't need to be good at drawing to do this.  You'd be surprised how much  information can be symbolized with stick figures.  Even small ideas can be shown; hand positions and turning the foot, and other little details. Besides, the more you practice the better you'll get at it.
    There are several reasons you would want to write a journal.  The first reason is that your journal is a road map of where your marital journey has taken you.  If you want your art to grow, you have to occasionally look back at where you were.  It works as a record for that journey.  You'll be surprised how much you forget.  The physical act of writing down all that information creates a stronger memory link.  You learn more from writing something down, than just listening to it.  On that same idea, by thinking about your performance of your art, you become more cognizant of it.  You start looking at it more carefully.  If your martial art is more of a competition based art, then this gives you a written record for achievements and goals. 
    Second, seeing it all written down lets you know what your weaknesses are and where to concentrate your study.  I've found that my martial studies are cyclical.  Every so often, I rotate what it is I want to concentrate on.  Sword, aiki, jujutsu attacks, groundfighting, sword, aiki, etc.  By doing looking at your own pattern, you can see if you really do need more practice/concentration, or is it just a change of interest?  Are you improving or just moving on?
Bruce Lee's Personal Journal Became a Classic Book
    The third reason is it makes a great reference manual for your art.  And not only your art, but how YOU practice your art.  All the little details you notice can accumulate to be okudenOkuden are "hidden techniques." They are the subtle aspects that make a technique actually work.
    Fourth, you never know what the future will be.  Some day in the future, after the zombie apocalypse, you'll have to reintroduce the art.  Or at the very least you'll be able to write a book about your art.  Or you could end up forming a "new" martial art.  Bruce Lee did, and his personal notes on philosophy and combat became the book "The Tao of Jeet Kun Do," and its a classic.
    In the end, the journal  is first and foremost written for you.  Your entries are messages to your future self.  They are secrets that you'll forget, and then only when you read them, will you get to experience them all over again.

Next time I'll write on HOW to write in a journal.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Make the World your Dojo

An Example of Aikido in Everyday Life

      The other day I was at the park with my wife and son.  Being the ever adventurous two year old, he wanted me to push him in the swing.  After pushing him to the appropriately semi-dangerous height, I kept him pushing to maintain this height to which he squealed in delight.  It was at that time that I realized I was unconsciously using my aiki.  I was standing to side of his swinging arc, and catching his butt on the upswing, not stopping his motion, but feeling the motion and adding just a slight push down right on the top of his arc to keep him swinging at the same height.  I was going with his motion, and then adding energy to over extend where his motion was naturally going.
Tenkan footwork
      So I decided to use this opportunity.  I got into more of a stance, and started to concentrate on using my hara, my center, on each push.  I then got an even better idea of moving to push him.  As I pushed my son, I would tenkan from one side of the swing's arc to the other, still pushing with my hara.  What was weird with this experience was I had a hard time not making swing higher.  Pushing him this way, I kept adding too much energy, he kept going higher.
      This was one of those opportune moments where you realize, as O-Sensei said, aikido is a natural art.  Everything can be aikido.  I haven't got to the point where EVERYTHING is aiki, but I am trying to make all my movements natural.  Ever time I'm doing any sort of movement, I try to be conscious of any awkwardness or resistance to natural motion.  Here is an example I remember from my high school physics class.  Sit on a chair or something, and swing your legs.  You can feel a natural rhythm to your leg swings.  Now try to increase the frequency of your leg swings.  Not the amplitude, i.e. height, but the speed... It is hard.  That's because the mass and length of your leg gives it a natural motion.  Going against that nature requires more effort than it's worth.
      I mention this because my life has not enabled me to go to the dojo as much as I'd like to right now.  But, I can still practice the ideas and physical philosophy of aikido where ever I am.  Again to quote O-Sensei: "Make the world your dojo."

Monday, September 2, 2013

Death of Osama Bin Laden, an aikido perspective

Originally published on in 2011

The Death of Osama Bin Laden, an Aikido perspective

"I mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy. Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that."
-Martin Luther King, Jr.

I’m going to start in a different place first, so hold your thoughts for one second.  SEC football is near religious in parts of the American South.  I went to the University of Florida, so I’ve seen the fervor first hand.  Each team has its rival.  Florida’s biggest SEC rivals were always Tennessee and Georgia.  Alabama and Auburn have been rivals for over 100 years.  But notice the word: rivalry.  Not enemy.  A rival is someone you enjoy competition against, not want to beat up.  The reason rivalries start is because of even competition.  Florida beats Georgia, Georgia beats Tennessee, and then Tennessee beats Florida.  They work as great mirrors for the teams.  You get a real test of yourself, when you compete against somebody as good as or better than yourself.  But like many things, these ideas get taken too far.  I know people that say, “I HATE Tennessee.”  But, what they really mean is that they hate losing to Tennessee.  Many people lose the distinction.
Damage from Tuskaloosa tornadoes
Mr. Harvey Updyke Jr. is one of those people. In February earlier this year he  poisoned the two 130 year old oak trees at Toomer’s Corner in Auburn, Ala with Spike 80DF, an herbicide also known as Tebuthiuron.  He did it because he was a fan of the University of Alabama.  He killed two living things because of a rivalry, and then bragged about it as “Al from Dadeville” on the Paul Finebaum radio show.  In retaliation, Updyke recently was attacked at a gas station by Auburn fans who recognized him as “Al the poisoner.”  This assault on Updyke was not the right response to Updyke’s fanaticism.  The right response followed later that week after tornadoes went through Tuskaloosa Alabama, home to the Univerity of Alabama.   One of the first organizations to get there, and give meaningful help, was the Auburn University Alumni Association.  Because they were individuals, and not a bureaucracy, they had no hindrances on how or who to help and offer supplies.  They simply gave everything they had to whoever they saw that needed them.  This is the appropriate response to Updyke’s fanaticism, to his hatred.  After all, it is hard to hate someone, when they are giving you life saving aid after you’ve lost everything.  Now, I fully expect this season’s Auburn-Alabama game to be vigorous and very competitive, but I think there will be more smiles on the field at the end of the game, regardless who wins. There will certainly be no more poisonings, unless it’s food poisoning because who really checks the expiration dates on those stadium hot dogs. I mean really.
This applies also to our more recent news as well.  Osama Bin Laden was killed by US soldiers; men who acted in America’s name.  I watched as people celebrated in the street.  I watched as people questioned why he was buried at sea.   I watched as people demanded to see the pictures of Bin Laden’s assassinated body for themselves. I watched and actually felt sad.  As a martial artist I understand the idea of the Life Giving Sword; cutting out cancer to help the body survive.  I agree, as a symbol, his life needed to be removed, mostly because his mind was set on a hateful path and he would never be able to change his views.  He was irredeemable.  But what was disturbing was our celebrations.  They were breeding more hate.  What I don’t think people realize is that Osama already won.  He has already succeeded in his goals.  By attacking the US he wanted us to attack other countries.  Attacking these other countries creates resentment for the US that fuels his cause.  He lured us into a hate war, and as a country we dove in with headfirst, heedless of what was ahead.  As a country that preaches peace we should follow (and as a Gator I can’t believe I’m saying this) Auburn’s example.  When your enemy is hungry, feed him.  It’s hard to complain too much when you’re chewing.