David M. Valadez
You have to see through things, to the futility of excess, exaggeration, and flamboyancy, to the weakness for social adoration that rests at the heart of a dopamine addiction cycle that works through these behaviors. Only then, will simplicity, silence, and stillness become powerful and sacred for you.
Your mat cannot be so crowded that you unknowingly start to adjust waza to fit in the limited space. Since this happens unknowingly, tactical viability starts to be reprioritized subconsciously, such that one no longer asks “what works?” and instead asks “what works for this tiny space?” When your mat is crowded, suwari waza osae waza or ne-waza are always going to be a better training options than, for example, a tachi waza Irimi Nage with no kuzushi. Keep this in mind: For beginners, training in too small a space or too crowded a mat, also leads to a stunted spirit and a stunted Kokyu. One sees this a lot in contemporary Japan.
I would not be surprised if every messiah comes to be via his or her love of mankind. Different though from others that love, he/she is an extremist of sorts, a person that pursues purer and purer forms of love, until the only satisfactory love is communion, an absence of self. This absence of self opens the door for a communion with the divine. It then spills forth from there into a communion with his or her fellow man. But, now, this love, so charged and force-filled, because it is none other than the divine itself, and not just a love of the divine, carries with it a sharp edge. It is like a scalpel, like a blade that heals but by cutting things out, by cutting things up, by damaging tissue, so to speak. Meaning, there is a destructive aspect to it, one that is there because it is waged, yes, waged, against a population that for the most part is not in communion with the divine, a population that has an attachment to the self. It is that ancient and universal proximity of the sacred and the profane. Meaning, whenever the sacred comes into contact with the profane, the profane is radically transformed, so much so that while it may become anything there is one thing it cannot be: It cannot be the same, it cannot remain unchanged. For the person that is not ready to let go of their former self, and that includes everyone, this fact is a torturous fact, a painful and fear-filled fact. This fact then enters into conflict with the origin of the messiah’s formation, for he or she began by loving his or her fellow man, and now he or she must always destroy, must always cause pain, torture, to practice that love. As such, he or she must begin to wonder if love can be done without, if pity is enough, if service is enough, if silence is enough. He or she, because he or she is first and foremost a lover, becomes reluctant to love. He or she becomes a reluctant messiah. Bach is right: All messiahs are reluctant messiahs.
The training drills or paradigms required for gaining technical skill and for gaining spontaneous application are most often not the same. For while a highly skilled practitioner in spontaneous application can use both training environments to increase and refine both skill sets, someone less skilled or skilled only in technical training environments cannot. Spontaneous skill has always been the aim and ideal of East Asian martial arts, but it has always been the domain of masters - the relatively few. Here, I am referring to masters of spontaneous application. In fact, historically, there were no masters of technical skill. Mastery always referred to spontaneous application. Technical skill, historically, was always something marking the beginner or the intermediate. This change, the redefining of “master” to include or to substitute “mastery of technical skill,” is a modern phenomena. This is important to note because historically it was only via a master of spontaneity, that is only via a true master, that a deshi could him or herself achieve skill at spontaneous application. A technically skilled practitioner could never bring themselves or another to spontaneous application. Today, it is this combination of masters being rare and this redefining of mastery to pertain to technical skill, more than anything, that has contributed to the ineffectiveness of most traditional arts.
Mindfulness today means the “filled-mind” and does not have the Mahayana connotations associated with Mushin or Honshin that it is supposed to have. The critical historian in me strongly believes that with but a little bit of digging one would uncover in the West, especially the United States, the moment that people were led astray, the given space-time when dabbler Zen practitioners and wily Tibetan monks came together - one confusing concepts out of ignorance and one allowing the confusion for profit. The filled-mind concept has found momentum in the addressing of all the stress-related diseases plaguing modern nation states like the US, where a novice effect goes unrecognized as such and is then used to claim that the filled-mind understanding of Mushin and Honshin is an accurate understanding. Fine, innocent enough (but probably not), and this may even be a better alternative to the usual chemical addiction patterns most moderns use to address their emotional and physical frailty - the sources of all their stress-related diseases. However, this inaccurate understanding of the filled-mind is being brought into work places where stress runs rampant and there it’s being touted as a performance enhancer. An example of this is happening in law enforcement. True, Mushin and Honshin were historically touted as performance enhancers, but we are not dealing with these concepts. In fact, we are dealing with their opposite: a filled mind. Meaning, there is nothing performance enhancing about a filled mind. It can only be detrimental to actual performance applications. This should stop, and its reason for stopping can be found even without doing the history I know is there and even without understanding the traditional concepts. For the original justification for the utility of mind-filling practices was only measuring for stress management and stress reduction - not performance enhancement. There’s no “science” backing this filled-mind concept and performance enhancement. There is only centuries of tradition, countless pages of philosophical introspections, and countless Budo practitioners who know the filled-mind may help with stress at a beginner level but it is detrimental to any field performance.
Handgun skill without a martial arts base comes to almost nothing when the fighting is up close and personal. A martial arts base without a handgun skill is something for sport or for ego only. These things should be considered when one is reflecting upon the concept of “warrior.”
My breath, my mind, my body, and my reality, are all things balanced between the capacities of control and non-control, so to speak. Meaning, for example, I may take conscious control of my breath, but my body may breathe for me. Among these things, like this, there is a dynamism made up of subject and object, inside and outside, will and destiny, environment and imagination. Like this, everything is both one and many, both me and not me, both its own thing and something else. How different is this from the dynamic of Nage and Uke? It is the same! And, how could the dynamic of Nage and Uke happen outside of this larger dynamism anyways?! Ha! Like in the Nage/Uke dynamic, Aiki and musubi, wu-wei, is The Way, is the aim and the solution, the solving of this koan we call consciousness. Ponder this well.
Hip rotation is seldom the source of power being utilized in Aikido. This is true even when the waistline is turned. Often, what is at issue is a weight shifting or a placing of one’s hip so as to have it act as a fulcrum for something else or a desired skeletal alignment. When hip rotation is used as a power source, it is better to think of it as only being a matter of inward turning rotation. Meaning, when I want my lead right foot to generate force inwardly, I think of my right hip turning inwardly; when I want my lead right foot to generate force outwardly, I think of my left hip turning inwardly. I do not think of my right hip turning outwardly. Attempting to turn the lead hip outwardly causes one’s stance to overly narrow, making it unstable, and has one throwing into one’s own shikaku. This is why practitioners that throw with this misunderstanding must always move after they throw in this fashion. They are falling themselves and must step to replace their base of support under their outwardly moving line of gravity.
The fettered mind will cling to things, making you unaware, making your skill and athleticism irrelevant.
A weak person cannot do shomen suburi correctly. They will tend to counterbalance the sword with their torso, causing them to lean backwards slightly. This in turn requires their pelvis to unlock from the Kokyu-Ryoku organization, which in turn cause the stress line to move backwards towards the heel. In this way, there is no static stress being applied to the pelvis and no dynamic stress being aligned so as to condition the rear posterior chain. Like this, the weak remain internally weak regardless of how many sword cuts they do. I suggest, like with barbells, start with a lighter sword or even no sword, and work to keep the pelvis locked, the torso over the pelvis, and the stress line over what we call the mid-foot, no further rearward than just behind the ball of the foot. If a deshi does not do this, he or she will only develop the kind of strength that diminishes with age.
The ultimate form of self control is self transcendence.
There is only self-transformation. The delusion of transforming others is a delusion of the ego. To hope for a positive change in others is to abide in ignorance. Therefore, the concern with and prioritization of self transformation cannot be considered a selfish or self-centered act. For there is no altruistic or utilitarian alternative to addressing the greater good but by addressing it at the personal level.
I find this to be one of the biggest challenges for people on the Path in general, the ability to see the difference between gold and shit, being able to distinguish what is valuable and what is not, what is quality and what is not. It seems to be a human problem, and whether one solves it or not is not at all influenced by what exposure one has had or has not had. Not even the length of exposure seems to be truly influential. So too for the moment of exposure, whether we experience true quality and value from childhood or not - all of these things seem inert.
The solution, its finding, this skill to distinguish accordingly, seems to be something innate, as if one had lived enough lives and has developed enough karma to possess this skill - the assigning of people, ideas, actions, words, thoughts, things, etc., their proper value. This skill seems to be something one has or does not have and that is all there is to it. God seems to call His chosen, but before that, the Chosen were able to choose God.
When you are on The Way, you will do small and large things the same. Meaning, a large thing will draw your full intention, but it will not come to overwhelm you; a small thing will also draw your full attention, and you will perform it as if it is a great and important thing. People not on The Path will think you the fool for seeing and treating small things as if they are large things. They may mock you for being so attentive to detail, for applying maximum effort toward mission success, for giving your all for things they dismiss as trivial and unimportant. Others may even think you an idiot for giving such attention. Those on The Way, however, will understand that you are just being who you are - a walker on The Path. They understand that you can and would never do anything else but this.
To use a sport stress testing environment for determining combat effectiveness is akin to using a pool to determine the seaworthiness of a ship.
Here are some of the major problems with martial arts in law enforcement:
- Law Enforcement has unknowingly borrowed the commercial and sport martial arts' assumptions that learning technique is equivalent or substitutionary with and for cultivating skill. As such, Law Enforcement has ignorantly adopted the economic driven pedagogy of the seminar format - a format by design that prioritizes the transmission of information over the cultivation of skill.
- Law Enforcement looks to commercial and sport martial arts for its technical base, but commercial and sport martial arts are reductions of larger systems and as such are meant only to fully function in specialized or idealized environments - reduced environments. This contradicts the fact that street combat, street self-defense, arresting combative subjects, or addressing street ambushes, etc., is mostly marked by a lack of identifying or limiting principles and conditions.
- Law Enforcement, in looking to commercial and sport reductions, does not fully integrate or make interdependent (i.e. interrelate) empty hand fighting or self-defense with weapon fighting or weapon self-defense.
- Law Enforcement, in looking to commercial and sport martial arts, like them, has no systems or practices in place for developing and cultivating the highly combat effective and victory determining aspects of awareness, strategy, and spiritual maturity.
It is one more historical irony in this art of ours, that the Founder was a deeply religious man, yet the art is abundantly populated by secularist and atheists and by sensei that say nothing and have nothing to say about God, the sacred, the holy, our soul, our mortality, and the struggle we have with our own personal extinction. What a joke to then talk about "the Founder's technique" or Aikido legacy!
The modern aikidoka would so love to be able to jump on the modern discourse of warriorhood, but he finds himself to be a non-believer, void of a code, and weaponless. He is no warrior. He is an exerciser.
Here is your code: Be humble, satisfied that you are dust, serve others to the point at which you disappear, make your life a ritual of sacrifice, lift the burdens of others, light the way through the Darkness for them, raise the dying, heal the sick, and disappear into the Void from which you come and go.
Do not adopt a unique or specialized stance. Above all, do not make an unnatural stance natural by over and over insisting on breaking the aforementioned first rule.
The Beloved is a despiser of limits - because that which has limits cannot be love.
The first gate you must pass through in order to make your Aikido a spiritual practice is to cease being dependent upon the strength of your arms and shoulders. Start there.
How does one know the aspect of Air but by its movement, when it shapes itself as Wind. And, how does one know the wind but by the movement of flowers. It is natural that the aspect of Void feels closest to the movement of flowers, but even more so to their stillness then.
In your Aikido, you must make no sense to either the martial aikidoka or to the spiritual aikidoka. Their inability to reconcile you is your sign that you are truly on The Path.
Your sword must feel as familiar in your hands as the shape of your lover’s lower back, at her small, or as familiar as the shape of your eldest son’s upper back when he has become stronger than you. If it does not, it is because you are not holding any of these things enough. All this then you must remedy.
Because true Aikido can only be practiced by an awakened being, the beginner can only practice it at a level for which they can muster up the faith necessary to believe in something that is totally contrary to who they are currently. This is why we say, “To practice the art, you must have faith.”
Because the modern person lives such a fake existence, fake pressures, fake goals, fake consequences, he feels it inconsequential to be plagued by fear. He does not know of the detriment that fear brings to all levels of performance because he lives in a world of make believe. The warrior however knows how important it is to be able to reconcile fear. This is because everything he or she does is for real.
Movement with purpose.
Presence of mind.
Every breath with meaning.
You must pursue power so earnestly that you realize that this pursuit is itself a weakness.
Ancient man was right to make a mystery out of human will. For there is no one thing as powerful that is equally as weak.
The state of Aikido is not the fault of MMA or BJJ. Aikidoka are soft because they talk too much and do not do enough repetitions. Their skill is lacking because they are not corrected enough and not held accountable for their lack of improvement. Their art is shallow and hollow because they are taught by atheists, secularists, and materialists. One always reaps what one sows.
Most aikidoka will have poor details in their waza, wrong weight-distribution, improper pelvic angle, improper use of one’s skeleton, tension, a fettered mind, etc., only to have that overlooked by the completed throw or the final pin - should they actually make it this far in the given technique. It is as if, for them, all the errors can be wiped away because some outcome, any outcome, happened. This reminds me of how most people live their lives, how they live their relationships in their lives. They go ahead acting cruelly, cold, they stop courting, they stop being reasonable and responsible, they stop smiling and stop laughing, they stop serving, stop seducing, stop caring about their appearance and behavior, then, at death, should they make it that far, all, in the face of death, gets overlooked and a love that never manifested or that disappeared long ago is somehow recognized as not being absent.
To get stronger, tougher, more enduring, you’re going to have to be pressed. Every time you come up for air, every beat you take a rest, every leeway, exception, and act of mercy you rely upon, you lose your opportunity to develop that strength, toughness, and endurance.
As the man of excellence does everything excellently, no matter how large or how small, no matter how much he agrees or disagrees with things, etc., as he demonstrates excellence because he is a man of a excellence, the man of mediocrity is easily convinced that his excellent effort first requires his pleasure, his liking. He ignorantly believes that excellence rests outside of himself, that it instead rests in what pleases him. All his past examples that note him as a mediocre man hold no proof of his incapacity for excellence for him. Instead he only awaits to shine forth in a different light and for the first time as a man of excellence, when he stumbles across some future juncture of pleasure and action, an imagined place whereupon he one day hopes to find himself standing at its center. Fool.
I hold that training, drilling, conditioning, etc., plays a big role in an art’s overall effectiveness and that this role is separate from strategic or conceptual frameworks. Training, drilling, unconscious-competency, artistic spontaneity, etc., cannot be downplayed when it comes to martial practicality. However, most Aikido dojo, as well as martial art schools in general, verses something like boxing gyms or wrestling camps, tend to overemphasize things like tactical architecture, technique, kinesiological concept, and fighting philosophy. In such places, actual skill embodiment, or what I am calling training and drilling, takes a back seat or has no seat at all. This mis-prioritization has much to do with the art’s and the individual’s martial ineffectiveness.
My own historical research is showing that moving a human being from form to non-form (from basic to principle/concept) was always a very difficult thing to do. By default, many were not able to do it and even less were able to teach it. The often unsaid downside of this is that more times that not a principle and a spontaneous application often reflect back on the basic, leading a practitioner to realize that they didn't really understand the basic at all, and providing them with deeper and more advanced insights. Without this gained insight, without this over and over again, for centuries, multiplied by the masses of people now training in the martial arts, one cannot help but to think that this plays a role in basics not only being made the apex of a given art, such as in popular Aikido, but that the basics in said art are going largely misunderstood, such as in popular Aikido.
Once at a seminar where my teacher was going over the fine points of generating power, an attendee pointed to an extraordinarily large fellow participant and rhetorically and mockingly asked my teacher, “What do you do for someone this size?” Like a spark from a stone, my teacher replied, “Some fellows you just have to shoot.” The attendee, feeling his polemical trap avoided, pressed more, “That doesn’t seem fair, not right.” My teacher replied, “A person can’t be deader.”
I would suggest that most of the modifications we see that are aiming to “fix” the art’s Kihon Waza, and the modifications we have seen over the decades that have “broken” the art’s Kihon Waza, are all originating from practitioners not being able to do the bare minimum internal skills said tactical architectures assume to be present.
The myth of the awakening MOMENT is a thing for frail spirits. Weak minds and weak bodies seek them like a sprinter seeks for the 100 meter line tape in a marathon. As a new practitioner, as a beginner, you are by default weak, and by default you seek this moment. Your incapacity at endurance makes you a sprinter and you tend to prefer sprinter-like things. As you do, like with all scams, there's then a person who appears by some sort of accident or coincidence, as is always the case, standing there right in front of you. Lo and Behold! He happens to sell awakening moments! Like with all scams, the con artist, whether he sells awakening or whether he sells bridges in the Everglades, takes advantage of your greed and your frailty, your still innate abhorrence toward discipline and toward doing the work. Stop wanting something for nothing! Stop wanting nothing, and get back to work. When you see the Golden Buddha, tell him to fuck off! Tell him you are busy with more important things, things that count, that mean something - the continuous work.
Aikido is not a set of techniques. It is a manner in which all techniques are executed and the purpose for which they are performed.
An art’s majority population is by default a dabbler culture. As such, they break and fix things like dabblers do. Then, because they represent the majority, because it’s there reality, because it’s their discourse, all the breaking goes unnoticed and blamed on something else or on someone else, and all the fixes appear needed and sound. However, the plain truth is that people didn’t understand the art, do not have the skills to practice the art, and only work to match their own art with their own lack of personal investment and training.
In Tai Chi, this is where you get the misunderstandings of center line and the incorrect ways of practicing sticky hands, for example. As a parallel example, this is where you get the idea of mixing arts with Aikido.
The point: internal skills are very much a part of Aikido, but you’d be way closer to finding that most rare practitioner that that can deal with a double leg takedown or a “real” punch in an Aikido dojo than you will find aikidoka that can do any internal skills. Yet, everyone says they know what Aikido is, whether it is broken or not, and what fixes it needs. Weird. Arts cannot break, but sure as Hell it’s often the case that individual practitioners cannot fox themselves.
The arts are unique unto themselves only for the beginner. For the advanced, the arts merge into one, so that a thing that can be done in one place and at one time can be done in another place and at another time. When your arts are but a mix, keep training. You’re not there yet.
What’s important, what is telling, is not how many years you’ve trained in the art but rather how many hours per day you train in your art.
Yin Ki is not equivalent to going backwards, and so neither is Aiki. Hence, you cannot do Aikido if all you can do is retreat.
Movement and wisdom must be so pursued that you reach a point where silence and stillness is all that comes to matter.
Your power as a deshi is to determine whatever level of practice you want for yourself. My power as sensei is to never recognize an inauthentic practice as an authentic one. I cannot make you train beyond any level at which you want to train, and you cannot make me stop thinking that your half-assing when you are half-assing.
Every manifestation of the art is an interpretation of the art. Every interpretation is a result of a desired-for aim and a set of assumptions held as providing said aim. This is reality, regardless of what we would like. One cannot be against reality and be wise. Thus, this issue or the problem is not desired aims and/or assumptions, not really. The issue is desired aims being adopted unconsciously, such that contradictions manifest themselves amidst our set of assumptions, and/or our set of assumptions being unconsciously adopted, such that our desired aim is replaced by some other unknown and unwanted thing.
How can one know what is wrong or lacking in Aikido before one has reached the limits of Aikido, before one has fulfilled all of its aspects? One cannot. And, how can one ever fulfill all of its aspects? How can one ever find its limits? One cannot. Thus, just fix your own Aikido and all will be fine.
I would not say that Chiba Sensei’s methodology changed. I changed or what I do changed as my Aikido became my own Aikido and no longer his. It is the same with Iseri Sensei or Nomura Sensei and their Aikido. I learned a lot from them too, but I do not do their Aikido either. While this may be a part of my Aikido lineage, it would be incorrect to see me as doing their Aikido or as having my Aikido captured by their Aikido. Certainly then, and especially if one thinks that the best mark of a deshi is to never develop their own Aikido but to instead do everything exactly like their teacher, or to do only what their teacher did, I do not hold that my Aikido lineage and influences authenticate my Aikido. By such standards, I would say I am one of their worst students. For me, I authenticate my Aikido - not my teachers, nor my clothes, nor my hairstyle, nor the design of my dojo, etc. If one holds that the mark of a good deshi is taking what a teacher gives them and making it their own, then I am a halfway decent student to these giants in the art.
Developing internal aspects is a long way from a martial application, in that it does not involve a one-to-one attack and defense paradigm. Internal aspects are a skill or an attribute and the drills for developing them are not necessarily martial. As squatting is a long way from a martial application, a strong posterior chain is certainly going to help a martial application. Internal aspects help too.
In suburi training, I’m trying to get my deshi to use the bokken as a body development tool for internal organization and conditioning. That came from my reading or overhearing many retiring Aikido Shihan answering the question, “What do you recommend current and future Aikidoka should do to keep improving?” Their answer was, “More suburi.” I took that, feeling it important, and combined it with my own experience in developing internal aspects, plus Rippetoe’s position on back squats and Pavel’s aspects on the kettlebell swing, to address the problem that I for a long while, plus my students, and much of the Aikido world, do lots of suburi but show little internal conditioning for it. I surmised that one cannot simply lift the bokken up and down to get the apex benefits of said training, like one cannot simply lift the barbell up and down or swing the bell back and forth. I surmised that the tool must be moved through space in a particular way and by a particular means in order to develop such things. When one moves the resistance (the bokken) through space in this particular way and by this particular means, one should be able to test for particular attributes to see if one is doing so. For example, that is what one can see in the video on Kiri Gaeshi.
The non-practitioner hears or sees something, and he first says to himself, “How do I disagree with this?” Then, very quickly, he says, so as to convince himself, so as to hide himself from himself, “I am better than this!” From there he goes on to criticize what was said or presented with half-baked ideas and an even less developed actual practice. The practitioner, on the other hand, the deshi, always says upon hearing or seeing something, “What can I learn from this?”
I train more in one day than most train in one week, and even more train in one month. Your training should always be like this, a matter of thinking hour-to-hour, not day to day or week to week. “What can I do now,” that is your mantra.
To think of form, or with form, or for form, these are beginner levels. They have always been beginner levels. Since the ancients, to be trapped in form is to abide in ignorance.
Do not kid yourself. The problem with any martial art is your martial art. And, the problem with your martial art is that you do not train enough. Train enough - start there, and you will be surprised how problems disappear.
Do you think you can really ever satisfy the spiritually immature, that you could meet every need or answer every question, satisfy any aspect of them at all? Sometimes, humans are not humans. Sometimes, humans are hungry ghosts.
When you wrestle with a demon, even if you lose, some of the wisdom that he has gained by being an eternal and ageless beast becomes yours. When you win, all of that wisdom is yours. Don’t avoid your demons. Hunt them and engage.
Mushin is a skill, like marksmanship or playing an instrument or driving a race car are skills. Understanding Mushin as a skill has a great impact on how one trains. This is because, like with all body/mind skills, Mushin is a perishable skill. Meaning, like all perishable skills it is hugely affected, even determined by the following:
- The quality of one's training
- The frequency of one's training
- The length of the duration between one's last training and the incident at which the skill is required.
People looking for a state or something akin to a state in Mushin think they reach said state and then they are good to go. People working for a Mushin as a perishable skill know that they have to keep training to keep the skill effective. They also know that