Why Aikido has lost its relevance…

It’s been a while guys I know and I apologise for this! It’s been a busy time building my business and just general life along with a lack of inspiration for posts recently, but we’re back and you can start seeing more from The Martial View again.

I was scrolling through Facebook a few days ago as I tend to do along with most of the global population when I saw that Steven Seagal was coming to my hometown of Lincoln for an evening with event…

Intriguing I thought and although I’ve never been a huge fan of his personally I thought I’d read on and see what people thought…

Wow that guy is not popular haha! So many derogatory comments on him as a person, his films and also him as a martial artist. This got me thinking… Why has Aikido become in a way, the laughing stock of the martial arts?

I’m a big fan of the art, having studied it for over 20 years and holding a 3rd Degree black belt in Yoshinkan Aikido but that doesn’t mean that I also can’t see its (eek, many) limitations! But just when did Aikido go from being a well practiced and respected martial art to losing it’s credibility and more importantly, why did this occur?

Did it all go wrong? If so – where?

maxresdefault 1 1024x576 Why Aikido has lost its relevance...

The founder of Aikido – Morihei Ueshiba was born in 1883 and died in 1969. A passionate martial artist, he mastered the arts of Daito Ryu Aikijiujitsu, as well as Ken Jitsu (Sword) and Jo Jitsu (Staff) as well as being a deeply religious and spiritual man, following the practices of the Omoto Kyu and it’s founder Onisaburo Deguchi. This martial influence, combined with his spiritual beliefs, led to the development of what would become Aikido.

When Aikido was first being developed, it was a highly sought after and popular martial art in Japan. Indeed you had to have two referrals from current students in order to study, and many famous martial artists from other styles regularly came to the Hombu Dojo to train with Ueshiba Sensei.

download Why Aikido has lost its relevance...
A young Morihei Ueshiba

To understand what changed, it’s important to look at the roots of Aikido and therefore Daito Ryu Aikijiujitsu. Jiu-Jitsu as an art was originally developed by the Samurai to defend themselves in battle if they lost their weapon and therefore focused on the weak points of the body when armor was being worn. However, when the Samurai class was disbanded in 1868, jiu-jitsu and other martial arts began to be seen as distinctly uncool and irrelevant to society as a whole.

Many martial arts teachers at that time then ceased to practice their art finding it impractical yet there were a few exceptions – one of whom was Jigoro Kano who not only started to practice Jiu-Jitsu but mastered it and developed it to fit a more modern era, and hence Judo was born.

Jk 147282575 1472825755 830x1024 Why Aikido has lost its relevance...
Jigoro Kano – Founder of Judo

Kano competed against many other styles of Jiu-Jitsu, consistently winning and showing its ability as a martial art not to be messed with, so much so that he sent his top students across the seas to the USA where there was no Donald Trump and so the Japanese were free to come and show the martial art of Judo in various competitions.

In 1914, Judo hit Brazil and in 1917, one Carlos Gracie was introduced to Jiu-Jitsu and I’m sure you can see where this is going…

Carlos continued to study Jiu-Jitsu and pass it on to his brothers, one of whom was Helio Gracie, who, as a skinny child, was unable to perform many of the techniques required of him. This led him to adapt the techniques to overcome his physical boundaries and hence the foundations of what we now see as Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) emerged. This art was so effective it led the Gracie brothers to start hosting a no holds barred competition, style vs style called Vale Tudo where they cleaned up at competitions! When they went to promote this style in the USA, the name Gracie Jiu-Jitsu, or Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu emerged to differentiate between the traditional Japanese style.

Then 1993 happened which I am sure we are all aware was the first Ultimate Fighting Championship event. This aimed to pit style against style, striker vs grappler, striker vs sumo, sumo vs the salad bar etc etc and see which art would come out on top. Guess what – Royce Gracie smashed through the competition and BJJ was crowned victorious.

How fair the contest was is now in debate after the video below from legend Bill Superfoot Wallace aired a few home truths after he commentated on the first UFC, but no-one can doubt that BJJ is a functional martial art for sports and competition and was a main influence on the development of what is now known as MMA combining striking, wrestling and grappling.

Hence function and applicability became the basis of modern MMA and martial arts in today’s society.

And this folks, is where Aikido loses its relevance. The founder O Sensei, as already said was a deeply spiritual man and therefore disapproved of any form of competition, preferring to see Aikido as a way of uniting people together, rather than seeing who is the victor and who is the loser. A lovely sentiment I’m sure we can all agree – but a little tricky to navigate in the martial arts world…

Hence Aikido failed to develop through competition. It failed to be tested and therefore evolve through it’s weak points and even in training, partners work together to make the techniques work with very little if any active sparring or real resistance bar a few schools/instructors that do offer this. Aikido is steeped in tradition and spirituality which is exactly what the founder wanted, but does leave it open to criticism today as it has never truly been tested. Many of the top teachers also failed to develop themselves after the founder’s passing, wanting to respect and preserve the art he had developed. Some went off to study more of the spiritual side such as Koichi Tohei who practiced Ki Aikido otherwise known as Jedi Aikido…

Whereas others looked at more dynamic, precise and arguably more practical Aikido such as Shioda Gozo who developed Yoshinkan Aikido that was taught to the Japanese Riot Police and looked less at spirituality and rather body mechanics of putting yourself in a strong position, while putting your opponent in a weak one.

The problem still remains however that Aikido is steeped in Japanese tradition, even down to the way the techniques are practiced. As you can see from the video above, strikes are given willingly and usually pre-arranged as well as being traditional sword strikes e.g. Shomen Uchi (front strike), Yokomen Uchi (side strike) etc. Do they have power? Most certainly and just one look at Yoshinkan Aikido and the video above and I’m sure anyone can see the power as well as the evidence from knockouts in videos. Yet rarely do we see these techniques being applied in a real context to any great effect without the use of Hollywood effects and a certain Aikido practitioner with a pony tail, inflated ego and delusions of grandeur.

So

There are of course exceptions to the rule and I have been fortunate enough to train with some fantastic Aikido Sensei’s, most of whom also have experience of other martial arts however or at least train with others who also study other arts. These are the guys that are able to make Aikido work for them and adapt it to a real situation in terms of self defence. They arent stuck in tradition, but respect the art. They also understand however, that Aikido needs to evolve with the times if it is to stay relevant or risk becoming simply a way of staying healthy, much like Tai Chi has become to many, rather than a martial system.

Maybe it is time to see the roots of Aikido i.e. Jiu-Jitsu applied in a more realistic setting? Do wrist locks, shoulder locks etc work in the street? Arguably yes. But how? How many people grab your wrist in a street? How can you apply a wrist lock against a fully resisting opponent really wanting to hurt you?

Maybe this is what we need to see more of if Aikido is to be relevant…

Watch this space…

it suppose to Why Aikido has lost its relevance...

The Jacques Payet Project

Payet111 The Jacques Payet Project

The Jacques Payet Project!

Here we interview Kenji DuBois Lee, main man responsible for bringing the Jacques Payet Project to life. Jacques Payet is a 7th degree black belt in Yoshinkan Aikido and was live-in student of Yoshinkan founder Gozo Shioda for many years. As a westerner in Japan, Payet Sensei was able to build a close relationship with Shioda Kancho and wasn’t as bound by the rules of the student-teacher relationship and so was able to form a close bond with Kancho Sensei, gaining many insights in to the man and his powerful form of Aikido. Payet Shihan now teaches around the world and is revered by many as one of the top Yoshinkan Instructors in the world. He also recently graded me to 3rd Dan and is a thoroughly nice guy! Here’s the interview!

Hey Kenji thanks for interview, what is your background?

I have been living in Japan for nearly 7 years, making short films for the past 4. I like to consider myself a Self University graduate seeing as I pick up tricks of the trade mainly through online tutorials and real life trial and error. I shoot, write, and edit wedding, promotional, and business videos for a living. I’m happily married to the world’s most amazing woman who brings me happiness everyday. My interests include hanging out with creative action-takers, beaches, mountains, and soccer.

How did the JP Project initially come about?

One day a good friend of mine, Izzy, told me, “Dude, I’m gonna move to Kyoto and dedicate my life to aikido: intensive training 6 hours a day 5 days a week for a year.” After that year, he did it again! Over the years I watched as Izzy transformed.

Physically, he made me feel like a slob for not having a six pack and waking up after sunrise, but he also went through a rather impressive internal transformation. His business boomed, spirituality deepened, and even with the newly acquired bulge on his knee resulting from hours on the tatami mat, he was constantly exploring the boundary of possibility.

Because I was the video man for his business I spent a lot of time filming him, listening to his ideas, discoveries, and interpretations of a purpose-driven life. Purpose – which Izzy seemed to find loads of in the dojo – was taking a stronger grip on my life as well. Inevitably we spent many conversations exploring the overlap of martial arts principles and everyday life.

As you might have guessed by now, Izzy was training at Kyoto’s Mugenjuku Aikido dojo under the instruction of 7th degree instructor Jacques Payet, who, as Izzy pointed out to me in one of these conversations, “has an amazing life story that would inspire the sh*t out of you.”

Thus the stage was set for me to enter the dojo and meet the man himself.

My first time in Kyoto Mugenjuku dojo was for a 5 day shoot where I produced a short film highlighting the dojo’s Kenshusei program. This short film was well received by Jacques Payet and the international community.

A year later, Izzy, Jacques Payet and I sat down for some coffee in a small cafe across the street from the dojo. This was when Jacques Payet told me about his journey of becoming a 7th degree master, and what his hopes are for the future.

We came to the conclusion that film is a very effective tool to reach the masses. With the unforeseen success of the Kenshusei short film, we decided to implement this tool once again, this time to deliver Jacques Payet’s life story. The desired outcome being a wave of inspired and purpose-driven youth across the globe.

What was it that made you think JP would be a great choice for the project?

From my understanding, in aikido there is a push and pull between what I control and what I don’t. Even though the extent of what I control has a limit, if I am committed and effective enough I can use these outside forces and be part of something amazing and far more powerful than anything I could do alone.

This project is the perfect example of such forces combining. The timing, the people involved, the city I moved to, all these outside forces were staring me in the face like, “C’mon man! This opportunity is right here, right now. So what are you gonna do about it?!”

So I committed.

Now as for why I think Jacques Payet would be a great subject for this documentary film project.

Yes, Jacques Payet overcame challenges, accumulated accolades, and gained the respect of the martial arts community around the world. Yet, the even more significant part of this project isn’t exactly his life.

What strikes me is how so many young adults are taking the same journey a young Jacques Payet did and how even more people are stepping into their own journey.

The important thing to note is their journey.

Jacques Payet is blazing an amazing trail but it’s not as if he wants others to follow him. Rather, he wants to see others fully commit to blazing their own trails.

He wants you to feel alive – not just to go through routine, tradition, and necessities – but to truly feel alive, by finding your own path, committing to it, and embracing the discoveries along the way.

In this sense, this documentary project came to be because of the inspirational power Jacques Payet’s journey has, as well as me choosing to step up to my own.

11755840 10153494564442070 8975093861097730110 n 300x169 The Jacques Payet Project

Just after my 3rd Dan test

What do you hope will be achieved through the project?

In a word: empowerment.

Personally, I’m finding so much happiness blazing my own trail in this part of my life right now. I’m 29, well-travelled, blessed with an amazing wife, ridiculously supportive family, and talented friends around the world. When I told them, “Hey, I’m gonna make my first feature length documentary film” I was met with mixed responses. To be completely honest, I had no clue how I’d do it, who’d help me, where I’d get the resources, and I began to hear that all-too-common voice of doubt. I had a long list of reasons to give up – worse yet – not even try.

But as fate would have it, the subject of my very first feature length documentary is an aikido master.

And like any master will say, to master anything requires doing what’s difficult, uncertain, and often unrealistic, just out of reach.

So for me as a filmmaker, I hope to stretch my filmmaking career by learning as much as possible while I take these steps into the unknown. Even though I had been shooting and editing for years before this project started, I had never tried launching a crowdfunding campaign. I had never built a production team. I had never drafted an official request for funds. I had never made a pitch to influencers. I had never spoken with a bona fide producer about confidential private placement memorandum documents. I had never consulted with a campaigning agency. Now, even though we’re still in pre-production, I can happily say I’ve done all of these things and learned so much along the way. Image what I’ll have learned by the time we’re in post-production!

Most importantly, I know that there will always be more to learn. I know this because 7th degree aikido master Jacques Payet told me, “Of course I still learn new things everyday. It’s neverending. It’s for life.”

Even a master continues to learn.

Hence the name of Jacques Payet’s dojo ‘mugenjuku’ which can be translated as ‘never ending training.’ He instills this principle in his students and it is one of the messages I hope to share with the JP audience.

Simply put, whatever you want requires endless effort.

This process – endless effort – uncovers possibilities that are buried within ourselves which surface in the face of adversity. The more and more possibilities come to the surface, the more and more empowered we become.

Jacques Payet personifies this. Ultimately I hope to use his life story as a mirror so the JP audience can start finding possibilities within their own lives.

And if someone was making a documentary of me making this documentary I would hope that audience feel empowered as well! They would watch as an aspiring filmmaker makes his debut feature project about a martial arts master. Unexpectedly the young filmmaker begins to connect martial arts principles to his own life, in turn applying them to filmmaking, and begins blazing a new path in the world of cinema.

See, I wasn’t even able to articulate this a year ago!

How far is the project in development?

We’re in pre-production. We’ve done extensive research on what production level we can take JP to depending on how much monies we raise. We’ve spent even more time writing and editing the story of JP, again, to different degrees depending on the monies raised which will directly influence the scope of the film.

JP has taken multiple forms and been through so many changes since we committed to it back in November 2014. But I firmly believe these changes polished JP into what it is today.

Now we are in the funding phase of the project. Arguably the most important. Undeniably the most suspenseful!

When will the project be released?

I hate this question. lol

Once we finish the funding phase we’ll have a far better estimate of the release date. But I know this is important, especially when we’re receiving monetary contributions from supporters worldwide.

At this point, we are expecting to release in spring 2016.

We’d like to enter JP into film festivals in France, Japan and the United States.

What will the project focus on? Yoshinkan Aikido? Jacques Payet’s life?

The original title of this film was Aikido Is Life. The change was made to JP to put more focus on Jacques Payet and his relationship with Japan.

This film will focus on the overlap between martial arts and life within the context of aikido master Jacques Payet’s

3-decade journey to become a master.

How can people get involved with the project?

Make a contribution to our Indiegogo Campaign!

Rub elbows with big-timer producers? Contact us!

Ask 5 friends to pitch in on a group contribution!

Are you a musical genie who can whip up amazing scores for film? Contact us!

Become a sponsor by supplying our production team with transportation in Japan and/or Reunion Island!

Got access to gear in Japan and/or Reunion Island? Contact us!

Speak French, Japanese, and/or Russian and want to build up your resume as a translator? Contact us!

Got a private jet with room for a few filmmakers? Contact us!

Wanna support JP but not by contributing money? Contact us!

Know someone somewhere who should be involved in JP? Contact them!

Where can we keep up to date with the latest news regarding the project?

The best place is over at the JP Indiegogo Campaign page: igg.me/at/jp-film

You can also keep up with us on our social media outlets listed below.

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/thedoublecut

Instagram: @thedoublecut

Twitter: @thedoublecut

5 Steps to improved Jiyu Waza fitness

1464610 10152069214817070 1811412865 n 300x287 5 Steps to improved Jiyu Waza fitness

5 steps to improved Jiyu Waza fitness

I’m sure everyone who does Aikido can relate to the fact that Jiyu Waza takes a special kind of fitness! I like to consider myself a fairly fit guy but after a few rounds of Jiyu Waza I’m pretty tired! I’ve known long distance runners, gymnasts and athletes be tired after one or two rounds! So what makes Jiyu Waza so tiring and how can we improve our endurance?

Firstly there’s the fact that it takes a certain kind of cardio-vascular endurance! You attack, get thrown, spring up and attack again. It’s dynamic, its athletic, and its tiring! Secondly there’s impact. Impact takes it out of you. You get thrown hard and the body tenses in order to prepare for the impact. You don’t breath correctly, you tense up in anticipation of the fall. You hold your breath as you meet the floor. You get tired! Thirdly, its not just tiring for the one receiving the fall, its tiring for the one applying the techniques! A difficult, stiff and inexperienced partner can make you tense and it can feel like throwing a sack of potatoes if the partner can’t yet fall correctly. Again this leads to fatigue! So what can we do about it?!

5 – Overall Fitness

This is pretty much a given, if you’re in reasonably good shape and have good muscular endurance as well as cardiovascular endurance, this is obviously going to help your jiyu waza! High intensity training where sprints are followed by periods of low intensity exercise are shown to be extremely effective in increasing cardio relatively quickly and is more effective than just running for miles and miles in terms of jiyu waza and martial arts in general. Jiyu waza is fast, dynamic and high intensity. Self defence situations are fast, dynamic and high intensity.

4 – Ukemi

Get comfortable falling. Simple as that, get comfortable falling for back falls, front falls, side falls, weird and wonderful angled falls. Just get comfortable falling. The more comfortable you are falling, the more your body will relax on the impact and the less fatigued you will become in both cardio and muscular.

3 – Know your techniques

Get comfortable practicing different techniques to use during jiyu waza and just repeatedly practice until you have a good “set list” of techniques at your disposal. The more comfortable with techniques, again the more relaxed you will be and the more you can focus on things like breathing, not trying to think of a technique to do!

2 – Breath!!

We’re all guilty of it. We tense up and we forget to breath! As Robert Mustard Shihan is fond of saying, its a well known secret of the martial arts that if you don’t breath, you die! Establish a pattern of breathing in through the nose and out through the mouth and you will notice an improvement in your endurance almost immediately in comparison to erratic breathing when you are panicking and tense.

1 – PRACTICE

So how do we get comfortable doing all these things?! Practice! Do rounds of jiyu waza, building up slowly as both the receiver and the thrower! Think about your breathing, the techniques you will use and the correct way to fall properly. Get a good training partner who wants to improve their jiyu waza too and get practicing. Enjoy!!

The Yoshinkan Stance

The Yoshinkan Stance

Aikido stances are a bit odd. I’ll be honest. I’ve studied boxing, MMA, KFM and other self defence systems and the idea has always been the heel of your back foot has always been up. Look at boxers, their heel is very rarely on the floor. Yet in Aikido, we are encouraged to keep our heel on the floor. Why? The principle is sound. The more contact you have with the floor, the more stable you are and to me this makes sense. But from a power and striking and movement perspective, I struggle!

Movement and speed to me has always been the key to my martial arts training. I’m the average size of an oompa loompa, but by god I’m quick and that has always been my advantage, whether it has been doing martial arts or playing rugby for the school team, I’ve been rapid. Having my heel on the floor all the time as Yoshinkan Aikido dictates slows me down slightly. When we look at the basic techniques however, the heel is always down in order to secure stability and employ maximum power through the hips.

shioda 134x300 The Yoshinkan Stance

The Yoshinkan stance when teaching a beginner is fairly simple; If we were looking at migi hamni kamae (right stance) the right foot would step forward about a pace, with the front (right) foot turning to about 2 o’clock on a clock face. The back foot would be at about 10 o’clock with the heel down. 60% of the weight would be distributed to the front foot, 40% on the back foot. The top hand (right) would be about chest level with fingers splayed out, and the bottom hand would be about belt level, again, fingers splayed out. This is the basic Yoshinkan posture as outlined below.

However, from the numerous high ranking instructors I’ve learnt from. Kamae is more a state of mind. The posture allows you to find you centre, see where you are strong, and once you have this, it doesn’t matter how you stand, you have this strength as you know where your power lies. Kamae is simple a physical form of the mental state of your mind. When you enter kamae, everything at that point should be focussed on your partner. The mind and body unite and you focus completely on the what you are doing. When you reach a high level, the physical form doesn’t matter that much, its the mental state and the fact that you know where you are strong and where your centre is that is important. This to me is the essence of Kamae, please feel free to disagree 🙂

ando1 201x300 The Yoshinkan Stance

Unity in the Martial Arts

enter the dragon 300x241 Unity in the Martial Arts

Unity in the Martial Arts

I wrote a post a few days back on the politics that seem to surround the Martial Arts. A lot of the feedback and discussions as a result of the article seem to say that where people are involved, politics will be involved. I completely accept this, but still think that politics seems to be particularly prevalent within the martial arts. So in the immortal words of Martin Luther King “I have a dream”! I’ve been thinking about this for a while and it’s something that could become a reality in 2015 if all goes to plan, but I have a vision of a massive martial arts event, all styles welcome, all backgrounds welcome. The only condition to entry is that you are open minded, willing to learn and respectful of the martial arts on offer. These martial arts could be traditional, say Aikido, Taekwondo or Judo, could be Reality Based such as Defence Lab or Krav Maga, or sports based such as the GHOST system developed by Phil Norman (look out for an interview with him being posted in the next couple of days)! All combat arts would be on offer, instructors would become students of other instructors and learn a bit of their style before teaching their own to both students and other instructors. In short everyone, whether you’re a white belt or a black belt, would learn together.

mixed martial arts 300x221 Unity in the Martial Arts

It would be ego free, politics free and massive for the martial arts community. Sure seminars exist at the moment, you get some massive names doing tours all over the world. But how often do people from other styles go to those seminars? If there’s a Judo seminar with a massive international name, do many non-Judo guys go? I think not, even though as I’ve already theorised before, all martial arts come down to the same thing in the end so we can learn something from everyone regardless of rank, years spent doing martial arts, or style you train in!

This is my dream for the future! A politics free seminar, big names in martial arts, all styles working together to enhance learning, build networks and increase exposure for the martial arts. What do you guys think? Good idea in theory but never possible in practice? We shall see! Watch this space!!

3 steps to being a better training partner

1472867 10152044089379354 1403823252 n 2 300x251 3 steps to being a better training partner

3 steps to being a better training partner

Having a great training partner can make your training more efficient, effective and fun! However having a sloppy training partner can have the opposite effect and be a real drain both physically and mentally when you’re training. The need to be the best partner you can is needed regardless of whether you are practicing a traditional martial art, a sport martial art, or a reality based martial art, and so is a crucial stage in the development of your martial arts training. There’s a few little tricks and tips below that will make you a better training partner so give them a go and see if they work!

1) Communication in training!

Communication is absolute key when you’re training. Communication with your partner, communication with your instructor and communication with the people training around you. Poor communication can lead to really poor training as well as accidents on the mat. Having good communication with the people you’re training with can not only improve your technique but can also lead to a safer learning environment. So communicate!! Ask questions, asks how techniques feel, ask if you’re holding the pads at the right height or the right angle, see if you can do anything to improve your partners technique. This will not only improve your own technique but also the technique of your partner, leading to a step up in skill for the whole class!

2089358b2cb9f59ace6fdf5b11fb0b9cca43c5c54a052d414c4f56ae69e76a2c 300x201 3 steps to being a better training partner

2) Relax in training!

I’m sure we all know that there’s nothing worse than a partner who acts like a surfboard with arms. Sometimes it makes it easier to do the techniques as they’ve already locked themselves up, but it’s annoying and feels like you’re just partnering a brick! Relaxation is also key to preventing injuries. The injuries I’ve seen happen during martial arts training have been when someone has tensed up during a technique or panicked and locked themselves up, leading to tweeked or broken shoulders, wrists etc. So try and relax for your partner, it makes it easier for them to see where the technique goes when you’re working together and prevents you getting injured. If you’re going to resist, fight back or train in a more realistic scenario, make sure its agreed upon with your partner through the tip above….COMMUNICATION!

1533894 10152078385162070 1149069206 n 300x300 3 steps to being a better training partner

3) Improve your own technique

One of the best ways to be a good partner is to be a good martial artist in general and be able to do the punch, kick, throw, pin etc. competently yourself. If you yourself can do the technique, you know how it is meant to feel and so can receive the punch, kick, throw, pin etc better as well as giving tips and pointers for your partner through COMMUNICATION. If you know how the technique is meant to go, you can RELAX more as there’s no surprises and you know where you are going, leading to a better technique for your partner and less chance of injury for yourself.

Being a good partner is part and parcel of being a good martial artist. It can prevent injuries and through being a good partner you can also improve your own technique. So communicate more, relax when you’re working with your partner and make sure you yourself know the techniques and have a strong foundation of training!! If you enjoyed the article please, as always share, like, comment and subscribe 🙂

Happy Training!

The Man Behind The Fence – Geoff Thompson

Geoff Thompson 1024x588 The Man Behind The Fence   Geoff Thompson

Interview with Geoff Thompson – Part 1

In the this series of instalments, Geoff Thompson talks to The Martial View about his career in martial arts, his concept of `The Fence, pressure testing within the martial arts, and self development! More information on Geoff can be found at www.geoffthompson.com as well as on Amazon where you can find his books and DVD’s.

Hi Geoff, really appreciate you taking the interview. I suppose we should start with your introduction into martial arts.

I started martial arts when I was about 11. I started in Aikido, a traditional style at the time when there was a huge Bruce Lee craze. There was no Karate or Kung Fu around that we knew of, but Aikido was a martial art and so was the closest we could get to it. I did Aikido for around two years. I was really good at it, had the rhythm for Tai sabaki, was good at break-falling and it suited my temperament, it was very natural for me. The teacher I had at the time however, groomed and sexually abused me. I didn’t know at the time I was being groomed, I idolised him. The abuse of course was devastating and shattered my confidence. I didn’t tell anyone, I was afraid to tell my parents, I feared that if I told them, they would go to the police or something, I just wasn’t strong enough to bear that kind of weight at the age of 11, it would have been all over the papers and I was afraid of exposing the guy. So I fell away from Aikido and then ended up going to Shotokan Karate shortly after. I did that to purple belt and fell away from that. I then did Kung Fu with a brilliant guy called Charles Chan. He was very good, great tai chi guy and I did that up to Dan grade level and I became the British weapons champion. There was a lot of politicking there at the time, the infrastructure wasn’t very strong. But the people were nice.

I went back to Shotokan and got my Dan grade, I stayed with that until I became a doorman some years later.

tgeoff thompson 4 The Man Behind The Fence   Geoff Thompson

What led you into becoming a doorman?

I became a doorman because I was suffering on and off with depression, a fear of life, a fear of change, a fear of potential. After a particularly difficult depression I became a doorman in order to confront and overcome my fear. I wrote all fears down and confronted them systematically one by one and a fear of physical violence was one of those fears. Even though I was a 2nd Dan in karate by this point, I was a good martial artist, certainly a good club player, but even with my dan grade I was still afraid, perhaps more so, I still had fears of just living in the world really. These fears weren’t there all the time, I spent a lot of time being living happily enough; confident, even arrogant, then these depressions would sweep through me like fire and debilitate me for months on end. I was strong though, went to work, and turned up in my life every day, I resisted medication. I went towards it for a while because I was so depressed, but innately I felt that medication wasn’t right for me. So I got to the point where I thought I can’t live like this anymore, the depression was so unpredictable, when it came I had no answer to it but to succumb to it. At this point I had children and a family, and I felt like I couldn’t protect them even with my all skill sets; couldn’t even protect myself against my own feelings. So I decided to do draw a fear pyramid (see Geoff’s book Fear the friend of Exceptional People) write all my fears down, each fear on one step of the pyramid, least fear on the bottom step, worst fear on the top, then confront them one by one. Physical violence and confrontation was at the top of my pyramid. It was a very interesting period. As I wrote down all these mundane fears like the dentist and spiders, and as I started to confront them and develop what we call a second body, other fears started to present themselves, hidden fears that I did not even consciously know I had, so I wrote those down, and I started confronting those as well. When we have likes and dislikes, and we place ourselves in between them as a resisting element we create light or the second body. You can feel it palpably growing inside you, like another strength coming through. Working with the fear pyramid expanded my awareness and allowed me to see more; it showed me what else I was scared of, as I said, the things that had been invisible to me before. For instance I had very unhealthy habits that I was afraid to leave: pornography, food, drink etc. As I started to expand I realised my real fears were a lot closer to home than I’d realised. I was afraid of my wife, I was afraid of my mother; I was a people pleaser afraid of being disliked. Then as I went deeper and deeper and I realised I didn’t like myself I was afraid of myself because I didn’t really know myself, and I certainly didn’t trust myself.  Eventually through writing and internal inquiry which is the budo end of martial arts I could trace it back to some fears that I had inherited, things that I was born with. And I could see that some of the fears were what I had been taught as a youth, things I had been weaned on; my mum was a depressive and she has lived a painful life due to this. She was also a true hypochondriac where if she thought she had throat cancer, she would get all the symptoms. My mums nearly 80 now and still can’t eat in front of people because of this, she can’t swallow if people watch her eat, that’s the power of the unconscious mind. And this is what I was taught, unconsciously of course, but it was my early schooling. So I learned a lot as a youth about how to be fearful in the world, then as a 12 year old I was sexually abused by my first martial arts teacher, who, through his greed and ignorance, implicitly taught me that people can’t be trusted and that I was worth nothing. I had no trust of anybody. The aftermath of the abuse was self-abuse. I had a very damaged cognition, my perception of the world was unhealthy. I found deep below all these mundane fears,  the smoke-screens (and I had to really inquire internally before I uncovered this) that I didn’t really have a fear that I couldn’t trust the world, I was fearful because I couldn’t trust myself and that’s a very powerful perception hiding under layers and layers of defence mechanisms. So eventually I started to explore and challenge my belief. Subsequently though internal enquiry, martial arts, writing, etc I was able dissolve this fear and alter my reality.

Around the age of 28 I began to challenge all my beliefs and fears. It seems peripheral to the martial arts as we’re talking about that, but at the time I was practicing budo and didn’t even know it. I was doing the internal inquiry and challenging perceptions because my old beliefs were making my life very unhappy.

The fear that sat at the top of my pyramid was a fear of violence confrontation. To overcome this I became a bouncer (see Geoff’s book Watch My Back). Going on the doors was a revelation. It is such an acute and violent environment that it immediately demands you develop a powerful second body. I realised quickly as a doorman that all of the ostentation of martial arts – the techniques that I was sure would be effective – fell away and all the things you think will work fall away. It’s like an acid bath where everything except a very small nucleus of technique remains, and these are so potent, so powerful and so effective that you don’t want to use them, they are too damaging to people, too dangerous. It was a fantastic time of learning, but as a martial artist, I had to go back to my class and say ‘we have to change everything: what we are practicing isn’t right or honest; it won’t prepare you for what’s going on out there, the real world of violence is so explosive, so volatile. There’s no trapping and countering, no blocking and countering, none of the defence stuff works, it fall apart under pressure. There is only pre-emption. I learnt that very quickly and brought that into my class. I then realised we needed a support system for the pre-emption, we need grappling, we need close range work, we need to be able to use any part of the body as a weapon and we must understand how to control fear. I started to really explore the martial arts in-depth, then I started to explore myself.

 The Man Behind The Fence   Geoff Thompson

 

I went from being scared of spiders to being involved in thousands of violent situations, hundreds of fights. And all of violence, what I later called the lesser struggle, had been projected from the greater struggle that was going on inside me. This need to protect myself and fight, all these situations that I found myself in all came from the projection of wrong belief and untrained imagination. I had created a colourful, vibrant, beautiful, horrific reality for myself with pubs, nightclubs, fights etc. I created this world of violence with belief and imagination, I recognised that I had created it and then dissolved it again using the same process (belief/imagination). As I dissolved the violent reality, I then created a different reality, a beautiful reality, the reality of books, writing, teaching which of course is budo. The high end of martial arts, where you teach people that by changing their story and beliefs and perceptions they too can change their reality. So a big part of my development and practice now is telling my story and spreading my story around the world.

So that’s kind of the history of my martial arts, but in-between that, I training in lots of different styles looking for what was useful regarding combat and what was useful for budo. Budo isn’t about bowing in and out of the room saying Osu, it’s about developing a gold body and living a virtuous life, teaching your students and serving the community. So at the higher level it’s really exciting but at the bottom end, the base, the martial element, the physical stuff has to be right too. Martial means designed for war, we perfect technique that can kill, the martial element demands that we develop control of the mind and body. We can only teach what we know. If we aren’t aligned ourselves, if we have no control of ourselves, how can we show others the way. If I can’t be neutral and centred I can’t teach people. My job is to be in front of people and ask how can I serve you? Martial arts at the highest level is everything, it should work in every element of your life, but it’s often just worked at a fundamental level where people are ego centred and are only concerned with what the best system is. It’s really not about the system, it is about you. It is about you looking at how you live in the world, how you conduct yourself in the world. We have to ask ourselves the difficult questions: Who am I? Am I honest? Am I virtuous? And I hiding from my vices? Am I really practicing budo, or am I just saying the words – ace on the outside, base on the inside. So the martial arts if done correctly should align you towards virtuous living so we can reach our fullest potential and be of service to the world.

The physical stuff, the techniques that work outside the chip-shop on a Friday night,  the is really simple but people still spend a lot of time dedicating their life to practicing stuff that wouldn’t work in a million years. If you went into the marines there wouldn’t be any of that, there is no theory in warfare, it would be this is what works, we’re using live rounds and it’ll work on the battlefield and there are thousands of years of testing to prove it. In the martial arts people believe anything, they’ll use a grappling system as main artillery and it’s the worst thing to do. It’s a beautiful system and a powerful system, but for combat outside its very limited because the moment you go to the floor you’ve tied yourself to one opponent and even strangers will walk past and kick you in the face, jump on your head, stab you. It’s the wrong choice. People work on traditional defence, block and counter, it won’t work in a real situation, and it’ll get you into trouble. Reality is about pre-emption, look at Sun Tzu, Musashi etc. they only work on a variance of pre-emption, the do not wait to be attacked, the only chance of survival is to strike first and have a strong understanding of the judiciary, to back you if your actions lead to court of law.

geoffpic The Man Behind The Fence   Geoff Thompson

It isn’t difficult to know what works, you just have to go to someone who has experienced it prolifically and teaches it honestly. You’ll know it right away if it is honest, honesty has a unique sent, it will speak to you.  If you read `Watch my back` it speaks the truth, it in I say ‘I’m a senior martial artist and I’m scared; this is what work works when you are scared. It consistently works. I’m still scared but I use that as energy to help me survive a situation. So you need to find a system that works in a real environment, then when you have that tied off you can look at the arts and have fun, start looking at the beautiful arts out there and play. I went on the doors to face my fears and find out what worked under pressure, to find out who I was under pressure,  and I realised it’s all about mental hardiness, and close range punches. I worked on that, I worked on that a lot, I developed the fence system, and then all the other stuff that I trained in (many many systems) was just for the pure fun of it! Then of course when you have the ability to kill and you understand the violent arena and you are able to park that, then you automatically start spilling into other areas such as physiology, psychology, sociology, spirituality etc. When you know the physical, you tie that off then look at the other stuff. It isn’t difficult to get the physical right, go to a good boxing club and you’ll tie if off very quickly, same with Judo, it gets real very quickly. Its honest training and the guys that were most effective on the door were always boxers. Its close range, they can take a blow and are trained to knock people out. They understand fear. The honest systems are there. Once we have an honest core system – something that will work outside the chip shop, outside the controlled arena, where I’m really afraid – then we can build everything else on top of that, it is an amazing foundation.

There’s a lot of denial in the martial arts. This is not a criticism I’m a huge advocate of the martial arts, but my job as a teacher is to equip people with the truth, then we can really start exploring the arts and looking at who you really are and developing to our full potential.

Look out next week for part 2 of the interview with Geoff Thompson where he discusses his concept of `The Fence` and pressure testing within the martial arts.


Martial Arts – A lifelong pursuit

101851210 300x189 Martial Arts   A lifelong pursuit

Are Martial Artists born or raised?

Relatively speaking, there is still relatively few who choose to dedicate their lives to studying martial arts and self defence. In terms of sports, many choose more mainstream past times such as football, rugby or cricket as supposed to Judo, Aikido or MMA and so what makes some people choose to study the martial arts? On top of this, do some people naturally have the killer instinct, technique, athleticism and timing needed to succeed in martial arts, or is this again something that can be taught over time? Can someone who has studied martial arts all of their life be superseded by someone naturally inclined to the martial arts in a relatively short period of time?

Many people fall into the martial arts by accident, seeing an advertisement for a class regardless of style in a local hall and deciding to either give it a go for themselves, or being made to go by their parents.  I began Karate at aged 6 after my parents saw it advertised at a local hall. After a few years I moved on to Aikido and now continue to do this, having also studied MMA, Judo, Jiu-Jitsu and KFM for varying degrees of time. I feel that martial arts are a massive part of my life now and want to learn as much as possible from everyone that I can. I wonder however, what would have happened if I hadn’t gone to that first Karate class? Would I still be writing this and be as heavily involved in the martial arts as I am? Was I naturally more inclined to the martial arts than to sports such as football which I have very little interest in?

6592 10151490335337070 830895322 n 218x300 Martial Arts   A lifelong pursuit

Me aged 9

1472867 10152044089379354 1403823252 n 21 300x251 Martial Arts   A lifelong pursuit

Me aged 23

Martial arts – a lifelong pursuit

I believe that the traits of martial artists such as patience, courage and humility are natural and made better through the right instructors. Martial arts are a lifelong pursuit and one that is never perfected, and for many this is a difficult thing to comprehend. To play football, rugby or other such sports certainly takes skill and athleticism, yet a lifelong pursuit it is not. Many martial artists stop when they reach black belt, thinking that the goal has been reached, the illustrious black belt has been attained, yet for those committed to the martial arts, this is simply one step up a very long flight of stairs, one that you are unlikely to reach the top of.

MMALAW not Mixed Martial Arts 300x226 Martial Arts   A lifelong pursuit

Natural athleticism and timing certainly play a part in the martial arts as well. Those more naturally athletic will be able to copy and reproduce moves far quicker than those that are less fit or supple. As with everything in life, some people have to put very little work into something to be very good at it, while others have to work very hard to achieve half that skill level. This can be said of the martial arts in some respects and to learn martial arts is a personal journey, one that the instructor can only guide you on. An instructor can teach you the movements, forms or techniques used, but the individual has to take this teaching a step further, investigating movements for themselves, seeing what works for them and what doesn’t to make the martial art personal and effective for them. For many, this is too difficult a task and once the moves have been spoon fed in, no further study is thought to be needed, leading to one dimensional techniques that lack power, control or intelligence.

47439498bd264a42a5fef42f7ab5b092c537f8 218x300 Martial Arts   A lifelong pursuit

The martial arts are unique in the fact that they are a lifelong pursuit that you can constantly improve upon. Numerous 7th, 8th and 9th degree black belts I have spoken to over the years still say how they are learning and that every lesson they teach shows them something new. They admit they will never achieve perfection in the martial arts, and for some this makes the martial arts difficult to study. To others however, we see this as a challenge and wish to learn as much as we can, from everyone we can in order to be the best well rounded martial artist we can be, even though we know perfection will never be achieved. Some people are more driven into the martial arts due to their personality traits such as patience and humility, as well as natural ability, but these traits and abilities can also be developed and harnessed through the training of martial arts. Martial arts are a lifelong pursuit and one in which we never stop learning, and this for me is the best thing about training in the martial arts.

PLEASE COMMENT AND SHARE TO BUILD THE SITE FURTHER 🙂


The need to breakfall

Throw3 The need to breakfall

Ukemi (Breakfalling)

Ukemi or breakfalling is arguably one of the most important skills to master in Aikido and the martial arts in general. From the very first time we enter an Aikido school and our very first class, we are working with a partner and so need to breakfall. This is different to some other martial arts where the first few classes are spent practising form or certain strikes. Aikido, day one you work with a partner and so the need to breakfall correctly is of paramount importance.

The back fall

Aikido at first looks at the back fall breakfall used in techniques such as shihonage where you are taken down in a certain way so as to end up on your back. Protecting the head and back is of critical importance here, and ukemi is built up slowly so that we can take progressively harder and harder falls without hurting ourselves. The neck is tucked in to prevent the head hitting and bouncing off the mat, and the knees are bent to ensure you land butt first, not back first which will just knock the wind out of you.

When we are comfortable with this breakfall, we step it up a notch and progress to the high backfall, mostly used during dynamic jiyu waza techniques such as irimi tsuki and irimi nage. Here the legs are kicked up to head level to take the high breakfall, and the impact is dissipated in the shoulders and arm you use to break the fall with. The key component in the high breakfall is controlling the legs. If the legs are controlled and together at the time of doing the fall, the rest of the body can be controlled, and so the impact is minimal. Conversely, if the legs are separated, it can be difficult to control the rest of the body and the impact may be taken on the back or even worse the neck. Below is a demonstration of high back falling at around 1 minute 40.

Aikido 4part takedown The need to breakfall

The forward roll

In terms of forward rolling, Aikido employs a kind of sideways forward breakfall whereby we roll up the arm to the shoulder, and from the shoulder to the opposite hip in a diagonal line down the back, avoiding the spine. This is different to traditional gymnastics rolls where the roll is taken over the head and down the spine. Due to the nature of Aikido it is possible to throw people very hard using the hips, and so taking ukemi over the spine is not recommended for impact. Progressing on from this we look at the flipfall, again used in jiyu waza or techniques such as kotegaeshi. The flipfall is in many ways an aerial forward roll with the impact being taken on the arm we use to break the fall.

339960 10151145066212070 546985669 o 1024x1024 The need to breakfall

The clip below illustrates the power in the throws and the need to be able to fall correctly, as well as demonstrating the backfall, high backfall and flipfall breakfall as used in Aikido techniques.

Protect the body, build the body

Break falling correctly can help us protect the body, but can also help us to build the body. While recently teaching Aikido at a secondary school I was amazed to find how many of the students of only 13 or 14 years old couldn’t complete a simple forward roll due to lack of strength and coordination. Rolling and break falling helps to build core muscles that protect the spine, as well as developing coordination, fitness and agility. Simple break falling practice can build the body in a number of ways as well as protecting it and so is crucial to the development of children in my opinion.

a76 p1 273x300 The need to breakfall

Falling correctly and making this second nature can help in everyday life. How often do we hear of people falling down the stairs and breaking and arm or leg? Could this have been prevented if someone had an idea of how to fall properly without injuring themselves? Also in terms of self defence, many fights end up on the ground and so if taken down we need to be able to protect the head, shoulders and limbs. In sport martial arts such as MMA or Judo, take downs are  key component and so before being taught to take down and throw, practitioners are taught how to breakfall. This allows us to increase in confidence with our ability to fall properly. In everyday life, a flipfall or high back fall may not be useful, but the principles it teaches, and the way it allows us to comfortably take a breakfall, protecting the major areas may one day save us from serious injury. Due to this, I believe ukemi or breakfalling is key to any martial arts training, as well as just training in everyday life. Breakfalling must focus on a strong core and form to begin with, then gradually built up, introducing new falls from different angles, or faster falls that you perhaps weren’t expecting. When we can comfortably fall from a technique or throw where we don’t know where we are going, this is surely a good sign that our training has allowed us to process and absorb the form, and so if we ever need to break a fall in real life, our training may instinctively kick in.

5577205583 38cc1419ec 300x199 The need to breakfall

 


The Role of Atemi (Striking) in Aikido

yoshinkan aikido gozo shioda by pu12 1024x640 The Role of Atemi (Striking) in Aikido

The Role of Atemi in Aikido

Atemi can sometimes be forgotten about during our Aikido training. Aikido’s focus on throws, locks, pins and subduing the attacker without hurting them where possible does not often coincide with punching someone, yet the effectiveness of some techniques relies on the proper use of atemi. We don’t look for the knockout blow in Aikido, we strike as a distraction to allow us to perform our technique, or as a way of unbalancing the opponent in order to throw or apply a lock.

Morihei Ueshiba, the founder of Aikido, said that in a real situation, atemi is 70% of the fight, with 30% being locks and pins. Shioda Gozo, founder of Yoshinkan Aikido, agreed with this analysis from his time spent in street fights during his youth. Shioda sensei argues that although overt punching and kicking training is not done in Aikido, such as through the use of punchbags or makiwara, training is still done. Every movement in Aikido comes from the hips, and every move aims to deliver hip power and movement. Is this not exactly what is needed for effective atemi? A poor punch comes from the arm, using the muscles there to employ power. A more effective punch however, comes from the hips with the arm relaxed until the very moment of impact when the full force of the hips and arms is combined. This allows for more efficient striking, allowing us to perform more strikes with more power.

morihei ueshiba gozo shioda 1940 cropped1 300x248 The Role of Atemi (Striking) in Aikido

Morihei Ueshiba applying a strike to the ribs of Gozo Shioda

If we look at the basic movements of Aikido or the kihon dosa, all focus on projecting the hips and developing hip power. Although we aren’t punching a bag for hours on end, we are still developing hip power, and therefore striking power and as said, this is still a crucial aspect of Aikido training. There are those that argue that we should not need to atemi in Aikido or in a real situation if our technique is correct, yet I would imagine that these people have never been in a real fight and are only used to training in the setting of a dojo. The principle of Aikido to not harm the attacker is good in theory, yet in my limited experience, unrealistic. If you are fighting with someone who really wants to hurt you, whether you hurt them or not is not a consideration, getting out of that situation however you can is the priority. O’Sensei was in his later years when developing Aikido, having been through hard rigorous training in his youth and being in more than one life and death situation. Shioda sensei was similar, training hard in his youth and looking for fights to test his skills and both state that atemi in Aikido has its place and is very important.

23 265x300 The Role of Atemi (Striking) in Aikido

Striking is effective in terms of injuring opponents, but also in terms of breaking balance and developing hip power. Sometimes in training we do a technique and when done with added resistance, wonder why it doesn’t work. Sometimes the technique is done wrong, but other times, the role of atemi has been forgotten and with this added element, the technique can improve dramatically! Atemi is just one aspect of Aikido, but one I feel is sometimes neglected.