Today I’m writing about Simon Gray’s new book Suck It Up Or Go Home and his time in Senshusei Yoshinkan Aikido course in Japan.
Whenever I write about Aikido, I’m always slightly careful with what I type. For a long time, it was a huge part of my life. I began training at aged 9 and stopped training when I was 23 after achieving my 3rd Degree Black Belt. I spent a month in Australia training full time as a dojosei or live in student and loved it! However, I also cross trained in MMA, combatives, boxing, jiu-jitsu etc and saw some of the shortcomings of Aikido.
In the martial arts world, Aikido is often seen as the weird uncle at a party… and I say that in the most affectionate terms. The uncle who tells you all about his younger days chasing ladies, getting in scraps outside pubs and downing 10 pints… of whiskey…. You like him, he’s nice and there’s nothing wrong with him, but you take what he says with a pinch of salt.
Aikido can be seen as kind of similar nowadays. No doubt, Aikido has it’s place as a martial art, but as a combatives system or self defence system, there are some serious shortcomings – the main one being a lack of pressure testing and sparring. Some, due to this, question to relevance of Aikido nowadays as a practical martial art and I’ve written about this topic here. This is not true in all Aikido schools and I’ve been fortunate enough to train with some incredible instructors who were not only genuinely incredible people to be around, but also knew their stuff!
If you teach Aikido for fitness, health and studying a martial arts and budo, Aikido is a great choice. If you want something fast and effective for self defence, or want to competitively fight, it isn’t for you.
However, someone who has a wealth of experience competitively fighting in Muay Thai, as well as training in BJJ is Simon Gray – the author of Suck It Up Or Go Home.
Simon and I actually met years ago in around 2004 training at the Shudokan Academy in Nottingham and he took his 1st Degree black belt test the year before me! I recently interviewed him about his book and why, after studying Muay Thai and BJJ, he chose to undergo what has been called the hardest martial arts course in the world. You can check the full interview out here.
Simon traveled to Japan to undertake an 11 month course in Yoshinkan Aikido, designed to create black belts and foreign instructors who can spread the Yoshinkan system around the world. 11 months of training 5 days a week and being treated as the lowest of the low in the dojo. Drop out rates are high and only a select few who start the course actually complete it due to injuries and general attrition.
As Aikido is often seen as a soft martial art, it’s interesting to see the juxtaposition of this with being labelled one of, if not the, toughest martial arts course in the world.
The course was first bought to the public’s attention through the book Angry White Pyjamas by Robert Twigger. This recounted Rob’s 11 months in the senshusei course taught to the Japanese riot police in the early 1990’s when arguably Yoshinkan Aikido was in it’s prime. The founder, Kancho Gozo Shioda, was still alive and the top and most notable Yoshinkan teachers were all instructors at the Honbu Dojo.
Although Simon’s book is similar in terms of his journey in the course, it takes a different approach, focusing more on Simon’s ability to suck it up or go home attitude. When thing’s get tough, you either deal with it and carry on, or give in. This, as Simon has said, is something that was instilled in him from the senshusei course, and something he has carried with him after.
Simon sent me a copy of Suck It Up Or Go Home, to have a read of and asked me to write a few words for the start of it, and after reading it in 2 days, I was more than happy to do so. This is a great book and I honestly couldn’t put it down. As a martial arts blog, I’m sure the vast majority of people reading this are martial artists, but I will also say that you don’t have to be a martial artist to enjoy the book. This has something for everyone and the lessons and essence can be applied to anyone regardless of martial arts background or not.
From dealing with the daily struggles of living in Japan, to adjusting to a new way of training as the lowest of the low in the dojo, Simon candidly speaks about his time on the course, doesn’t pull any punches and you can tell he is writing from the heart. He talks about continuing to train in Muay Thai and BJJ while in Japan (even though it was forbidden to train in other styles on the course) and as far as an ambassador for Aikido as an effective martial art, I’d rate Simon pretty highly!
I’d highly recommend Suck It Up Or Go Home to anyone interested in martial arts, and even those with a passing interest in Japanese culture or self development – there’s something in it for everyone.
The book is available on Amazon now in Paperback form and also kindle and you can grab your copy here.
Let’s face it, if you study any form of martial arts, there is an element of break falling involved. Traditional arts place heavy emphasis on the need to break fall such as Aikido or jiu-jitsu, but these principles can just as easily be applied to MMA or Thai Boxing when being swept or taken down.
Break falling is one of the most crucial aspects of martial arts to learn, especially as a beginner for a number of reasons.
The first and most important reason to learn how to break fall safely is obviously safety! In most martial arts, traditional or sport based, at some level you will have to learn how to take a fall. This could be from a sweep during sparring in kickboxing, or Muay Thai, to a single or double leg in MMA. From a wrist lock in Aikido, to a hip throw in jiu-jitsu, break falling is a crucial aspect of the martial arts to learn to prevent injury and keep you learning and on the mats.
The idea of the break fall, is to do exactly that – break the fall. We land in such a way as to absorb the impact, reduce damage and prevent any long term injuries. Break falling can start simply – with a simple back fall to protect the head, neck and spine, but quickly progress. At the most advanced levels we have silent break falls or high break falls, gymnastic in approach, but also functional in controlling the impact you receive off the technique or takedown.
In many martial arts, break falling is crucial in order to feel how the technique is done. Arguably, the best way to understand a technique is to feel it first hand from the coach, sensei, professor etc and if you can fall well and safely, you are more likely to be able safely feel how the technique works.
A single leg takedown can be drilled over and over again, but 1 demonstration of the single leg where you feel how it is meant to be applied is worth 100 drills on your own or with a partner who is also figuring it out.
If you get good and competent at safely falling, your skill level will increase. You’ll be able to feel how the technique works, and you’ll also be able to safely train, meaning less time off the mats for any niggling injuries! Win, win!
Drill development and principles
A lot of the principles found in learning to break fall occur in learning a martial arts. We learn the form, we learn the main points to consider, then we figure out how it fits best for us. I’m of small stature, so my break falls are likely to be quicker and more compact than someone who is 6ft tall and 18 stone. The way we teach the break fall is the same to ensure safety first, but the way it is applied and made your own differs.
The same can be said of martial arts. We teach the jab, the main points, get the range right, rotate the hip and shoulder and retract it with speed. Then we play! We experiment with the angles in light sparring, we try to improve our success rate of hitting it. My jab again, will be different to a jab of a 6ft tall practitioner simply because they have a longer reach! Therefore, we learn and adapt, same as in break falling.
When we figure out these core principles we can develop drills to help with agility, speed, flexibility and cardiovascular and muscular fitness – all important for martial arts.
The Break Falling for Martial Artists video series.
Time for a shameless plug now! As a 3rd degree black belt in Yoshinkan Aikido, break falling was instilled into me from a young age. Say what you like about the efficacy of Aikido (I may even agree). but one thing they do do well is break falling! This has served me well during my time cross training in other styles both in terms of the practical break falling element, and also the principles it teaches.
I’ve packaged what I’ve learned about break falling into my own course this lockdown! Starting with the simple basics of how to do a simple backfall, then progress to slam backfalls and angled ones, then moving to forward and backward rolls. Then finally flip falls and more gymnastic, but less practical break falling. With this I’ve added some drills and skills you can train yourself, or alternatively use in classes if you instruct kids/adults and want to add some break falling in. The basics, up to advanced, with some drill ideas to implement into your class. Super simple, but also super needed!
I’ll be launching this course at a 50% discount rate at the end of June, so be sure to subscribe to The Martial View to receive this discount if you want to take your martial arts training up a gear, or want another element to add into your classes.
“It is not true that people stop pursuing dreams because they grow old, they grow old because they stop pursuing dreams.”
I’m excited. Amid all the doom and gloom of Coronavirus and the fear in the world today, I saw something to potentially get excited about… The return of Mike Tyson to boxing.
That’s right… THE Mike Tyson!
Sure it will be for some exhibition matches raising money for charity, probably for 3 or 4 rounds, but hey! This is exciting stuff and got me thinking…
At what age should you hang up for gloves for good?
Tyson is now 53 years old and has his last fight 15 years ago at age 38. His return to the ring for some will be exciting and even inspirational, yet others, most notably George Foreman, have warned him to stay out the ring and that he has nothing more to prove.
So what do you think? Is there a time when a fighter should just retire, never to step foot in the ring or cage again and when is that time?
I’ve heard a few times martial artists say that the difference between martial arts and combat sports is that combat sports often have a peak. An age where you are as strong, fit and agile as you can possibly be.
After this peak has been reached, there is a steady decline where the body simply cannot take the same amount of punishment as it did before. Skill diminishes therefore retirement happens.
With martial arts however, the peak doesn’t reach as early as skill level increases consistently. A fine example of this would be Dan Inosanto – aged 83 and still hosting seminars around the world (pre-corona) and as skilled and talented as he ever was.
This may be due to a number of reasons:
The punishment the body takes…
Professional fighters put their bodies through so much on a daily basis. From regular hard sparring sessions, to fitness building that takes you to the edge and pushes you both mentally and physically – combat sports are tough man! That’s not even counting the fights themselves! Repeated kicks to the legs, punches to the body and head and general wear and tear take their toll and this for sure is a reason why combat sport competitors reach a peak.
Martial artists on the other hand – by broad stroke and not all, tend to train a little less intensely. Many don’t fight competitively, preferring to train for their own reasons such as fitness, health and personal safety perhaps. When and if they spar, it’s technical sparring which doesn’t kill you at the end and the level of punishment the body takes simply isn’t the same.
The martial art you choose…
Some martial arts are built with health and longevity in mind. If we look at some of the more esoteric martial arts such as Tai Chi or even some forms of Aikido (I know, I trained Aikido), the movements are more flowing and graceful. Many cite martial arts as a fantastic way to stay healthy, but this really does depend on the martial art you choose!
Enter the shark tank in an MMA gym, have an hour rolling session in BJJ or a hard sparring session and ask yourself at the end if you feel healthy! I’ve even had Aikido sessions where I have thrown up from exertion and the next day every inch of me has been bruised and achy – Thanks Joe Thambu Sensei…
The martial art you choose and it’s main function will often depend if you hit a peak. You don’t see many active 60 year olds in a kickboxing gym, but will see that age practicing Kung Fu or Tai Chi perhaps. Certain martial arts hit a certain demographic and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that.
So to bring it back to the original point… Should there be an age where you can no longer fight competitively?
Are you fighting competitively now and what’s your plan for the future? Will you do a Tyson and fight until you can’t anymore?
Are you getting older now and has your training adapted and changed as a result?
Are you young and simply wanting to just kill someone in training?!
I was lucky enough to be one of Joe Thambu Sensei’s students while studying Aikido, spending 1 month as a live in student with him at his dojo in Melbourne, Australia.
Joe Sensei began training at aged 11 in his Uncle’s dojo in Malaysia. At an early age he was lucky enough to be exposed to martial arts, and come into contact with high level martial artists such as Donn Draeger. After studying with his uncle, Thamby Rajah, he then moved to Australia and after trying other styles of Aikido and finding they didn’t suit him – he set up the first Yoshinkan school.
In 1993 Joe Sensei tested to 5th Dan under Gozo Shioda Kancho – the founder of Yoshinkan Aikido and was both the youngest non-Japanese to test to that level, and the last to be tested by the Yoshinkan founder.
Now an 8th Dan and head of the Aikido Shudokan. Joe Sensei is know for his speed and dynamic Aikido even at 59 years of age. He talks about his history in Aikido, what a functional martial art really is, and the future of Aikido in the 21st Century and why it has such a bad reputation in some circles.
A man I could spend hours talking to about martial arts (while drinking beer), as I say in the interview, if I lived in Australia and trained with him, I would still be practicing Aikido I think! A man that deserves a huge amount of respect, we are honored to have part one of our interview with Joe Thambu Sensei below.
I am really excited to be relaunching the martial arts blog in the midst of all this Covid-19 chaos and it’s been great to have support from some fantastic martial artists, instructors and individuals who have agreed to be interviewed by moi! We’ll be posting these interviews on our new YouTube channel – and once things get moving again hopefully doing some home visits, training and video blogs too! So get subscribed to us at The Martial View on YouTube!
A system of hierarchy is something that the Martial Arts, and especially traditional Martial Arts, are built upon. While the elusive and often coveted Black Belt (gasp, oooh, ahhh) should not be the main goal of training, it is often a useful motivational tool for those who struggle with self-discipline and attending class, especially after the initial high of learning a new Martial Art has worn off. So while hierarchy, or belts and levels can be a fantastic tool within the Martial Arts, there are also some drawbacks which are often overlooked or not address.
Levels or grades can be intimidating for those just beginning in the arts.
I am sure we all remember our first ever martial arts class – walking in to a sea of white pajamas, feeling completely out of place and wondering why the hell you walked through the front door in the first place. Let’s face it. Walking in to a room full of people willingly kicking, punching and throwing each other about, and agreeing to participate when you have no clue what you’re doing – can be a little scary.
Of course, those of us that teach know this and should instantly make the new person feel super welcome. We should let them know there is nothing to worry about and that we won’t go in to full on sparring until at least week two right…?
It can still be a little scary however, and the presence of colored belts or grades adds to this intensity. The black belts are the ones to be avoided at all costs as they are basically ninjas and you can just stand at the side of the class with the other white belts, desperately trying to remember your left and right as a fully grown man or woman. All while doing your best to ensure you don’t make a nasty stain in your beautiful new white gi bottoms…
At no time is this more prevalent than at major seminars. I have been lucky enough to attend a number of seminars with high ranking instructors in various martial arts and often saw the instructors gathered together. Black and brown belts together, and then lower grades together, both in training and socially after.
In training at these events, if you can pluck up the courage to ask a brown or black belt to train with you as a beginner, this can be a big deal, but I remember seeing the disappointment on their face at being paired with a lower grade. The clock watching from them began and you could tell, they just weren’t feeling it. This obviously left me… and I’m sure other beginners, feeling a little dejected! I seemed to be an annoyance and someone holding them back from really achieving the maximum in their training, and this happened on a number of occasions, not just with myself, but with many other lower grades I talked to. Black belts trained with the black belts and the white belts trained together slowly mastering the art of putting one foot in front of the other without falling over from nerves.
This seemed an unspoken rule but saying this I have been to other seminars where the visiting instructor has actively encouraged the senior grades to train with the lower grades for a while, before then training with someone equal in terms of experience. This does however, seem the minority, not the majority.
This – as stated above, also translated to hierarchy off the mats at the socials afterwards. The post training beer at the local boozer and meal would see a similar situation. Instructors and high ranking students sitting on a table together, laughing, joking and drinking. While lower students would often be on a separate table, missing out on the experiences and stories from the high ranking instructor’s years in the arts. It seemed as though this almost had to be earned in a way – an almost VIP to hang around with the cool kids!
Is this the way it should be?
Levels or grades can lead to some delusions of grandeur.
We have all done it and all been there. The new “black belt dickhead”. You’ve just got your black belt, you think you’re the dog’s danglies. You walk into the dojo, chest out, head high, smiling and nodding to all the stupid lower grades that know jack shit.
This could last a day, a week, a month, but at some point – you will realize. You are not the dog’s danglies, your head will go down, your chest will sink in and you will realize you are that dickhead you took the piss out of when you were a white belt. The guy who thinks he knows it all!
For some this can take quite a long time to realize. For others, they have yet to realize…
But in terms of the arts, this can be an issue. As a black belt, you instantly want to start teaching and imparting the knowledge you have acquired. But here’s the thing. It may not be all that good!
Sure you have a black belt. But that just means you have put the hours in and know the techniques/requirements to pass the grade. Oh my friend, the journey is just beginning ad you have such a long way to go until you are ready to impart the knowledge you think you are capable of!
Sure you can help out with some basics, but trying to teach too much too soon can just be more detrimental than anything. You can teach bad habits which then need to be un-learnt by the student. Or, heaven forbid, you teach something that is completely the opposite or in contradiction to what your instructor is trying to convey, be it in a class or seminar.
For some, black belt means you are ready to teach and nearly at the end of your journey, this is completely the wrong attitude and can be a problem with having this hierarchical nature in the martial arts – especially the traditional ones.
At the end of the day, we are all just students
We are all just students of the martial arts at the end of the day, whether you have been training for one month or for 10 years, you still want to just improve yourself and learn more. The best teachers and martial artists are those that continue to learn even though they are considered by many to be at the very top of their game. An excellent example of this can be Guro Dan Inosanto. In an interview done with one of his top students – the legendary Bob Breen in my book Martial Masters Volume 1 – Bob talks about Dan’s day to day routine and how he is constantly on the go and learning new arts, be it in striking or ground such as Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu!
Hierarchy can sometimes hinder this when we think we have reached the illustrious black belt, we can rest on our laurels and chill. This should be where the training really ramps up, test what you know, evolve it, develop it and make the style uniquely your own – Bruce Lee Style.
How many of us truly do this however, and how many of us simply think we know what we are doing now all due to the fact we now have a different colored bit of cloth around our waste? We all unfortunately have an ego, and we all like it when that ego is massaged, especially on the mats.
The traditional martial arts can be a great place to have your ego massaged as once you reach black belt you are sometimes placed on a pedestal and thought to have more knowledge than others. This is fine until it’s tested and if you can back up the goods, awesome, if not. Your ego may be a little bruised rather than massaged.
Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is a great example here of an art that has adapted more to this hierarchical system through competition. Any newbie walking into a new BJJ class should know that they will be tapped out… a lot. It is part of the process and keeps your ego in check from the get go.
Even at black belt level, competitors still compete or even just roll with their students, and it takes one mistake to be caught in a submission and realize that you are not invincible and some sort of black belt demi-god! Sure you should be tapped out WAY less than a white belt, but it can still happen! Yet how many traditional martial arts have this same mentality where the instructor is shown to be a mere human?!
For me, martial arts are about ego checking and we often tell our students to leave their ego’s at the door when they train. How many instructors follow through with this too however…?
Always interested to hear your thoughts… Let me know!
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?
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.
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.
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.
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…
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.
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.
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!!
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.
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 🙂