Saturday, December 23, 2006

Christmas In Bavaria: Wrap it up, I'll take it.
I've spent too many sweaty dismal holidays in Texas, dreading the day the cedar "pops" and dealing with the trendy Austin crowds in Central Market. We dealt with some fairly serious crowds in Regensburg at the Christmas Market, but Germans are normally pathologically polite (except when they are extraordinarily rude) and, for many generations, used to crowding. US'ns, as an estranged in-law used to call them, are used to open spaces and getting their way, and get psychotic about it.
In any case, no one is as rude as a German who has put their mind to it. Old women or men are the worst.
Anyway, most of the time, I find myself having to keep up with the niceness.
I got gummi bears at the bank, chocolate and then butter cookies at the grocery, and beer, beer mugs and calendars from the German neighbors. I'll gift them all with my homemade jam and American candy canes (woo!) tomorrow.
It's cosy here, it's absurdly safe, it's beautiful and clean. They pay unbelieveable taxes, but at least they have public health care, clean streets, recycling and guaranteed pensions. There are few bums or beggars, and old folks get taken out for walks every Sunday.
Balconies are lit with little wooden carvings, strings of dangling lights, even reindeer and Santas (a new thing here) but there are no inflatable Santas or snowmen about.
The big thing is Santa on a rope or ladder hanging down the front of a building and putting lights in an outdoor tree.
They are getting more Americanized, we see Santas instead of Father Christmas with his little black elf. Adults we know tell stories of being kidnapped by whomever in the family was playing the black elf, if they'd been bad -- stuffed in a sack and carried away!
The Bushites have decided that ex-pats who decide to stay are more of a problem than corporate tax dodgers (why ask their friends to pay?) and last year passed a law requiring all changing citizenship (due possibly to lack of faith in said administration) shall continue to pay "double jeopardy" tax rates for foreign earned income over 82.5K for ten years after they turn in their American passport. Wait, did no one tell you about this? didn't you get to vote on it? Gosh darn golly, I guess you didn't . Me neither. See , it will be easy to find.
It's an incentive for me not to try too hard on the foreign side, and to divert my tax dollars to purposes worthier than (a) getting myself screwed further, or again or (b) giving any support whatsoever to an administration greedy for current profit over future development, sane growth and gain.
Do your research, follow the money, be happy, do what you love, and have a beautiful holiday.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

What is the ultimate luxury, but feeling good and feeling free? People trade their time for money, and their money again for time.
Me, I'll take this deep exploration of how good I can feel. I feel like a puddle of silk, a sensual ribbon of flesh at the end of a Chinese dancer's staff, on a good day.
I don't care for this keeping up of appearances, this false nails and skin-destroying tan lifestyle. I have a rather boring hair colour, so until it turns a pretty silver I will play with the tint of it. Teeth are important, but I don't agree with this shaving and capping and bridging. Anything which destroys the natural integrity of a thing, such as tanning booths, I cannot agree with. Growing up in Texas, sun was the enemy. My Celtic skin is practiced with regular sun exposure, but then, my dad tells me I've got a touch of alligator blood here and there. Here in Bavaria, I am letting my skin "rest" and have only once or twice incurred an actual sunburn.
I saw a picture of myself from Texas times, and noted that I was gently browned, a cautious outdoorswoman's tan. My face has remained untanned since I was 15, which may be why I don't look as close to 40 as I truly am.
I'll trade present fashion for longtime survival any day. Besides, powder bronzers give the same short-term effects without the long-term ones.
Increasingly, I find true Beauty in grace and freedom, rather than what others try to tell me what beauty is. Yes, eyeliner is good. Eyeliner can elucidate beauty, but only if you have a Very Steady Hand. Otherwise, you look like an owl on acid.
So, for beauty, I insist on grace, freedom of movement, health, fabulous toenail polish, and well-applied liquid eyeliner. Not much else seems to matter.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Here's a post probably a bit more relevant to what I am going through right now.
I encountered one of those "speed bumps" on a very deep personal level, had a huge enough glitch to make me Pay Attention, and got down to work on my own personal issues of rage and rebellion.
I did the work of paring away distractions, I did the work of finding a way to Listen, and am doing the work of making myself, somehow, a simpler, easier person to be. I have too much to do, to continue to be so high-maintenance for my own self. My work has become larger than I am, and I am my work. This is something my Rolfing teacher Harvey Burns said: "I am the work". I kind of get that. I have to be the work, to do the work. I have to stay active in my own process. I have to manage it, and keep it going. I have to model what I hope to give others a step into.

In so many ways, budo is where it all started for me. Here's an early window:

I'm sure the question in everyone's mind is:
What is different for you now that you are not training in aikido? I trained in aikido from 1989, starting with Joe Birdsong of MAF under Akira Tohei. Joe's first teacher was Tri Thong Dang, whom I believe trained under Ueshiba and under Koichi Tohei. I might well be wrong about that... In any case, Joe is a good teacher and a great dancer.

I had to take three years off due to financial and personal reasons, but I was miserable when I stopped, as if someone had taken away my source of sanity.
I began again under someone who had beaten me badly in a kenjutsu fencing match with old-fashioned bamboo fukuro shinai, a man I knew would teach me what he knew of the sword, and originally it was the sword I loved. Jim P introduced me to several other teachers, from Stephen McA to Brendan H. In about 6 years I ended up a shodan assistant instructor under Brendan (nidan in aikido and godan in judo) in Round Rock at Mr. Matl's dojo. Lots of other folks worked out there, but Mr. Matl was Brendan's sensei and therefore mine. He gave me much in our time there, and I will not forget. I learned to love and respect judo there.
Brendan, poor determined Brendan, tried so hard to forge me with his own hands. He gave me moments of truth that devastated and remade me. I would drive home crying my eyes out and not knowing why. Frustration, perhaps, or joy. No telling, at 11 pm.
After I joined the Aikido list in 1998, I began to cross train even more. I met students of Nishio Sensei through my "brother" Kregg and met people like George Simcox, Rocky Izumi, Chuck Clark, Philip Akin, Chuck Gordon, Alan Drysdale, Hiroshi Ikeda, and so many others. I have taken ukemi from all of these folks.
Tragically, very little from Shoji Nishio but quite frankly at the time I wasn't up to it. I have also trained with Seagal's student Larry Reynosa. I did not like his style, granted, I allow generously for differences.. looking back it was very Shin Shin Toitsu with a generous touch of Dillman and Kali.
Standing where I am now, I might have liked it better, but I was very committed to what I understood as softness at the time.
I have trained with Don Angier at one seminar, and with his students, who are wonderful folks, especially Kurt Von Quintus and the Dallas Yanagi Ryu fellows.
Granted, this is all a fairly shallow experience. But what does one spend a lifetime learning? I have trained in Wing Tsun, gaining my first level with Sifu Jeff Webb in Austin, and in "garage" kenjutsu and kickboxing with my buddy Dan A. Dan, you still out there doing a job you love?

I have done judo with the current national champion of his age group (being trashed joyfully and gently by Matl Sensei is one of my most treasured memories -- "so you want learn newaza?" mash, smoosh, wad...).
I trained a little with the gentleman who owns Tai Chi People in Austin, a remarkable person, also a healer. He is the one who told me "killer is healer. You need a knife in the battlefield AND in the kitchen".
All of this should serve only to tell you where I've been. And it doesn't matter. I have faced the spectre of the lack of women teachers and gotten over it. Men are teaching. They can be good people. The responsibility is on me to be brave and make it mine.
So what the hell am I doing NOW? it is a composite of jujutsu (aikido is jujutsu. It is. completely.. or you are getting an incomplete version) kempo, weapons and strategy.

Chuck calls it Kokoro Ryu. When his teacher Richard Gordon was trying to describe to Fumio Demura what he did, and where it came from, he pointed to his heart and said "I just do what's in here" and Demura said "Aaah, Kokoro Ryu". I understand that some enterprising person has taken that name as a trademark, however, I don't think they had Demura's blessing.. (smiling) It's hard to know exactly where the art comes from, but it is simple, elegant, deep and undeniably effective. During his military service, Richard Gordon trained under a variety of individuals including Koichi Tohei and Gozo Shioda as well as some undeniably old school jujutsuka and swordsmen. We may never find out the whole list,
I don't know how much he remembers. Chuck is constantly researching and backtracking to find his roots. I am a tadpole wanting to be a bird, yet again. I am humiliated, frustrated, terrified and fascinated. It is like my early days in aikido all over again, from the butterflies at the beginning of class to the pounding frustration of trying to throw powerful giants like Martin, flexible wires like Monica, sandbags like Tim and Bob, and the implacable ferocity of my teacher Chuck Gordon. I learned to enjoy my fists in Wing Tsun, and I do not give them up here. We HIT each other, with fists and weapons. We become astonished at what we can take, and are eminently careful with one another in it. Bruises are inevitable, but they are in aikido training too. You just aren't warned of it. Broken limbs have not happened, and I know they do in aikido and in life in general.We are careful, gentle, intimate. The class is too small for anyone to have a Persona as happens in large groups. We know each other too well. Occasionally I'll GET a throw and Martin will step up to take incredible ukemi repeatedly. Occasionally one of the others will Get It. Tim is one of the best at that, he's been with Chuck the longest and really and truly threw me once. Once I figured out I was still alive it was really cool. But I said a Very Bad Word on the way over. Quite involuntarily.
It is more intense than any aikido I've ever done. It is more complete in terms of using fists and feet and assorted weapons. It is terrifying and my teacher pushes me harder in the most terrible places. The fact that he is also my mate may enter into that somewhat, on the mat we are teacher and student and I love him and hate him with the rest of the class.I often wonder, gee, is that where that came from? in terms of what we get now in judo and aikido. Nikajo was never this painful. Kote Mawashi, a pain by any other name...

Aikido by and large has been gentled to help the masses, and believe me I don't have a problem with that. Whatever will help people reach beyond themselves is fine with me. It is so desperately needed. If aikido fills a person's needs, that's wonderful! not everyone needs to go to quite the masochistic means I have. Not everyone is into this deep personal adventure.
Unlike others who have left aikido in anger, I have left it in a more positive light. I am simply an adventurer. I may still teach something I call aikido, but only in that I believe that peace is best held from the high ground.
Ueshiba did beautiful things.. those who believe that any one of his students holds the whole picture has an unclear notion of the human mind. I have striven to follow a path more similar to Old Mori, in that I have explored and tried many things. I may never serve my country militarily, nor will I found a new religion, but I will follow my Path. Right now I am involved in a deep and brilliant history lesson, one I will pass on to whomever I teach, one I am striving to embrace with all of my being.

(Dec 2006)
Now, as the assistant instructor in a tiny club on a military installation, my training has an immediacy and a depth most people only daydream of. Our senior student is no longer in security, but he still has that focus and earnestness. We try very hard to pay attention and challenge each other. He is so giving, and forgiving, I couldn't ask for a better whetstone. I hope I can do the same for him.
Chuck remains one of the more difficult sensei I have ever faced. Not because of our personal relationship so much, I keep that pretty strictly limited to keeping him functional. His teaching style is very much demonstration, not explanation, which is strange for a man of so many skilled words. In a way, this works, because words cannot convey this stuff. In a way, it's harder, because we are both so wordy, and it's like cutting off an entire sense, and growing a new one, to learn this language called budo.
My personal evolution here, lately, has been deep and wide, in feeling if not in result.
Once again, the words fail... but as the bodywork has freed me, I am so free, just to train.
It doesn't hurt to fall, I can stand up and sit down (seiza is not hurting) I can move pretty freely, the pops and clicks are mostly just sound effects, the left wrist still needs bracing but I can offer it from time to time.
These things are all huge, in this training microcosm.
Another oldie but goodie:

Since I was a kid, my primary entertainment has been whatever's going on outdoors. My dad was quite the outdoorsman and my mom was too, when she was fit enough. She is still very attuned to the weather and the natural world in her own way, my dad even more so.
When I was a few months old I was out on their backs in a little baby backpack with a fly whistling past my ears from a flyrod. Our outings were to the clear rocky streams of Central Texas with a cooler full of food and beer.
We spent weeks on the Texas Coast in the summer. You want a purifying experience... sheesh. The glory of a beach sunrise is balanced by an ocean of intimate sand and salt, biting flies and man-o-war and relentless, murderous midday heat. I am hopelessly spoiled to fresh-caught shrimp, fish and crab. I spent hours in the waves, body-surfing with the mullets and investigating the rich microcosm of the shallows. In the mornings I would walk until I was tired on beach, entranced by shells and the raucous lyricism of the gulls and skimmers.

In June in Texas, the thermometer spikes to 100 degrees and it does not come back down on a regular basis until nearly October. By September, 90 F is a cool breeze.

Here in Indiana that seems so very far away, the days are in the 80s but the air is literally soggy. Astonishingly enough, I experienced some deep pangs of homesickness for the intense blaze of the Texas sun accompanied by the cool waters of the pristine San Marcos River. If I went and sat in the oven for about an hour and then took a cold shower I might be able to accomplish the feeling if not the scenery..

One of my deepest interests is foraging for wild foods. We used to pick grapes on the riverside from my dad's johnboat (a flat-bottomed aluminum craft) and make grape jelly, a tradition I have taken with me. I try not to turn the kitchen nearly so purple now as my mom and I did as we extracted the powerfully acid muscadine, or "mustang" grape juice.

Here in Indiana, the earth is incredibly rich and, wonder of wonders to this lifetime semidesert rat, it rains on a regular basis. Big black clouds gush cold rain onto rich earth, and the result is a disregarded bounty in the parks and waste places.

Early in spring I became obsessed with finding morels. I found them. It is more like a hunt than any gathering I have engaged in previously. They have a rich earthy mushroomy taste, but truly finding them is actually more exciting than eating them. Not that I won't squabble for my share, mind you!

I made a mushroom and rice dish that I fed to our dear guest instructors Goyo Ohmi and Eric Tribe at Wood and Steel III when they arrived from Canada. Cooked morels look a bit like tired octopus (tako if you eat sashimi) but taste much better. I found nearly 50 morels all told, not bad for a beginner. I wait happily for next morel season and spy out new hunting spots with the gusto of a lioness eyeing a watering hole.

Later in the spring, I found raspberries! O rare treat indeed! I gathered and gathered and made some delicious seedy raspberry jam. Chuck doesn't like berries so I suppose that will be around for a while. Next year perhaps I will make a cordial. June came and the acres of blackberries at a local city park ripened. Monica and Chuck and I filled my largest basket with the brambly treats, and I made cobbler, jam, and froze about three gallons for Martin to make into wine. Then, in August, the wild cherries started to ripen. These are things better gathered with a stick and a sheet, but I picked them by hand. Have to be careful with wild cherries, they contain toxic prussic acid and unless you're going to cook them thoroughly they have to be meticulously de-stemmed and pitted. But they make _delicious_ jam. Yum!
Shortly after the cherry adventure, Chuck and I ventured to Eagle Creek and picked about a gallon of river grapes. I made a tart and lively jam with them. I have another batch of them in the sink which I hope to hand over to Martin for making into wine. He keeps talking about making something called a "lambic" which I am curious about.

I gathered some apples this morning as well, it's a wonder to me why people will spend money on the toxic, mealy waxy things at the store and never glance at these trees groaning under a burden of creamy crunchy sweet tartness. There's not much like this in Texas, that's for damnsure!I wait like a kid waiting for Christmas for my very first Fall.

In Texas you know it's fall when the leaves leave tiny smoke trails from the trees as they burn from the branches under the ferocious sun. Here, the bright green of summer has faded dull and hints at gold and scarlet round the edges. For her birthday I sent my mom a card with some early brilliant leaves in it.

You knew I might get political.. the deepest passions of the soul are what we bring to our politics, after all. If you knew that the government was participating in subsidizing the sale of toxic or non-beneficial substances, that it was denuding forests in Brazil so that we could pay less for something that is killing us, would you chalk it up to Darwinism and hope it didn't raise your health insurance costs? If you were hungry, if you couldn't afford to go to the grocery or pay rent for a kitchen, what would you do?Do you have the knowledge to support yourself? Can you walk outside your door and identify even three things that grow wild that would nourish you? Do you trust the government, which is subsidizing beef (ground water? trees? topsoil? who needs it?) and tobacco (nicotine is a standard ingredient in rat poison and is the most addictive substance we have around) to make it easy for you to get food that is delicious, clean and good for you? I'll brush good clean earth off any edible and bring it home a prize, but you can't get me to eat things from a street or sidewalk or any drive-through. Perhaps it is my personal rebellion, I love to look outside and see a world my species adapted to hunting and gathering in, so generous with its bounty when you know where to look. To walk in the woods and know that the cherry tree will give me treats, the hickory will give me protein both from its fruit and the squirrels who get so fat on them, to know that a little yarrow will smell wonderful and ease mosquito bites, to know that I might find a sassafras leaf to rub between my fingers and sniff and savor, this is home to me.
I see children raised by the media who think, like their damnfool parents, that the outdoors is a giant toilet, and I want to show them exactly what they are shitting on. People ask me what I am picking, is that edible? Their grandmothers likely made jam or jelly from these same plants, but we have forgotten.
They have no conception of the part they play in their world. They have fallen for what Daniel Quinn, in _The Story of B_ calls "the big lie" that humans are separate from nature. We are not. We may scent ourselves artificially and never eat anything that hasn't seen a butcher, factory, or megafarm, but we are still hyperactive, noisy predatory apes.
For some reason humans have become accustomed to a diet of clowns and music videos, we eat what is "cool" to eat and pay no attention to the needs of our bodies or spirits, when what the cells of the body actually encounter is actually a mixture of monocropped, overfed, chemical-laden chaff and lard. I love a good steak but I'd like wild venison better. I drink wine and beer and good scotch, I use olive oil and garlic in abundance and my mate is a fabulous Southern cook.
But what I love best is something I or my mate caught, made, and served to my family with my own hands. I love sharing what I know, knowing that understanding how delicious wild grapes and apples are might save tiny spaces of what I love from greed and stupidity, at least for my short lifetime.

As I update my old web site, I'm going to transfer the stuff I like over to this blog.
This next post is from March 2002.

If I recall correctly, author and scientist Richard Dawkins flatly dismisses the myth of race.
As I like this theory, this essay becomes a moot point. However, for those who still thrive on myths and cling to illusion, here's my opinion on racism in budo:

Updated March 18, 2002:
There is something I am very tired of. A certain childish attitude, in the world of budo. It is born of insecurity and lack of confidence, born of closemindedness and fear.

It is composed of the very things we seek to extinguish in ourselves by pursuing our path.
I did not see it so clearly until I went to Kim Taylor's "Sword School" in Guelph. Having been to the Guelph Sword School, where they are trying frantically to preserve ancient arts from being lost, I must say I observed a difference.
At Guelph, the differences are between ryu, not ha. That is, a whole different system. Socially, less competition. As in, between baseball and football instead of between football teams.

There is much interest and open sharing. There is mutual respect and admiration. They know what it is to do a crazy thing to a level of expertise and respect it. They don't do what you do, but they will enjoy your performance and enjoyment of it.

In the gendai budo world there is a form of racism (undoubtedly in the koryu as well, within sects). Yes, racism. "'Oh, don't talk to them.. they're a different color/school/sect. They will 'pollute your aikido/karate/judo/basketweaving' "No.Really. Even in the most polite and softened terms, anyone who forbids you to train with anyone else has something they don't want you to see about them. Anyone who thinks everyone else is a waste of time is an egotist, a megalomaniac with an inferiority complex. Naturally, a person should try to gain a base in an art which suits them, but training under lock and key is like never leaving your house.. no matter how cool you make it, you're not going anywhere. It's a kind of spiritual and intellectual agoraphobia. It's locking your door when someone of a different color walks by.

It's a terribly poisonous practice and it is robbing the aikido world (I know little of the other arts besides Wing Tsun and will tell you for free that's vicious and crazy) of a "whole vision" of what Morihei Ueshiba taught. Not to say the Japanese are sinless, in fact Hombu Dojo is known for its nationalist tendencies (see
footnote by Henry Ellis) and policies which include holding back Western student so as to promote Japanese students faster.
Ueshiba taught Inoue and he taught Saotome. He taught Akira AND Koichi Tohei. If you throw away what he taught one person, what they brought away from the experience and yes, added to it, then you disregard a piece of the whole.

Can we afford to do that?
Can we, as second-third-fourth-XXX generation aikidoka and budoka, AFFORD to do that? I say no.

At the same time, we don't have to perpetuate the prejudices.

I came back from Guelph to an e-mail message which, while very sweet to me, attempted to undermine my instructor, from one of my old instructors, written under an all too traceable pseudonym.I figure he had a hard time dealing with the fact that I got to go to Guelph and get my hands on "the real thing" while he flails for truth by his own parameters back home. Geez man, let go and be glad for me! The fact remains that we cannot help those who will not either recieve help, or help themselves. I have gone out to find out more, I will meet strange people and go sword to sword with them, I will humble myself to learn from them and take what I can to those who might someday learn from me. I have nothing to lose and everything to gain. Is it all about whether or not you can hit somebody with a length of bamboo? I don't think so.

I think it's about history, about respect (hokorei...) about generations of survival in a lethal political and military climate.It's about taking what your teachers give you in blood and sweat and carrying it on. It's about supporting other people who are trying to do the same. Big arfing deal if they have other teachers. They are your brothers and sisters in preserving an ancient tradition and improving upon it.In a political climate terrified of people with power (unless they have money too) unless it's a question of character and legality, we must support one another. And we must be compassionate and try to understand that everyone does the best they can with what they have. If the person is poisonous, then be specific. If you simply don't like someone's art, don't assume they're a bad person. Just because other folks don't fit in your little cookie mold doesn't mean they're evil.

Can we turn up our noses because of the unknown and the assumed?

What do we gain, with closed minds?

Now, here is my dare, for you. Try something new. Add to your collection of perspectives. Are you content with your tiny piece of it? I dare you to kick at the darkness til it bleeds daylight. Don't just cower behind your door, or under your label, or behind your shield. So, you're already right about everything? What does that mean, if you only do one thing and won't think about anything else?

If you want the karateka's version of this, go to If you want to talk about genetic racism, sorry, can't help ya. Don't suffer from it (I don't even believe there is any basis for it!).

A footnote from Henry Ellis Sensei, posted on the aikido list:
"Hi Chuck,
I totally agree with you and others on the subject of grades in Aikido. In the 1950's several of us that were students of the legendry Kenshiro Abbe sensei were graded to dan grade, we all trained at least four to five nights a week, with three hours every Sunday, these were some of the best aikidoist's I have ever seen, all dan grades were graded by Abbe sensei, our certificates were signed by O'Sensei. In the very early 1960's Aikido was now expanding very quickly throughout the UK, Abbe sensei asked O'Sensei to send another teacher to the UK. The first teacher O'Sensei sent was Mikoto Mashailo Nakazono, we were all shocked to learn that we were to be regraded by Nakazono Sensei, the gradings were harder the second time around, I must add that the first grading was tough enough, we all kept our grades except one who was demoted from 2nd dan to first, this was the occasion that Nakazono stated " Necessary sell your gi while prices are high " this guy was a great student and a good 2nd dan, he was totally gutted after that, and it was not long after that he gave it all up. Now back to Chucks point, we later found out that Abbe sensei had received a letter from the Hombu dojo to advise that all Western students should be held back from promotions in grade, this was obviously to enhance the grades of any visiting Japanese

-Henry Ellis