Sunday, December 18, 2005

Returning To Training

I'm getting ready to return to formal training. Training is Aikido is often difficult. This is not because of the hard work, that's something to expect and embrace, but it's because so many of the schools teach a flowery, non-effective form of Aikido.

A small rant: O'Sensei created his art as a martial art. The majority of his art is born of Daito-Ryu Aikijitsu, which was born of very effective Samurai battlefield arts. If you read what many of later students learned is that while he continued to do Daito-Ryu, he taught Aikido. A former Sensei of mine had this story passed on from his Sensei. The reason for this is that after war time in Japan, the Japanese were not too keen on people teaching martial combat.
Things had to appear to be more flowing. So when the local military poked their head inside the school to see what training was going on.... well, they were dancing. Smooth as silk.
But the truth of what was going on was lost on many students. Those that got it stand out and teach excellent waza. Those that don't get it, miss the effectiveness built into the martial art.
So, in a nutshell... much Aikido is poor because the instructors teach it that way.
As has been said many times, "Aikido works. Maybe YOUR Aikido doesn't".

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Late 90's and The Millenium (falcon)

I continued practicing kata and sparring occasionally, but school and work didn't allow for dojo time. I did stay connected to the arts by writing 20+ articles on various martial arts, techniques, and martial awareness for a (now defunct) fitness website.

During this time I began my Aikido training under Sensei Chris Whitehead.

Whitehead Sensei was one of my favorite teachers to date. There were only three or four students at a time in his class. After my sempai moved, I became sempai and took the position very seriously. I arrived early, set up the mats, led all the stretching and began basic drills. As I progressed, Whitehead Sensei would ask me to explain why we did X technique, why we did X stretching or warm up. If I could not answer, I was not allowed to teach it. This gave me a greater appreciation and understanding for Aikido, as well as the wisdom behind that style of teaching.

Because of his small classes, Whitehead Sensei encouraged us to attend any and all Aikido seminars in the area. I attended several AAA and Aikikai seminars over the next year or so. I had the honor of working with Toyoda Sensei, and with sharing sake and sashimi with him on his birthday.

The most important thing I learned from Whitehead Sensei was how to take off my shoes properly. Just as Coach Wooden taught his players the importance of putting on their socks, I learned the wisdom of removing my shoes. How one removes their shoes relates directly to how they will ultimately perform in real life Aikido. A student should untie their shoes, rather than pull them off. A student should tuck their laces inside their shoes and place their shoes neatly together against the wall, or in their locker, etc. This simple task involves discipline and attention to seemingly minor details, but if one cannot manage to take off their shoes properly, they will only manage to be good at Aikido.
Greatness lies in the details.

early to mid 90's

A few years after high school I returned to Salt Lake City and began formal training in Wado Ryu under Sensei John McNeill.
Sensei McNeill was/is a direct student of Shihan Toshio Osaka, one of the most highly respected teachers in the Japanese arts.
I studied very hard under Sensei McNeill, and eventually was able to lead his classes through warm-ups and basics (despite still being a peon). Sensei McNeill taught control, discipline, attention to detail, and always, always stressed proper stances and good basics. He was a phenomenal teacher.

On the nights I was not training with Sensei McNeill, I trained under Sensei Doug Jepperson. Sensei Jepperson was an intense and knowledgeable instructor. It was years after training with Sensei Jepperson that I began to understand everything he taught. He understood fighting distance, timing, and the psychology of fighting very well. My favorite saying of his was, "My fighting distance is about nine feet; I'd suggest backing up a bit." Uh, yea...

After a couple of years, I needed to improve my overall skills, so I began studying directly under Toshio Osaka and his hard-core students. I learned how NOT to get hit (cause when they're trying, getting hit does hurt), I learned about angles of attack and defense. I learned to when to keep my damn heels on the ground and when to be on my toes. I continued to learn the importance of basics, and too many things to mention. But still... I was just a beginner.
I made it to class 3-4 times a week for months, and months... until life reared its ugly head and my work schedule forced an abrupt halt to my training.

The late 80's

I continued my martial journey in Idaho under Sifu Peter Scott. I studied Chinese 5 animals Kempo under Mr. Scott.

He also taught Shotokan. While I absorbed a lot in a short time at his school, sadly increased lease rates and job oppotunities elsewhere forced him to close his doors--after 3 months. (ugh!)

In my late junior and senior years in high school I met a very strange Japanese boy named Kazuhiko Ishii. He was a nidan (2nd degree black) in Aikido. I watched him execute a perfect nikkyo on the poor boy who tried to play "keep away" with the exchange student's caluculus book (hey, he IS Japanese). This planted a seed.

Hiro (as Kazuhiko was to his friends) became one of my best friends in high school. While we never trained together, the seed was nonetheless planted.

Scattered trips to Salt Lake helped my to begin my informal training in Wado ryu, outdoors on the front lawn of a local middle school.

Monday, November 07, 2005

A brief history...My martial Journey

My martial arts journey began in the mid 1980's.
I studied for a too brief six months under Mickey Fisher in Salt Lake City at the Utah Black Belt Acadamy. His Shintoshi style is regarded by many to be the first purely American martial art. This is a point that is debated by EPAK kenpo stylists. As Parker's American Kenpo is rooted in Kara-Ho Kenpo and Fisher's Shintoshi borrows much from Tang Soo Do and other arts,
I think while both offer a new perspective, it is hard to define which had a fresher, more unique approach to the arts.

I learned the importance of conditing while studying under Mickey. Students who were approaching black belt level had to be able to run a five minute mile before being able to test. If skills are equal, the better conditioned martial artist will prevail. Mickey always stressed a positive, but fiesty attitude. Moving out of state ended my studies there.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

A Question of Direction

It's often said that actions speak louder than words, and in this case it's the lack of direction that's speaking volumes. And what it clearly illustrates is the poor messaging put forth by coffee industry leaders -- in this case the WBC and it's "subsidies" around the world.

While this may seem like a minor decision, a blip on the Specialty Coffee radar, it's not. What I want to clearly point out is that the fault does not lie with a barista, the fault lies with the lack of leadership at the top of the industry and how apparent it's become that there needs to be unified and clear messaging from within in order for Specialty Coffee, the WBC, and the like, to move forward.

There has been much hullabaloo in the past couple of days regarding the advertisements that Italian Barista Champion Francesco Sanapo has made for Green Mountain Coffee Roasters promoting the K-cups (Keurig). The first to weigh in was Brian W. Jones, a graphic designer, former barista, and current coffee enthusiast who strongly questioned Francesco's involvement on a blog piece, "Molto Triste! Barista Prima K-Cups" on his blog, "Dear Coffee, I Love You" located HERE, where he writes, "... for a coffee culture that is continually discussed regarding their relevancy in the emerging progressive coffee scene, it’s sad to see the Italian Barista Champion being used in this way."

A short while later, Sprudge, the coffee news website, confusingly stood in support of Francesco's decision, with the following line being the central theme of their post, "...So many, many facets of specialty coffee are funded on the back of compromise..."

Now these could go by without much concern, however, Andrew Hetzel, one of the most respected consultants in the industry comments, and totally misses the boat. He writes, "By choosing Francesco or any genuinely skilled barista to head its campaign, the company has elevated the barista profession to a new height of public awareness and made the position of national champion even more desirable for competitors." and later, the following, "The specialty coffee industry is at a crossroads: will we go back down into the basement and play with our Chemex as we have done in the past or is it time to organize, commercialize and push for the public visibility, awareness and ultimately the appreciation from mainstream consumers that we need in order to revolutionize global coffee quality. There cannot be widespread change without widespread support."

What Andrew, Jordan from Sprudge, and to some extent, Brian, have missed is the consequences of this messaging. And again, in this case, the fault clearly lies at the lack of understanding within the WBC. When a Barista champion, (whether it be regional, national, or world) is crowned they are representing the both the industry and the craft as a whole by accepting the award. It is the job of the PR departments to have a unified message to create awareness of the vast difference between a commodity approach to coffee and espresso and a more artisan, Specialty approach towards coffee and espresso.

Linking someone like Francesco to this type of product is telling the public that there is no difference between K-Cup espresso and espresso produced by a Champion barista. But hey, they're potentially reaching millions, so it's ok!

Advertisements, commecials, product placement, etc. These are all messages, and these messages have consequences. For all the hours of hard work the various coffee associations put in regarding internal improvements through training and education, they need a little training of their own. A continual and methodical unified industry-wide message will have a far greater, and far more positive impact on educating the average consumer than the quick-fix mentality of "Let's let everyone know about us, then we'll worry about how to go from there."

As an industry, we do need to be concerned about educating consumers where we're going, but more importantly, how are we getting there?