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Thread: Hidden in Plain Sight - Discussion

  1. #16
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    Default Unfair to ordinary folks?

    I've edited this post as it's no longer a response to a previous post. Because some interesting questions were raised, however, I'll discuss them in different form:
    Several people have commented (either in direct emails, or comments on the web) that I am overly negative towards "average" practitioners of either Daito-ryu or aikido - in essence, that I cite such men as Takeda and Ueshiba, the equivalent of Olympic Gold medalists, and hold ordinary individuals to the same standard, in essence calling all these people failures for not attaining the same heights. Not really so. I simply think that martial arts training should develop far superior practitioners than it has in recent times. [MMA is one direction - gladiator-type competition where the level is higher than the old days - no doubt - but I'm talking about another skill set with another training methodology].
    For all the dedication that so many have shown to training, 20-30 years, they should be far better in far less time. For example, Shioda Gozo, the great aikido practitioner, who by all accounts had internal skills of a relatively high level, trained eight years with Ueshiba. Why are equally dedicated modern folks, who have put in as many hours in eight or more years, not close to his level? In my opinion, it's the lack of proper information on a particular training technology. Good intentions will not develop skill - nor will sweat alone - it requires proper training. If it is not available, one will not attain the skills.
    My intention in the book was to take apart the mythos that internal strength is magic. I wished to prove that it was, at one time, a much more common and accessible form of training within Japanese martial traditions. My point is that it is not just a matter of talent or some kind of spiritual blessing or that some chosen few were supermen - it's primarily a particular kind of very hard work.

    Best
    Ellis Amdur
    Last edited by Ellis Amdur; 1st October 2009 at 06:25.

  2. #17
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    Default Just ordered the book...

    Ellis,

    I finally got off my butt and ordered the book, and am looking forward to reading it. Not knowing its contents, I'm intrigued by the discussion already ongoing in this thread. It calls to mind something I've been tossing around in the back of my head that may be related...or not. I've always heard incredible stories of physical activities of past people, not just in martial arts, but in everyday life, that beggars my imagination considering our own modern day expectations of strength and skill level. Those tales aren't just from books, but from the very recent past, many from oral history I've heard. For example, once I was talking to an old grandpa out in the boonies north of Kyoto and he was talking about his own grandpa, a farmer, who had a side job as a courier between Kyoto and Edo. He'd run all the way to and from the cities like it was no big deal. Running four days in a row. I can barely keep up with my dog on a brisk 1-hour walk.

    ...And my jujutsu sensei also recalled as a youth he saw a komuso playing a shakuhachi on a bridge in Kyoto in the dead of winter, dressed only in a loincloth and a straw hat. When the priest walked away from the bridge, my sensei ran up to the spot where the priest was playing and found that all the snow around where he was standing had melted.

    So several of such tales told later, I'm doing tea (of all things) and my sensei and I got into a discussion of why the heck some movements seem so hard for us moderns to learn, and it dawned on me that perhaps the "mukashi no Nihonjin" moved differently. --Not to say there's anything mystical, mind you, but somehow preindustrialized, premodern people (of many different cultures) moved in a different physical manner and approached movement from a different mind set than us moderns. That's a given, but I wonder if it affects how much we are capable of doing, physically speaking.

    It calls to mind, too, a discussion I had with a Native American Indian. As a child he was responsible for watching his family's flock of sheep. He said he used to think nothing of sitting still in the wild for hours on end, simply not moving, to conserve energy. When I went on a two day hike with this guy, he climbed up a rain-soaked, slippery mountainside singing merrily in a thunderstorm, walking barefooted through the undergrowth while I crawled and scrambled to keep up. I have no idea how he managed to do that.

    ...Same thing with some old Native Hawaiians I've met. How the heck do they do that? How can they tell where they're heading in the middle of the ocean simply by feeling the rocking of the boat, the way the wind blows? It's not something unearthly. It's acquired skills, acquired knowledge, acquired body movement...and no small amount of toughness, of course...But probably with a totally different sense of perception, physical skill set, way of moving...?

    Well, gotta walk me dog.

    In any case, I'm looking forward to reading the book!

    Aloha,

    Wayne Muromoto

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    Quote Originally Posted by wmuromoto View Post

    So several of such tales told later, I'm doing tea (of all things) and my sensei and I got into a discussion of why the heck some movements seem so hard for us moderns to learn, and it dawned on me that perhaps the "mukashi no Nihonjin" moved differently. --Not to say there's anything mystical, mind you, but somehow preindustrialized, premodern people (of many different cultures) moved in a different physical manner and approached movement from a different mind set than us moderns. That's a given, but I wonder if it affects how much we are capable of doing, physically speaking.
    At the very beginning of The Seven Samurai, there is a scene where all of the villagers are in a state of shock and morning as they learn that the bandits are coming for their village. A few of them suddenly just drop from a standing position into a deep squat in order to moan and wail. The first time I watched it, that action struck me as being over-the-top drama. Later on it occurred to me that the peasants of that time probably spent a good part of their lives squatting-- there were no chairs, seiza had yet to be popularized, and they were out in the muddy fields a lot of the time. What seemed strange to me may well have been an accurate glimpse into how those men might have moved.

    Experimenting on my own has taught me that I have a lot of trouble with that sort of squat; I think that my hips lack the necessary flexibility and my back lacks the necessary strength to drop down into it comfortably. I think that a person who spent a good portion of their lives in that posture would have a body developed in a very different way from those of us who have to spend our days crouched facing a monitor, and I suspect that the differences would make a huge impact for a martial artist.

    Anyway, just my .02, which in today's economy is worth-- squat.
    David Sims

    "Cuius testiculos habes, habeas cardia et cerebellum." - Terry Pratchet

    My opinion is, in all likelihood, worth exactly what you are paying for it.

  4. #19
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    Your hypothesis is almost certainly true, David. Squatting was certainly commonplace in that time, and even in today's Japan. Not only is it good for resting outside without letting your bottom touch the ground, but it's also the way one uses Japanese-style toilets. Many Japanese people can easily squat on their haunches without lifting their heels, and stay that way for a long time, something I think few regular-folk Westerners (or at least Americans) can do. It's not unusual to see some middle-aged Japanese guy, not in particularly good shape, squat on the side of the road like it was nothing at all, smoking a cigarette and talking on his cell phone. Related to this is the Japanese tendency to sit on the floor in everyday life. The lifelong getting up and down from the floor builds their core and leg muscles in a very ingrained way. Most Japanese people have no difficulty rising from the floor without using their arms at all.

    However, the continuing prevelance of Western-style toilets and chairs in the home may be reducing that ability in the next generation. A study mentioned on a TV program I saw not long ago suggested that many children these days lack the same ability to squat as children even 10 years ago.
    Josh Reyer

    Swa sceal man don, žonne he ęt guše gengan ženceš longsumne lof, na ymb his lif cearaš. - The Beowulf Poet

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    I remember reading that one of the believed proofs that there were, post-Vietnam, American POW in SE Asia was an satelite photo of a clearing in Cambodia or Laos, of a group of men in a jungle clearing sitting cross-legged on the ground. the commentator stated that it was inconceivable that a group of people indigenous to the area would sit with their body on the group - that anyone who lives in a muddy environment their whole life keeps clean by squating.
    Best
    Ellis Amdur

  6. #21
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    Default The squat...etc.

    I hope we don't hijack this thread too far afield, but the "squat" is a common posture among many cultures outside of the West, with our chairs and stools. As Ellis noted, it's much better than getting your rear end dirty by sitting on the ground. Immigrants from Southeast Asia and East Asia still do that quite well here in our Chinatown.

    An anthropologist told me that Hawaiians in the past had much stronger thigh and hip muscles from squatting, rather than sitting, so there are oral histories of Hawaiian women into the 1800s who would be working in the kalo fields, nine months pregnant, and then they'd walk out of the mud, squat and give birth, clean up the baby, and then go back to working in the fields. Birthing was not a big deal for them as it is for us, physically speaking.

    In terms of budo, I was teaching a "basic" set of kenjutsu forms to my students using a short sword against a long sword. Once you get the proper distancing, you step up, short sword held close to your body, like a natural stance, feet shoulder width apart. Except that in these forms, the knees are bent quite a bit, the back straight, both feet facing forward. You lower yourself by several inches by bending the knees. I was verklempt because several of my students couldn't do this, which I thought was a simple thing to do. They learned forward, got on the balls of their feet, splayed their toes outwards, stuck their butts out back, tilted off balance...They simply didn't have the flexibility in their thighs to go into this position and stay there easily. I told them it was like squatting, only easier, and then I realized they could barely do that!

    ...Going back to the original thread, I look forward to Ellis' take on the aiki arts. I hope it will give me more food for thought regarding the whole notion of different cultural periods in which people sensed their bodies in a different way than we did, and moved in a different way. Anyway...

    Wayne Muromoto

  7. #22
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    Squatting: Heck, how many of us know folks who can barely touch their knees, much less their toes ...

    We're not as active, don't spend our lives in labor or physical training, and have some rather odd notions of what fitness is these days.
    Chuck Gordon
    Mugendo Budogu
    http://www.budogu.com/

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    I can remember clearly a blacksmith in the town where I was born who could bend a horseshoe to touching edges with one hand. I was also told that I had a great great uncle (a fisherman) who could unbend said horseshoe and who could reach down to a lower dock, grab a 50 gallon drum by the rim with his fingers and lift it up to the dock he was standing on.

    I don't believe that last one for a minute but I believe these guys had grips of iron since they used their hands all day long.

    Now, having impressed myself with the golden days of yore, I wonder what they would have thought of my daughter's ability to thumb-type whole sentences on her phone just about as fast as I can type... and how I can type faster than I can write.

    I sand straight lines into wood by feel and by sound, and cut straight lines with a bandsaw even when I can't see the mark because of my old eyes and dim lighting. Others who try the same thing can't do it... but they haven't been sanding and cutting for 20 years.

    The physical abilities of anyone who practices something for 30 years will seem wondrous to someone who doesn't practice the same thing, and doubly so to someone who has practiced that craft for a couple of years and knows how hard it is.

    Ellis your point about time in training and skill levels is very well put. A lot of our heroes of the old days achieved high rank and supposed skill in less than a decade, while there are folks training today who have been at it for 30 years and aren't half as good.

    Dilution? Too many teachers (of lesser ability) and not enough actual physical contact with the top guys? I learned most of my aikido from being thrown around by my instructor and was glad of it, what I know came from that and not from being "taught" formally. If I can see weight shifts in an opponent now, it is because I felt my own balance being destroyed through my own similar weight shifts.

    Kim.

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    In pretty much any part of the world where people are largely non-urbanized, squatting still is the natural and most convenient way of "sitting." For a number of years, I frequently visited India and Nepal and walked around quite a bit. Everywhere I went, people did deep squats for pretty much everything -- casual chats with neighbors, food preparation, and of course for relieving oneself in a privy.

    It's not a complicated thing, requiring only that you regularly stretch your quads. Having a lot of muscle bulk in the hamstrings and calves makes it more difficult to squat deeply, but in developing countries where rice and other grains far outstrip animal protein as the chief source of nourishment, being heavily muscled is not an issue.

    As for the other homely skills being discussed, well, if you're sitting in front of a monitor and keyboard, chances are that you live in a developed, urban society and make your living doing non-agricultural, non-pastoral (as in herding, not clergy-ing), non-hunter/gatherer work. Even if you're in the trades, as I am (I'm a professional gardener/horticulturist), you likely have a truck or van to convey yourself to work, and a number of convenient tools that make your physical labors less arduous.

    As a side note, my physical work as a gardener has made me quite good at natural squatting, and when I have a task that requires having to move along the ground -- such as weeding, planting flowers or bulbs, or deadheading -- it is much easier on the back and knees, and is much quicker, than either kneeling or stooping.

    The upshot is, if we don't use our bodies to the full extent of their natural abilities, we reduce our range of movement to whatever the baseline necessity might be. But if life circumstances lead you to need to expand your range of motion and body use, then your body gradually adapts, and you can do it. It's not like your knees become vestigial organs such as the appendix.

    All the above set aside, Ellis Amdur's initial comments do not relate to the loss of ability to do something due to lack of use; rather, they refer to the loss of a set of very specific training methods that led to a very specific set of physical skills, due to lack of transmission. They are not something that can be regained by "just doing them," as you could the ability to squat. These are skills that must be possessed by someone who, in turn, can and will teach them to others. They can't be intuitively reclaimed, because, as a discrete and complete set, they were never a natural part of intuitive human movement.

    Quote Originally Posted by DDATFUS View Post
    At the very beginning of The Seven Samurai, there is a scene where all of the villagers are in a state of shock and morning as they learn that the bandits are coming for their village. A few of them suddenly just drop from a standing position into a deep squat in order to moan and wail. The first time I watched it, that action struck me as being over-the-top drama. Later on it occurred to me that the peasants of that time probably spent a good part of their lives squatting-- there were no chairs, seiza had yet to be popularized, and they were out in the muddy fields a lot of the time. What seemed strange to me may well have been an accurate glimpse into how those men might have moved.

    Experimenting on my own has taught me that I have a lot of trouble with that sort of squat; I think that my hips lack the necessary flexibility and my back lacks the necessary strength to drop down into it comfortably. I think that a person who spent a good portion of their lives in that posture would have a body developed in a very different way from those of us who have to spend our days crouched facing a monitor, and I suspect that the differences would make a huge impact for a martial artist.

    Anyway, just my .02, which in today's economy is worth-- squat.
    Last edited by Cady Goldfield; 2nd December 2009 at 21:33.
    Cady Goldfield

  10. #25
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    I read grappling with o'sensei right before i read your new book and i have to say i enjoyed both books but i thought grappling with o'sensei was better.I liked your stories about terry dobson and the bond street dojo,you are a wonderful author please keep up the good work
    Anthony R. Coyne

  11. #26
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    Anthony - thank you. There are days that I agree with you.

    My three books seem to form, for me, a trilogy in more than numbers. Old School is about the value of tradition, Hidden in Plain Sight tries to discuss the kind of power that many of us have sought when we joined martial arts, and Dueling with Osensei is about morals and heart. But if they are not also about the human beings within the traditions, the power and the morality, then I've got nothing to write about.

    Best
    Ellis Amdur

    And parenthetically, Cady, I agree - and I believe that people who have led a traditional, physical life where they have to deal with variable loads, harsh terrain and all the rest are far more ready to learn the specialized skills. I even wonder if many of the specialized exercises are things that had to have been developed for urban folks as remedial training. Perhaps a 14th century Chinese farmer of the Chen village could learn internal strength a lot quicker than his or her 21st century, TV watching, chair sitting, video game playing descendants. And perhaps traveling by shanks mare and squatting when outside gave people like Takeda Sokaku and Ueshiba Morihei half the preparation they needed to learn the "good stuff." <Note that Kuroda Tetsuzan developed specialized exercises, which he calls "asobi" to train the bodies of his disciples so that they can actually learn the kata.>

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    And parenthetically, Cady, I agree - and I believe that people who have led a traditional, physical life where they have to deal with variable loads, harsh terrain and all the rest are far more ready to learn the specialized skills. I even wonder if many of the specialized exercises are things that had to have been developed for urban folks as remedial training. Perhaps a 14th century Chinese farmer of the Chen village could learn internal strength a lot quicker than his or her 21st century, TV watching, chair sitting, video game playing descendants. And perhaps traveling by shanks mare and squatting when outside gave people like Takeda Sokaku and Ueshiba Morihei half the preparation they needed to learn the "good stuff." <Note that Kuroda Tetsuzan developed specialized exercises, which he calls "asobi" to train the bodies of his disciples so that they can actually learn the kata.>
    Thanks for that! This is very much along the line of thought that had been rattling around in my head for a number of years now. I've always wondered just how much influence lifestyle has on the ability to perform these arts as they were intended to be done.
    I am only half way through this book (and I'm enjoying it as much as your others by the way!) but that thought has kept intruding.
    Paul Smith
    "Always keep the sharp side and the pointy end between you and your opponent"

  13. #28
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ellis Amdur View Post
    {snip} I believe that people who have led a traditional, physical life where they have to deal with variable loads, harsh terrain and all the rest are far more ready to learn the specialized skills. I even wonder if many of the specialized exercises are things that had to have been developed for urban folks as remedial training. Perhaps a 14th century Chinese farmer of the Chen village could learn internal strength a lot quicker than his or her 21st century, TV watching, chair sitting, video game playing descendants. And perhaps traveling by shanks mare and squatting when outside gave people like Takeda Sokaku and Ueshiba Morihei half the preparation they needed to learn the "good stuff." <Note that Kuroda Tetsuzan developed specialized exercises, which he calls "asobi" to train the bodies of his disciples so that they can actually learn the kata.>
    That's a thought-provoking hypothesis. It's quite possible that people who use their bodies more fully, and who have an intuitive grasp of adaptive body structuring in order to perform their physical tasks, would also be capable and more open to being taught ways to further manipulate the "internal" body. Certainly, it must be easier than it would be for someone who has sat at a desk most of his life and thus has much more limited body awareness.

    And, I do believe that it comes down to that -- body awareness. Those who bear loads or do certain physical tasks, likely must go through "learning phases" of shifting and manipulating their internal frame and structure until they hit the "sweet spot" that allows them to be more efficient and effective.
    Last edited by Cady Goldfield; 4th December 2009 at 20:35.
    Cady Goldfield

  14. #29
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    Quote Originally Posted by Cady Goldfield View Post
    That's a thought-provoking hypothesis. It's quite possible that people who use their bodies more fully, and who have an intuitive grasp of adaptive body structuring in order to perform their physical tasks, would also be capable and more open to being taught ways to further manipulate the "internal" body.......
    I cannot help to think it must be so.

    Last night, I was working in my office and my wife asked me to come watch something on the TV.

    Two Russian 'brothers', painted gold, wearing only tiny gold trunks, completely shaven, performed the most amazing floor routine. I looked on Google for half an hour trying to figure out who they are, without success.

    Using only their interlocked hands, they performed amazing feats of strength, including going from simply standing face to face, then interlocking their hands and moving ever so slowly so that one brother ended up inverted, head down, back of shoulder to back of shoulder, then releasing their hands so that only gravity and fricition kept the upper brother in place.

    Without sufficient understanding, this would surely look like magic to many folks. It was an astounding demonstration of strength and balance.

    I remember when a kid reading a 'Ripley's Believe It or Not' about a man on the US frontier, a blacksmith who could insert a finger into the muzzle of a rifle, and hold it out at arm's length with his other fingers holding the muzzle. Although he insisted it was simply a matter of strength, balance, and practice, and he demonstrated the technique in court, he was judged to be a witch, and IIRC executed for evidently being a witch.

    As a martial artist I am fascinated by the impact of extended practice on the human body. Pro baseball pitchers' pitching arm bones are much heavier than their non-pitching arms. One of my iai sensei acquaintances is over 80 - his right shoulder and arm have the muscle and tone of a conditioned, much younger man, while his left looks like that of an 80 year old man... The most amazing grip I've ever experienced was that of Herbie Hancock, the jazz pianist, who has a huge, incredibly complex ham-sized hand that is simply a huge mass of muscle and sinew.

    On the other hand I constantly train with newbies, people who literally do not know how to walk in balance, and constantly lurch from place to place. It is interesting to watch someone who has never really been athletic in any sense start to carry themselves upright, with poise and balance, in response to their martial arts instruction.

    Is there a shortcut to this awareness and capability? I'm sure that some ways are better to explain and practice than others, and certainly certain human raw material is better than others.

    But is it some mystic factor outside normal human understanding or science? I certainly don't think so, and reject that in favor of simpler understanding.

    But tracking this in the context of Japanese martial arts is clearly breaking new ground, and Ellis Amdur gives us a fascinating look into the history of Japanese martial arts.

    Cheers.
    Lance Gatling ガトリング
    Tokyo 東京

    Long as we're making up titles, call me 'The Duke of Earl'

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    Lance,
    I find the image of gold-painted, shaven guys (a la "Blue Man Group") more disquieting than the feats the pair performed.

    To clarify, I don't consider all kinds of body movement to be conducive to greater sensitivity in learning "internal" methods; rather, I believe that certain fundamental body intelligences, such as basic "ground path" and structural alignment, in the course of doing certain kinds of repetitive physical tasks over the years, may give an individual a bit more sensitivity toward what's going in "inside" his body when he moves, and that that in turn may make him more open to learning the rarified body skills Ellis is addressing in HIPS.

    For example, tribal women and girls who bear water urns on their heads and infants on their hips, carrying weights that reach 60% of their body weight... or Sherpas who carry 120% of their body weight while expending less energy than do Western soldiers carrying a 45 lb. pack ... There's something going on there that Western scientists have not been able to adequately explain, but which internal MA people can recognize for what it is. (I am cut-and-pasting an old New York Times article, to that effect, as a separate post.)

    I don't believe that a generally simpler, less technologically enhanced lifestyle necessarily accomplishes this. While Takeda Sokaku might have spent some years in feral existance as a child, it was more likely his extensive experience in sumo and other martial endeavors that opened his mind-body to divine the concept of aiki. As for Ueshiba, he was not exactly underprivileged, and didn't have to do farm labor or longshoremans' work. Plenty of people still walk extensively now, albeit usually with a cell phone glued to their ear. Squatting rather than sitting, and "riding shanks' mare" rather than sitting in an automobile, are not such profound activities so as to be conducive to cultivating great body awareness (and, by the way, I don't for a moment believe that Ellis really thinks so... ).
    Cady Goldfield

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