Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Aikido Q & A with Harris Sensei

Q: Will I hold back an advanced student if we train together?

A: I have often observed in my many years of training, practicing, and teaching Aikido that many beginner or inexperienced Aikido students seem to be intimidated when training with a more advanced student. At seminars and large classes, I often see less experienced students (perhaps subconsciously) pairing themselves with other less experienced students, and conversely more advanced aikidoka pairing themselves with others of the same level. This is very unfortunate, as both beginners and more advanced students can learn from each other.

A less experienced student can learn much from experiencing first-hand how more advanced students move and perform a particular technique. A more advanced student with the proper attitude should have the desire to impart his or her Aikido knowledge and help less experienced students learn and become more proficient. Hopefully every seminar, class or practice of a particular technique is a learning experience for both partners in their role of Nage or Uke.

That being said however, it is true that many more advanced Aikido students (a.k.a. Aikidoka) prefer to practice with others of the same level - especially when practicing more advanced techniques - because then they can do it faster and more advanced method. It is also probably true that many less experienced students feel more comfortable practicing with others of the same level. However, sometimes two inexperienced students trying to understand the mechanics of a technique is like a "blind-man-leading-blind-man" situation. Neither understands clearly the mechanics of the situation without more instruction from the Sensei. A good Sensei will usually overcome this propensity to pair up with others of the same level by periodically asking students to change partners.

So, getting back to the question; a less experienced student should not feel they are holding back a more advanced student by asking them to practice with them. OSensei said, "Failure is the key to success; each mistake teaches us something." He also said, "Progress comes to those who train and train..." Beginner and advanced aikidoka training together is a win-win learning situation for both.

Monday, October 12, 2009

The Governor Who Protected Japanese-Americans

(pictured to the right: Sean Hannon with Adam Schrager)

A few months ago, twelve-time Emmy award winning television reporter Adam Schrager from NBC affiliate 9News in Denver spoke at the Parker Library on his new book, The Principled Politician: The Ralph Carr Story.

The Principled Politician is the true story of a forgotten Republican Governor of Colorado who took an unpopular stance against ignorance and bigotry toward the treatment of Japanese-Americans after Pearl Harbor. A stance that would ultimately cost him his career.

Between the years 1942 and 1945, over one-hundred twenty thousand people of Japanese descent from the West Coast of the United States, most of who were American citizens, were rounded up and placed in internment camps. One such camp was Camp Amache in South East Colorado, near the town of Grenada. Governor Carr vehemently objected to President Franklin D. Roosevelt's Executive Order 9066, which required any person of Japanese descent to be relocated to internment camps. Carr believed that such a directive was unnecessary and violated the Constitutional rights of many American citizens of Japanese descent.

Governor Carr received threats of impeachment, unrelenting criticism in the press, and non-stop phone calls to the Governor's residence from scared Colorado citizens for his outspoken stance on protecting who The Denver Post even described as the "yellow devils." Schrager asked, "Who stands up when everyone else sits down?" The answer, in this age of fear not unlike today's post-9/11 age of fear, is Ralph Carr. "Ralph Carr represented the best of humanity at the worst of times," Schrager continued. "He was a man of principle - a man who did the right thing even when it was the unpopular thing."

The Principled Politician details one man's crusade to stand up in the face of overwhelming fear, racism, and a lack of leadership. Carr believed that if the principles of the Constitution are not upheld for everyone one, then they won't hold up for anyone. Through his politically incorrect and unpopular position, Carr believed that he was standing up for the rights of every American, not just those of Japanese-Americans. He was often quoted as saying, "Principles are as true as truth."

Before being elected Governor, Carr predicted, "If elected Governor, I will probably become the most hated man in Colorado because I intend to follow my principles... I see it as my job to direct public opinion, not to follow it."

Prior to the events on December 7, 1941, Carr was being seriously discussed as a future Republican Presidential candidate, but Carr lost his 1942 reelection campaign in one of the closest gubernatorial races in Colorado history. He asked, "What are we fighting for abroad, if not for these very ideals at home?" Carr showed Coloradoans a faith that Coloradoans did not reciprocate. Schrager was reminded of the old adage spoken by repeatedly unsuccessful Presidential candidate, Henry Clay, "It is better to be right, than be President," and he suggested that perhaps we should remember Carr in this context.

I asked, Schrager why this issue was important enough to him to write an entire book on the subject. He responded with a famous quote from Lester Lave, "People deserve the government they get and get the government they deserve." He then added, "I would like to see a world where politicians do the right thing instead of the popular thing. Principled politicians like Governor Carr should be the rule and not the exception."

A bust of Governor Carr stands in Denver's Sakura Square, near 19th and Lawrence St. in commemoration of his efforts on behalf of Japanese-Americans. Part of the inscription reads, "A tribute to his unflinching Americanism."

How did Carr remain so sold, focused, logical, and rational during a time of great fear? Why was he one of the only US representatives willing to defend the constitutional rights of Japanese-Americans? The answers to these questions may perhaps reveal the most admirable qualities of great leaders, like Governor Carr, who frequently go unrecognized and unacknowledged. Schrager's book is a long overdue tribute to this man's character.

The Principled Politician: The Ralph Carr Story is published by Fulcrum Publishing out of Golden, Colorado.

You can order the book from Amazon.com by clicking HERE.

Visit Adam Schrager's web site.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

The Purpose of Practicing Iaido: A Japanese Samurai Sword Art

The purpose of practicing Iaido is:

To mold the mind and body;
To cultivate a vigorous spirit;
And, through correct and rigid training,
To strive for improvement in the art of Iaido;
To hold in esteem human courtesy and honor;
To associate with others with sincerity;
And, to forever pursue the cultivation of oneself.

This will make one be able to love his country and society;
To contribute to the development of culture;
And to promote peace and prosperity among all people.

- from by Iwakabe, Hideki Sensei, 6th Degree Black Belt

Monday, October 5, 2009

The Busiest, Most Energetic Grandpa in Castle Rock Happens to be an Instructor at Castle Rock AIKIDO

Sixty-six year old Tip Harris is one busy grandfather. He retired from a long career with Walgreens several years ago, but certainly has no intention of slowing down. Several times per week Tip gets up before dawn to go teach 5:45am martial arts in Colorado Springs. Then he spends his days working for a garden and landscape company. When he's done with that, he drives over to Castle Rock to, again, teach evening martial art classes at Castle Rock AIKIDO, a traditional Japanese martial arts program exclusively for adults. On weekends, Tip can often be found attending one of his wife's orchestra concerts, doing upkeep on his vacation property in the mountains, or chasing around his grandchildren. Where in the world does this man get all this energy and vigor? Apparently, there is a secret.

Tip attributes his abundant energy and continued flexibility and agility to his 25 years practicing a Japanese martial art called Aikido (pronounced 'eye'-'key'-'doh'). "It's simple, really. If you don't ever stop moving, your body doesn't get stiff," says Tip. Aikido is a fun, sophisticated martial art that teaches you not just how to defend yourself, but how to produce peace, relaxation, and balance inside yourself by learning to connect with your body. This balance produces energy, agility, and strength. It also helps keep the body free of pain. "It is all about finding your center and learning how to use it to your advantage," says Tip. "Aikido has nothing to do with strength you may or may not yet possess. It is all about body position, leverage, and focus."

In the art of Aikido adult students of any age learn how to do things that they didn't know they were still capable of. "We spend a lot of time teaching people how to fall and roll safely. Many adults haven't done things like somersaults in 20, 40, even 50 years and they are absolutely terrified of relatively benign things like falling down or slipping on ice," explains Tip. "We slowly and carefully teach people how to wake up their bodies and show them that they don't have to grow weak and stiff as they get older."

Visitors to Tip's classes in Castle Rock are often amazed to see that Tip doesn't just passively stand there on the sidelines and instruct. He fully participates in class and does all the techniques, falls, and throws with the students. During the warm up he is often performing splits and in class he often takes 6 foot long dive rolls and breakfalls that boggle the minds of students half his age. He is living proof that Aikido helps keep your body, mind, and spirit young and strong into your 40s, 50s, 60s, and beyond. "I hope I am a good example of that. People are often stunned to hear that I didn't even start practicing Aikido until I was forty."
Surprisingly, Tip is not all that unique. The Founder of Aikido, Morihei Ueshiba, vigorously trained Aikido into his late 70s. A quick search for "Aikido" on YouTube.com will bring up dozens and dozens of videos of men and women in their 60s, 70s, and even 80s practicing Aikido with such intensity and power, you'll start to doubt your eyes.

"Tip Sensei is a real inspiration to many of the students here in Castle Rock, not just physically, but, in a martial arts sense, spiritually, too," says Aikido student, Tim Keating, age 50. "Most people Tip's age tend to retire from life. Tip shows us that there is so much more to be had." Tim Keating lives in Castle Pines, but is the owner of a California mountaineering business, SWS Mountain Guides ( http://www.swsmtns.com%29,%20which/ takes people on mountaineering trips all over the world. "In my business, it is imperative that I stay healthy and fit so that I can keep climbing mountains with my clients. I know that practicing Aikido with Tip Sensei will help me maintain that fitness level. Plus, it's a lot of fun!"

If you're 30, 40, or 50 something and are starting to complain about how tired, old and stiff you are getting, you might want to come watch Tip Harris practice Aikido. It might make you reconsider a few things about getting older. And, who knows? Maybe you, too, could create a younger, stronger, more energetic self! Visit http://www.craikido.com/ or call (720) 221-3665 for more information about Tip's classes at Castle Rock AIKIDO.