Edge to the Whetstone

A blog of ten thousand hours.

Iriminage Guangzhou

Started out as a travelogue for a recent trip to China and Manila with Sensei Suenaka and a group of fellow Aikidoka (“Ever wanted to take a virtual trip to China?  Here’s your chance!”). Then I added some notes for a seminar I taught. Now it has its own life. It’s becoming a place to leave notes about practicing and teaching Aikido – something that anyone who loves the art will tell you “infects” everything in your life, eventually.


November 11, 2012 Sunday in Guangzhou

It started to seem like old China – anything not apartment houses that housed each a division of people, and dozens of them, all anonymous, all alike; or neon imitations of vermillion arches, materialism gone so rampant it was all-enveloping – was gone, bulldozed under, buried. Then what you did see – a beggar playing a one-string viol in pentatonic melodies, plaintive – its upright support another crippled begging human; an old man squatting between two rattan paniers piled with fruit, suspended from a pole, as painted on silk screens: these things would break your heart. But China has been breaking the hearts of foreigners for thousands of years, and is unlikely to stop any time soon.

The Toaist temple reeks of disrepair and shabbiness, some odd cross of piety – a lovely Quanyin, impressively fierce stone lions with loose round spheres in their mouths holding down paper money offerings, superstition, and tourism. It’s fairly evident the place has undergone a hasty rehabilitation after years of abuse and neglect. Equipment and oddments litter corners, and a small staff of determined monks seem to be holding on to tradition by their fingernails.

2013-03-10 Kotegaeshi & Kokyunage from a Munetsuki (Middle punch)

Last week’s seminar class covered Kotegaeshi (“Wrist-twisting throw”) from a grab and a punch, and also as a knife defense. The clip below shows some detail about the initial blend, to get the attacker off-balance. It also shows how to use a similar entrance to move into a Kokyunage (“Breath throw”).  I made it to answer a student’s question about how one could do the entrance (and not get hit – an important point!) yet not have uke off-balance.  While it seems there are very few hard-and-fast “rules” around executing technique in Wadokai Aikido, having one’s attacker off-balance is key. The off-balancing (“kuzushi”) may result from a large or small movement, may simply leverage the gift of the attacker’s energy, or may be caused by a distracting strike (“atemi”), but it’s generally there somewhere. In Wadokai Aikido, particularly as Sensei does it, the atemi can be almost invisible (due to the way it flows with, rather than disrupts, the technique), and the kuzushi can be helped along by subtleties that are easily missed.

If you’re a tactile learner, and the description doesn’t help you grasp the concept, you may need to just come to class ;->.

November 18, 2012: Steamers – the ancient microwave

Anyone familiar with Asian cooking knows the ubiquitous steamer basket. While also made in steel (as one sees at dim sum restaurants), the traditional model is a round bamboo basket with open slats at the bottom. These stack neatly over a pot with water for steaming – a wok works well – and are topped off with a tightly woven rattan lid. In a street market in Guangzhou, I saw steamer baskets 2 feet or more across, stacked up 12 layers, at a dim sum stall.

Steaming is used as an alternate cooking method for crescent-shaped shoumai dumplings (which can be fried as well), and as a method for bao – fluffy bread prepared plain or with egg, red bean, vegetable, or meat fillings (these can also be baked). My mother favored steaming whole, cleaned fish in wine – sliding slivers of scallion and ginger under slits in the skin.  When I was young I didn’t appreciate its subtle flavors, but now this exceptionally healthy, fast, and elegant preparation resonates.

But I digress.  Here was the problem: my hotel room in Xiamen offered a selection from the usual assortment of amenities for a slightly nice hotel in China, including a tea kettle but of course no microwave. I had leftover small bean buns from our visit to the Southern Shoalin. I hadn’t wanted to see them wasted after our wonderful vegetarian meal (I still dream of the millet fritters and the hot ginger soup with tapioca pearls). You may say, “Why not just eat the bao cold?” but being about 24 hours old, they’d become a little dry, and when possible, I enjoy a hot breakfast. So here’s the method I employed:

1) Impale a bun on a chopstick (always travel with a humble pair of bamboo chopsticks), so the bun is about halfway up the stick.
2) Put about an inch of water in the electric kettle.
3) Put the chopstick with the bun into the kettle, carefully ensuring the bun is well above water level. This ensures your bun does not become a sodden mess, while making a sticky lump in the kettle as well. The chopstick may extend out of the kettle – this is okay.
4) Turn on the kettle so the water boils and steams the bun. A few minutes should do it – don’t over-steam (sodden mess alert).
5) Take out the bun and enjoy. Mine was hot and fluffy – better than when reheated in a microwave. And my water was hot for coffee or tea.

There you have it – a free 2-Yuan breakfast in bed!
Note that you could do something similar at home if you were reheating a bun or two and didn’t want to get out the steamer basket (or don’t own one). But I don’t think this would work with frozen Bao.

“Chingrish:” Introduction to the Luoyang Great Dragon Hotel



Introduction to the Luoyang Great Dragon Hotel

Ah, Chingrish.  One of our intrepid otomo and native guides remarked, “That’s even a little weird in Chinese. Overdecorated. Baroque?”

“The lobby of the hotel is the place you enjoy the best quality tea, coffee, wine and cocktails. Which makes you happy rest time.”

And who could resist: “Comfortable, Warmth, Luxury, personal butler. Showing guest lofty position?”  Sign me up!

In all fairness, I continue to work on learning spoken Mandarin while commuting to work and driving back and forth to the dojo. It’s a personal goal to teach an Aikido class entirely in Mandarin when I (hopefully) return to China.  I am quite sure that making some unintentionally funny remarks during the course of that class is an inevitable risk, but as with the Introduction to the Luoyang Great Dragon Hotel (which really is a great name, and it was a very comfortable hotel), sometimes it’s the effort and the thought that counts.

Or as the Great Dragon’s international marketing specialist puts it, “The Great Dragon Hotel, with the utmost respect, nuanced, Ambassador courtesy, plays the newest cadenza for you!”

Introduction to Aikido for Karateka


Focus:  Integrate karate striking capabilities with Aikido techniques to enhance scalability & efficiency.


  • Intermediate & advanced Karate students gain a hands-on introduction to Aikido.
  • Learn techniques that enhance student ability & self confidence in situations that are ambiguous or require scalability.
  • Taste Aikido principles in practice, for use in martial arts & in life.

This class will cover applications/use of:

Taiso – Body Movement

Ukemi – Proper falling

Blending with the attacker for maximum efficiency

Integrated atemi (striking) for distraction and to open up tactical possibilities

The approach will differ somewhat from a typical Aikido class. Each lesson, you will practice the taiso you need + the ukemi you need + the atemi you need…for a particular technique variation.


O’Sensei: Founder of Aikido, referred to even by non-aikidoka as “O’Sensei” or “Great Teacher.”  O’Sensei combined traditional sword, spear and bayonet arts with Daito-ryu aikijiu-jitsu to develop fundamental aikido techniques. Profoundly spiritual, O’Sensei declared that “The true nature of budo is in the loving protection of all things,” and that to intentionally or maliciously harm one’s attacker is to harm oneself, all of which is contrary to nature. He was recorded on film performing near-mystical feats of martial prowess.

Sensei Suenaka:  Roy Yukio Suenaka Sensei, founder of Wadokai Aikido, is one of contemporary budo’s most experienced practitioners and best-kept secrets. Born in Honolulu, Hawaii, Suenaka Sensei’s martial instruction began under his father, Warren Kenji Suenaka, who taught his son budo basics and carefully selected his primary martial tutors. These included such legends as Kodenkan Jiu-jitsu founder Henry Seishiro Okazaki, Kosho-ryu Kempo’s legendary James Masayoshi Mitose, judoka (and later, aikidoka) Yukiso Yamamoto, and celebrated kendoka Shuji Mikami, from whom Suenaka Sensei received a nidan (2nd degree black belt).

Suenaka Sensei began his aikido study upon Koichi Tohei’s 1953 visit to Hawaii, and continued his study directly under Founder Morihei Ueshiba O’Sensei at the Aikikai Hombu for eight years, beginning in 1961. That same year, Suenaka Sensei received an aikido menkyo kaiden (master-level proficiency) teaching certificate from O’Sensei, and became the first person to open a successful aikido dojo in Okinawa. He also commenced eight years of private study with renowned Matsumura Seito and Hakutsuru Shorin-ryu Karate-do Grandmaster Hohan Soken, receiving from him the rank of rokudan (6th degree black belt). In addition, Suenaka Sensei continued his judo and jiu-jitsu education at the Kodoakan under famed Meijin Kazuo Ito, who personally sponsored Suenaka Sensei’s promotion to sandan (3rd degree black belt) in judo and jiu-jitsu.

In 1972, Suenaka Sensei relocated to Charleston, S.C., where he served as Southeastern U.S. director for Koichi Tohei’s International Ki Society until 1975, when Suenaka Sensei resigned to form the American International Ki Development and Philosophical Society (AIKDPS)™. Suenaka Sensei currently teaches Suenaka-Ha Tetsugaku-Ho Wadokai Aikido™ and Matsumura Seito Hakutsuru Shorin-ryu Karate-do. He is author of the best-selling Complete Aikido, and in 2003 celebrated his 50th year of aikido study.


  • Bow: On and off the mat, before beginning to practice with your partner (say: “Onegashimas” – “It is an honor to practice with you”), and when you finish practicing with them (“Domo Arigato” – “Thank you”). Always return a bow politely during class, and otherwise unless there is a very good reason not to. To not return a bow is extremely rude.
  • Excuse me: (“Gomenasai”). Say “excuse me” when you bump into someone or they bump into you.
  • When you feel the pain of a lock, tap yourself with your free hand where your partner can hear it. If neither hand is free, tap with your foot. There is no merit in being injured and unable to practice because you waited too long to tap.
  • When your partner taps, immediately let up on the lock, choke, hold, etc. Your partner is lending you their person for you to practice with so you may improve – respect that courtesy.


As the class will only meet once per week, students will receive the curriculum, vocabulary lists, and things they can practice if they have a little time between classes. Learning this material will help you learn more efficiently and enjoy the class more.

Thursday, November 15: Arcologies

After visiting Shaolin Tzu.
Traveling by bus to our night’s lodging, out the bus window rank on rank of identical highrise apartment buildings recede into a gloomy distance. Cranes everywhere – where are all the people to come from?  No beauty in the architecture, the effect is chilling, warehouses  for people. Perhaps it’s excellent practice for living in spaceships, these anonymous arcologies.

What would communities in in these places be like? Are there any? Do people go slightly crazy, packed so densely into identical dwellings, all on top of each other? Or do they create tiny, self-contained worlds of beauty to sustain themselves?

In a few years when the construction decays, what happens? One sees the predecessors of the new generations’ construction, rusting balconies, random afteribuild air conditioners, wire vines, shanty markets, piles of discarded materials and assorted junk in corners.

When in doubt, more neon, preferably crawling colors.
Is such a concentration of people a virtue, or a terrible problem?

Ryokatatori Kokyunage Ago Tsuki Age

Ryokatatori Kokyunage Ago Tsuki Age

Short clip showing Ago Tsuki Age from a front collar grab. Made to answer a student’s question.

November 10, 2012: Northern Shaolin

Driving up the mountain towards the Northern Shaolin, you progress past a series of what look like large hotels, each with a large, flat courtyard – like a large parking lot – in front. The courtyards are filled with square formations of red track-suited figures doing calisthenics or martial arts forms. It looks a bit like a kung fu movie featuring the army of an evil overlord, with no projectile or explosive weapons in sight.

Tour-bus parking, inevitable multiple gift shops. and seating for tired guests along a straight, paved path past a large square practice ground (more track-suited figures doing calisthenics) and a sign: http://www.shaolintraining.com. There’s a show with an announcer (an over-amplified lady in a short, tight skirt and sarcastic delivery), weapons with wobbly aluminum blades, music, and fancy lights. We are, collectively, underwhelmed. The acrobatics are impressive, but there’s no extension in the strikes or cuts.

In the gift shop, though, there’s a very serious monk at the feet of a lovely Quanyin statue, who blesses each of us with a bead bound with a red thread to our left wrists, and a small jade laughing Buddha. We continue up the path to the temple itself. A young monk in a long grey robe manning the ticket turnstile shadow-boxes through a form while awaiting the next visitor. Here we find an ancient tree planted by the monastery’s first abbot, and steeles with memorials to their Shaolin saviors from long-dead emperors. Through hall after hall, in what we  come to understand as the classical Chinese fashion, linear and square, Confucianism laid out in architecture, we progress to the practice hall itself, high-ceilinged for long pole-arms, the floor pitted by centuries of form-practice, huge round pillars, sketches of daily life that are  said to change each decade. The sense of martial heritage here is palpable.

On the way back to the bus, we stop to observe the training grounds. Practice here looks rigorous enough – running, hopping, leaping, katas. And yet, so little seems the true echo of a fighting art. We walk away a little saddened. There appear to be no women practicing here, either – not that we expected any. Through the gauntlet of identical gift shops, back to the bus.

2013-02-06 Week 1: Ushiro Kata Tori Kokyunage – Ago Tsuki Age

Week 1: Ushiro Kata Tori Ago Kokyunage – Tsuki Age
Ushiro: From behind.
Kata: Shoulder
Tori: Grab
Kokyunage: Breath Throw
Ago: Chin
Tsuki: Strike
Age: Upwards

Taiso: Body Movement
Ude Furi Undo: Arm swinging movement
Ude: Arm
Furi: Swing or Shake
Undo: Movement
Dai Ichi: First
Dai Nichi: Second
Choyaku: Step back & turn

Ukemi: Proper falling. Practice slapping lying on mat, hip switch from left to right, back and forth. Ensure arm is slapping the mat palm down, at about a 90 degree angle from the body, elbow gently bent.
Koho Tento: Rear Falling Exercise: Sitting, Kneeling, Standing.

Atemi: Strikes – Elbow to solar plexus, upper cut. Also, grasping the throat, under the chin.

Extra credit: Ryokatatori Ago Tsuki Age (the same technique, executed facing the attacker)
Randori-style practice: Kata tori front or back grabs. Respond with Ago Tsuki Age
Zempo Kaiten (continuous rolling) low rolls

Homework: Practice
Rear Falling (“Downs & Ups”), 3 levels
Ude Furi Undo (Dai Ichi, Dai Nichi): Arm swinging excersize (Taiso) – 2 versions.