Saturday, August 04, 2007


In early July I was invited to present two very experiential programs for The Leadership Group (TLG) Santa Barbara. Then on July 14th – 18th I had the great pleasure to host the sixth Allied Ronin Leaders’ Retreat. Both TLG presentations and the Leaders’ Retreat at times featured exercises influenced by the martial art of aikido. Attendees at both – many of them CEO’s, business owners or senior executives - received a brief article attending to pressures faced in a world where technology is increasing at an almost exponential rate, while the opportunity to slow down and live a balanced daily life seems to slip away if not diligently. In an effort to serve you that article is reproduced for this month’s e-newsletter. Consider the fact that in some fashion you are proficient at something enough to be ready for big-time challenges – signifying sincere and rigorous practice in your art, craft, skill or ability. In a sense you are ready for black belt level testing. If that is the case they you will face something know as Randori. What is this? Let’s look through the lens of aikido … and then you make the translation.

Our article begins with a series of thoughts from the man who created the art of aikido. Then we glimpse three simple principles foundational to all the techniques of that art (and perhaps foundational to skills that are important to you). Next you imagine being on a mat in a learning situation and facing “your test” – and you translate that scene into the real “mat” and daily “learning opportunities” that make up your life. And finally we take note four key principles from David Baum, Ph.D. and Jim Hassinger as presented in their book, The Randori Principles.

First – Thoughts from Morihei Ueshiba, Founder of Aikido

“The Way of a Warrior cannot be encompassed by words or in letters – grasp the essence…. Instructors can impart only a fraction of the teaching. It is through your own devoted practice that the mysteries of the Art are brought to life. The techniques of the Way… change constantly; every encounter is unique, and the appropriate response should emerge naturally. Today’s techniques will be different tomorrow. Do not get caught up with the form and appearance of a challenge. Fiddling with this and that technique is of no avail. Simply act decisively without reserve. The Art … has no form – it is the study of the spirit. In your training, do not be in a hurry, for it takes ten years to master the basics and advance to the first rung. Never think of yourself as an all-knowing, perfected master, you must continue to train daily with your friends and students and progress together in the Art…. ”

Second – Three foundational principles to all techniques in this martial art (with some translation for you to consider)

• Aiki – blend with your opponent (listen, understand and move with what you encounter)

• Kuzushi – break your opponent’s balance (speak and act in the appropriate moment)

• Shisei – retain upright posture (maintain integrity)

Third – Your Test … and Your Randori – As you read … you translate this supposed situation into the real tests, grabs and hits of your daily life.

Imagine - you have been training ten years. It is time for the test – black belt. You are alone on a mat in a room (soon to become hot) surrounded by thirty potential opponents, some you know, others you may not. For the next hour of your life you will have to respond immediately to your test director (teacher – sensei). A series of foreign words with which you should be familiar will be called rapid fire - a language for action learned through the body in response to a series of strikes and grabs aimed at your head, your face, your throat, your temple, your chest, your shoulder, your wrist, your stomach, your back, your knee … in short, where ever and whenever and for as long as the teacher decides whether or not you have learned what is expected of you. Your peers, your seniors and your juniors will all be watching.

The attacks will come - open hand blade and closed fist strikes, single hand and two hand grabs, perhaps kicks, plus attacks by weapons - tanto (training knives), bokken (wooden swords) and jo (wooden staffs). Sometimes your opponents will be allowed to stand and rush you from above while you remain kneeling. Sometimes they will stand behind you with a knife to your throat or against the back of your neck. You will have to move and disarm them in ways that if the knife were real you would not be cut, and somehow the knife would end up in your hand. Through a blend of your action with the energy of their aggression, and finding the risks reversed, your attackers will submit and yield … provided you give them no room to re-engage.

During five preceding tests over the past decade your opponents gave you some “slack”, appropriate for those stages of your development. But at this level they will seek and will take every opportunity given them to keep coming at you and increase the pressure. Your pins must be true or you will falter. Your throws must work, or your opponents will not fall; they will turn on you and be in your face, they will take your center and you will be upended.

At times the test sensei will direct the opponents to deliver particular attacks. At times permission will be given for jiuwaza (free form) and an opponent (you won’t know who until it happens) will attack anyway he or she wants and will change the attack forms at whim, coming again and again and again, as fast or slow, direct or sneaky, until they are called off.

Throughout the test you must continue – like it or not. If you are granted a rest, it won’t last longer than fifteen seconds … and getting more than one respite probably won’t happen. However, your opponents will be continually rotated on and off the mat. In this way they will remain fresh and relaxed, being always prepared fully able to move against you. You won’t know in what order they will be called. You must be ready … all the time. Is this randori? No, not yet. Randori happens at the worst possible time … at the end of the test.

It has been fifty-some minutes. You are tired. The test sensei directs you to sit seiza (on your knees, your butt resting on your heels) in the center of mat. He picks three or four opponents to similarly sit around you, each about fifteen feet away. He waits and then with his hand … he strikes the mat. The attackers simultaneously stand and rush you. This is randori. What do you do? Who knows, but you’d better do it. The time for figuring out what to do no longer exists: no time for scheming or making excuses; no one is going to let up, no one and nothing is going to rescue you, and if you don’t empty your mind of everything except for the fact that you are right here right now, you will be in trouble. Everything about you – your body, your thoughts, your emotions - must surrender into the notion of flexibility. You have to move yourself again and again and again without predictability or pattern, and you must live AIKI, KUZUSHI, SHISEI. As this occurs those who attack will hopefully miss or glance off you, falling to the mat or stumbling into each other as they attempt to grab and/or strike your side, your arms, front and back, in a line or from different angles, alone or in pairs. But know this: however it unfolds and for as long as it unfolds, your attackers will rise again. They will not give up. What the sensei is waiting for – looking for - is a moment when surrounded you are caught, with all attackers pressing in on you, because in that moment something crucial must happen. You must give up what you think will work to free yourself, and yet continue moving. You have to remain present, no matter how fatigued, you have to relax and blend, and you have to enter into every minute opportunity presented by your attackers and your environment. You will not be able to “out do” your opponents to survive. Rather, you will have to meet the person inside yourself and come alive with him or her. The Japanese kanji for this is a union of dagger and heart, and it means “to persevere”. The Japanese word KiKi, meaning crisis, becomes a reality. KiKi - every crisis is composed of two things: (1) Danger/Risk; and (2) Opportunity.

When your randori is complete this test is over – but if you are growing there will most likely be other tests in your future. Randori – facing multiple attack, you (individual, team, organization) must put yourself in the right place, with the right action, at the right time, and with the right amount of power. For 3,650 days (give or take some) you were a beginner. If you pass the test you can wear a black belt and are now considered … a new student.

And Finally … The Four Randori Principles” (from David Baum’s & Jim Hassinger’s book “The Randori Principles”)

    1. FULL POWER PRESENCE - Leadership Worth Following (You must at all times practice and refine your ability to Be Here Now)
    2. TENKAN – Turning Resistance Into Collaboration (You must be willing to Turn and Look at every situation from new perspectives including from a perspective that is completely opposite to your current stand)
    3. IRIMI – The Single Sword Strike (You must be willing to Enter Into A Crisis – as would a fireman or a police officer or a mother lifting a car off of her trapped child)
    4. GET OFF THE MAT – The Skill of Disengagement (You must study human interaction … individual and group … and from that study increase your ability to Know What’s Too Much, What’s Too Little … and most importantly … When To Stop What You Have Been Doing)

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