black teeth and aubergine

Japanese-style Pub by Takuma Kimura

Japanese-style Pub by Takuma Kimura

as shiny as if freshly laid
You are a melancholy fruit.
Solanum Melongena.
Every animal is sad
after eggplant.
Erica Jong, The Eggplant Epithalamion

It is a sort of dream, which coincides
With the pacific relaxations called
Preferred Reality. Men who forget
Lovingly chopped-up cloves of ail, who scorn
The job of slicing two good peppers thinly,
Then two large onions and six aubergines -
Those long, impassioned and imperial purples -
Which, with six courgettes, you sift with salt
Douglas Dunn, Ratatouille 

Eggplant, the bruise-fruit, heals
in a darkroom as photographs
of contusions develop.

Gathered in a farmer’s truck,
eggplants appear ready to travel
into outer space, there to visit
purple planets in our galaxy.

The mayor has disappeared.
He was last seen getting into
a taxicab near the produce-market.
He was accompanied by an eggplant,
which he carried in a burgundy valise.

Shiny, soft, and smooth,
eggplants suggest patent-leather
shoes worn by a species whose feet
differ from ours in certain respects.

Although I dislike eating
its slippery flesh, I pay
aubergine certain respects.

There is eggplant. There
it is – a pliable stone
sitting in purple patience
waiting for us to go away.
Hans Ostrom, Aubergine

Back at Nijo, his Murasaki, now on the eve of womanhood, was very
pretty indeed. So red could after all be a pleasing color, he thought. She
was delightful, at artless play in a soft cloak of white lined with red.
Because of her grandmother’s conservative preferences, her teeth had not
yet been blackened or her eyebrows plucked.
Murasaki Shikibu, The Tale of Genji

no money
no things
no teeth
just me
Santoka Taneda


I’m writing this from Belgium. I’ll be based in Europe for a while doing some work for the EU. Things have been hectic and I’ve been too busy for the last few weeks to think about writing something interesting here. Sorry for that. Hopefully I’ll be able to write regularly from now. Perhaps I’ll write about aikido more from a European perspective in the future but for now there are lots of things about Japanese culture that I still want to write about. But it does mean that I’ll be travelling a little in Europe and teaching some aikido seminars. I hope I can meet some of you.

I got some black toothpaste in Japan. Really. Black toothpaste. Deep, dark black. It’s made from aubergines. They are called eggplants in the USA. The French word aubergine is such a beautiful name for a vegetable. Or a colour. The aubergine is in the nightshade family. Night and shade – darker than dark. The toothpaste is supposed to be very natural and healthy and good for your gums and teeth.

In Japan women used to blacken their teeth when they came of age. Blackening the teeth is called ohaguro. It is mentioned in the above quote from The Tale of Genji from the eleventh century. The custom of ohaguro continued until the late nineteenth century.

Teeth are very important in the martial arts. You naturally clench your teeth at the instant of a throw in aikido or judo. Whether you are throwing or being thrown. Or you clench your teeth at the moment of a strike or a block in karate or the sword. Some dentists recommend wearing a mouthguard or gumshield during any martial arts training. I wrote about teeth a while ago in…51/teeth-4155/ after I walked past a dentist next door to a chocolate shop in Tokyo. I’m not sure if that was symbiotic irony or ironic symbiosis.

Santoka Taneda was a twentieth-century haiku zen poet. His simple, direct haiku are still very popular today.


Free e-book, poems and background articles

Murasaki Shikibu, The Tale of Genji free e-book

Erica Jong, The Eggplant Epithalamion…thalamion.html

Douglas Dunn, Ratatouille…-douglas-dunn/

Hans Ostrom, Aubergine

haiku by Santoka Taneda…1_archive.html

teeth haiku

background articles

photo: Japanese-style Pub by Takuma Kimura


published contemporaneously on the aikido site aikiweb (I just wanted to say contemporaneously)

my columns on aikiweb

© niall matthews 2013

Stand up. Jump. Diamond Dave and the Way of the Sword

David Lee Roth by Jon Iraundegi

David Lee Roth by Jon Iraundegi

My first time in the spotlight
Was from a helicopter
Little Texas

I get up
And nothing gets me down
You got it tough
I’ve seen the toughest around.
And I know, baby, just how you feel.
You’ve got to roll with the punches
To get to what’s real

Can I reach it now
I’m not up here often
God only knows
And he ain’t talkin’
I’m a skyscraper

So it’s up the road
Turn right next Thursday
Think that’s where I’m gone
I ain’t drownin’ just waving
Ain’t even worth a song
Two Fools a Minute

When the fire burns
‘Neath a zombie moon
You feel the winds of change
Oh the drums will tell the tune
And you know it’s true

I walk around with the blues
I need some sensible shoes
Sensible Shoes

And all those rock ‘n’ rollers
I used to want to meet?
Now they’re pushing strollers
And wanna be me

I don’t think the devil’s
Ever gonna give me back
I don’t think so!
‘Cause stayin’ ’round here takes patience
It’s like a full time occupation
A Lil’ Ain’t Enough

Just when you get
That rat race licked
Well here come faster rats
Big Train

Hey, take a look at this picture,
Can you believe that was you?
And who’s that standing there in the corner?
Not me!
Damn Good

all lyrics by David Lee Roth

In an article about David Lee Roth and a Van Halen concert in Tokyo there was an aside about his martial arts training. A few musicians and actors have done martial arts. For example I talked about Michael Rooker recently here. Michael Rooker trained in aikido. He plays Merle Dixon in The Walking Dead.

David Lee Roth is not a martial arts dilettante. He has done martial arts for many years. You probably didn’t know that he lives in Tokyo now. He could be that guy next to you on the subway train. He trains seriously in kenjutsu – the Japanese sword. He also studies go and he studies sumi-e – Japanese ink wash painting.

And that sounds like a cool tattoo.



photo: David Lee Roth by Jon Iraundegi

published contemporaneously on the aikido site aikiweb (just wanted to say contemporaneously)

my columns on aikiweb

© niall matthews 2013

zombie aikido

walking dead

People with nothing to hide don’t usually feel the need to say so.
Michonne, The Walking Dead

People could say a lot of negative things about the apocalypse, but there was no arguing the air quality in Los Angeles had really improved.
Peter Clines, Ex-Heroes

Creating a zombie in Haiti is illegal, as article 246 of the Haitian penal code states:
It shall also be qualified as attempted murder the employment which may be made against any person of substances which, without causing actual death, produce a lethargic coma more or less prolonged. If, after the person had been buried, the act shall be considered murder no matter what result follows.
Dr Austin, The Zombie Institute of Theoretical Studies, Glasgow University

blood is really warm
it’s like drinking hot chocolate
but with more screaming
Ryan Mecum, Zombie Haiku

Bet you were wondering if I was real, probably hoping I wasn’t. Well, here I am. I guess this old world gets a little smaller toward the end, huh?
Merle Dixon, The Walking Dead

The Zombie Combat Manual is a book on combat techniques against zombies. I own it and feel that it is a well written book and gives good advice. I would personally give it 5 stars and suggest you read it. You also should read other books on this subject. You never know.
The Zombie Combat Manual: A Guide to Fighting the Living Dead by Roger Ma reviewed on

Where’s Carl?
Lori Grimes, The Walking Dead

Ghost stories have a long history in Japan. But zombies have not really made much impact in modern Japanese culture. So far. There have been a few zombie manga and anime. Like Zombie-Loan and Highschool of the Dead. And Tokyo Zombie was a movie starring Tadanobu Asano and Show Aikawa. Tadanobu Asano is a very, very good actor. He was in Zatoichi with Beat Takeshi and he is in the new movie 47 Ronin with Keanu Reeves.

The cool zombie apocalypse TV series The Walking Dead is broadcast on cable TV in Japan. It is not as well known as it really should be. Michael Rooker plays Merle Dixon. It turns out that Michael Rooker trained in aikido. In his IMDB entry it says he studied aikido with Fumio Toyoda Shihan, an aikido and zen teacher.

A book about combat techniques you can use against zombies must be aimed at the most fanatical zombie otaku. Or martial arts otaku. I wrote about otaku before here (or here on aikiweb). That post has a great photo.

But in fact it’s not difficult. The safest Japanese martial art to use against a zombie would be kyudo – Japanese archery. Of course. A bow and arrow would let you keep a healthy distance between yourself and a fatal zombie bite. The ma ai – the critical distance – of each martial art is different. Against zombies the bigger the gap the better. Which is why Daryl likes his crossbow. Then gradually that critical distance gets smaller and smaller. From halberd – naginata – to sojutsu – spear – to jukendo – rifle and bayonet – to kendo – sword. Michonne has her katana strapped to her back.

Then finally unarmed martial arts. Karate probably has a safer distance than aikido and aikido has a safer distance than judo. I wouldn’t recommend doing judo against a zombie. At a close grappling distance you might still get bitten in passing even if you throw cleanly. Although I remember a news report about a man successfully throwing an attacking bear with tomoe nage – a judo sacrifice throw. To the bear’s surprise. But aikido’s entering techniques are great for getting behind an attacker. Always a good place to be. So I’ll be sticking with aikido. You never know.


background articles…ad_(TV_series)…ead_(season_3)…es)_characters…028067,00.html

biography of Fumio Toyoda Shihan

discussion on aikiweb about famous aikidoka


published contemporaneously on the aikido site aikiweb (I just wanted to say comtemporaneously)

my columns on aikiweb

© niall matthews 2013

cherry blossom, mountain storm


Sanshiro Sugata (1943) from japanesefilmarchive

What are heavy? Sea-sand and sorrow;
What are brief? Today and tomorrow;
What are frail? Spring blossoms and youth;
What are deep? The ocean and truth.
Christina Rossetti, What Are Heavy?

Fortune, honour, beauty, youth,
Are but blossoms dying;
Wanton pleasures, doting love,
Are but shadows flying.
Thomas Campion, What If A Day Or A Month Or A Year

without regret
they fall and scatter
cherry blossoms
haiku by Issa

They have created the beauty of cherry blossoms.
from Sugata Sanshiro, directed by Akira Kurosawa

Spring in Japan. No, not yet. Not yet. The air is usually already warmer by the time of Buddha’s birthday on 8 April. But this year spring has kept feinting an attack and then has hastily retreated. This week it has felt like we were still in December.

But the cherry blossoms have fallen. The cherry blossom viewing parties have all been held.

Cherry blossoms signal the changing seasons. I have written about cherry blossoms before. In 2011 after the Tohoku earthquake in cherry blossom and moon and also in 2012 in beneath the cherry trees and also here. There are some cool poems in those articles.

Cherry blossom viewing can be poignant. Weather forecasts give detailed forecasts of when the trees will be in full bloom. Some of the drinking and karaoke parties in the parks are superficial. But for many Japanese people there is still sadness behind the beauty. The trees bloom. Then the petals blow away in the wind. And decay in the dirt. The transience of life.

One of the quotes above comes from the movie Sugata Sanshiro. It was the first movie Akira Kurosawa directed. He obviously didn’t know a lot about judo but the movie is anyway excellent. The story is loosely based on the life of Shiro Saigo. He was one of the first two people to be awarded a black belt in judo by Jigoro Kano. The other was Tsunejiro Tomita. Tomita’s son Tsuneo Tomita was a novelist and he wrote the original novel Sugata Sanshiro.

Sanshiro wanted to become a great martial artist. He went to a famous jujutsu teacher. The teacher and his companions ambushed a judo teacher they did not approve of. Sanshiro was invited to come along and watch and learn. Things did not go to plan and the judo teacher threw all the jujutsu attackers into the river. Not surprisingly Sanshiro decided to follow the judo teacher instead.

Gradually Sanshiro became stronger and stronger. He liked to test himself by getting into fights. But his teacher scolded him and told him he knew nothing about compassion.

Like a lot of people who think they know about martial arts.

Sanshiro’s special technique was yama arashi, mountain storm. It’s a kind of tai otoshi or harai goshi with a cross grip. There are similar techniques in aikido.


poems and background articles

Haiku by Issa

Christina Rossetti, Sing-Song – A Nursery Rhyme Book

Thomas Campion, What If A Day Or A Month Or A Year

nice blog post about cherry blossoms

article about Shiro Saigo on judoinfo

article about Shiro Saigo and his possible links to aikijujutsu

interesting review of Kurosawa’s Sugata Sanshiro

yama arashi

movie still: Sanshiro Sugata (1943) from japanesefilmarchive

published contemporaneously on the aikido site aikiweb (I just wanted to say comtemporaneously)

my columns on aikiweb

© niall matthews 2013

training in japan black and white

judokajudoka from


I was determined to go to Japan to outstrip them all, to learn judo. It wasn’t to go to the Olympics, it was to become really, really good at judo.
Doug Rogers

How very Canadian – I had a one-way ticket to the Olympics.
Doug Rogers

In the tunnel
the black taxi roof
a stream of neon
Colin Oliver, haiku

Youth is not a time of life
it is a state of mind
it is not a matter of rosy cheeks, red lips and supple knees
it is a matter of the will, a quality of the imagination, a vigor of the emotions
Samuel Ullmann, Youth

There was a link on a judo site to an old documentary called Judoka. It’s about a Canadian called Doug Rogers and his serious judo training in Japan. He was there from 1960 to 1965. He was obviously an exceptionally talented and determined judoka and he became one of the very best in the world. At the Tokyo Olympics in 1964 he won the heavyweight silver medal.

It’s a very interesting documentary. It shows the training and life of a young martial artist in Japan. It was a simpler, more innocent time.

There is a nice scene of Doug Rogers doing randori free training in the Nippon Budokan. The Nippon Budokan is a huge martial arts hall in central Tokyo. It was constructed for the 1964 Olympics. Over the years it has been used for rock concerts and many artists have recorded Live at Budokan albums. The All-Japan Aikido demonstration is held there every year in May.

On the wikipedia page about Doug Rogers there is a link to a thesis written about him by his daughter. It adds another dimension to the documentary. She interviews him about his life in Japan and together they go on a trip to Japan to try to make sense of the past.

Doug, arigatou gozaimashita.


poems and background articles

Judoka on youtube…&v=CBFx1a4L2ig

Michelle Marrian Anna Rogers, Twentieth Century Travels: Tales of a Canadian Judoka…ogers_2005.pdf

some poems by Colin Oliver

Samuel Ullmann, Youth…man/Youth.html
This free poem was very popular in post-war Japan.…ummer_Olympics…8/doug-rogers/

photo: judoka from

published contemporaneously on the aikido site aikiweb (I just wanted to say comtemporaneously)

my columns on aikiweb

© niall matthews 2013

darkness in march


photo: Postwar Tokyo Map – showing destroyed areas by Justin Cozart


Long ago, before writing, you’d send someone a stone letter. A stone that suited the way you were feeling. From its weight and touch, they’d know how you felt. From a smooth stone they might get that you were happy, or from a rough one that you were worried about them.
Masahiro Motoki, Departures

The Word in the desert
Is most attacked by voices of temptation,
The crying shadow in the funeral dance,
The loud lament of the disconsolate chimera.
T S Eliot, The Four Quartets, Burnt Norton

I felt a funeral in my brain,
And mourners, to and fro,
Kept treading, treading
Emily Dickinson, I Felt A Funeral In My Brain

After the feast of tear-stuffed time and thistles
In a room with a stuffed fox and a stale fern,
I stand, for this memorial’s sake, alone
In the snivelling hours
Dylan Thomas, After The Funeral

Yet when this Victory’s fame shall pass, as grand
And griefless as a rich man’s funeral,
Thro’ nations that look on with spell-bound eye,
While echoing plaudits ring from land to land,
Alas! will there be none among the good
And great and brave and free, to speak of all
The pale piled pestilence of flesh and blood
Sydney Thompson Dobell, A Musing On A Victory

1. Aerial bombardment is legitimate only when directed at a military objective, that is to say, an object of which the destruction or injury would constitute a distinct military advantage to the belligerent.
2. Such bombardment is legitimate only when directed exclusively at the following objectives: military forces; military works; military establishments or depots; factories constituting important and well-known centres engaged in the manufacture of arms, ammunition, or distinctively military supplies; lines of communication or transportation used for military purposes.
3. The bombardment of cities, towns, villages, dwellings, or buildings not in the immediate neighborhood of the operations of land forces is prohibited. In cases where the objectives specified in paragraph 2 are so situated, that they cannot be bombarded without the indiscriminate bombardment of the civilian population, the aircraft must abstain from bombardment.
The Hague Draft Rules of Air Warfare

In air campaigns against Japan in 1944 and 1945, General Curtis LeMay of the U.S. Army Air Corps also defied the established wartime policy of the United States. That policy called for precision daylight bombing of military targets. Instead, LeMay retrofitted his planes with napalm cannisters (jellied gasoline), and dropped them at night over the northern suburbs of Tokyo, which were then the most densely populated areas in the world. Of course there were no men of fighting age present; there were only women, children, and the elderly packed in their wooden homes.
Professor Anthony D’Amato, History’s Two Worst War Criminals

LeMay said if we lost the war that we would have all been prosecuted as war criminals. And I think he’s right. We were behaving as war criminals.
Robert McNamara, US Secretary of Defense, in Fog of War

Life is so short
Fall in love, dear maiden
While your lips are still red
And before you are cold
For there will be no tomorrow
Takashi Shimura, in Ikiru


March in Japan. The second anniversary of the March 2011 Tohoku earthquake and the tsunami and the nuclear meltdowns in Fukushima.

There is another dark anniversary. The blanket firebombing of Tokyo in March 1945.

The deliberate targeting of thousands of civilians.  Guernica. Coventry. Dresden. Tokyo.

We humans learn very, very slowly.

Grave of the Fireflies is a novel by Akiyuki Nosaka. It’s about two children trying to survive after the firebombing of Tokyo. It was made into a Studio Ghibli animated movie directed by Isao Takahata.

This week was the spring equinox higan holiday. It is a Buddhist holiday. Many people visit family graves. I was at a funeral. Funerals in Japan are normally held over two days. The first ceremony is in the evening and is a kind of wake. The next day the body is cremated. At the crematorium I saw one funeral party with a Buddhist priest. One funeral party with a Shinto priest. And one funeral party with a Christian priest.

There are some very good Japanese movies about death and funerals. IkiruLiving – was directed by Akira Kurosawa. It starred Takashi Shimura who was in many of Kurosawa’s movies. He played Kambei Shimada in Seven Samurai. OsoshikiThe Funeral – pokes fun at Japanese funeral customs. It was directed by Juzo Itami. Some years later he was attacked by gangsters with swords because he had directed a movie about yakuza. He later committed suicide. Or was forced to by gangsters. OkuribitoDepartures – was directed by Yojiro Takita. It won an Oscar for best foreign language film. It is about an unemployed musician who gets a job preparing bodies for funerals.

At funerals you get to hear stories and memories from the past. Death always means that stories and memories are lost for ever. Martial arts can not really be passed on through books. So when budo teachers die their knowledge dies with them. Some of their students will have caught some of the knowledge. But not all of it.

I don’t go to funerals of budo teachers often. I train instead. I’m pretty sure they would approve.


poems and background articles
T S Eliot, Burnt Norton from The Four Quartets,
The Four Quartets

Dylan Thomas, After The Funeral

Emily Dickinson, I Felt A Funeral In My Brain…6/funeral.html

Sydney Thompson Dobell, A Musing On A Victory…ernational_law…-100000-tokyo/…of_Air_Warfare

Professor Anthony D’Amato, History’s Two Worst War Criminals…criminals.html

Naom Chomsky, On the Backgrounds of the Pacific War–.htm#11

Dresden and Tokyo bombings

movies and novel…eflies_(novel)

photo: Postwar Tokyo Map – showing destroyed areas by Justin Cozart

published contemporaneously on the aikido site aikiweb (I just wanted to say comtemporaneously)

my columns on aikiweb

© niall matthews 2013






The Papal Conclave by Chan Lowe

It was International Women’s Day on 8 March. By chance this great cartoon by Chan Lowe from the South Florida Sun-Sentinel was syndicated in today’s Daily Yomiuri in Japan (Monday, 11 March 2013).

The word catholic comes from Greek and means all-embracing؟

That’s an irony mark after all-embracing.,0,804945.story







wrestling ghosts


photo: Herakles wrestling with Triton from MCAD Library


This is how he grows: by being defeated, decisively, by constantly greater beings.
Rainer Maria Rilke, The Beholder

which one of them is raw, or baked in the sun or not,
so you might get to know one who is inactive and open,
pulling him down after throwing him over from the Chersonese
after hooking his leg with yours behind his knee
then after you turn his shoulder over,
you fall heavily upon him
Aristophanes, Knights

If I can catch him once upon the hip,
I will feed fat the ancient grudge I bear him.
William Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice, act 1, scene 3

Like all who contended in the games, the Wrestlers were accustomed to rub their bodies with oil, partly to check the excessive perspiration occasioned by the heat and the violence of the exercises, and partly from an opinion that the oil gave the limbs a greater degree of pliancy and agility. As the smoothness occasioned by the oil would have prevented the combatants from grasping each other with firmness, it was customary for them, after being anointed, to roll themselves in the dust of the Stadium, or to be sprinkled with a fine sand kept for that purpose at Olympia. If in falling, one of the Wrestlers dragged his adversary along with him, the combat was continued on the ground, till one of the parties had forced the other to yield the victory.
Jacob Robinson and Sidney Gilpin, Wrestling and Wrestlers

we need to know what to do
when we’re getting cranked
Jeff Kass, All wrestlers practice failing

Too true it is, deserted of my strength,
These withered arms and limbs have failed at length.
Oh! had I now that force I felt of yore,
Known through Buprasium and the Pylian shore!
Victorious then in every solemn game,
Ordained to Amarynces’s mighty name;
The brave Epeians gave my glory way,
Aetolians, Pylians, all resigned the day.
I quelled Clytomedes in fights of hand,
And backward hurled Ancaeus on the sand
Homer, The Illiad

Here we are, my mercenary Greek,
back at the same crossroads
where you bested my father.
The ground when you pinned him down
is what defeated you in
hold after hold or until
you found the way to filet his strength,
the way a fisherman’s instinct
cleans flesh from the bone of earth.
Terreson, Antaeus’s Son to His Father’s Killer

we hold until I am exhausted
he is a trickling thing of sand
a scintilla that drains back into the beach
a shock of trees released by strong winds
he is a fish, a slither
an eel that flits away
then has me pinned
Steve Parker, Lights fall from the Old Man of the Sea

In fact the modern Olympic style of wrestling most closely resembling that of Ancient Greece is Judo, a sport invented by a Japanese professor of English in 1882
Christopher Miller, Submission Fighting and the Rules of Ancient Greek Wrestling

If an Olympic champion of 20 years ago were to attend a wrestling tournament now, he probably could not tell what is going on.
Nenad Lalovic, president of the international wrestling federation


All right, pop quiz. What’s the difference between freestyle wrestling and greco-roman?

In February 2013 the International Olympic Committee voted to remove wrestling from the list of core Olympic sports. Japan is one of the strongest wrestling nations at the Olympics and in Japan this was seen as part of a deliberate and continuing attack on Japan and Japanese sport. Baseball and softball were removed from the Olympics for 2012. Both sports in which Japan usually wins a medal. And now wrestling.

Removing baseball and softball is difficult to justify. They are popular sports played and watched by many, many people of all ages all over the world. But wrestling is different. The number of active participants is small. They are mostly school students. Spectators are mostly wrestlers and their parents. The rules are unfathomable. (What is that guy doing on his hands and knees?). So for the 2020 Olympics wrestling will have to compete with baseball/softball, karate, roller sports, sport climbing, squash, wakeboarding and wushu. What will be the deciding factor? The number of people who play the sport? The number of people who watch the sport? Or the number of sponsors who are prepared to pay to be associated with the sport?

Judo was introduced in 1964 when the Olympics were held in Tokyo. Taekwondo was introduced as a demonstration sport in 1988 when the Olympics were held in Seoul. So if Tokyo is awarded the 2020 Olympics there might be a chance for karate. There are different styles of karate which is why it has not been attractive as an Olympic sport. If karate and taekwondo could come to some agreement over common rules the sports could be combined for international competitions. I am quite sure that will happen in the next few decades.

Judo itself is probably in danger. Modern judo is mostly not very interesting to watch. And the rules are difficult to understand. At the February 2013 Judo Grand Prix in Düsseldorf many matches were decided by penalties. That was not a good sign. So the judo world too should be thinking creatively. Judo is wrestling with jackets. Jackets are useful. They allow easy gripping, dynamic throws and good control. You can even use jackets in ground techniques. When Olympic judo gold medallist Hidehiko Yoshida started mixed martial arts fighting he wore a judogi. He wanted to keep the option of using his own jacket. And he choked out Royce Gracie with sode guruma jime.

So if wrestlers could be persuaded to wear jackets a universal sport of jacket wrestling could be introduced for competitions. The best of wrestling, judo and sambo. Sambo is a Russian martial art. It already has some similarities with judo and some people have excelled in both. Katsuhiko Kashiwazaki was a world judo champion and also a world sambo champion. By the way he was a superb judo newaza technician. You can check out how he expertly used a jacket to wrap up his opponent’s wrist in the video below.

So we would be down to one sport for kicking and striking and one sport for wrestling with jackets. Then we could get to work on horse sports, rowing, paddling and sailing sports, cycling, diving, basketball, tennis, golf… The Olympics could look more like the Universiade. It has only 13 main sports.

The evaluation commission of the International Olympic Committee came to Tokyo at the beginning of March 2013. Stations in Tokyo were covered in Tokyo 2020 posters and tv commercials promoting Tokyo 2020 were showing in the trains. The advertising campaign strongly featured some of Japan’s Olympic medallists from London 2012. Mostly it looked like wrestling. You know, the sport that won’t be at the 2020 Olympics.

Oh yes. The answer to the pop quiz. “Shoot the hostage!” (Keanu Reeves, Speed). Wrestling has only got itself to blame. Judo you’re next.


poems and background articles…by-rainer.html
Rainer Maria Rilke, The Beholder

some of the cool poems quoted above are collected on these great pages of wrestling poetry, including:
Terreson, Antaeus’s Son to His Father’s Killer
Steve Parker, Lights fall from the Old Man of the Sea
Jeff Kass, All wrestlers practice failing
http://clatterymachinery.wordpress.c…meet-48-poems/ http://clatterymachinery.wordpress.c…y-in-november/
Jacob Robinson and Sidney Gilpin, Wrestling and Wrestlers…wrestling.html
Christopher Miller, Submission Fighting and the Rules of Ancient Greek Wrestling…nt-and-history…nt-and-history…ork-move-ever/…shiwazaki.html

photo: Herakles wrestling with Triton from MCAD Library

published contemporaneously on the aikido site aikiweb (I just wanted to say comtemporaneously)

my columns on aikiweb

© niall matthews 2013

wild horse


painting: Wild Horse by Elena Drobychevskaja


sinking sand
skin and bone
bring on the dancing horses
Echo and the Bunnymen, Bring on the Dancing Horses

I am a feather on the bright sky
I am the blue horse that runs in the plain
I am the fish that rolls, shining, in the water
I am the shadow that follows a child
I am the evening light, the lustre of meadows
I am an eagle playing with the wind
N Scott Momaday, The Delight Song of Tsoai-talee

somewhere up there he’s waiting for me
and he knows that I’m coming’ for him
and I just can’t rest till I find
that raven black stallion that wears no man’s brand
with a wild restless spirit like mine
Chris Ledoux, Caballo Diablo

Because the pleasure-bird whistles after the hot wires,
Shall the blind horse sing sweeter?
Convenient bird and beast lie lodged to suffer
The supper and knives of a mood.
Dylan Thomas, Because The Pleasure-bird Whistles

Sometimes I have no more wit than a Christian or an ordinary man has; but I am a great eater of beef, and I believe that does harm to my wit.
William Shakespeare, Twelfth Night, act 1, scene 3

wild wild horses
we’ll ride them
Rolling Stones, Wild Horses

My first aikido teacher Kinjo Asoh sensei liked art. His father was an artist. Asoh sensei had some pictures of horses. You could feel their power.

There is a kind of concise Japanese proverb called yojijukugo 四字熟語 よじじゅくご. Yojijukugo are very popular and there are many books about them. They are four-character phrases. Sometimes the meaning is clear from the kanji themselves. But there are also lots of idiomatic yojijukugo with special meanings. In English we have a few four word maxims too. Like more haste less speed.

Gyuuinbashoku is a yojijukugo. 牛飲馬食 ぎゅういんばしょく. Cow drink horse eat. It means heavy drinking and eating. Drink like a cow and eat like a horse.

In Europe now there is a food scandal. Horsemeat was sold as beef and used in the manufacture of burgers and lasagna. It seems like a mislabelling for profit scandal more than a serious public health problem. But perhaps the fact that it was horsemeat was shocking.

Horsemeat is eaten a little in Japan. It can be eaten raw as sashimi called basashi or cooked. In the United Kingdom where I’m from horsemeat is not eaten at all. There is no word for it. English words for meat came from Norman French. Beef from boeuf. Pork from porc. Mutton from mouton. Anglo-saxon words were used for the animals themselves. Cow, pig, sheep. Horse.

The nineteenth century novel Black Beauty by Anna Sewell is one of the best-selling books of all time. It was a sympathetic story about the life of a horse. A similar story War Horse was filmed by Steven Spielberg in the twenty-first century.

For centuries horses have been used in war. Alexander had a famous horse called Bucephalus. In Japan some samurai fought on horseback. The katana used by horsemen was called a tachi. It had a slightly different rake and it was not worn blade up in the waistband. It was hung blade down on straps. Still today you can see demonstrations of horseback archery – yabusame – at festivals.


poems and background articles
N. Scott Momaday, The Delight Song of Tsoai-talee…bird-whistles/
Dylan Thomas, Because The Pleasure-bird Whistles…_Asian_warfare…ration_scandal…n-burgers.html

painting: Wild Horse by Elena Drobychevskaja

special thanks to Elena Drobychevskaja for permission to use her powerful painting

Elena Drobychevskaja’s home page


published contemporaneously on the aikido site aikiweb

my columns on aikiweb

© niall matthews 2013

the dark side of japanese judo

If you make every game a life-and-death thing, you’re going to have problems. You’ll be dead a lot.
Dean Smith, basketball coach

Once you’ve done the mental work, there comes a point you have to throw yourself into the action and put your heart on the line. That means not only being brave, but being compassionate towards yourself, your teammates and your opponents.
Phil Jackson, basketball coach

This is no democracy. It is a dictatorship. I am the law.
Coach Herman Boone, Remember the Titans

Serious sport has nothing to do with fair play. It is bound up with hatred, jealousy, boastfulness, disregard of all rules and sadistic pleasure in witnessing violence.
George Orwell, Shooting an Elephant

As to the moral phase of judo – not to speak of the discipline of the exercise room involving the observance of the regular rules of etiquette, courage, and perseverance, kindness to and respect for others, impartiality and fair play so much emphasized in Western athletic training – judo has special importance in Japan.
Jigoro Kano

The coaches beat the athletes with bamboo swords and told them to die, a senior Japanese Olympic Committee official said. They also slapped the women’s cheeks, shoved their breasts and kicked them.
Asahi Shimbun

Jigoro Kano developed and codified modern judo from jujutsu techniques. But he also based his vision of judo on the principles of seiryoku zenyo – jita kyoei. The most efficient use of energy – for the benefit of other people as well as yourself. Judo is a modern sport and it is also explicitly supposed to be positive for society.

But there is a dark side to judo in Japan.

At the beginning of February 2013 Ryuji Sonoda the coach of the Japanese national women’s judo team resigned. Finally. Fifteen team members had complained of violence and physical abuse and assault. Fifteen. When the complaint was first made in September 2012 the All Japan Judo Federation reacted ineptly. Sonoda was allowed to continue as coach. The athletes tried to take it up with the Japan Olympic Committee. They were still not happy with the response until finally it became a news story.

They were helped by the synergy of a couple of other elements.

There have been other shocking stories on bullying and power harassment recently which helped to keep the media focus on the judo story. In December 2012 a high school student in Osaka committed suicide after his basketball coach repeatedly hit and abused him. And a report was released in February 2013 about the 2011 suicide in Otsu in southern Japan of a 13-year old boy who had been relentlessly bullied. The report was very critical of teachers who had failed to stop the bullying.

Another important factor was that Tokyo is a candidate city for the 2020 Olympics. The IOC will decide on the winning city in September 2013. If there is an unresolved problem with Japanese athletes the Tokyo bid might be in danger. So when the judo abuse story became public there was political pressure to solve the problem fast.

disturbing things about this story

  1. The complaints of abuse were not taken seriously until the media got hold of the story.
  2. The All Japan Judo Federation didn’t fire Sonoda.
  3. Sonoda is a police officer.
  4. The All Japan Judo Federation board has 25 members. All men. There is not one woman member.

(the few) good things about this story

  1. The women athletes had the courage to complain about the abuse.
  2. They didn’t give up when the All Japan Judo Federation didn’t take the complaints seriously.
  3. And now finally something seems to be happening.

Judo is a wonderful sport. It should have coaches and administrators who respect it and who can transmit that belief to the next generation. Perhaps this scandal will lead to real changes in attitude. But don’t hold your breath.


I teach aikido. I also have a fourth dan in judo.

photo: Shinai by Andrew | andhong09

published contemporaneously on the aikido site aikiweb

my columns on aikiweb

© niall matthews 2013

playing cards


What I say is, patience, and shuffle the cards.
Miguel De Cervantes, Don Quixote

A man’s idea in a card game is war – cruel, devastating and pitiless. A lady’s idea of it is a combination of larceny, embezzlement and burglary.
Finley Peter Dunne, Mr. Dooley on Making a Will

When I look up at
The wide-stretched plain of heaven,
Is the moon the same
That rose on Mount Mikasa
In the land of Kasuga?
Abe no Nakamaro, Ogura Hyakunin Isshu

Uh, is this a game of chance?
Not the way I play it, no.
W C Fields, My Little Chickadee


Last weekend in a community hall near where I live there was a karuta tournament. Karuta is a traditional Japanese card game. It’s often played in the new year. The word karuta comes from Portuguese.

It’s partly a literary memory game and partly a reaction speed battle.

The traditional game is based on a book of waka poems called the Ogura Hyakunin Isshu. It was compiled by Fujiwara no Teika in the thirteenth century in the Ogura district of Kyoto. It is a book of one hundred poems by one hundred poets. That is a simple concept for an anthology of poetry and there is a modern anthology of English poetry called 100 Poems by 100 Poets.

Now there are also karuta with many different themes and designs. There are sets based on popular comic characters like One Piece and Doraemon and sets for studying history or Shakespeare.

There is a popular manga and animé series about karuta called Chiyahafuru. It’s about high school students in a karuta club. A second season started in January 2013.

There are some similarities with martial arts. Karuta has dan ranks. For formal tournaments the players wear kimono and hakama. And you need very, very fast reflexes.


poems and background articles

Ogura Hyakunin Isshu online…nin/index.html

100 Poems by 100 Poets selected by Harold Pinter, Geoffrey Godbert and Anthony Astbury…dp/0802132790/

cool artwork: matsu1 by atsukosmith

published contemporaneously on the aikido site aikiweb

my columns on aikiweb


© niall matthews 2013