The Flynn Sensei Rules for Life and Aikido

by Cecilia Ramos, Grass Valley Aikikai 

I went to Alameda Aikikai’s seminar with Flynn Sensei last November. It was to be the third in a series of weapons seminars and turned out to focus on weapons taking. I went with the expectation that it would be great, and indeed it was. Brilliant actually.

Flynn Sensei began the seminar by reminding us that he had rules. He explained that these were “the rules that I live by”, not just rules for training. So therefore the real Rule #1 didn’t apply and Rule #2 became Rule #1, except then a different rule became Rule #1 and Rule #2 remained Rule #2. The original Rule #1 continued as the actual Rule #1, while the other Rule #1 also stayed as Rule #1. (Are you keeping up? How many Rule #1s are there?) Rules #3 through #7 followed, but the numbers keep changing. Rule #11 was referenced but never stated. Many rules were left unnumbered.

At one point he turned and said “I hope someone is writing this down!” Being injured, I was just watching, so I thought perhaps it should be me. I grabbed an envelope off Alameda’s desk and scribbled them down. Here, I now share with you my notes and thoughts on the Flynn Sensei Rules for Life and Aikido. Perhaps someday someone from Thistle Aikikai will write a better list. And if they do, I would like to see it.

The actual Rule #1: The woman is always right. Do what your wife tells you.

Flynn Sensei explained that as his wife was 5,000 miles away, that this rule therefore didn’t apply to him for the weekend. But nevertheless, he did dwell on it a bit. One could write an opus on Rule #1. Such wisdom, yet so many variables. What if it is two women who are married? If wives disagree, which is right? Or what if the wife is wrong? If one is a wife, is there a burden to strive to be right? Is this rule really true? Nevertheless, it is probably really good advice for most of the men out there. I asked Flynn Sensei if he could explain Rule #1 to Fred, the love of my life. It would be so much easier if only Fred would embrace Rule #1. But Flynn Sensei said, “I only make the rules. I don’t enforce them. You have to do your own work.”

The other Rule #1, the real Rule #1: Don’t die. 

“You got to be alive at the end. You have to survive. Don’t die.” Kind of obvious, yet surprising how it is always the logic behind every part of our movement and surprising how often we violate it. All through the seminar Rule #1 kept coming up. Why do you do this, why do you do that – Rule #1 – don’t die!

A corollary to Rule #1 is… Don’t get hit. Being hit is a possible precursor to dying, so Rule #1 applies – don’t die. Also relates to Rule #2.

Rule #2: Life is tough, but it’s tougher when you’re stupid. 

“Don’t be stupid. Don’t die. Don’t make life hard.” This rule has become a saying around my house. For example, if you neglect to check your car’s oil, then you might burn up your engine. Rule #2 applies! By the time you have done this twice, then you have to take a look at yourself. Waiting to check the oil until the check oil light comes on definitely makes life tougher. Because you are stupid! Far be it from me to call a relative stupid, but Rule #2!

The other day I spoke to my students about the “hardness” of life. There are bills to pay, chores to do, jobs to go to, emergencies, conflicts, and it never stops. On top of all that you want to study aikido? My advice is, stay on top of things. Pay attention to details. Maintain your car. Keep everything around you clean and in good repair. Be organized. Be law abiding. Pay attention to your finances. Save money. Musashi said, “Pay attention to gain and loss in worldly affairs.” Don’t make mistakes that come back around to bite you. Be prepared, so that you can deal with problems as they arise. Life is hard enough, don’t make it harder. Because if your life derails itself, then you can’t do aikido! Disaster!

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Rule #3: Laugh to yourself, don’t make noise. LTYS. 

Thank you Flynn Sensei for giving me a way to get my students to be quiet! LTYS!

Rule #4: New rule! Don’t make shit up. 

Well, he meant as uke, but applies to nage too. Shu-Ha-Ri theory here. It’s hard enough to do what is presented without interjecting variables. Stay with Shu. Copy the teacher. Don’t know about Shu-Ha-Ri? Ask your teacher.

Rule #5: Don’t put your elbow in uke’s face too soon. 

He was referring to kokyuho. Very true and classic good form. The only thing is that I kind of like putting my elbow in uke’s face. Very Berkeley Aikikai. Great for self-defense and leads into headlocks. But one day while doing kokyuho with Varjan Sensei, she whispered in my ear, “Some people like having an elbow in their face, but I am not one of them.” Oops.

Rule #6: If you give uke the power they will never give it back. 

Definitely true for kaiten nage. Get your hand on their neck early and be heavy about it.

Rule #7: Anybody can kill anybody, but you got to look good doing it. 

This might be one of my favorite rules because it points to the relationship between form and function. To my way of thinking, it’s all about function. But in order for techniques to function effectively, they must be done with a form that is just so. If the little things aren’t just so, then the partner isn’t controlled, the technique falls apart, Rule #2 applies, and possibly you die (violating Rule #1). But if everything is just so, then you control the opponent and survive. It just so happens that when all the little things are in place, then aikido movement, to our eyes, becomes beautiful. If you strive to make your aikido beautiful, then it will also be functional. If you strive to make your aikido functional, it will become beautiful. Good posture is a big part of it.

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Flynn Sensei throwing his son, Mitsu Flynn. Photo courtesy of Suzanne Gonzales-Webb.

Unnumbered Rules:

You can’t stop it, you can only contain it.

Take your time, don’t rush. Pay attention. Let’s go.

Don’t stab yourself with the weapon. Relates to Rule #2.

You got to establish control.

He who hesitates is lost.

Load, unload.

To explain, you load a gun with ammunition and by firing it the gun it unloads itself. Lifting a sword is like loading, then cutting down is unloading. Flynn Sensei emphasized this over and over. But then somehow it got translated into French, charge and decharge, and became something that amused Flynn Sensei no end.

Katedori Aihanmi Ikkyo omote is go no sen. Ura is sen no sen.

Brilliant. Why did I never notice this before? (Go no sen is late timing. Nage reacts to uke’s attack. Sen no sen is mutual timing. Nage moves with uke. Sen sen no sen is early timing. These are deep concepts. Perhaps others can write more about this in future articles.)

The price of ______ is eternal vigilance and constant suspicion.

This one immediately caught my attention, but sadly, my dear friend Lizzy Lynn Sensei who was watching with me, chose to whisper in my ear, “That’s not the quote.” I whispered back, “What is the quote?” She replied, “The price of liberty is eternal vigilance.” My mind thought, Thomas Paine. But no. I googled it later and it seems no one really knows who said it. Not Thomas Jefferson, not Abe Lincoln, not Mark Twain, but probably John Philpot Curran, Irish orator, 1790, or Leonard H. Courtney, British politician, late 1800s.

The point is that I missed what it was that the price is of. I asked Flynn Sensei, “The price of what is constant vigilance?” He replied, “It’s eternal vigilance and constant suspicion” thus not answering the question. For some reason this bothered me and I actually watched the live streams from the seminar over again to catch it, feeling a little put upon that I was watching what I already experienced in real life. And to make it worse, I was able to confirm all the other rules, but could not find this one! So who knows? The price of safety? The price of security? None of my students can remember either. Having given it thought, I don’t think it was what he said but martial awareness would fill in the blank nicely. The price of martial awareness is eternal vigilance and constant suspicion. And it is very true. Very tiring. They say Musashi seldom slept for fear of attack.

Looking back on my career as an emergency room nurse, keeping the patients safe required eternal vigilance. It’s all about careful observation. A good ER nurse pays attention to noises. Every sound means something. And if you hear something strange – go toward it! Don’t wait. Go toward the danger. Irimi! And when it comes to child abuse, if you don’t suspect it, you won’t see it. Constant suspicion keeps kids safe. Eternal vigilance and constant suspicion. Good rules. Make it habit, then it’s not so tiring.

Long ago, in 1987, Flynn Sensei wrote an article for the newsletter of Aikido of Berkeley:

“The students actually are the dojo and collectively should provide the atmosphere of unity of effort toward training, camaraderie amongst each other, mutual support amongst each other. Sincerity and commitment become even more important. Make every effort to absorb what is being taught, remember it, practice it, and make it part of your life.”

Thank you Flynn Sensei for your teaching, for the rules, for your great laugh, for your dedication to aikido, and for loving your wife!

Here are links to the live streams of the seminar via Facebook.

https://m.facebook.com/story.php?story_fbid=10212257192038572&id=1041170109

https://m.facebook.com/story.php?story_fbid=10212256752907594&id=1041170109

https://m.facebook.com/story.php?story_fbid=10212251484535888&id=1041170109

https://m.facebook.com/story.php?story_fbid=10212250980483287&id=1041170109

https://m.facebook.com/story.php?story_fbid=10212249353602616&id=1041170109

https://m.facebook.com/story.php?story_fbid=10212248947592466&id=1041170109

https://m.facebook.com/story.php?story_fbid=10212248474140630&id=1041170109

https://m.facebook.com/story.php?story_fbid=10212244361437815&id=1041170109

An Aikido Experience of Friendship

Attendees of the Friendship Seminar

Attendees of the Friendship Seminar

Aikido Institute of San Francisco Friendship Seminar 2016
By Leo Baca Aikido Institue of San Francisco

The seminar spanned two warm days in San Francisco but students remained focused and training was vigorous.  Students and instructors were as diverse as the city itself – children and adults,  beginners and Yudansha, local and from afar.  

Training focused on movement, distance and space with instructors paying particular attention to the opening.  Diagana Sensei,  McSpadden Sensei and  Schenk Sensei all share a common lineage and it was evident in their instruction.  At times it felt as if you were being taught not by a single instructor, but by a team of instructors with each Sensei building off of the teachings of the other, and Nomura Shihan’s ever watchful eye ensuring that no details went unnoticed.  Emphasis was placed on the opening movement.  Once the opening was correct and the Uke unbalanced, we moved to the entry, taking the Uke’s center, controlling space and so on.  Students were reminded to recognize and utilize space, to move with the entire body and not waste movement.  Our small mat space was utilized to its fullest, yet did not seem crowded.  All three Sensei circulated and weaved through the dojo and trained with all Aikidoka.

Schenk Sensei displaying a solid suwariwaza foundation

Schenk Sensei displaying a solid suwariwaza foundation

The Seminar’s theme of friendship was appropriate as participants gathered from San Francisco, Sacramento, Seattle, Brooklyn and Singapore.  It serves as a reminder of why seminars are important.  Seminars bring people together to train and create or strengthen bonds.  When the day is done, we share a common respect and part ways knowing we will see each other again.

New Seminar; New experiences
by Iris, Grass Valley Aikikai, 11 years old

Uke: Iris of Grass Valley Aikikai. Nage: Scott McSpadden Sensei. Watching waza: Liam from Grass Valley Aikikai.

Uke: Iris of Grass Valley Aikikai. Nage: Scott McSpadden Sensei.
Watching waza: Liam from Grass Valley Aikikai.

When I left for this seminar, I had never been to San Francisco. I had never been to a seminar not hosted by my dojo, and I had never been to a body arts seminar. I was so excited; in fact, I was absolutely thrilled to be going. I was nervous about the new space and new people, but everyone was so kind and helpful that I immediately felt comfortable. I feel I learned many new things, and new ways to do techniques and new ways to view Aikido as a whole. I left with new openness to learning. I remember when we first spotted the Golden Gate Bridge rising through the mist, with the island prison of Alcatraz in front. It looked like something from a postcard or a fairytale. Afterwards we went for sushi and discussed what we had learned. The entire experience is one I will remember for a long time.

Friendship Seminar Experience
By Laim McCarthy, Grass Valley Aikikai

Liam at his home dojo

Liam at his home dojo

My name is Liam McCarthy, I am a 15 year-old student at Grass Valley Aikikai, and an attendee of the seminar hosted on September 17th, at Aikido Institute of San Francisco.
I thoroughly enjoyed this seminar. Everyone I trained with was friendly, patient, and knowledgeable. It was my third seminar, and only my second outside of my dojo. Although the space at first seemed small, the mat had plenty of space for all in attendance. The advice, tips, and help I got were extremely useful, especially when the technique was being demonstrated slightly differently than my dojo’s style. One thing I specifically liked a lot was the form in which one Nage was performing the technique and the other students in that group attacked as Ukes in a line. Although it put pressure on the Nage, as the line moved quickly, it allowed them to try many times over with all different heights, ages, and body types.
As for each of the three Sensei who taught classes, I thought all three were pleasant and patient, and I enjoyed each of their styles. Schenk Sensei demonstrated everything carefully and accurately, and explained all the techniques he taught very thoroughly. I enjoyed his class and my time spent trying to soak in every detail of what he demonstrated. I thought the same of Scott McSpadden Sensei; he seemed very focused, yet good-natured, and had no problem patiently showing things to you if you felt overwhelmed or misunderstood something. Lastly, Diagana Sensei taught his class, the third and final class of the day. I noticed a very strong presence and focus in his practice, and thought he was a great teacher. He was easy going, and spared time for any student who was confused (as did all the Sensei teaching a class).
Aside from the three Sensei who taught their own classes, the students of this dojo were extremely well-mannered and knowledgeable. Nobody seemed frustrated when I didn’t get something right; they had no problem with me taking all the time I needed to fix anything I was having trouble with; and they showed a great deal of patience with me whenever I had trouble. I tried my best to keep up with everyone with my ukemi, and each partner I had went as fast or as slow as they thought I could handle or needed. All in all, this was a fantastic experience for a seminar, and I really enjoyed myself.

Seminar Experience
by Wyatt, Grass Valley Aikikai, 10 years old

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Before we got there, I was nervous. But once we got there, my strength returned. It was fun learning all the different training styles of all the different dojos! I learned many new techniques too, like ryokatadori shihonage. My favorite part of the experience was learning the different teaching styles of the different Sensei.

Aikido with Old Friends
By Vince Chan Aikido Institue of San Francisco

Pleasure is defined as a feeling of happy satisfaction and enjoyment. Aikido is pleasurable as it involves centering the mind and body in the most intense way possible, with love, in the company of friends and other Aikidoka, striving to better not just ourselves, but the communities where we live by practicing the teachings of Aikido in our daily lives. It is always a pleasure to train with the trio of Schenk Sensei, Diagana Sensei and McSpadden Sensei as they all bring a joyful awareness to their otherwise sharp Aikido. Together, these three epitomize the freedom to play with techniques through the connection between partners. Words fail to frame the experience.

Diagana Sensei

Diagana Sensei

Like rough ashlar*, continuously being improved by practice and work, we can attain the smoothness of perfect geometry in our aikido by having a child’s mind: to absorb as much as we can from our teachers and Sempai. When I watch and listen to McSpadden Sensei, Diagana Sensei and Schenk Sensei, I can feel their happiness in their art. They all want to practice with love for each person on the mat, happy but sharp. With a child’s mind, they enter each encounter willing to learn but astutely aware of each movement. I was very happy to be a part of this seminar for the experience of seeing and feeling the openness of each technique presented by these teachers.

*finely dressed stone block work

Reflection on Aikido of Albuquerque’s Regional Seminar

By Hugh Fritz Aikido of Albuquerque

The seminar in Albuquerque, New Mexico, at the beginning of October, 2016 was the second seminar that I have attended. I am still new to the practice of Aikido, and deciding to attend classes was a test of nerves. I do not have the physical characteristics of a professional fighter, and am not the kind of person anyone would assume has an interest in Martial Arts. A major reason I have been willing to regularly train at the Aikido of Albuquerque dojo, is the welcoming atmosphere for students who are new to Aikido specifically, or fighting styles in general. This same concept carried over to the fall seminar, which made the event enjoyable.

Jyo Training

Jyo Training


Discovering the Junior Kenshusei programs at the Aikido of Albuquerque dojo provided me with a boost of confidence. Observing a broad range of ages and sizes among the students and attendees of seminars enforced the feeling further. I’ve heard that techniques that can be used against any opponent, but I never really believed it until I witnessed teens in high school or younger children performing ikkyo on an adult twice their size or larger. It is a hard truth that age slows everyone down, but people at seminars old enough to be my grandparents seem to be entirely capable of taking ukemi just as well as the younger attendants.
While the variety of people at the seminars was inspiring, I also found that it brought a sense of urgency. I’m aware that I won’t be able to keep up with someone who has been training for years, but at the same time practicing techniques with advanced students brought the desire to try to prove that I was making progress. Also, the days passed quickly and assigned techniques changed rapidly. Knowing that people at the seminar had traveled from out of town, and likely from out of state, created the urge to make the trip worth their while. The feeling caused me to move too quickly during training, which also made me sloppy. As the days went on the people seemed to realize that I was moving too fast for my own good and made it clear that they were willing to go slow when working with me. In addition to the attendant’s willingness to take their time training, the Sensei took a few moments intermittently throughout the day to review the basic concepts that were being emphasized to keep everyone on track throughout the seminar weekend.
Immersed in Tachi waza Te-waza during the fun.

Immersed in Tachi waza Te-waza during the fun.


Overall it was the welcoming environment that made the seminar enjoyable. The feeling in the dojo was not exactly relaxed; there was definitely a sense of seriousness and commitment to the training and conditioning and everyone was pushed physically. However, there was also the sense of respect and understanding for individuals without an intense background or years of experience. That balance resulted in a supportive learning environment and an overall worthwhile experience. If that same concept continues to other locations then I am entirely willing to attend another seminar.