2012 MN Spring Seminar with Shibata Kenichi Shihan

Shibata Kenichi Shihan trained under Morihiro Saito Shihan for over 25 years. His technique and presence on the mat reflects the deep understanding of aikido passed on from his master and the founder, Morihei Ueshiba before him.

Last year my wife Tyffany and I traveled up for  Minnesota Aiki Shuren Dojo's annual spring seminar for the first time. Afterwards we decided to make the trip every year. The training and instruction was world class, and we had a great time hanging out with the local crowd.

This year was no different, unfortunately Tyffany had to stay home and attend pastry school so I was on my own. Besides, I needed some extra training to work off all the pastries I've been eating at home...

Saturday we trained from 10 to Noon, broke for lunch, then continued from 2 to 5 in the afternoon under the instruction of Shibata Shihan as Mark Larson Sensei translated. We spent the first part of the day on basics: ikkyo and nikkyo, then we practiced kaeshi-waza (reversals), but don't tell anyone. Shibata Sensei reminded us several times that Saito Sensei always told his students not to show or teach kaeshi-waza. However, it is ok if you have a partner you can trust. Since we were a trusting bunch, Sensei demonstrated some basic kaeshi-waza techniques from ikkyo and irimi-nage and we practiced with our trusted partners.

Iwama style aikido cannot exist without weapons practice. After lunch we picked up with the seven ken suburi, then some awase practice for #5 and #7. Then we worked on the 31 jo suburi (without partner) and kumijo (with partners). We finished afternoon keiko with some open-hand techniques: shiho-nage and variations, then finished with ni-nin-dori shiho nage. I have to point out: doing safe ukemi from that technique can be rather challenging. Both ukes usually end up in a pile if nage does good technique.

Saturday night we gathered for a buffet-style banquet, and some open-mic stories before finishing the evening at a campus pub.

Sunday keiko was mostly bukiwaza (weapons). We practiced the first three kumitachi (bokken vs bokken with partner), three or four of the kumijo (jo vs jo with partner), then finished with the 31 jo suburi.

Shibata Shihan closed practice with some ushiro ryo-te-dori techniques and yokomen-uchi kotegaeshi.

Before heading out to the airport, I thanked Shibata Shihan for teaching and Larson Sensei for hosting and promised to bring more of the dojo for spring seminar 2013.


New Pickguard on the Casino

New black 5-ply pickguard
Just got the new pickguard from Chandler Guitars yesterday. Ran me $40 shipped for a black 5-ply guard. The old stock one was white 3-ply.


Two Great Aikido History Links

I caught the aikido history bug this week and did some research into two of Morihei Ueshiba's most influential teachers: Onisaburo Deguchi (Oomoto) and Takeda Soukaku (Daito Ryu Aikijujutsu).

If you have any interest in the origins of aikido and what O'Sensei was up to for much of his life, check out two great sources of info. In the first, a Jewish scholar studying in Japan wrote a condensed version/review of the book, The Great Onisaburo Deguchi.

Second, Stanley Pranin gives a 30 minute lecture on the history of Takeda Soukaku, the founder of Daito Ryu Aikijujutsu and teacher of O'Sensei. Pranin speculates that nearly 90% of modern aikido came from Soukaku's teaching. If you don't believe that, do a youtube search for daito ryu aikijujutsu and watch a few videos.


New Guitar Project: Epiphone Casino

Several months ago I started listening to Grant Green. This is something I should have done 20 years ago. Green plays brilliant jazz guitar with a beautiful bright tone. After a bit of research I found out his sound came from a Gibson ES300 which is a full hollow-body, thinline guitar equipped with a pair of P90 pickups.

Since I started playing guitar back in the 90s I've been torn between the single-coil sound of a Fender Stratocaster (SRV, Buddy Guy, Robert Cray, etc...) and the meaty overdriven humbucker "PAF"s used by Duane Allman and Dickey Betts of the Allman Brothers. The P90 sits between the two in its sound profile. They can be thicker and meaty, more like a humbucker, or made to sound closer to a single strat pickup.

The ES300 with its hollow-body goodness and P90s carries a sticker-shock inducing price tag of at least $2500. Then I looked at the Epiphones. In 1957, Gibson's parent company bought Epiphone and began to produce guitars modeled after Gibson originals. The first of which was the Casino which was based on the ES300. Production of the Casinos and other Epiphone models moved to Asia in the 70's, starting with Japan, then Korea and now most are made in China.

I found a 2008 Chinese-made model complete with case on e-bay for about $550, so I snatched it up and have been pleasantly surprised with the craftsmanship and solidness of the instrument. Not having a vintage instrument opens up the possibilities. I can modify my Chinese-made Casino and not care one bit about the original setup or parts. Everything is an upgrade. The wooden guitar itself, the tuners and fretboard are all excellent. Where the Chinese models fall short is the electronics.

First mod: I ordered a new wiring harness which includes all the controls, plug and pickup switch. I'm hoping to get that installed soon. The pickups sound fine for now, but I may eventually order a set from Loller. For now, I plan on spraying some appliance epoxy paint on the factory pickup covers to give them the classic ES300 look. Even though the original Casinos and even some ES300s came with chrome covers, I much prefer the look of the black.

To complete the wiring harness upgrade, I ordered a set of black knobs to replace the gold set that came with the guitar, as well as an amber-colored switch cover (see pic 2  below).

Later I'll order a black pickguard (see pic) to replace the stock white which I have removed in the meantime.

Pic 1, Original Epiphone Casino - Factory Setup
Pic 2, Gibson ES300 - where I'm headed with the mods

New Amp: Part 2 - Let the Modding Begin...

New tubes: 12AX7/ECC83 (preamp) and EL84 (power)

This week I replaced the stock Bugera tubes with a pair from JJ-Electronics. I picked up the EL84 (power) and 12AX7 (preamp) from amazon for $25 shipped.

Tubes installed

The new tubes brought some much needed brightness to the V5 and seem to break up better than the stock set. Unfortunately I'm getting a buzz from the EL84 at certain frequencies (specifically around D above mid-C). I plan to remedy this with a small spring placed in the tube cage under the valve which will add some upward pressure to keep it more secure and rattle-free. My old Super Reverb had spring-loaded casings over most of the tubes so I'm borrowing the idea.

New speaker installed

Next mod: a new Jensen C8R 8" speaker. I'll get a Fender sound out of this thing yet. The new speaker should bring gobs of brightness to the sound which is still too dark and muddy for my tastes.


New Amp: Bugera V5

Ever since I sold my 1966 Fender Super Reverb amp in 2002 (ish?) I wondered when the itch to play electric would sneak up again. That happened earlier this year and prompted the purchase of a Chinese-made Epiphone Casino and something to play it through (see above). I bought the non-vintage Casino so I could hot-rod it and turn it into something resembling a 60s era Gibson ES 330. I didn't just get a 330 because they typically run for $2500+.

Back to the amp. The V5 is a tube amp that can play nice at a wide range of volumes. My old Super Reverb would start to break up (a good thing) at about 7-8 volume. At those decibel levels, my upstairs neighbors would have been calling the police on a daily basis. With the Bugera I can turn down the wattage to 0.1, drive the EL84 power tube, and play away without putting any new cracks in the walls. And if I need to, I can get plenty of volume out of the full 5 watts.

The tubes sound great, especially paired with the P90 pickups on the Casino. I'm still playing around with levels and getting the best sounding clean tones as well as crunchy. With the gain at 5, the amp sings nice and clean. Push the gain to 8 overdriving the preamp tube, and it starts to produce some good fuzz even at low volumes: perfect for a practice amp in a condo.

There is a headphone jack on the back - I haven't seen many amps with this feature and it's a nice touch. The reverb is digital but does the job; I keep it about 4. The only downside to this combo is a lack of brightness (Fender amps jump up and smack you in the face with brightness!). I've been reading that an inexpensive tube replacement can help so that's an option for the future.

After about a 14 year break from playing much of anything, I'm enjoying getting back into it. And now i'm having a blast being plugged in again.


2011 Minnesota Spring Seminar

Aikido on the 15th Yard Line

In early April, 2011 my wife and fellow aikido practitioner, Tyffany and I joined the Minnesota Aiki Shuren Dojo for their annual spring seminar held at Saint John's University near St. Cloud. Because of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan in March, Kenichi Shibata Shihan was unable to instruct for the weekend as planned. Shibata Shihan's hometown and dojo, located in Shiogama were severely damaged. Fortunately Shibata and his family are all safe and well.

Mark Larson Sensei trained with Shibata under Morihiro Saito Shihan for close to ten years in the Iwama dojo as kohai (junior student). Though having Shibata Shihan would have been a special treat, Larson Sensei put on an informative and dynamic seminar doing his best to stay true to the teachings of the founder and Saito Shihan. He told us the first day that all proceeds from the seminar would go to help Shibata Shihan and Shiogama. Special relief t-shirts were printed with "Aikido" kanji written by Morihiro Saito Shihan, under which were the names "Minnesota" and "Shiogama" indicating the partnership in aikido between the two locations and students of Saito Shihan.

Students traveled to Minnesota from as far as Denmark for the weekend of training. Larson Sensei started off Saturday with some taijutsu (open handed): kata-dori attacks and nikkyo variations. After lunch, the weather was nice enough (rare for spring in Minnesota) to practice kenjutsu (wooden sword) outside on the astroturf football field (I was hanging around the 15th yard line) and work on our suntans. Since no aikido seminar would be complete without a banquet/party/sake-fest, we joined the other attendants on campus for  great food and company Saturday night.

Sunday we practiced jo-suburi combinations, followed by some taijutsu and closing. Thanks to Larson Sensei and the Minnesota Aiki Shuren Dojo crew for putting on a great weekend and we hope to make the trip next year.

2011 Spring Seminar Photo Gallery
Mark Larson Sensei and Shibata Shihan in 2008
Larson Sensei, Tyffany and me

Charles Bland, Kiryu Aikido


From One Crazy Keyboard to Another

Colemak Keyboard

I'm moving (slowly) from Dvorak to the Colemak keyboard layout. Colemak has more keys in common with QWERTY and is still an efficient layout for faster typing. Also, typing this took a long time (but I'm getting faster!).



Outside my ninth floor office window several beeping vehicles erect the new Colorado History Museum. Sometimes I hear one backup beep. Then another might join in for a dissonant symphony of musical pain. A new-age jazz combo of electronic discomfort.

To make myself feel better about my auditory irritation, I'm making a list of possible sounds outside that could outdo the daily construction concert.

  • several smoke alarms with low batteries
  • thumping bass from a hundred teenagers cruising circles around the building
  • a parking lot full of unique car alarms
  • or the same alarm on all cars but slightly out of sync


PS3 Slim Upgrade Pains

Sony took a step backwards with the slim and its hard drive upgrade process. With the "fat" PS3, replacing a hard drive was as easy as installing the drive, booting the system and letting it do its thing. Now we have to download an update file from the playstation website, place it on a USB drive formatted to FAT 32 in just the right file structure (drive -> PS3 -> UPDATE -> UPDATE FILE). If these steps are not followed exactly, the file won't be recognized. Or in my case, the file won't be recognized anyway.

I've tried creating the USB drive in linux which did not work, so now I'll try booting into Windows and going that route. I miss the old days of PS3 upgrades.

UPDATE: Apparently Ubuntu cannot make a FAT32 file structure worthy of the PS3 slim. Creating the drive in Windows worked.