Internals: Introduction: The Story Thus Far


I’ve never did fight much as a kid. I stayed away from the regular boyhood rough-and-tumble, and was too big to get bullied. Instead, I ran around the woods with my friends swinging sticks around and playing and sword fighting. The martial arts have never been about self-defense for me.

I wrestled in high school until I tore up a shoulder, then dabbled in judo, fencing, and taiji, before joining a modern-wushu school in college. I wasn’t very good at wushu–large awkward white men are not meant to fly–but it was fun and I had a passionate teacher. His school closed down a few years later; looking for a similar style, I ended up at a commercial kung-fu school. I enjoyed the workouts, but there was little depth. I became very frustrated that the teacher was more focused on running a business that training martial artists.

When I moved to San Francisco, I determined to find the right teacher rather than the right style. I knew nothing about Japanese arts, but Yachigusa-Ryu was completely uncommercial with a teacher, Gary Moro (see the masthead) who tolerated no B.S. And Gary had a little bit of magic.

That magic is aiki. The magic is being manipulated and thrown in ways that do not seem possible–until you find yourself on the floor.

Over the years, none of us students found that magic for ourselves. We could do the occasional aiki technique in slow motion (with a patient partner), but we never “got it.” We knew what we were missing–receiving it from Gary day-to-day, and feeling higher-level aiki at the occasional seminar–but it remained missing.

I never could figure out whether we were not being trained the right way–we certainly were not being trained the old-school way Gary had been–or whether aiki cannot be taught. It might be that, as the saying goes, one needs to “steal” the art for themselves.

As a beginner, I focused on sword training and basic jujutsu for a number of years and did not worry too much about aiki. I spent countless hours practicing drills: swinging a bokken and crawling around the mat on my knees. I also practiced kyudo (Japanese archery) on the side, bringing the patience and posture of that into my sword-work.

As time went on, I became increasingly frustrated that I still could not grasp aiki. I was missing a fundamental part of our art, and felt like my practice was going nowhere. I showed up, and trained as much as ever, but I felt stuck.

Then, I was hit by car while bicycling. I shattered my left navicular bone–the keystone of the foot’s arch. I was on crutches for five months and still, almost four years later, every step is painful.


I took two years completely off from training after the accident. Then I came back very slowly and gingerly, showing up once a week and not participating in much of the class. I only practiced very soft techniques in slow motion. Oddly, those techniques were working much better than before the accident.

I’ve heard it said many times that being injured can make you better, because you cannot use strength as a crutch (so to speak). It was really true; the weaker I acted, the better I was. I would repeat to myself as a mantra “I am a weak old man” before each technique, and it worked wonders.

One day, when working on staff (jo) disarms, I idly decided to “move like taiji” and see what happened. My opponent then crumpled up like a tin-foil ball when I grabbed his staff. It was an amazing feeling, and I had absolutely no idea what I had done.

I spent the next few months at class trying to recreate that feeling, without trying to analyze it or break it down. I was chasing a ghost, and was afraid that if I looked straight at it, it would fade out of sight. Over time, I was able to recreate that feeling in a number of different techniques. Often I could get a good kuzushi (unbalancing) on initial contact, but I was rarely able to finish a throw.


When I did try to understand what I had been doing, I did not have much knowledge to work with: scattered bits of martial lore about “connection” and “grounding” and some leads from reading arguments on AikiWeb forums. There were books to tell me what I was missing (e.g. Hidden in Plain Sight and Transparent Power) but little to explain what I was finding.

I could only get so far with the partial and contradictory information I found. But many sources agreed that solo training was key to developing internals, and some suggested practicing cuts with a weighted training sword. I might have had no clue about internals, but I did understand sword drills.

So, I started a daily practice of swinging a five-pound sword a thousand times. I tried to do it slowly and with the same sort of “feeling” I’d been working on in class. After a few weeks, I started to develop a sense of “connection” from this. I was able to take the feeling I got from the solo practice and bring it back to being more connected in my jujutsu.

I felt a sense of connection from my rear foot, across my back, to my hands so that the sword felt pushed from the ground. While I did not understand the connection, I could observe how it would break if I moved my joints out of line, allowing me to get a feel for what the right alignment was. I studied the anatomy of bones and joints to see what I was doing, and developed some understanding of how a push could be balanced across joints without tension in the muscles (e.g. sinking the shoulder down and forward allows force to transmit along the collarbone to the sternum).

This bone-alignment model was helpful, but left me completely unable to connect across the soft tissue of my center. I had found a bunch of pieces of the puzzle, but had no idea how to put them together.


The thousand-swing regime was abruptly ended last fall after I went to a seminar with Dan Harden. He taught a theoretical framework of how internals are approached and a few basic exercises to develop connections. Following these ideas, I started focusing on doing simple qigong-like exercises to find and develop connections.

The content of that seminar gave me new perspectives to understand what I had been working on–some of them anatomical, and some esoteric. While most of the ideas flew over my head (and I didn’t learn any of the exercises correctly) enough stuck that I could move forward my knowledge on my own.

The most concrete idea I took away was that muscles can serially pull on each other to create integrated head-to-toe lines of pull. I devoured a Western alternative-medicine book, “Anatomy Trains,” that expounded on this idea and ran with it. While taoism-derived esoteric stuff was unintelligible to me, anatomy was something I could understand.

I became obsessed with trying to feel what sequences of muscles I was firing when I did “connected movement,” switching back and forth between studying anatomy to get new ideas and then feeling where my muscles were tensing as my body moved in certain ways. I would then try my ideas out in class, getting a reality check by seeing what worked to push and throw, and what did not.

This work was vary empirical; I had no overarching theory but I found a number of pathways by trial-and-error that I could control by creating specific types of tension in my abdomen. The feeling of being able to truly move from center was profound. What I was doing was very different from standard internal training, but I was feeling something special and kept following that feeling.


At the beginning of this Summer, I once again threw out all my notes and started fresh after going to a follow-up seminar. The second time around, I was better prepared to understand the lessons. It quickly became clear just how how far off the beaten path I had wandered. My training had not necessarily been wrong, but it very much had a different focus. So, after the seminar I started with basic drills again, trying to feel connection and alignment.

At the same time, another alternative-anatomy book, Luigi Stecco’s “Facial Manipulation”, opened my eyes to a number of new ideas on body mechanics.

Putting all these pieces together, I felt how to break movement down into simple components and then link those together into circular sequences. I just worked simple drills to feel and burn in these movements.

I then finally started digging into esoteric Taoist/qigong/neigong practices, once I could see how my training was connected to some of their ideas. I never expected that I would start doing qigong, given its flaky reputation. While I did want to seek qi (aka, chi or ki), it seems that it found me.

And here I will leave it, to go train some more.

Internals: Prologue and Disclaimer

For the past year and a half or so, I’ve been working on “internal” training, the esoteric–and often flaky edge–of martial arts. An accident had left me unable to train “hard,” so I started to experiment with ways to train “soft.” But, rather than merely compensating for weakness I found strength I never knew I had.

As I continue to explore internals, I want to start writing about what I have been finding. I feel that there has been very, very little accessible and concrete information published: older texts are impenetrable to the uninitiated while most modern writings are vague and full of magical thinking. Of what there is, I have seen nothing–absolutely nothing–that approaches internals the way I do.

To be clear, I am not an expert. I am a journeyman martial artist from an obscure school in a garage. I’ve been doing Asian martial arts for 17 years or so, but I have not received any explicit training in internals, except two seminars with Dan Harden (these have been invaluable; I would be groping in the dark without them, but they were only an introduction). I have also come to realize that our style contains a large amount of implicit internal training in our drills (see Training via Osmosis). But in the end, building on a foundation of training and ideas, I am figuring this all out for myself.

In short, I am nobody.

The funny thing is, that there is a tremendous freedom in being nobody. I have no face to lose and I can contradict myself as my ideas change. I can be wrong without harming guru-seeking followers. And I guarantee that I will be wrong about a lot of things. I only hope that when I publish them, somebody will tell me why I am wrong.

Nonetheless, and despite the disclaimers, I have felt something real and powerful. I have dropped everything to follow that feeling and let it lead my training. My practice had felt stagnant for years, but now when I can get things to flow right, I have aiki at a level I never thought I could reach. These moments are fleeting, and the techniques I can do are limited, but I know that this path leads somewhere extraordinary.

Longhu Hall in Zixaiao Gong, the largest temple on Wudang Shan (a.k.a. Wu-Tang Mountain). The Taoist monasteries of Wudang Shan are traditionally held to be the source of all internal martial arts.

Life in the new web

We’ve all been pretty inwardly focused for the past few years, but as good San Franciscans, we’re moving past our luddite tendencies and slowly moving forward with technology.

I’ve finally abandoned Blogger in favor of WordPress, in hopes that easier maintenance will mean more posting.  Personally, I’ve got quite a lot I’d like to write about if I can find the focus and time to do so.

Our main website,, is still all “old fashioned” bespoke HTML that I maintain (and was recently down for a month on account of old fashioned server problems). The San Francisco dojo now has its own website at

There are a couple different pages on Facebook:  We have a “group” for San Francisco Aikijutsu, a “place” for the San Francisco dojo,  and a “page” for the school as an organization.

I’ve been trying to get Glen to take up Twitter and Gary to take up Pinterest, but given that I won’t touch either myself, I’m not very convincing.

Don’t expect an iPhone app any time soon.

Fiddler Crab

As an add-on to to Gary’s recent post about his bear mon, a few words about a design I made for myself.

A bear is the right totem for Gary on many levels, and has been all his life. But I had to think long and hard to discover which motif was me. Yet, in the end it was obvious that the fiddler crab is the only choice. This is not because crabs are a traditional motif in Japanese art and mon design, representing what I wish to say about myself. It is because my left hand is much larger than my right hand.

I don’t actually have any need for a mon, but I thought it might be useful to have a crab logo to use as an icon on websites or anywhere that asks for a photo. And I do like the style of simple black-on-white or white-on-black silhouette design. So at one point when I had too much time on my hands I ginned something up. I’m claiming it’s not a mon because I put it in a square instead of a circle.

While I have no talent for drawing, I was able to put this together using GIMP (a program similar to Photoshop). I started with an actual photo of a fiddler crab, then rotated and manipulated it until it looked vaguely like what I wanted. Then I carefully traced parts of the photo and saved those traces as their own images. I then took the the left half of the crab’s body, mirrored it to get a symmetric crab, then stuck the big claw back on top. I couldn’t figure out how to include the little claw in a satisfactory way until an artistic friend of mine suggested drawing it in using negative space. This adds depth to the drawing while consciously breaking with any traditional artistic style.

I’m really happy with the result, and it has worked well as an icon for me. I highly recommend this technique of tracing within photo editing software if you want to create a mon-like silhouette and don’t have a real artist to draw for you.

School Info Update

As previously mentioned, Glen Hunt is now the San Francisco Dojo-Cho, and Gary Moro is teaching classes in Antioch, CA.

We’ve updated our contact information to reflect this:

For information about Yachigusa Aiki Bugei in general or classes in Antioch, California contact Gary Moro at 925-206-4079 or at

For information about classes in San Francisco contact Glen Hunt at 415-401-5901 or at

Information about Yachigusa Ryu Aiki Bugei can also be located on Facebook.

Practice with the Spirit of a Child

The other afternoon, while we are in the neighborhood, I took my 2 1/2 year old son to visit the dojo and burn some energy off. I didn’t think it would be that exciting for him until I tried to explain the place to him in terms he’d understand.

“This is a special school where we learn to roll on the ground, and, uh, push each other over, and hit things with sticks.”

Sounds pretty good to a toddler, when you put it like that. He spent the next half hour alternately squirming around on the mats, trying to knock me over from where I was sitting, and running in circles while hitting the floor with a rattan stick.

I’m not sure what this says about grown-ups doing martial arts, but at least I can bond over our shared enjoyment of whacking things with sticks.


It’s been a long three years since we’ve been posting to the blog regularly.    In that time, I’ve started two new jobs, had my first son (with another now on the way), and shattered the navicular bone in my foot after being hit by a car.

I took a full two years off from martial arts after the accident. This was partly because of pain and slow healing, and partly because I was busy enough that I didn’t find the motivation to push through the pain. I’ve finally started practicing once a week this Winter, and it has felt good. Whether through injury, introspection, or age, I’ve become much softer and my techniques have changed.

In the meantime, Glen has been teaching well and the dojo has remained a good community. While the blog has been frozen out, one of our students, Grover has been maintaining a Facebook Group. I know that Gary has still been writing in the meantime, and I’ll start getting some more of his content up in the next while.