New Schedule and Location for 2016

Mondays, Tuesdays, & Thursdays from 8-9PM at Rejoice Dance Studio, 1418 Delaware Avenue, McComb MS.

The effects of aiki porn

There is, of course, an objective skillset underlying aikido and judo, but each practitioner seems to also have a subjective aesthetic ideal of what the art is supposed to look and feel like.  Perhaps this is (some of) the difference between do and jutsu.
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We inherit a lot of our aesthetic ideal from our instructors, but we probably also get a bunch of it from movies and youtube.  How many mid-1990's aikido guys out there can honestly say that they didn't get a kick out of seeing the beginning of this movie (and the rest of Seagal's shenanigans)? Depending on how it jived with the aikido you were being taught, it probably either made you want to do aikido that looked like that - or even if you hated what you saw in Seagal, I bet it took a long time to really, honestly get over thinking that this was what real aikido was supposed to look like.


And how about judo guys?  I bet nearly all of us love to circulate things like this on Facebook...


...which is cool and ok, until someone gets the idea that this is what all "good judo" looks like.
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The problem with this sort of media depiction of our arts is the same problem with porn - it can fool you into thinking that is the way real people are supposed to look and act.  It can deform your ideas about reality, which can then deform your practice, your teachings, and even your interactions in the real world.
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Personally, I was exposed to a lot of teachings in both aikido and judo coming up through the ranks, that I've begun to wonder about in the last couple of years.  There are a lot of teachings that I have a hard time telling if they are someone's aesthetic or if they are necessarily functional principle.  I have a hard time separating practitioners' aesthetic ideals from teachers' heuristic rules of thumb from champion's ideas of best practices.
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Things like unbendable arm in aikido - I've seen folks do really cool aikido with or without that piece.
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Things that we take for granted, like "get your center lower than uke's to do a shoulder throw" - I've also seen tall people able to do good seoinage and koshinage without bending their knees at all.
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Things like whether gripfighting is an essential skill or a time-waster.
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Even things like the idea that kuzushi or atemi must come before any technique for it to work properly.
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The list goes on and on.


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____________________
Patrick Parker
www.mokurendojo.com

What's jo got to do with it?


Today we had our first Aikido Renaissance Playday of the year, and I went into it thinking along the lines of playing with aiki-jo material and trying to figure out what sticks and swords have to do with our aikido anyway.  What is so 'aiki' about aiki-jo?

We worked on the first four of Tomiki's Jo-no-tsukai, A.K.A jo-nage in some aikido lineages.
  • migi sumiotoshi
  • hidari sumiotoshi
  • tekubikime
  • maeotoshi
As we worked on these techniques, I was paying attention to the hints and instructions that I was giving people.  I was particularly looking for times when I was telling stick-weilding aikidoka the same things I'm always telling the empty-handed aikidoka.  Today's major themes ended up being -
  • Push straight down the length of the jo instead of pushing sideways (as if trying to bend the jo).  You'll bestronger, more controlleed, and less likely to slip and bust someone's teeth.
  •  If you get to a place where you can feel uke's strength, then you are in the wrong place - move somewhere that he's not as strong.
  • If you want uke to move away from a strong position, you can't hold him there.  Often you have to relax and give up your own territory in order to get uke to shift to different ground.
Do those sound familiar?  Anyone recognize those situations or phenomena from aikido or judo?

Then we worked on three of Tomiki's jo-dori
  • shomenate
  • gyakugamaeate
  • maeotoshi
Here we wound up repeating one major theme a lot -
  • If you allow uke to choose his own ground, you'll end up in a strength battle.  Walk away and tear his root out of the ground, and then do your technique.
Finally, we worked on the first two of the Seitei-jo techniques -
  • tsukezue
  • suigetsu

Here our emphasis was on honte and honteuchi and hikiotoshi.  I've said before that hikiotoshi has been the bane of my existence, but I have to admit today it was almost fun to work on ;-)  It was working very nicely.



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Patrick Parker
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Ukigatame ends throws and begins groundwork

We almost never allow students to do newaza (ground grappling) and tachiwaza (stand-up throwing) practice at the same time on the same mat.  This is especially important in a small practice space because when you have mixed classes the newaza folks end up tripping the tachiwaza guys and the tachiwaza guys end up throwing and falling on top of the newaza guys.  This guideline is necessary for safety, but it creates some issues that we have to keep in mind so we don't develop problems with our judo.
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One major issue involves control.  We would like to throw, or take-down directly into a controlling position (remember we're supposed to be all about control).  But controlling a downed opponent often involves getting down in the mud with him, which we just said we didn't want to do in practice for safety reasons.
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So, how do we minimize problems from this issue of not having standing and newaza practice on the same mat?  Set a couple of near-universal practice guidelines:
  • All throws/take-downs end in ukigatame - In our class, I always teach that all throws where it is feasable end in ukigatame (knee-on-belly).  Ukigatame is the controlling position that almost all throws end in.  We began working on that last night by having tori throw and make sure that when uke landed, tori had at least one knee and two hands touching uke's body.
  • All newaza practice begins in ukigatame - Ukigatame is also where we begin all of our newaza practices.  So, if we are going to be practicing groundwork, one partner or the other starts on bottom with the other guy's knee on him.
MAKE SURE YOU DON'T POUNCE OR LAND ON UKE'S RIBS WITH YOUR KNEE IN PRACTICE - that is uncontrolled and dangerous and nobody will like you anymore if you do.



This is also a good practice guideline because of the often-cited rule of thumb that in self-defense situations, you'd rather stay off the ground if at all possible.  So, by training to throw/take-down into ukigatame, there is a pause where tori might be able to maintain control without going to the ground, but by training all of our newaza starting in ukigatame, if tori does get dragged down, it will be a familiar and smooth transition.
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Try to make ukigatame (knee-on-belly) your universal transition between tachiwaza (stand-up) and newaza (ground grappling) and I think you'll have good success with your judo practice.



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Patrick Parker
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To develop and demonstrate control

A lot of times in our classes, we get hung up on throwing people down - as if that were our goal.  It isn't.  We are not out to topple and smash - our real goal is to develop and demonstrate control

  • We want to develop such exquisite control of our own bodies, our strength and mobility and balance, that no opponent can take that control away from us.
  • We want to be able to control our own minds and egos so that our personalities do not become disbalanced.
  • We want to be able to extend that mind-and-body self-control into the rest of the world - to be able to exert some control over situations and people that have become uncontrolled.



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____________________
Patrick Parker
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Deashibarai & gyakugamaeate - perfect first day lessons

Why is deashibarai the first technique of the gokyo?  I have wondered this for a long time, and (in my spare time) sought an answer.  I've come up with a couple of possible answers.

  • The timing and footwork and mechanics of deashibarai teaches the timing and footwork and mechanics skills for all the rest of the throws.
  • Deashibarai is easy to teach beginners to throw in a controlled manner so that the thrower can act as a spotter for first-day fallers with highly imperfect ukemi skills.  I demonstrated just last night that with five minutes of sit-and-rock and controlled backfall instruction and 5 minutes of technical instruction on deashi, first day beginners can practice throwing and receiving deashibarai in a mutually beneficial manner.  These same beginners spent about 20 minutes during their very first class doing real randori with deashi.  Win!

For a long time - basically forever - we've heard and taught that shomenate is the first thing we teach in Tomiki aikido because it is a good backup plan whenever the other techniques go wrong, and that the mechanics of shomenate teach the mechanics of the rest of Junana.  I'm not sure, though, that is the whole story.
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What if we look in larger, broader chunks?  We're not really teaching (just) shomenate first.  We are teaching atemiwaza (what the rest of the aikido world calls iriminage) first - and that is a great first lesson that handles a ton of problems.  Basically it is a programmed response that says, "Any time an attacker gets inside ma-ai, get slightly off line, grab his face however you can, and throw yourself on top of him."
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Shomenate is one of several forms of atemiwaza/iriminage that we teach first, but gyakugamae-ate has some benefits for first-day practice that suggest we might save shomenate for a bit later.

  • Gyakugamae-ate places us in the much-preferable shikaku (behind the arm) position, which we would like to teach early for self-defense reasons.
  • Gyakugamae-ate allows the first-day thrower to help the first-day faller to the ground in a controlled manner to a much greater degree than shomenate.  Shomenate is more of a smash-your-way-out-of-a-bad-situation backup technique.

Guess what we're going to be working on tonight at aikido class and Thursday at judo class?




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____________________
Patrick Parker
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Tech distorts our sense of time

I've been assured by all the Baby-Boomer curmudgeons out there that too much access to smartphones and Facebook and Internet and television and computer games would make me stupid.  I'm sure that is how I sound when I tell my kids that it is the God-given absolute gospel truth that McDonalds and Burger King do not actually sell food, but rather disgusting plastic food-like toxic simulacra.  Fortunately for them, I have repeated that enough that I think they've begun to believe it.  Fortunately (maybe) for me, I've heard the curmudgeons rant about smartphones making us into idiots long enough that I've started to believe it.
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So how is it that tech makes us stupid?  What specific forms does that idiocy take?
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One form of this self-induced retardation that I have noticed is that tech screws up our sense of time, and of normal (human-paced) rhythms.  
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I suppose it is because we can have instantaneous gratification of virtually any intellectual whim.  Don't know the definition of "proclivity?" Say, "OK, Google, Define proclivity" and it'll pop up in a second or two.  Need to know what is 284 times $0.87? Type or speak it into Google and presto blam-o!.  Want something new to read?  No need to drive to the bookstore and wade through all the dead trees.  Open up your Kindle and it'll tell you the next dozen books you should read and you can buy one and have it delivered wirelessly in a few seconds.  Don't like what's on TV?  Flip to one of the other 300 channels.  Missing your buddy on the other side of the country (or ocean) Skype or text them.  Everything is instantaneous.
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It's really cool and convenient - until it isnt.
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What about when I set out to walk the dog and I set myself a goal of walking a mile (12 blocks), and not even halfway through I start speeding up and wondering if I'd counted wrong because this is a never-ending walk.
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What about writing productivity?  My Dear Constant Readers can attest to the fact that I used to be far more prolific on this blog.  There were several years where I churned out more than an article per day, all of them pretty good (for me).  Sometimes I'd go on vacation and miss a few days so I could sit down for an hour and churn out six or eight 500-1000 word articles and schedule them for posting.  Now, more often than not, I pop up a blank blog screen and stare at it thinking, "I don't have time for this!"
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How about push-ups?  Usher made us do 20 pushups at the beginning of every class we ever went to.  I did sets of 20 pushups several times per week for years.  I despised them (that's another story) but I can still churn out 20 push-ups in a few seconds.  But after about seven, every one seems to take forever!  I have time between each pushup to think up 2-3 excuses why I should stop.  What the hell!? Why can't I even do 15 seconds of exercise without my brain rebelling?
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I used to think nothing of driving 3 hours to Starkville or 5 hours to Jackson TN or even 13 hours to OKC, and now a 45 minute trip to Hammond takes a lifetime!
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I suspect the only reason I am still even remotely functional is because of my frequent weekend camping and hiking treks to places with no reception.




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____________________
Patrick Parker
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Performance Measures

In preparing for the start of a new class tomorrow, I ran across this set of performance measures that we have used in the past to judge the viability and righteousness of what we are doing in our classes.  These ideas date back to our college club.  I suspect Michael Denton and Dale Thompson had a hand in drafting these - maybe with the help of John Kirby.
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What do you think of these as a self-assessment of our classes that we are participating in?
Performance Measures
How do we know if we are on the right track with our practice? Ask yourself the following questions periodically.
  • Is each individual student progressing?
  • Can you see a distinct difference between students of different ranks?
  • Are we all “going forward together?”
  • Is there a spirit of “mutual benefit?
  • Are we working toward “Maximum efficiency with Minimum Effort?”
  • Do we keep a wide variety of people in the club?
  • Are members staying for extended periods of training (years)?
  • Is everyone learning in a fun, comfortable, safe environment?
  • Are club members sustaining avoidable injuries?
  • Is it believable that a smaller, well-trained practitioner can be effective against a larger opponent?
  • Are black belt students given progressively more teaching responsibility?
  • Are black belt students given progressively more freedom to explore and adapt the art for themselves?
  • Do the black belts generally understand and agree on how we are teaching what we are teaching?


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____________________
Patrick Parker
www.mokurendojo.com

Defending the self, but against what?


Historically, I haven't had many students express interest in competing in judo or Tomiki aikido competitions.  I've tried to carefully remain neutral and offer students the opportunity to do the tournament thing, but most of them seemed more interested in self-defense or self-development - what my teacher called "recreational judo players."
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So, for years I've billed my classes as primarily self-defense related.  But then the question arises, "What are we training to defend against?"  Some martial artists might claim to prepare you to beat up violent criminals or terrorists or the like, but I personally think that we are training to defeat different kinds of enemies.
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Self-defense against what?
  • Probably our greatest self-defense enemies are obesity, inflexibility, and sedentary lifestyle. With 1.5 million heart attacks and 800k cardiac deaths per year in USA, we owe it to ourselves to include at least some component of fitness in our classes.
  • Slips, trips, and falls disable far more people than violent attacks.  One statistic I saw said that there are over half a million falls requiring hospital care per year in the U.S.  For a long time I've told my students that ukemi (safe, reflexive falling skill) is the best self-defense we teach - plus the general fitness training I mentioned above will also help with slips, trips, and falls.
  • Stress, depression, anxiety, and fear affect 1 out of 10 Americans at some point in their lives, and 80% of those don't receive treatment.  Any exercise can provide an outlet for stress and depression, reducing anxiety and fearfulness, but martial arts seem to provide those benefits while improving people's general feeling of efficacy or capability (I think the psych geeks call that something like locus of control).  
  • How about learning to defend yourself against your own stupidity, which can, in the heat of the moment, cause you to run afoul of the U.S. legal system.  A little bit of self-control and discipline goes a long way toward keeping you out of jail when your precious ego becomes inflamed.
Oh yeah, and maybe we can do a little bit of beating up violent attackers and terrorists and dragons and windmills and giant alien robots and that sort of thing in our spare time, when we're not focusing on our real enemies.













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Patrick Parker
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Gracie University and distance learning


There's a lot of folks that talk a lot of smack about Rener's Gracie University distance learning program, but it looks to me to be a good program, and this video is a good demonstration of that fact.  I enjoyed this narrated roll very much - especially watching how a distance student handled live rolling.  Rener was, admittedly, keeping it playful, but this guy is definitely speaking the language and able to flow and roll.  He's on the right track.  Kudos to this guy, and to Rener et al for designing a good distance learning program.






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Patrick Parker
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Can, should, and must

Here's a photo of our buddy Jules.  The photo comes from an article in which he discusses (among many other interesting things) instant gratification vs. slow, careful internalization of the art.

This is related to a lesson in martial arts that is perhaps the greatest lesson that I want my kids to get - that is, the difference between can, should, and must.  I think the world would be a better place if more people (especially world leaders) had a more visceral understanding of this concept.
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Just because you can do something does not mean you should do that thing.
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You may have a Right, but that does not mean you have to exercise that Right.  You might just have the Responsibility to hold that Right in reserve.
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Even if you think you should do a thing does not mean you must do that thing.

A lot of aikido practice is about waiting - almost procrastinating.  One of my instructors often preached to us, "Never solve a problem right now that can wait till later.  Solve right now's problems right now and leave the future for the future."  The problem with solving future problems is they are often imaginary - that is, they don't exist and may never exist and even if they do come to exist they may not have the impact you predict - so by proactively solving problems, you are necessarily creating a mess of unintended consequences that makes your future even more messy.
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So, in aikido, sure we are learning skills and actions that we can do (that is the jutsu), but we spend a lot of time in practice waiting to see what will be the consequences if we do not exert our wills upon the world.  We are trying to achieve a deep, abiding understanding of can, should, and must.
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Can (jutsu) is generally easy - we all have a lot of knowledge and power and skills and ability to do things.  What we are trying to achieve is the should/shouldn't and an understanding of when we absolutely must act and when we can wait for the picture to become more clear.


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____________________
Patrick Parker
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