Saturday, December 30, 2006

The magic in small steps

This morning we worked on Tegetana, dissecting the first turn and making sure that if you start with the balls of your feet on a line then you end up moving slightly off the line as part of the turn. This is an indicator that you are falling instead of stepping (a good thing). We also worked on bringing the small steps idea and the feet-under-center (as opposed to center-over-feet) ideas into this technique.
After tegatana we practiced the evasions some with partners, emphasizing small evasions. We worked on seeing how small a step wecould take and still be out of the way. From ma-ai, uke has to take a large step to hit tori and tori only has to take a small step to evade. This gives tori a lot of extra capacity or freedom that he can use to his advantage in several ways. We played with several offbalances emphasizing these smallsteps and Andy was throwing me onto my knees during the first step.
In hanasu we got into some ofthe principles and ideas surrounding and leading into chain #1, including the separation step and seeking the neutral place between #1 and #5. These worked well and we got to explore oshitaoshi, udegaeshi, hikitaoshi, udehineri, and kotegaeshi in this first chain.
In nijusan, shomenate was working like magic when we emphasized the small steps. I ran through 1-10 with Andy as my uke but he only got through #5 nijusan - but that was my fault. The humidity was so terrible and my out-of conditioning condition from the holidays made me a wimpy uke. I promise to return to better condition soon, and hopefully it won't be this humid for another long while.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Menuchi and seated shooting

One of the presents I got for the kids was a set of youth bokken (29" wooden swords styled after the regular 40-something inch tachi). They came in the mail today, and although the cheap plastic tsuba do not fit exceptionally well, I would highly recommend the red oak bokkens from as good quality, highly affordable (<$10), and well-made with easy ordering and good shipping speed.
This afternoon Whit and I went and shot some coke cans with the new BB gun. I was shooting from standing and from seated cross-legged today. Whit was doing the watching and gun-carrying as he learns about gun safety. Afterwards we practiced drawing the bokken and stepping forward with a menuchi (downward head cut). I showed him how to rep the men cut in suburi fashion (synching the up and down of the sword with the up and down of the body as he steps forward and backward). It was fun and cool for him but we didn't overdo it because I don't want to wear out his almost-six-year-old attention and desire.

Releases #1 and #3 as separation events

Release#1 and #3 occur with uke approaching through maai and tori evading to one side. Tori’s evasion is not perfect, though, and uke is able to catch a wrist grab – either aigamae (cross hand) or gyakugamae (mirror image). At this point, examine where uke and tori are in relation to each other. They are always closer than 2 arm lengths (maai) and they are almost always within one arm’s length. Tori cannot turn to face uke from this position without both uke’s arm and tori’s arm bending. There are at least three problems here:
  1. Upon principle, tori does not want to bend his arm
  2. Tori can’t tell if uke will bend his arm from this position
  3. Tori cannot force uke to bend his arm form this position
The solution is separation. This separation can happen by uke stepping away from tori or by tori stepping away from uke (or often both). Tori's motion is the only one of these factors that is under tori's control, So, tori must add in enough separation to account for his own arm length and then accommodate to uke’s arm length – either bent or straight. In any case, adding some distance between uke and tori during the second step of these releases helps to release the bind in these two exercises.
We still have the problem of not knowing whether or not uke is going to bend his arm but tori’s separation step provides some time to try to figure out if uke is bending or straightening his arm. We also have no idea whether uke will turn to continue to press the attack or continue his motion away from tori, so the separation step provides some safety margin in case uke is still viable.
These are some of the phenomena that I want to work on in the upcoming weeks as we get into chains #1 and #3. We’ll play with these issues with stiff vs. compliant vs. reactive ukes. Think about these issues at home and come to class raring to learn!

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Aikido fundamentals

Ukemi. Tegatana with emphasis on the last step (polishing the mirror) and on the extra steps that pop up between the last evasion step and the first push step. Patrick M's last mvoe is much deeper than mine. My knees weren't doing that particular thing , so I tend to emphasize finding out where all I can point myself without having to move feet. Worked on Hanasu with an emphasis on #6 and #8. We repped these two many times and got into the chains for #8 tonight, allowing us to explore shihonage, tenkai kotegaeshi, ushiroate, and kaiten nage. Then we repped all of Nijusan 1-2 times each. Good, basic class. We need to do more randori.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Ya, dawg!

Wow, It's been a long time since I've written. Christmas and all was fun. Elise bought me the two presents I wanted for Christmas - a CD boxed set of Johnny Cash and an air rifle. The Johnny Cash was just what the doctor ordered and the air rifle was a blast. Until today I hadn't shot a rifle of any kind in over 25 years. The last was a .22 in Scouts. Today I set up a post with a nail where I can hang Coke cans and practice my marksmanship safely, responsibly, and efficiently.
I have to confess, I have an ulterior motive for these two gifts. I intend to lay an ambush from my bedroom window for the dogs that keep getting in my garbage cans, and I figure both the airgun and the Cash are necessary. Actually I am kidding. I am NOT planning to cruelly and unethically shoot any poor doggies in the ass with .177 caliber BBs, even though I live in an area where most folks think "animal control" means hollering "Ya, dawg!" So all the ASPCA and PETA freaks reading this can rest easy at night knowing that our garbage is being safely and ethically rifled by feral dogs that nobody could be bothered to take care of after Katrina.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

No class Saturday 12/23/2006

Here's a reminder - there will be no class on Saturday, December the 23rd. We'll be having a get-together with the Parkers in Jackson. We will have normal class on Wednesday the 27th, Saturday the 30th, Wednesday the 3rd, and thereafter...

Upcoming special workouts

In January we will be having several special workouts. On the 5th we'll have Bryce Lumpkin (shodan aikido, shodan judo) in from Orlando Florida. We'll be working on the aikido syllabus in preparation for Bryce's nidan and we'll also be working on the judo syllabus - particularly hip throws to help him in his work with is group in Florida. At some point in January John Wood should also be coming in from Orlando to work mostly on nijusan and the chains. On the 12th we'll be having Chad Morrison (shodan judo) in from Akari Judo in Richmond VA to work particularly on the concepts of otoshi and guruma in judo. Chad and I will also likely be working on the syllabus in general - particularly groundwork - in preparation for Chad's long-overdue nidan. January should be very exciting and productive. I can hardly wait.

One-armed chain #4 variation

Tonight, after ukemi, tegatana, evasions, and hanasu, we got into Chain #4 again. We'd intended to get into Chain #8 but got sidetracked. This is a one-armed version of this part of the chain. This variation came up because Patrick M. doesn't have much function in the second arm to "cheat" with. The release comes as an explicit breaking of uke's grip and re-gripping by tori, similar to some of the motion in one of the higher Koryu kata (I can't remember which one right now, maybe Roku). Anyway, if the tenkai kotegaeshi doesn't work or doesn't feel right then tori moves into release #3, and in this particular film segment, wakigatame. Another option that we played with was this one-armed tenkai kote gaeshi followed by ushiroate. Something we all need to work on - and it is visible in this video - is both partners keeping the free hand between uke and tori. This guards tori and makes uke more of a threat.
Incidently, I found this website for an aiki school in Salt Lake City. Interesting stuff - looks like they are having fun. Check out their videos.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006


Today's practice was jodo kihon 1-12 and seiteikata 1-6 followed by reps of seiteikata #7. no commentary from me. No insights. No theory. Just practice.

Incidently, The following video is very nice. Well put-together demonstration video.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Progress toward what

Yesterday I wrote a lot about Progress. The tone of the poem I used as a lead-in to my ideas could lead folks to conclude that I am anti-progress. I am not. Judo, for instance, is all about progress. Take, for instance, one of Kano's two ruling principles of Judo, Jita Kyoei, is often translated 'mutual benefit,' but can also be translated loosely (and better in my opinion) 'you and me going forward together.' I don't think that progress is bad, but I do think that we should carefully consider where we are progressing to. To paraphrase Confucius (reputedly), "If you're not careful about the direction you're going, you will end up where you are headed." That sorta echoes Millay's poem about 'rolling downhill.'
Progress implies a goal toward which we are moving. What are our goals in aikido and judo? What should our goals be?
I am currently reading an interesting book by Renzo Gracie and John Danaher titled 'Mastering Jujitsu.' The authors make an interesting point about why non-grapplers (and non-Gracies in particular) got so thoroughly smashed in the early MMA contests. In most martial arts (according to the authors) there is no instruction in performance goals - more what I'd call strategy. Most martial arts (according to the authors) teach various tactics and techniques and spend little time on figuring out strategies for the use of those techniques. When a martial artist who is prepared tactically but not strategically gets into an unfamiliar situation (i.e. on the ground with a Gracie) not only do they have no technical base to handle it, but they have no place to go to make their tactical situation better. They freeze and get pounded because they have no hope. The authors contrast that to their jujitsu, in which they explicitly teach that position-A is better than position-B is better than position-C, etc... So, when they find themselves in the neighborhood of position-C for instance, they automatically know they ought to start tactically working toward a better position. Thus the grappler that is placed in a disadvantageous place knows where to go and has hope for the future.
Our aikido is (in my opinion) particularly strong in this area. Thorough training in kihon (tegatana and hanasu) provides a deep understanding of proper posture, how to move in good posture, and how to move back toward proper posture when you are thrown out of whack. The addition of a relatively small set of foundational techniques (nijusan) allows lots of repetition in the few techniques that occur most often in randori. The chains teach how to move around in the neighborhoods in which the techniques live, and they also teach the 'positional hierarchy' that Gracie talks about in his book. The addition of the Koryunokata rounds out the system with many of the variations and applications found in the older schools of aikido and jujitsu. So, when the aikidoka is thrown into an unfamiliar situation, he knows if he keeps moving toward principle, keeps moving toward good posture, just keeps moving period, that he has hope of ending up in more familiar territory.
Kodokan judo is not inherently deficient in these areas either. I think that the strategic thinking skills of some judoka may have been restricted through participation in a particular set of competition rules. The Gracies changed the rules to a more realistic training situation (so they think) and the first judoka that participated under the new rule set got beat up too (though I seem to recall a European Judo champ doing pretty well against Gracie in an early UFC.) Gracie doesn't appear to have anything that Kodokan does not - they just have a different rule set for randori and competition. But that is just my $0.02.


Impressive skill


My favorite poet of all time is Edna St. Vincent Millay - probably for no particular reason that I can put my finger on. I'm generally not much on poems about death and love, but her rhythm and word choice turn me on. One of my favorite pieces of her work is as follows.

We have gone too far; we do not know how to stop; impetus

Is all we have. And we share it with the pushed Inert.

We are clever, -- we are as clever as monkeys; and some of us

Have intellect, which is our danger, for we lack intelligence

And have forgotten instinct.

Progress -- progress is the dirtiest word in the language--who ever told us --

And made us believe it - - that to take a step forward was necessarily, was always

A good idea? In this unlighted cave, one step forward

That step can be the down-step into the Abyss.

But we, we have no sense of direction; impetus

Is all we have; we do not proceed, we only

Roll down the mountain,

Like disbalanced boulders, crushing before us many

Delicate springing things, whose plan it was to grow.

Clever, we are, and inventive, -- but not creative;

For, to create, one must decide -- the cells must decide -- what

What colour, what sex, how many petals, five, or more than five,

Or less than five.

But we, we decide nothing: the bland Opportunity

Presents itself, and we embrace it, -- we are so grateful

When something happens which is not directly War;

For we think -- although of course, now we very seldom

Clearly think--

That the other side of War is Peace.

We have no sense; we only roll downhill. Peace

Is the temporary beautiful ignorance that War

Somewhere progresses.

It has been a long time since I have read this in its entirety. I remembered phrases of it, but not in Millay's crisp, precise, beautiful language. Something in Tegatana no kata made me think of this poem the other day and I had to look it up. This poem speaks volumes about war and peace, which is what aikido is really about anyway. This poem speaks about aikido on the spiritual/philisophical level but also on the physical, tactical level.

Whenever we take a step, there is a part of the step that is ballistic. By that, I mean we can't take it back. We are committed to stepping. "Impetus is all we have - and we share it with the pushed Inert." However, in tegatana no kata we work on minimizing this ballistic phase of stepping by taking smaller steps, walking on the balls of the feet, etc... What this does for us is makes us more neutral and gives us more options - more choices."

Consider this quote from another 20th century mastermind, C.S. Lewis, in juxtaposition to Millay's poem about progress:

We all want progress, but if you're on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; in that case, the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive.

That brings up another, related aspect of tegatana. You want your progress to be reversible. As a general rule of thumb you don't want to make ballistic (irreversible) actions because you end up (in Millay's words) "rolling down the mountain like disbalanced boulders, crushing before you many delicate springing things whose plan it was to grow." You lose the capacity to make intelligent choice, which is what makes us human. You lose opportunity. Moishe Feldenkrais mentions this in his book, Awareness through Movement - reversibility is the mark of voluntary [good] movement.

So, in tegatana we learn to make small, conservative steps, minimizing our disbalanced nature while also minimizing the ballistic nature of our motions. Working on this in your kata will bring Progress (with a captial P).

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Quin Kata

Here is my third son practicing kata with me. He takes his inspiration from watching me do SMR Jodo and from watching me beat on a makiwara - not on the front columns of my house.

Notice the cool outfit - It was 80 degrees in the middle of December.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Supercool shihonage practice

Prior to practice I got to work with Woodreaux on jodo kihon - particularly some of Henry Copeland's recent adjustments. Felt good. No comments in particular.
Today at aiki practice it was Andy in his cool new brown belt and Kristof and I. We repped some easy ukemi (the mats were cool) and tegatana and hanasu. For the pastfew weeks we've been exploring release#2 and #4, so today we continued with #6. This gets us practice at shihonage, tenkai kotegaeshi, and ushiroate. There is also a cool tenkai kotehineri in there too, but we ignored it so we could work on the other three. Andy found it and got stuck in it for a while.
We usually do hanasu #2 as a down and an up and the thing is finished. The most common mistake is for tori to go too wide around uke, which pulls him back onto tori. However, if we follow this motion, it allows tori to effortlessly countergrab and repeat hanasu #2, which is the basis of shihonage. When this happens in the context of hanasu we call it hanasu #6. If tori catches and maintains a nice extension all the way through then uke is forced to the ground onto his back with his arm in a bind.
If anything goes wrong with the shihonage, the chain specifies a couple of potential backups. First is tenkai kote gaeshi - switch hands and back out, using the free hand to guard from uke's craziness. The second is based on uke's most common reaction, which is to force the arm back down toward his own center. If this happens, tori can flick uke's arm out of the way and take ushiroate.
The first of these is cool and extremely useful. It is very hard for uke to stand up, let alone aggressively track tori from the tenkai kotegaeshi bind. Tenkai kote gaeshi has been 'proven' multiple times in street conflicts against larger, meaner, uglier villains.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

No class tonite

Hey, guys, I need to miss tonight's class. I have to go listen to Whit sing at a Christmas program. Hope to see y'all Saturday.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006


I don't want a large commercial dojo. The benefits are outweighed by the headache. I am perfectly content to teach in a small, intimate environment. We are blessed with a nice place to learn with virtually no overhead expense. That is much of the reason that I teach for free.
But, having said that, in order to teach I have to have students. In order to practice we have to have partners. While Mokuren is not hurting for students, and the students we have are awesome people and great martial artists, we need a continual source of fresh minds and bodies in order to keep an optimal class size of about 8 to 10 adults.
I ask each of my students, in lieu of cash payments for lessons, consider actively and continually recruiting people for our aikido, judo, karate, and jodo classes.
I'm going to stop now, before I start sounding too much like those terribly annoying NPR pledge-begging drives that they seem to have about 15 times per year.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Part of chain #4

more Mokuren video - this time it's part of Chain #4.

Exhausting suburi

Talk about exhausting! I practiced jo suburi (repetitions) today on the first five kihon. The first four are no big deal - I've done thousands of reps of them and I have repped them in the rapid suburi fashion before. Number five is a combination of an overhead thrust and an overhead strike. This is exhausting when practiced repeatedly without dropping your arms below your shoulders. Today I did 25 left and right of each, and by the end of #5 my arms were floppy. For the rest of practice I did Seiteikata #1 - tsukezue. I have to keep telling myself that tomorrow's battle is won during today's practice.

Sunday, December 10, 2006


This is an impressive example of true karate and an example of what I wrote about earlier regarding appropriate use of force and taking a stand against evil. Kudos to these children.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Newsflash: Uke wins at suwariwaza

Today in tegatana there appeared another phenomenon that I'm having a hard time putting a finger on. It showed up in the two middle pushes - the ones with the up-down-up timing. They have a different rhythm than the down-up pushes and I'm not sure the cause. I think it might be either muscular tension in the upper back associated with raising an arm or it might be the mass of the raised arm raising the center of balance, causing the falling step to take slightly longer. In any case, we ran all the pushes 4-5 times and I'll still have to work on that a while to identify the essence of it. After tegatana we spun through hanasu and moved into the nijusan atemiwaza. Gedanate was working much better for me today, and I even got a good udegaeshi when we moved onto hijiwaza.
We focussed in on oshitaoshi (ikkyo) for the rest of class, working it from the spinning-apart relationship in nijusan, the four varants from the first chain, and an interesting suwari ryotedori variant - more on that later. We saw better success when tori followed the reboud instead of bludgeoning hs way through uke's head. For a few minutes in Chain #1 we had uke attack with the wrist grab + face strike and it was super obvious that the extra energy from the face strike was smearing uke much worse.
At the end of class we worked on the last suwariwaza technique from sankata - the scooping throw. This always appears to be a stupid technique because uke either sits there dumbly as if saying "ok, do the thing to me." or he stands up and jumps, so it's difficult to get the real feel of the thing. We worked on it today from uke's perspective. Uke's attack was to pin both of tori's wrists long enough to stand up and drag tori onto his face into an udeosae pin. If tori doesn't respond, he gets smeared. If tori resists with upper body strength, he gets smeared. If tori creates a ground path through his legs into the ground then he is able to throw uke back from him and rise to standing. If uke recovers from being thrown back, tori does the kata technique - the scooping throw. So, by having uke smear tori a few times, we got a more intelligent uke and a better feel fo the kata technique.
After class we had a formal rank demo for Gary. He demonstrated tegatana and both roles of hanasu (uke and tori). He did great and is now gokyu. We're looking forward to moving on up through the ranks and improving our skills!

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Friday, December 08, 2006

Eidetic learning

Now, this article is interesting. My instructor has talked with us about eidetic learning. That is, learning by carefully watching and imitating. Visual learning, particularly without auditory information being presented. This is a very traditional, very eastern concept and the old guys in Japan called it 'stealing techniques.' I don't think that 'stealing' in this sense carried the negative connotations even though one story has it that OSensei would never let Kyuzo Mifune watch his classes because Mifune was such a genius he might have been able to 'steal' Ueshiba's techniques.
Most westerners, myself included, prefer to learn using a mixed method of visual, auditory, and kinesthetic information. But there is a lot to be said for being able to watch a physical performance and not only gather enough info to understand what is going on but to be able to organize that information in such a way that will be consistent and useful in your own mental model.
These ideas about how to teach martial arts mostly came from feudal Japan and Okinawa in an era where knowledge that one man kept from another was power. It has been said by some modern business reengineering brainiacs that knowledge is not really power - knowledge shared is power. "But," you may protest. "What if they take your knowledge and use it against you or sell it for a profit and don't give you the money or..." Well, as F.M. Alexander (another 20th century genius) has said, "Any man can do what I've done. They just have to do what I've done."
Knowledge hoarded stagnates and feeds upon itself, becoming corrupt. Knowledge shared is power. You can't steal what is freely given. But eidetic learning is a skill worth developing.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Fast really is slow

From a balanced, standing position people can only move about 3 feet per second. That's any adult of relatively normal height. Shorter people move slightly faster, but over the course of one step the speed difference is negligable. This speed issue is essentially a physical constant related to gravity.
We begin talking about this speed issue very early in aikido but it is a long time before students buy into the idea because we have this funny perceptual thing that happens where we pay more attention to faster moving things. So, somebody that waves their arms fast while they are stepping relatively slowly, looks like they are stepping fast. For this reason, fast punches look dangerous even though they can't land until the attacker moves his body within reach.
One thing that has really improved my perception of this fast-is-slow phenomenon is paying special attention to the two ends of the attack motion. When uke starts to move through ma-ai we have to begin our evasion - so we spend a lot of time working on paying attention to movement starting at ma-ai. The other end of the attack movement is when uke's front foot hits the ground. My instructor has recently put out a couple of excellent videotape lessons on timing based on that front foot, and we've been paying a lot more attention to that front footstrike. The combination of those two practices has really improved my perception of that time-dilation effect. It's easier for me to see for myself that fast really is slow.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Fast is really slow

Tegatana: short steps, balls of feet. We worked the evasions with a knife-wielding uke and got to explore that "fast/slow" phenomenon. It showed up remarkably well last night, as we did the shomenashi attack several times then switched to the fast-looking tsuki attack, then switched back to the shomenashi attack. When we switched to the "fast" attack, it was really very slow, and when we switched back to shomenashi after getting used to the "fast" attack, tori barely had time to evade. Amazing how slow "fast" is and how fast "slow" is.
Hanasu: kata mode. I also got to play with Kristof as my uke and I did releases from the 2 nijusan offbalances. Interesting play - sorta emphasizes that the techniques that we do are really just releases that occur from various places on those two paths.
Nijusan: I demonstrated all of nijusan twice with Kristof as my uke and then Kristof demonstrated the atemiwaza with P4 as his uke and P4 demonstrated the atemiwaza and hijiwaza with Kristof as uke. I showed them a little different timing for gedanate - similar to the timing for #8 (hikitaoshi) or #10 (wakigatame). seemed to work a little better. #9 (udehineri) is not exactly right the way we're doing it but it's not really far off and I havent gotten around to working on that one yet. Part of the coolness of the hijiwaza (6-10) is that this is where we begin demonstrating the various pins. The students need to be sure to follow these techniques into the ground and apply the pin - particularly in kata mode.
Chains: we did a #4 chain in which we got to play with kotegaeshi and kotehineri a lot. This is one of the coolest of the chains for me.
Yesterday was Kristof's birthday, so we cut off class about 20 minutes early and went to have a party with the Parkers and McKenzies.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006


Now we really start to pick up speed in tegatana (mentally - not physically). The previous two moves were pretty basic, and while this one's not really a monster, it is an altogether new thing. The third motion in the walking kata, tenkanashi, is a combination of two fundamental moves - nanameashi (the diagonal step) and a hip switch, which will be isolated later in the kata. Tenkanashi is also fundamentally different forward and backward, whereas the previous movements were the same regardless of the direction.
To do tenkanashi forward, you turn off a leg, fall diagonally forward to that side, and as that foot is landing turn the leg inward as close to 90 degrees as you can. The following recovery step happens as your body turns. Imagine evading a lunge and turning to face the attacker. As such, tenkanashi is the fundamental evasion used in aikido. Shomenashi and wakiashi automatically become tenkanashi whenever tori is presented with an attacker to center on.
Tenkanashi backwards breaks the rule of thumb established earlier in the exercise that whatever direction youre moving the closest foot moves first. To tenkanashi backwards, you relax the close foot and begin falling backwards (almost as if sitting down) then the opposite foot moves into place and the first foot becomes the recovery foot. Try it a few times moving the near foot first and you quickly find that nobody has the range of motion in their hip to inwardly rotate the front foot enough.
As the fundamental evasion in aikido, tenkanashi deserves a few minutes of paired practice in each class. Face uke at maai and as uke starts his lunge, tori slips out of the way using tenkanashi and puts hands up between his center (face) and uke's. When this exercise becomes commonplace, put a rubber knife in uke's hand and all of a sudden tori has a new perspective on the value of tenkanashi. Alternately, use the fast-looking lunge punches or lead jabs from karate as flavoring for this drill.

Monday, December 04, 2006


The second motion in tegatana no kata is called wakiashi. It is the most basic, atomic level motion in the kata and in the system. It should really be the first motion in tegatana because it is the simplest as well as being a prototype for the more complex taisabaki like nanameashi (diagonal evasion) and tenkanashi (turning step). From a starting point with feet side by side under your hips, you turn one leg off, fall to the side about one hip-width, put that leg under your hips, and recover the second leg back under your hips. There are no turns or arm motions or anything else. Wakiashi is just a sidestep.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Shomenashi or nanameashi

The theoretical core of aikido is avoidance of force and the tactical skill that makes that possible is taisabaki (body displacement). The first several motions in the first kata in the system are simple taisabaki, in which the student visualizes an opponent approaching and steps off the line of attack. The first of these motions (shomenashi) is interesting because originally it was done as an attacking motion moving straight-forward from the starting position (hence the name - shomen means forward), but now it is done as a diagonal evasion offline, so actually the name of the motion ought to be nanameashi (diagonal step).
An interesting thing appears when you break down this motion slowly. If you stand with your feet side by side on a line and try (slowly) to fall straight forward with your center then catch yourself by putting one of your feet under you, you'll find that it is impossible to fall straight forward (90 degrees to the starting line). You will always get a little bit of sideward motion toward the leg that is moving. If you move a little faster then it is possible to fool yourself into thinking that it is possible to move straight forward, but if you slow back down and look at it carefully you will see that the only way that you can move straight forward is to pre-load the off foot - i.e. to make two motions. It is important to differentiate stepping from falling because falling is more efficient and faster and more powerful than stepping. So in this way, the embusen (kata performance line) serves as a check as to whether you are stepping or falling. if you end up moving straight forward then you're stepping instead of falling.
A similar thing happens in the first turn (and all the other turns) in the kata. It turns out (pun intended) that you cannot turn 180 degrees and end up on the same line you started on. If so, you are stepping (pirouetting) instead of falling. So, when doing the any of the 180 degree turns, watch to see that you end up off the line you started on.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

New sankyu

Today in class we warmed up slowly because of the frigid mats, skipped ukemi practice, and moved into tegatana. We focussed on small displacements, weight bearing on the medial two knuckles of the balls of the feet, and on falling offline. We got to play with an interesting phenomenon - it isn't possible to fall straight forward without getting off the line. Because our legs are hanging off the sides of our hips, any time we lift one in order to fall forward we get at least a little bit of sideward motion. This hearkens back to my earlier post on some of Rudolf von Laban's and Lisa Ullmann's ideas about three-dimensional motion. It's interesting that it shows up so prominently in tegatana no kata.

We spun through hanasu and played for a while with #2, emphasizing not premeditating the technique - starting off as in #1 and letting uke force you into #2. From there we got to experiment with shihonage and sumiotoshi as uke responses to the motion of #2.

Andy's uke was unable to attend today, so we did his sankyu demonstration by way of each of us doing about a million repetitions of oshitaoshi, udegaeshi, hikitaoshi, udehineri, and both flavors of wakigatame. These we did in kata mode with the pins on the end. Andy has perfectionist tendencies, so I was concerned that he would feel cheated or inferior for not having done a formal rank demo with folks watching and etc... But, talking to him afterwards, he seemed to handle it well. He has the proper amount of time in grade, is improving (dramatically) on his gokyu and yonkyu requirements, and is able to reproduce the sankyu techniques without much trouble - and those are the requirements for the rank. The formal rank demo is mostly gravy. The things that Andy especially needs more work on are the same things that plague me these days - gedanate and udehineri. But, we're going forward together!

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Pizza trumps aiki

Tonight, after ukemi, tegatana, hanasu, and nijusan 1-5, we worked on gedanate for most of the class. Gedanate is a monster for me - I can do the junana version and I can hit gedan in the chains and in randori, but I can't get the niusan version. No real revelations for me tonight, but I did get to experiment with it a good bit. It came to mind that in the koryunokata they call several things 'gedanate' that look nothing like the basic version. Their only resemblance is that they finish with a push against some part of uke's lower body - i.e. the knee. I've always considered gedanate as a 'push with tori's lower body' technique, but perhaps it is a 'push uke's lower body' technique instead...
For the rest of class we briefly worked on another branch of chain#2. The part that contains maeotoshi, hikiotoshi, and sumiotoshi. This is currently my favorite of the chains. When we got to the first sumiotoshi I heard Kristof suck in a breath in surprise. Then he turned around and caught me with a sumiotoshi so perfect that there was no massive cartwheel ukemi - it just turned my knees off where I stood and I dropped like I was shot. I can tell it would have been a really great sumiotoshi night, but Mama was screaming that the pizza was ready, so we put an end to the aiki practice...

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Kihon as art

Rhetoric is the counterpart of Dialectic. Both alike are concerned with such things as come, more or less, within the general ken of all men and belong to no definite science. Accordingly all men make use, more or less, of both; for to a certain extent all men attempt to discuss statements and to maintain them, to defend themselves and to attack others. Ordinary people do this either at random or through practice and from acquired habit. Both ways being possible, the subject can plainly be handled systematically, for it is possible to inquire the reason why some speakers succeed through practice and others spontaneously; and every one will at once agree that such an inquiry is the function of an art. Aristotle, Rhetoric, I;1.
So, two characteristics of an art include:
  • anyone can do it, but not everyone can do it equally well
  • it can be systematically learned, practiced, and made habitual
Not only are martial arts art forms in the above sense, but so is the teaching of the martial arts. A well thought-out syllabus or curriculum of instruction is not only a list of things to be learned, but also a structure for individual classes - like a lesson plan.
For instance, in Aikido, we practice ukemi (falling), tegatana (walking kata), and hanasu (wrist releases) in the beginning of every class. These actions form the kihon that undergirds the entire practice, and the repetition gives the individual classes structure. Another example is the Isshinryu kihon. They selected about 20 of the most common fundamental techniques and they practice them in sport-specific patterns at the beginning of each class. Contrast this with a hypothetical karate style that has some arbitrary set of kihon that varies among the instructors and no specific structure for practicing them. Even if the class always contains kihon practice, it can easily happen that some different subset of kihon are practiced every class.
Funakoshi, in Shotokan karate, created four simplified kata (Taikyoku shodan, Taikyoku nidan, Taikyoku sandan, and Tennokata) as a mechanism for making sure that students get structured repetitions of at least a minimal set of necessary kihon. Some Shotokan schools have dropped these four kata because they are "trivial." I think that is a shame. I, for one, would much rather participate in a school where these four "kihon kata" are practiced at the beginning of every class as part of a sport-specific warmup.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Windsong jodo demo

This is not only a cool video but very inspirational to me with regards to my practice of jodo. Jodo is a funny thing to me. It is in many ways tedious and frustrating. The rewards one receives from doing it are very personal and often not readily visible. Practice is often tiresome as well as being frequently very frightening (the same way the kumitachi at the end of Koryu Daisan is frightening). But seeing this level of proficiency combined with people having so much FUN doing it inspires me to try it for just a few more decades.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Knife evasion and wakigatame

Today the dojo was very cold but warmed up nicely. We worked on ukemi as an emphasis, getting into the idea of making one's landing mechanism habitual and reflexive. There are two common landing mechanisms. In the first, the legs land separated with the top leg behind the bottom leg and knee pointed upward. In the second, the top leg lands crossed in front of the bottom leg. Each has plusses and minuses. We use the first exclusively. The point is, it is vital to make one or the other so habitual that it is reflex because if you indiscriminately land at random then your body will eventually sort of "average" these two positions and you will end up hammering your legs together and injuring yourself. Everybody's forward rolls were looking better today.
In tegatana we worked on making absolutely sure that we're doing tsugiashi with only the two innermost balls of each foot bearing weight. The outside of the foot is simply not made to bear weight.
In hanasu we worked on release #1 making sure that we were getting on the offbalance line right as the foot touched and then pushing forward until uke starts to recover upwards. Tori is then able to follow that upwards, pushing through the whole motion. The consequence of this idea: we're always talking aboutfinding an initial reaction that is halfway between hanasu#1 and hanasu#5. Well, it appears that it is a little bit farther forward and up along that path than we have mostly been doing.
We repped nijusan in kata mode 1-2 times, looking for fine tuning points for kata demonstration. Andy made the comment about his brain that "all these moves are in there, just not in the right order." Andy really looked pretty good. It's mostly just a matter of not freaking himself out about being perfect.
One thing that showed up that needs to be adjusted for kata mode is the fact that most of our practice of 6, 7, 8, and 9 have been in the form of a chain, where one does 6 then 7 then 8 then 9 in one flowing sequence. Well, in kata they are not demonstrated as one long chain. Everyone wants to demonstrate 6, then 6+7, then 6+7+8, then 6+7+8+9. Instead, demonstrate 6, then 6 flowing into 7, then 8, then 8 flowing into 9.
We worked on the two wakigatame variants today - one inside and one outside. These worked well and led us into some knife evasion practice and some pinning practice. We got to play with several interesting pins.
They ere all screaming for a "cool ninja killer technique" of the day, so we repeated the toe-stomp taoshi from last time. It occurred to me that this is really a pretty good way to teach this variant of ikkyo because of the extra brain input we get from the foot as a feeler. This should help us to learn more about the timing and placement of uke's front foot. It's also very cool as a pragmatic thing. Holding someone in that front offbalance with your weight on their foot while youre in their dead angle is a pretty good place from which to talk sense to someone.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Upcoming rank demos

Alright, currently Andy and Gary have their hours requirement for Gokyu and Sankyu respectively. Kristof and Patrick M. have roughly a month before they'll have hours for Yonkyu and Sankyu respectively. All three of Clan McKenzie have about 1.5-2 months before they'll have hours for Gokyu.
Let's plan for Andy and Gary to do their demos not this Saturday but the next (Dec. 2?). I'd like for Kristof to be Andy's uke and Andy to be Gary's uke. Gary will need to demonstrate Tegatana and all of Hanasu. Andy will be demonstrating Tegatana, Hanasu, and Nijusan #1-10b.
We have been getting 1-2 reps of Hanasu in kata mode each class, so that shouldn't be a problem for anyone to demonstrate. We don't get a lot of kata mode on Nijusan because most of our work comes in chains or lab mode. We probably need to institute that same rule for Nijusan - always do one rep of kata mode each class before we get into a chain or into lab mode. But also, before and after each class for a couple of weeks, Andy and Kristof need to get 1-2 reps of Nijusan in kata mode.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Chain #2 and toe-stomp taoshi

Tonight was a very cool class with Andy, Kristof, and myself. We started with an extended ukemi session, working on playing with the point of no return during a fall. We have several exercises that allow us to approach that point of no return and explore it in different ways (i.e. kneeling, standing, forward, backward, etc...) I think that everybody got some good reps on their forward rolls and got closer to that reflexive roll that we have to train into ourselves.
Then we moved into tegatana. Tegatana is a playground or a laboratory in which we can play with our understanding of balance and motion without an uke trying to beat us up. It is our only solo kata. We worked on figuring out how the front leg gets free from the ground during arm motions that should be loading that foot.
In hanasu we delved into #2, exploring the otoshi offbalance, pushing throughout the down and into the up, getting directly behind uke by moving through him. This is a prototype for an iriminage. This technique is often conceived as a clothesline, but we worked on getting it as an aigamaeate or a hadakajime with a spinelock. From here we looked at two standard counters for #2 - uke either turns outward and releases tori or turns inward and gets a kotehineri (sankyo). This is the beginning of chain#2, so we worked our way through that, exploring shomenate, wakigatame, and gedanate (I told ya' we'd get to gedan.) Got into the Junana version of gedanate and everyone was having good success.
Our cool technique of the night was the toe-stomp taoshi. From the Junana offbalance, tori has an easy opportunity to step on uke's near foot in order to hold it still. Then oshitaoshi becomes a trivial matter of breaking down a table by pushing on the weak line. Everybody had good success with that technique and had a lot of fun doing it.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

A river runs through it

For the past several days I've had an upper respiratory infection and have been off work taking Biaxin and etc... So, no martial arts practice for the last few days. My mind has been wandering around martial topics, though. How about this one: the word ryu, as in Isshin-ryu or Tomiki-ryu is usually translated informally as "way" or "style" or "school." But did you know that it literally means "stream" as in flowing water. The connotation is that Tomiki-ryu is Tomiki's stream of thought or way of thinking about aikido.
What does a river or creek do as it flows through an area? It errodes the landside and cuts a channel. The water shapes the land it flows through. In the same way, a ryu shapes the man that it flows through. The ryu cuts a chanel in the man's thought patterns so that the ryu can more easily flow through.
I haven't read Tao of Jeet Kune Do in years, but I recall Bruce Lee writing that mastery of a martial art is like sculpture. It is a process of removal of the un-necessary until the final result looks like some ideal. It is an erosion of the personality and the habits.
I had an instructor once who liked to fool around with esoterica. He loved wise-sounding sayings of masters like Confucius and Yoda and he dabbled in pseudo-Zen thought. He told me that as one stays in the martial arts for longer and longer, one cannot help but become conformed to Zen thought because Zen is the basis of the martial arts. I understand what he was saying, though I disagree.
So, what is the ideal that we are allowing ourselves to erode into? Well, it seems reasonable, that pratitioners of Tomiki-ryu are being eroded to be more like Tomiki. Practitioners of isshin-ryu are being eroded to be more straightforward and "one-hearted," like Shimabuku. I think it'd be fitting for folks to take some time to do some research and figure out what kind of men Tomiki and Shimabuku (etc...) were, since these are the forms into which we are being eroded.
Of course, I also think it would be especially fitting for people to take time to consider Jesus-ryu...

Monday, November 20, 2006


Suigetsu (#2 Seiteikata in Jodo) is a funny thing. The basis of the technique is supposed to be "seeking the weakness" i.e. a chink in the bad guy's armor. This technique is usually interpreted as stabbing the guy in the solar plexus with the stick.
When I was at the Starkville Fall clinic with Henry Copeland a few weeks back I was working on Suigetsu with P3. I was doing my standard form. I typically conceive of this as allowing uke to commit to his downward stroke, slipping aside, and lunging into the solarplexus - almost like setting a spear for a charge. Henry chimed in and showed a Suigetsu with a wholly different feel. The best I can describe it is, slipping to the side and reaching out with the stick as a feeler or separator. There is no impact - just a touch. It's not even in uke's solar plexus - just somewhere on uke's chest. Then Henry screws the stick (painfully) into uke's ribs with a turn of the wrist which causes the separation for the next part of the technique.
In my typical ignorance I could have easily dismissed this as a simple variation or option. A preference that Henry has for how to do the thing. But then Henry explained, "See, the guy is swinging a sword at me and I can't afford to put that much force into him." Henry just wants to get a little bit of control long enough to get clear from the sword without being cut.
Now that's a wholly different attitude about the technique than I had. I see the sword guy coming down on me and a primitive part of me thinks, "Aha, I can stab this stick through his chest!" Which seems pretty effective when everything goes kata-wise, but there is no margin for error there. I stand a chance of not killing the guy and at the same time giving him enough of my energy to regain some balance and flail at me with the sword. Henry's option takes uke's balance for a moment and then backs off to a safe place without making the assumption that tori can kill uke with that one lunge to the solar plexus.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

The crucible of aikido

This week I especially want to work on everyone's ukemi skills - specifically making sure that everyone is getting enough reps in on their higher-level falls so that y'all feel comfortable getting into the higher-level techniques.
I also want to get a lot of reps on gedanate in the next few weeks because something is wrong with that technique for me these days. I used to be able to do it pretty well, and I still can when given the opportunity - it's just that my ukes NEVER seem to give me a reaction that makes me want to do gedanate.
Y'all be sure whenever you get to class early or can stay late to grab a partner and do several extra minutes of hand randori. The randori is really the central thing in aikido that all these other exercises are moving us toward. We don't really learn aikido in order to do kata (although there is excellent artistic value in the kata). We do kata to get ideas and skills to use in randori, which is our proving ground - our crucible.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Mokuren video

I'm having issues posting the actual movie screen from Google Video here on my blog. Some sort of mixup about it being unable to validate my ID when I try to post. Anyway, here is a link to my first effort at putting some of our video on here. Enjoy...

Solo aiki

For a long time I have worked on ways to practice aiki concepts when I'm out of the dojo and don't have a partner. Here are a few.
  • Always shake hands with those you meet. As thry reach to grasp, step slightly to the outside and put your free hand on their elbow. Greet them cordially and think to yourself about the kuzushi you just achieved while moving toward shikaku. People tend to be slightly disturbed by the offbalance but they react favorably to the two-handed handshake and think youre just a really friendly person. This also reduces their strength so that if they are the hand-crushing type then they are at a disadvantage.
  • Pick a person walking down the other side of the street or hall and synchonize your movement to theirs. This works best when you don't freak them out by setting off their spidey sence, so be discreet.
  • Doors are heavy objects that rotate around an axis - just like a person. Practice pushing doors same-hand-same-foot vs. same-hand-stuck-foot and watch how your mobility changes.
  • Walls are REALLY heavy ukes. Practice trying to push them then bouncing off them. This is easier when you are same-hand-stuck-foot. try to smooth out the transition from push to move when you realize you can't push the wall.
  • Concrete curbs - walk on them like balance beams. Just don't blame me when you fall off and break your ankle and get run over.
  • Practice SMR jodo solo forms a lot. Let the stick be your uke.
  • Practice taisabaki from Tegatana every time you brush your teeth. Try this while brushing our teeth with the wrong hand.
  • The transition from lying in bed to standing on the floor is the same as lying on the floor and rising to standing - just easier. Focus your attention on what you are doing as you rise from bed.
  • Stay aware of ambush points as you are walking around. Pay special attention to places where a person could take one step from hiding to inside your ma-ai.
  • In college we made a pact among the higher-ranked students and instructors that we would attack each other anywhere on campus if we could catch each other unawares. That was FUN! Thank God those guys live hundreds of miles away from me now.

I'd love to hear how y'all discreetly practice martial principles outside the dojo.

Thursday, November 16, 2006


I feel blah. Earache is setting in on the right and throat is scratchy. Headache, fuzzy headed. Blah. My consolation: the judo class has been dead for a couple of weeks, do I have till Saturday AM to recuperate.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Randori night

Tonight was randori night. For about 15 minutes before class Kristof and I did randori. Nobody else showed. Some of the Hattiesburgers were sick and we've had hellishly chaotic weather for the last couple of days. Anyway, we had class ourselves and it was pretty cool. Tegatana. Hanasu focussing on not premeditating #2 but letting uke force you into #2 from #1. Then we played hanasu as a set of releases from wristlocks. This led into randori for the rest of the night with the idea of walking out of wristlocks using motions from hanasu. Kristof's commentary: "I think I got a little better at randori." Cool.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

I can hear it...

I can hear y'all salivating all the way from the frozen tundra of Alaska to the boggy Everglades and all the way from the ivory towers of Starkville to Oklahoma's amber waves of grain. Salivating for more of the martial arts thoughts of some obscure guy in the piney woods of southwest Mississippi. And who am I to deny you. So, what have I been thinking on so hard for the past few days? Here's a couple of things...
There's this Canadian aiki dude who has a better-than-average blog and who occasionally comes up with some really profound gems of thought like this and this. I have been pondering his thoughts on our desire for feedback in aikido. I've had similar ideas before but his explanation of the idea is more concise than I have been able to bludgeon out of my keyboard with the dull sword of my brain. The "lack of feedback" that he mentions here is much the same as the "feeling of release" i've been talking about in several posts lately. Check it out.
And speaking of that "feeling of release," there's this article by Beth Shibata on throwing vs. releasing in aikido. I mentioned it in an earlier post on shihonage, but a while back I found this thread of commentary on the article. The reviewers basically blast her as being a silly little pacifist who can't write complete sentences and probably a commie feminist too! Damn her! Well, here's my two cents: I think she's right on target with her core premise, which is that the way we think about what we are trying to do affects our performance. When we try to create performance goals for ourselves so that we can try to learn a new technique, the name that the instructor gives it influences our thinking process. Now, I'm not talking about absolute linguistic determinism, but rather an influence similar to that demonstrated by the ideokinesis guys. So, when we tell a student "here's how we do this throw..." they hear the word "throw" and begin to think about how they would throw anything else in the world, like a baseball or a stick - namely, with sharp acceleration, sudden stopping, and ballistic motion. I defy anyone in the world to throw another adult person using the same type of ballistic motion used when we commonly think of the word "throw." So Shibata suggests perhaps it would be better to call these things "releases." Now that's not a big leap for me because we are used to doing an exercise caled "hanasu" or "releases" in every class since the beginning.
Lately I have really been getting the feeling that "releasing" is such a HUGE part of aikido that it might even be the one central principle - almost a Grand Unification Theory for aiki. We really might just be "releasing" uke instead of "throwing" him!
But anyway, that's what I've been thinking about lately...

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Smarter uke = better releases

Today we worked on small steps in tegatana, emphasizing avoiding the big ups and downs and weaknesses that go along with big steps. We repped hanasu once in kata mode and then worked on hanasu #2 getting back into last class' issue of uke attacking tori at his worst possible moment. I showed them the sumiotoshi that uke can do to the unwitting tori and then worked on how having the smarter, meaner uke can make tori's release better. That naturally led into several minutes of #6 hanasu. Interestingly, we got into all the same issues that all the aiki buddies worked on at the ABG recently. Another observation that Patrick M. made was that as uke gets smarter and meaner the releases make more and more sense. They stop being some random motion that sensei tells you to practice and they become "real" aikido.
In nijusan we repped the two types of motion from the kata several times each then worked on a technique that was representative of each - oshitaoshi and shomenate. The shomenate was really neat because we could really feel the tension impact that changes tori's motion and spins uke and tori into each other. For the cool technique of the day we worked on one of Kristof's requirements for when he returns to Ukraine- yokomenuchi shihonage. Lotsa fun. Playing with the yokomen really made our practice of always working with shomen attacks make more sense. After working a lot against the most efficient attack uke can make (shomen), tori feels like he can take a break and drink a coke while throwing the poor uke that throws a yokomenuchi.

Kitoryu in aikido

A few years back, Tsunako Miyake made a tour through the United states teaching Kodokan Goshin Jutsu. I got to see her and work with her at the Baton Rouge dojo. That was a fabulous learning experience and I got to see an amazing martial artist. Ms. Miyake was in her early 70's at that point and she literally moved like a young adult. She picked my student, Jamie, as uke for an impromptu demo of wakigatame and he later told me that he thought she would pull his arm off.
One of the more remarkable things about that trip to the U.S. was that after the Goshin Jitsu lectures were over she had a layover of a week or two during which she was asked to teach something at the Houston dojo - whatever she wanted. She said, "Let's work on Koshiki no Kata." Everybody was bewildered, because of those that even knew it existed, nobody had ever worked on it.
Miyake went on to explain that this was the kata of the old Kito school - one of the schools upon which both aikido and judo was based. Unfortunately I didn't get to participate in those sessions, but it really seems to me that Ms. Miyake really brought that Kito theory into the center front of our system in a big way. We'd already played with pretty much all the concepts before, but Miyake really got us to thinking and talking Kito.
Here is a really interesting article about Kito that echoes a lot of what Miyake et al. have told us.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

When is a push not a push

One of the two common paths in nijusan begins with an evasion toward uke's inside while pushing the attacking arm toward the hole between uke's feet. This is similar to the standard junana offbalance - but in nujusan tori uses one arm. In this path it is very easy for tori to overpower uke and lose the opportunity to do a technique. This is okay if the offbalance completely smears uke, but if uke doesn't die right away, tori's push can give uke enough balance and impetus to reverse roles and take the lead. A few things to remember when doing this offbalance:
  • Uke's attack can only solidify at the end of the step, so tori doesn't need to be strong or push hard.
  • Tori should concentrate on moving his center toward the hole betwen uke's feet and then allowing uke's attack to solidify right at the edge of the hole.
  • Tori should allow the momentum of his center to move in one direction until the solidity of uke stops tori's forward motion.
  • Tori should get both feet under his center right as uke's front foot lands.
  • Often the feel of this offbalance is that of catching uke's punch, stepping to the edge of the hole, and dropping uke over the edge. When it works right it does not feel like tori is pushing uke's arm. It is very much a feeling of releasing uke - as in hanasu.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Ki-catcher sighted at Mokuren

Bad news, Usher-san. Tonight a ki-catcher flew through the dojo. Sure, it was an old, faded, ragged, nearly-dead ki-catcher, but it was there for sure and I recognized it's markings!
Tonight we started as usual with tegatana, looking at small steps and then looking at the wiggle test. Then we moved into evasions with partners. We practiced the ones from tegatana and then worked on the one from the beginning of hanasu where we are forced to walk over the hill to evade. We practiced this drill with tori weight-shifting and uke looking for just the right moment to cross ma-ai to force tori into the ditch. Walking over the hill worked pretty good and our ukes became a touch sharper tonight.
Then we spend all of our hanasu time on hanasu#1, emphasizing walking over the hill and getting tori's center of mass on uke's stance line so that we hit the otoshi offbalance. From there we worked on releasing, and it occurred to me that in hanasu#1 alone we are doing 3 releases. First there is a situation building due to uke getting ready to cross ma-ai, so as uke crosses, tori releases by moving his center into uke's stance line. then there is asituation building because uke has nmanaged to catch tori's wrist during the evasion, so tori releases down the line. Then there is a situation building because uke's momentum is getting ready to move him behind tori, so tori releases in order to get behind uke. This resulted in really cool hanasu.
As we moved into nijusan I demonstrated the two paths of motion that occur in the kata and had the students practice those two motions. This got us onto an emphasis of moving the center off the attack line toward the hole between uke's feet and then almost allowing uke's strength to hit us there - in the hole. This is where the ki catcher first showed up tonight. Darned thing flew through and trashed one or two of my ukes and then disappeared!
So we kept practicing and started working on ushiroarte as a response to uke crowding us when we are on the outside path of nijusan. We also got to work on oshitaoshi as a response to uke spinning away from tori during the outside path. These both worked well and everyone got them very well - especially the time or two that that pesky ki-catcher reappeared.
Anyway, this was a particularly rich class, in which we got to emphasize taisabaki, offbalance and continual motion in hanasu#1, ushiroate, and oshitaoshi. The four or so instances of ki-catching in one class were remarkable. I'll have to work this stuff for several more years before I can tame that bad boy, though!

The wiggle test

Another measuring stick that we use is to always keep both hands within our peripheral vision. Even when it is appropriate or necessary for an arm to not be centered in front of your torso, if you keep the hand within your peripheral vision it creates a more stable posture as well as giving your brain a greater amount of information about your posture to use in learning to coordinate your body. Of sourse there will be specific instances where you have to get an arm behind you to be able to do a technique, but this guideline applies to the vast majority of aikido.
In order to determine where your peripheral vision ends, look straight ahead and stretch your arms out to either side and slowly bring them horizontally to the front while wiggling your fingers. You will come to a point where you can see your fingers when they wiggle but not when they are still. This is the limit of your peripheral vision. Now, move your hands up and down from this point, locating all the edges of your vision. Your arms will end up describing a cone of about 150 degrees in front of your body. If you always keep your hands within this cone then you will be more stable and learn aikido faster.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Measuring sticks

We have this concept in aikido that I call a "measuring stick." That is, some aspect of how we practice that we use to objectively determine the rightness of our position. One of the first and simplest examples of a measuring stick is our practice of always measuring ma-ai before each repetition of a technique (except in kata mode). This allows us to better ingrain this distance in our mind. Similarly, at the end of hanasu#1, I have my students place a ki hand on uke's elbow in order to demonstrate that they are in the right place (shikaku) behind uke. These measuring sticks pop up a lot in our practice as little checks to give our subconscious mind more information for the learning process.
A very important instance of a measuring stick is the standardized step in tegatana. The purpose of tegatana is to calibrate our most basic measuring stick - the step. If every step we ever take is some random length then we have no way of using a standard step as a measuring stick. So, in tegatana we consciously work on creating a constant, atomic-level, discrete step length. The step is bounded by something objective (our hip width) and can therefore be used throughout the rest of aikido to tell the subconscious mind whether or not we're in a familiar relationship.
Of course, most of the time tori will have to extend or shorten his steps as dictated by uke, but whenever toris steps approach that calibrated measuring stick step then his subconscious is automatically in familiar territory. The measuring stick steps help tori to remove some of the perception of chaos from the system. So, in our practice of tegatana we want to make sure to standardize those steps to hip width and begin every single class with at least one run-through of tegatana as a calibration of our measuring sticks.
There are other measuring sticks in tegatana, including our practice of always keeping both hands within our peripheral vision and always ending hand and foot motions at the same time. Perhaps those can be topics for another day.

Walking over the hill

When two-legged creatures walk they spend almost all their time in one of two conditions - either standing on the left leg and stepping to the right, or standing on the right leg and stepping to the left. It turns out that this makes a big difference in self-defense applications like in aikido. If we start evading exactly at ma-ai then we only have time for one body drop motion, so if we have to switch legs in order to go in our favored direction then we have to make two body drops and we increase our chances of getting hit. It is important to evade in the direction we are already going as uke passes ma-ai. So, if we are standing on the left leg falling to the right then we evade to the right and vice versa. This type of evasion is practiced in tegatana.
There is actually a third walking condition that happens that may not be as apparent as the first two. as we shift onto one leg our center is rising and we still have momentum toward that standing leg. In that case, it takes a lot of time and energy to stop and fall away from that standing side, so in this case we evade by continuing our rising step until we are "over the hill" and stepping down on the far side of the standing leg. This type of evasion is practiced in the beginning of hanasu.
So, it is important to practice falling naturally to the left or right as uke attacks but it is also important to practice evading by walking over the hill.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Omote and ura as paths through space

Nijusan teaches two different types of motion. Some aiki clubs call these relationships omote and ura - and these names are probably as good as any. The problem with naming them, however, is that there seems to be a tendency to think of these relationships as positions or points in space - either in front or behind uke. Actually they are probably better thought of as paths through space, one beginning in front of uke and one beginning behind uke.
The techniques of nijusan are approximately evenly divided between the two paths. This, of course, does not mean that any given technique can't be done from the other entry - rather that the fundamental version that occurs most often in randori tends to be either one or the other of these types of motion. I will try to get some videos of these two motions uploaded soon so that I don't have to write out the thousand+ words that each pic is worth.
The cool thing about these paths is that they tie the techniques together better so that it doesn't so much appear that each technique is an individual thing that was delivered by God to osensei and which cannot change because they have been given an official and exotic Japanese name. Rather, the techniques become almost happenstance things that tend to happen at certain places on one path or the other.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

The Terrible Thing

Whoa Nellie! I woke up this morning feeling as if I'd just driven 400 miles to be beat up for two days by a 350 pound, 8 foot tall ninth dan. Wonder where that came from? Seriously, I love playing uke for Henry. It is a huge honor and a great learning opportunity and a lot of fun. But there are consequenses. I moved around this morning for about an hour like an old man with my back and ass and thighs and feet hurting. The really amazing thing about working with Henry is not that he can beat me up - after all, he's a monster physically. We used to tease Henry Copeland and Nick Lowry about being embodiments of "The Terrible Thing," as in, when a "terrible thing" happens to you. What is remarkable is how gentle he is. When you come across somebody that can get perfect offbalances every time then reflect your own energy back onto you so well, aikido becomes a truly magical thing. I can't wait to see Henry again in the Spring!

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Starkville Fall Clinic 2006

Hey, we're back from a trip to Starkville for the fall clinic with Henry Copeland. It was mind-bending as usual, but the stuff we practiced was far from usual. The first day we worked on the kumitachi from Sankata. These are the sword vs sword techniques at the very end. These guys are nerve wracking because of concentration required to keep from clubbing uke in the forehead. partly because of the fear factor and partly because of the advanced nature, we rarely practice this set of techniques - so they were a special treat. And the best part: no spilt brains!

The second day we worked on the end of Yonkata - again, techniques that we rarely get to work on in normal class. These are, for the most part two hand grabs - either ryotedori or ushiro ryotedori. Following are a couple of pics from the weekend.

Friday, November 03, 2006

The agony of defeat

Hey, y'all, here's the picture of P3 that I promised you from Rich's sandan demo. It pretty much captures the tenor of the thing. Sankata is a very strenuous exercise for uke and it is very long - thirty some-odd techinques for sandan. P3 did a great job. I sure hope Rich took him out for a steak and beer afterward. By the way, who here thinks that P3 looks a little like Nicolas Cage?

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Suwari katatedori shihonage

If you had to pick a guy to mess with in a dark alley, this guy is not him. He is even appropriately named "Menace," oops, I mean "Minnis." The following is one of about fifty reasons he gave at his rank demo not to mess with him...

Balancing a broom

Yesterday we had a great aikido class with Patrick M., Kristof, and myself. We were spinning through tegatana when I realized a variance in my goal for the forward turns. It seems I've been concentrating on getting the feet turned properly and in a proper place and then balancing the body on top of them. Well, another way of thinking about that turn is to turn the center of balance through space while keeping the feet balanced directly under the center (like balanncing a broom on the palm of your hand). This latter way is more consistent with some of our other ideas of balance, so we worked on that turn for a while with the new idea and I felt a subtle difference in my balance. I asked the others and they said they didn't feel it. Maybe I was the only one that was making that particular mistake or maybe they just couldn't feel what I was talking about.
We worked on hanasu a lot last night, first in kata mode, then in lab mode. We emphasized making hanasu #1 wide down the line to really get the feeling of releasing. Then on #2 we worked on getting directly behind both of uke's heels. We played some with #3, contrasting its feeling with #1 until everyone was getting that feeling of release. Then we jumped to #6 and played with extension and turning right at the end of the line instead of dragging uke down the line. Finally we worked on each of these four releases with touch attacks instead of grab attacks to make sure we were flowing with uke during the release.
For nijusan we started off exploring the two types of motion found in nijusan (inside and outside paths). Then we picked one of Kristof's techniques (aigamae) and one of P4's techniques (oshitaoshi) and worked them. Aigamae works well for my crew as a tenkan motion with later timing, but the Starkville crowd seems more familiar with the short&sharp timing, so we played with that one, to some pretty good effect.
Kirby had worked with us some this weekend on udeosae gatame, the pin that comes after oshitaoshi. He'd have uke go ahead and bend over as a "gimme" so that tori could practice building a wall on top of uke's arm and moving to ratchet uke into the ground. So for this class, we practiced the tension-compression motion with the idea of getting a good offbalance so that uke will actually "gimme" the arm in a position that we can use. Worked pretty well.
P4 has a really cool tekubiosae (yonkyo) that he uses in place of oshitaoshi (ikkyo) because of his unequal arms. I am learning a lot about aiki from him by being forced to practice my aiki one-handed. In exchange, his short arm is becoming more flexible and stronger. I want to start P4 practicing hanasu on both sides more often to see what he can get that arm to doing.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

A fine lesson from Mytchi

Here is a picture of Mytchi working on release # 6 from hanasu. Pretty good extension. She's losing her arm behind her head a little bit, but overall very good. I learned an interesting lesson from Mytchi yesterday. I was talking to her about her blindness and how it affects her life and her aikido. She was telling me about how people see the cane and think "she's blind, she must be retarded." Well, Mytchi is a pretty sharp tack and her other senses have compensated to a pretty high degree. She gets some sense of distance based on the amount of detail that she can pick out with hearing. For instance, if she can differentiate two parts of footstrike she knows you're within about two steps.
She also seems to have more acute kinesthetic and rhythm senses, and that brings us to the the fine lesson. Mytchi pointed out that everyone in class except for Patrick M. has a different timing on the left side than on the right side. Sort of a hesitation in their taisabaki. This likely comes from side dominance, but after having done hanasu, for instance, for fifteen years I can't really feel that my left side is different - but she can. I dont think that I have been underestimating Mytchi like she mentioned above, but her little observation took me by surprise. Initially it seems like a little thing but it's cool and a great thing to know. It suggests some potentially important weaknesses. For instance, is my sense of ma-ai different based on which leg I have free to move?

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Nonviolent self defense

Here is an interesting photo from the archives at Southern Miss.
It is a "Nonviolent self-defense" technique that was taught in Ohio in the mid 1960's. Who here can remember the standard procedure for protecting against a tornado in public schools? Now, there may be something to be said for this tactic when there is absolutely no other option (i.e. against a tornado), but the inane attitude that underlies the teaching of this as self-defense against people is kinda disturbing to me. How long do you think this woman would be able to steel herself while these two guys pound her?
There are other nonviolent options besides total passivity. Aargh! How about a quick few: don't get in that situation in the first place, run to safety, hide, stay more than arm's length from him, move out of his way, get behind him, shout for help, move with him to limit his damage potential, keep your feet under you, don't stand still...
How about this one: assert the natural law that an attacker does not have the right to kick the hell out of you while you do nothing!

Monday, October 30, 2006


Here's a picture of Kristof trying to throw poor Dr. Wake out the front door of the dojo with hikiotoshi. That belt she is wearing is very sneaky. It's hard to tell if it is a white belt that is so dirty from ten or fifteen years of use that it almost looks brown or if it was once brown and has faded from ten or fifteen years use. The official color is "Sanka" brown but it looks more cafe aulait to me.
After class last Saturday, Amanda allowed my three year old, Knox, to repeatedly throw her HARD with tenkai kotegaeshi. We don't know where Knox came up with that throw. Before that day I would have sworn that he'd not watched me enough to pick up the technique, but he did it both perfectly and consistently on an uke that outweighs him by about four times. I've got some video but I wish I had some pics to post. Anyway, thank you, Amanda, for being such a good sport and nurturing aikido and judo in my kids.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Fall 2006 Aiki Buddy Gathering

A very special thanks to everyone who participated in the Fall 2006 Aiki Buddies Gathering at Mokuren dojo in Magnolia, MS. Pictured above are: (front row L to R) Deanna Mckenzie, Mytchieko McKenzie, Amanda Wake, Whit Parker, Rich Minnis, John Kirby. (back row L to R) Chris ? (C1), Andy Sims, Kristof Tomey, Richard McKenzie, Gary Hill, Patrick McKlemurry (P4), Patrick Parker (P1), John Usher, and Patrick Waits (P3).

Saturday, October 28, 2006


Saturday after Rich's sandan demo we all worked on the first two moves in yonkata in the context of moving just as uke crosses ma-ai and really making these two feel like releases - like the techniques of hanasu feel like releases. Usher brought up the point that since we classify yonkata as a release kata we should really be releasing the tension between the partners instead of getting the feeling of storing up potential energy in uke in preparation to really flail him.
We started these releases by evading diagonnally inside and forward right as uke crosses maai. If the evasion is successful then tori is free to run or do whatever but if uke manages to exert enough to get a hold on tori's arm then it constrains tori's motion while putting an awful torqing offbalance on uke. If tori is light on his feet then he is able to actually release back into an effortless otoshi throw. This type of motion makes yonkata #1 and #2 much more consistent with the idea of releasing - particularly with the hanasu #1 and #3 releases and their yonkata counterparts, chudan aigamae and chudan gyaku.
Usher, Kirby, and I also got to play with the third 1/3 of yonkata - the last eleven techniques that we never seem to get to play with. These are all interesting but it is particularly interesting to me how familiar thesetechniques seem after doing release followups for several years. That was part of the purpose of the development of the chains was to bring some ofthese ideas from the higher-level kata back into our release practice and from there back into our randori.
Next weekend is the Fall 2006 Henry clinic at Starkville and we will be working on yonkata. I can hardly wait to see what he gives us to think about and work on.

Jodori tsuki maeotoshi

Saturday afternoon we had an excellent Sandan demonstration with tori Rich Minnis and uke Patrick Waits (P3). Rich is a very fine technician and a great teacher as well as an all-around great guy. his demonstration was very nice indeed. P3 is also a very fine aikidoka who is preparing for his upcoming nidan demonstration by playing the role of uke for Rich. I look forward to seeing P3's demo soon.

Suwari ryotedori sukuinage

Here is another pic of Rich locking P3 in and getting ready to fire him home!

Now stay put, will ya?

Rolling the ball

Saturday morning John Kirby worked with us on a concept called "rolling the ball" This is apparently an exercise of FBI origin that they use for moving through a crowd efficiently. It involves light pushes, blending, and moving with the flux in the crowd. It is a fun exercise that has some interesting aiki implications. From there we worked on techniques that emphasized the pushing nature of aikido as opposed to pulling motions. We played a little bit with the idea of doing hikiotoshi (the "pulling drop") with a pushing body structure, then we explored aikinage (iriminage) with the idea of the hand on the head being both a push and a sensor to let us know when uke is trying to change the equation on us.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Keeping the bubble inflated

Here, Usher has kept uke extended all the way through shihonage and into the lock at the bottom. We worked on this idea of getting and keeping uke's balance as it applies to hanasu #6 & #8. Usher calls this idea "keeping the bubble inflated." I think Mike Swain ought to give me a nice fat check for product placement in this picture! How about it, Mike?

Thursday, October 26, 2006

What if...

What if it were acceptable to do yonkata#1 and #2 releasing in a wide circle around uke in a type of tenshin motion? What if we didn't have to clash together in order to get a powerful otoshi that looks like kata?
We used to have big problems with hanasu#1 because we couldn't tell whether uke was going to stiff arm or pull into an otoshi like in yonkata#3. Then I began comparing the feeling of hanasu#1 and hanasu#3. This problem almost never occurs on hanasu#3, but rather a different one. Hanasu #1 feels like tori is in a good place to exert against uke. Hanasu#3 on the other hand, feels like a release. Tori isn't as tempted to exert on #3 as #1. For years I thought it was because something was wrong with my execution of #3. I couldn't get into a strong position in that move - at least not as strong as in #1. Then I realized - what if #3 is how a release is supposed to feel? My students and I retooled our ideas about hanasu#1 and gained significant flow and release at the expense of being able to feel strong.
So, what if yonkata#1 and #2 don't have to exhibit that inward clash and driving otoshi? What if these could feel like releases - just like hanasu#1 and #3?
Check this link for Aiki Development's interesting ideas about these releases. Not exactly what i' talking about, but sorta close.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Owaza with Andy

Click here for details about the Aiki Buddies Gathering this weekend.
In aiki class we got started with the usual - range of motion, ukemi, tegatana, hanasu. Then we focussed in on hanasu#1 motion a little bit with tori doing several repetitions of #1 motion with uke attacking either with the correct or the wrong arm. When uke attacks with the wrong arm tori gets a release similar to yonkata#2. We worked this for a while then segued into chain #1 and nijusan - oshitaoshi, shomenate, and shihonage. Class ended with me demonstrating owazajupon several times with Andy as uke. shizumiotoshi (a.k.a. sukuinage) was working GREAT on Andy. He kept getting up and asking in wonderment, "Can you do that again?" Of course I can! ;-) I tried some gurumas on Gary for the feeling of a much larger uke and it was wonderful! Owaza is so cool !!!
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