Monday, July 31, 2006

Feldenkrais movement principles

Just like me, Moshe Feldenkrais was both a therapist and a Judo black belt. Unlike me, Feldenkrais was a genius. Everything that I have ever read by or about Feldenkrais has been mind-blowingly thought provoking, including his book, Awareness Through Movement, and his Judo Groundwork book which is interpreted in this essay at Judoinfo (this is cool too). Any of Feldenkrais' stuff that I read once I have to read over and over.
In Awareness Through Movement, several chapters are dedicated to the questions, "What is good posture?" and "What is good motion?" The following are some of the most interesting points (to me) from those chapters. These seem to be applicable to both Judo and Aikido and speak particularly well about aikido.
  • Effective action improves the ability of the body to act.
  • Reversibility is the mark of [good] movement.
  • Light and easy movements are good.
  • There is no limit to improvement.
  • Use large muscles for heavy work.
  • Forces acting at an angle to the main path cause damage.
  • Superfluous efforts shorten the body.
  • Concentration on the aim may cause excessive tension.
  • Performance is improved by the separation of the aim from the means.
  • Lack of choice makes strain habitual.
Whenever you think that you have mastered something in aikido, I recommend you choose any one of these ideas and consider it carefully in the context of the motions in your technique. See doesn't the whole technique fall apart for you. See isn't your aikido better when you finally get it reassembled in accord with Feldenkrais' ideas.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

The hikiotoshi demon

Hikiotoshi uchi is a surprisingly versatile and robust technique. There are several different ways it is practiced in the syllabus. The solo practice allows one to concentrate on getting the right angles and the right timing of the hands and feet, while the paired practice allows us to simulate contact with a sword. Hikiotoshi can be done as suburi in sets of 25 or 50 or 100. It can be offensive (hikiotoshi) or defensive (tsukihazushi) and these two versions also demonstrate that it can come from a fairly wide range of angles and still be effective.
I don't know about all the rest of you jodoka out there but I know that I have a tendency in paired practice to try to strike too hard. Friday I practiced it just dropping the jo into the centerline with my weight behind it and was getting good results. The presence of a guy with a bokken in front of me seems to change things in my mind. Makes it more urgent to get that sword out of the way. I ended up getting harder and harder until uke flinched and I missed, throwing myself into position for a perfect decapitation.
That seems like the same demon that pops up in tegatana when we switch from simple taisabaki to pushing motions. In tegatana it manifests itself as a desire to take larger steps, while in jodo it seems to manifest as a desire to hit harder in paired practice than in solo practice. Interesting...

Saturday, July 29, 2006

We're in the new dojo

Today we moved out of the old dojo into the new dojo. Here are some things to understand to make the most of the new site:
  • This is a private residence – not a business. Treat my home with respect and help take care of the dojo.
  • Because this is not a business you will pay no fees or dues to us. If you want to help offset the cost of utilities and maintenance, put a tip in the tip jar. ($30 per student per month would help a lot.)
  • Do not park on the street and do not block the ramp at the front of the house.
  • There are no dressing areas, so come dressed and ready.
  • Shoes, sandals, or flipflops are part of your uniform. They help keep dirt outside the dojo.
  • The toilet is in the house up the stairs to the left.
  • Every student and instructor will help clean up after each class before he or she goes home.

While we are completing construction and clean-up the following rules are in effect:

  • If you see a nail or tack or piece of wood on the floor, pick it up and throw it away.
  • Classes are likely to be shoe-wearing, no-groundwork, no-falling classes for the first week or two.
  • Take more dirt home with you than you bring into the dojo.

Chain #1

Today we worked on ukemi, tegatana, and hanasu as usual, focussed slightly on hanasu #6 and #8, then started exploring techniques that spring from release #1.
This is an interesting exercise because it allows us to explore a lot of different recurring cycles in our motion, including left-right, up-down, bent-straight, hineri-gaeshi, and near-far. It also introduces much of junanahon kata.
Patrick M. was getting a superb owaza kote gaeshi on me nearly every time. After we'd beat those release techniques to death we worked on the atemiwaza. The two cool techniques of the day were the ushiroate from koryu daisan (brush off and run) and the kataotoshi from owaza jupon.
[Update 6/9/2010 - using the releases to set up various techniques and exploring the transitions between these techniques is a great exercise.  It makes the releases much more general-purpose and it improves the flow of your aikido.]

Friday, July 28, 2006

Ukemi night

Tonight was ukemi night at judo class. " But," you say. "Every night is ukemi night at Mokuren."
Well tonight we worked on ukemi emphasizing forward rolls then building into the proper ukemi for hip throws. The technique of the night was kubinage and we threw on a crash pad so the beginners could have the confidence to not flinch and resist and end up getting hurt. Devin, the smallest member of the class, was throwing beautiful hip throws that resembled a mix of koshiguruma and kubinage - effortless and effective against class members (literally) three times his size. Then we worked on the various floating throw elements that make up osotogari.
So, why do we do so much ukemi practice at Mokuren? First of all, it is the single most appropriate, applicable, effective self defence that exists in any martial art. Unless something is drastically wrong with your lifestyle then I promise that you will slip or trip many times more during your life than you will be attacked. Being able to fall reflexively and properly is much more likely to save you than the ultimate deadly ninja technique of the night. Ukemi is also about a lot more than self-defence, but let it suffice to say that it is ultra important and my students practice it until it is a reflex and then continue to refine and maintain that reflex.
This reminds me of another (perhaps) distinctive of judo at Mokuren. That is, we very rarely do uchikomi practice in which tori turns in repeatedly without throwing. Uke falls on virtually every technique practiced at Mokuren because ukemi is that important a skill. Of course, there are proponents of uchikomi practice that will correctly argue that they get many more repetitions of the kuzushi and tsukuri phases of various throws than we do at Mokuren. Also, uchikomi can be a very good cardiovascular exercise. But, in my opinion, ukemi is such a vital skill that we try to practice it as much as possible. Also, with uchikomi practice, uke is relegated to the role of motionless practice dummy and learns virtualy nothing. By minimizing uchikomi at Mokuren, both partners are actively learning for a greater portion of the time.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Same hand stuck foot

James Reuster gave me an idea several years that I have gotten a lot of mileage out of. I think he learned it from the Aikido of Maryland folks. It is "same hand stuck foot." This is the idea that whatever hand is the power hand, you would prefer to stick that same foot to the ground. Until this point the model we'd used was "same hand same foot," or the idea that whatever hand was the power hand, the opposite foot was grounded in the back. "Same foot" is a great way to apply power in a push, but it is very hard to be neutral - tori ends up stuck in a push whenever he starts it. The "stuck foot" idea pretty much cures that problem, leaving tori much more neutral and mobile.
The tai chi guys talk a lot about "ground path," including this guy, who has a lot of interesting articles and some good tapes on the idea too. The idea of ground path is to create a route through your body from the power hand to the ground so that the force the opponent puts on you ends up directed against the ground. With the "same foot" idea, the ground path goes from one hand through the center and down the opposite leg. This sticks both sides of your body in place - the power hand on one side and the grounded foot on the other side, reducing your mobility. Alternately, the "stuck foot" idea creates a ground path from the power hand through one side of the body and into the ground. This leaves the center and the other side of the body free to move and respond if the technique does not work.
It turns out that it is easy to correct when you find yourself stuck applying force in "same foot" so that you are in the more mobile "stuck foot." You can either change the power hand or the grounded foot. Both of these fixes show up in the wrist releases and especially in randori and make a big difference in your mobility.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Mokuren uchideshi program

Tonight I wanted to welcome our new uchideshi to Mokuren dojo. His name is Kristof Tomey and he is from Ukraine. He will be living with the Parkers for about 10 months and doing aikido with us.
I like to think that I am so famous a sensei that people from all over the world flock to southwest Mississippi to learn from me, but alas, he is an exchange student. But he still counts as uchideshi because he is living with us and doing martial arts with us, so there!
This makes our second uchideshi. Our first was Gregor Barth from Berlin, who spent about 8 months with us and studied Judo. Gregor was (is) a very promising competitor with a very nice tokuiwaza of seoinage. Perhaps we will be seing more of his name in the international Judo circles...
Anyway, Kristof arrives at the beginning of August, and we all wish him a safe trip and a delightful educational experience in America.

Let the step release the pressure

Today we are back to the techniques associated with hanasu #1 (oshitaoshi and all that...). I was mining through some notes I got from Henry Copeland when one particularly interesting point popped up. On tenkai oshi taoshi we are to work on not releasing the pressure then stepping, but rather, letting the tenkan step release the pressure. There's no telling how many times Henry has told me that before now, but maybe now I'm prepared enough to listen.
Tonight we're having aiki class at the new Mokuren Dojo in Magnolia. I've finished panneling the walls and we're cleaning up this afternoon and doing no-falling, shoe-wearing aiki tonight. This weekend I'm hoping to get the AC and lights and phone wired and work on the wainscot and moulding. We're moving out of the McComb dojo saturday afternoon.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006


Ok, so every aikido technique has to have a backup plan because a major principle is that we must expect techniques to fail but not be surprised if they succeed.
Plan-B for oshitaoshi is called udegaeshi. When oshitaoshi fails it is most often because uke pushed out by straightening his arm Tori follows this straightening arm, knowing that at the end of any straightening must come a bending. The change in direction at the end of the line changes tori's position from ura to omote and creates a gaeshi position for uke. From here, tori follows the bending arm into a gaeshi lock and pushes uke backward to the ground.
Like the last pin, this one is not a hold-or-die thing for tori. Tori wants to be positioned closer to uke's head than his side (shikaku) and pressing the arm to make the position inconvenient for uke.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Nodes of neutrality

Some years ago a group of aikidoka discussed with me a concept that I call nodes of neutrality.
The idea is that between any technique and its associated backup technique there is a place from which it is equally easy to get to either technique. We want to find these nodes and move through them because they represent a place of relative safety where we have at least two options. If we favor some particular technique instead of moving into a node, then we are reducing our own options.
As an example, each wrist release in hanasu is paired with several others. On a basic level, #1 is paired with #5, #2 with #6, #3 with #7, and #4 with #8. So, there should be a node between each of these pairs of techniques. It turns out that we can most easily find the 1-5 and 3-7 nodes by staying centered and walking forward off the attack line to the end if the line. Likewise, the 2-6 and 4-8 nodes are found by turning 90 degrees offline outside uke's arm. From these points it is easiest to allow uke's motion to determine whch technique occurs. This concept of nodes between complementary techniques also appears in junanahon kata and koryu daiyon to a large degree.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Safety strategies in aikido

There are only a handful of major principles, or strategies in aikido which help to keep tori safer in crazy situations. These principles should occupy the majority of our training time so that we ingrain them into our subconscious at a reflexive level. The major ones include:
  • evade off the line of attack
  • move away from the attacker
  • put a hand in uke's face (shomenate) when surprised
  • move behind the attacker (ushiroate or tenkan) whenever possible
All techniques in aikido are instantiations of some or all of these safety principles in various situations and combinations.
Today in aiki class we did Patrick M's yellow belt demonstration. He did excellent, as did his uke. We will be scheduling Andy S's green belt demo within the next 2-3 weeks and I can already see that his will also be a fine demo. Looks like it'll be the first one we host in our new dojo location.
Anyway, today we worked on the last move of tegatana, spun through hanasu, and homed in on what to do with the tenkai kote gaeshi that springs up out of release #8. We found that ushiroate was a good backup technique, and that if we lost the tenkai kote gaeshi then the situation tended to decay into release #3, which gives us opportunities for variations on kote mawashi.

Suwari sumiotoshi and snapdown

We began our kid's class last night with suwari sumiotoshi and the contrasting snapdown in which tori reaches across, grabs uke's right armpit, and snaps it past tori's right knee onto the ground. Once you become comfortable with this then you can snap people straight into a cross-face turnover. This is another good pair of techniques for ground randori because they illustrate that Kito 2-direction principle. I got Cody a couple of times with these techniques in randori tonight.

In the later class we began warming up with light and easy deashiharai and it turned into an entire hour on deashi. We worked on the basic deashi as uke steps back and tori bumps him and sweeps. Then we worked on the roundabout, very late timing of deashi as part of the continuum of the step cycle. As uke steps fwd on the right, extend him down the line, as in osoto then step to parallel his recovery step. then sweep. This second variation of deashi was feeling especially... interesting... tonight.

Friday, July 21, 2006


Oshitaoshi is the Tomiki equivalent of ikkyo in aikikai aikido. Tori gains control of uke’s arm at the wrist and elbow and uses it to push uke down to the ground.
The pin at the end of the technique is known as udeosae gatame, and it introduces the idea of pinning in aikido. Aiki pins are not “hold ‘em no matter what” things, but are intended to make continuation of an attack inconvenient, potentially exhausting, and maybe painful for uke, while tori remains able to give up the pin easily and disengage safely. The pins from seiza seen in aikikai aikido do not appear in our style until much later.

Think about oshitaoshi as similar to shomenate – pushing forward through uke’s center – it just so happens that you have his elbow. If you take his balance effectively and move with him then you shouldn’t have to wrestle him to the ground by pushing hard on his arm. If you have to wrestle or push then it's not the right time for oshitaoshi.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Tegatana ideas

Tegatana is a synthesis of the unsoku and tandoku undo, which are basic forms of footwork and arm motion used in aikido. These motions were separated from their contexts in techniques and placed by themselves into tegatana no kata so that the aikidoka can practice the motions without having to deal with so many variables at once. So tegatana consists of context insensitive, or general purpose movements used throughout aikido. Sometimes it is fun and instructive to try to think of specific aikido techniques where the motions in tegatana are used, but because of the general nature of tegatana, it is often hard to spot a specific application for some of the motions.
One of the first things we learn in tegatana is how to evade (taisabaki) off the line of attack (embusen) using safe, conservative footwork (tsugiashi). Tsugiashi is a dropping, sliding step in which one leg shifts and the other leg follows without crossing the first leg. The first three motions in the kata consist of three types of taisabaki in which tsugiashi is used:
  • diagonal steps forward and backward
  • sidesteps left and right
  • turning steps
Here is some clippage from a comment I posted to a student's blog - not that I think my advice is so awesome that I like to quote myself (it's generally a very bad thing to self-reference) - but just to keep from having to retype it and rephrase it...
...a couple of hints to help you keep the right sized steps in tegatana. First, notice that with very large steps forward it is difficult to land on the ball of your front foot instead of the heel. Conversely, if you take a very large step backward you cannot keep your rear heel near the floor - it pops up. so, watch how your feet are working and if it is awkward to do a proper falling tsugiashi try shorter steps. A good trick for learning to make standard sided turning steps (move # 3) is to measure the width of your basic stance in tegatana then draw a box on the floor (or cut out a paper square) with sides the width of your stance. Then start with your toes on two adjacent corners and step around the box to the left and to the right so that after each step your toes are on adjacent corners.
Of course, this doesn't mean that there won't be times in aiki that you have to take a large step, but in tegatana you are learning a standard-sized step so that when your brain tells your body "go that way" your body takes one standard step instead of some random step. When this is ingrained in you, your brain can adjust your step length appropriately, but with no standard sided step then all motion is random and chaotic.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Kaitennage, hikiotoshi, oshitaoshi

Today we practiced chaining kaitennage, hikiotoshi, and oshitaoshi onto hanasu#7. This is a particularly cool practice in several strategies that we have discussing lately, including using ura tenkan techniques as a backup to omote irimi techniques, and "running down the line" any time tori switches from omote to ura or from ura to omote. The kaitennage was working particularly well for me tonight, but strangely, hikiotoshi stank. Fortunately a stinky hikiotoshi can lead to a pretty cool oshitaoshi.


All aikido techniques have a backup technique or motion. Many of the techniques in kata are explicitly paired with another technique because one technique will serve as a backup in case the other fails. For instance, in junana, gedanate is the backup technique for gyakugamae .
Ushiroate, however, is a different sort of thing. It is actually a very robust, general-purpose backup to most of the techniques in junana. It tends to happen when uke is falling on tori or pressuring tori or resisting another technique.
Because of the general utility of ushiro as a failsafe in aikido, it could almost be considered a principle of aikido instead of technique - just like I wrote earlier about shomenate. In fact, there seems to be an analogous relationship between shomenate and ushiroate similar to the irimi/tenkan omote/ura relationships in aikikai aikido.
Ushiro often feels to tori like swinging around a pole and if tori continues this rotation then the pull becomes a chest push as a separation. So, shomenate (on the chest) is the backup technique for ushiroate.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Ouchigari, kouchigari, and dojime

Tonight at Judo we practiced kouchigari and ouchigari. These are great throws, but not my favorites. I've seen some amazing examples of these throws - particularly by Bob Rea and Nick Lowry, but they're still not my tokuiwaza. If there is a problem with these throws, it's that they tend to put tori between uke's legs in the dreaded GUARD (which we call dojime even if we don't squeeze the torso). So tonight we worked these throws with tori working his way out of uke's guard into a side position (ushirokesa or mune) after the throw. This was one of those slow classes, where each drop of sweat was a tick of the clock. At the end, Cody obliged me and was uke for me to practice some Jodo for about 10 minutes. I got to do several repetitions of hikiotoshiuchi and kuritsuke. Both were working pretty well, if I do say so myself. Kuritsuke felt like gedanate to me tonight though. I don't know if it's because that's the technique I blogged about recently so it was on my mind or if it is supposed to work that way, but it was sure interesting and thought-provoking.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Totally Awesome Martial Arts Action!

[June 4, 2007 edit] Well, the video I originally had here is broken. For some reason the Google embedded video player does not jive well with my blog. They tend to work well for a while then puke and die. It took me a while, but I basically came to the conclusion Andy was pointing out in the comment to this post - YouTube is more reliable and has a lot of cool videos to draw from.

My original post was sarcastic. The video was of the fat systema guy dancing around waving his arms with his 'attackers' jumping on the ground. Systema is one of those funny things that seems to teeter on the brink of sanity, only to fall over the edge in videos like the lost one above or the ludicrous ones below.


from Miyomoto Musashi's Gorinnosho, The Water Book...

The Body Strike means to approach the enemy through a gap in his guard. The spirit is to strike him with your body. Turn your face a little aside and strike the enemy's breast with your left shoulder thrust out. Approach with the spirit of bouncing the enemy away, striking as strongly as possible in time with your breathing. If you achieve this method of closing with the enemy, you will be able to knock him ten or twenty feet away. It is possible to strike the enemy until he is dead. Train well.

Gedanate is probably best seen as a backup technique for the previous technique, gyakugamaeate. Although it is possible to enter directly into it , it’s probably a better idea to hold it in reserve in case gyaku gets mixed up. This is more fitting with the aikido “avoid force and keep your distance” strategy. In this context, it is a good separator for atemi gone bad.
Gedan is identical to gyaku but the uke changes the technique, often by doing a rising block (ageuke) with the close arm, but sometimes by trying to turn and punch (gyakuzuki) with the far arm. In response to the distance or spacing being wrong for gyaku, tori enters to the side of uke with the close arm in front and the same leg behind. Tori's front arm can serve as a check for an incoming punch from uke while tori's other arm holds uke's near arm off. Do not twist uke backward over the rear leg. This is mechanically weaker than pushing forward through uke’s center with your hip to drive him back over his back leg. Sukuinage and taniotoshi in judo are variants of this technique – essentially just grab the far leg or fall with him and gedanate becomes one of these other named techniques.

I’ve never thrown someone ten or twenty feet with it, like Musashi suggests, but I have gotten uke a good 6 feet from me in the air.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

On and off the line

Some of my students have expressed confusion after listening to various instructors (including me) talk about either "getting off the line" or "getting on the line." What is this magical line and what do we do with it? The confusion comes from the fact that there are actually several different lines that we refer to in different contexts.

  • the attack line

  • the parallel offbalance line

  • the perpendicular offbalance line

  • the line formed between our centers
The attack line is the path that uke's center travels down as he attacks tori. In the context of kata, this line is called embusen. It is important for tori to get her center off this line as the first action an any technique. The techniques for getting off the line are the first three actions of tegatana no kata. Any time that an instructor is telling you to "get off the line," he is referring to embusen.
Any time uke takes a step he is subject to at least two major weaknesses, or offbalances. It is easy to find the direction of these offbalances. If you draw an imaginary line between the balls of uke's feet and extend it forward this defines the first offbalance, the parallel offbalance. The third line is perpendicular to this line and extends forward and backward between uke's feet. If sensei is telling you to "step on/across/down the line," he is almost always talking about one of these lines, either the parallel or perpenducular offbalance lines.
The last line commonly discussed is the line between uke's and tori's centers. This line if often defined through metsuke (eye contact) and in some situations it is approximated by tori's and uke's extended arms. Many times in techniques that derive from wrist attacks, for instance, if you are about to switch from an ura condition (behind uke) to an omote condition (in front of uke) or vise versa, you will want to "run down the line," meaning to get as far from uke as he will let you before you switch. At the "end of the line" you will feel your connection to uke go taut and that will change your direction of travel.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Calibration and "edge"

We don't warm up in our aikido or judo classes. We do a set of light activities that prepare us for class, but I consider it more of a "calibration" than a warmup. There is an excellent concept used by some of the local yoga folks. They call it "edge." They want their students to constantly monitor where they are in relation to the edge of their ability. They always stay on the safe side of their edge while gently working toward their own personal edge over time. Our gentle calibration activities prepare us for activity by allowing us to move our major joints and muscle groups through a comfortable range of motion in a sport-specific manner as a reminder of where our edge is today. Through calibration we are preparing to do aiki and judo within our limits, while still approaching our edge.

Tenkai kotegaeshi

Today, after calibrating and warming up with some ukemi and tegatana we spun through hanasu and then focussed in onto hanasu#6. We worked this turn with the idea of following along in shikaku until uke interrupts the motion then turning and walking with uke going backward. All the partners caught onto this motion very well and we becan to chain through the variations on #6. These are mostly variants on shihonage, tenkai kotegaeshi, and reverse kotegaeshi. the techniques that fall off the main stream of motion include aikinage and ushiroate. We had a lot of fun playing with two variants of aikinage, including the big tori "clothesline" with the shoulder that you see on Segal movies as well as the small tori version turning back in front of uke. This second variation is actually the equivalent of Judo's koshinage hip throws. Lots of fun. We "cooled down" with some shomenate repetition, some hand randori, and a discussion of the evolution of different randori systems.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Osotogari and deashiharai

These two techniques go together like peas and carrots. Tonight we warmed up with osotogari. I was overspinning uke onto his face with the osotogari/haraigoshi while my partner's osotogari was planting me firmly in the ground on my side - so we ended up doing two flavors of osotogari as we talked about the possibility of osotogari and haraigoshi being the same throw. Then we shifted to deashi harai with the idea that it makes a great partner to osotogari. This led to a discussion of practicing several fundamentally different throws from the same relationship/kuzushi. Then we did 20 minutes of randori alternating osoto, kosoto, deashi, hizaguruma, and kubinage all from the basic osoto kuzushi.

Fences, hard challenges, and strategy confusion

The beginning of this interview is about how practicing two martial arts with different fundamental strategies can lead to confusion. In a situation where the defender has to choose between force-avoids-force and force-joins-force, the decision becomes a conscious mind thing which takes much longer than the subconscious application of either one of these strategies. For those of us who practice more than one art, we need some concrete rule of practice to tell us when we are doing one strategy and when we are doing the other. Various self-defense gurus call this concept fences or hard challenges.
With Judo and Aikido it is pretty straightforward. Aikido (force-avoiding) works best in the range of 1-2 arms-lengths and it works especially well when there is an early awareness or connection (metsuke) prior to the attacker crossing ma-ai. Judo (force-joining), on the other hand, works almost exclusively in ranges less than one arm length and Judo works great when tori is surprised, overwhelmed, and borne down to the ground. So there is our rule: avoid-force only outside of one arm's length and join-force only within one arm's length.
It is important that the vast majority of practice time in both arts abide explicitly by this rule of practice. If you spend part of your time in Judo trying to oppose-force or avoid-force or working outside one arm length then you undermine the rule that allows rapid reaction in self-defense. It is similarly counterproductive to spend much Aiki time trying to oppose-force or join-force or work closer than one arm length.
We are pretty good at following this rule in Aiki, where we try to stay near ma-ai and react at ma-ai, but the sportive aspect of Judo forbids force-avoiding while starting the opponents outside ma-ai. I think a more productive judo practice would be to either teach some basic Aiki ideas in Judo for use outside the Judo encounter distance or to start Judo practice inside Judo range.
For our students practicing Karate and Judo or Karate and Aikido, it is vital that you develop a fence between the two arts, and practice working with that fence in both arts.

Thursday, July 13, 2006


Ok, so we've said that anytime uke gets flaky and starts doing unexpected things, one great way to improve your chances of remaining safe is to get a hand in his face as a strike or a separator. There are only about three relationships in which this is possible, those being shomen, aigamae, and gyakugamae. These are the three fundamental atemi in aikido. The other two atemiwaza are responses, or "what ifs" related to those first three atemi.
Aigamae is the "same stance" in which tori and uke each have the same side forward. in this relationship when tori is outside uke's arm, aigamae ate happens. Gyakugamae is the "opposite stance" in which one partner has right side forward and the other partner has left side forward. From this relationship, when tori is outside uke's arm, gyakugamae ate happens.
It is important in all three of these atemiwaza to realize that striking makes for bad throws. This is because when tori strikes, her arm recoils and she loses contact with uke. With tori only having contact with uke for an instant it is difficult to for her to exert significant control over uke. Therefore, pushes are better controls than strikes. With gyakugamae it is particularly tempting for tori to push or strike uke sideways. This is also bad mechanically. The proper gyakugamae pushes forward through uke's head then follows uke's head downward.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006


Aigamaeate, the second relationship explored in junana, is essentially a shomen attack to uke's face from outside uke's arm. Tori's parry and taisabaki places him in shikaku and tori continues to tenkan behind uke to maintain the shikaku relationship. One of the most interesting points of this technique is that if uke attempts to break the shikaku relationship by re-centering on tori then he actually forces both partners into the aigamae (Hombu folks call it something like aihamni) relationship in which this technique happens. Aigamaeate reinforces principles taught during shomenate (like the reflexive shomen when things get flaky) while providing practice in attaining and maintaining shikaku.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Kubinage and hizaguruma

Photo courtesy of Simmr
Tonight during the kids' class we worked on newaza entries into munegatame and kesagatame. We did suwari kubinage into kesagatame and then to introduce the Kito two-direction principle we worked with uke resisting the kubinage and tori getting a suwari hizaguruma into munegatame. We ran that for about half the class then did 30 minutes of three-minute standing randori matches..
In the adult class we worked on uchikomi of ukigoshi and kubinage. On the kubinage we emphasized the four-feet on a line then back into the hip throw. Through a lot of reps we were able to fine tune the foot placement, weight shift, hip placement, and gripping. The "special treat" of the night after we beat hip throws to death was a couple dozen reps of hizaguruma. Overall two productive Judo sessions tonight.
[Updated February 2010 - Sounds like I must have been working with green belts in the adult class, because that's about where folks start to encounter these particular challenges - grips, foot placement, hip placement, etc... for hip throws. If you don't get this stuff straightened out before brown belt then they will begin to have more problems trying to progress to the one-legged hipthrows (haraigoshi, hanegoshi, etc...). This class has actually become one of my standard (almost "canned") lessons over the years. I ought to write out lesson plans for all of these standard classes so that I can pass that on to my students when they get to the point of starting to teach.]

Monday, July 10, 2006


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Shomenate is the first technique in Junana Hon Kata but it is more than that. Shomenate is so important that it can almost be considered a fundamental principle of aikido instead of a technique. Kenji Tomiki suggested that all the other aikido techniques were unlikely to be viable in combat unless preceeded by shomenate, and it has also been described as both an effective separator and a powerful strike. There are two common varieties of shomenate in kata. You might call these two variations direct shomenate and roundabout shomenate. There are videos of various aikidoka performing direct shomenate here and here.
A situation that tends to pop up when uke has a good bit of momentum is that as tori sidesteps the attack, uke's momentum causes him to pivot and continue along the attack line backwards. In this instance, tori follows with the hand in the face until uke stops or runs into something. This is the roundabout variation. It is important to note that the variation of shomenate that happens depends on uke's reaction to missing on the initial attack. Tori must step into the physical and psychological space between the direct and roundabout versions in order to be able to deal with all of the most common reactions from uke.
Shomenate is a crucial part of the aikido system and deserves daily practice in both of these forms. Seeing a lot of ukes respond to shomenate goes a long way toward improving one's aikido.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Three martial strategies

This interview at Aikido Journal discusses three fundamental forms of martial arts:

  • force meets force (like karate)

  • force joins force (like judo)

  • force avoids force (like aikido)
As he puts it, it's hard to strike while grappling or avoiding, it's hard to avoid while striking or grappling, and it's hard to grapple while striking or avoiding. So these three strategies represent three mutually exclusive ideas about combat. Now this is a little bit of a generalization, but it is meant to be and it is a good one. Each of these arts focuses for the most part on its' own strategy, though each one contains some degree of the other two strategies.
All three ideas work when circumstances favor. None of these ideas work when circumstances don't favor. At Mokuren Dojo we offer training in all three strategies. It's probably best to specialize in one of the three to a great extent, but for those that want to hedge their bets, here we are.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Uke is not a wimp

This past Wednesday I blogged here about resistant ukes. The other extreme is a compliant, flaccid, wimpy uke. One without intent who goes wherever tori wants and jumps when he thinks tori wants him to. This is not proper ukemi. Uke's job is to supply an honest initial attack then react naturally. The concept of naturally can be difficult to explain without choreographing uke.
First, uke is not supposed to jump for throws. NEVER jump for a throw just to allow tori to feel like the technique works. If the technique is not there then jumping is both dishonest and dangerous. Now, in limited circumstances, like kata embu (demonstration) it is sometimes customary for a larger uke to react in a choreographed manner and help tori make a good presentation, but in normal practice choreography and jumping are contrary to learning.
Another phenomenon that is important for uke to understand in order to create an honest attack is that attackers in the "real world" often try to disguise their intent until too late for the victim to react . However, it is not possible to move casually and "normally"while attacking with intent (see this excellent discussion on this). What this means is that aikido attacks tend to have two phases, a casual moving together (ayumiashi) to near ma-ai, at which point uke's motion changes (tsugiashi) such that he has the potential to put energy into tori. This change is typical, natural, and something that tori needs to learn to see in uke.
Another very interesting phenomenon is that kuzushi tends to reset uke momentarily. So, during a committed attack with intent, if tori gets kuzushi then uke is forced to stop the attack, gather his balance (and wits) and begin to attack again. Almost universally, kuzushi causes uke to shift from tsugiashi back to ayumiashi (natural movement) in order to try to regain balance. Thus it is much easier for tori to "do" aikido to an uke that is doing ayumiashi. Ukes that are unaware of this take the opportunity during slow, controlled practice to ignore kuzushi and try to continue with short, quick tsugiashi even though this is an unnatural motion. So, as an example, in hanasu#1, uke takes one casual step in, switches to tsugiashi for the attack, is offbalanced and returns to ayumiashi while tori finishes the release.
Today during Aikido practice we played with uke's attack during hanasu until uke was giving honest attacks with intent and tori was able to evade offline and release. Then we practiced building the atemiwaza from junana off these same principles. The cool technique of the day was the ushiroate from sankata tantodori (brush off and run).

Friday, July 07, 2006

Mental toughness training for judo

Wow, it seems like I leave every Judo class these days saying, "That was the best Judo class ever!" Today after a prolonged ukemi warmup in which we worked on the idea of building reflexive forward rolls, we practiced about a half-million repetitions each of osotogari and kosotogari. Then we did newaza cycle #2 for about 20 minutes. I left thoroughly exercised both muscularly and mentally.
During the repetitions of osoto and kosoto I realized something that I have started doing habitually. I grade each throw on about a four-point scale from sucky to adequate to pretty good to magic. and at the same time that I score the technique I take a quick survey of what my body was just doing, what I was seeing, hearing, thinking. What the mat felt like under my feet, the effort level I put into it, countless variables. What this does is allows me to begin to associate particular body-mind states with each type of throw, from sucky to magic. So, in essence, I develop an understanding of what is a sucky body-mind state, what is adequate, and what type of body-mind state is conductive to magic judo.
This is a variation of a procedure discussed in Mental Toughness Training for Sports, by Jim Loehr - by far one of the best martial arts books I've ever read. This book discusses how to build body-mind states that lead to consistently good performance. The version that I have linked to above is a new edition that I have not read, but this book's older versions are definately must-read material! Highly recommended. Check it out!

Thursday, July 06, 2006

The Jo as uke

Part of taisabaki is learning how to move around while dealing with external masses connected to your center. Uke is an example of an external mass, as is a jo stave. For that matter, your arms are external masses. One way to practice aiki principles when you don't have a partner is to practice the jodo kihon and kata. You will find that the same demons that pop up to confuse and disrupt our taisabaki in aikido pop up in jodo.
As an example, suigetsu in jodo is roughly analogous to shomenate in aikido. For each of these techniques tori slips diagonally forward(tenkanashi) inside uke's attack then raises a separator - either the arms or the stick. You will find in both techniques that both the footwork and the arm movements are cleaner if you synch the rise and fall of the center with the rise and fall of the arms/stick. So the jo technique becomes an act of falling forward inside the attack with the stick at sagejo position then the jo rises to suigetsu during the recovery step. This matches the rise and fall of the center with that of the jo so that you are not lifting an external mass while trying to drop your center and move your feet (a recipe for disaster in aiki and judo too).
Examples of analogues like this between jodo and aiki appear frequently throughout jodo, so much so that jodo makes an excellent adjunct to teach aikido principle. The jo becomes an uke that you can carry with you.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

The resistant uke

Photo courtesy of fotoparceiros

Tonight a student asked one of the most common questions, "Does this work with a resistant uke?" A resistant uke is basically one that is trying to prevent whatever tori is trying to do at the moment. When we are practicing in class then the resistant uke is just a jerk because he is trying to prevent tori from learning the technique that the teacher is trying to teach at the time. If the resistant uke succeeds then the rest of the class fails. That is why we practice with partners instead of enemies or opponents.
In a "real world" fight, resistance has some potential consequences, the most dramatic being that 90% of the time resistance may succeed adequately, but occasionally it will fail. When resistance fails it is just extra energy that the loser has to eat. Since you can never predict when that 10% chance will hit you, you can make the general rule that resistance is dangerous to uke.
This issue of the resistant uke, like so many other issues in aikido, seems to pop up because neither uke nor tori is able to keep in mind what effect should ensue from properly applied aiki principles. It is important - no, vital, to keep in the forefront of your mind what we are practicing and why.
Aikido is self-defense. This means staying alive and intact, not beating the other guy up or forcing him to do something or taking revenge on him or showing him up as a weakling or a fool.

Sensei Mike Denton of the Wind of Change Aikido Dojo phrases it very well in his description of aikido:
"Aikido is not about 'winning' or finishing your opponent off, but rather about being able to disengage from a chaotic and violent situation as quickly and safely as possible."
Mark "Animal" MacYoung expands this idea in his excellent no-nonsense-self-defense website:
The goal of self-defense is not to win; winning is the realm of fighting and is concerned with ego, pride, gain, coercion and the countless other motivations for fighting. Nor is it to kick the @%!! out anybody who dares to attack you. It is not an excuse to "unload" on someone and physically harm them for dissin' your precious self. And it especially is NOT a chance to vent a lifetime spleen of anger, frustration and bile on someone who you think has given you a perfect excuse to engage in violence. The goal of self-defense is [to not] be physically injured by an unprovoked or unwarranted attack by using a reasonable amount of force. If you are engaged in physical conflict for any other reason or using excessive force, it is not self-defense. It is something else.
So, with tori's goal to survive intact instead of to execute technique, it isn't even possible for uke to resist your technique because there is nothing resist against. How do you resist someone who doesn't want to do anything to you?
If you are having trouble working your aiki on a resistant uke then first reconsider your goal as tori (are you trying to win or to do aikido?)  Then perhaps your uke should reconsider the potentially severe consequences of resistance.

[Update - February 2010 - Other than rewording a place or two in this article, I don't particularly have any new ideas on it.  It's really a pretty good expression of why uke doesn't resist and what to do if he does.  Do you have any ideas to add to this discussion?]


Photo courtesy of Tcg3j
Tonight's lesson plan for aikido class was to work on shikaku, the dead angle. The idea of shikaku is that tori is safer when standing behind or to the outside of one of uke's arms. Despite its importance, shikaku is not an advanced concept; every technique of hanasunokata places tori behind uke's arm.
In shikaku it is important for tori to control the near arm (usually at the elbow) because the elbow is a particularly effective weapon for uke and because the posture of the shoulder and elbow controls the posture of the rest of the body to a large degree.
The chain of the night was to work on the gaeshi-hineri and tenkai kote gaeshi relationships surrounding release #4 because these provide a lot of interesting exercise in getting into and maintaining the shikaku relationship while affecting uke's balance and damping his potential for harm. The cool technique of the night was aikinage because this is THE cool shikaku technique.
[Update February 2010 - The only thing that I'd think to add to this lesson is, when practicing the gaeshi-hineri loops associated with release #2 and release #4, it is important (vital?) to move to the end of the line (as far down uke's arm as possible) any time you are switching from omote to ura or vice versa.  So, these loops tend to go osmething like, "behind - move away - in front - move away - behind - move away - in front ..."  In some sense, you can treat the down-the-line condition as shikaku because you've moved to a dead zone of sorts - a place where uke can't effectively exert against you without moving.]

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Translating between Tomiki and Hombu names

For whatever reason, when Kenji Tomiki put together his system for teaching aikido he called things by different names than did the folks that were to become Hombu/Aikikai. So, in a spirit of fostering some useful discussion between folks of different traditions, here is a super-short course on terminology. There is a set of seven techniques, or tpes of techniques, in Hombu that some instructors refer to as the "Pillars of Aikido." They are, with their Tomiki equivalents, as follows:
  1. kotegaeshi = same in Tomiki
  2. shihonage = same in Tomiki
  3. ikkyo = oshi taoshi
  4. sankyo = kote hineri
  5. nikyo = kote mawashi
  6. yonkyo = tekubi osae
  7. gokyo = waki gatame
The first four are pretty easy to figure out because they occur early in both the Tomiki and the Hombu teaching sequences. Nikyo and yonkyo are harder to find in Tomiki until one gets into the Koryu no Kata, typically after black belt level. Although waki gatame appears early in the Tomiki system, it isn't until much later that we see it in a form that appears equivalent to the gokyo seen most often at Hombu classes.

Happy Birthday, America

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

God Bless America, Land that I love. Stand beside her, and guide her Thru the night with a light from above. From the mountains, to the prairies, To the oceans, white with foam God bless America, My home sweet home.

And so, my fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country. My fellow citizens of the world, ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man. Finally, whether you are citizens of America or citizens of the world, ask of us here the same high standards of strength and sacrifice which we ask of you. With a good conscience our only sure reward, with history the final judge of our deeds, let us go forth to lead the land we love, asking His blessing and His help, but knowing
that here on earth God's work must truly be our own.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Principles of Aikido

Some of the principles, or low-level strategies, underlying Aikido:

  • you must respect the potential of anyone to hurt you badly
  • refuse to engage
  • get out of the way
  • put hands up
  • get behind the attacker
  • move with the attacker so that you stay safe

Notice that nowhere in those principles appears "poke him in the eye" or "break his arm" or even "throw him down." While these might be consequences of an attacker leaping forward at a person who is getting out of the way and putting hands up, it is not the aim of aikido to cause those injuries to the attacker. In fact, aikido is designed so that it doesn't even work very well when used in a forceful, aggressive manner.

For more thought provoking reading, check out some of the following:

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Effective, Efficient, and Elegant

Photo courtesy of austinjp

Effective, Efficient, and Elegant. These are three goals of a martial art in order of importance.
A martial art must be effective. That is, it must cause the desired effect. In order to determine what the desired effect is requires much thought and soul-searching. Someone once said "every system is perfectly designed to do what it does," so every system has an effect but is it the effect you want or are there side effects or unintended consequences? Is the desired effect for your martial arts system self-preservation, harm to others, ego boost, physical fitness, social interaction, or what? Any of these may be valid goals for participation in martial arts, but if your goal is one thing and your system is designed to produce another effect then you are setting yourself up for failure.
Effectiveness is basically an external consideration. When determining effectiveness one must compare the results of the system to some objective external criteria. This external, objective focus makes effectiveness a very pragmatic consideration. In the days of the samurai, the arts were field-tested by killers killing other killers. Thus, the samurai had external, objective, easily measurable criteria (death) for determining effectiveness. As society has changed we have mostly gotten away from fighting duels, so martial arts have developed sparring and randori systems to allow some simulation of the duel. The problem is that the rules for these kumite and randori systems were developed based on theory - a construct internal to the art itself. For instance, in theory if a practitioner can throw a fast punch with proper form and stop it before it hits then in theory he could have used that punch for its intended effect. That is a supposition based on technical and theoretical aspects of the art itself.
Efficiency is, on the other hand, a more subjective, internal consideration, and is to a greater degree based on theory than pragma. It is common, for instance in our form of aikido to measure efficiency using the number of weight shifts that it takes to execute a given technique. The theory is that if tori can execute the technique in fewer weight shifts than uke needs to execute the defense then tori has an advantage. The problem is that it is hard to objectively test this theory. If the system achieves its intended effect lots of times then this lends some validity to the theory behind the art, but it is still impossible to tell to what degree weight-shift efficiency is responsible for the effectiveness of the art.
Elegance is a purely aesthetic consideration, and we all know that 'beauty is in the eye of the beholder.' So, what role does elegance or aesthetics play in martial systems? Very simply our sense of beauty when applied to martial activities must be predicated on the ability of the practitioner to efficiency achieve the desired effect. A technique that is effective but not efficient or elegant is not martial art - it is simply 'down and dirty fighting.' When the criteria of efficiency is added the technique rises to the level of craftsmanship, but it is still not martial art - perhaps it could be called a martial science. When all three criteria are met the technique is elevated to the level of art.
On the other hand, elegance without effect is ephemeral and efficiency without effect is lazy. The martial artist must develop effectiveness, efficiency, and elegance in the proper order and balance.

New Dojo Progress

Well, the new dojo is getting closer to completion. We are revamping an old shop behind my house into a dojo. so far we have gotten all shelves and workbenches removed, torn out old panneling, and cleaned up. But, as all projects, this one has grown from our original conception. some of the wall studs in one wall have rotted because of water seeping through the bricks, so I am going to have to replace those wall studs and trench some drainage outside that wall of the building. Overall I don't think that will be too much of a problem. After that we will install new panneling, air conditioning, and carpet prior to the Grand reopening at the beginning of August. Over the course of the next few months (before winter) we intend to revamp the lighting and finish the cosmetics. Over the course of the next year we plan to replace the back door with French doors and construct a deck out back. Wish us luck (or, come help.)

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Near and Far in Aikido

Today's class was fun with some of the Hattiesburg group coming to do Aiki with us at McComb. We worked on hanasu emphasizing the idea of staying away from uke instead of trying to do a technique to uke and ending up shortening the encounter space. Then we worked on the tenkai kote gaeshi variation on hanasu #6. This also allows an extra measure of encounter space for safety. We followed this up by working on chain #3 exploring this idea of close and far with kote gaeshi and wakigatame. For the "cool" technique of the day we did suwari haragatame from kimenokata followed by suwari kotegaeshi from koryudaisan. For another instance of the idea of creating space and staying away from uke we "cooled down" with some Shirai groundwork.

[Update February 2010 - This sounds like it was a cat's breakfast of a class - disorganized and messy, but still fun.  I think these days I am better at identifying a common theme running through a givien class and selecting the Cool Ninja Technique of the Day to summarize that theme as we cool down.  At least, that's how I like to structure classes these days.  We have been working more on rank requirements (kata) and less on chaining for the past year or so.  I think this likely goes in waves, back and forth between chaining and variations as opposed to kata and rank requirements.]
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