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!
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