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Pizza trumps aiki

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

Kihon as art

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

Windsong jodo demo

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

Knife evasion and wakigatame

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

Upcoming rank demos

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

Chain #2 and toe-stomp taoshi

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

A river runs through it

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

Suigetsu

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

The crucible of aikido

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

Mokuren video

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

http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=4047348715803342999

Solo aiki

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

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

Blah

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

Randori night

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

I can hear it...

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

Smarter uke = better releases

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

Kitoryu in aikido

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

When is a push not a push

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

Ki-catcher sighted at Mokuren

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

The wiggle test

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

Measuring sticks

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

Walking over the hill

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

Omote and ura as paths through space

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

The Terrible Thing

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

Starkville Fall Clinic 2006

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

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




The agony of defeat

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

Suwari katatedori shihonage

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



Balancing a broom

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

A fine lesson from Mytchi


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

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