Monday, April 30, 2007

A hundred hanasu happiness hints

As before with tegatana, here is a list of 100 hints for your practice of hanasu no kata - the wrist releases. As before, your mileage may vary. Try 1-2 of these hints each time you practice hanasu and let me know if you see anything new and interesting. Enjoy...

1. all ideas from tegatana apply
2. uke and tori are connected (ki musubi, metsuke) before contact
3. metsuke occurs before contact and throughout
4. tori get in synch with uke as he approaches before h crosses ma-ai
5. feel uke’s motion
6. think about using your arms as “feelers” instead of “pushers”
7. match and use uke’s rise and fall
8. measure ma-ai before each technique in practice
9. when you measure, notice what you can see with peripheral vision
10. tori presents the arm low near the belt
11. uke’s attack should be equidistant from tori’s face and hand
12. at maai, tori can’t tell if uke is doing shomenuchi or katatedori
13. notice that tori is initially stepping over the hill
14. try the kata with tori rocking and uke attacking at the worst time
15. uke takes 1 step through maai to grasp tori’s wrist on the otoshi
16. uke: throw a shomenuchi attack occasionally to keep tori honest
17. tori: do a nijusan offbalance occasionally to keep uke honest
18. uke: use katatedori+shomenuchi occasionally to keep tori honest
19. perhaps uke’s attack should always be katatedori+shomenuchi
20. uke must attack in one efficient, ballistic motion from just outside ma-ai
21. try the kata with uke trying to sneak into ma-ai and tori moving to maintain ma-ai
22. try the kata with a knife in uke’s free hand
23. uke wants to get both feet back under him
24. uke uses proper grasping fingers
25. uke: relax to feel where you’re offbalance
26. uke responds to all offbalances by stepping to fix them
27. uke tries to step to a balanced place where facing tori
28. metsuke helps with uke’s attack intent and recovery
29. notice that uke’s functional reach is shorter to the side than to the front
30. tori presents the hand slightly facing uke’s attacking hand
31. metsuke defines the centerline
32. drifting eye focus creates a drifting sense of center and maai
33. tori tries to get to a place where uke can’t easily establish metsuke
34. tori tries to get to a place where uke can’t easily center his arm
35. when uke is behind tori, tori turns to reestablish metsuke and center
36. correct palm directions: duud duud
37. try the kata “uddu uddu”
38. palms all the way turned
39. Try neutral palms – in “relaxed” posture
40. Try eyes closed
41. Try limited and exaggerated attacks
42. try releases as escapes from wrist twists
43. try alternate grips (elbow, sleeve, collar, etc…)
44. try tori holding/pushing uke’s wrist
45. try with tori holding a short stick in the lead hand
46. start evading as uke crosses ma-ai
47. pay attention to the time uke’s front foot lands
48. synchronize stepping 1-for-1 with uke
49. get off the line of attack
50. move away from uke’s free hand
51. front hand and foot end up near the line of uke’s feet
52. try moving your center toward uke’s offbalance line
53. make sure you finish your ‘down’ as uke’s front foot touches.
54. ki-bump as uke is stepping on his little toe.
55. turn to face uke
56. tori’s free hand stays between uke and tori
57. don’t predetermine your step or your turn
58. attack tension decides the time and place to put the front foot down
59. hands up between your face and uke’s
60. don’t track uke’s arms, track his center
61. control uke’s center, then find his arms
62. minimize all pull at the shoulder
63. tori stays “in the technique” until uke taps
64. uke, tap after each technique
65. tori turns to center on wherever uke puts tori’s hand
66. same hand same foot for stability & strength
67. stuck hand stuck foot for mobility
68. move with uke 1-2 steps to maintain the released relationship
69. move with uke in order to stay in shikaku
70. releases don’t make uke let go of tori
71. releases release built-up tension
72. don’t release then step. Let the step release
73. don’t allow uke enough balance to let go
74. walk down the line when going front to back or vise versa
75. look for sidesteps during direction changes
76. look for nodes of neutrality between techniques
77. there are only 3 kinds of releases: walk-arounds, bypasses, and under-arms
78. these 8 releases are ways of getting behind uke & turning to face.
79. all motions should be reversible
80. extra effort shortens the encounter space
81. Try this kata close into a corner or beside a table
82. try #1 stepping out and down the line with the left foot.
83. try #1 stepping in to body drop uke on the far front corner
84. try #1 with uke randomly stiffarming vs. retracting the arm.
85. use hands to elbows as a measuring stick
86. How can a small person make small steps and still get kuzushi?
87. step through uke instead of around him on #2 and #4
88. use #3 as a prototype for the proper “releasing” feel of #1
89. notice the upward pushing motion at the end of the line in #1
90. is #4 harder to do properly than #2
91. try #2, #4, #6, and #8 after 2-3 body drops instead of after the first
92. move 2-3 steps with uke before executing #2, #4, #6, and #8
93. try #2 as response to failed #1, etc…
94. try #1-8 stepping the wrong way (inside) as in the nijusan paths
95. try the kata from suwari
96. Try the techniques in random order
97. tori, if you screw up, release from the situation you find yourself in
98. see if you can get all techniques to have that “release” feeling
99. try doing randori with both players constantly naming the releases as they happen
100. remember – these are not the only 8 releases

28 (thousand) days later

According to the statisticians at the Census Bureau, God is giving most of us about 28,000 days to live. It’s becoming increasingly common to see people moving about, living healthy lives even after having already lived thirty thousand days. What got me thinking about that was one of Feldenkrais’ movement principles, “There is no limit to improvement.”
How can that be? We see limitations and diminishing returns all the time. Well, consider where Feldenkrais was coming from. What if we were to spend five minutes per day diligently working to improve some particular thing in our lives. In an average lifetime, we’d accumulate more than 2300 hours of practice at that one thing. What if we spent 1.5 hours two or three times per week working on improving ourselves? That works out to 12-18 thousand practice hours.
According to Feldenkrais, the vast majority of people stop developing physical skills and abilities at around puberty. At this point we settle into our habitual (unthinking, senseless) modes of action. However, some few of us are able to continue to develop ourselves physically for years after this. These people tend to be celebrated athletes or dancers or perhaps actors.
Even if we start with a third of our life spent, we still easily have the potential equal to 8-12 thousand hours practice. Even with 2/3 of a life already spent, one would have between four and six thousand hours to get your act together! That’s a lot of potential, considering that people can achieve shichidan (7th degree black belt) in aikido or judo with just over 4000 practice hours!
Not only are we living longer, but we are dying longer. It used to be that people generally lived an active life followed by a short period of illness and then death. Now people may be inactive and invalid for years – perhaps even a quarter of their lives. Several of the problems that are endemic in our older population are related to poor posture, including back pain, thoracic kyphosis, osteoporosis and related fractures, sciatica, and restrictive lung problems. What if we spent just a few minutes per week working on our posture? This is why activities like aikido and tai chi have proven so beneficial for adult fitness. I think, in this sense, there is no limit to the potential for improvement.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Take away points

A skill that I haven't developed, but that I need to work on is being able to condense a seminar into a handful of concrete pointers to apply to my practice. Jack Bieler of Denton Aikido is great at this. Usually I leave seminars and clinics physically and mentally wiped out and unable to tell you what I learned. Over the course of the weeks following a seminar I begin to sort through the material as I come back to it in my regular practice. I have instances of realization like, "Hey, that's like what Henry was talking about when he said..." If I were to try to make a list of takeaway points for this past Henry seminar, they'd be...
  • jo man never stops moving long enough to effect a technique on the sword man.
  • the kokyunage in gokata feel very aiki to me. These are worth some regular practice...
  • on iriminage, get the offbalance and let uke fall into orbit instead of trying to pull him
  • the gokata ryotedori techniques represent a chain of backup techniques for failed attempts

Where is Chops shooting that ki blast?!?!

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Kristof's controlled substance

Hey, Yesterday's post was my 300th post here! A milestone!
Today we had Kristof and Vincent at aikido. Vincent is a police officer and one of his law buddies stopped by to check us out. He got to observe for a while before duty called. Vincent has not done much aikido with us but is a 30 year veteran of judo and has seen many of the pieces that make up the system in his Police Control classes.
We worked on tegatana footwork and hanasu#1 fading into chain #1. We spent a while on the initial evasion refex - step offline and put hands up. I Think I may have gotten Vincent and perhaps his buddy excited about working out with us regularly to sharpen and maintain their subject control skills.
After class, since none of Kristof's kata partners were at class, I uke'd for his sankyu demo. Not an optimal setup for a rank demo, but hat's how it went. He did a great job, perhaps needing a little polishing on wakigatame, but otherwise very good. He got me with a particularly surprising gedanate. So we have a new sankyu. Unfortunately, He is going to return to Ukraine in a couple of weeks. "Love 'em and leave 'em!" That's Kristof's motto! As a very nice going-away gift Vincent bought Kristof a new gi. It should arrive this week - just in time to get some Mississippi sweat on it before he flies out. I wonder if that counts as a controlled substance?

Friday, April 27, 2007

100 terrific things to try in Tegatana

The first exercise that we do in aikido is called Tegatana (A.K.A The Walk). It is composed of two older exercises called Unsoku and Tandoku undo. It teaches the footwork, arm motions, and whole-body coordination used throughout aikido. Funny thing about this exercise - it only takes a short while - perhaps to yellow or green belt - to feel like you've got this thing whipped, but if you ask the most advanced folks in the system what they are working on to improve their skills, they'll probably tell you tegatana.
Just in case you think you have this thing whipped, here is a list of 100 Terrific Things to Try in Tegatana. The list is certainly not everything that you can learn from the exercise - if you work on it i'm sure you could come up with 100 more (and when you do, please send me a copy!) Some of these are repeats, phrased a little differently because different people understand parts of this thing differenty. If some of the hints don't make sense, drop me a line and I'll try to give you a better explanation - or at least a more verbose one.
Probably the best way to work through these hints is repeat the entire kata over and over, trying to incorporate one hint during each repetition. Getting through the whole list just once ought to keep you occupied for a month or two...

1. relaxed but not flaccid
2. work slower. remember: “fast is slow, slow is fast”
3. balls of feet, heels slightly brushing
4. balls of first two toes only
5. make sure ankles don’t flex outward
6. knees slightly bent
7. heel-toe stance, feet under your hips
8. feet slightly closer than heel-toe and shoulder width
9. head over shoulders over hips over toes
10. rotate on top of hips, not around them
11. raised shoulders = excess tension
12. shoulders down and back, head up
13. small, conservative steps
14. minimize side-to-side rocking
15. minimize fwd-back rocking
16. minimize center rise-fall
17. even when you minimize rocking it is still there
18. there is a ballistic, irreversible part of each step
19. use relaxed arm swing as momentum check
20. natural motion of arms
21. visualize an attack as you sidestep
22. falling – not lunging or pushing
23. pull your weight forward with the front foot
24. tighten inner thighs to bring back foot forward
25. don’t try to raise your center with both legs
26. put your center over one leg then raise it up
27. notice: it is not possible to fall straight forward
28. settle and pause between each step
29. imagine each step as your last
30. lead with the nearest foot (usually)
31. complete recovery step
32. put feet under butt instead of butt over feet
33. step the width of your stance
34. step no more than hip width
35. try to standardize the length of your steps
36. look for heel strikes during too-long steps
37. look for bobble associated with heel strike
38. look for heel lift on large back steps
39. count weight shifts
40. stepping forward/back takes 2 weight shifts
41. turning 90 degrees takes 2 weight shifts
42. turning 180 degrees takes 3 weight shifts
43. hip switch takes 1 weight shift
44. hip switch does not take place evenly balanced
45. the rear leg loads slightly on the hip switch
46. look for extra weight shifts
47. look out for extra shifts when the pattern changes
48. notice how raising the arm to the side loads the opposite foot
49. you can only hip switch about 135 degrees without crossing legs
50. hip switch 180° puts you in classic aiki stance
51. turn hips completely to set up turns
52. use hips to store energy for turns
53. fall off the line during turns
54. stuck-hand-stuck-foot during first turns
55. feeling the inside of the sphere
56. rise onto the balls of feet as a momentum check after the turns
57. wedging the body between the leg and arm
58. hands stay in peripheral vision (“wiggle test”)
59. fingers together to protect them & your partner
60. pull the wrist back before you lift the arm
61. hands centered
62. hands within the box of shoulders and hips
63. off hand stays centered too
64. dead off-hand creates imbalance
65. off hand may mimic power hand
66. arms slightly bent but unbendable
67. same hand same foot
68. only push/pull along the length of a centered, unbendable arm
69. never push/pull sideways
70. eyes, shoulders, hips, feet center on lead hand
71. arms rise and fall with the center
72. don’t raise arms & drop center at same time
73. let your momentum help pick your arms up
74. different contact points for different pushes
75. palms toward face on pulls
76. palms forward on pushes
77. push with palms with fingers pointing up
78. push with forearm with palm facing up
79. push with shoulder with fingers pointing in
80. push near your own face or shoulder level
81. try brushing the feet vs. picking them up
82. try with inhale on body rise and exhale on body drop
83. try with grippy shoes on
84. try with your eyes closed
85. try in a tight crowd of people
86. try large motions vs. small motions
87. try with everyone facing different directions
88. try with someone gently disturbing your moves
89. try to an external count or to your own count
90. try counting “otoshi – guruma” instead of “1-2-3-4…”
91. try grouping the moves into flowing groups of 2-3
92. try as fast and as slow as possible
93. notice how the ground feels under your feet.
94. visualize a thumbtack taped under your heels and little toes
95. visualize everything as a push or pull
96. visualize someone attached to you
97. visualize an iron rod straightening your spine
98. visualize your hips as a fountain that is buoying up under your head
99. visualize your head as a balloon that your body is floating under
100. You can divide any technique or motion using the rule of 3

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Judo newaza practice

Rob and I had an individual session of judo tonight in which we reviewed our beginning movement drill that teaches motion and transition between the various holding positions on the ground. Most judo classes use a similar drill to introduce supine holding, but this drill is particularly valuable because it makes tori more comfortable in all the major top positions with uke supine, prone, and turtled-up.
Afterward we reviewed one of the major groundwork escape principles - bridge uke's face forcibly into the mat. It's amazing how much easier many of the escapes become when you smash uke's nose into the earth first. Similar to an idea that Tomiki sensei allegedly expressed, "None of this will work unless you do shomenate (hit them in the face) first."

What's up, doc?

Tegatana concentrating on small steps and medial balls of feet. Hanasu as a warmup into Chain #2, including kote taoshi, mae otoshi, hiki taoshi, and oshi taoshi. Nijusan concentrating on shomenate, aigamaeate, and gyakugamaeate. After class, Patrick M. and Kristof demonstrated Nijusan 1-10 for our new guy. Patrick has made some particular improvements in the atemiwaza (1-5) of Nijusan. #4 and #7 still need some work. Kristof did well with his demonstration, but still needs to clean up #10 (wakigatame) and the pins on #6, 7, and 8.

I’d like to introduce our new guy, Kel. He comes to us from an aikido class in the vicinity of Purdue University where he studied under Dr. Thomas Burdine. I like to ask new guys that have done aiki stuff before if the stuff we do looks the same or different – Kel responded, “Yes.” Dr. Burdine shares some aiki lineage with us, having trained under Tomiki as well as Tohei, and Burdine sensei must still using some of the Tomiki structure because Kel told me that he recognized pretty much all of the nijusan that Patrick and Kristof demonstrated and that he’s seen it in similar format.

As for my current posture quest, after each repetition I made a point to rock my head back and look upward a couple of times to get the feel of what a little more neck extension might feel like. Working this I made an interesting observation. Tori doesn’t have much trouble working with good neck extension but uke pretty much has to break this neck posture in order to do an event as athletic as an attack. I think this practice might have helped me some without really trying to remain rigidly upright. Head/neck posture has some interesting interactions with the concept of eye contact (metsuke) too.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Unfettered motion

So, why might it be a good idea to separate the martial from the art, at least for some of our practice? Consider one of the Feldenkrais principles I mentioned in previous posts: Concentration on the aim may cause excessive tension.
By placing these martial constraints on our motion, like ‘stay upright’ or ‘stay centered’ or ‘keep unbendable arms,’ we may be creating unnecessary tension in our motion and variance in our posture. By letting go of all the constraints and goals (i.e. of winning) and simply moving in contact with another person we may be able to learn what un-hindered motion feels like so that we have a reference point when we get back to practicing principled randori with martial goals. For another example of the type of motion I’m talking about (unconstrained by martial principles but still applicable to martial settings) check out this video of Tai chi silk reeling exercises. Silk reeling has the additional benefit that it can be done alone - unlike most aikido exercises/kata.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Separating the martial from the art

A few years ago, Terry Dobson wrote a book called It’s a Lot Like Dancing. Fabulous book. I liked the photos and the interesting stories a lot – though I was somewhat disgruntled by the comparison of aikido to dancing – after all, we’re doing this deadly serious life-or-death martial art – not some frivolous postmodern experiential dance. But, what if Dobson was right? What if aikido is sort of a subset of a type of dance. A form of dance upon which we have imposed martial constraints and principles.

Here is a video of some guys doing Contact Improvisation, a form of modern dance that, if I understand my history correctly, was invented by a New York aikido practitioner/dance instructor who was not hung up on the martial part of aikido so much as some of us. Check out the video – particularly the part where the instructor has a partner ‘listening’ to his finger and following (ignore the first couple of minutes of them running amok – that’s probably just a warmup). If you watch with a fairly open mind, it’s pretty cool.

This is, in essence aikido hand randori without all the martial constraints that we put on randori (i.e centeredness, unbendable arm, same-hand-stuck-foot, making the other guy fall down, etc…). It is the substrate of motion upon which aikido hand randori is built.

Looks like fun. I bet it would be easy to teach this group of dancers to do aikido randori.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Stiff separators and contractile connectors

So, what is all this hoopla about posture? ‘Good’ posture is not an aesthetic judgment but a functional thing. We worry over posture in minute detail because it has been made evident to us by the masters of the art that minute variations in posture change our movement and the results of our efforts in rather large ways.
Consider this. Bones and muscles are vastly different in structure and behavior. Bones are stiff separators while muscles are contractile connectors. Therefore, they must be different in function – they are designed to be used for different things. In proper posture, bones are used as separators (i.e. to keep our center of mass off the ground) and muscles are used to move us around. In improper posture, muscles are used to keep us off the ground, and are therefore less free to move us around. Thus, broken posture renders us less mobile. I noticed this phenomenon recently when my butt rocks back out from under me during a tension moment. Because of the break in my posture, it takes longer to get back in order and change directions.
So, how to fix this? Being more rigidly upright is apparently not the answer, and trying to get the shoulders back over hips is not the answer because the shoulders are constrained by being hooked to uke, ao placement of the feet must be part of it. My two tacks that I’m going to be working on are :
  • Put the weightbearing foot behind the butt in roughly a straight line from foot through center to shoulders. So, the posture will have an element of ‘straightness’ and bones will act properly as separators, even though the line will not be vertical.
  • Take smaller steps so that hips rock less. This will make the line in the previous exercise more vertical.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Personality experiment #1

Anyone who enjoys watching people should have kids - several of them. Today I was observing them running amok and I saw an interesting interaction that really highlights their three distinct personalities. Someone had emptied a Diet Dr. Pepper can and left it on a chair near the door. The three kids passed by it and each interacted with it in typical fashion.
  • Whit passed by, glanced at it, and moved on. Indifferent.
  • Knox saw it, said, "Hey!" and picked it up. He examined every side of it carefully holding it in both hands. Then he carefully put it back on the chair just as it had been.
  • Quin the Destroyer walked up, grabbed it, and turned it over to see what he could pour out of it. When nothing poured out, he dropped it and walked off.

Anyone who knows my kids will appreciate this, and anyone who doesn't know them - now you do.

Posture vs. morphism

Dojo rat sorta mentioned in his comment one of the next things I wanted to talk about - How do societal aesthetic values affect our perception of 'good' posture or motion? For instance, check out this picture of Usher-san that I labeled "Great posture." Usher has a mesomorphic (stratight, athletic) body type, which is generally more aesthetically accpetable than an endomorphic (softer, rounder) body type. Even if I were to take a photo in that same position, someone comparing the two pictures would likely say that Usher's posture is better than mine. Body shape plays into subjective evaluation of posture.
However, a pretty-much infinite amount of research has shown that most people's perceptions are skewed when it comes to their own bodies. I remember graduating high school weighing between 169 and 175 at my current height of 6'1". I've seen pictures taken during that era in which I look rail thin - almost gaunt. Years later, finishing graduate school, I weighed about 210. And looking back at the pictures, you can still see all the angles in my skull. I still looked skeletal - even with an extra 40 pounds. Now I'm a good bit heavier than that (though still a good bit lighter than my lifetime peak weight). Here's the kicker... I have always felt fat. Even when I knew that I was at about 3% bodyfat in highschool. Even knowing that body perception is so skewed that eating disorders prevail in the population.
So, where am I going with this? If you are going to evaluate your own posture and call it 'good' or 'bad' posture, then you need some criteria outside of how you feel about it because how you feel changes with the temperature and humidity and how your friends are treating you and every other variable in the world. I have found that brainiacs like Feldenkrais and Alexander and Hanna and Laban have given us some pretty good guidelines and criteria for evaluating motion and posture. See the list of Feldenkrais principles in the previous post.
Over the next several posts, I plan to work through these men's ideas about posture and post a series of thoughts about how they relate to my body and to aikido and judo in particular. Stay tuned, faithful reader...

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Butt amok

I am really jealous of Usher-san's great posture. If he has to break his posture to do something then he doesn't do it. I saw a video of myself doing a kata the other day and, though generally upright, I found a new place to watch out for my posture breaking. When I am backing up and hit a tension point - i.e. the bad guy stops my motion. On the tape it was pretty common for my butt to rock back out from under my shoulders for a second before I could get it back under control. I will have to watch for that.
In aikido, we often work on improving our posture. To attain and maintain better posture. This is not based on some aesthetic ideal of 'straightness,' but rather, better posture is more neutral and gives the martial artist better mobility and options. The ideal is to be able to flow and do all of aikido in or very close to a natural upright posture (shizentai). In aikido you cannot really separate the posture from the technique or the motion. Upright posture in flowing motion is the goal.
Below is a re-post of several of Feldenkrais' principles from his book, Awareness Through Movement, relating to the questions, "What is good posture?" and "What is good motion?" I like to keep these ideas in the front of my mind when I am explicitly re-working my posture in 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.

Magical kurihanashi

Today we worked on jodo, getting onto some great hints that Henry gave me last weekend. Henry said one of his Henryisms that I wish I'd written down verbatim, but the gist of it is that the jo-man never stops moving long enough to bust the sword-man. This is because if tori stands still long enough to do something to the sword-guy and anything goes wrong then tori is stuck within striking range. We worked on this idea last weekend and today in the context of kihon #7, 8, and 9 - kuritsuke, kurihanashi, and taiatari. Sure enough they worked much better when tori lost the idea of trying to stick uke at a certain point. The most amazing thing that Henry showed me was a variation (i guess it is a variation - it's different from what I've been doing for years) of kuritsuke. If I understand Henry right, then the difference between these techniques is how uke is trying to get off the stick after he's caught. If he picks up and retreats, he gets kurihanashi. If he leans on the stick, tori takes one step under he sword to uke's other side, turns, and whips the sword into uke's groin. If uke tries to come off the end of the stick then tori controls the sword with the upper hand while pushing/striking uke with the butt of the stick. I'll have to get some video of this to post. Today we worked on how these relate to aikido ideas. these three traps are basically variants of oshitaoshi. We got a ton of practice on these in both nijusan and chain#1 forms.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Gross is just fine

Here’s a couple of scenarios – which of these is more likely to work under stress?

  • Evil guy surprises you and you step 45 degrees to the outside of the attack into a strong position, grasp his wrist with a specific grip and execute your cool move on him.

  • Evil guy surprises you and you move offline however you can, put your hands between your face and his, close your hands on whatever they happen to come in contact with, and continue moving in whatever direction you happen to be going to try to push/drag him offbalance.
Under stress, people tend to lose fine motor control. As a basic example, think about trying to sign your name legibly while sparring with someone. Point is, you have to build your system out of gross motor skills instead of fine motor skills or it stands a greater chance of falling apart under stress.
Aikido is just such a beast. The basic response that we work on during every single class is, “step offline, put your hands up, and keep moving.” Gross motor skills. What is really cool and amazing is how much of the magic aiki stuff can be replicated with that simple a ruleset. Easily 85% of aikido is doable with pretty gross motions and pretty gross timing.
So, next time someone tells you “step at this particular angle,” or “grab this particular way” or “push here just so…” think about signing your name while sparring.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

To maeotoshi and beyond...

Tonight we worked tegatana emphasizing the coordination of the pushing hand with the weighting of the front foot in the first turn. We call this idea 'same-hand-stuck-foot.' Then we moved into hanasu looking at how that same idea crops up in #1, 2, 5, 6, and 8. It occurs in the others too - we just chose these particular ones to look at. From here we went into nijusan and checked out maeotoshi and shihonage.
Our chain work consisted of chaining the nijusan version of tenkai kote hineri to ushiroate, aigamaeate, aikinage, and back into maeotoshi. It was pretty cool to work on this neighborhood of techniques and see how it came right back around to the maeotoshi we'd started with. We seemed to emphasize the idea of hiding in shikaku.
For the cool ninja technique of the night we did the two yokomenuchi kokyunage throws from gokata. These led to the suwari gyakugamaeate from sankata, which is really an instance of the same thing. You know, the three suwari from the beginning of sankata would really be worth a month or two of intense study and repetition.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Yokomenuchi kokyunage

Yokomenuchi kokyunage

Starkville Henry Copeland Spring 2007 Group Shot

We ate the bear!

Every day of your life you have to fight a bear. Some days you eat the bear and some days the bear eats you. Well, today, we ate bear!
We had a cool judo class of just myself and Rob. We warmed up with some ROM and then threw nagekomi for a while. That was okay except for falling for the hipthrows - that was unpleasant on my post-clinic muscles. But we survived it. Then we went to the ground and I did pretty good for an old fat guy. I got a triangle armbar and a straight armbar from kesagatame and a pretty good ushiro katagatame - at least those are the things I remember. Best of all, I was able to conserve my energy so I lasted for a goodly session with a 200+ pound, pretty in-shape dude 14 years younger than me. Rob did get a good positional hold at one point and wedged me into a corner of the mat but good.
Not only that, but after class I went to watch my son, Whit play baseball. Whit hit a double that drove in the tying and go-ahead runs. So Whit ate his share of bear too!

Monday, April 16, 2007


What are these things?

Usher-san demonstrates the intense concentration, known in the Japanese martial arts as kime. "What are these things?" Usher asks himself. "I think I'll call them HANDS! HEY!What are you doing?!?!?"

Colorful characters

Where to begin?

I'm back and somewhat recovered from the spring seminar with Henry Copeland at Starkville, MS. As always, it was great to see everyone and Henry's instruction was awesome. We worked on Gokata and randori and I got to ask Henry a couple of my jodo questions that I had for him.
Gokata is interesting because it brings up the two-wrist grab (ryotedori) and hooking strike (yokomenuchi) defenses that we don't often play with (we almost exclusively deal with straight strikes and single-wrist grabs up to about shodan). A couple of the later Gokata techniques are kokyunage - basically just brushing uke off so that tori can run. These two throws are now officially part of my personal set of the coolest, most aiki-like things in all of aikido.
I thought my randori was particularly bad this weekend - don't know if it was an off day or if I just especially suck and playing with new folks highlighted my suckitudinous randori.
The jodo was really remarkable. We worked on makiotoshi, kuritsuke, and kurihanashi. Henry simplified some of this stuff for me and validated some of the ideas I had about these things. Who'da thunk it - my thinking seems to be closer to right on jodo than on aiki randori.
I'll have some pics to post later...

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Class cancellation this weekend

There will be no class this weekend (Friday, April 12 and Saturday, April 13). A few of us will be out of town to the Spring Starkville workout trying to glean the secrets of the universe from Henry Copeland. Classes will be as normal Tuesday, Wednesday, and after this weekend.

Wanted: new spleen

Good class last night. We worked on the concept of same-hand-stuck foot and creating greater extension in the turns in tegatana and the last four techniques of hanasu. From here we moved into nijusan and worked on kotehineri (sankyo) and kotegaeshi, emphasizing the concepts of "taking up the slack," damping uke's potential to move violently, and reducing uke's range of motion. These worked very nicely. We worked on chain#5, including the grip changes into kotemawashi, kote hineri, and oshitaoshi.
The cool ninja technique of the night was the yokomenuchi ukiotoshi from gokata. Nothing particularly fancy. Pretty common types of motion throughout aikido. But the ending technique was working extraordinarily well. Andy and I were dropping like flies. Finally, I attacked and he smote me mightily. It was one of those rare techniques that seem to turn nearly all of uke's horizontal motion into downward motion. My feet whipped out and I landed on my ribcage before I could slap. The onlookers moaned, "ewwwwww." Andy cried, "Are you okay?" After I finished bouncing I just lay there laughing. If anyone sees a spleen lying around somewhere in the Northern hemisphere, I think it might be mine...

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Attack of the living dead

One common complaint about aikido as a system of self-defense is that it looks like the uke attacks like an idiot and then jumps onto the ground to make tori look good. Sure enough, if you check out aikido demos on Google or Youtube, uke is often either running blindly at tori or is lurching slowly forward like a monster in a 1950’s movie, giving an extended arm to tori to do with as he pleases. You even occasionally see videos of Doshu or of the various “old school” “hard style” aikido folks in which ukes attack like brainless zombies. Honestly, Doesn't it look like Frank is about to execute kotegaeshi in the picture?

What’s going on here? Surely this isn’t what the founder or his prewar disciples (i.e. Tomiki, Shioda, etc…) intended aikido to become. Well, there are several things going on here…
  • These are just demonstrations and the ukes are understandably reluctant to ruin the demo or make the instructor look like a fool. (Not a very satisfying answer to the question or solution to the problem)

  • To artistically represent anything there has to be some degree of abstraction from reality. The same is true in the abstraction of combat into martial art. There will necessarily be distortion. (Still not a really satisfying answer.) The trick is managing that distortion such that the martial art is still artistic but also still functional and practical.

  • People who are attacked violently and randomly fail to learn. They refuse to learn. In fact, unless you see the same type of situation several times in a format you can handle, it is nearly impossible to learn from it.

  • If you look at the act of striking in general (disregarding the use of weapons for right now) there are at least three requirements for any striking attack. First, the attacker has to approach to within touching distance. Second, the attacker has to extend a natural weapon (arm, leg, etc…) and has to put strength in it. Third, the target for the most part has to be the victim’s center of mass. Otherwise the attack stands a greater chance of glancing off or missing.The basic attacks of aikido (shomenate, shomenuchi, yokomenuchi) are the most abstracted things that still follow these principles.
So, the attack of the living dead that you often see is intended to be a somewhat abstract attack that fulfils the above three requirements but is still orderly enough for tori to deal with and learn from. Where aikidoka get in trouble is when uke forgets his role as THE BAD GUY and gives the appearance of fulfiling the above requirements without ever really posing any potential threat to tori. That is what uke's role is - present a potential threat for tori to deal with. So, how can uke improve his potential threat while still using the ordely attacks that tori can deal with?

  • Maintain eye contact as much as possible. If uke can look tori in the eye then tori is making it too easy for uke.

  • Uke should not wallow around in a state of offbalance. If tori gets an offbalance, uke responds to regain his balance then regain a position from which to attack.

  • Uke's attack should take place in one efficient, ballistic motion from outside ma-ai. If uke gets closer than ma-ai without attacking tori should already be smiting him.

It is really sort of a strategy game between uke and tori. Tori is always trying to get into strategically stronger positions and uke is always trying to regain the strategic advantage.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

No class this weekend at Mokuren

There will be no class this weekend (Friday, April 12 and Saturday, April 13). A few of us will be out of town to the Spring Starkville workout trying to glean the secrets of the universe from Henry Copeland. Classes will be as normal Tuesday, Wednesday, and after this weekend.

How to improve your ukemi

So, I've been posting a good bit about ukemi recently. Maybe someone's gotten the idea that I consider this a pretty important subject or something. So, how do you go about improving your ukemi skills? There is, of course, my usual advice, "Go do about quarter of a million repetitions of this and then come back to me." But perhaps you would like some more advice - maybe some that you don't often get. Maybe some you don't want to hear...
Here's a few ways to improve your ukemi skills:
  • Work on your flexibility some - especially hams, quads, hips, and low back. Why? A lot of the energy from a fall is absorbed in the musculature, and a good uke relies on the muscles crossing his hips, knees, and low back to control the direction and the impact of the fall. My prescription for a sensible flexibility program is Yoga Conditioning for Weight Loss, by Suzanne Deason. I don't know about doing yoga to lose weight, but this is an excellent flexibility program that is scalable to all different skill levels and provides a great intro. Trust me, just a little extra flexibility will do wonders.
  • Work on your cardiovascular conditioning some. Just like with flexibility, you don't need to be a super-athlete to get some benefit from some cardio work. And I don't necessarily mean running. Walking does fine. The key is to do slightly more than you are comfortable with and repeat this application of stress regularly - most days of the week - that's at least 30 minutes per day, 5 days a week of walking slightly faster than comfortable. What does this do for your ukemi skills? Well, for one thing, it improves the strength and endurance of your hip, ab, and back muscles - might not make you a hottie but it does help. Also, let's face it. Dragging your overweight butt out of the mat every 6-12 seconds for an hour is hard work.
  • Some improved muscle tone won't hurt either. Again, you don't have to be a bodybuilder if you don't want to, but as I said earlier, muscle absorbs impact. More muscle absorbs impact better. You can do whatever type of resistance program you want but I am a fan of functional fitness. Do something that moves your own bodyweight against gravity like shrimping, bridging, pushups, crunches, etc... Get a yoga ball and wrestle around on the mat with it. For a challenge, find a Pilates tape and work on some ofthe stuff they do.
Bruce Lee said in Tao that most martial artists spend far too little time preparing themselves for the activity. John Wood expressed a similar idea in one of his early posts. I agree totally, though I don't think we should be spending class time on situps and pushups when we can be working on skill improvements for which you need a coach. Take some time on your own out of class on a regular basis and work on the parts of your physical structure that take the most abuse in ukemi. It'll pay off.

Monday, April 09, 2007

The third great fear

In the video I posted Saturday, the narrator talks about dealing with fear - "removing fear from his practice."
One of my teachers liked to say that there are three great fears; fire, water, and falling. In a martial art we can't so much about fire and water (I recommend Boy Scouts or a similar organization for people who want to work with those), but in aikido and judo we become very intimate with the third great fear - falling.
In aikido and judo, nearly everything is done with a partner and nearly everything is done to it's ultimate conclusion - the ground. There are no half-techniques. No pulled techniques. If uke hits the ground it's because the technique worked. Some people argue that uke just jumps - especially in aikido. That's nuts. No person with any sense (that is, a healthy fear of falling) will hook themselves to another person who is moving around violently and then jump upside down through the air. That's just stupid. We don't jump. Uke never jumps for tori. Of course if uke has any skill and any sense he will flow with the technique to try to neutralize it, but there come times (frequently) when uke runs out of "altitude, airspeed, and ideas" and he just has to stop and lie down.
Those times when aiki or judo techniques happen perfectly and uke falls are very similar mechanically to the times in 'real life' when we fall. We trip and roll. We slip and fall. We bash our knee into something as we walk along and collapse. We get so badly off-balance that our leg muscles won't hold us up and we crumple. As such. there is no better training than aikido and judo in preparing for the most common self-defense scenario you will ever face.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Shodokan aikido short film

Easter Snap

Around here it is an old rule of thumb that right around Easter each year we'll have a short bout of cold weather - usually the last of the season. We call it, "the Easter snap." Many old farmers will plant corn on Good Friday because of this timing. Well, this year's Easter snap, beginning about yesterday and peaking about tonight is unusually cold. It is really a "30-year snap." We're expecting cold on the order of the 1971 and 1940 Easter snaps. Everybody is worried about covering or otherwise protecting their plants from the freeze and sleet tonight.
So, needless to say, the dojo was cold this morning. Not as cold as it has been this winter, but cold enough to put an end to any deisre to do breakfalls - especially when combined with delayed-onset soreness from yardwork yesterday. We repped tegatana a couple of times emphasizing different ways of thinking about the first step - pulling forward or popping up or snapping hips underneath or tightening the groin, etc... Then we worked hanasu 2-3 times emphasizing making the attacks single ballistic motions and tori beginning the technique right at ma-ai.
From here we worked on the four "neighborhoods" in which techniques live, the omote path from nijusan, the ura path from nijusan, the shortcut from ura to omote that happens a lot in randori, and the tenshin path that happens in Owaza. This started out as just looking at these offbalances and ended up being a session of hikitate geiko - a limited form of randori in which uke and tori have defined roles but uke does not fall for improperly executed techniques. Instead he flows with tori until tori is able to come up with the next appropriate technique.

Friday, April 06, 2007

The Mokuren Dojo Bridge&Roll Express

Tonight at kid's judo it was just my kids, Whit, Knox, and Quin. We did a lot of pseudo-random rolling about before getting into the exercise of the night - the Mokuren Dojo Bridge & Roll Express. In this game, a kid jumps on me in munegatame and I throw him with a bridge & roll and he gets back into munegatame as fast as he can. Repeat liberally on both sides until one or the other is worn out. We also worked on sweeps from the guard and elevator reversals. It's not really a challenge throwing a 30-60 pound boy but they get some practice moving around and falling and I get to work on technique without having to exert a lot of effort (which can mask sensitivity). After the Express I spotted them as they did falls from teguruma.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Tegatana footwork video

Something is seriously amok with Google - It ate my last two (long and detailed) posts! Let's try again... This is a video of the footwork from tegatana that I promsed Mytchiko and Richard so that they can work on it at home between classes.
I sure hope this crazy Blogger actually posts this... Fingers crossed...Pushing button...

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Nathan Teodoro's TDA Training blog

Let me tell you about a martial arts blog that is excellent in many ways. TDA Training is an eclectic discussion of practical, timely, and intersting topics related to martial arts in general. Written by Nathan Teodoro, this blog covers practical aspects of karate, judo, aikido, jujitsu, MMA, and Combatives. In Nathan's own words, "what works, and how to get it to work."
Not only is Nathan's content and advice excellent, but his blog is a great example of how to go about presenting a good blog in general. Having been around since 2004, Nathan does not appear to be a flash in the pan. The site is frequently updated with a good mix of solid text, photos, and video, and has a massive archive of over 700 posts. Comments are moderated, which keeps spammers from filling his blog with useless ads and links to 'male enhancement" sites.

And speaking of ads, I particularly like blogs like Nathan's that don't completely surround and obscure the content with endless advertisements. The ads on the TDA training site are unobtrusive sidebar links that appear to be carefully filtered for content. It's pretty easy to look at a site and get one of two messages,

    "HERE ARE THE ADVERTISEMENTS and, oh, by the way, here's some content"


    "HERE IS THE CONTENT and here's some ads if you're interested"

Nathan's site is obviously an example of the second type of blog.
I highly recommend the TDA Training as an excellent read for anyone intersted in martial arts as well as an example of good blogging practices for other martial arts bloggers interested in improving their own sites. It is easy to see why Nathan's site is the top-ranked martial arts blog, getting well-over twice the traffic of the next highest-ranked blogs.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Positional vs. submission wrestling

I thought today I'd make a couple of comments on the holding vs. arm-breaking thread of a couple of weeks ago. We pretty much agreed in that thread that osaekomi (holding techniques) were mostly useless for self-defense purposes. You can't make someone abandon an attack by holding them still and you can't even guarentee that you can gold them still. For this reason, you have to understand what useful role osaekomi do play in a confrontation.
Osaekomi is not a hold-or-die proposition for tori. Osaekomi happens when uke gets in an awkward position and tori gets into a relatively safe position. at this point, tori applies a holding technique to make it inconvenient for uke to improve his position or improve his threat potential. I repeat, the purpose of osaekomi is to make it inconvenient (not impossible) for uke to keep attacking. Tori does not want to sacrifice much strategically in order to be able to hold uke. If tori is unable to hold uke, no big deal so long as tori remains relatively safe and uke has to exert or inconvenience himself to break the hold.
This brings up the idea of which is better for a fight - positional or submission wrestling techniques. You might be surprised by my opinion. I say positional wrestling is better for a real confrontation. I'd rather stay in a relatively safe position from which uke doesn't have good attack potential and stay neutral and mobile than try to commit to a certain submission. Winning by submission simply takes far more skill than staying safe via positional wrestling.
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