Thursday, May 31, 2007

Mutual education

What a great randori session we had tonight. It started out as judo with Rob and myself, but we were both feeling lazy, so after some standing drills (including some work on happo no kuzushi - look for the posts in the next couple of days) and some light nagekomi we de-volved into chatting about knife randori and our aikido system. We ended up shutting up and putting up. We played with some of the variant forms of randori that I've talked about on this blog lately, including grab-and-go knife randori and the S.T.A.B. hug the arm maeotoshi. I got my thighs and belly cut up pretty badly a couple of times but managed to catch Rob a couple of times with shomenate (You remember, the technique that Tomiki said preceeds all successful aikido).
It was neat trying my aikido against a really dangerous knife guy in some unfamiliar randori situations with some resistance involved. You want to have someone worthy of testing your skills against, go find one of Bram Frank's CSSD Modern Arnis guys. It was neat to see how well the core of our aiki system (shomenate) works even against this worthy an adversary.
We also played some drills that I've been preparing for the Aiki Buddy Gathering next month. Using aiki brushoff and rolling the ball to integrate the kata and chains we do into randori. Cool stuff. For instance, we worked on a couple of nijusan techniques (shomenate and oshitaoshi) with uke given the instructions to absolutely not fall using the standard fall from kata. This leads, naturally into rolling the ball to stay safe and retain control and aiki brushoff to disengage and flee. Really cool. Worked wonders on Rob even as he added greater levels of force and speed and resistance. And Rob was able to do it well with minimal instruction.
The really cool thing is, I think I managed to communicate to Rob what I've been trying to tell him for a while (that our aikido is really cool) and he was definately able to show me better than tell me what he was talking about in his knife randori comments (that the CSSD modern Arnis guys really know what they are talking about). We clarified and simplified a lot of our talk and theory in the crucible of randori tonight.

Outstanding gedanate

I was looking around for some footage for a couple of articles that are coming down the pipeline regarding kuzushi (unbalancing) and happo no kuzushi (Kodokan's 8-directional offbalance exercise) when I came across this OUTSTANDING demonstration of gedanate (also called sokumen iriminage) done by a Shotokan guy. I think this video is worth delaying the kuzushi articles for and I think my buddies that do Chinese martial arts (Dojo Rat, Northstar, BlackTaoist) might find it interesting in light of their recent Single Whip discussion. Stay tuned to find out what I think about the role of kuzushi in aikido/judo as well as some modifications to the classic Happo no Kuzushi demonstration that actually make it a useful learning exercise.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Kouchigari for effect

Most folks probably don't consider kouchigari an ippon throw, but this guy sure demonstrates it for ippon! Watch closely, because this throw is fast. Not only is kouchigari a serious threat on its on, but it pairs with other techniques like ouchigari, taiotoshi, and seoinage to make for a really confusing mess of motion for uke.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

More on the Bear

Some days you eat the bear...
and some days the bear eats you!

These two pics are of Allen Kelly, who lives in Birmingham, AL. Great guy and a great aikidoka. I always enjoy getting to see him at the Henry clinics at Starkville. I like the intent in the top picture. Uke knows he's grabbed ahold of a terrible thing!

Monday, May 28, 2007

The role of the knife in aikido

Rob has an excellent, reasoned comment on my ongoing discussion of knife technique in aikido. he makes the point that he essentially wouldn't want to go empty handed to a knife fight. That he'd rather have a knife (a tool). Too true. But I think there is an underlying misunderstanding of the role of the knife in aikido training in general.
Tomiki, when he started teaching aikido, put a foam knife in the hand of the attacker. Why? Some people say it was to facilitate competition. That's nonsense. He could have just as easily devised a competition ruleset with the attacker doing lunge punches. Some say that it was to preserve the budo spirit. I find that shaky too. If he's wanted to develop a traditional samurai-type sport he could have had them wearing kendo armor and defending against bokken or at least swinging foam bats. So, what does the knife do for us?
The obvious answer is, "We learn to defend against a knife." Well, that's the biggest load of malarkey yet. The knife has evolved over the course of thousands of years as the best weapon around - even surpassing the firearm for general utility. Knives cause gruesome, debilitating wounds even when they are not fatal.
Now, I'm biased. I'm not a fan of the Tomiki tanto randori methodology. From what I can see from what little I've watched. About the only thing that anyone has ever learned from competing against a foam knife is that if you take two relatively equally trained aikidoka and give one a knife, he will almost always win (see the video below). The knife is simply that big an advantage. Sure, in tanto randori, someone is occasionally able to knock the knife guy down, but it is almost never via clean technique and it is almost always at the cost of being cut many, many times. So, how do they balance that huge advantage of the knife in randori? They only score the attacks in which uke stabs moving forward with decent balance and they specify that the knife must enter tori's torso at nearly a 90 degree angle. Basically you can only do zombie stabs (albeit fast ones). But this is NOT a rant against tanto randori players. If you want to practice that way it's no skin off my back. I'm trying to get at what is the role of the knife in aikido?

In my opinion, the only reason we practice against knife attacks is in order to learn to deal with being totally outclassed. It doesn't really provide much incentive to test yourself against those that are weaker than you - you never have an incentive to get better. But if you give even the most inexperienced player a knife then all of a sudden everyone gets the point that everyone is potentially dangerous. With the knife we can see how we stand up in the absolute worst of situations, and that is incentive to improve. We learn that we have to treat everyone the same - as if they are so awesomely dangerous that they totally outclass us.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Ukemi - attacking and falling

Over the course of the last year or so, I've written 22 posts that I'd labeled ukemi. Well, slow me! That actually encompasses two different kinds of articles - some on how to fall down safely and some others on how to give your partner a better attack. Well, now I've removed the ukemi label and have labeled those articles more appropriately falling/rolling or attacking. Hope y'all can find stuff better around here now.

Forward kneeling roll

When learning to do a forward roll, many instructors have a kneeling form that they say is lower-impact and easier than a standing roll. Well, the way that I've seen it done most often is not really a kneeling roll and it is not even easier than a standing roll. This is because typically it is done by beginning in a kneeling position with the front knee up - and then standing up into a crouch. This is actually counterproductive. Check out how we teach this first kneeling forward roll exercise.
(AAARGH! that infernal Google embedded player makes me crazy. It worked for a while then puked out. The above is the link to the video.)
Things to notice include: the front knee and shoulder start on the ground. The hips rise but the shoulder does not come off the ground - so this is truly a no-impact exercise. Not only is it no-impact but it is exceptionally low-speed. The benefit of this is that it really improves the muscular coordination of the torso and hips better than throwing yourself through the roll.
Now, for pure entertainment value, check out this forward roll...

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Please stab me... twice

Today it was Patrick M, Kel and myself. We worked on rolling and falling and tegatana getting Kel up to speed on how we do class. We worked a lot on the aiki basic instinct and used it to build up hanasu 1-4. Then we chained through chain#1 for a while.
Today we worked on uke's attack. I've talked and written a lot about attacking lately but this was a different way of thinking about it. One of the big recurring problems with a lot of aikido is poor attacks. Ukes lurch forward like the living dead, hanging an arm out for tori to break. Well, today we specified that uke's attack had to be one balistic motion through ma-ai just like always, but then uke has to retract his arm and center on tori in order to bring his other arm into play. Basically this turns all of our aikido attacks into either 1-2-type jab-cross or grab-cross combinations. This simple rule adds a lot of reality back into the training and gives tori a motivation (the second arm) to shape up. We've played this way some before but I really think I'm going to specify that pretty much all attacks in my class from now on are this type of simulation of jab-cross or grab-cross.
We worked shomenate this way and then added a knife, but with a twist. Uke's job was to stab tori twice no matter what else happened. This is another excellent way to put an end to the attack of the living dead. You'd be surprised how much of what passes for 'knife defense techniques' on YouTube goes totally down the toilet when uke starts with the express intent of at least stabbing twice. (Or maybe you wouldn't be surprised.)
And guess what - shomenate still worked like a charm! Sure we all got cut up some on each attack, and we each got totally evicerated once or twice, but we did pretty good against a decent simulation of a relentless knifer - which is about as out-classed as we can get ourselves without dealing with ninja or snipers.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Fall of the Spouse of Melissa

I really like the tone of this picture. The color of the light coming in the windows. Andy is getting the chops from Chops in the foreground and Melissa stands in the background with the storm behind her.
Melissa is a very good technical aikidoka, as is her husband, Glenn (grabbing Chad's head in the background below). They have both been doing aiki for a goodly long time now. For more pics of these two doing aikido, check out the MSU Aikido site.

I like to call this following picture, "Fall of the Spouse of Melissa."

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Osotogari and hizaguruma

Osotogari and hizaguruma go together like peas and carrots. Actually better - nobody around here actually eats peas and carrots together, but I know from experience that these two techniques partner so well that learning one of them well impoves your performance of the other one. The reason that they go so well together is that they are dynamic opposites that occur from the same position. One is a forward throw and one a backward throw. One is (usually) an otoshi motion, the other a guruma. One is an attack on the near leg, the other attacks the far leg. One attacks an offbalance parallel to the opponent's stance line and the other attacks his perpendicular.
So it's just incredibly hard to avoid taking one of these two falls if you let the other guy get anywhere close to that position.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Knife randori

I can see some potential pros and cons (pun intended) in the police knife video. Let's take them one at a time.
Potentially good things:

  • The defending officer protects his gun side (assuming he's right handed and the baddie attacks right handed.) Protecting the gun side of the body is fundamental in police training, and that can lead to odd, one-sided techniques just as in SMR jodo (in Japan there were no left-handed swordsmen so the system is mainly one-sided).

  • The defending officer may be assuming the presence of a partner, in which case, if he can get a nominal control of the attacker then the partner can assist. He may also be able to assume the presence of knife resistant body armor (not that that would protect his hip flexors).

  • The defending officer does end up in a mechanically superior position with respect to the attacker's base of support (sure uke could stand differently, but just go with me for right now).
and the potentially bad points (besides the ones y'all have already mentioned):

  • The form that the officers demonstrate is force-on-force situation, which may be intuitive and easily teachable but strategically undesirable.

  • The defending officer has to make one or two iffy hand switches.

  • Though the defending officer has good mechanical advantage, it would be easy for the defender to scoop him with something like taniotoshi or gedanate or sukuinage.
Now, the S.T.A.B. video clears a lot of this up. In the police video we only see one repetition of a demnstration form of the thing, but in the S.T.A.B. video we see several different people doing variations with different levels of resistance. So we have a lot more info. I'm sure not trying to sell you on S.T.A.B. but I can see a lot of good in it.
Basically what the guy has done is built his system around one aikido technique - maeotoshi.  He's got a set of techniques all related to maeotoshi. The shoulder hit may be seen as a sort of testing the attacker to see if he'll fall for sumiotoshi. The guy didn't demonstrate it, but gedanate would work well from this situation. He does demonstrate a form of ushiroate. Uke is primed in much of this video for deashibarai or kosotogari. And the guy does show smooth transitions from an inside clinch to maeotoshi and from maeotoshi on one side to maeotoshi on the other side.
The knee to the peroneal nerve is a pretty good addition to the system. It doesn't over-commit tori but it can hurt and it can give tori a good offbalance for maeotoshi or gedanate. Another good form of the same thing is for tori to stand on uke's near foot, pinning it to the ground. I also saw a head-butt in there.
Several folks mentioned that the instructor got cut up a lot in his demonstrations. I don't know how long these folks had practiced this system, but the students were doing pretty good. I didn't see them getting cut up like the instructor. Plus, we've all heard the old adage to expect to get cut.
Overall, I think the police video was a pretty poor demonstration of an overall pretty decent exercise that I'd like to play with some, sort of as a hyped-up form of randori. I've seen a lot of what I'd consider a lot worse.
The standard disclaimer applies - I'm not a knife fighter - I don't even play one on TV. Fortunately we've got a certified (certifiable) knife guy working out with us. Rob, maybe you could expand on what you think of these videos and what you see of this system's potential.
There's still more of my thoughts to come on the knife defense topic. Stay tuned...

More knife defense

I know many of you are eagerly awaiting the follow-up that I promised to post on the police knife defense video from last week. Here is another little tidbit that I wanted y'all to check out. It's apparently the same knife defense system but this vid has much more info that you can use to evaluate.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Iriminage and kotehineri

Thought I'd break up the density of the previous post with a pic or two. The first is yours truly getting busted with a very good iriminage from Gokata. I like to call this picture, "Dude! Nice beard!"

Y'all remember all the sacharine sweet pictures in sepia tones of the little boy and girl holding hands walking down the country road? Well, here's the aikido version. This is katatedori tenkai kotehineri (sankyo to my aikikai friends) from Sankata. Tori on the left has uke's wrist in an awful predicament and is about to put uke's head in the ground when he finally puts that right leg down.

Boys will be boys

Someone posed the question at the new Convocation Forum whether any members have ever had to use their martial arts skills. I figured I’d answer that one here.
The only real bad altercation I’ve been in was in college. This was after I’d done several years of TKD and karate, but before I got into judo and aikido. A group of us had gone to a concert in Birmingham Alabama and were returning home just after midnight. We wanted to get something to eat and stopped in Bessemer Alabama. Everybody we’ve told about this since then has said “Well, that’s stupid. Why the hell would you stop in Bessemer?” Apparently the proper protocol for navigating Bessemer is lock the doors and drive faster than the speed limit. We didn’t know…
We actually avoided the McDonalds because there were a lot of seedy looking characters hanging around, so we stopped at Krystal’s. The place was deserted except for a group of four teens huddled in the corner. We ordered, got our food, and went to sit down. My roommate, who got his food first, sat us in a corner table and one of the teens was talking to him and he went back to his buddies as the rest of our group came up.
Looking back, with greater training and experience, I can see now that the four teens were working themselves up to get into a fight with us. They were feeding off each other and escalating. Finally one of them pointed at my roommate and yelled, “Hey, that fat guy called me ‘boy’!” Well, that perceived racist comment pulled the trigger on the teens and one in a green hoodie ran over, pushed my girlfriend’s face into the table, leaned over her, and slapped my roommate. The others jumped on my friends across the table from me and my roommate.
We were in shock and the rest of the fight is sketchy. I was standing in shock doing nothing and I remember my girlfriend shaking my arm and shouting at me, “Do something, do something, DO SOMETHING…” My roomie and I turned the table over to get out of the corner and the melee was general.
I faced off with green hoodie guy and said something cool like, “You’d better take your friends and get out of here!” Not appropriate at all since my friends were already getting their asses kicked. So Green Hoodie responded the only way he could, “Or else what?” I retorted by front kicking him so hard in the nards that he came off the ground.
Hey, that’s a pretty good start for things, I thought to myself as he landed on his feet and proceeded to jump on me. I managed to duck aside and caught him over a shoulder and he started biting me on the back. CHEWING on my lats! That wasn’t part of my TKD training! I punched him in the nards enough times that he let go of my back and I rammed his head into a plate glass window (it didn’t break). He ran away.
By the time I was through screwing around with my guy, the fight was breaking up and the other guys were running after Green Hoodie. But we probably took the worst of it. Discussing the fight afterwards, we figured out what each of the others were doing. One of my friends had grabbed two of them in rear chokes and just lay down, using them as shields and keeping them out of the fight. Probably the most sensible group tactic executed that day.
Someone told me that I’d had a chair broken over me (and these were no wimpy chairs). I never knew. Someone had picked up a piece of that chair and clubbed my friend who was choking the two guys. My roommate (the fat guy) had been STABBED in the chest and back and neck seven times and had done virtually nothing to defend himself (still in shock). My girlfriend accidentally got in Knife Guy’s way on his way out and he stabbed her in the side of the chest in passing.
Cops arrived moments after the other guys fled. We filed our reports. The cops’ response was, “You know, boys will be boys.” Krystals employees wanted us to pay damages. “Hell no,” was our response. We went to the ER and the doctor insisted that we spend the night. “Hell no,” We didn’t want to stay at the hospital. The ER doctor (the most noble and kind experience of the night) even offered to pay for us a hotel room so we wouldn’t have to drive back to Starkville that night. “Hell no,” we weren’t about to spend the night near Bessemer.
For a couple of years after that I would wake up shaking and sweating and fists clenched dreaming about Green Hoodie. I imagined things I could have done to Green Hoodie. Worried over things I should have done to Green Hoodie. For a long time I puked at random times during car rides. I didn’t realize till later it was PTSD. It took me a long time after that night to forgive Green Hoodie so he would finally stop chewing on my back and my gut and my heart. I hope Green Hoodie and his friends have made something positive of their lives and I sure hope that he and his friends have forgiven us for the things we did and said to them all those years ago.
Six take away lessons:
  • Drive through Bessemer faster than the speed limit with the doors locked.
  • Don’t get in fights – there is no positive outcome.
  • Don’t sit around with a burger in your mouth while folks are escalating nearby.
  • When attacked, do SOMETHING instead of nothing.
  • Front kick to the nards is not a fight ender.
  • The only real fight ender is forgiveness.

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Monday, May 21, 2007

Fear factor - Magnolia style

I pretty much defy someone to come up with a scarier thing than having a teenage white belt blind girl swinging a 52 inch oak pole within inches of your face.
Today I worked with Mytchi on a variation of tsukezue, the first kata of Seitei Jodo. She was doing good with her distancing, and after several repetitions hit the first offbalance point very well. We alternated working with my wooden jo and her aluminum cane that happens to be the same length. We need to work on her posture and grip, but she was doing good overall. I just had to stop and tell her to mash reset a couple of times because she was freaking me out too much.
I was having visions of my shiny, expensive implanted teeth scattered across the driveway.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Fierce Tamura seoinage

Many people, when they think 'judo' think about the shoulder throw, seoinage. Although this type of takedown is common to pretty much all grappling styles, folks seem to especially associate seoinage with judo.
I was sifting through YouTube looking for a good example of seoinage for a post in my series of the nine core throws in judo, when I came across this video. This is merely an okay example of seoinage - when it comes down to it, with a resistant opponent of this level, the throw will not look like the throw you practice in the dojo anyway. But what caught my eye was the fierce persistence of the thrower as well as the awesome attempt by the opponent to avoid the loss.

How would you like to have that happen to you on concrete!?

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Cops teaching a knife defense

Well, folks, what do you think of this?

Tenkai kotehineri and more kokyunage

Aiki class this morning included Andy von Hattiesburg and two of Clan McKenzie, Richard and Mytchi. We warmed up and ran through tegatana and Andy mentioned that he was having some difficulty with a couple of the moves - the forward and backward turns - so we repped them a bunch each. Then we moved into hanasu and worked all eight, trading partners after each round. After running hanasu in kata mode several times we changed it up, having Andy close his eyes and follow the motion of the release rather than having tori choose and execute a release. Then we worked on using the various releases to walk out of wristlocks. Good sensitivity drills. Richard got some film of this and should be burning me a CD this weekend, so perhaps I can get some of these sensitivity/flow drills uploaded Monday or so. (So watch for it Dojo Rat;-)
I let Andy call the technique of the day and he called for tenkai kote hineri. We did this as a chain off of release #5 into the hineri. Once you get the lock,uke has a couple of typical motions that happen to try to relieve the pressure - he might turn his back to you, as if to do a spinning backfist, in which case, ushiroate is appropriate. Alternately he might bend forward at the waist to try to relieve the pressure, in which case the kata finish for tenkai kote hineri or hikitaoshi or oshitaoshi would be appropriate. Toward the end of class we talked and worked more on the aiki brush-off. This time, the form it took was Usher-san's fun ryotedori kokyunage. They got this working acceptably and we closed class by returning to hanasu 1-4, making them into kokyunage-style brush-offs.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Yeah, baby! Deashibarai!

If osotogari is the King of Throws then deashibarai can probably easily be considered the Queen of Throws, or the mother of all footsweeps. Above we see an excellent, classic deashi against a higher-ranked highly resistant opponent. Both of these guys had a lot of trouble once they ended up on the ground but the throw itself was superb. Below we see an unbelievable, superhuman counter (uranage) to osotogari, demonstrating that not even the King of Throws is foolproof.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Osotogari - the king of throws

The other day I published a list of what I consider to be the "Divine Nine"core throws in judo. Although this is an unordered list, osotogari is really the King of Throws due to its versitility. It can be taught and effectively thrown moving forward or backward, with otoshi or guruma timing, on the left or right side. It is one of only a few throws that is easily throwable with tori's power side no matter which direction uke is moving.

It is also scalable, in that beginners can safely and comfortably learn this throw while first learning to fall. Whenever several of us are stiff or sore, we tend to use osotogari (or deashi) as a continuation of warmup and ukemi practice to give us more time to loosen up and to more smoothly blend the ukemi practice into paired throwing practice (nagekomi). Onthe other end of the scalable nature of osotogari, tori can, if necessary put the extra oomph into it to make it extremely violent. In fact, I know of no other technique except perhaps ukigoshi with the potential for such a severe fall. I have been knocked senseless with a violent osoto and I've broken deep hip muscles with an ukigoshi fall.

Osotogari is also a very flexible technique. With minimal modification on tori's part, uke is threatened with haraigoshi or osoto makikomi. The harder uke resists osotogari the more trivial they make it for tori to switch to hizaguruma or deashibarai.

As the 'King of throws,' osotogari deserves your attention. If you study some other system and only take one thing from judo - take this one.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Paul Greenhill’s

Let me tell you guys about an excellent opportunity for you to get some very good info about grappling…

Paul Greenhill (A.K.A. The Wise Grappler) is a BJJ guy from Camp Springs Maryland who runs a newsletter for older grapplers (OG). The basic gist of his material is how to keep from being injured by hyper-competitive young jujitsu studs (who he calls ‘young punks’ among other things) while still making the most out of your grappling training. Even folks who might not qualify as “older” but rather “non-traditional” or “non-competitive” grapplers will benefit from this great info source.

Paul delivers his content through a couple of free weekly email newsletters, including an introductory “7 survival secrets every older and non-traditional grappler must know.” you can (and should) check this out by going to As an additional benefit beyond the “7 secrets,” Paul sends out weekly inspirational testimonials from older and non-traditional grapplers around the world who have used his advice to their benefit.

Paul’s latest testimonial was so awesome that I wrote him and asked permission to reprint it here:

Hi Paul,
I've been reading your mails for a few months now and I always enjoy them. I can't really say I can relate to the "young punks" which is a good thing. I thought I wanted to share my BJJ story, I don’t know if I am really a true OG since I am only 32 years old. But I think my story might make me one in the gang.

As said, I am 32 years old going on 33. I was born with a heart condition which stopped me from doing any sports as a child. When I got to my 20ties, I was cleared by the doctors and started to go to the gym to try and work out. Six years ago, sitting in my car on my way to the office, I was involved in a car crash. I was hit from behind and my car was a wreck. I got a whiplash from it and still today, I have problems with stiffness and headaches.

Can it get any worse? Yes it can. My father died suddenly 2 years ago at the age of 64. I was working 60-80h weeks as a managing director for a mobile content company when he passed away. I hit the wall and fell into depressions from the work stress, being a very young manager for 2 countries, and the sudden death of my father was just too much for me.

During my sick leave, I lost my job and the doctors discovered I suffer from Aspegers Syndrome, which is a form of Autism. I was so doped up on anti-depressives and sleeping pill, you wouldn't believe it!

Last summer, I decided enough is enough and I made of my mind to get back to life! I started to try and cut down on the medics despite my doctors wanted to increase my medications. I was going to the gym lifting weights and saw all these punks standing in front of the mirrors trying to look big and scary and I realized I needed something else if I wanted to feel good. I found the gym to be a mentally bad place for me.

What to do?

With all this in my history, I found a gym in the suburbs (here in Sweden, the suburbs are the bad places where you don't want to live). It was a MMA Gym focusing on Shooto (with several pro fighters doing Shooto) and NHB/Vale Tudo. They have a pretty big Muay Thai section too. One of the NHB fighters started a small BJJ section going at 2 days a week. I went in, took the "try out" lesson and I have never looked back!

I've been training now for two semesters and it's great! I am the oldest guy going at it. I am also the only one NOT doing Shooto. Which means everybody is bad ass at no-gi grappling. I never tapped anybody (it's not possible for me). These younger guys who train 4-5 times a week are just too good for me. But so what? We have a great time, no ego, and NO punks! I can be me and people just accepts me and we roll like there is no tomorrow.

When we roll, I always want to roll with the biggest and baddest guys. I learn more from the bigger and the better guys. I feel if I can sweep a 230+ guy, it's much easier to sweep a smaller guy later. I believe you should go in, do your best, and don't care if you tap out. It's when you tap out, you learn and get better. I can't understand guys that want to roll with the weaker guys to "win" the sparring. What do you LEARN from tapping out a weaker guy? If I roll with my coach 1000 times and he taps me 999 and I tap him the 1000 time, who has learned the most and who has evolved?

I have.

BJJ has given me so much. I am off all medications, anti-depressives, and sleeping pills. I never ever had cardio before. Now I have some, and I am working on getting better. I am very happy that I don't recognize anything when comes to the young punks.

I feel I am very, very weak in my game and I get my ass handed to me by bigger and smaller guys. It IS kind of hard mentally to get beat up by everybody, BUT at the same time I learn so much from it. I have never had a class were I did not learn and get better. And is that not what it's all about? Getting better, learning new things, testing yourself, and getting better?

Cheers, Lars

[Paul Responded:]

Lars, let me first congratulate you on having the inner strength to fight through those issues and put yourself back on track. That in itself is amazing. You are an OG at 32, welcome to the "gang!"

I have to applaud your mat attitude and the way you approach training. The fact that you're more focused on learning and not overly concerned about taking a beating from your teammates, it puts you in a position to be able to give some mat beatings in the future. I get many emails each week from OGs wanting tips to become "hammers" and completely bypass the "nail" phase. You can't bypass it; you need to accept it as fact and go through it! And once you've come to the conclusion that you can take it, you'll be in the position to learn how to be a hammer. And there are LOTs of OG Hammers (OGH) out there on the mats training every day around the world, I hear from them every week! You may not be a hammer right now, Lars. But with your's only a matter of time.

Kristof’s Sendoff

Our 2006-2007 exchange student/uchideshi has completed his program and is headed back to Ukraine. We’ve enjoyed having him stay with us and work out with us. It’s been really interesting seeing how a young man changes between about age 15 and 16. It’s easy to forget about that during the ensuing 20-something years between Kristof and myself. It is also a good preview for what is coming up for the Parkers (in about 10 years Whit, Knox, and Quin will all be teenagers).
This was also our first extended experience working with an Aikikai guy. I have to say that I found our practice methods somewhat different but we were all able to recognize each other’s aikido as being aikido. Same in principle – different in practice. Kristof made the adjustment to working our way very well, and I don’t think that I’m out of line to say I think he has probably learned a good bit about aikido that will benefit him when he returns to his Aikikai class in Ukraine. I know I learned a good bit about the Aikikai way of doing things and some of their exercises that we don’t typically do (like suwari kokyudosa).
Because of his previous training and his frequent attendance, Kristof was able to make the skill and time-in-grade requirements for sankyu during his year here. If there is anyone in the trans-Carpathian region of Ukraine that is interested in the way we do aikido here in southwest Mississippi, Kristof Tomey is your contact!

A valuable lesson

Here's a short interest piece as a break from the 'kihon in judo' thread (that I'm not through beating to death yet).

A while back I was sitting at the feet of the old masters. No, not the martial arts masters. I was actually eating lunch with an old law enforcement guy and an old physician. Each has been involved in his respective profession longer than I’ve been alive – so they qualify as old masters.
One was telling a story about the “old days.” They knew of this mom & pop country convenience store where the storeowner was a crotchety old guy who kept a pistol and showed it to everyone that he spoke to. One day the law enforcement guy got a call saying that this store owner’s establishment had been robbed, so he drove out there figuring to have to pick up the corpse of the perpetrator. When he got there the robbers were gone and he proceeded to get the story. A couple of guys had pulled up, gotten some gasoline, come in and picked up some food.

“Y’all goin hunting?” The storeowner asked, looking at the food they’d selected.

“Nope,” one of them said, pulling a pistol. “We on the run – give us your money!”

The crotchety old gun owner meekly handed over the money and they went on their way. The Law man was confused, and asked, “Didn’t you have your pistol on you?”

“Well, I got to looking down the barrel of that guy’s gun,” replied the storeowner. “And I couldn’t remember if I’d re-loaded the damn thing after I cleaned it yesterday. So I didn’t even pull it.”

“Damn good thing he didn’t pull it,” agreed the old doctor and the old law man.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Core techniques in judo

I posted earlier that the old masters didn’t give us much clue about how to structure the piles of techniques that they left us so we could teach them effectively. That’s not entirely true – they did give us a couple of hints – the kata and the divisions. In this post I want to talk about the divisions and use them to develop a set of core techniques to be practiced regularly (though not as often as kihon.)
The Kodokan divides all throwing techniques into several groups, or divisions:
  • Foot throws – the action mainly happens with the foot
  • Hip throws – the action mainly happens with the hips
  • Hand throws – the action mainly happens with the hands
  • Sacrifices – tori sacrifices his upright posture to attain the throw
I think it is useful to divide some of these groups into a system like the following:
  • Slips – leg throws that move uke’s unweighted foot as he tries to bear weight on it
  • Trips – leg throws that stop uke’s moving foot as he tries to weightbear with it
  • Reaps – leg throws that move uke’s weightbearing leg
  • Hooks – leg throws that break down uke’s weightbearing leg
  • Small hip throws – throws based on or mechanically similar to ukigoshi
  • Large hip throws – throws based on or mechanically similar to ogoshi
  • Floating hand throws – timing throws, typically otoshi motions, like sumiotoshi
  • Pick-up hand throws – lifting throws like teguruma
  • Back sacrifices – like tomoe nage
  • Side sacrifices – like yoko gake
For a core set of techniques to practice, one would want most of these groups represented. In most cases it is pretty easy to come up with the representative technique for each group. For instance, when I say, “Name a leg throw that moves uke’s weightbearing leg.” Most folks probably immediately think of osotogari. For some of the groups (e.g. Large hip throws) there may be some debate as to which technique is most representative of that class of throw. Some may reasonably argue for ogoshi, tsurigoshi, kubinage, or others.
Following is my list of the techniques I consider to be the core of judo. I teach all of these before green belt as the basis of all the other throws. For the sake of brevity and simplicity of this set of core techniques, I have excluded sacrifices, pick-ups, and hooks. If I absolutely had to choose a pickup and a sacrifice, I’d choose the single-leg pick and yoko tomoenage. Also, because of personal preference you will see that the slip-class and trip-class throws are over-represented. If I had to only pick one slip and one trip they would be deashibarai and hizaguruma.
  • Osotogari (reap)
  • Hizaguruma (trip)
  • Kosotogari (trip)
  • Ouchigari (slip)
  • Kouchigari (slip)
  • Deashibarai (slip)
  • Ukigoshi (small hip throw)
  • Kubinage (large hip throw)
  • Seoinage (floating hand throw)
If you check out the gokyonowaza you will see that the above 9 throws are very much representative of the vast majority of the first three kyo and parts of the rest of the syllabus (with the exception of pickups and sacrifices). Most of the throws can be considered variations on the above.
This is an unordered list. It can be taught in pretty much any order you like. Also, I have not specified any certain variation or version of each technique. These are really core principles. You might work on one variant of osotogari on week and next time you come back to it, work on a different variation.
After warming up and running through the kihon I almost always spend some time in each class working on one of these core techniques. Doesn’t have to be a lot of time – maybe just 5 minutes. Maybe just 25 reps of one of these core techniques as a review each class.. A good way to do it is work on the first one for a week, then move to the next one for a week, and so on… In this way you get through the entire core of judo every nine weeks. Another good point of cycling through the list like this is you don’t use up all of your class time repping core techniques so you save time in each class for randori and/or tokuiwaza.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Kihon and uchikomi

Now that I've spilt my guts about kihon in judo over the course of the last post or two, it's time for specifiics. What do I consider to be kihon in judo?
On the ground:
  • All ukemi (particularly rolling forward from kneeling and backward from side-lying)
  • Shirai 2-hands on a point drill (shrimping and bridging - more on this in a later post)
  • Groundwork cycle #1 (transitions between mune, kesa, ushiro kesa, tate, and kami with uke supine, prone, and turtled - more on this in a later post)


  • Taisabaki (tsugiashi displacements to the diagonals, sides, and turning – particularly the backstep in)
  • Happo no kuzushi (but not the senseless version seen in the judo textbooks - more on this in a later post)
  • Footsweep to control drill (a nonspecific ashiwaza exercise that builds understanding of timing and kuzushi - more on this in a later post)

Some die-hard old school folks might ask why I didn't list uchikomi as kihon. Uchikomi is (to my way of thinking) more technique-specific than kihon. When you practice uchikomi you are practicing osotogari uchikomi or seoinage uchikomi or etc... If you look back over the short lists above these kihon are very general. The motions and skills learnt here apply to many situations throughout judo. If you do 25 or 50 reps of osotogari then you pretty much only become better at osotogari. On the other hand, if you practice 25 or 50 reps of some particular taisabaki then you stand to improve your performance of every technique in which that taisabaki appears. That is why kihon is deliberately non-specific and why class time is devoted to it in every class.

This does not mean that I think that uchikomi is necessarily a bad exercise. It can be quite useful as well as good physical exercise - but I wouldn't spend class time doing uchikomi of specific techniques during every class (though it might be good to do 10-25 uchikomi of your tokuiwaza after each class.

You can see from this that I am developing in this series of posts a sort of hierarchy of techniques in judo - some techniques or exercises you will want to practice every class, some others you will want to practice regularly but not neccessarily every class, and some other techniques might be only visited occasionally for spice or to make a point.

Stay tuned for my ideas on which techniques form a core that should be practiced regularly.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Kihon in judo

So, the founder and the early generations of judoka left us several huge piles of techniques but little in the way of organization or clues about how to teach them. In a way, this was good because it freed successive generations to be creative, and that creativity has been successful in large part because of the emphasis on the randori system. Coaches taught, for the most part, what worked for them in randori/shiai, and players used it if it made sense and dropped it if it didn’t make sense at the time.
I guess one reason that this surprises me so much is the fact that Kano and Tomiki, et al. were educators. Kano had this idea that “what one man can learn, he can teach 100 generations of men.” With this current structure of “try it, use it, or ditch it as it pleases you,” there is nothing to keep judo from becoming a system of three techniques (i.e. osotogari, single leg pick, and seoinage for instance), and if that happens, then the knowledge that Kano was trying to preserve and pass on will fade away. I had a pastor tell me a while back that you only have to fail to teach something for about one generation (30-40 years) before it is gone.
The first thing that judo apparently lacks in its curriculum is a set of kihon. If you look at all the other systems for teaching martial arts that I am familiar with (aikido, jodo, karate) they all have these sets of fundamental building blocks that are practiced at the beginning of every single class as a sport-specific warmup. Shotokan has a set (taikyoku) of identified stances, blocks, strikes, and transitions that the masters identified as comprising most of the rest of the system. Tomiki has a set (variously called tegatana, unsoku, or tandoku undo) of kihon. Jodo has their own set of kihon building blocks. This type of constant basic review makes sense from a teaching point of view – even in non-martial activities. In every church service we attend we say the Apostle’s creed (“I believe in God the Father Almighty…” In the Saxon math program every lesson begins with a short review of much more basic material.
So – what should a set of kihon in judo look like? Here we get to a sticky point. Judo is really two systems – a groundwork system and a standing system. So it is difficult to identify a single set of foundational material – Judo should really have two sets of kihon. But that is almost an oxymoron because kihon should be representative of most of the system. So, the two sets of kihon should be strongly and functionally integrated into each other – almost one set. Additionally, for purposes of review and warm-up you’d want your kihon to be significantly shorter than the entire system – otherwise you might as well run through the entire syllabus every class. Cognitive theory guys suggest that we easily remember chunks of 7±2 things – so a good size for a kihon exercise would be between 5 and 9 separate things.
If you do nothing else, you should have a set of kihon that is representative of the vast majority of the system and you should practice it as a sport-specific warmup every class. When you scan over the majority of the system like this at the beginning of every class it is much more difficult for knowledge to drift or die out and the repetition helps to make it stick.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Syllabus and class structure

It is interesting (to me) how the syllabus of material for an art affects how it is taught. For instance, the form of the aikido syllabus that we follow suggests or implies an effective class structure that most of our instructors usually follow. Most of the folks that teach aikido using our syllabus have similar class structures - warmup followed by ukemi followed by tegatana (footwork exercise) followed by hanasu (paired movement exercise) followed either by chains (flow drills) or kata. I typically teach one "cool technique of the day" at the end of class. Randori may be done before or after class but is rarely done as part of class. This is pretty much the class structure for our whole organazation, not because some higher power has said "Thou shalt do it this way" but more because that's just how it makes sense to teach the syllabus. The syllabus implies the class structure.
Contrast that to Judo. The judo syllabus that was handed down from the Kodokan is the Gokyonowaza - five groups of eight techniques for a total of 40 core throws. To this was appended a couple of collections of miscellaneous techniques (shinmeisho no waza and habukareta waza). The groundwork syllabus basically consists of a pile of holds, escapes, jointlocks, and chokes. There was virtually no order or organazation of this material handed down as part of the Kodokan syllabus (at least none that I know of) and as a consequence, there are many different formats for judo classes. Some follow a similar structure to aikido, with warmup, ukemi, learn a few techniques, do some randori. Some classes warmup with groundwork randori, move on to standing randori, and if an instructor sees something he wants to mention then he teaches a technique at the end. Some judo classes teach sequences of events, like here's a throw into this specific hold from which uke can escape this way, setting up such and such on down the line. Some have specific kata days and other specific randori days. Some use kata as a cool-down at the end... Point is, the Kodokan syllabus does not appear to imply any sort of effective class structure.
I have thought about this for a long time. I could probably have asked my higher-ups and gotten a pretty concise answer, but I figured it would be educational to go through the process myself. Only problem is it has taken me several years to come as far as I have in judo. Over the next couple of posts I'll spring what I've come up with regarding structure within the Kodokan syllabus - so stay tuned...

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Basic aikido done by advanced aikidoka

Rob and NewBuddy (sorry - I'm bad with names for the first while) and Vincent showed up an hour or so early and worked on some judo. Looked like they mostly did uchikomi and newaza randori.
In aiki class we worked on the heart of aiki randori - at least the heart of the kind we saw in my previous post on randori. If you watch closely in these videos, the players that have good success do not stop to attempt to smear every single attacker. More often than not, tori evades the attack, brushes uke off, and moves on to another attacker. The aiki-brushoff - kokyunage - the breath throw.
We worked on the evasions of tegatana then worked on the aiki basic instinct (evade+hands up) with partners then we turned the aiki basic instinct into various forms of the aiki brushoff. We finished by looking at the first four releases from the point of view of actually forcing uke to let go and then brushing him off.
For the cool ninja technique we explored a version of ryotedori kotegaeshi chained into ushiroate. This demonstrated that the complex, "cool" stuff in aikido is just made up of the fundamentals - the aiki basic instinct and the aiki brushoff. So the most advanced expression of aikido (randori) is really just a re-arranged form of the most basic aikido building blocks. Reminds me of a quote:
"There are no advanced aikido techniques - only basic aikido done by advanced aikidoka."

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Groundwork with a new buddy

Rob brought a buddy to judo class with him and we had a blast. Vincent was supposed to show, but he had to work. We warmed up with groundwork cycle #1 and moved into the elevator exercise (mune, guard, pass, kimura). At the end we did some light, introductory randori (kneeling knockdown).

Change your mind and the rest will follow

The other day I was scouring the net for info on Alexander Technique and Feldenkrais method because they are particular interests of mine. I came across an AT discussion of head/neck posture that I thought was interesting and enlightening. Try this out...
Notice what posture your head and neck is in then imagine someone yelling at you, "STRAIGHTEN UP!" What motion did you make? What muscles did you use? I can't see you through your computer screen but I bet it involved neck retraction (moving your chin straight back) and looking upward. Accentuate this posture so that you can feel the muscles required - pull your chin back and look up. I feel stress in my neck and shoulders when I do this.
Here's another option. Another way of thinking about straightening up. Instead of trying to retract your neck, think about lengthening your neck upward and forward. Move however you have to in order to get the bridge of your nose forward and upward a little bit. When I tried this a couple of times, I noticed that the heavy upper part of my head was naturally rocking back over my spine in better balance and my shoulders were relaxing and dropping. This posture follows all the shizentai rules (ears above shoulders above hips...) while requiring less from some really overworked muscles (traps, erectors, levators).
Alexander (as I understand it) specialized in fixing neck posture and using that as a starting point to fix other postural problems. Alexander used some cool mental tricks like the above in his work. The idea being that if you can change how you think about your posture and motion then your posture and motion will begin to change and fix itself. This idea is known as ideokinesis and was developed and elaborated upon by Lulu Sweigard, Mabel Todd and others.
I really like the leverage that these systems (Alexander, Feldenkrais, Ideokinesis) give us for self-improvement of our physical potential. Not only are they very effective but their principles appear to fit well with the principles of aikido and judo.

Sunday, May 06, 2007


There are many different forms of randori, or free play in the martial arts. Even within Aikido there is great variety. Here are several of the more interesting examples of randori I've found on the net.

Although not aikido (per se), the following is really closest that I have found on the net to the randori that we do.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Travelers and thieves

Imagine for a moment, having to travel 440 miles through a wilderness and the above road being your best chance at success. 440 miles of wild animals, thieves, cut-throats, Indians, pack peddlers, circuit-riding preachers, adventurers, explorers, settlers, etc... The above is a picture of a small stretch of the historical Natchez Trace about 8 miles north of Natchez Mississippi just off the modern Natchez Trace Parkway. This pic is actually pretty tame - this part of the old trace is being maintained by the Forest Service. I've seen other similar pictures of the old Trace that are much more ominous. Steeply eroded sides rising sometimes as much as 30 feet above the muddy trail, overgrown with vegetation and overhung with old trees and vines blotting out the sun. Imagine being waylaid on such a road 150 miles from anything resembling civilization - makes you want to know something about self-defense.
Natchez itself is a lovely town. It has much of what makes New Orleans great and lacks much of what makes New Orleans horrible. We'd already done the downtown antebellum thing before, so we visited the Grand Village of the Natchez Indians and looked around the mounds then stopped by at the Melrose plantation mansion/museum that had closed 30 minutes early (boo!) then jetted out to the Trace and looked at the above, passed by Emerald Mound and turned around at a historic inn (which was also closed for the day (boo!) We need to take a driving trip up the parkway from Natchez to Nashville this fall and plan our drives so we can see more of the cool historical stuff on the Trace.
Oh, and I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that we stopped at Bowie's Tavern and Outfitters in Natchez. You know you're in the South when you can buy a knife, a gun, and a beer in the same establishment. We bypassed the guns and knives and availed ourselves of the beer.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Killer Instinct

My beautiful wife is very good about the time that I spend doing martial arts. She calls me, "my trained killer" and we refer to my practice time as "honing my killer instinct." We usually pronounce it, "killer in-stink." Well, just like you can over-sharpen the edge of a knife, one can hone one's killer in-stink to too fine an edge.
The upshot of this is, no class tonight (Friday the 4th). Elise and I are taking Kristof to Natchez to see the trace and the Indian burial mounds and all that historical stuff before he has to go back to Ukraine. We'll be back to honing our killer in-stink tomorrow as usual.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Judo with Rob

Rob and I had an hour or so of grappling to ourselves. We worked on the first groundwork cycle and then moved into the envlope exercise (mune, kesa, wakigatame, udegarame, ushiro katagatame). Standing up we worked on deashibarai until Rob declared the falls to be too severe for his delicate constitution ;-) then we moved on to single-leg takedown.Fun, good exercise, and educational.

Can you see what I'm saying?

Regarding teaching aikido to people who are blind, Potatoefist commented:
I can only imagine the difficulty of teaching the moves. Thankfully so much is tactile.
There is a lot going on in trying to teach the blind. One thing that I have become more acutely aware of is the necessity of precision and thoughtfulness in the language I use to convey an idea. The NLP guys have a lot of problems with the (lack of) theory underlying their practice, but there are some real gems scattered throughout their system. Predicate matching is one of them. If you pay attention to people as they talk, you will find that they more often than not favor one type of sensory word (visual, auditory, or kinesthetic). For example, the following sentences mean the same thing to a native speaker but different folks will unconsciously choose to use different ones:
  • Do you understand?
  • Do you hear what I'm saying?
  • Can you see my point?
Now, this is not some type of strict determinism in which a blind person will automatically miss my meaning if I say, "can you see my point?" but deliberately choosing a more appropriate form can establish rapport and make the communication process easier. I started to write "...more straightforward" but that was a subconscious choice related to my preference for kinesthetic predicates. I also tend to say, "do you understand," which is kinesthetic, but nobody is 100% wired for a single representational system, as evidenced by my affinity for the expression "look at this" to get people's attention.
Anyway, you're right, PF. There is a large tactile component to teaching aikido. Check out this video of Mytchi feeling her way through a wrist release exercise and you will see her get more sure of herself and smoother as the practice progresses.
Thankfully, we're really trying to teach a set of strategic principles rather than specific techniques. So, Mytchi's aikido can look a lot different from mine and still be "aikido" if it conforms largely to the same principles. The same if true for my one-armed student. The majority of the techniques that 2-handed guys do is directly usable by him, but there are a couple of things that simply do not make sense for his body. It would be ridiculous to try to make him emulate the motion and form of these techniques so that it looks like "2-handed aikido." In these cases he has to come up with some way to demonstrate the underlying principles in the given situation in a way that makes sense for his body. Individualized aiki. When you get right down to it, it's kind of a nutty prospect to try to develop an explicit syllabus of objective skills to apply to everyone for rank tests.
At the bottom of this is the fact that we are all handicaped in some way or we wouldn't be trying to learn a martial art. Ueshiba, Kano, and Funakoshi all got their starts in martial arts because they were basically frail wimps and were afraid. We are all blind in certain ways ("A man sees what he wants to see and disregards the rest"), so the teaching of aikido has to necessarily be an individualized thing that is specialized for each person's special type of handicap or weakness or blindness or manner of thinking and understanding.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007


Great class (as usual) tonight. There was just Kel and myself and we worked on fundamentals (the REALLY important stuff), including footwork, the aiki basic instinct (offline+hands up), and hanasu #1-4. We spent a good amount of time on this stuff, finally zooming in on chain #3, which gives us an opportunity to play with wakigatame (gokyo) and kotegaeshi. After we beat that to death we spent a lot of time on shomenate (the basis of everything in aikido) and previewed aigamaeate and gyakugamaeate. Kel is doing good aiki work. I think he'll be a 'good un.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

If you can't see, you can't fight. HA!

Occasionally I've posted about my blind student, Mytchiko. One of the things I've worked with her on is being able to keep control of her cane when people are moving around her chaotically. Sometimes they bump her cane and disorient her. Mike Denton posted a comment that pretty much sums it up...
Who the hell kicks a person's cane out from under them? Even if it's accidental, you can see the thing easily and should be doing all you can to not interfere with it. Damn that pisses me off. I'm glad you're teaching her some cool ways to deal with it.
Well, Mike, So long as Mytchi is just some poor, helpless blind chick, there is no reason for people in this increasingly 'might makes right' world to treat her with respect. No consequences because, "if you can't see you can't fight." Right?
Well, today, Mytchi told me an interesting aiki story. At school people were jerking around in her vicinity and one of the guys ran through her personal space, frightening and disorienting her. She evaded with a turning sidestep and stabbed him in the foot with the cane. He started to fall on her and she evaded again, giving him the aiki brush-off. He landed on his back and the onlookers applauded and told Mytchi she was great!
Nobody got injured, and maybe she just kicked it up a notch for the inconsiderate.
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