Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Cornish wrestling

Jacket wrestling sprung up in a lot of different places, apparently independently, though all the ethnic wrestling styles have since had a influence on each other. The above film depicts Cornish wrestling in the context of its culture. In some ways Cornwall seems from this documentary to be similar to Southwest Mississippi. The second video depicts more wrestling and the similarities to Judo are apparent. I very much like the wrestle on the grass with no mats aspect.

Chinese judo

Interesting stuff. Apparently identical to judo, perhaps with less dependence on the jacket for throwing. And shoes. I wonder what the cultural link is between judo/jujitsu and this type of Chinese wrestling. Who got which parts from whom?

The warrior spirit does exist

For the record, I disagree with the folks that say that there is no such thing as a warrior, or that it is a romanticized glorification of violence by weekend soldier-of-fortune wannabes, or that it is an artifact of imperialistic nationalism. The Warrior Spirit is a vague thing, but it does exist, it is noble in some sense, and is worth defining and discussing. My gross generalizations of what we've learned in this discussion include:
  • The warrior spirit seems to be something that pervades or accompanies warriordom of all types of all ages. It is common to the times and cultures of Achilles, Gilgamesh, and Beowulf as well as those of World War II and the Civil War soldier.
  • It has something to do with manhood, though there were notable female warriors (eg Dido, Boudica, Amazons. Perhaps even Rosie the Welder).
  • It seems to be associated with sacrificial service to a group (i.e .samurai, Heckler). See this quote at Nathan's blog.
  • It is associated with several virtues (honor, courage, strength, etc…)
  • There are conspicuous potential mis-uses of it (machismo, misogyny, etc…)

Friday, July 27, 2007

Promote Three

It's time for another Promote Three session. I think the following blogs deserve honors, traffic, and link-love greater than they are getting:
Amanda Shopa for an utterly fascinating day-to-day account of the ups and downs of living in Korea and learning taekwando. Thank you for sharing your life abroad with us.
Isshin Ryu Karate Bugei for interesting articles related to my favorite hard-style martial art. One of the most practical, applicable, common-sense approaches to traditional karate-do that I've ever seen.
Fist of the Red Rebel for a perspective on a martial art I don't hear much about, Wing Chun. I particularly like the attitude expressed in these guys' informal statement of purpose and mission in this article.

Why ma-ai is a good idea

I lifted this video from the Fist of the Red Rebel site as a primo example of why ma-ai is a good idea. You simply can't afford to stand around within reach of guys like this, and when you get down to it, you can't ever tell if the guy in front of you has this kind of skill. This is why you'd better be moving as the bad guy first begins to move into ma-ai and you'd better be continually working to move away or behind him, keep him offbalance, and do not stop moving to do a technique to him. My recent matra applies here:
Do not engage. Refuse to engage. Roll the ball, brush off, and disengage.

Warrior as martial genius

Howard Gardner, in his Multiple Intelligences research, proposed that intelligence is a multifaceted wonder. In Gardner's model, it is possible to be intelligent in some domains but not some others. The domains of intelligence identified by Gardner and some of his successors include:
  • Linguistic
  • Logical-mathematical
  • Spatial
  • Bodily-Kinesthetic
  • Musical
  • Interpersonal
  • Intrapersonal
  • Naturalist
So, how did Gardner come up with these areas as potential domains of intelligence? He had three criteria:
  • There has to be a particular representation, or structure in the brain for that ability. This could be demonstrated by observing the effects of stroke on ability. For instance, a stroke may destroy kinesthetic sensitivity, so kinesthetic ability must have a physical structure in the brain.
  • There have to be populations that are naturally good or bad at that domain. For instance, each of the above domains has to potential to be expressed anywhere from genius to total incomprehension in a given person.
  • The domain has to have had a plausible evolutionary or selection value. It is not too much of a stretch to figure out how each of the above domains might have created survivability in a genius of that domain.
What I'd like is some discussion on is the potential for martial skill to be considered a domain of intelligence. It obviously fits the third criteria above, but on the other two I'd have to say I'm not sure.
So, is martial ability a form of intelligence or is it more of a combination of the above domains of intelligence or is it an altogether different thing?
If martial intelligence exists, then might you say that a martial genius is a warrior?

Shihonage and tenkai kotegaeshi

Everybody pretty much does some form of shihonage. It is one of the fundamental ways to force somebody to the ground. Most everybody does some variation of a two handed grab, turns under, and forces uke down backward. But perhaps some folks don’t know that there are (at least) two very common forms that appear in randori.
Tomiki, when he started formulating the fundamental randori no kata, had both variants in the kata. He called them shihonage and tenkai kotegaeshi. At some point he combined these two into one technique called shihonage in the 17 basic forms.
The differences between the variants mostly wash out when tori is able to take a two-handed grip on uke’s arm, but if tori is only able to get one hand on uke’s arm, the technique that pops out depends on the relationship. A cross grab (aihammi) results in tori’s strength being behind uke’s shoulder, so you get the standard shihonage as above. A mirror grab (gyakuhammi) results in tori’s strength being more off to the side of uke, so tenkai kotegaeshi results, similar to the model below.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Thanks Henry, Greg, and Terry!

Tonight Patrick M. arrived a little early and we began early, moving straight into his rank requirements. Specifically emphasizing nijusan #6,7,11, and 12. We worked some of the wholly magical stuff Greg Henry recently showed me regarding slipping aside at the end of the line. Kel showed up and we rewound into tegatana, hanasu 1-4, and nijusan 1-3. It was a very good practice.
The really interesting thing of the night was a followup to the momentum exercises I posted a week or so ago. Patrick M. and I ran races across the mat, stopping on designated finish lines and watching how long it takes to recover to a neutral, upright posture. Then we repeated the exercise with me holding his arm. Guess what? The simple fact that we were connected damped out our momentum at the finish line, allowing us to recover to neutral much faster.
So, what does this mean for our aiki practice? When doing the offbalances in nijusan, you want to leave uke hanging freely out in space over the offbalance point. If you push or pull or even just connect to him then you give him stability and improve his speed of recovery. However, if you get the offbalance and leave him hanging in space then the only thing that he can exert against to regain control of his momentum is the ground and he is limited as to how hard he can push on the ground without coming off the ground. So, you get a much better offbalance and uke slows way down for you.
Thanks to Henry Copeland, Greg Henry, and Terry Gibbs for explaining these points to me. They are making a huge difference in my aikido already and I've only just started exploring where these points fit in.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Warriors in a cage

Don't look into the Eye!

Recently Chris at Martial Development posted a comment on one of my articles about attacking in aikido. One of my suggestions was to maintain eye contact to improve the attack. Chris asked:

Didn't Ueshiba specifically say NOT to look into the eyes of your attacker?

I do seem to remember reading that somewhere (I can’t find the source) but I also seem to recall reading that Ueshiba wrote that aiki cannot be written down in a book. The gist of that is, I think, don’t take any partial written description of aikido (even Ueshiba’s) as gospel. Also, blasphemous as it might be, Ueshiba's ideas on aikido were the first - not the last.

If I remember it right, Ueshiba’s proscription about eye contact was related to something about the attacker stealing your soul or sapping your ki or something. And there is definitely something there, though it is hard to quantify. I remember a girl in high school and another one in college that had freaky, inhuman, blue-grey eyes. You couldn’t look at them but you couldn’t look away from them either. They were hypnotic, mirror-like eyes. And it wasn’t just me in my adolescent dorkiness that was affected this way. Virtually everyone did doubletakes when they glanced at these two girls’ eyes and the only way you could talk to them was to look away from them. It is also possible to look into the eye of violence or hatred and be paralyzed, but in the course of about 15 years of randori, I’ve only met one guy whose eyes freaked me out. I just couldn’t look at him. He had his way with me during the randori session too. Which hints at the value of metsuke (eye contact) in aikido.

The first tactical motion in nearly all aikido techniques is to get your body off the centerline, while occupying the centerline with your unbendable arms. When you are able to do this, uke’s attacks tend to miss and tori tends to automatically intercept uke. Controlling the centerline of the attack is key, and this centerline is defined by eye contact.

The point is to not shift your eyes from one focal point to another (i.e. face to hand to center to feet, etc…) because this constantly changes your perception of the centerline of the conflict. It also changes your perception of distances and angles. The only way to develop accurate perceptions of these timings, distances, lines, and angles is to focus your eyes on one point on the attacker’s centerline and keep them there. We actually tell people to look between uke’s eyes at the bridge of his nose- so you don’t really have to look directly into uke’s eyes and risk getting lost there.

In my post on attacking I suggested using eye contact as a sort of measuring stick to determine when tori was in shikaku, which can be defined as the ‘safe spot’ or ‘dead angle’ or even ‘blind spot’ with relation to uke. If uke can easily focus on your centerline then you are not in his blind spot and you are not safe.

So, in summary:

  • Tori should look at one point on uke’s centerline, I suggest the bridge of the nose.
  • Uke should lock onto one point on tori’s centerline. It makes him more of a viable threat.
  • Tori, as part of his motion, should seek positions and motions that break uke’s visual lock.
  • Uke, in response, should seek to regain that visual lock.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Personal politics

Taking a cue from Steve, here's probably one of the only sorties into politics you'll ever see on this blog. I pretty much agree with the results below, though I'll be damned if I'll be called a Republican... Or a Democrat... I passionately agree with George Washington that political parties serve no good purpose and do more harm than good.
It's an interesting test. You ought to check it out.

You are a

Social Conservative
(28% permissive)

and an...

Economic Conservative
(63% permissive)

You are best described as a:

Republican (63e/28s)

Link: The Politics Test on Ok Cupid
Also: The OkCupid Dating Persona Test

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Aiki & judo weekend with John

This weekend at Mokuren Dojo we had John & Belique (hope I spelt that right) from Florida, Vincent, Andy the Hattiesburger, and a new guy, Trey. We had good workouts - the reason I know, we were all sore and tired and dragging today after yesterday's practice. Working backward through my memory of the weekend...
This afternoon, Andy and I worked on nijusan #6,7,11, and 12 (oshitaoshi, udegaeshi, kotehineri, kotegaeshi) emphasizing the slipping aside idea that I wrote about the other day. We worked slow and soft so we could really get into the coordination of these four techniques. They worked well. Andy is closing in on time in grade for nikkyu rank, and with a couple more months good work like this today, he'll be ready to feel good about ranking.
Earlier this morning, John, Andy, Belique, and I worked on aiki. We warmed up with tegatana and hanasu then focussed in on #1, 3, and 5. Andy had asked about the 'lost wrist releases' so we worked on jodan aigamae a while, trying to make it work just like hanasu #1 with uke grabbing wrong. When this happens, it places tori on the inside close to uke's free hand, so tori has to either strike uke or move away to stay safe. This led to practicing shomenate in nijusan mode as well as in aiki brushoff mode. John asked about what he missed from the recent ABG, so we worked brushoff, stab-twice randori, and multiple attacker randori for a while.
Yesterday, the class that wore everybody out and made us sore was judo. We worked on kosotogari into ukigatame into tateshihogatame, bridge&roll escape from tateshiho, and various escapes from the guard. I managed to pull one out of the hat that John hadn't seen (knee in the butt) so he'll have something to try on Bryce when he gets back to Florida

Friday, July 20, 2007

The post that had a poorly chosen name

Uchimata sukashi, translated as something like, "slipping the inner thigh throw," is another non-technique. It is really cool when it happens, but it is not really a skill or a principle, so does not really deserve a lot of practice or a place in the Shinmeisho no waza. You just try to figure out when the other guy is going to do uchimata and then step aside so uke can bust himself for you.

I remember one of the guys I used to practice with a lot had a bad hang-up about sukashi. This was part of his rank requirement for his next rank but he'd been hurt by a clumsy sukashi so he decided that all sukashi was dangerous and shouldn't be practiced. He was willing to forsake ever ranking again to avoid this one thing. I told him, "Look, knucklehead," (or something like that), "you just step aside then do sumiotoshi just like you practice all the time in aikido. There's no magic in sukashi."
"Oh..." he replied and went back to practicing the thing, conveniently renaming it sumiotoshi in his mind.
So, sukashi is another thing that I don't teach. If someone asks about it, I tell them to step aside and do sumiotoshi, which they already know.

Utsurigoshi, the non-technique

While I'm at it, reminiscing about putting my foot in my mouth about things that would never work, Let's look at a couple of things that are part of the judo system that I (in my infinite wisdom) think are so stupid and extraneous that I don't even teach them. Let's start with utsurigoshi.

This is how we were taught utsurigoshi, as a response to an attempted hip/shoulder throw, tori tosses uke into the air then gets under the falling man so that you can turn him into an ippon as he falls. Our first question was always, "If you can throw him into the air, why get back under him?" This situation should often be resolvable with ushiro goshi, uranage, or taniotoshi. Thus, all utsurigoshi does is impress rank examiners with tori's dexterity.

Following is the best application of utsurigoshi that I've ever seen, but even here it is not one technical principle. Rather it is a failed first attempt at ushirogoshi or uranage followed by any hip throw you can pull off. What makes this better than the demo form is no retarded throwing uke up then getting under him.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

That will never work!

I remember at times being hung up on which moves in various martial arts “just wouldn’t work.” This is actually a pretty common discussion from all corners of the martial arts world, and it is pretty much always a variation of the, “my style is better than yours,” discussion.
I recall practicing a technique in college in which badguy does a rear bearhug, defender bends over, reaches between his legs and grabs the attacker’s ankle, then sits back onto the attacker’s knee. “That’s stupid. That would never work,” was our analysis. As fate would have it, one of the 115-pound girls from our class was grabbed from behind on the beach during spring break and she sat back and busted the guy’s ass just as she had been taught. He got up and grabbed her again later and she, without analyzing the probabilities or consequences, sat back on his knee and busted his ass with the same technique a second time. His buddies laughed him off the beach.
A lot of folks like to discount all of aikido or even parts of Shotokan this way. At times, my buddies and I have subjected taekwando’s jump-spinning and flying kicks to this sort of analysis, but my personal favorite was a throw into an armbar in hapkido. We called this the “jump-spinning crotchlock” and we were sure this was the stupidest move ever conceived. Well, I still have some (probably untestable) ideas about the weaknesses of the jump-spinning crotchlock, but check this video out. It's not exactly the same as the hapkido jump spinning crotchlock but it definitely belongs to the same class of things. Whoda thunkit.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

More on aikido in the army

A while back I was scanning the Google news archives and found out that a group of National Guardsmen from Virginia were being trained right here in little ole' Mississippi about 100 miles east of here. The Local news station in Virginia ran a very nice series of features on their hometown men and women's training.
Now, I see that a Massachusetts group also recently underwent apparently similar training at Camp Shelby. Hop on over to Michael Morton's article and check out the picture of that lovely tenkai kotegaeshi. Looks so familiar it gives me sympathy pains.
When you're done with that, check out this warrior's account of a real hand-to-hand action. Awesome and frightening read

Commercial Dispatch interviews Dr. Chris Dewey

Congratulations to Dr. Chris Dewey of Starkville, MS on rating a very interesting interview article in the Commercial Dispatch. Dewey runs the Starkville Martial Arts Academy, and has had good success with his school. Dewey has been influential in the Mississippi judo scene as well as in the USJA.

Sidestepping into oshitaoshi and udegaeshi

Yesterday I suggested a momentum exercise in which you learn to use a sidestep to kill your momentum, leaving you in shizentai ready to move in another direction. This experiment is easiest to do walking forward by yourself at a moderate speed. Here's you a modification to make it easier to run this experiment walking backward.
Tie a rope to a wall or post at shoulder-level. Hold the rope with about an arm-length amount of slack in the rope. Start standing right next to the pole and walk backward until the rope snaps taut. As the rope snaps taut, put one foot straight under your hips and use the other foot to do the sidestep trick. Repeat this experiment over and over so that you can practice sidestepping to both sides at the end of the line.
Now, where this becomes really cool is when you replace the pole and rope with an uke. The Nijusan form of oshitaoshi and udegaeshi are done with tori passing backward right beside uke and moving away until the connection at the wrist snaps taut. At that point, if you plant one foot you will sidestep behind uke and execute an oshitaoshi very similar to release #1. If you plant the other foot, you will sidestep in front of uke, turning into kotegaeshi or udegaeshi.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Changing directions

Here's you a cool momentum experiment with some important implications for aikido. Set up a line down which you can walk. Put a finish line 15 or 20 feet down the line. Walk rapidly down the line and stop suddenly with both feet on the finish line. Watch how your body reacts to recover your balance and control your momentum. Typically, you'll see things like:
  • elbows out to the side and knees bent
  • weight on the balls of the feet
  • vertical posture lost - butt out to the back
  • etc...
If you can't see some of these adjustments, walk the experiment faster until you can, then repeat it until you can see the adjustments at slower walking speeds. It takes a while for you to recover from the sudden stop. Watch to see how much time to takes you to recover a neutral posture on the finish line.
Now, try it this way: walk rapidly down the line, place your first foot on the finish line and use the second foot to take a sliding sidestep on the finish line. When the second foot lands, recover your first foot back under your hips. You can use this sidestep to spend all your forward momentum, leaving you in shizentai on the finish line - even from a near-run speed.
The point is, any time you are changing from forward to backward motion or vice versa, there must be a sidestep or else you are left hanging out motionless on the finish line for a relatively long time before you can return to a neutral posture and move again. Stay tuned for some application of this sidestep principle to oshitaoshi and udegaeshi.

Recent aikido and judo workouts

Had a couple of good classes since last I posted. Friday I had two new judo students. A couple of BJJ guys. The did pretty good on the basic material we worked on. We warmed up with the groundwork cycle and worked on kosotogari into ukigatame into the meatgrinder. They seemed pretty comfortable on the ground but a little out of sorts on kosotogari. We did a few three-minute rounds of newaza randori and they handled themselves well. They would be exceptionally hard for an untrained guy about their own size to handle.
At aikido Saturday I worked with Andy on tegatana emphasizing falling steps and small steps, hanasu emphasizing precise kuzushi and coordinating tori's pushing motions to make getting around uke easier. From there we worked on chain #5, including kotemawashi, kotehineri, and tenkai kotehineri. We played some randori in the neighborhood of chain #5 and then finished up with nijusan - particularly shomenate and oshitaoshi.

Friday, July 13, 2007

The modern warrior

I realize this might be video overload, but these give an idea of what folks think a modern warrior is. Or maybe what the Military wants folks to think a warrior is. Or maybe even what the military thinks folks want to believe about warriors.
What do you see in these videos? What is the warrior spirit portrayed here?

Thursday, July 12, 2007


Well, I couldn't resist this one!

Miscellany of aiki hints

What I’ve been working on lately:
  • avoid, evade offline, do not engage, refuse to engage, brush off and disengage
  • kokyunage
  • maintain ma-ai – regain ma-ai
  • release instead of throwing
  • keep moving behind or away
  • if given the opportunity, cover uke’s hands
  • never stop moving long enough to execute a technique

What I’m getting ready to start emphasizing in my own practice:
  • Get precise parallel or perpendicular kuzushi before every technique
  • Sidestep at the end of the line to avoid losing your butt

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Warrior fraternities of yesteryear

Strozzi-Heckler talks in his book about the fraternity, or brotherhood of warriors. I don’t have the book with me right now so I can’t come up with specific citations, but the premise is that part of why men are warriors is because as such they receive positive affirmation from other men. A while back I wrote about Susan Faludi’s book, Stiffed, in which she comes to the same conclusion.
This aspect of fraternity has apparently always been either a part of the warrior spirit, or coincident with it. It is easy to find examples of the warrior fraternity in ancient literature; Achilles and Patroclus, Gilgamesh and Enkidu, Beowulf & Wiglaf, David and Jonathan.
The strongest point that Strozzi-Heckler seems to make in his jumbled mess of a book is that it would be a good thing if someone could find some way for men to tap into that warrior spirit and affirm each other without actually having to be destructive. To give that warrior archetype an outlet, not for aggression and violence, but rather for service.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Cuban Seoinage

Hot & humid class tonight. Roband I worked on groundwork cycle #1 and deashibarai as warmup, took a jaunt into some deashi variants and okuriashi and harai tsurikomiashi. For the cool techniques of the day we worked ukigoshi with emphasis on remaining neutral as possible during the kuzushi then hipswitching into position for the throw. from there we spun off into Gregor-nage (a seoinage variant from a wrong-side sleeve grip. Gregor-nage sparked a memory of Cuban seoinage, which we repped until the end of class. Cuban seoinage is a monster of a throw that is actually a nice, gentle sumiotoshi if uke is compliant but as soon as he tries to stand his ground or turn in to drape or choke it turns into an awful, assbusting seoinage. Needless to say, both o us are smart enough ukes to take it as a sumiotoshi and not fight our way into a head-plant.

How to learn without a teacher

My students and I are, as far as I know, the only aikido presence in Southwest Mississippi. There is a decent judo presence nearby, and a beginning wrestling presence, as well as a TON of isshinryu karate-do. But sometimes folks have an interest in an aspect of martial arts and their situation is not favorable to taking classes from a good instructor. For instance, what if you develop an interest in taiji or kendo, but live somewhere like Southwest Mississippi, where there is no presence in these arts. Or, what if you develop an interest in historical European fighting methods and can’t get good instruction nearby? What do you do? How do you reconstruct a martial art from minimal historical resources?
Here are some hints and guidelines that I personally try to follow when I am trying to expand my knowledge base beyond the areas for which I can conveniently find a live instructor:
  • Safety takes priority over effectiveness, which must come before efficiency
  • You should have a prolonged basis of experience in some system under a live instructor. Don’t go playing with a martial art with no experience and no instructor.
  • Find sources with the most informational content: video is better than picture/text/audio. More video=more information. Video on all of a system is better than fideo on selected parts. Multiple varying sources are better than one source from one faction.
  • Find sources as close as possible to the original - primary sources better than secondary sources
  • Consider remotely related info. For instance, you can get some idea about how kendo might work by studying Philippino or European martial arts.
  • A source must be internally consistent – it can’t blatantly contradict itself. If you find information that says the Musashi lived in the 16th century and that he fought in 14th century battles, doubt the source.
  • A source should be consistent with (or complementary to) your existent base of knowledge.
  • A source should be consistent with what you know of physics and the way the real world works.
  • If you think a source is inconsistent but can’t prove it, give it the benefit of the doubt.
  • Try to get info on both theory and application. Was it ever used in battle? Tested in sport?
  • Frame your research as a 'study group' instead of a 'class'. You probably don’t want to get students to pay you to teach them something you don’t know, but it should be pretty easy to find 1-2 buddies who will play with something with you.
  • Make sure your ideas are falsifiable and testable. You must have a randori/sparring/shiai system and a test-cutting/makiwara/pell system.
  • Document everything, including your starting assumptions and results.

These are pretty basic guidelines for re-creating an art that you don't have access to. Your end result may not look much like the original. You will, in essence be building your own art from the ground up, based on the sources you can find and your own research and experimentation, but the process will be educational and so long as you have some objective link to reality (randori), you should come up with a system with some validity.

Monday, July 09, 2007

The warrior in America

My dad was a warrior. He was a Lieutenant Commander on a destroyer in the Pacific in World War II. He's never talked much about the war, just an occasional hint or two, but today he told me about some action that occurred in the Philippines. His destroyer took part in the Battle of Leyte Gulf, which saw the first use of kamikaze aircraft in the war. Dad says he watched a plane pass over him and miss its target by about 30 feet, piling into the water and exploding. Not yet realizing that the pilot's intent had been to fly into the ship, dad's thought was one of awed sympathy, "that guy never had a chance!" Later he said he saw two planes fly into the USS Mississippi. During this action in the Philippines, a shell from a shore battery hit a nearby ship and utterly destroyed everything from the mast forward. My dad took a whale boat into the wreckage and picked up 20-some-odd survivors. As he was offloading the men onto a mid-sized transport, the transport was hit and destroyed and he had to go pick up the survivors again. For this action he earned an award (a Bronze Star Medal?)

After the war, he gave up warrioring and became an engineer, a businessman, and a family man. But beneath these hats there was still a warrior. There was (is) some part of the warrior, noble and stern, dignified and proper, remaining in him.

But I didn't intend this as a simple tribute to my father. My father is an example of an extremely common nobility in America. Because of the relative youth of this country and the frequency of conflicts, America has bred warriors in every generation. I think you'd be hard pressed to find an American that is more than one or two generations removed from this warrior ethos represented by my father. This idea was somewhat hinted at in a quote by John Adams that I posted a few days ago;

I must study politics and war that my sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy. My sons ought to study mathematics and philosophy, geography, natural history, naval architecture, navigation, commerce, and agriculture, in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, statuary, tapestry, and porcelain.

The idea being that despite our desire to believe that we have evolved into artists, poets, and philosophers, not only are we at most a couple of generations removed from the warrior, but we are indebted to him (or her).

About 120 years ago, Jigoro Kano saw this same thing happening in Japan. His country was emerging from feudalism into the modern era of industrialism and multinationalism and he saw that there would be no place for the professional warrior as he had previously existed in Japan. The next generation would be engineers and businessmen and the following generation would be artists (so he thought or hoped). Gichin Funakoshi in his autobiography, Karate-do My Way of Life, describes coming to the same realization when he had to get his topknot shorn in order to be admitted to a modern school. So, what did these guys do? They reorganized the martial traditions that they had access to in order to preserve the nobility inherent in the warrior ways. That's part of what we are doing in the martial arts - conserving the warrior spirit.
You know, I think it's funny that my dad, the warrior fought the Japanese and it is Japanese martial arts that have allowed me to learn and preserve part of that warrior spirit.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

The Warriors of Vicksburg

This past weekend, my wife and I went to Vicksburg and stayed at a bed&breakfast that was part antebellum, part Victorian. The Baer House was a wonderful experience with a host that really went out of his way to make his guests comfortable and welcome. I'd highly recommend this B&B for anyone in the vicinity who wants an exceptional experience.
While there, we went to see the old Court House Museum. Fascinating history. One of the most interesting artifacts (to me) was a copy of a newspaper that was unfinished at the time of the seige. One of the last articles to be set was basically an editorial about how there was no way in hell the Union would ever be able to take Vicksburg. Well, they did and the Union army found the newspaper and finished setting he last column and printed copies of it. In the Union addition to the paper was a counter-editorial that essentially said,' a couple of days make a lot of difference, don't they?" But the most interesting part of the counter-editorial was a comment to the effect that the Mississippians ought to be grateful to the Union because they (the citizens) need not live in caves and eat cats anymore. Apparently, according to the artifacts at Vicksburg, both sides had noble motives. One was fighting for Unity, the other for Homeland. The one side thought that they were the noble defenders against 'Northern Aggression,' while the other side saw themselves as saviors and liberators.

The next day we viewed the Battlefield Memorial Park, a 16-mile long trail winding through the sites of the emplacements of the various Union and Confederate troops during the seige. Now, the trail is populated with massive, impressive memorial structures to the various states and companies and groups that took part in the seige. At the end of the trail (not really the end, but we were exhausted by the time we got there, so the rest of the trail went really fast) is the USS Cairo museum (the first armored steamship to be destroyed by a torpedo (what we would now call a mine).

I'm certainly not a Civil War buff, but this was fascinating military history. It was touching to see the battlefield memorials to the various warriors on both sides that fought this conflict to determine what kind of country this would be. I thought this trip had a good bit to say about the role of the warrior that I've been discussing with Dojo Rat lately.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Precision in practice

Great aiki class this AM with Patrick M. We warmed up with ROM and Ukemi, spun through tegatana once, repping the hipswitch and the forward turns for a while, then got into hanasu. For a long time now, I've been working on robust, gross-motion aikido, and that is a good thing, but I want to bring some of Usher-san's precision back into our practice. In hanasu we worked particularly on #2 and #4 emphasizing pushing yourself around uke as well as stepping precisely onthe line of uke's feet and bumping him on the perpendicular offbalance.
You can get the feel of these elements by imagining release #2 as katatetori iriminage (wrist grab aigamaeate) - as uke steps in to grab, you push his attacking arm across in front of him then go for the face. Alternately, you can think of release #2 as trying to slip uke's grasp completely and going for the face as in aigamaeate. Sometimes in this situation, uke will grab to prevent the iriminage (aigamaeate) so you turn behind into release #2.
We brought this same precision into nijusan, working on shomenate and aigamaeate. We emphasized timing and angle of the kuzushi as well as not pushing uke through the offbalance or pushing him down to give him support. The feel of these two techniques today was phenominal!
Efficient, threatening attacks. Natural, reflexive evasions. Sharp, precise kuzushi. Flowing, well-timed, but powerful pushing throws. Good ukemi. Felt like budo to me!
After we worked these two techniques to death, we surveyed Nijusan #6, 7, 10, 11, kotetaoshi, and maeotoshi with regard to the stuff we saw at the recent ABG.

A sensei is a lot of things

A while back I polled the blogosphere about what y'all thought the most desirable trait of a sensei was. With 15 voting, the majority (60%) said that a sensei should primarily be a great technician. The rest of the votes were spread out across the answers with a little bit more emphasis being on spiritual leader and workout partner. Several people added other responses, including leader, mentor, expert, teacher, 'someone who can guide me past self-limitation' and 'all except spiritual leader.' From experience, I have found that I have been called into all of the above roles.
Personally, the traits I desire most in my sensei fall predominantly in the great technician and workout partner categories. I recall my Japanese language teacher in college, who was also a martial artist, telling us that the word sensei has connotations similar to big brother/sister or even trail guide. The sensei is someone who has been on the path for longer than you and who is still on the path, so they can act as a partner/leader. Not someone who says, "go that way," but rather someone who says, "follow me this way." In some traditional martial arts, this trail guide role seems to be assigned to or assumed by the sempai (more senior students who are not the sensei).
I recall my first martial arts instructor, Pat Little, telling us that, "those students that don't eventually surpass the teacher, fail him." I don't know if I've surpassed him, or if I ever will, but I think that was a pretty darn good motivator for me. Along the same lines, perhaps the best advice on learning and teaching martial arts that I've ever gotten came from Dr. John Usher, when he said that in order to ever become more than mediore as a student, you have to progress to the point that you can identify and diagnose your own faults and create your own plan to improve them. You have to figure out for yourself what you need to learn and how to best move toward that. In order to surpass your sensei you have to figure out how to become your own sensei. Usher is not only a great technician and workout partner, but he is gifted at creating these self-motivated learners.
For a good resource on self-directed learning, check out this wealth of information.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Richard Strozzi-Heckler's Warrior Spirit

I have finished reading Richard Strozzi-Heckler's In Search of the Warrior Spirit that Dojo Rat recommended I read and review and which Patrick Waits (P3) subsequently loaned me. What can I say? Overall an interesting book. It's got all the things that should make for a fascinating read - aikido, Green Berets, hi-tech biofeedback voodoo. The premise is that in the mid-1980's the author got to try to teach a bunch of soldiers aikido, meditation, biofeedback, etc... to see if there was anything in these new age modalities that would make the soldiers better warriors.
Despite the great premise the book fell somewhat flat with me. First, their explicit premise seemed to be to bring the mythical Jedi warriors from Star Wars to life in the form of the United States Special Forces. The project's motto was Vi Cit Tecum (may the Force be with you) and their logo depicted crossed light sabers over a Trojan horse. Those that know me know that this is a pet peeve of mine - trying to take movie spirituality and use it as a justification for some behavior. I had a sensei who used to love to motivate us by quoting wise-sounding sayings of Yoda et al. And sure, I have found over the years quotes from movies that significantly mirror parts of my martial arts philosophy (perhaps most notably, "Power without perception is spiritually useless ..."), but I don't toss these quotes around as resources of wisdom or cite them as guides to belief or action.
Also, on a purely personal note, I went into the book with a couple of expectations, One: I expected that somewhere in the book, the author would come to the conclusion, "a warrior is..." and that would be interesting. He did cite various qualities, like courage, mindfulness, patience, etc... but either he skipped it or I missed it in my reading. Two: and this is related to the first point above. I expected this book to move from point A to point B making some progress and describing it. It didn't. Instead it vaguely meandered through selected vignettes that occurred during the project. To put it into Meyers-Briggs terminology, the book is very intuitive-feeling-perceiving (NFP) and not very sensing-thinking-judging (STJ).
All that is not to say that it is drivel. It is not. The book was thought-provoking and there were many parts that I am going to want to think about a lot. It is the type of book that I will want to re-read more than once. I intend to dissect some of the issues in the book and cover them in future posts, hopefully translating them from NFP-speak to STJ-speak. Stay tuned...

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Liberal and conservative rulesets for randori

Faik Bilalovik at the Martial Art Science blog has some interesting opinions about flow drills found in some martial arts. His post is worth reading and thinking about – he’s pretty much talking about exercises similar to the contact improv that we’ve been discussing between Mokuren Dojo and Formosa Neijia. Scott from Weakness With a Twist also has a cool inside perspective on contact improv in his comments here.
I respect all these guys’ opinions and I see their points, but I can still see a potential value to “noodle circle” drills like contact improv. Basically, I think it is a good thing to do some randori under different rulesets – not just your normal mode of randori.
These noodle circles are basically randori (or push-hands) under the most liberal possible set of conditions. Any motion is okay so long as uke and tori continue moving in contact with each other. There is no way to lose or win, except maybe to be unable to continue moving in contact with the other guy – and even then it is unclear who is the loser. Under this sort of ruleset, you’re playing with what’s possible – not necessarily what will probably bring about certain outcomes (like winning). What do you learn in this type of play? Who knows! It’s free play! You develop a base of experience of possibilities when you move freely in contact with the other guy.
In more conservative rulesets there are more ways to win and lose (knock-out, points accumulation, submissions, time limits, penalties, etc…) Here you learn to use motion and skillfully conform to a set of conditions or ideals or principles in order to increase the likelihood of certain outcomes (like the other guy falling down or submitting instead of you).
In the most conservative rulesets, you work only with what’s most probable. There is little room for playing with what might work because potentially costly loss is looming over you. Here you are learning worst case scenarios (i.e stab-twice knife randori).
Most rulesets for randori are somewhere between these extremes, you have some leeway to experiment with both possibilities and probabilities. I say it’s a good thing to spend some of your practice time (not necessarily a lot of time) on both extremes and then work most of your time somewhere in the middle. You want to play with a variety of conditions of freedom (e.g. contact improv) and constraint (stab-twice randori).

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Ninja Army

WhooHoo! My ninja booty has arrived! I recently won the Martial Development Haiku Contest, and Chris sent me my prize - a ninja playset! Three swords, a dagger, and a ninja claw! It arrived just in time for an epic ninja battle in the front yard this morning. Here are some pics of the newly equipped Parker Ninja Army. Thanks, Chris, for running the contest - that was fun. And thanks for the ninja booty.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

After all, we're Americans!

Nathan posted a great series of patriotic quotes on his blog, beating me at my own game that I established last year. Here's you a couple more. Everybody has heard the first verse and chorus of America the Beautiful a million times. When the song is played as a sound bite on TV they seem to always cut it off there. Check out the other verses.

Oh beautiful, for pilgrims' feet Whose stern, impassioned stress A thoroughfare for freedom beat Across the wilderness!

America! America! God mend thine ev'ry flaw; Confirm thy soul in self control, thy liberty in law!

Oh beautiful, for heroes proved In liberating strife, Who more than self their country loved And mercy more than life!

America! America! May God thy gold refine, 'Til all success be nobleness, and ev'ry gain divine!

Oh beautiful, for patriot dream That sees beyond the years, Thine alabaster cities gleam Undimmed by human tears!

America! America! God shed His grace on thee, And crown thy good with brotherhood, from sea to shining sea!

And while we're on the subject, how about a great quote on the nature of the freedoms that our forefathers secured unto themselves and their posterity through the shedding of their blood and the forsaking of their personal comfort and safety...

I must study politics and war that my sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy. My sons ought to study mathematics and philosophy, geography, natural history, naval architecture, navigation, commerce, and agriculture, in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, statuary, tapestry, and porcelain. (John Adams)

And one more... an excerpt from perhaps America's greatest rhetor, Ronald Reagan...

Standing here, one faces a magnificent vista, opening up on this city’s special beauty and history. At the end of this open mall are those shrines to the giants on whose shoulders we stand. Directly in front of me, the monument to a monumental man. George Washington, father of our country.

A man of humility who came to greatness reluctantly. He led America out of revolutionary victory into infant nationhood. Off to one side, the stately memorial to Thomas Jefferson. The Declaration of Independence flames with his eloquence. And then beyond the Reflecting Pool, the dignified columns of the Lincoln Memorial. Whoever would understand in his heart the meaning of America will find it in the life of Abraham Lincoln.

Beyond those moments -- those monuments to heroism is the Potomac River, and on the far shore the sloping hills of Arlington National Cemetery, with its row upon row of simple white markers bearing crosses or Stars of David. They add up to only a tiny fraction of the price that has been paid for our freedom.
Each one of those markers is a monument to the kind of hero I spoke of earlier. Their lives ended in places called Belleau Wood, the Argonne, Omaha Beach, Salerno, and halfway around the world on Guadalcanal, Tarawa, Pork Chop Hill, the Chosin Reservoir, and in a hundred rice paddies and jungles of a place called Vietnam.

Under one such a marker lies a young man, Martin Treptow, who left his job in a small town barber shop in 1917 to go to France with the famed Rainbow Division. There, on the Western front, he was killed trying to carry a message between battalions under heavy fire. We're told that on his body was found a diary. On the flyleaf under the heading, “My Pledge,” he had written these words:
"America must win this war. Therefore, I will work; I will save; I will sacrifice; I will endure; I will fight cheerfully and do my utmost, as if the issue of the whole
struggle depended on me alone."
The crisis we are facing today does not require of us the kind of sacrifice that Martin Treptow and so many thousands of others were called upon to make. It does require, however, our best effort, and our willingness to believe in ourselves and to believe in our capacity to perform great deeds; to believe that together with God’s help we can and will resolve the problems which now confront us.
And after all, why shouldn’t we believe that? We are Americans.

Ground cycle #1 pointers

Great return to judo practice tonight after being out for a week or so. Rob and Iwarmed up with some ROM and moved into groundwork cycle #1 with some minor adjustments to what Rob was doing:
  • Even though it's a pretty elementary drill and top man is not looking for armbars, bottom man has to actively work to protect his arms from being entangled and locked. Bottom man continually moves his arms as top man shifts so that they stay free and viable and so that they act as feelers.
  • Also, when pushing back to base from your belly, you don't want to do a push-up type action. Rather, pull one knee up as far as you can and use you arms to slide your butt over that shin as if you were pushing your butt over a roller (your shin is the roller). I can push back to base this proper way with a 350 pound guy on my back, whereas it's hard to do a push-up with anyone on your back.
  • Third thing was the crawfish action at the end of the groundwork cycle. Bottom man has to immobilize one of top man's arms against the ground or else he will float with you. Top man has to watch out for putting an arm around bottom man's waistline/beltline because the turnover is almost trivial for the bottom man in this situation.
We did a lot of randori, both newaza and tachi into newaza. Rob did well there and got me in some positional asphyxia deals a couple of times. I got him with a good jujigatame (cross armbar) once and a good jujijime (cross choke) another time. We finished up with some repetition of kouchigari (one of the divine nine). We both agreed that if we worked with this intensity daily we'd each weigh about 20 pounds less.

Avoid & evade

The other day I avoided a guy who rounded a blind corner coming at me fast. I was in the middle of a step – right at that critical point and I just stepped over the hill and slipped past him and was gone. I had my hands between us for a brush-off in case I couldn’t slip him, but I didn’t have to even touch him. And that response was a completely habituated reflex! I didn’t realize what I was doing until I was ten or fifteen feet away. I don’t even think he really understood what had just happened because people seem to just disappear when they walk over the hill on you. Pretty cool!

Monday, July 02, 2007

Jointlocks as shikaku and kuzushi

Kotegaeshi is a jointlock. There are many joint locking or holding techniques in aikido, including manipulations of wrist, elbow, shoulder, spine, and others. Different people interpret this class of techniques differently, but essentially there are about three ideas on joint techniques:
  • Use massive force against an anatomical weakness to break a joint
  • Use controlled force to create pain sufficient to control the opponent
  • Use a lock to limit uke’s motion and damp out his potential for harm
You can probably tell from my previous post on pain control that I subscribe to this third idea. Joint locks, like kotegaeshi, when used to restrict an attacker’s range of motion, control his balance, and limit his potential to hurt you, can be very effective. Potentially much more effective than joint breaking techniques or pain control techniques.
In aikido we talk a lot about shikaku, the dead angle. This is a place where tori is relatively safe because it is difficult for uke to bring weapons (natural or otherwise) to bear. Typically we say shikaku is behind the arm to the outside of the body. Jointlocks can be used to expand the space that you can call shikaku. For instance, with kotegaeshi held (but not cranked), shikaku often extends well in front of the arm.
A while back I wrote about there being several ideas about how kuzushi (offbalance) works. Some folks say that uke is always offbalance and tori has to learn how to use that offbalance. It’s not hard to imagine uke, in his natural motion, oscillating up and down, left and right, forward and back, in sort of chaotic spirals. Now, take an arm and hold it at the end of its range of motion in kotegaeshi. How do uke’s oscillations change? Well, for one thing they are damped out on one side. If something is oscillating and is damped on one side then it is, by definition, asymmetric, or offbalance. Thus, tori can use jointlocks to maintain offbalances rather than to try to bust uke with them.
Play especially with the second kotegaeshi exercise (taking up the slack) that I posted the other day and let me know what you think of it.
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