Current events

  • Aiki/Isshin Friendship Camp (April 25-27)
  • Windsong Summer Intensive - June 20-22
  • Fall Aiki Buddies Gathering (September)

Help support Mokuren dojo

Ebb and flow - rise and fall

Ki musubi (lit. “tying, binding, or joining energy”) is one of the fundamental concepts in aikido. Aikido is about becoming more skilled at matching the ebb and flow of your energy to that of your attacker. The better you are at this skill, the less potential the attacker has to harm you.
Think about standing on the beach in the edge of the surf. Waves crash in, and if you try to stand your ground (in shifting sand, no less) you get blasted off your feet by the wave and then as the wave subsides you get sucked out with it. On the other hand, if you step a few steps up the beach as the wave crashes then step a few steps with the water as the wave subsides, you are left standing where you were. Rolling with the punches. Ki musubi.
Well, people work this way too. As we move around our energy constantly ebbs and flows. When we raise our center of mass we get more potential energy and less kinetic energy. Then, as we drop, we get more kinetic and less potential energy. This is perhaps the most fundamental principle of the ancient Kito (lit. “rise and fall”) School of jujitsu from which aiki and judo were both derived.
So, how do we go about ‘tying our energy’ to uke’s energy? This basically involves two skills:
  • Metsuke (eye contact) – choose a place on uke’s body and point your eyes at it. Some people prefer watching uke’s center of mass. Some people prefer watching the neck. We tend to tell people to look at the bridge of their nose between their eyes. This lets you get most of their body within your peripheral vision while maintaining an absolute connection with their centerline. Don’t shift your eyes back and forth among several foci. This changes your sense of center and distance and timing. Stay on the bridge of the nose.
  • Synchronization – start moving your center of mass up and down, left and right in synch with uke. This might be very slight, but it should begin as soon as you are aware of uke – before he crosses ma-ai. If you are surprised and uke jumps through ma-ai then one of the best ways to get synched is to pay attention to the footfall of uke’s front foot. Try to make your footfall during your evasion happen at the same time. The better you are at synching up-downs and left-rights, the better your timing will be.

Get a grip

Today I was thumbing through the book Mastering Judo by Masao Takahashi in the bookstore. Looks like a very well put-together book. One thing that caught my attention was some discussion on gripping. Now, I don't much subscribe to the school that says that gripping is a science and that you should fight to get to your 'favorite grip' so that you can throw your 'favorite throw.' Rather, I'm more of the mind to let the other guy grab where he wants, take whatever grip I can, and throw however I am able. There are excellent judoka in both camps.
But one thing Takahashi talked about regardng grips was the fact that how you grip matters. He offers the rule "Grip with your little finger tight," because it leaves your thumb and wrist supple. Try it - close your fist and clinch your first two knuckles tight then try to rotate your wrist. Now try it with the little and ring fingers clinched tight and the rest of the hand relaxed. Big difference. This is the same way you grip a jo, a bokken, a partner in aikido, and in judo. For the most part, when you grab any thing in martial arts you want to do it this way.
There are a couple of variations on this that are used in aikido, including a slot-grip in which you make a slot with thumb on one side and 4 fingers on the other side. This is used for trapping and guiding uke's arm without grasping. Often we will make a hook by bending a wrist and draping it over an arm or shoulder or neck to drag with. And, like Bubba Gump says about shrimp - that's about all the kinds there are:
  • tight little finger
  • slot grip
  • hook

Catching uke on the rebound

I have heard high-ranked rank examiners laughing that they can tell who has skill and who doesn’t by watching oshitaoshi (ikkyo to aikikai guys) alone. People that are very good at oshitaoshi hit the technique and uke drops straight down right then and there. Less skilled toris often have to run through uke and will take 15 or 20 feet to finally run their uke into the ground. And don’t think that either Tomiki or Aikikai guys are immune to this mistake – I’ve seen students of both ryuha do this. I’ve even heard aiki-detractors saying that aikido is not a good martial art in confined spaces because tori has to have these vast spaces in which to move. Nuts.

An interesting thing happens with oshitaoshi. When tori gets into position and bumps uke he puts some energy into uke and uke begins vibrating. Literally vibrating – like bumping a stick that is planted in the ground. Try this experiment – bump uke with oshitaoshi then let go and see doesn’t that arm flail about in space.

What tori does with this vibration is important. If tori has in his mind that oshitaoshi is supposed to look like pushing uke’s elbow through his head and into the ground then tori will actually damp uke’s vibe out, leaving him relatively motionless. Then tori’s only choices are to run uke down, crank him down, or drag him down. On the other hand, if tori follows the vibration of the arm – just moves wherever uke puts the arm in response to the bump – more often than not, uke drops like he was shot – right into position for the armbar.

So, oshitaoshi is more of a bump-and-follow thing than a shock-absorbing run-uke-down thing.

Too soft aikido

A few weeks ago, an anonymous commentator left the following comment on a Google video that I’d posted.
“The motions of ypur students are too soft.”
Interestingly, that commentator rated the video at 5-stars. This comment is almost too terse to be useful because it is hard to tell in what sense it is meant. It is really an incomplete thought - too soft for what? To be martial? To be aikido? To be effective? Also, I don’t know whether the word “too” is meant in a good sense (as in “TOO cool”) or not (as in “excessively” soft).

Anyway, my initial reaction was, “Wow, thanks for the nice compliment.” In many ways, soft is the goal. Soft is more sensitive. “Hard” implies doing something to uke. People are pretty much wired to use their muscles to either ‘feel’ or to ‘do’ but not both simultaneously. As an example, can you imagine trying to feel the texture or temperature of direction of motion of a body by punching it? Incidently, there is a gender difference here – men tend to naturally ‘do’ while women tend to more naturally use their muscles to ‘feel’.

During aikido practice we are trying to feel and follow uke’s motion and our own, so sensitivity is more important to us than ‘doing.’ Because soft is more sensitive, we learn faster because we sense more when we are not trying to ‘do’ uke.

On the other hand, we don’t want to be soft in the sense of wimpy, flaccid, impotent, or ineffective. Our aikido has never been described any of those ways. If you are basing your comments on effectiveness, you have to consider the goal that you are trying to accomplish with aikido. Even though our aikido is definitely ‘soft’ aikido, it has been demonstrated many times in ‘real’ situations to be effective self-defense. My students and friends in particular have used this soft aikido as real defense.

So, I personally think that you should have ended your thought like this...
"The motions of your students are too soft…" for my taste.
But I do appreciate your comment. Though terse, it was thought provoking and I did take it to heart.

Leftover brain

In colloquial Japanese ‘zan’ means leftovers – as in food that is left over the next day. A remainder. In the martial arts, zanshin means ‘remaining mind.’

The concept of zanshin has been explained to me as the state of mind that you are in after a technique finishes. Good zanshin is a state of alert readiness for unexpected things to pop out of the relationship. As such, zanshin is to some degree the opposite of kime (explosively focused concentration or decisiveness) or of mushin (a mind that does not linger). In the context of martial arts, one wants to maintain an appropriate balance between these opposites – zanshin, mushin, and kime.

Usher-san has a great analogical explanation for zanshin. It’s like when you have a visitor at your house and they depart, you can either say goodbye and go about your business or you can walk them to their car, wave goodbye, and stand there watching them drive away until you cant see their car anymore. These two responses to their departure communicate two fundamentally different things. This last state of mind is zanshin, in which you maintain a connection with them even after the relationship is ended.

So, how do you develop or improve zanshin? Here are a few suggestions…
  • Have the entire class synchronize to each other during warmup and ukemi practice. This forces each person to maintain a connection to everyone around them.
  • Make it a class policy that tori stays ‘in the technique’ and does not disconnect from uke until uke taps.
  • Uke, don’t get up from the ground until tori is a safe distance away from you. Until then, keep your feet between you and tori.
  • Define some place in the dojo as joseki (the high seat) or shomen (the front) and make sure that as tori you never throw uke toward shomen/joseki and that tori is always between uke and joseki. Of course, tori should also refrain from throwing uke off the mats, into walls and obstacles, and onto other people. To make this exercise even more interesting, make sure that tori and uke never have their backs fully toward joseki/shomen.
  • Play a ‘gotcha’ game with other students in which they can ‘get you’ at any time that you are unaware during your daily life. Don’t be stupid - play safe with this or it becomes dangerous.
  • Play a mind game with yourself in which you imagine people jumping out at you from hiding. Find places that people could ambush you as you walk by. Try to make sure you walk by hiding places with at least ma-ai separation.

Skip Saturday

There will be no class this Saturday, January 27, 2007. I have a work-thing I have to be at in Jackson. We will have class as scheduled this Wednesday and after this weekend.

All kata are bunkai

We practice martial arts that are forms of abstracted combat. This abstraction is unavoidable because practicing ‘real’ combat either leads to unacceptable rates of attrition (you lose ½ of your training partners at the conclusion of each fight) or it leads to unacceptable moral and social conduct (you waylay and kill innocent passers-by). Without the abstraction there is no way to systematically improve.
The abstractions that change combat into martial art involve various sets of rules of conduct between participants who explore different models of combat-like situations. Because any model is necessarily incomplete, we work with multiple different models. These models include:
  • Kihon – fundamentals
  • Kata – patterns and principles
  • Bunkai – break-down analysis of kata
  • Henka/Renraku/Kaeshi – Variation/Combination/Reversal techniques
  • Kumite – engagement matches
  • Randori – exploring freedom
  • Makiwara – test striking/cutting real objects
In some martial arts (i.e. karate-do) the kata are performed solo, which necessitates other models like makiwara, bunkai, and kumite. Aikido and judo kata are interesting because they are always performed with a partner and they include aspects of the kata, bunkai, and kumite combat models. In aikido all kata are bunkai.

The care and feeding of Pat

The other day on the John-do blog, a guy called Jory-san asked John a question:
How did you come to find [your aikido organization] and what lead you to pick it (if others were available?)?
I liked John's answer but I thought I'd pick that one up and run with it for a while. I'm not sure but its true for me and I'd guess for a lot of others that the novice doesn't really have a lot of choice about where he gets his beginning. That is, if it is a good experience. In the cases where the novice gets into a bad situation and switches in midstream there is some intelligence and choice occurring. But in my case, for instance, my first experience with aikido was particularly empowering and enriching and positive. It was blind luck (or Providence if you like).
Let me back up a while. I started martial arts in 1986 in McComb, MS. A high-school buddy asked me if I wanted to take taekwondo with him. It went like this: "What's that," I asked. "It's like Karate." "What's that? "It's like what Bruce Lee did." "Who's that?" "Well, it's like Boxing, but you kick people." "Cool, I'm in!"
So, you can see that my first encounter with martial arts was late in life (17 years old ;-) and was pretty much random. I didn't go seeking it out because I didn't even know enough to begin seeking.
So I started taking taekwando from Pat Little in downtown McComb. Pat Little is only slightly older than me. I think he was about 19 at that time and was attending Southwest Junior College at that time. I don't know anything about his instructor or if he was involved with any larger TKD organization (I don't think he was) but, pedigree and organization made no difference to me - those things didn't even occur to me. All I knew was Pat was much better than me. Looking back, I think Pat was and is still a very good instructor, and I got a good begining to what looks like it will be a life-long pursuit.
About a year later, I graduated high School and moved off to University at Starkville, MS. I knew I wanted to continue but there was no TKD in Starkville at that time. I shopped around and ended up starting Goshindokan Karate. This was Glenn Beverly's home-grown variant of Isshinryu, and again, looking back it seems like a very good thing. Beverly's karate was very practical and methodical. He'd started spinning off black belt student clubs in nearby towns (My instructor was actually Sandan Judy Malone). Goshindokan was respected in the Mississippi Karate Association and Beverly's students did well in the MKA competitions. I ended up getting second place in the Mississippi State campionships and third place in Louisiana State Championships during my tenure with Beverly.
Sometime around 1991 A girl that was taking Goshindokan with me began talking up the University Budo club, where she also practiced Judo. She talked me into coming to watch and I was soon involved in Judo, Aikido, and Hapkido with them. These guys turned out to be related a couple of generations back to Glenn Beverly. Beverly had apparently been part of the University club when one of the big names in Hapkido (Park??) was also at the University.
Anyway, I really am getting back around to the topic. I started aikido because it was interesting and because it was vastly different from what I'd known of the martial arts so far. At the time I'd studied TKD and karate for about 5 years and I was starting to get the vague uneasiness of a sort of a 'diminishing returns' thing going on in striking arts. For instance, even though my experience with Little and Beverly had been positive and even though looking back on it I think it was a good foundation to karate practice, I was approaching a limit. It was popular in striking arts then to talk about this idea of being able to beat up 5 or 8 or 12 guys if you were just good enough. Well - I knew I wasn't good enough to do that.
Around that time I watched John Usher teaching an aikido class and it was completely alien to me - completely different from the strategies and tactics that I knew were beginning to lead me nowhere. I asked Usher 'What in the world are you guys doing?" and instead of taking it as a smartass remark from some retarded karate guy, he took it as an honest question and explained some of the basic exercises to me. AND IT ALL MADE SENSE! From day #1 in that class I could tell that the strategies and tactics were more fitting to me.
so, in summary...
  • I started TKD on a whim and it turned out to be a positive experience.
  • I started Karate because there was no other choice at the time. And it turned out to be a positive experience.
  • I started aikido because it seemed to fit my personality and manner better than karate...
  • ...and I got into our particular aikido organization because that's all there was at the time.
I don't know if I have expressed it well in this long blog entry, but I have felt a strong sense of Providence in my martial arts path. There were so many junctures where something could have been different enough to change the path vastly.

  • What if my first instructor had been a jerk to the point that I was injured or quit?
  • What if I'd decided to tough it out in karate instead of moving to aiki and judo? Might not have been a bad life but I can't imagine getting the same mileage out of karate as aikido.
  • What if I'd decided to wait for a different aikido teacher to show up (i.e. aikikai)? It just so happens that the first aikikai guy to show up at the university where I was was an absolute jerk. I would have never clicked with him as well as I jived with Usher-san.
  • What if...
  • What if...
  • What if...
Thank God for sparing me from these what ifs!
Point is, life in the martial arts is like surfing - you can't make the waves. You just have to ride them. If you're looking for a positive, enriching, empowering aikido experience, then you can find it in any aikido organization.
or in judo...
or in karate-do...
or in taekwando...
or in Watakushi-do ;-)
(if you have gotten this far and you got that last joke, please let me know...)

Vocabulary revisited

Okay, I've worked over the aikido vocabulary a couple of times here and here, but tonight I feel like trying my hand at another treatment of it (more for my entertainment than anything else). There are (at least) two main sets of Japanese terms for aikido ideas - Aikikai and Tomiki. I don't know why Tomiki named things differently than Ueshiba did - but he did and now a large portion of the aiki world has grown up using different terminology. So, here's a comparison to aid in translation of ideas.
Check out this page for the core of aikikai terminology. In the list that follows, the entries start with Aikikai terms followed by Tomiki synonyms and then by English explanations.
  • ikkyo - oshitaoshi - pushing the opponent into an armlock on the ground while holding his wrist and elbow.
  • nikkyo - kotemawashi - wristlock bending the little finger toward the ulna (armbone).
  • sankyo - kotehineri - wristlock with the wrist extended and the forearm turned inward.
  • yonkyo - tekubiosae - nerve attack on the forearm or using the forearm to push the opponent away similar to ikkyo/oshitaoshi.
  • gokyo - wakigatame - locking the elbow and leading the opponent into unbalance along the length of the arm. Similar in form to ikkyo/oshitaoshi but with a different grip.
  • shihonage - shihonage or tenkai kotegaeshi. wrist/arm lock done by holding a wrist with both hands and turning outward and under the arm to twist the arm behind uke's shoulder and head.
  • iriminage - shomenate, aigamaeate, gyakugamaeate, or aikinage - any blending evasion followed by a whole-body strike that takes uke off his feet. Gyakugamaeate is also called sokumen iriminage.
  • kotegaeshi - kotegaeshi. Wristlock done by flexing the wrist and turning the forearm outward.
  • kaitennage - kaitennage or udehineri. Locking the shoulder by holding it behind uke's back and using the arm as a lever to push uke away. Sometimes similar to the hammerlock in common wrestling.
  • tenchinage - tenchinage or sumiotoshi or osotogari. Leading the opponent into sideways offbalance with one of his arms held low and the other high. Sometimes it is a hand throw - Aikikai calls this kokyu (breath throw) and Tomiki calls this ukiwaza (floating technique). At other times it is done stepping in behind ukes leg to trip him.

Interesting quote

"People have a greater tolerence for evil than for violence." Louis Lamour The Daybreakers

Chain #7

At aiki class last night we warmed up with tegatana and hanasu, skipped ukemi because of the cold mats, and moved into chain #7. All of the chains are really neat - each for its own reasons. Chain #7 consists of hanasu#7, kaitennage, hikitaoshi, and oshitaoshi. Kaitennage has several variants that we played with, including arm-and-head, kotemawashi kaitennage, and udehineri. Hikitaoshi, of course, also leads to udehineri when it goes bad and oshitaoshi, of course leads to udegaeshi and the other Chain #1 stuff when it goes bad. So, chain #7 and Chain #1 sorta represent a family of techniques that all live in the same neighborhood. Really, that neighborhood probably really includes all of chains #1, 3, 5, and 7. We ran through all of nijusan and then focussed in on kotehineri and tenkai kotehineri. Nothing to really note there on my part.
Afterward, Kristof did his yonkyu demonstration with Patrick M. as his partner. Kristof did very well. I thought he did particularly well on #4 - gedanate, whereas he thought he did particularly well on #3 - gyakugamae. Afterward we worked on #5 - ushiroate with an emphasis on getting a feeling of 'climbing up uke's arm' as you pass by him. By this point we were finally warmed up and we did several runs of the ukemi, including a couple of new falls and exercises that P4 and Kristof had not seen.

Sudden kataguruma thought

Leave it to Chad to bring up the one throw in the whole syllabus that I understand least. We'd just finished a miraculous workout in which we investigated the otoshi and guruma throws in judo. I'd assigned him some open-ended homework of looking at all the things in the judo syllabus that are named either otoshi or guruma and figuring out why they are named as they are. He chimes in, "What about kataguruma?"
Well, first off, kataguruma is NOT my throw. I can barely get the iron cross variant from nagenokata to work on someone half my size. I have a variant that I can throw to some effect occasionally in randori, but it is not really a guruma. It is more of a home-grown taiotoshi with a shoulder in the mix as a fulcrum.
Guruma throws tend to make a very distinctive fall for uke as he rotates in two planes - head-over-heels, and around a vertical axis through his body. It very much resembles a cylinder rolling on its axis as it turns end over end. Kataguruma has this fall when thrown properly.
Part of why kataguruma is so confusing an example of otoshi vs. guruma is because it is typically taught with a parallel offbalance down the line of uke's feet. This offbalance is typically associated with otoshi throws. In this case. tori offbalances as if to throw an otoshi and as tori compensates with the rear foot he gets lifted in a guruma throw.
Last night I had a sudden thought regarding this. Often, the otoshi-guruma thing makes more sense to me when I can find the otoshi variant of the guruma that I'm studying or vice versa. In this case, what is an otoshi that is thrown from nearly the same position and timing as kataguruma? I think it is tsurikomigoshi. I'll need some time and skilled ukes to play this idea, because kataguruma and tsurikomigoshi both intimidate most ukes, but I think that playing for a while with these two throws in a compare and contrast type practice will help to clarify why kataguruma is a guruma.

Hikiotoshi uchi

Today, Whit and I played some Jodo. First I practiced Kihon #1-4 solo form, loosening up the stiffness from the judo abuse I took 2 days ago. Then Whit held a sword for me while I practiced the jo side of hikiotoshi uchi (kihon #3 - sweeping the sword aside). It was a good day - nobody got a broken hand. After I did hikiotoshi a while, Whit wanted to try and I held the sword while he did the move. He held the stave in a quarterstave-type posture with one hand at the center of mass and the other hand halfway to the end. He couldn't lift the stick in the typical honteuchi posture so he derived the quarterstave grip spontaneously and you know what? Hikiotoshi worked GREAT for him! It was pretty cool. After Jodo we had a footrace up the hill to the stop sign and even that was fun (even though Whit won). Then we planted an oak tree at Nanna's house.

Passing comment

Chad made a sort of passing comment yesterday as we were discussing various judo textbooks. He said "Did you notice that Mifune 'rewrote' the gokyo in Canon of Judo?" "Nope," I said, and we went on. But that is just the type of comment to make my INTP act up, so today I dug out my copy of Kodokan Judo, which has the 1920 gokyo (throwing syllabus) in it and Canon of Judo, which has Mifune's (1960) interpretation of the gokyo. Sure enough - they're vastly different. How'd that slip past me these years?
This picques my interest because of a conversation I've been having with several of my betters about the rationale behind the gokyo. Why are kyo1 throws grouped together and why are they generally taught before kyo2 throws, etc... I've made the point that practically nobody teaches the entire gokyo and fewer instructors still teach it in the order that it is presented - but still I've wondered for a long time now if we're losing something by not teaching it in the order that it was handed down to us from Kano through the Kodokan.
But now this. Mifune, one of only a handful of men to ever earn Kodokan's 10th Dan rank, had his own gokyo. This suggests several possibilities:

  • Mifune might have been missing the point of the gokyo along with the rest of us.

  • Mifune might have known something that the other brainiacs at the Kodokan didn't.

  • The order and groupings of the gokyo might actually be arbitrary and meaningless.
None of those really feel like a satisfactory answer to me...

Mighty fine judo session

Today we had Sensei Chad Morrison of Akari Judo visiting. We had a great session in which we worked on the otoshi-guruma idea in several different ways. We warmed up with two variants of osotogari which illustrate the main ideas of otoshi and guruma. From there we moved into a melange of ukitoshi, taiotoshi, sumiotoshi, hizaguruma, and ashiguruma because these are the throws with which I can best illustrate the ideas. We were getting miraculous otoshi throws, which, on the off chance that they didn't work, they set up a miraculous guruma or a different otoshi. We particularly got a lot of mileage out of otoshi-guruma combinations of hiza, uki, tai, and sumi.
In exchange for the otoshi-guruma info, Chad showed me several interesting groundwork tidbits, including a very, very cool entry into groundwork from uchimata that is essentially similar to the Granby roll made famous by wrestling coach Billy Martin of Granby Street High School in Norfolk, VA. Makes sense that Chad would bring up the Granby roll, as his dojo is only about 90 miles from the epicenter of Granbyland. It was super-cool!
We had an impromptu randori session, in which I mostly held my own but failed to get the advantage before he wore me out and pinned me twice in quick succession. Chad is very good on the ground. The tables turned somewhat when we moved to standing, as I was more comfortable and I got a couple of falls out of him. All in all great fun. I tried to talk him into moving to Magnolia and he tried to talk me into moving to Richmond, but alas - no success on either side.
Thanks, Chad, for coming to play and thanks to his lovely new bride for letting us play for a few hours.

Stab the foot

Today I was working with Mytchiko on distancing. Mytchi is legally (though not totally) blind due to retinitis pigmentosa so a while back I assigned her some open-ended homework of trying to figure out how to improve her sense of distance. Here's what we came up with. Mytchi carries a 52" cane that happens to be exactly twice her arm length, which means she can use it to measure ma-ai. My suggestion to her was to carry it constantly and play a distance guessing game everywhere she goes. Choose an object and walk to two arm lengths from it (ma-ai) and then measure with the stick. Repeat liberally until your distance sense improves.
Another game that we played was "stab the foot." In which tori holds the cane and focusses on uke's face. Then on each step uke takes tori tries to stab uke in the top of the foot with the cane. The secret is this - during a certain part of the gait cycle the foot has to be directy under the center (under the face). I could stab the foot very often. Mytchi was slightly less accurate, but a little practice will fix that. I also advised her to work on identifying which side of the foot the cane lands on when it misses the foot.
Another thing we worked on... Mytchi complained that in crowds people would occasionally 'accidentally' kick the tip of her cane out from in front of her and it was disorienting. I showed her a jodo technique (#6 seitei kata) in which tori holds one end of the stick with the other end resting on the ground in some indeterminate place off to the left of the body. It really doesnt matter where the other end of the stick is but kata specifies that it slants off to the left. Anyway, during the evasion tori brings the near end of the stick to some predetermined point that is the same every time - like the solar plexus. This puts the rest of the stick into a standardized position so that it can be easily and conveniently grabbed with the free hand. This worked great for Mytchi. As I would kick her cane out from under her she'd smoothly retract it to her shoulder and get control of it with her other hand.
It's pretty cool working with Mytchi because it forces me to reexamine how I define fundamentals like ma-ai. Always working with "sighted" people lets me get into a groove that Mytchi breaks me out of. I also enjoy helping her improve her "OM" skills. That's "Orientation and Mobility" for those that don't speak "low vision." I get a kick out of working with Patrick M. for the same reason - his left arm forces me to rethink what is the core of aikido and what is gravy. And that is a very good thing to know.

The "really lost" wrist release

Last night was a good class with Patrick M., Kristof, and myself. We got a little bit farther into the ukemi with the turn-side and turn-back rolls. The rolls are looking better. It’s time to start getting much deeper into the airfall preparations in ukemi. In tegatana we explored the relation between the size of back steps and our ability to stay on the balls of the feet with heels slightly brushing. With a larger than normal back step,the heel lifts, leaving you balancing on the balls of the feet. Ever so slightly less stable.

We repped hanasu a couple of times, including some practice on Patrick M’s off-side. He was doing great releases with that arm and it brought up the topic of the “really-lost” wrist release. Not the two that begin yonkata – those are just “lost.” This is the “really lost” release. There comes times when tori’s or uke’s grip begins to fail, giving us the choice of losing contact or holding harder and harder. The harder and harder option is a particularly bad one, so the solution (the release) is to switch hands as the grip fails. This is a form of release that does not appear in hanasu or junana – but it occurs in randori and in the chains. And it is an important release skill. Anyway, with Patrick M’s reduced range in his off-side, he gets into that “really lost” release situation earlier and more often than the rest of us. So he provides a great reminder of a skill that some of us can forget to practice sometimes!

We played with Chain #2, getting into the forearm pushdown. We played with some variants of this, including doing it with just the wrist and doing it with wrist and head like the entry into aikinage. Then for the “cool ninja technique of the night” we did the gyakugamae ate out of sankata where uke grasps tori’s upper sleeve in gyaku stance and tori binds the arm and rotates behind him, pulling him into gyakugamaeate. Worked great and was a lot of fun.
At the end of class we did Nijusan 1-10 and then emphasized techniques #1, 4, 8, and 13. #1 because it is the basis of everything and #4, 8, and 13 because they seem to be an example of a slightly different timing than the others. These seem to occur slightly earlier in the ura (outside) path.

Men - kote - do - tsuki

Last night, Whit, Knox, and I worked on the first sword kihon – men kote do tsuki – basic strikes. This exercise basically consists of setting up cues so that when tori sees an opening he strikes it. When I’d drop my sword to the right, Whit would take one big step in and gently touch me on the top of the head with his sword. When I would drop my sword to the left he’d step in and do kote to the lead wrist. When I’d pick up the sword he’d alternately step in and touch my right abdomen or he’d twist the sword slightly and thrust into the center. Whit got the hang of all four basic strikes and got pretty good at responding to random cues from me. Knox got the menuchi (head cut) and the kote (wrist cut). It was a lot of fun.

Seitei Jodo at Mokuren

Of all the experts in the world at Jodo - I'm not one of them. But I want to write about Jodo today, and, as Dorothy Sayers put it so aptly,

That I, whose experience of teaching is extremely limited, should presume to discuss education is a matter, surely, that calls for no apology ... Bishops air their opinions about economics; biologists, about metaphysics; inorganic chemists, about theology; the most irrelevant people are appointed to highly technical ministries; and plain, blunt men write to the papers to say that Epstein and Picasso do not know how to draw. Up to a certain point, and provided the the criticisms are made with a reasonable modesty, these activities are commendable. Too much specialization is not a good thing. There is also one excellent reason why the veriest amateur may feel entitled to have an opinion about education. For if we are not all professional teachers, we have all, at some time or another, been taught. Even if we learnt nothing--perhaps in particular if we learnt nothing--our contribution to the discussion may have a potential value. (Sayers, The Lost Tools of Learning, Oxford, 1947)

Anyway, I'm not an expert at Jodo, but I have practiced it for the most part continuously for the past 12-15 years, so I have thoughts that I'd like to express not so much to enlighten others, but so that perhaps someone who is more expert could educate me further.

If there are any serious problems with Seitei jodo as a system, they are two:

First there is no system of randori that allows experimentation against resistance while maintaining safety for the participants. I have some ideas on how to correct this, but perhaps I'll mull it over a few years before I try to get a partner and put that into effect at Mokuren.

The other potential flaw in the system is relatively minimal education for the sword-wielding partner. We are currently working on this at Mokuren. We basically have an informal study group playing with with various sword exercises in an attempt to get at least a little more comfortable with the sword half of the equation. The exercises we are playing with include the kendo kihon (basics) and kata set as well as the tachiwaza (sword-using) and tachidori (sword-taking) techniques from Aikido's Koryunokata. I figure we certainly won't become swordmasters working on this, but if the sword man becomes even a little more comfortable then his jo-wielding partner will have to become sharper too.

So, If there is anyone around Southwest Mississippi who would like to play (safely and reasonably) with sticks and (wooden) swords with me, drop me a line.

Japanese vs. English

Subcultures are defined in large part by their specific use of jargon. The martial arts world is rife with this and aikido is probably worse than other martial arts, because it has at least two different commonly-used systems of terminology for naming techniques(Aikikai and Tomiki).
I realize that one of the best ways to irritate my readers is to use terms that only a select few of the in-crowd understand. But the problem with not using the Japanese is that often a complex thing has been given a name that happens to be Japanese. In some cases, I can give the English in parentheses, like when talking about the oizuki (lunge punch) technique, but in other cases, like when referring to gyakugamaeate, there are several potential English translations ranging from literal (reverse-posture striking) to loose (the outside face push), none of which convey the idea of what is being discussed. To stop in each post and write the paragraph that it would take to give an approximate meaning of gyakugamaeate would be onerous.
So, to help out all those who I have irritated by using Japanese terminology, here are a few guidelines that I will attempt to follow from now on when posting on here:
  • When something has a widely-used English term that is both concise and evocative, I will use the English, maybe followed by the Japanese in parentheses. For instance - the guard (dojime gatame)
  • When the concise, evocative English term does not exist, I'll use the Japanese terminology, often followed by a loose English translation in parentheses. For instance - yama arashi (one-armed shoulder throw combined with a leg sweep).
  • When I'm specifically talking about Aikikai techniques or when I think the topic might be particularly interesting to my Aikikai buddies, I'll use both naming systems as I understand them. For instance - gyakugamaeate is roughly the same thing as sokumen irimi nage.
  • When I can, I'll provide links to pictures or video to clarify especially problematic terms, like gyakugamaeate .

Thanks to my friends who have told me that my use of Japanese terms bugs them. Please keep reading and leaving comments and let me know if I get better or worse ;-)

I'm looking forward to naptime!

Aiki class this morning had a good attendance. Myself, Bryce, Andy, Patrick M., Mytchi, and Kristof. Whit and Knox helped us warm up then mstly did their own thing in the corner. We worked tagatana as a group, then Andy helped Mytchi individually with it. We worked hanasu then chain #3, delving into the transitions between kotemawashi (nikyo), wakigatame (gokyo), kotegaeshi, and gyakugamaeate (maybe called sokumen irimi nage??). After this, everyone watched as Patrick M. did his sankyo deomnstration with Bryce as his uke. He'd practiced with Andy as uke but by this time, Andy was not feeling well, so Bryce filled in. It was an interesting experience for both partners because Bryce got to experience some interesting one-armed variations of nijusan - particularly #6 and #8. Also, Patrick got to experience a really excellent uke that he was not used to (not to knock Andy - he's a great uke too). It was a good demo and we have another new sankyu.
We broke for breakfast for a while and then Bryce and I did some jo and sword work. We worked the first three techniques of jodo (honteuchi, gyakuteuchi, and hikiotoshi) in solo and paired forms. Then we did some of the basic kendo forms, including men-kote-do-tsuki (basic cuts), harai men (the clockwise deflection), and kote suriage men (the counterclockwise deflection). We finished up with suburi men (repeated cuts).
Thanks to Bryce for coming to play with me this weekend - and extra special thanks to his wife, Mary, for letting him come play. I look forward to seeing y'all again in three or four months during your spring break.

Funky Rich and DJ P3

This is a set of clips from Rich's Sandan demo at the October 2006 Aiki Buddies Gathering in Magnolia, MS. No, it is not the 'disco dojo' footage of P3 that everyone is clamoring for, but I think the music conveys the gist of the weekend.


This weekend, Bryce Lumpkin (aiki shodan, judo shodan) came in from Florida to spend a couple of days working out with me on aikido and judo. Andy Sims showed up to help us work through this stuff. We started this morning with tegatana - no big surprises from anyone there. Then we got into hanasu. Bryce immediately brought up some interesting points for us to work on. His extension in #6 and #8 was much better than my students are generally getting. (This is the same lecture that Dr. John Usher had for us at the October ABG.) On the other hand, Bryce had some different ideas from my students on #1 and #3, and perhaps got a few hints on getting these two releases to actually release properly. This involves making release #1 have more of the release feeling that most of us get with #3. This led us into the chains and we worked on most of the main parts of chains #1 and #2 - for hours.
After breaking for lunch and watching an instructional DVDs we worked our way through all of junanahon kata- the fundamental aikido techniques. We started out reviewing the two patterns or paths of movement that appear in nijusan, reviewed the small steps concept, and spun our way through the kata with each player repping the technique for a while and without too much crying or gnashing of teeth.
I proposed, hinted, and nudged Bryce and Andy toward the idea that we should cover Bryce's judo questions tomorrow because we were all teetering on the brink after the HOURS of junanahon kata. But Bryce was afraid he'd be stiff and wimpy tomorrow - so we reviewed all the hip throws of the judo syllabus with some hints for catching them in randori and some hints for teaching them to beginners. As payment for the hip throw knowledge, Bryce let me use him as uke for the stuff I'm going to spring on Chad Morrison (judo shodan) next weekend in our special weekend workout. We worked taiotoshi (by this time we'd pulled out the crash pad), ukiotoshi, and hizaguruma. I was trying some of the stuff that I've been studying from a DVDs for a long time and tonight was the first time I've been able to replicate some of it! It was uber-cool!
But now I'm knackered and we start again tomorrow at 9:00...

Kotegaeshi and etc...

Tonight was another low-energy day because I have been sick for two days - lost 12 pounds yesterday (I'll let you use your imagination). Anyway, it looks like it was about a 30-hour bug and I'm much better now - just drained. We worked on tegatana with small steps, using the side step to calibrate the length of the diagonal steps in tegatana. We then played with the evasions and offbalances with partners, concentrating on these calibrated steps. Worked really good.
For a while, we played with the second half of owaza jupon - mostly so that I could get some reps on my favorite kata but Andy was getting some good practice too. We worked mostly on the shihonage, ushiroate, and kotegaeshi from this kata and it went well. Andy was smearing me with shihonage and I was getting a good kotegaeshi. This led to Andy and I working on kotegaeshi a good bit and talking about using the wrist control to control uke's posture. We got to work on the owaza and nijusan versions of shihonage and kotegaeshi. These roughly translate to omote and ura versions of these two techniques.
We used this work on kotegaeshi as a lead-in to chain #1 and we reviewed all of the first half of the chain (1a) a couple of times and then jumped into the second part that contains the shortcut through chain #1a and then branches off into kotegaeshi, kotehineri, and tenkai kotehineri. Andy was flowing better than I was tonight.
By this point I was waning, so we cut class short and I made it up to Andy with spaghetti and a movie.

Other blogs (not as good as mine, but they try awfully hard!) :-)