Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Teaching gun safety

I have to admit, I have an aversion to handguns that borders on phobia. In college, my roommate, a black belt in multiple arts and a wartime veteran, made me handle an unloaded pistol to make a point in a discussion we were having. I couldn’t tell you what the point was because I was so freaked out at just having to touch the thing. So far as I know this attitude was not a taught thing – just an innate and extreme distaste for that particular weapon.
Lately I have been considering buying one of the realistic simulation air pistols that fires BBs – so that I can face that phobia to some degree. But then this happened…

Walthall County sheriff’s deputies are investigating the reported shooting death of a 2-year-old girl in the Darbun community. The shooting occurred about 11:20 a.m. Sunday. Deputies said the child was shot in the chest by an air gun being handled by another child. The girl was taken to Marion County Hospital, where she later died. The shooting is believed to be accidental, and Walthall County Coroner Shannon Hartzog said an autopsy has been ordered. Authorities did not release the name of the girl.
Tragedies like the above bring the gun issue to the front of everyone’s mind. This particular case was especially shocking to me because it was a BB fired by an airgun! Around here, airguns are generally considered (if not actually toys) pretty innocuous so long as everyone is wearing eye protection but this child was killed by a BB into the chest.

Does this mean that I think airguns or even ‘real’ guns should be banned? I don’t think so. For better or worse, guns are part of the equation of modern American life and they are not going away any time soon. I certainly don’t think that ignoring them will make me or my kids any safer. I have been teaching my 7 year-old gun safety rules and safe gun handling using a Daisy Buck BB gun and I’m still thinking about getting an airsoft pistol.
For more info on this topic:

A helpful handful – 5 ways to improve your shihonage

Shihonage (lit. ‘four-directions throw’ or more loosely, ‘all-directions throw’) is the first of the ‘Six Pillars of Aikido' (shihonage, iriminage, kaitennage, kokyunage, osaekomi, ushirowaza). This technique is very common across most martial arts. Here are a handful of hints I’ve found helpful in working on shihonage.
  • Work your way through the name of the thing. Work on finding ways you can throw this thing in every direction.

  • Do it part of the time with only one hand and part of the time with only the other hand – like #6 and #8 in Hanasu no Kata. Practicing this with only one hand makes you move your body thru the right arc or you lose it. Don’t cheat by learning shihonage with the illusion of control afforded by using both hands.

  • If it goes bad toward the beginning, try flowing into maeotoshi or sumiotoshi. If it goes bad toward the end, try flowing into aikinage (A.K.A. iriminage) or ushiroate.

  • We use a crash pad when we practice binding the arm and throwing forward (i.e. hijikime) or when we set it up then step under the arm from the outside to the inside for a floating throw. These are severe falls and represent a severe risk to the shoulder if there is anything wrong with the ukemi.

  • Going back to the name, consider Beth Shibata’s article in which she suggests that it might be more appropriate for learning purposes to call the thing the 'all-directions release' instead of the 'all-directions throw'. How does what you call the thing affect your execution of it?

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Koryu Dai Ichi

Aiki with Patrick M. and Kel
  • ROM and ukemi (including reps of 2 buddy falls)
  • Hanasu with emphasis on moving forward on #3
  • Chain #2 including R2→R1→oshitaoshi
  • 2 variations of Ichikata ushirowaza kotegaeshi (ducking under the arm) and R1→R2→kotegaeshi.
  • Nijusan kotegaeshi and oshitaoshi (step aside at the end of the line)

Y'all will be proud of me!

I've finally mastered the secret to a beautiful, effortless deashibarai! All you have to do is find an uke that is 1/8 your size and all of a sudden you are a shoe-in for perfect form!

Cool Jimmy Pedro bio

Monday, April 28, 2008

More clinic clips

Here are some more short clips of some of the participants at the latest Henry clinic.

You get just as wet no matter where you jump in

One of the cool things about aikido is that there are no prerequisites. There is no ‘most advanced skill.’ You can work the skills in any order and call that a ‘system’. A beginner may jump in with the whole class profitably practicing whatever happens to be on the lesson plan for that day. Sure there are safety considerations - you don't make newbies take big falls - but they can still practice the same techniques and principles as everyone else. I've heard it said that there are no advanced techniques or concepts in aikido - just skilled students practicing the fundamentals in a very advanced way.
Many Aikikai schools (if I understand rightly) start with ikkyo (oshitaoshi) as the first teaching, while most Tomiki schools start with shomenate as the first teaching and only get to oshitaoshi (Aikikai’s ikkyo) as the sixth teaching after several hours of practice. Either is an okay way of teaching the thing, and after a few hours of practice, it probably doesn’t matter because students of both methods end up understanding both concepts.

In some schools, there is this talk of omote (superficial techniques taught to anyone) and ura (deep, hidden teachings only taught to the initiated) but Musashi in the end of the Wind Book writes about there being no internal teachings and no gate:

There is no "interior" nor "surface" in strategy.

The artistic accomplishments usually claim inner meaning and secret tradition, and "interior" and "gate", but in combat there is no such thing as fighting on the surface, or cutting with the interior. When I teach my Way, I first teach by training in techniques which are easy for the pupil to understand, a doctrine which is easy
to understand. I gradually endeavour to explain the deep principle, points which it is hardly possible to comprehend, according to the pupil's progress. In any event, because the way to understanding is through experience, I do not speak of "interior" and "gate".

...Accordingly I dislike passing on my Way through written pledges and regulations. Perceiving the ability of my pupils, I teach the direct Way, remove the bad influence of other schools, and gradually introduce them to the true Way of the warrior. The method of teaching my strategy is with a trustworthy spirit. You must train diligently.

…In my Ichi school of the long sword there is neither gate nor interior. There is no inner meaning in sword attitudes. You must simply keep your spirit true to realize the virtue of strategy.

Order your copy of Musashi's Book of Five Rings:

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Martial arts – They’re not just for kids anymore

Demographers have been telling us for years about the baby boom generation. This is the group of people born between about 1946 and 1964. This is a worldwide phenomenon, but in the U.S. it represents a group of about 80 million people beginning to move into retirement age.
Three trends that concern many older adults are health care (in 2004, boomers averaged $2700 per year in healthcare spending), finances (fixed incomes and rising cost of living), and personal safety (Things seem to move faster and violence seems harder to deal with). The perfect solution for these problems is my aikido class.
.If you are an older adult living in Southwest Mississippi and want an affordable way to get a little reasonable, moderate exercise and learn to protect yourself in an increasingly chaotic and violent world, come check out my aikido class.
Fees are both reasonable and negotiable, and you can learn a martial art designed by older adults for older adults, taught by an adult, and proven effective in countless real-world instances for use as personal protection by older adults.
You don’t have to be trapped by your own fear and you don’t have to spend a fortune to learn a martial art with the potential to really change your life for the better. Send me an email at and I’ll get you set up or I’ll try to help you with whatever other information you need.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Kote hineri practice tonight

Aiki with Patrick M. and Rick
  • ROM & ukemi
  • Tegatana emphasizing synching arms with rise-fall of body and movig the center and building a stance underneath it.
  • hanasu #1-4 with emphasis on releasing as brush-off. The idea was to make #1 feel like #3 and the strong side to feel like the weak side.
  • Nijusan kote hineri
  • Ichikata tachiwaza #3-4 (Release 5 into tenkai kote hineri and release 3 into mawashi oshitaoshi)

Pick your nose

Straighten your shirt
Wipe your hands
Scratch your butt
Slap a mosquito
Shuffle your feet

How many of us have noticed that we have some unconscious or barely-conscious habits that occasionally take over during a practice. Do you find yourself starting to take a step during a kata and suddenly your nose itches maddeningly. How easy is it in solo practice to give in to the itch and call a do-over for that particular move? This happened to me this morning during the beginning of a jo kata. I'm sure it happens all the time but this morning at least I noticed it.
I know my instructor in college was always complaining that I wiped my face with my sleeve or wiped my hands on my thighs during kata. not only does this spoil the kata aesthetically but it changes the place where your mind resides. You have gone from mind-in-the-fight to gotta-scratch-that-nose instantly and at random. What may be worse is trying to avoid the tic. Trying to defer it to a more opportune time. Here you mind is flipping back and forth between the two modes. Concentration and focus are right out the window.
I have found in jodo that the occurance of this sort of tic seems to be similar to grabbing your jo with your hand in slightly wrong posture. Do you fix it then strike or strike then fix it? I tend to try to continue the motion with imperfect grip until I come to a node or a lull in the kata when I can reposition the grip.
This morning I looked like a cartoon - at least I felt like I did. Trying to do a kata with a mosquito on my foot and some pesky imp tickling my nose with a feather.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

A lecture by Henry Kono Sensei

I just got back from seeing our great friend and teacher, Henry Copeland. I posted a video of Henry a few days back and a couple of the videos that YouTube suggested as similar was a pair of videos by Henry Kono. The first one is a very fine lesson and the second is a very lovely aiki demonstration. Much the sort of aiki I'm talking about in much of my blog. Enjoy...

I enjoyed his discussion of the eidetic teaching style of OSensei. I've talked about that elsewhere. I think (I'm guessing) that what Ueshiba and Kono were calling the "Yin and Yang" solution to the aiki problem is the same thing that we're talking about when we refer to the Kito principle - the idea that energy waxes and wanes. You can read more of my ideas on the Kito principle here and here. I also find it interesting that he mentions the idea that real aikido is driven by getting your mind straight - not through years of physical practice. Here is an interview in which he expands on this a little.
In any case, This certainly looks like good aikido and I would love to have the chance to work out with Kono Sensei sometime.

What you put out comes back to you thrice

Aiki with Kel
  • Tegatana playing with the idea of grouping 2-3 movements as one thing in your mind. The kata changes in meaningful ways when you change the groupings. We also played with the idea of otoshi-guruma and back hand as the do-er instead of the front hand.
  • Hanasu #1-8
  • Aiki evasion and brushoff working into release-synch-ping-brushoff and release-synch-ping-tenkan The tenkan was remarkable. We were getting some of that feel of the wind of uke's passing blowing tori out of the way. That real kokyu feeling.
  • The first two standing techniques of Ichikata as the cool ninja techniques of the night. release #1 to oshitaoshi and release #1 to tenkai oshitaoshi.
All of this stuff tonight provided good practice in the idea that if tori puts out energy and uke doesn't eat it then tori has to eat it. We all know that aikido is about harmonizing with energy but it is common to think that uke is putting all the energy into the relationship and we concentrate on trying to harmonize with that. But any time tori puts energy into the relationship, if uke doesn't eat it, it comes back to tori - sorta like that karmic law - "What you put out comes back to you thrice."
So tori's energy output had better be minimal and short-lived and tori better be light on his feet or he might get an all-you-can-eat buffet of energy (with a doggie bag) instead of a little one-bite energy snack.

Monday, April 21, 2008


"This is the lesson: never give in, never give in, never, never, never, never—in nothing, great or small, large or petty—never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense. Never yield to force; never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy." -- Winston Churchill

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Spring 2008 Henry Seminar

I'm back from the Spring 2008 Henry seminar. It was a blast as usual. Well attended - I got to see some of the Tennessee aikidoka that I don't get to see much. Everyone learned a lot. Here are some short highlight clips from the weekend.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Class cancellation

There will be no class at Mokuren Dojo tonight or tomorrow (Friday, April 18 and Saturday April 19). I am headed to an aiki seminar in Starkville with Henry Copeland teaching Rokukata (I think). I'm looking forward to seeing a lot of the aiki buddies there. I'll be trying to get some good pictures and maybe some video clips to post in a few days.
Classes will resume at Mokuren Dojo as usual next Tuesday and following.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Woodreaux got scrubbed today

Jodo with MytchiKo
  • Practiced grips and measuring: pencil→gyakute, pencil→sakate, pencil→gyakute→honte
  • Practiced upward and downward scrubbing strikes using Woodreaux to simulate an aggressor to the rear. The idea was to step away into gyakute, scrub the jo up either leg, separate, then scrub the jo downward onto any advanced target. Worked like a charm.
  • Praticed an upward scrubbing buttstroke from pencil through sakate into the centerline of an aggressor (Woodreaux) close in front.


Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Graduation day

Today was the graduation day and judo demo and family night for the end of our first season of Kid's judo here at Mokuren. If you're coming into this story late, we decided to run kids' judo on a seasonal sports model, like teeball or soccer, since so many of the parents around here understand that sports model better than the usual 2-3 classes/week all the time model. We ran the season from last September till today and will take off during the busy baseball season and the intolerable heat of summer, to begin again this coming September. We practiced once per week and had club judo tournaments each month. It was a lot of fun and the kids learned a lot and we all had a lot of fun.

Following is the text of the program for tonight's judo demo for those interested:

Judo Embu (Demonstration)


In Feudal Japan, samurai warriors learned jujitsu, a form of empty-hand combat, as a backup plan in case they were disarmed on the battlefield. But after the Restoration of the Meiji Emperor to the throne in 1868, Japan began to pull itself out of feudalism through a long process of westernization and modernization. During this modernization, the old feudalistic samurai arts, including jujitsu were considered no longer necessary, and perhaps even backward. Hundreds of years of refinements of the jujitsu arts were in danger of dying out within the space of a generation.

In the 1880’s, Jigoro Kano, a master of several of the ancient jujitsu arts, came up with the idea to preserve the aspects of jujitsu that were still beneficial to individuals and to society - qualities like strength and courage and discipline. Kano took some of the techniques from the ancient jujitsu arts and used them to create a wrestling sport, which he called Judo. Judo rapidly grew in popularity in Japan, Europe, and throughout the world as both a sport and a form of self-defense.

Tonight you will see a demonstration of some of the skills that your children have learned over the course of the last few months; demonstrations of their maturing strength, technique, persistence, and courage. Thank you for joining us in this celebration of their achievement.


  • Line-up, salutes, and warm-up
  • Safe falling skills (forward roll, forward fall, left fall right fall, back fall)
  • More falling skills with a spotter (deashibarai, teguruma, hizaguruma, seoinage)
  • Throwing skill: osotogari (the big outside reap), that we call the “1-2 throw”
  • Holding skill: osotogari→kesagatame (the scarf hold)
  • Escape skill: osotogari→kesagatame→uphill escape
  • Ground grappling skills: crawling man contest
  • Standing wrestling skills: standing randori

Presentation of certificates and new belts

  • All students will be presented with certificates, and the older students will be presented with new belts. The younger students’ new belts are on back-order and will be presented during a post-season play-day during the Summer.
  • Gavin - Yellow Belt - Gavin is the oldest, and because of the age and mass advantage, had the coordination and strength to do well. Gavin especially improved in his mental control of his frustration when someone (like Whit) would grind him or play rough.
  • Whit - Yellow Belt - Whit is naturally athletic and coordinated. Particularly agile on his feet, he was able to dominate much of the standing work. Whit developed a good osotogari and a fair deashibarai this season and he is making progress in learning to control that alpha-male ego thing that he has going.
  • Mason - Yellow Belt - Mason is nearly indomitable on the ground because of his fierce persistence. He absolutely refuses to lose if there is anything he can do about it. He has also shown a great deal of control over natural frustration when he is dominated to the point of exhaustion on the ground by a larger opponent (like Gavin). Mason also has a naturally good leg pick.
  • Knox - White&Yellow Belt - Knox is the kind one. He has enjoyed being able to develop and express a more vigorous aggression in randori this season, but tonight in standing randori he absolutely refused to throw Emma because he thought he might hurt her.
  • Emma - White&Yellow Belt - It's hard (impossible?) to keep the attention of kids this young, but Emma has done very well and has improved her attention span greatly. She has had a lot of fun especially in the randori and groundwork games with Knox and Quin.
  • Quin - White&Yellow Belt - Got a late start this season, and was handicapped by his small size (a 000 gi swallows him), but he has a natural aggression and a will to power that will serve him well in judo as he picks up a little more mass and coordination.

Congratulations to all of our newly advanced students!

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Wonderful jodo and aikido sessions

Jodo with MytchiKo
  • Reviewed moving from pencil grip, which is her normal mode of holding the cane, into honte, gyakute, and sakate postures and measuring the distance to the opponent. She is improving on the measuring stick idea.
  • Worked some strikes - pencil→sakate→ushirotsuke, pencil→gyakute→gyakuteuchi (to shin or knee or extended wrist)
  • Worked on moving from pencil to sakate and using the structure of the forearms and stick like a cowcatcher to brush off and roll the ball.
  • Showed her a cool addition to the stab-the-foot move that she has been working on - if you miss, use the stick as a reference and step forward onto their foot, then use their reaction to roll the ball and brush them off.
  • I took out a quarterstave and worked some of the same concepts against Woodreaux.
Aiki with Rick
  • ROM and ukemi with emphasis on landing position and rolling back to standing smoothly
  • Hanasu #1-4. Rick has excellent motion.
  • Rick asked about randori so we played releases #1-4 in a limited randori, then started broadening the scope of the randori as we talked about the randori concept. The rest of the night was randori.

Judo bruisers

Somebody hit upon my blog the other day with the search term, “bruising in judo.” That certainly brings back un-fond memories. Back in the day when I was first learning to fall, I would have these huge bruises on the sides of my hips and thighs from falling and I would have hand-shaped bruises on my upper arms and chest from people grabbing for sleeve and pinching flesh. Abrasions (mat-burn or gi-burn) on the knuckles and feet and forehead and neck were common too. This abrasion and bruising was a perpetual thing. It lasted for years. I would often have overlapping areas of purple, blue-green, and yellow bruises all in different stages of recovery.
So far as I know, this bruising was common to most everyone who did judo and it was benign, though I’ve wondered about the possibility of impact hemolytic anemia in judoka (BTW, that would be a great medical study to run if anyone wants to give me credit for the idea.)
But anyway, in answer to the question implied by that search term, bruising in judo is common, normal, and probably benign in young judoka who play rough. Abrasions, on the other hand, can become seriously infected. If you get mat burn or gi burn a lot, keep your mats as clean as possible and keep a can of Solarcaine (or other spray antiseptic) handy in the dojo.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Josh Waitzkin on chess and taichi

Wow, this is a fascinating interview with the guy who was the factual basis for the movie, Searching for Bobby Fischer. Josh Waitzkin fell somewhat out of love with chess and got into taichi. Eventually reconciling his problems with chess, he came to equate the two arts as the same thing. In the end of this interview he talks about a fascinating perceptual thing that goes on in the martial arts - time dilation. I'm ordering the book he's hyping in this video because it sounds super interesting and right up my alley.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

More on aiki strategy

Aikido with Amanda, Robbie B, and Kel
  • ROM, ukemi

  • tegatana emphasizing balls of feet, tsugiashi, recovery steps

  • hanasu #1-2 emphasizing getting out of the way, turning to face the attacker, putting your hands up, and getting behind him

  • Chain #2, including kotetaoshi, maeotoshi, and gyakugamaeate or gedanate.
Today I really tried to emphasize the stuff I've been trying to explain here on the blog for a couple of weeks here and here and here and again, here - the difference between the aikido and jujitsu and karate strategies.
While a practitioner of any of these arts may certainly choose to use any of these strategies, the three arts characteristically make use of common techniques in different ways. They don't necessarily have to - but they usually do things this way. Karate sets up a strong position from which to preempt or counterattack. Jujitsu flows until a position of superior leverage is attained, then sets up a strong position and attempts to apply superior leverage to defeat the opponent. Aikido is a kind of jujitsu applied with a different mindset. The aiki guy evades, flows, setting up a relationship of superior position and leverage, but then tends to hold that power in reserve in an attempt to keep evading and blending.

Congrats to Argo

Congrats to Jason Couch, A.K.A. Argonautica, on the best sort of news...

March was very frustrating ... Not much fun ... April is looking up: my son was born April 1st and the wife and kid are both doing well. I hope to get back in the swing of things in a week or two, but sleep is short right now, so bear with me.

Friday, April 11, 2008


...if, nine days hence, the rosy morn
Shall with unclouded light the skies adorn,
That day with solemn sports I mean to grace:
Light galleys on the seas shall run a wat'ry race;
Some shall in swiftness for the goal contend,
And others try the twanging bow to bend;
The strong, with iron gauntlets arm'd, shall stand
Oppos'd in combat on the yellow sand.

In the Aeneid, the hero, Aeneas sponsors a festival of games in honor of his father, Anchises on the anniversary of Anchises’ death. There were four events; sailing, a footrace, boxing, and archery. Then there was a fifth event, a mock battle on horseback. Thus was described the earliest (that I have read) account of one of the coolest events in the history of Olympic-style games – Pentathlon.
The ancient pentathlon consisted of five games that were thought to bear upon warrior skills. The five games apparently varied but were typically drawn from a short list including running, wrestling, boxing, jumping, javelin, discus, archery, horseback riding, and swimming. Running and wrestling were always represented in pentathlon, and running was considered the main event.
Likewise, in the modern pentathlon, five events were drawn from a short list of paramilitary skills. The first modern pentathlon included hurdles, shot put, high jump, long jump, and running. More recently, a more standardized group of five events emerged, representing the skills expected of a military courier or cavalry trooper.
  • pistol shooting
  • fencing
  • swimming
  • horseback riding
  • running
I have always been fascinated by the pentathlon. Now, when we run kohaku shiai (club tournaments) at Mokuren Dojo, I tend to select four judo-like games in addition to the standing shiai to demonstrate different components or skill sets of judo. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to run our own pentathlon, maybe consisting of five events from among the following?
  • free running
  • swimming
  • horseback or bicycle
  • judo, wrestling, or jiujitsu
  • boxing or karate
  • pistol or rifle
  • schlager fencing or pugil sticks

Ask humbly for a structured lesson

More on taichi (substitute 'aiki' whenever you want a good aikido lesson) from Roberto Sharpe. The first part of this series is here.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

A helpful handful: 5 ways to improve your gyakugamaeate

Called sokumen irimi in aikikai, or perhaps parting wild horse’s mane or slanted flying or single whip in Chinese (i.e. taichi) terminology, gyakugamae is one of the three fundamental forms of atemi taught early in Tomiki aikido. Here are a handful of hints I try to keep in mind in my practice.
  • If you do this technique as a strike, you may or may not do enough damage to end the fight but your hand will recoil off his face and you’ll have to find him again to push him down. This is what you see in the stick version of gyakugamaeate in goshinjitsu in judo – a strike, then reacquire the face, lay the hand on, and throw. Instead of striking and recoiling, lay your hand on him and push instead of hitting.
  • Drape a bent wrist around the bridge of his nose like a pair of sunglasses and push. This obstructs his vision, is disorienting, and is a good pushing position.
  • Be sure to push forward through uke by dropping your center forward onto him. Don’t throw by pushing sideways.
  • Try the gyakugamaeate that you see in Gokata – I have found this more generally useful lately. Enter to the inside, as if for shomenate but wrong-side forward, strike the face with the hand nearest uke, and push yourself off of uke to get back to maai.
  • Alternates might include pulling the hair backward instead of striking/pushing the face – or perhaps pushing the philtrum under the nose – but this is not as good because you don’t get the startle associated with attacking the eyes.

Busy, busy day

5:00 am aiki with Rob.
  • we worked on the Sankata knife stuff. I enjoy getting his CSSD Modern Arnis ideas at work on the aiki knife stuff.
5:30 PM Kid's judo with Gavin, Mason, and Emma
  • Laps of the mat with silly walks for warmups.
  • ukemi, including the demonstration forms and the crash pad forms
  • osotogari
  • osotogari→kesagatame
  • osotogari→kesagatame→uphill escape
  • taiotoshi
6:30 aiki with Kel and Rick
  • ROM & ukemi
  • tegatana with emphasis on using some ideokinesis ideas to improve posture and relaxation of the shoulders.
  • hanasu with emphasis on loose, relaxed shoulders
  • hand randori
  • aigamaeate
  • 2-3 of the Rokukata knife-taking and knife-retention techniques

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Great intro to randori

Very interesting lesson follows. For a good introduction to aikido randori as we practice it, watch the video and substitute the word, "randori" whenever this instructor says, "push hands."

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Stick & rope

Aiki with Kel and Rick
  • ROM and ukemi
  • Tegatana with emphasis on relaxing the shoulders down and back throughout the exercise
  • Hanasu with emphasis on the stick and rope model - that is, releases #1 and #3, the connection is like a stick - you can only effectively push forward along the length of the stick, lining the stick up between your center of mass and the point of contact. Releases #2 and #4 work like a rope - you can't push a rope, only pull it with both centers of mass lined up with the rope. What this does is minimizes all moments of torque around the shoulder joint.
  • nijusan #1 - shomenate
  • Sankata tantodori #2 and #3, Sakate yokomen gyakugamaeate and sakate hidari wakigatame - both of these with emphasis on evading and brushing off - minimizing the amount of time you are in the meatgrinder. #2 (at least the way we were playing it tonight - similar to the kokyunage pictured above) is another one of those super-cool ninja invisibility tricks.

Knife teaches stick and hand

Another concept, related to knife changes nothing, is an idea from the CSSD Modern Arnis guys, Blade teaches stick (and empty-hand) but stick does not teach blade. (I hope I quoted that right) Even though I was an utter rank beginner in the tiny little bit of experience I have with the CSSD guys, I especially liked this knife system because it was so much like the aiki ideas that we preach. I suspect that having this knife changes nothing basis to our aikido is part of what makes the two systems so comparable and so compatible.

If you learn the knife aspect of the art first (like in CSSD) or if you manage to convince yourself that every opponent is as dangerous as a knife guy (like we try to do in aikido) then you don’t develop the laxness and complacency that comes with thinking that there are some empty-handed opponents who are simply not a threat to you.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Blending is not the most advanced skill

Perfect evasion and blending (aiki) is an impossible ideal that only exists to give you something to strive toward. This has led some instructors and practitioners to label blending as 'the most advanced skill in martial arts.'
I disagree. While perfect evasion and blending is a blue-sky ideal, adequate evasion and blending is not an advanced skill. Within just a few training hours (often less than 10 hours), I can teach most novices evasion and blending skills that are adequate to make it very hard to attack them successfully. Don't believe it? Give me 10-15 hours of decent effort and see can't I make you much, much harder to hit.
That is one of the great secrets – you don’t have to teach perfect blending. Adequate blending is sufficient to make it much harder to successfully attack tori and it also amplifies the effect of the other principles (kuzushi, atemi, etc…) when they come into play in aikido.
Evasion and blending is far from the most advanced skill. In fact it is the most basic, fundamental skill upon which all the rest of aikido is built

Sunday, April 06, 2008

New blog tech

Trying some new things here at Mokuren Dojo. You'll notice a (hopefully) little cleaner look, ads moved from the sidebar to between the posts, a cool little blogroll gadget that Google just released and I'm trying out...
Let me know how you like or dislike the changes. If I've accidently un-blogrolled you in the switch, let me know.

Knife changes nothing

I've mentioned this before in passing, but I wanted to bring some attention to it in today's post. In aikido (or judo or karate or etc...) we mostly practice empty-handed, but occasionally put a simulated knife in the hand of the attacker. It it not that we want to emphasize those ridiculous "knife defenses" that are the bread and butter of so many martial arts classes - so why do we even mess with a knife?
Simply put, the addition of a knife highlights a particular weakness in the defender's mindset. That is, if the defender suddenly becomes sharper, more alert, quicker, and more precise when a knife is thrown into the mix, then he was under-estimating the potential of the unarmed attacker.
As you practice aikido, you absolutely have to treat every single uke as if they are the most dangerous guy on the planet and they have a knife.
So the knife is really just a measuring device that points out this partcular suki (weakness). The goal would be to train enough that knife changes nothing.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Great beginners' class

Aiki with Vincent and Amanda
  • ROM and ukemi
  • tegatana - the first half of the exercise with emphasis on evasion
  • partner evasion exercise
  • wrist release #1 from the perspective of tori attempting to evade and brush off and uke being fast and accurate enough to grab and stop the evasion, causing relese #1.
  • oshitaoshi (the arm push-down, A.K.A. ikkyo omote)
  • stab-twice randori with emphasis on evasion and brush-off back to ma-ai

Friday, April 04, 2008

Last mokuren blossom of the season

A while back I posted a picture of the first mokuren blossom of the season to give y'all a glimpse of what a riot of beauty this area is in the spring. Here is the last, and best bloom of the season. A little hidden gem I found when all the other blooms were gone and the tree had leafed out.

Mokuren most amazing interviews

During the past year, I have published a series of excellent interviews based on a quick question that I posed, "Who is the most amazing martial artist you've ever personally worked out with?" This led to my posting a light-hearted Mokuren Dojo Hall of Fame, and several of the inductees (and others) granted me interviews. Check it out:

8 most popular articles 2007-2008

During the past year the following 8 articles were the most popular ones (considering hits, comments, and links back) of anything I've written on this blog. If you are looking for a good sampling of what Mokuren Dojo is all about, check them out...


The 8 most popular topics 2007-2008

During the past year, the following eight topics (labels) received the most attention (hits, comments, links back, etc...) of anything I've written on this blog. If you are looking for a decent sample of what Mokuren Dojo is about, check out the following:

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Saccadic suppression in aikido

A while back I had a very popular set of articles on eye contact in martial arts. You can find them here and here. Several of my readers gave points of view that differed somewhat. I think what is happening here is we are talking about part of the same phenomenon from different points of view (pun intended).

My contention is that you want to point your field of vision at the centerline of the opponent and keep it there, unshifting. My commentators bring up the point that peripheral vision works better and that we process better unconsciously when we are de-focussed instead of locked on a focal point.

We're talking about the same elephant here. You want to do both. you want to direct your field of vision on their centerline (perhaps nasion or suprasternal notch) and you also want to defocus into the "1000 yard stare" or " far mountain gaze" or "dead eyes" (whatever you want to call it).

Keeping your focal point fixed has a lot of advantages - see here and here, for instance, and here for the money article on the topic (it turns out that whenever you change your focal point you lose visual processing...)

De-focussing into "far mountain gaze" has additional benefits - see here and here.

Cool information, for those who want to take advantage of it - you just have to figure out how to work this into your training routine. It will make a huge difference, I promise.

You can find a set of great articles on eye control in martial arts here.

Last night's aikido

Aikido with Knox, Quin, Rick, and Kel
  • Warmed up with the kids with a contest to see who could run across the mat in the silliest way. There was a lot of arm flailing and head wagging, hopping, and wiggling of butts. In short, good warmup.
  • Ukemi with me throwing/spotting the kids into the crash pad for about 20 minutes before class started. Then the kids bailed and the grownups showed up and continued with the ukemi in the crash pad, emphasizing forward roll falling from a reflexed position.
  • Tegatana emphasizing rapid recovery, bringing the back side of the body with you, and doing it as near-instantaneously as possible.
  • hanasu #1-4 emphasizing tori staying centered on the power hand and uke flowing with tori.
  • knife evasions, aiki brush-off, and stab-twice.
  • The brush-off led into the tantodori section of sankata, including the ushiroate brushoff, the udehineri, the kotegaeshi, and the stab-the-knee gedanate.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

No, MY kung fu is better than your puny technique!

This is more on the viability of aikido for self-defense and for older adults. Perhaps this is more of a philosophical POV.
Superiority, equality, or inferiority
What is self-defense? Defense of the self. Not necessarily offense against some other. Sure, sometimes there are people that “need killing,” but that is not self-defense. For example, if you know a given martial art so well, have trained it so long and so rigorously that you know, absolutely KNOW that you are completely superior to some particular enemy, is it self-defense to destroy that enemy? If you know that you absolutely outclass them then it’s not self-defense – it is retribution or punishment or murder or something like that.
It is only self-defense when you are immediately afraid for your life or well-being.
When are you most reasonably afraid? When you’re surprised in the dark on uncertain footing and outclassed and out-gunned and the enemy knows what is going on and is younger and stronger and faster and bigger and better at what he is doing than you. You are most afraid in a situation of weakness and inferiority and lack of knowledge.
Karate, etc… is generally built from an assumption of superiority. All other things being equal, the karateka will use superior technique or training or strength or speed or leverage, etc.. .to prevail.
Judo, boxing, even MMA is confined by an extensive ruleset. There are things that you do not train because they are simply against the rules and therefore, you will never have to deal with in the ring. These arts/sports are also based on an assumption of equality – weight classes and rule sets equalize the opponents to showcase their training and/or artistry.
Aikido is just a brand name for the jujitsu that all this stuff is based on. As such, there are fewer limiting assumptions. Sure, you don’t want to hurt your partner, so there are training rules, like moving slowly or making more abstract attacks, but that is a different kind of ruleset – one based on safety instead of balanced competition.
Everything in aikido is testable and falsifiable through randori (sparring or free play). Not just nice sparring drills or one-steps either – so long as you participate within a framework of decency for safety, anything goes in aikido randori. Any technique may be tried, tested, falsified, rejected, or tested and approved.
Our normal practice mode in aikido makes it explicit that once the uke takes one complete attack step in the kata pattern, they may use any foreknowledge, training, or physical attribute (speed, strength, size, etc…) to confound the technique, and if it doesn’t work then something is wrong. You may use any knowledge or advantage to demonstrate a weakness in an aikido technique.
Thus, aikido is based on an initial assumption of inferiority or weakness or slowness. We invest in that weakness and slowness by avoiding the necessary use of strength and speed to make things work. As we invest in that state of weakness, we try to figure out how to work it to our salvation. Thus, aikido, by its definition and its nature, is all about self-defense. Aikido is THE art of self defense. Karate, and even sport judo, are not even about self defense in this sense because they predominantly operate from equality or superiority.
Now, before you decide to challenge me to a death match for the honor of your system, remember that won’t prove anything. Am I the ultimate proponent of this aiki ideal? No. But I have experienced enough of the aiki-thing to understand that training regularly from a position of weakness and inferiority is more likely to save me in a situation where I am surprised and outclassed than training from a position of advantage or equality.
That’s why I characterized aikido (as I understand it) to be the best self defense of any of the arts I’ve participated in, and that’s why I stated that aikido can be effective for virtually anyone of any age.

My kung fu is more powerful than yours!

This week I have thrown out some controversial claims in a couple of posts. In one, I suggested that aikido was probably more suitable for older adults than were other striking and grappling arts. In another, I stated that of all the arts I’d participated in, aikido seemed to be the best for self-defense.
I gave some vague support for my opinions in my posts, and sure enough, several of my buddies from other martial arts called for some more well-thought-out evidence. In my mind these two topics are related, so I'll work on supporting both in what is probably to be a short series of posts. Here I offer a video counter-example, a statistical hypothesis, and a little anecdotal evidence.
A video counter-example:

Now this guy is not exactly mixing it up in the octagon, but he is displaying impressive, viable skill. What is really remarkable about this guy is how little what he is doing looks like “real karate.” For the most part, he does not move like most “modern karate” practitioners (as Dan Paden calls them). He is still doing karate but he is certainly not doing young man’s karate. In fact, this old man’s karate really looks a lot like aikido!
A statistical hypothesis:
I don’t know any way of getting this info in quantitative, empirical form – if any of y’all do, please jump in to the conversation – but I would suspect if you looked at the median age of participants in different martial artists, you’d have a progression in age something like this:
YOUNGEST: TKD - Karate – Judo – jiujitsu – aikido – taichi :OLDEST
Small kids seem to thrive on kick-block-punch and judo. Jiujitsu seems to be more populated by young adults. Aikido practitioners seem to fall in age between the jujitsu players and the older tai chi practitioners.

Judo athletes seem to peak in their 20’s and 30’s. It is not uncommon to see extremely-high level karate masters who are in their 40’s and 50’s. In our aikido organization, nearly all the greatest masters are in their 60’s and 70’s and they have a goodly number of students their age or older. The stereotype for taichi is the little old man or the tubby old man in the park.

Of course there are exceptions, but the exceptional nature of these folks (like in the film above) just proves the rule – different age groups tend toward different arts. There is also the possibility that these various arts simply interest different segments of the population such that the groups are self-selecting. But, as I said, I think that the structure and content of the various arts plays at least part of the role of selecting that art to an appropriate age group.

Some anecdotal evidence:
  • In the mid 90’s, I ran a class of about a dozen 75-85 year-olds in an aikido class who did well. They did no falling and worked out in normal clothes and shoes with an otherwise regular aikido syllabus.
  • Starting in the late 90’s I have had a series of judo and aikido students in their 50’s who have all done exceptionally well.
  • Starting this year I have been bombarded by friends concerned for my welfare when I announced that I was planning to compete in judo in my late 30’s and early 40’s. Sure enough, I competed and won, but got busted up and took longer than a month to recover.
Nathan, Colin, Dan, and anyone else interested, there's more to come from the black hole that is my brain...
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