Sunday, November 30, 2008

Pay attention - aikido is not circular.

Some folks like to characterize aikido as a circular martial art. Some folks like to talk about various styles that may be more (Aikikai, Ki society) circular or less (Tomiki) circular. Some of these folks have even characterized Tomiki aikido as being linear instead of circular (and thus, not really aikido). At first glance, it may appear that our aikido is a more flowing, circular form of the Tomiki aikido from which it evolved.
I hate to break it to y'all, but there is no such thing as circular motion in the context of human movement. People can't move in a circle. People can't even move in straight lines either, so you can't characterize aikido as linear vs. circular. People move in a series of short line segments and short arcs, zig-zagging left and right across a central tendency of direction. The closest to circular motion that we can make is standing on one foot and turning around the hip joint, which is an arc, but cannot be continued into a circle without stepping a line between arcs.
Following is a pretty good video of Bruce Frantzis 'walking a circle' in Bagua practice. I think this provides a pretty good example of what I'm talking about - movement that looks circular but if you look closer, is actually complex linear motion. Incidently, if I remember rightly, Bruce Frantzis is one of the proponents of the idea that Aikido evolved from Chinese martial arts like Bagua, or that Aikido and Bagua had common ancestors... Interesting... For more on that tangent, check out Dojo Rat's posts on Bruce Frantzis' Bagua and Aikido and Bagua.
Here's another CMA guy who is talking about 'walking in circles' and I think it is perhaps more obvious in this vid that the circles are actually lines...
Sometimes it can be a useful mental construct to imagine that your motion is circular, and not to put too fine a  point on it, but if you want to be careful and precise, pay attention and you will see the same motions as lines and arcs. I find it more useful (most of the time) to work in reality (lines and arcs) than in idealized mental constructs (circles).

Friday, November 28, 2008


Boy, I thought that Dave had found nearly the ultimate example a few months ago of a bunch of chi-tards and their hippie shenanigans, but thanks to Todd for turning me onto this... spectacle...

What is the objective of the judo game?

In football we win by moving the ball across the goal line or between the goal posts. In baseball we win by hitting the ball and running safely around the bases. In judo we are wrestling - sorta - but what is the goal?
  • The overall goal of the judo game is to throw your opponent to the ground and hold him on his back for several seconds.
  • Sometimes a throw is so spectacular, so technically perfect, that the referree ends the match and awards the victory to the thrower. This is called 'ippon.' This is done to award spectacular proficiency in the throwing part of the game.
  • Sometimes while grappling on the ground you may bend the opponent's elbow or apply a choking technique sufficient to make the opponent submit.  For this you win instantly.  This is done to award spectacular proficiency at the ground grappling part of the game.
There...That's all there is to it. Sounds pretty simple, huh? Well, there turns out to be a lot to it and it can provide a lifetime of exercise and diversion. If this sounds fun to you, send me an email at and I'll get you set up for classes or try to help you however I can.

How to teach aikido to older adults

A while back I wrote a short article about why aikido is a great martial art for older adults. As short as the article was, it elicited some controversy when I suggested that striking arts or grappling arts might (IMO) be of limited use for older adults. One commentator asked if I thought 80 year olds would be able to sustain the falling frequently associated with aikido. My response was,

No, most everyone with any sense slows way down on the ukemi [falling practice]after about 40 or 45 and stops almost entirely sometime soon after that. This is simple self-protection. Fortunately, you don't have to fall down to do aikido...

I have run a decent-sized cohort of beginners [in their 80's] and they did great...
These octogenerians did aikido just like everyone else and worked on the same stuff.

The only other training tool common in aikido that I'd dispense with for 80 year olds is suwari [practicing techniques while kneeling] - but that is an after-black-belt thing anyway. sort of a neat little bit of historical preservation, and not really a core training method of aikido. I have seen people with bad knees perform suwari seated in chairs. Works great. So, in summary, yes, 80 year olds can do all the same aikido that the youngsters do - except ukemi and kneeling suwariwaza.

So, what aspects of aikido do I emphasize and de-emphasize for elders?
  • No suwariwaza (kneeling techniques), or perhaps suwari from chair
  • Minimal, easy ukemi (falling), maybe only w/ crashpad
  • Emphasis on lower extremity strength/flexibility and balance. Footwork exercises can be done very slowly, leading to great increases in balance and mobility. Basically this is aikido done in a slow, deliberate way in order to get some of the proven benefits of taichi. Note that I'm not saying that slow aiki=taichi. It is not, but slow aiki does have some of the same physical health benefits as slow taichi practice.
  • Wrist releases and chains of techniques based on wrist releases
  • Evasion and brush-off
  • Toshu randori (slow sparring) again, I am hesitant to draw connections between aikido and taichi, but this slow-motion partner exercise has many similarities to some of the push-hands practice I've seen tai chi guys doing.

Working in this way on this large subset of aikido is easily within many elders' ability and it produces great martial artists, in many ways equal or superior to their younger counterparts.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

How to teach children aikido

So, how do you go about teaching kids aikido? The common view, at least in the judo world, is that you shouldn't teach young kids chokes or joint locking techniques because of the potential risk to growth plates in their long bones. Some jiujitsu teachers are able to work these techniques in relative safety with kids but I think if I were to teach a class of kids aikido, here's some of what I'd do to avoid chokes, joint locks, and etc...
  • Mobility games
  • Ukemi - lots and lots of ukemi
  • Walking kata
  • Evasion drills with partners
  • Brush-off and escape
  • Wrist releases
  • Aikido atemiwaza (shomenate, aigamaeate, etc...)
  • Suwariwaza and kokyudosa (kneeling knock-down games)
  • Positional newaza basics
  • Cool ki tricks (mind games, concentration, etc…)
  • Talk about how to deal with interpersonal conflict
  • Situational self defense
  • Competition of some sort - not sure how I'd do this because all the competitive aikido randori systems I've seen are awful.
So, there's still a lot of aikido and pre-aikido that we could do. Much of the pre-aikido stuff is identical to the pre-judo stuff we do in kiddie judo. You know, the more I think about kiddie aiki the more fun it sounds...

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Interview: Daniel Camarillo

Today I am pleased to present an interview that I recently did with Dan Camarillo, awesome Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu competitor and and 20+ year judo veteran. Dan has a lot to say in this interview about teaching kids judo, the roles of parent vs. coach vs. referee, and avoiding injury in martial arts. Enjoy...
PATRICK PARKER: I interviewed your brother, Dave Camarillo, a few months ago and learned a LOT about the relationship between judo and jiu-jitsu. I wouldn't want to pit brother against brother, but honestly, brothers hardly ever agree 100% on anything, so was there anything Dave said in that interview that surprised you or that you think about differently?.
DANIEL CAMARILLO: My brother and I have the same views when it comes to Judo, JiuJitsu, MMA or any other Martial Arts. I read David’s interview and did not read anything I would disagree on. We both had our problems from our last instructor, but that alone is not what made us believe in free training.
Our father always brought in new instructors or even entire teams from Japan to help us out. We even traveled to Fresno and sometimes as far as San Jose to get the best training. I spent a couple of my summers in Japan instead of goofing off between school breaks. When we did start JiuJitsu all that changed and we never left our academy until certain events opened our eyes again. Now I tell all my students that, “I don’t know everything and the best way to become a top competitor is to visit other schools and learn what you can.”
PATRICK: How did your dad manage to send you to Japan or to bring in teams of players to give you new training partners and greater experience? Sounds expensive!
DANIEL: It is very expensive. My brother and I have traveled just about our whole lives. When someone talks about a place in the US, I can usually say I have been there. Although, most of the time it was not for site seeing, it was to compete, and when the competition was over, it was time to go back home. My father owns his own insurance company and does very well. My mother works for Gallo right now, but has always had a good job. Together they have always had enough to send us where ever we needed to be for training and competition experience.
I always say we have been very fortunate to be able to do so. There are athletes out there that do not have that luxury to travel and compete like we did. Judo has always been at the bottom in the US for funding competitors. If it was football or baseball, they would get the funding they need. They get scholarships for college, and the Judo athletes are just as good of an athlete as any of the sports out there.
PATRICK: You guys got started early in life doing judo with your dad. I'm in a similar situation, teaching my sons (currently ages 7, 5, and 4) kiddie judo. The 7- and 5-year olds are really starting to take off in their practice after about a year of training and they are a joy to watch. Do you have any advice on teaching kids from your own experiences? What would you do the same or different from how your dad taught you guys?
DANIEL: When I was younger, I did not understand why my father pushed me so much. I did quit several times. Now that I am older, I am very thankful for what my father pushed me through. I look back and wish I would have realized this sooner, because I would have trained even harder. Teaching a young child the importance to train is the hardest part. But if you can figure that one out, please let me know. :-)
I am actually expecting a child and I will encourage them to learn. If they become good at it, I will most likely push them, but as long as they have the knowledge I am ok with that.
As for teaching kids. I think the most important is to make sure they are enjoying it. Once they hit a little more of a mature age, then you can start to push them and see how they take it. It also depends on how far they want to go in that sport, if they don’t have some drive, it will never work.
I want to add this. There is a huge difference in being pushed by your coach than your father. Most people will rebel if its from their father than their coach. I would advise to only push so much and let the coach do most of it. If the parents encourage more than push, I think you will get a better result. My father was both, so I think that also had to do with me always wanting to quit. My father had a very hard task, because David and I would try to get out of practice a lot. But like I said, in the end I am very thankful for everything my parents did.
PATRICK: There is a perpetual debate in judo circles as to whether competition is good or bad for kids? What have you seen as the plusses and minusses of coming up from an early age with your dad explicitly wanting y'all to be champion competitors.
DANIEL: I think this question could be for any sport. Not everyone is able to pick up on a sport and if that kid is not able to, then don’t push them to become a champion. It does not mean they cant train or compete. But when you expect too much from someone and they can not deliver, it can drive them away, from not only the sport, but who ever is pushing them. A fellow training partner a long while ago was pushed. When he left the house to compete, his father would tell him not to call if he did not win. I think that is a terrible way to treat your kid. That person quit Judo a long time before I ever did, even though he was good. You should always encourage them.
I have always thought the best time to start someone is at a young age. The more time you spend in a sport, the more you will learn. Competition is another word for experience, the more you compete, the more experience you will have. Starting a kid to compete at a young age is not bad.
PATRICK: How do you see the martial arts – especially judo and juijitsu – growing and changing?
DANIEL: Judo has fallen. There was a point in time for 10 years straight, when my brother and I would compete almost every single Sunday in Judo. We lived in Bakersfield at the time and would travel all over California. But if you look for Judo tournaments now, you will be lucky to find one competition every other month. I have also noticed the level of the competition in the US has dropped, and all this started when the UFC started.
UFC blew up JiuJitsu, and now there is a JiuJitsu competition just about every weekend in California. It would be nice if Judo would pick back up. JiuJitsu is not complete without Judo, those sports need each other. Combining Judo and Jiujitsu is what made my brother and I successful in competition.
PATRICK: Most everybody who expresses an opinion on Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and judo says that judo guys should learn some groundwork from the BJJ guys and the BJJ guys should learn some throws from the judo guys. What specific skills or techniques in particular do you think each art can offer the other?
DANIEL: This is a very good question. Both sports have something to offer, at the same time they have moves that won’t work in the other sport. For instance: In Judo, you can end a match in seconds by throwing your opponent on his back with a perfect throw. But in JiuJitsu, you can jump to guard. You can not do that in Judo or the match will be over when you hit the ground. As for JiuJitsu, If you don’t execute a throw like seoinage correctly, you can get choked out.
So I don’t use all my Judo throws in JiuJitsu. Although I do use seoinage, I just make sure its fast and accurate. I try to stick with a lot of leg techniques like foot sweeps. I love uchimata and my uchimata switch. Uchimata is probably one of the best you can use because of the way your opponents land can open an opportunity for an armlock, or even taking their back.
Jiujitsu has really fine tuned my submissions. I have always been good at armlocks, but now I completely understand the details of them and have even created different ways of executing them. My chokes have always been week, but it still has helped out by doing double attacks for an armlock. As for the sweeps and reversals, I have gotten a lot better since I started JiuJitsu.
So both sports helps out each other and I believe is a must.
PATRICK: Both judo and juijitsu are rough sports. Which do you think is more likely to injure the participants? What kinds of injuries have you seen in your career?
DANIEL: Like my brother said in his interview. There is nothing harder than Judo. There was a thread on a JiuJitsu forum that talked about this exact question. I responded by saying Judo is the roughest Martial Arts there is due to how hard the training is and how explosive the throws are. Not only that, the twisting your body takes. Some of the people who responded did not agree. Well, I have trained at some of the hardest Judo and JiuJitsu schools, and still say Judo is the roughest! Let me put it this way, try getting thrown about 40 times a night for a week by top Judo Competitors while training like a top wrestling school. JiuJitsu has very few throws and most school do not even focus on those throws properly. Yes, the JiuJitsu training can be rough and you can get your arm popped a few times, but its still not close to Judo.
In Judo I have had my shoulder just about dislocated. I have had my knee pop three times, and all those times I could not walk for about a month. I have been arm locked from a standing position where my opponent landed on my arm extended with his full weight. I was out for two months without even being able to move it. A lot of the top players have had either Shoulder Surgery or Knee Surgery from Judo. I have had Shoulder surgery and its all because of one throw, seoinage.
In JiuJitsu, I have had my arm popped and my knee. Most of my jiujitsu injuries are from submissions, ankle knee and arm. Nothing near as bad as landing on my shoulder with someone on your back.
I have broken toes and finger in both sports.
PATRICK: Talking about injury in these sports, the judo guys outlawed chokes and armbars below about teenage but the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu guys seem to be able to have pre-teens compete safely with these elements allowed. What's going on here? Are chokes and joint manipulations safe for kids or not?
DANIEL: Now we are getting into reffing. In Judo a ref does not touch the players at all. They wear suits and are very organized. When someone is tapping, they yell “Ippon” and the match is over. They expect the players to stop and go back to their places and they award the win. You can not do this with kids. Assuming a kid knows when to tap is not being safe. You have no idea what that kid is being taught as far as attitude and knowing when to give up. Will they change their way? Probably not, its been this way for a long time and its been safe.
In JiuJitsu, the refs interact. They get on top of the action, when they are not on their cell phones, and if they see a submission they grab you to let you know the match is over. So when it comes to pre-teens, they even stop the match without a tap. If the kid is already in a full armlock, most of the time they stop that match right away and award the other kid the win. To me, this is saying two things. One, the ref is being very safe and protecting the kid. Two, its also saying that maybe the kid does not know when to tap and might hurt himself. Meaning it is unsafe.
I will teach my kids armlocks and chokes right away. I will even allow them to compete with submissions. But I will be a parent and teach them to give up when they know they are finished. I can understand being in the Nationals or World Championships and not wanting to tap. But any normal tournament and not tapping is taking away your training days.
PATRICK: Thank you so much for your time and for agreeing to do this interview with me. I've really enjoyed it and learned a lot from it, and I know my readers will too.
DANIEL: Thank you very much for wanting to interview me. I wish the best for your kids, keep them training and hopefully they will understand the how fortunate they are to be learning Judo and JiuJitsu.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

We're back from camping...

We're back, and everyone survived.  Want to see some film footage of our adventures?  Check out the following movie in which I am played by John Candy and Elise is played by Annette Benning:

Replay: Aikido throws or aikido releases

And while I'm talking about the aiki brushoff (again), here's a replay from an article from November 2006 in which I am starting to try to figure out what it is that we are really doing in aikido...

...And speaking of that "feeling of release," there's this article by Beth Shibata on throwing vs. releasing in aikido. I mentioned it in an earlier post on shihonage, but a while back I found this thread of commentary on the article. The reviewers basically blast her as being a silly little pacifist who can't write complete sentences and probably a commie feminist too! Damn her!

Well, here's my two cents: I think she's right on target with her core premise, which is that the way we think about what we are trying to do affects our performance. When we try to create performance goals for ourselves so that we can try to learn a new technique, the name that the instructor gives it influences our thinking process.

Now, I'm not talking about absolute linguistic determinism, but rather an influence similar to that demonstrated by the ideokinesis guys. So, when we tell a student "here's how we do this throw..." they hear the word "throw" and begin to think about how they would throw anything else in the world, like a baseball or a stick - namely, with sharp acceleration, sudden stopping, and ballistic motion. I defy anyone in the world to throw another adult person using the same type of ballistic motion used when we commonly think of the word "throw."

So Shibata suggests perhaps it would be better to call these things "releases." Now that's not a big leap for me because we are used to doing an exercise called "hanasu" or "releases" in every class since day one. And for the past few years, I have really been getting the feeling that "releasing" is such a HUGE part of aikido that it might even be the one central principle - almost a Grand Unification Theory for aiki. We really might just be "releasing" uke instead of "throwing" him!

We really might just be evading, brushing-off and releasing uke in lots of different ways. Do that in enough different ways and you get a thing called shihonage, a thing called iriminage, a thing called tenchinage, a thing called shomenate, etc... Get it?

Saturday, November 22, 2008

The down-side to the aiki brush-off

[Ok, I lied.  This is not a replay, but an original article.  I was just checking to see if you were paying attention while I'm off camping...]
For the past couple of years, I've been working on the aiki brush-off a lot at Mokuren Dojo.  This is the idea that you want to evade as the first and most fundamental part of every aikido technique.  Evade off the line of attack, put your hands between you and the attacker and then push to separate them from you.  They eat some of the energy and move away from you but you don't stand in place and push - you eat some of the energy of that push and use it to move away from them.  The goal is to get a lot more slippery and harder to hit. Our matra has been,
"avoid, evade, do not engage, roll the ball, brush-off and disengage"
Amazingly this type of practice, as I suggested in this previous post about  aikido evasion, has absolutely revolutionized our aikido, making it softer as well as more viable and robust againt faster, meaner, sneakier, and more variable attacks. The aiki brush-off has almost become panacea - good for whatever is wrong with your aiki!
Well, I'm as aware as the next guy that most any theory has potential negatives or counterexamples or conditions under which it is non-optimal. So, what are the down-sides to the brush-off? So far I've only found two - and these are pretty minor...
  • You can't expect the aiki brush-off to end the fight and you can't run away forever, so something has got to end the fight. This is where the technical part of aikido comes into play - wristlocks, armbars, projections, etc... I didn't say that the aiki-brushoff was everything you do in aikido - just that it is the first thing you do and that it facilitates all the cool techniques in aikido.
  • You want to minimize running backwards in a fight because you will tend to fall over stuff you can't see, so when we are working on brush-off, I tend to tell people to evade and push back 1-2 steps to get just back outside ma-ai (2 arms length). From this point you can decide whether to evade some more, engage and destroy, or flee.
 What do y'all think?  Having played with this idea of honestly making evasion the most foundational thing in your system, have you found any other down sides to it?  Leave me a comment cause I want to know!
 [For the rest of this week I will be camping with my family. In my absence I have scheduled several great re-plays from my archives. Check in each day to see what I've dug up in my trip back in time. Leave me a comment and let me know what you think and I'll see y'all again Monday!]


Friday, November 21, 2008

Replay: American warriors

Here is another replay of an article I wrote in July of 2007. This was part of a long-ish series of posts I did on warriors, warrior spirit, and the warrior ethos.

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.

Yesterday I noticed a new book put out by Skyhorse Publishing, titled The Battle for Leyte Gulf and it started me thinking about my dad and this story I told in this old post, and that started me fiending for a copy of this book (Hint - if any of y'all want to buy me a book for Christmas). Or maybe some of y'all are WWII history buffs and would enjoy reading it too. If so, if you purchase the book from my Amazon link, they'll throw me a little kickback.

[For the rest of this week I will be camping with my family. In my absence I have scheduled several great re-plays from my archives. Check in each day to see what I've dug up in my trip back in time. Leave me a comment and let me know what you think and I'll see y'all again Monday!]

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Same scam, different name...

So, how many of y'all are getting this email, or a similar one?


How are you doing today?My name is Karl Bayero from Sand ton,South Africa.I came across your email address when i was searching for an instructors in Karate or any form of martial art that you teach,i would like to know if you are available to take my colleague and i in a private lesson during our vacation in USA? We don't have any experience in martial art but we are really interested in it for self defense.How much do you charge per hour?We need to know this because we would be available 2-3 hrs a day and 3 times in a week.

I would appreciate a quick response to my inquiry,have a nice weekend and

God bless.



Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Aikido and yoga

Like the commentators on the YouTube site, I couldn't exactly describe what we're seeing here. But I have a feeling it has some things in common with the Aikitaiji video that I posted a few days ago. Interestingly, aikido is about harmony and yoga is about unity, and taiji is supposed to be the 'grand universal principle' or something like that. There should be some overlap between the domains of the three. Perhaps we're seeing part of that union set here - I just can't figure out what part. What do you guys think?

Judo vs. karate

So many readers have enjoyed my aikido vs. judo article from last year that I figured I'd try my hand at doing a comparison between karate and judo. This is not a 'who would win' article but rather a pros and cons article from my point of view having studied both arts for some years. Who am I, anyway, to disabuse a bunch of poor karate guys of their fantasies about beating up judo guys ;-).
It's hard to guess whether striking or grappling is the phylogenetically older form of combat. In America, both judo and karate were, for a while, generic terms for unarmed combat methods. Judo's heyday was in the 50's and 60's and karate's heyday was in the 70's and 80's. In any case, both striking and grappling are extremely popular forms of combat as well as being ethnic cultural expressions.
Aspects that are considered pros in one art may rightly be considered cons in another. Also, nothing really keeps karate guys from learning some of the stuff in the judo domain and vice versa, so the following generalities might not apply to any particular, specific style or school - especially not yours, Dan ;-). But on the other hand, The following pros and cons of karate can in some cases be applied to similar striking styles, like taekwando or tangsooodo or some forms of kungfu.
Both karate and judo are great fun, great physical education, and great exercise. Both are applicable as sport, art, or self-defense. Both are somewhat oriented toward the single-opponent duel type of conflict and both can be disadvantaged by multiple opponents. Karate is probably better at the multiple opponent conflicts than is judo.
Judo pros
  • Ukemi (learning to fall safely) is emphasized from the beginning. Ukemi ends up being the most practical self defense skill that there is because you will fall down many more times in your life than you will be attacked.
  • Partners - Everything in judo is practiced with a partner, providing better feedback than solo practice. I have often wished that judo had some solo forms so that I could practice without a partner, but overall the fact that everything you do in judo is done with/against a real person instead of an inagined attacker is advantageous.
  • The randori (sparring) system in judo allows a limited set of "safe" techniques to be used full force and full speed against fully resistant opponents. This creates a very practical, testable martial art - if it doesn't put the other guy on the ground, it simply doesn't work. If you can reliably put your opponent on the ground then you can have some confidence in the validity of the art.
  • Standardization - Judo has an amazing degree of consistency/standardization throughout the world. What you practice in southwest Mississippi is about the same thing you would practice in Japan.
  • Cross-over - Judo guys share part of their niche with amateur wrestling, jiujitsu, and even gymnastics so judoka can benefit from studying how these other guys approach movement and grappling.

Judo cons
  • Competition rules - Because of the nature of judo randori, there have to be rules against strikes - the rules prevent even touching the face. Judo guys can become conditioned to this, learning to leave their head and face dangerously open during grappling.
  • Grappling problems? - Judoka may become too conditioned with the strategy of taking one opponent to the ground even at times when it would be better to remain in a standing, free-movement phase of combat (e.g. multiple opponents, vs. weapons, etc...)
  • Uniform - Unless your club does a decent amount of no-gi randori, you can become dependent on the uniform jacket for grip and leverage. There are great stories of teachers evening the playing field between white and brown belts by making everyone grapple without jackets.

Karate pros
  • Solo practice methods (kihon, kata) allow you to practice without a partner, thus allowing karateka to potentially get much more practice time than do judoka.
  • Strikers' effective and devastating atemiwaza (striking techniques) can shut down a fight instantly. For that matter, so can a judo throw, but the judo techniques can tend to overcommit the judoka more than the karateka's atemiwaza do.
  • Karate is vastly more popular in the USA than is judo, so you are more likely to find good quality karate instruction most anywhere you look. You might be hard pressed to find a good judo school except in a city or larger town.
  • Karate can be practiced in any environment and requires less special equipment (i.e. mats) than judo. This makes karate clubs cheaper and easier to operate than judo clubs.
  • Cross-over - Karate shares its niche with boxing, and karateka can benefit from studying up on boxing's conservative, practical footwork and striking techniques.

Karate cons
  • Sparring rules - In sparring, you have to pull your punches and kicks to avoid injury. This helps karateka develop great control of their limbs, but this type of sparring can become a game of tappy touches. If you subscribe to the idea that in a fight we behave the way we train, then this can reduce the karateka's potential combat effectiveness.
  • One punch one kill!? - Realistically, most people can take one punch from most opponents – especially under imperfect conditions (and no, I'm not willing to test that assertion). If the 'one punch one kill' karate theory fails, then you are likely to be outside of karate's domain of practice and into the realm of judo (ie. clinched or grounded).
  • Solo kata - Because of the solo nature of karate kata, unless you get a good bit of bunkai (kata application practice with partners) or at least one-step engagements (ippon kumite), the karate kata can allow practitioners to develop fantasies about what they are learning.
  • Fragmentation - There is a great deal of fragmentation in the art, creating a lot of diversity between dojos. This can be a good thing if you are able to crosstrain and take the best that multiple karate instructors have to offer, but on the other hand, if you move, it may be hard to find someone doing something similar to what you learned.
  • Lack of groundwork - The Gracies demonstrated dramatically that karateka are as helpless as anyone else when they are laying on the ground. There has been a lot of cross-germination of groundwork ideas since then, but still, ground fighting is nowhere near a specialty in karate.
Want to know more about my thoughts on karate-do?  Check out this thread of karate blog posts!

photo courtesy of Ambienttraffic
Patrick Parker is a Christian, husband, father, martial arts teacher, Program Director for a Cardiac Rehab, and a Ph.D. Contact: or phone 601.248.7282 木蓮
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Sunday, November 16, 2008

Paralysis by analysis

My last 2-3 posts seem to have struck a chord in some of my readers. We've been talking about whether or not the way we practice is congruent with our ideals or our goals.
But something to watch out for when you start thinking about whether your practice is congruent with your ideals, is what I call paralysis by analysis. It is possible to get so deeply tangled up in martial arts thought and theory that you end up literally unable to do anything. A couple of personal stories may serve to illustrate this.
One time, my aiki-buddies and I were at a seminar and I saw one of them, a new shodan, standing on the edge of the mat, frozen, unmoving. I walked up to him and asked, "What are you doing?" "Walking kata," he said. "But you're not moving" I pointed out. "Yeah, isn't that weird?" He went on to explain that some random hi-ranking somebody had come up to him and blown his mind with some high-powered theoretical thinking about the walking kata and now he wasn't even able to take the first step in the kata without violating the principle that the high rank had expounded to him. "Hmmmm." I said, and watched him for a couple of more minutes, valiantly fighting against himself in an effort to take a step.
Another similar instance happened when I saw a different new shodan working with a lower rank. The shodan was attacking and the lower rank was trying to execute a technique. Uke would attack and tori would take one step and the shodan would stop them, giving a bunch of explanation about the move they were trying to do. Then they would start over and make 1-2 steps into the technique and the shodan would stop them again for more correction. They continued this way for several minutes, sometimes getting 2-3 steps into the technique, sometimes barely starting the technique before stopping for more talk, but never getting to do the actual meat of the thing. I asked the shodan about what he was doing and he said they'd decided to make sure that every single movement was exactly right. Again, I said, "Hmmmm," and walked away.
Both of these shodans have by, the way, become amazing aikidoka, but both of these cases are classic, textbook examples of paralysis by analysis.
How about one more story: A ronin was walking and came upon a monk sitting by a stream meditating. The ronin watched the monk for a few minutes and finally asked, "Hey, what are you doing?" The monk, annoyed at the interruption, said, "Meditating," and went back to his practice. The ronin watched for a few more minutes and then asked, "Why?" The monk, even more irritated, said, "to gain enlightenment," and he returned to meditating. The ronin sat down right next to the monk, picked up a couple of fist-sized stones, and began striking them together loudly. After a few moments the monk, nearly in a rage, asked, "What are you doing?" The ronin calmly and logically replied, "Trying to make a mirror." The monk laughed. "You idiot. You can't make a mirror by knocking rocks together!"
"Well," The ronin replied, "You can't get enlightened by sitting on your butt."
The moral of these stories: You cannot realize an ideal without tons and tons of non-ideal practice. You have to be practising something even if it is not perfect.

Is this judo rule stupid or what?

It is a crying shame that we have to have judo rules as stupid as this...

Anyone want to comment on this?  Bob, maybe you want to volunteer to be the enforcement agent for this rule?
12.6 Gender Control :
After the finals a gender control will be done on the three female competitors nominated to undergo the anti-doping control. If a competitor nominated to undergo a gender control test and presents a certificate issued by an official institution or an authorized organization confirming her gender (e.g. IOC, Union's certificates), she is exempted of this control.  Note: The expenses related to the anti-doping control and gender control shall be borne by the National Federation organizing the World Championships.  (Excerpted from the IJF rules)

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Aiki taiji

A while back Dave at Formosa Neijia posted an article about some folks that were trying to integrate aikido and taiji into a sort of fusion state so that they can explore the principles that the systems seem to have in common.  I wasn't overly impressed with the video Dave posted of a guy appearing to do some aiki-like motions in a taiji-like way - as if doing your aiki slowly makes it taiji.  Following is what appears to (uneducated) me to be a better integration.  Basically a fusion of aikido kokyudosa and taiji push-hands.  What do y'all CIMA guys think?

He who fights and runs away...

I think some of my readers are partly misunderstanding me on some of my recent posts - particularly The aiki gift that keeps on giving. The misunderstanding is probably my fault for not communicating my idea rightly. I agree that full retreat from an opponent may not always be best.
  • you cannot flee if you are leaving someone in danger.
  • you cannot retreat if the enemy is faster than you.
  • it's almost never smart to avoid a fight that is inevitable.
  • your most expedient defense may be to attack directly.
  • you may not be confident in your ability to evade and stay out of trouble.
  • it might not be good to flee from someone who is both careful and relentless.
But in general, on this blog, and in the posts in question in particular, I am not talking about retreat from conflict as a moral imperitive or some sort of hippie love ideal, but as a practical, pragmatic, strategic imperitive. Simply put, aiki techniques work better when you are trying to disengage than when you are trying to engage. In fact, you almost have to at least try to retreat first in order to get a good chance to do an aiki technique. Why?
  • it's harder to hit a retreating target
  • if uke has to put more energy into simply getting close enough to touch you, that's more energy you have for your technique and less energy he has in reserve to hurt you with.
  • if a technique goes wrong or fails, it's easier to disengage and flee or flow to another technique if you never engaged in a 'stand and deliver' type fight
  • it's nearly impossible to be sensitive enough to synchronize correctly when you are toe-to-toe scraping and scratching and clawing for your life, but it is much easier to get in synch when you begin retreating.
That's what I was referring to when I wrote, "Try it for a month and see what it does for your aikido." This method of practicing aikido will improve your aikido so much you won't believe it - or maybe I should say you'll have to see it to believe it!
Also, almost as an aside, these suggestions are (mostly) directed to aikido practitioners. I said, in effect, "aikido works better when disengaging than when engaging." Karate and judo guys can benefit from thinking about these things but your strategic mileage may vary.

Friday, November 14, 2008

The terrible truth about karate... really the terrible truth about all martial arts.
The terrible truth is that under stress, (unless we freeze and do nothing) we behave the way we have trained. Why is that a 'terrible' truth? Because we often do not train to attain the things we think we are training to attain. A couple of days ago I posted an article about some funny aikido ideas that might be incongruent with what is really being practiced. Today I want to show a few examples of the same type of incongruency in karate.
(And this is not a rant about karate or karate guys. I love karate. It just sprang to mind as an example of incongruent training ideas.)
  • A lot of karate guys like to talk about hitting then escaping while the enemy is stunned, but more often in the karate classes I've seen and been in, we train to hit two or three or five or seven times when the opportunity presents itself. We practice pursuing the attack from opportunity to attack to stun to knockdown to finishing. We want to hit and run but we train to hit and hit and hit and hit... and there's never any 'run' in there.
  • Typical sparring in karate does not simulate 'normal' violent encounters (and judo and aikido randori are not too much better). Sparring/randori simulates a duel. So, we stand the chance of getting into a violent encounter and behaving as if it were a duel. Sometimes that works and sometimes it fails miserably. (But on the other hand, practicing a martial art with no sparring/randori system at all is also prescription for sucking. You have to have a sparring system but you want to consider the congruency between the rules and what you think you really want to be training.)
  • How much time in a conflict is spent standing still and striking? Not much. How much time is spent in karate class standing in a prescribed stance and repeating blocks and strikes? Much. Even though most conflicts are mostly movement with just a moment or two of standing still, we spend way more time standing still than we do moving (but on the other hand, the momentary strike might be the most important part of the conflict).
In any artform there are decisions – strategic choices – artistic license. It would be crazy to say Rembrandt sucked but El Greco didn't. It would be even crazier to try to determine whether or not Bach was better than Picasso. But given very similar information and skill, I might come to very different conclusions than some karate guys. That doesn't make me right and them wrong – that just makes what we are doing an artform. But on the other hand, it doesn't make me wrong either – I think folks ought to think about these things whatever artistic choice they make. Whatever your martial art, I think you'd do well to consider whether or not your practice is congruent with your goals.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The aiki gift that keeps on giving

Aikido guys like to claim the moral high ground by talking about peace and not fighting with the enemy and etc... We drone things (often in a spacey voice) like, “get offline... No, don't oppose force... avoid... evade... don't fight with the attacker... Blend...”
Well, come on, now, how many aikido practices are really congruent with that ideal?
  • When attacked, do you, “turn aside and lead uke into offbalance?” If so, you've just attacked him!
  • Do you, "enter inside his force and strike him down?" Well, that's pretty blatant.
  • Do you, “get offline and set your strong stance line so you can do shomenate?” You just chose to participate in a fight with him.
  • Do you, “blend with his energy and lead him into an immobilization?” Again, you just chose to engage the enemy and do something to him.
And you think your art is all about not fighting? Knock it off!
How about this – try for a month of practices to avoid uke's attack and get to a position from which you can safely flee the conflict. You will still get all sorts of chances to bust uke because you were unable to evade correctly or he was more vigorous than you thought or you couldn't get away or something.
But at least start every single technical encounter in practice with the intent of getting away from uke instead of engaging in a fight with him. Don't grab him. Don't lead him. Don't throw him. Don't pin him. Get away from him!
Try it for a month and see what it does for your aikido - that will be my Christmas gift to you - the aiki gift that keeps on giving!

UPDATE: Check out the follow-ups to this article:

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Veterans Day 2008 Tribute

To our great Nation's warriors and heroes, present, past, and future, our heartfelt Thank you. We love you and we remember you and your sacrifice and your gift to us.

UPDATE: Be sure not to miss the following Veterans Day messages...

Monday, November 10, 2008

Helpful handful: ukigatame

I had an email call for some discussion on ukigatame, the 'floating hold' in judo, also known as the knee-on-belly or knee-on-chest position in jiujitsu. Following is a quickie vid I put together of several good examples of the position in practice. A handful of helpful things to look for include:
  • Tori is getting a knee or shin against uke's torso pretty soon after he lands. The purpose of this position is to limit uke's movement and slow him down as tori transitions to newaza. Thus ukigatame is a great intermediate position between throwing and ground grappling.
  • Make sure you don't pounce on your partner's ribs - it's very easy to crush ribs under your knee. In fact, I tell my students to deliberately put the shin across uke's ab muscles, avoiding the floating ribs that are such a tempting target.
  • Notice when tori puts his feet on the ground and knee(s) against uke, if tori's posture is not just right it is easy to pull him over into a forward roll. To stop this, tori puts a knee or shin against uke and rocks his hips forward, putting weight onto uke and floating vertically over him. If uke pulls on the arms or shoudlers, tori rocks more hip weight forward into him.
  • As uke moves, tori floats on him, out-riggering his free leg for balance and leverage. Tori is not trying to crush uke into submission here, but is floating...riding on top of uke until he can find a good time to drop into a better position or submission technique.
  • Notice how easy it is to transition to munegatame or tateshihogatame or (if uke is rolling) to the rear position with legs around. Jujigatame is also blatantly obvious here.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

The unlikeliest of judo books

I have previously posted half a dozen judo books I consider to be absolute must-read material. If you are looking for great judo books, I highly recommend starting with those six books. However, you can find more information in the least likely of places if you look.
If I were going to avoid a book or two about judo based purely on stupid, cheesy titles, I'd pick Watanabe&Avakian's The Secrets of Judo (I avoid most things that claim to teach you the 'secret knowledge') and I'd also avoid Syd Hoare's Teach Yourself Judo (What a retarded concept – as if you could teach yourself judo from a book).
Well, as it turns out, my instinct with regards to these two books would be mistaken. These are both really pretty good judo texts. I wouldn't put them on the level with the six absolutely necessary judo books I posted earlier, but you can certainly get a different and valuable perspective from these two books as well as a little bit of incremental information.
I'd call The Secrets of Judo a 'scientific judo' text. It is written with the intent of explaining the physiology and physics behind the art. There is a lot of material in the book, and it goes far beyond the previous six books in scientific detail about the leverage, momentum, forces, and that sort of thing related to a wide variety of throws as well as ground grappling moves. If you have ever experienced a judo technique that gives the appearance of being magical (as we all have) then this book is worth reading because it will take all the magic out of the moves.
Teach Yourself Judo is an introductory-level overview with far less technical detail than the previous books, but in many ways it is far more useful general info for beginners, explaining the ideals and goals and practice methods of the art and sport. Illustrated with plenty of line drawings, TY Judo gives a big-picture overview of a variety of throws, counters, holds, escapes, chokes, and armbars. It even has overviews of kata, randori, and self-defense judo. I think it's out of print currently, so if you don't get it while you can you might not find it later.
If you are interested in building your judo library or finding something new to read to get a little incremental knowledge about judo, here's what I'd do...
I don't think you'll be disappointed .

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Do they do it or don't they?

A few days ago, Chad asked me a question about suwariwaza (aikido kneeling techniques) - specifically, aikido is so concentrated on movement and evasion and blending dependent on mobility that it seems that the underlying principles of aiki are not seen in suwariwaza (at least not in the aikido demo video I posted a few days ago). I'm working on an answer to this excellent question but it is taking me a while, so while you are waiting, check out the following video, or perhaps the video Chad commented on, looking to see if the following principles are apparent:
  • centered
  • unbendable arms
  • evading off the line of attack
  • moving generally in tune with uke's energy
Check it out and see what you think and give me another day or two to post a response.

Fundamental judo and magical aikido

Judo with Todd
  • ROM, ukemi
  • footsweep to control with emphasis on bumping uke to get his front foot floating and then reaching out and touching his foot to see if he is really floating or not.
  • deashibarai uchikomi early and late
  • deashibarai uchikomi - 2 of any variation on one side and one on the other.  This really develops the feel of randori because of the type of synchronization
  • osotogari - four variations that allow tori to throw uke right-sided no matter what foot uke is moving or what direction.
Aikido with Todd
  • tegatana, slightly faster than normal with emphasis on keeping a dynamic tension between floating and weightedness.  This tends to draw you upright into a perfect shizentai (natural posture) 
  • releases with emphasis on #6 and 8 as ways to get into the #2 and #4 positions by following when uke does something wrong.  That sort of makes the kata 4 repetitions of a pure release form followed by four in which you have to synch and follow along with uke until you can find the place to turn into the position from the pure release form.
  • chain #3, including near and far wakigatame and near and far kotegaeshi
  • ichikata section B, techniques 1-3 (oshitaoshi and tenkai kotehineri) with emphasis on using ki bumps to diffuse uke's strength so you can walk around it, breaking down his posture.  This stuff is pure magic, amazing how tori can move around uke's strength.  Great example of how inappropriate  strength destroys uke.

My son, Quin

What a card! The future's so bright he's gotta wear shades - even at night! I love him so much.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Check out the new Convocation

Especially Bob Patterson's super-cool profile photo!

Be careful who trains your kids

If you treat martial arts like an industry, then like in any other industry, you will find unscrupulous, negligent, or even downright dangerous people. I've written before about news cases where martial arts instructors didn't think as carefully as they should. Here are some excerpts from a couple of recent articles where you see more of these types of behavior...
October 30, 2008 SAN DIEGO – of a Ramona martial arts studio pleaded guilty Thursday in in federal court to possession of child pornography ... William Joseph Hazlitt entered the guilty plea before U.S. Magistrate Judge William McCurine Jr. Hazlitt, a 27-year-old karate instructor, was arrested in September by FBI agents and sheriff's deputies … the defendant admitted having a computer containing more than 600 images of minors engaged in sexually explicit acts...could face a maximum of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Sentencing hearing … scheduled for Jan. 20, 2009.
NOBLESVILLE, Ind. -- Parents are angry with a martial arts business they said owes them thousands of dollars after several schools closed. [These parents apparently purchased a $3600 lifetime membership for their 4-year old child, complete with all the uniforms, equipment, etc... that the child would need for his lifetime practice.] …but the center closed in September. Another studio in Zionsville also closed, as did one in Carmel with no explanation... In 2006, the Indiana Attorney General's Office accused Champion Martial Arts owner Johnathon Stowe of deceiving and misleading customers in northern Indiana. Stowe agreed to a court order and made $20,000 in refunds in that incident. More than a dozen new families said they are out tens of thousands of dollars. "These are new situations, so we're investigating those and we hope they'll be forthcoming and remedy these things for consumers," said Attorney General Steve Carter. "If not, they will likely face a lawsuit by the attorney general's office."
so the moral of the story is... be careful who you entrust your child to.
For more on this topic, check out:

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Why do adults get into martial arts?

The author of the handbook of principles for adult learning that I cited in the previous post (Teaching adults martial arts) lists six factors that motivate adults to get themselves into learning situations like martial arts
  • Social relationships: some adults particularly enjoy the social aspect of martial arts classes - getting to meet and hang around with interesting people. For some of these people the before-class and after-class interaction cna be the most fulfilling part of the experience.
  • External expectations: This is probably the least motivating factor in the martial arts. Adults just don't usually seem to get into classes to comply with some formal authority's instructions. The exceptions to this include someone who might get instructions from their doctor to get some exercise or maybe police or paramilitary personnel for whom it serves as part of their job requirements.
  • Social welfare: This is not cited as much as it once was, but it is certainly a motivating factor. Some people get into martial arts practice because they see it as their duty to become better prepared to help serve their family or community. They see it as a benefit to their society to make themselves better people.
  • Personal advancement: Some adults are purely intrinsically motivated. They do it for no reason other than to improve themselves. These are probably the instructor's favorite students.
  • Escape/Stimulation: Some adults especially enjoy the martial arts for the simple reason that the dojo is not real life. For these folks, martial arts provide a de-stressing break from their daily routines.
  • Cognitive interest: to simply learn something of interest. Some people see martial arts as an intellectual puzzle to solve, and as such it can provide a lifetime of diversion.
I doubt if any one person is motivated by only one of these factors, and there are almost certainly other reasons to participate in martial arts, but these six provide a pretty good start. Our advertising tagline at Mokuren Dojo falls directly into several of these categories:
Fun - Fitness - Discipline - Defense
Do you have a motivation for practicing martial arts that does not readily fit into one or more of these six categories? If so, let me know...

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Teaching adults martial arts

Martial arts are not just for kids. Adults can enjoy and benefit greatly from participation too, but teaching adults is in many ways a different game than teaching children. Following is an excerpt from an excellent guidebook on principles of adult education based on Malcom Knowles pioneering work on the topic.
    • Adults are autonomous and self-directed. They need to be free to direct themselves. Their teachers must ... get participants' perspectives about what topics to cover and let them work on projects that reflect their interests. They should allow the participants to assume responsibility for presentations and group leadership. They have to be sure to act as facilitators, guiding participants to their own knowledge rather than supplying them with facts. Finally, they must show participants how the class will help them reach their goals...
    • Adults have ... life experiences and knowledge that may include work-related activities, family responsibilities, and previous education. They need to connect learning to this knowledge/experience base. To help them do so, they should draw out participants' experience and knowledge which is relevant to the topic. They must relate theories and concepts to the participants and recognize the value of experience in learning.
    • Adults are goal-oriented. Upon enrolling in a course, they usually know what goal they want to attain. They, therefore, appreciate an educational program that is organized and has clearly defined elements. Instructors must show participants how this class will help them attain their goals. This classification of goals and course objectives must be done early in the course.
    • Adults are relevancy-oriented. They must see a reason for learning something. Learning has to be applicable to their work or other responsibilities to be of value to them. Therefore, instructors must identify objectives for adult participants before the course begins. This means, also, that theories and concepts must be related to a setting familiar to participants. This need can be fulfilled by letting participants choose projects that reflect their own interests.
    • Adults are practical, focusing on the aspects of a lesson most useful to them in their work. They may not be interested in knowledge for its own sake. Instructors must tell participants explicitly how the lesson will be useful to them on the job. As do all learners, adults need to be shown respect. Instructors must acknowledge the wealth of experiences that adult participants bring to the classroom. These adults should be treated as equals in experience and knowledge and allowed to voice their opinions freely in class.
I think most of my adult students will probably agree that we do pretty good at following these principles - BUT - I sure would like for y'all to tell me how you think I could do better. I value my adult students and want to do better for y'all, so let me know.
Even if you are not my student and don't know me, I bet you have a story about how you or your instructor have done a good job at this - or maybe you have an example of something in your practice that could be better, so let me know.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Hold it against them

New black belts

In case y'all missed the news among all the recent ABG posts here at Mokuren Dojo, we had rank tests this past weekend and ended up with two new shodans (1st degree black belts) and a new Ikkyu (brown-nearly black belt).
Hop on over to their blogs and congratulate them on their accomplishment!

Sunday, November 02, 2008

An aikido shibboleth

The word, shibboleth was originally a botanical term referring to a part of a plant, but it came to mean a pass-phrase or a practice that identifies a member of a group.  The word comes from the Biblical account of a battle between the Ephraimites and the Gileadites in which the Gileadites were able to use the word as a pass-phrase to identify Ephraimite enemies because the Ephraimite dialect did not contain the sound, /sh/ (so they would mispronounce it /siboleth/ (Judges 12:5-6).
All martial artists have shobboleths too.  Ways of doing things that identify us as members of a group.  I often wonder after a seminar, what are our shibboleths?  For instance, The students at Mokuren dojo have a distinctive way of performing kata as compared to the students at MSU.  But the two styles are close enough that Andy was able to do a very fine Ikkyu demo this weekend with an uke from MSU, having only practiced the material together once briefly. 
It is also frequently noted that students that learned aikido at MSU, including myself, John Kirby, James Reuster, Mike Denton, etc... All have something about their aikido that is identifiable as deriving from our teacher, John Usher.  There is just something very Usheresque about our aikido.
So, the things that we do are identifiably the same but at the same time, identifiably different.
I'd really like the folks that  were at this past ABG to answer a few questions - leave me a comment and let me know...
  • What aspects of Mokuren Dojo aikido makes us identifiable as a group? 
  • What aspects of MSU aikido makes them distinctive? 
  • What do we share?
What are our Shibboleths?
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