Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Tennokata - the Kata of the Universe

Having studied dozens of the old Okinawan kata in great depth, Funakoshi came up with some new kata (exercises) that he felt were better preparation for beginners. These new beginners' kata included Taikyoku (which you might translate as something like 'the beginning of everything') and Tennokata (Form of the Universe). What? Another beginner's kata that is a 'universal kata'?
Interestingly, Tennokata does not have an embusen (performance line), or at least not much of one. Every technique is performed with a half step forward or back into an appropriate stance, and between each technique the karateka returns to a ready stance at the starting point. This kata is really a set of repetitions, left and right, of fundamental blocks and hand strikes. Also interesting in this exercise are the first several punches, which are done with the punch moving directly from ready position to the ending position without chambering the punch.
Tennokata contains its own bunkai (application/interpretation). The second part of the exercise can be done by one partner facing another partner who is doing the first part of the exercise and the two parts match up into an introduction to one-step sparring.
After 1-2 ranks in karate, this exercise seems trivial, but I've said before that I'd rather participate in a karate class in which all the fundamentals are repeated every class. They might be done as a warm-up, but they are there and are constantly repeated. That is the role of Tennokata and Taikyoku - foundational material that is to be repeated as warmup, review, and reminder at the beginning of every class.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Mokuren Interview: Roy Dean

I'm pleased to present the latest in our series of interviews with great martial artists. Today I'm talking with Roy Dean, Brazilian Jiu-jitsu black belt and owner of Roy Dean Academy in Bend Oregon.
Patrick Parker: One of your distinctive calling cards seems to be a smooth integration of aikido and jiu-jitsu. Do you have a lot of students pursuing both aikido and jiujitsu or do these two arts seem to attract different types of students?
Roy Dean: The influence of Aikido on my BJJ, and vice versa, is undeniable to me. Currently, I only teach Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, but I allow an Aikido instructor to lead classes in the Academy for his own organization. Many arts can be a complement to BJJ, and Aikido is definitely one of them.
While there is always overlap in the kind of students each art may attract, if I were forced to generalize, Aikido tends to attract a more white collar, older demographic than BJJ. I originally thought that my Academy would bring in hot-blooded 18-24 year old males in some kind of Ultimate Fighter frenzy to learn the art, but I've been surprised by the number of members in their 30's, 40's, and even 50's that are joining up and embracing the discipline. Aikido is often thought of as a retirement martial art, a graduate school for old judoka and martial artists interested in movement and subtle body mechanics. If you create the right kind of environment, BJJ can also serve that function, allowing older warriors to share the mat and grapple down with the younger generations, exploring movement and techniques while balancing it with healthy resistance levels.
One thing to note, however, is that Aikido tends to attract and retain far more female students than BJJ. Not everyone is comfortable with the closeness that ground grappling requires, and I understand that some may never truly get past that required distance.
Pat: Could you expand a little on what kind of environment is the right kind to allow diverse populations (women, kids, 50 year-olds, etc...) to learn and enjoy both ground grappling and aikido as the 'graduate school' of martial arts?
Roy: The proper training environment is not difficult to create. Let’s start with the physical space: It should to be clean. Proper padding. You need enough room to roll freely without obstructions or the risk of landing on something. Music can easily be incorporated. A defined beginning and ending to class can help align the energy of the group, and ritual can be important for focusing the mind.
Delving a bit deeper, attitude and vision are integral to attracting a diverse population to train. Get rid of the meatheads and the guys that never give in training- they only take. If a person can’t adhere to gentleman’s rules while grappling (clean techniques only, no neck cranks, no fingers, etc), and let people into the game, then there are other places that are better suited for them to pursue their interests. I will open the door and wish them luck on their new path. A student who is unable to moderate their intensity is not only a danger to others, they are a distraction in class and a deterrent to new students. Watch carefully. Create the right environment and people from all walks of life will be attracted to the transformations that take place at the school.
Pat: What sort of difficulties have you had trying to communicate BJJ concepts to aikido folks? What problems have you seen the aikido instructor have getting the aikido ideas across to the BJJ guys?
Roy: The difficulty of communication between the arts is not really based on specific techniques or principles that are difficult to convey. The greatest obstacle is recognizing the utility of the art itself! Aikidoka tend to make the assessment that jujutsu, in any form, is inferior and devolved in comparison to Aikido (Aikido is a descendant of Daito Ryu Aikijujutsu). BJJ practitioners tend to dismiss Aikido because of the non resistant training methods and inability to transfer the techniques to an MMA and competitive environment. Both sets of budoka should feel the arts for themselves, and not rely on their eyes alone. Eyes will deceive you. Feeling is believing!
Pat: What do you make of the apparently declining popularity of aikido, as seen, for instance, on Google Trends? Why is that happening and what could be done to reinvigorate aikido?
Roy: To me, it begins and ends with media exposure. Royce Gracie and the UFC put BJJ on the map as a required discipline for professional mixed martial artists. It's effectiveness in its range is undeniable. People see that and want to learn how to do it themselves. Steven Seagal brought a huge new segment of the population to Aikido (myself included), and made it look exciting, powerful, and very direct in its application. .
Today, it's unfortunate that many people don't have a positive impression of Aikido, but I can understand why. Demonstrations look too cooperative and rehearsed. Correlations between rank and applicable skill are not always accurate. Some segments of the Aikido community have emphasized the philosophy over martial prowess and the art has lost some teeth in dealing with realistic resistance levels. "True believers" in the art aren't helping in this process, as they sometimes claim that Aikido can't evolve, it's already perfect, and relies on universal principles that are somehow higher than those utilized by other martial arts. Since it's founder, Morihei Ueshiba, defeated all comers, then some believe that's proof enough to keep training another 10 years and effectiveness will suddenly materialize, even if evidence is scant so far.
I think the key to "saving" or reinvigorating Aikido lies in shifting perspective, not necessarily changing the art. I would recommend cross training and observing Aikido from another shore. Train Judo and see how Aikido's emphasis on kokyu and structure affect your gripping strategies. Train BJJ and understand how Aikido's emphasis on ukemi and rolling skills lets you use your opponent's momentum against themselves on the ground, turning your body into a ball to deflect their attacks. Train boxing and learn to slip and parry attacks from an expert in punching, chaining together evasive manuevers off the line of attack in real time. There is ju or yielding in all of them, so the key may be in allowing Aikido students to discover the pockets of aiki that exist in other fighting forms. Training an art like Daito Ryu Aiki-jujutsu Seibukan Jujutsu, KoKoDo Jujutsu, or another traditional Japanese Jujutsu system would also allow Aikidoka to see where their techniques came from and how they've evolved.
The art of Aikido has already evolved since it's inception into several styles or factions, including Tomiki, Yoshinkan, Yoseikan, Ki Society, Aikikai, Iwama, and so forth. We shouldn't worry about what is or what is or isn't "real" Aikido. There is a Buddhist saying I've heard that applies here: "The minute something is born is has already begun to die." I'm not only thinking of Aikido here, but also BJJ. BJJ is still growing, but it will decline in time, and other arts will supplant it. Arts that are evolving right now. MMA is a good example. MMA was born from vale tudo, but is a different art now as the number of rules and rounds have fueled changes. MMA will have it's rise and fall and transform into something else. All things do.
If we have to learn arts of war to enforce the Art of Peace, then so be it. That doesn't necessarily indicate a flaw with the art or in the practitioner of the art. It's simply what needs to be done for deeper understanding, and should be viewed as another extension of training. Embrace the evolution. You'll be better prepared for what comes next!
Pat: You got your start as an exchange student in Japan learning judo at the Kodokan! What was that like? I'm sure you have 1-2 favorite stories about that time in your life.
Roy: I did begin my training in Japan studying Kodokan Judo. It wasn't at the Kodokan, rather it was at my high school near Nagoya. Judo is more like wrestling here in the US, ubiquitous in their culture and widely practiced. I had the chance to compete regularly and earned my shodan by age 17. Judo is an incredible foundational art, and if viewed through the right lens, I can see much of my training since as extensions of Judo.
I'll never forget my first experience on the mat. I joined the after school Judo club, and after completing 6 weeks of ukemi practice, I was finally allowed on the mat for randori. When matched up with the team captain, Ichikawa, I attacked with fervor- only to be suddenly staring at the ceiling thanks to his fast uchimata. I got up and repeated this process over and over again. He impressed with my fighting spirit, and I was astounded by how powerful the art was. True direct experience. There was nothing I could do to stop the throw, and even though I didn't know exactly what he was doing, whatever it was, I wanted to learn it!
Another notable moment came from attending the community dojo where they held open training sessions. The undisputed king of the mat was a 6th dan named Igami Shoten. He took a liking to me and allowed me to bounce off his chest in vain attempts to throw him during randori. Then he would lay down the hammer. A really powerful man. Even today, if I put together both of my hands, it might equal one of his. Eventually, I began training at his private dojo as well, taking group classes with him thanks to my Rotary Club and benefactor, Mr. Natsumi. It was here that the master played rag doll with me to conclude a training session. Fighting spirit is very important in Japan. They like to see it and cultivate it in their warriors. That was a good lesson.
Pat: We've had some discussion on my blog and on others about the competition rules in judo leading to a decline in interest in judo. One of the points brought up was whether or not an ippon should or shouldn't end a match. What do you think? Should competitors be allowed to proceed to groundwork even after one of them has executed a truly masterful throw?
Roy: I recall being thrown in Judo and thinking "But wait! The fight's not over!" And in another context, say BJJ or MMA, the fight has really just begun. So take away the ippon and what do you have? BJJ. Rules influence the behavior of the participants. If anything, I would realign competition with Kano's original vision of 2 out of 3 matches, rather than a single decisive point. Or, another point system where throws are more heavily weighted (say 5 points in a race to 15), osaekomi would also be similarly weighted, but instead of stopping the match, it would reset it. Submissions are an automatic 15 points. I think that would be a more exciting Judo format to watch, and create a more well rounded skill set in the athletes.
Pat: Other than adjusting the sport rules, what do you think would have to happen to realign all of modern judo (not just the sport) with Kano's original vision?
Roy: I think that Kano’s original vision of taking the best techniques of jujutsu ryu’s into a comprehensive body of knowledge is still valid and necessary. The future is not about separation, but integration, and hybridization of martial techniques. We may call these motions different names, and at their core they’re all the same. The principles and of pushing, pulling, turning with timing, and using smart angles with strong leverage are universal and timeless. I think the arts would be well served if there were large training halls that hosted a variety of separate martial disciplines (i.e. Judo, Aikido, BJJ, Tai Chi, Yoga, etc), which facilitated cross training opportunities. Or better yet, we could forge stronger friendships with martial artists of other styles, and help shape the changes that are inevitably coming to these arts.
Pat: Roy, I really appreciate your taking the time to talk to me about aikido and judo. It's too bad we live 2400 miles apart, I'd sure like to be able to train with you. I've enjoyed our talk and I'm sure that my readers will too.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Lesson plans, week of 12/29/2008

Kid's Judo:
  • how to get more out of randori practice
  • standing randori
  • no-resistance ground randori
Adult Judo:
  • review yellow belt material
  • preview green belt material
  • standing and ground randori
  • review rank-level material, break into groups to get repetitions on next level material
  • emphasis on how to make a good demonstration
  • cool techniques of the night from ichikata
On the blog:

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Comparing BJJ and judo ranks

I thought I'd end this year with a little discussion on ranking systems, beginning with BJJ and judo. It's not really like comparing apples to oranges, because BJJ and judo are really about the same thing. More like comparing Golden Delicious apples to Red Delicious apples.
The Brazilian Jiu-jitsu (BJJ) ranking system goes something like this (per Roy Dean's description):
  • 5 student ranks: white - blue - purple - brown - black
  • the progression in BJJ is roughly linear - about 2-years per rank. Black belt after 8-10 years.
The judo rank system (at least our flavor - some do it differently) goes something like this:
  • 9 student ranks white - yellow - green - brown - brown - brown - black - black - black
  • the progression in judo is not linear. It takes more time in grade to reach each higher rank.
In BJJ, black belt is (as I understand it) considered 'expert' level, deemed competent to teach having seen and become proficient at the whole system. In judo, though, the first black belt is seen as a mere starting point on the road toward expertise. In fact, judo ranks as high as 3rd black are still considered students, and the official teaching ranks don't begin until 4th black because it is not until about then that the student has seen the whole system.
So, where BJJ has five student ranks, each taking about 2 years, culminating in 'expertise' at about 10 years, judo has nine student ranks, each taking progressively longer, and also culminating in 'expertise' in about 10 years. (This 10-year mark turns out to be significant per Malcolm Gladwell's new book, Outliers, on expertise and excellence.)
As a very rough guide, you might equate ranks in the two styles as follows:
  • blue belt BJJ (2 years) = 2nd brown belt judo (1 year)
  • purple belt bjj (4 years) = 1st black judo (3 years)
  • brown belt bjj (6 years) = 2nd black judo (5 years)
  • black belt bjj (8 years) = 3rd black judo (8 years)
But then again, everything is dependent on the individual and the proof of the pudding is in the tasting...

Friday, December 26, 2008

Aikido minus the -do

A couple of days ago (Christmas eve) I told someone, "We're not having class today.  We're taking a vacation this week."  They responded in only half-feigned surprise, "A vacation!?  From aikido!?  How could you!?"
The answer is simple.  It's aiki that I am addicted to.  It has permeated much of what I do and I can't seem to stop doing aiki.  But aiki-do is another matter.  It's pretty easy to cancel the actual classes for a week or so, especially to be around family and get some rest.
We'll be getting cranked back up next Monday.  See y'all there for some aiki and some aikido!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Martial arts in pulp fiction

One of the staples of pulp fiction seems to be the strong hero with specialized fighting knowledge. I thought I'd give you a list of my favorite examples of pulp fiction martial arts badness. Some of the following martial arts are fictional while others are real, but one thing you can count on is that in these pulp novels the martial arts are definately over the top.
The Destroyer Series, featuring Remo Williams, disciple of Chiun, Master of the ancient art of assassination, Sinanju. The practitioner of Sinanju is enabled to perform feats like climbing sheer walls, dodging bullets, breath-holding for greater than an hour, and becoming invisible. Chiun tells Wiliams that all the other martial arts (e.g. karate, ninjitsu, etc...) are just diluted imitations of Sinanju. Sound like something you'd want to get started reading? With over 130 books in the series, this should provide you diversion for a while! Here's the first in the series:
The depiction of ninjitsu in Eric Von Lustbader's The Ninja Series. The first book of the series, The Ninja, is definately the best, being the story of Nicholas Linnear, a westerner raised in the exotic orient and trained in ninjitsu, aikido, karate, and iai. Linnear has to fight against his evil ninja half-brother, and the story contains fantastic descriptions of poisoned blow-darts, paralyzing spearhand strikes to vital points, and characters falling off of high-rise buildings and surviving! The book loses serious points for graphic depictions of homosexual incestual rape, but the martial arts depiction is really cool.
Even if you fondly remember the origial Six Million Dollar Man with Steve Austin played by Lee Majors, or the new Bionic Woman Series, you might not realize that the whole 'bionics man' concept was kicked off by the novel, Cyborg, by Martin Caidin. And even if you are a major fan of the films you probably didn't know that the Bionic man studied aikido! The martial art plays a very minor role in the novel, but it's still a pretty cool read and definately a trip in the wayback machine.
Looking for something more recent? Perhaps something in the sci-fi genre? Try the Planet Pirates series by McCaffery, Nye, & Moon (Sassinak, The Death of Sleep, and Generation Warriors) about a child enslaved by space pirates, who grows up (together with her great, great grandmother in a freak space travel cold sleep) to hunt these pirates down across the galaxy. The protagonists of the books practice a futuristic martial art known simply as The Discipline, which gives practitioners crazy fight skills as well as the ability to control their own adrenal glands and metabolism through self-hypnosis. Cool, epic science fiction!
Another sci-fi martial arts pulp classic is the Kensho series (Way-Farer, Kensho, Wanderer, Satori) by Dennis Schmidt. Zen and Japanese swordsmanship play a large part in these books. The premise is that a colony ship encounters some transdimensional lifeform on their colony and the lifeform drives them insane and feeds off of their emotions. The only ones to survive are the zen swordsmaster captain and his descendants who learn to use their zen mastery to control the lifeforms to do legendary feats like telekinesis, body control, and teleportation. Cool explanation of how the old legends about weird martial powers could feasibly happen.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Slow and steady wins the day

Aiki folks and some judo folks like to talk about the potential for technique and wisdom, skillfully applied to triumph over strength and size and speed. But then sometimes this seems like a pipe dream - wishful thinking. A week ago I got to see a great example of slow and steady beating out natural athleticism. Here's the story.
My five-year-old second son, Knox, is the quiet, gentle, generally compliant child of the family. He is also infuriatingly slow. Knox only has two speeds; stoppped and deliberate. When we practice matwork movement drills, the rest of the class gets all the way across the mat by the time Knox has done 2-3 repetitions of the exercise. I have to figure out whether to make the rest of the class wait as I goad Knox toward completion or stop Knox at 2-3 reps and go on with the next exercise. This has been Knox's M.O. for a year and a half now.
Well, last week we had our Kohaku Shiai. There are no age or skill or weight classes. All participants line up from tallest to smallest and the two smallest fight with the winner staying up against the next largest player in the line. Knox is the next-smallest guy in the line-up. Well, last week, Knox demolished more than half of the line-up, beating kids larger, heavier, older, and generally more athletic.  Nearly every match was a dramatic upset with Knox coming out on top.  At the time I thought it was just a cool example of the old axiom, "In judo, on any given day anyone can win."
A couple of days later we're back in class and Knox is dragging himself through the matwork drills as the rest of the classmates are racing across the mat. I tried a couple of times to tell the faster students to slow down and pay attention a little better and then it dawned on me. Knox is not just slow, he is deliberately and carefully practicing the drills.  He may do 1/3 or 1/4 as many reps as the other boys, but each rep is thoughtful and is as perfect as he can make it. And that's why he smashed his opposition in the shiai.
I stopped the class and asked, "Who were the first 5 players to get across the mat that time. Everyone's hands shot up and there was a chorus of, "me! me!" Then I asked, "Ok, of you guys who got across the mat fastest, who placed in the shiai last weekend?" All the hands dropped and the chorus died out. "Knox," I said, pointing down the mat at him still trying to complete the drill. "Slow Knox placed second."
The moral of the story: Slow and steady wins the day.

Monday, December 22, 2008

The frozen ham knife defense

The following is a great example of situational defense - and it's side-splittingly funny too. Who ever knew that traditional judo kata had a technique in which tori makes use of a frozen ham to defeat a knife-wielding attacker (at about 1:00 on the video)!

Reminds me of my introductory Japanese class in college in which one of the textbook examples was a customs person inspecting a traveller's suitcase and exclaiming, "What is this? A ham! That is not allowed!" We thought it was a pretty inane example but little did we know they were just protecting their national security!
UPDATE: BSM had a great idea! Click on the link below to purchase your very own self-defense ham. Send me an email and I'll verify that you purchased the ham and I'll send you the Official self-defense ham manual for free!

Taikyoku "in tate"

I was discussing the first fundamental exercise in many karate schools the other day. I mentioned that Taikyoku was, per my understanding, both a kata and an exercise template. Some folks like to fill in the techniques in this kata with moves other than those prescribed in the kata. Thus, you can have a high-block taikyoku, a front kick taikyoku, a backstance shuto block taikyoku, etc... Well, according to the Wikipedia entry on Taikyoku, some folks are not satisfied with just changing the techniques out in the template, they changed the embusen (the performance line), changing the whole shape of the thing.
The series can also be performed "in Tate" a variation invented by Yoshikazu Matsushima... In this variation the steps are performed in a straight line, starting by stepping directly forward, then the turns being 180 degrees rather than ninety. On the last step, one turns to the where one was originally facing rather than stepping forward.
The only thing that is missing from taikyoku tate are the 90 degree and the 270 degree turns. I don't think there is any magic to the 90 degree turns that makes them indispensable - if you can turn 180 degrees as in tate, you can stop at 90 degrees if you want to. But there is the 270 degree turn - typically interpreted as similar to the footwork needed to build momentum for something like a hip throw. Sure, taikyoku tate is missing that particular interpretation, but I don't think that is a major loss for a couple of reasons:
  • Hip throw is not a fundamental skill in karate-do. It is a more advanced option. Therefore, taking it out of the kihon kata is not a big deal.
  • It is especially not a big deal because that 270 degree turn is found in other kata (i.e. the heians) in a mix of more intermediate to advanced techniques that hipthrow would fit into better anyway.
So, the kata stretches out into a straight line instead of having the side wings on it (the addition to the name, tate, translates to 'straight'). I can see the benefit of doing the kata this way especially if you had a small dojo full of people doing the kata. It would be easier to have a lot of people do this exercise at the same time if everybody were moving in parallel lines. I really like this Taikyoku tate form so much that I have started doing it this way. My favorite training space for it is in my hallway in my house. there are not many kata you can do in your hallway.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Lesson plans

No classes the week of Christmas. We'll return to regular practice schedule 12/29/08 with the exception of no class on 1/1/2009.
On the blog:
  • Taikyoku tate
  • BJ Penn and rank inflation
  • One time that slow and steady won the day
  • Five of the greatest depictions of martial arts in pulp fiction!
  • and much, much more! Subscribe now for free updates. http://feeds.feedburner.com/MokurenDojo

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Is it shrimping or is it the hip escape?

Rodrigo Gracie's book, The Path to the Black Belt describes (pp50-51) one of the universal, fundamental grappling exercises essentially similar to what Stephen Kesting shows below. We call this exercise 'shrimping' but Gracie calls it 'the hip escape.'
There's certainly nothing wrong with Kesting's demonstration but I personally prefer the second form below. It illustrates some things that the other video doesn't. I think that 'hip escape' might be a better name because it emphasizes that the bottom man is bridging in order to frame between a shoulder and the opposite, bent leg so that the other (straight) leg can freely swing through. Rodrigo demonstrates it as an explicit bridge, then swing the leg through. The 2-leg pushing form shown above suggests that the purpose of the movement is to slide the butt across the floor, when it is actually intended to free one hip (perhaps so that it can easily slide across the floor). If you push with both feet against the ground then you don't really have either hip free to swing through. Anyone else think this distinction between the names and shrimping forms is interesting, useful, or important?

Friday, December 19, 2008

What is so universal about taikyoku?

The first, most basic kata in some forms of karate-do is called Taikyoku, which translates to something like "ultimate," or "universal." Interestingly, the ideogram that is pronounced Taikyoku in Japanese is pronounced Taichi in Chinese (though there are no apparent similarities between Taikyoku kata and Tai chi chuan.)
Despite the great fancy name, the kata is nothing but a bunch of front stances, down blocks, and lunge punches executed in an I-shaped embusen (performance line). Pretty basic stuff, so what is so amazing about Taikyoku? Why did Funakoshi consider it the "ultimate universal" exercise?
Another way that you can understand the term, Taikyoku, is as a philosophical term referring to the state of the universe before the split between heaven and earth - that is, everything in the universe is in there but it's mixed-up or hidden. So, in the karate exercise, you have this undifferentiated group of movements that, when form is applied to them creatively, will become the basis of all of the karate universe. So Taikyoku is, in some sense, the primeval atom that karate will spring forth from.
I think the key to understanding the idea behind Taikyokyu lies in the large motions that Funakoshi said were such good exercise for beginners. The down blocks (gedan barai) are chambered knuckle-inward near the opposite ear, stretched as far away from the ending position of the down block as possible, with the elbows crossed in front of the solar plexus and the hand of the withdrawing arm near the opposite hip, also stretched away from its' ending position. From this position, the arms have to travel through large arcs of motion that contain about half of the motions that it is possible for the human arm to make.
Therapists will recognize this down-blocking motion as PNF (Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Coordination) pattern D1 which is so useful for rehabilitation, strengthening, and co-ordinating the upper limbs. So, in other words, just by practicing this large down-blocking motion in this particular way, you can get better at coordinating about half of all arm motions in karate. Guess where the other half of the motions come in? The mid-level blocks found in Taikyoku Sandan (PNF pattern D2)! I challenge you to think of an arm technique in karate that is not made of pieces of either the down-block motion (D1) or the mid-level block motion (D2) from Taikyoku.
Cool! Maybe there is a reason to practice these first three exercises that intermediate and advanced students find so mind-numbingly boring. Taikyoku, the ultimate universal kata, makes you better at everything else in karate.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Terry Dobson's Aikido in Everyday Life

Here's the book that I was telling you about, Kel.  Pretty interesting perspective on conflict.  Enjoy.

The safety of judo chokes

A student asked me the other day about the safety of practicing choking techniques in judo and brazilian jiu-jitsu. I was actually taken by surprise, having become comfortable with the practice years ago. But it really was a good question. My answer was basically that:
  • Choking is safe because the way we do it in judo is a temporary occlusion of carotid(s) instead of compression of the windpipe (which we call a strangle). Blood chokes are considered safer than air chokes.
  • Choking is safe because we emphasize to the student to tap before they pass out or get hurt. It doesn't take but a couple of repetitions before folks are familiar enough with chokes to (usually) know when to tap. We also emphasize that folks let go when the opponent is tapping. Because of these two rules choking very rarely goes far enough to even cause unconsciousness.
  • Choking is safe, at least so far as I know, because I know of no instance in my practice or in the history of judo, when someone died as a result of being choked.
Despite the apparent safety of the practice, some coaches consider it prudent to enforce a few more rules...
  • Make sure of the ground rules with people you are going to be rolling with. We don't do strangles (air chokes) and neck cranks, but some clubs do.
  • Some coaches don't let kids younger than about teen age practice chokes because they are not considered responsible enough to play safely.
  • I've heard some coaches say that they don't allow chokes to be done on men over about 50 years old because of the potential for carotid plaque injuries.
  • I was also warned early on in my judo career that people who have known heart issues, who are taking cardioactive drugs, or who are known to be taking recreational drugs should not be choked because they might have higher risk of not recovering spontaneously.
References from JudoInfo...

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Stefan Stenudd's Attacks in Aikido

Thanks you so much, Kel, for my Christmas present, a copy of Stefan Stenudd's Attacks in Aikido: How to do Kogeki, the Attack Techniques. I love it! The role of the attacker is super-important in aikido, and without a good attack, aikido becomes dance-like and mostly meaningless. Stenudd has put out a vast amount of great material, some for free on his website, with expanded versions in the books.
Stenudd points out in the intro that you make your aikido better by focussing on the role of the attacker. As the attacker gets more dangerous, the defender is forced to step it up a notch. A statement both true and concise, that I have tried to make elsewhere. I can tell that I will enjoy this book and it should give me a lot to talk about for a while at the dojo and here on the blog.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

10000 hours over 28000 days

Recently there has been a lot of discussion on the Judo Listserver about a concept in the new book titled Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell. I haven't read the book, but apparently Gladwell found in his research that one factor remains remarkably constant between experts in various domains – practice time. Apparently, it takes on the order of 10000 hours of practice to master a skill to a world-class level, regardless of the skill. This is something that is very interesting to me because of my interest in genius and how experts do the things they do.
In an article from April 2007, I wrote that a typical life expectancy in the industrialized world is just over 28000 days (78 years plus or minus). This suggests that it takes about a third of a lifetime of practicing one hour per day every day to master a skill. Most of us practice longer than one hour at a time, but it's probably very few of us that do it day after day, so 7 hours a week is probably a good estimate of the level of commitment of a lot of us seriously addicted martial artists. Thus, about one-third of a lifetime to mastery.
Another way to look at that is to look at your work life. If you spend 5-6 hours per day mostly doing the skills of your job, then you will achieve 10000 hours, and will have mastered the skills of your job within 5-10 years. That seems to be a pretty reasonable time frame.
One time I asked a judo and aikido master how did he ever make the breakthroughs, leading to such remarkable skill in himself and some of his students. He responded, “Well, first you have to remember that I had about 30 years of judo experience before I got to really thinking about this aikido material.” 30 years – more than one-third of a lifetime.
Another example of multiple-skill mastery, and perhaps a counterexample to the third-of-a-life idea, is Josh Waitzkin, who by his early 20's has mastered chess, become a national and world champion in taichi, and has now set his sights on BJJ with the goal of winning the Mundials. I say perhaps a counterexample because Waitzkin is considered a prodigy, with an un-natural proclivity for learning new things.
And while we're talking about prodigies, you have to mention The Prodigy, BJ Penn, for achieving his BJJ black belt in something under 5 years – roughly half the expected time, and for becoming the #1 lightweight fighter in the world (per Wikipedia) – all in far less than the third of a lifetime suggested for mastery.
In a related discussion thread on the Convocation of Combat Arts, we've been discussing shuhari – a concept in traditional Japanese arts that suggests that as you progress in an art, you first imitate your teacher closely (shu), then you begin to adapt the art to fit yourself personally (ha), and finally you leave or transcend the system and the teacher (ri). Rob Redmond brings up the point that ri is a form of the Japanese word hanareru, which can be translated as something like 'release.' So, eventually you master the system and just let it go. Nick Lowry suggested that it probably takes at least a decade per stage in the shuhari process. That's probably not far off based on the third-of-a-lifetime (10000 hours over 28000 days) ideas.
Anyway, I'm looking forward to reading Outliers because it seems to relate to these ideas that we've been tossing around of shuhari.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Position - choke - armbar

I think most everyone involved in grappling has probably heard the axiom, Position before Submission, suggesting that you pretty much have to achieve a stable, dominant position before you can have much success with a submission. But have you ever thought about it this way - Position leads to Choke leads to Armbar.
Think about it - you get a dominant position and attack the guy's neck and he begins resisting and struggling, trying to negate the choke. In this situation not only does the choke distract him from the armbar, but he tends to push or pull his arms into awkward positions. Thus position-choke-armbar is a general recipe as to how grappling encounters seem to go.
Perhaps the most fundamental example of this recipe might be the following: achieve tateshiho (the mount) and attack jujijime (cross choke). From here uke begins picking and pulling at your hands to counter the choke and you turn 90 degrees and lay back into jujigatame (the cross armbar). Following is a video in which they are not attacking the neck explicitly but you can see where the choke fits into this sequence.
Can you give me 1-2 more combinations that seem to fit this profile - position then choke then armbar?

Mokuren karate-do

Since I have been concentrating my blogging almost exclusively on aikido and judo, something you might not know from reading my blog is that we also teach karate-do at Mokuren Dojo. I have a background in TKD and karate, and Patrick McKlemurry has been teaching Isshinryu here for a while. I haven't been able to fit in practicing with him due to my intensely full schedule but it's approaching time for my oldest children to begin karate-do as well as the judo that they are already doing, so I have been brushing up on my own practice. So, you can look for more karate articles on Mokuren Dojo as well as the great aikido and judo articles that you have been reading.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

David Walker's Jiu-Jitsu for Beginners

I want to thank Skyhorse Publishing for giving me the opportunity to review and comment on their new book, Jiu-Jitsu for Beginners by David Walker. This little book is an introduction to jiu-jitsu as practiced in the Jitsu Foundation, one of the largest jiu-jitsu organizations in the U.K.
The book is well-written with absolutely beautiful color photographs of competent-looking and attractive models executing the various techniques. The book presents a selection of techniques from yellow, orange, and green belt requirements, including falls, strikes, throws, and holds demonstrated in traditional as well as self-defense contexts. My only problem with the book is that it seemed hard sometimes to associate the proper photos with the text.
I think my absolute favorite aspect of the book was the occasional 'True Stories' interspersed throughout the book. These stories serve as great testimonials for the training method presented, as well as adding a personal touch to the book. I would recommend this book to any novice interested in pursuing traditional jiu-jitsu training, or even anyone interested in fundamental introductory material about any of the jiu-jitsu-like arts such as aikido or judo.

Lesson plans, week of 12/14/2008

Kid's Judo:
  • Ukemi - forward roll
  • bridge&roll escape from tateshiho
  • push-back escape from guard
  • scraping someone off your back
Adult Judo:
  • Yellow belt demos for Jesse & Justin.
  • preview of green belt tachiwaza and newaza
  • kataotoshi and kubiguruma into a crashpad as ukemi warmup
  • techniques from release#3
  • White belts will be doing hanasu 1-4, two motion templates, shomenate and aigamaeate.
  • Brown & black belts will be quickly reviewing atemiwaza, hijiwaza, and doing junanahon kata tekubiwaza - kotehineri, kotegaeshi, tenkai kotehineri, tenkai kotegaeshi, shihonage
  • Cool techniques of the night from koryu daiichi
On the blog:
  • Is it shrimping or is it a 'hip escape'
  • Safety of choking techniques
  • Position then choke then armbar
  • 10000 hours over 28000 days
  • and much, much more! Subscribe now for free updates.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

December 2008 Kohaku Shiai

Today we had our first monthly in-club shiai of the season.  We had ten competitors and ran 43 matches in five events; duck wrestling, clothespin gripfighting, crawling man randori, rooster tail randori, and tachi randori.  In  fiercely contested shiai, the following were the winners:
1st place - Mason Alford and Ethan Schwing (tie) - 8 wins each
2nd place - Knox Parker - 7 wins
3rd place - Sarah Schwing - 6 wins

Disentangling a crotchlock

Here's you judo and BJJ guys out there a lovely lesson on how to disentangle your leg when the opponent has a crotchlock set good and deep.  This can be an exceptionally annoying problem, so watch carefully and the instructor will present an exceptionally simple solution.  You'll still have to practice it a good bit because simple doesn't necessarily mean easy.  He also presents several interesting adjuncts or variants, including a nice keylock and one of my favorite chokes, sodegurumajime.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Aikido is great for self defense!

Thanks to Todd for pointing this out to me. I'd skimmed over it and missed it the first time. Tgace quotes Dave Spaulding:

My opinion - based solely on personal experience - is that when confronted at double-arm’s length, you need simple-to-perform (but quite effective) hand-to-hand combat techniques, such as knee, elbow, palm-heel, forearm and head-butt strikes. Unfortunately, these skills are being replaced with more complicated subject-control techniques, such as wristlocks, pressure points, grappling and arm-bar takedowns. This is regrettable, because to disengage and create the space needed to employ a firearm, you must make aggressive strikes to soft parts of the body.
Exactly right, thus all the things we preach and practice all the time in aikido:
  • Try to stay aware enough to at least get a two arms length margin (ma-ai)
  • If they start to move within this two arms length margin then you must act immediately or you will likely be engaged in a standing fight.
  • Your first idea should be to push back to greater than two arms length to regain this margin (of safety and time to think).
  • If they are not letting you push back, you need to be doing something simple, reflexive, and extremely effective. Something like shomenate, aigamaeate, or gyakugamaeate. Or, if you don't do Japanese aikido jargon, if they won't let you disengage, bust them in the face with a palm-heel and drive them off of you.
  • Everything else in aikido, all the wristlocks, throws, etc... is a backup plan for the above. These are all special purpose things that help fill in the corners in situations that a good palmheel to the chin won't solve.
Pretty impressive that all these great core aikido teachings are coming nearly verbatim from a tactical firearms instructor.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Newsflash: aikido is not an internal martial art...

...or at least it's not very internal. But then again, I guess that depends on how you define internal. According to Wikipedia...
The term "nèijiā" usually refers to Wudangquan or the internal styles of Chinese martial arts, which Sun Lutang identified in the 1920s as T'ai Chi Ch'uan, Xíngyìquán and Bāguàzhǎng. This classifies most other martial arts as "wàijiā" (lit. "external/outside sect"). Some other Chinese arts, such as Liuhebafa, Bak Mei Pai, Bok Foo Pai and Yiquan are frequently classified (or classify themselves) as internal or having internal qualities...
Well, if the yiquan guys can declare themselves to be in the club even though their name wasn't on the list, then maybe we could say aikido has 'internal-like qualities' and that you might as well call it internal. More from Wikipeida:
Sun Lutang identified the following as the criteria that distinguish an internal martial art:
  • An emphasis on the use of the mind to coordinate the leverage of the relaxed body as opposed to the use of brute strength.
  • The internal development, circulation, and expression of qì.
  • The application of Taoist dǎoyǐn, qìgōng, and nèigōng (內功) principles of external movement.
The first of these sounds just exactly like us aikido guys. The second, if it is actually referring to something different than the first (I can't tell) then it sounds like some of the nuttier segments of aikidoland, and as for the third, I wouldn't know a Taoist principle of external movement if one fell on me. So, I guess the best we can say is aikido might be about 1/3 internal.
Chris at Martial Development gives us three more criteria for neijia
  • Hard or fast movements are external; soft and slower movements are internal.
  • Overpowering and destroying the enemy in application is external; neutralizing and using the opponent’s energy against him is internal.
  • Kung-fu with lots of movements is external; simpler, more comfortable movements are internal.
Well, aikido guys (when they are doing good aikido) are not moving fast or slow, hard or soft. Aiki motion, by definition is just right. Most good aikido neutralizes and uses uke's energy against him, but occasionally when it is appropriate, they might overpower and destroy. And as for number and complexity of moves in aikido - it depends on who you ask. Some of the aikikai guys say that there are thousands of aikido techniques - Tomiki sensei said there were only about 17 or so.
I bet it wouldn't take too much effort for Colin Wee or Dan Paden to justify TKD or old Okinawan karatedo as internal per most of those criteria.
But then, Chris gives away the secret - neijia is so vague a concept as to be unusable and un-useful except maybe as a marketing tool.
So I guess the bottom line is, aikido is not really an internal martial art (unless you really want it to be).

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

All I want for Christmas...

Hey, all, I figured many of you were scratching your heads wondering what you should get for me for Christmas. I can hear you saying, "That Pat Parker has everything, good looks, great family, greatest aikido and judo blog on the planet... Whatever could I get him for Christmas?" Well, worry no more. I'll just come out and tell you.
All I want for Christmas is three times more people reading and participating at my blog!
I would like each of you to take about 3 minutes of your time and:
1) think of two people who would enjoy reading my Mokuren dojo blog
2) send these two people emails telling them that they should check out http://www.mokurendojo.com/. If you know of a specific article on Mokuren Dojo that you think they'd be especially interested in, send them a link directly to that one and tell them they ought to subscribe to the free Mokuren Dojo updates (top of the sidebar on the left).
3) sit back and smile, knowing that you've made my Christmas season complete by doing your part to triple my readership.
Seriously, I really appreciate all of your support and patronage and comments on my blog. It is because of you that Mokuren Dojo is so much fun for me to do. You guys are the greatest!
Merry Christmas

Pros and cons of gi vs no-gi grappling

In Japanese martial arts like judo, the required uniform is called a gi. Some newer forms of grappling arts, like Brazilian jiujitsu, make wearing the gi optional. Some clubs have specific gi classes and no-gi classes. There are advantages and disadvantages to grappling with and without a gi.
gi pros:
  • wearing a gi facilitates modesty - I know I wouldn't wrestle if I had to wear a singlet like the Greco-Roman guys. I don't mind grappling in sweats and a teeshirt but tearing teeshirts up wrestling gets tiresome - which brings us to our second benefit of jacket wrestling...
  • the gi is more durable than teeshirts and sweatpants.
  • wearing a gi limits the gross factor - Nobody likes rolling around in another dude's sweat. The gi absorbs a lot of this and makes wrestling less disgusting.
  • wearing a gi allows for ease of gripping, improved leverage, and a wider range of techniques
  • wearing a gi is warmer, which might be an advantage several degrees of latitude north of Mokuren Dojo
no-gi pros
  • nogi grappling can be a closer simulation of street conditions
  • nogi grappling has greater similarity to amateur wrestling, which might suggest a crossover or transferrence of skills.
  • nogi grappling is less expensive
  • nogi grappling tends to equalize participants somewhat. A judo black belt wrestling without a gi jacket is somewhat out of his element.
  • nogi grappling is definitely cooler, which is important in the summer around here!

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Martial arts - abstract or unrealistic?

What is it that makes a martial art an artform? I'm not a student of fine arts (at least in the traditional sense) but I've thought about this question for a long, long time and I've come to the conclusion that what makes a martial art a kind of fine art is abstraction. You see, in any artform there is abstraction. The artist is taking some aspect of reality and representing it through his medium with a certain degree of abstraction. It is the management of that abstraction and the medium that makes an art.
Take, for example, sculpture. The most amazing, lifelike sculpture I have ever seen was a baroque bust of a lady wearing a veil. The sculpture was so masterful that it gave the illusion of a translucent veil over a face. But even if the artist has near god-like skill, a sculpture will still not be the same as the model. There is an artistic management of the distortion created by the translation of reality into stone.
As another example, consider photography. A good picture is not a representation of what is really there. There is distortion. What the lens sees and records on the film is different from what is really there, the light, color, the composition of what is in the frame, etc... Same goes for videography.
So, a martial art is a representation of reality (combat, conflict, violence) through the medium of human motion. How the artist decides to manage the distortion inherent in that representation is what makes it an artform.
But does the fact that there is distortion make the artform unrealistic? No, absolutely not. Have you ever heard the axiom that a great novel can be more real than the truth itself? Through the distortion of the artistic process, the artist brings emphasis and focus onto some aspect of interest. Have you ever noticed that you can often learn more from a line drawing than from a photo of an action?
So, do any of y'all have any good examples of how your martial art is abstracted from real combat without becoming unrealistic?

Monday, December 08, 2008

The dumbing-down of judo

Much of the amazing self-confidence that springs from learning judo comes from practising and competing against diverse opponents, including opponents that are larger or faster than you. Knowing that you can come out on top of an opponent who is supposedly better than you are, and that this outcome is to a large degree in your own control gives an amazing sense of hope to the judo student. In every sport there are unavoidable rules fluctuations, but many of the rules changes in the game of judo in the past 50 years have been detrimental to the core of the system - to the part of the system that leads to the amazing self-development and improvement I mentioned earlier. During the decline of sport judo, some judo schools have remained true to the ideals of the founder, but the real judo spirit typified by judo's two mottoes, jita kyoei (mutual welfare and benefit) and seiryoku zenyo (maximal efficiency with minimal effort) is thought by some to be most clearly seen today in Brazilian Jiujitsu. You can see this sentiment in my interview with Dave Camarillo as well as this recent post by Dave Chesser.
There is a very interesting book by evolutionary biologist Steven Jay Gould, titled Full House. In this book he investigates systems whose performance declines as the variability within the system is reduced. Gould's greatest example from the book is the game of baseball. In baseball there have been adjustments made to the rules over the years. As pitchers get better and batting averages decline, the batters are allowed to use newer technological advanced in their bats. As batting averages and ERAs rise, the pitching mound is raised to give the ball more velocity. The balance of power is shifted back and forth until there is a near-perfect balance and very low variability among the players. With this balance and low variability comes low performance - why? Reduction of variability reduces the potential for excellence to emerge. It seems to me that a similar dynamic is happening in judo.
Another example is education in sub-Saharan Africa. My wife worked as a teacher at a Catholic school in a sub-Saharan country for 2 years, during which she got a great education. Apparently, if I understand the story right, Westerners set up these schools but when they couldn't find locals that were prepared to excel at the western schools' standards, what did they do? Reduced the standards. Over the years at these schools, the standards have been progressively declining in order to maintain a certain percentage of the students with passing grades. Has this resulted in better students? Of course not. With the reduction in variability, the potential for excellence is reduced. Again, similar to what has happened in judo.
Imagine yourself in the place of the judo novice: a kinda wimpy guy who thinks he might get tougher if he learns judo. Which do you think will do him more good, learning how to throw someone his own size and skill level (so long as they don't attack his legs or bend over or hold his sleeves), or would he be better off learning to survive and maybe prevail over someone smaller, larger, heavier, or lighter, with similar or different training? Don't know about you, but I'd rather know I at least stood a chance of triumphing no matter who I'm facing than to only know how to triumph against people weaker than me - and then only if they are handicapped by the rules.
What rules am I talking about being so detrimental? For a start...
There is such proliferation of rules that honestly, I can't name them all, make sense of them, or even keep up with them. I say fewer rules (like maybe a handful) based upon well-thought out principles would allow much greater freedom, increasing variability in the system and creating the possibility for excellence of an unexpected and unprecidented nature to emerge.
So, what we are doing at Mokuren Dojo to fight this phenomenon?
  • We do monthly in-club kohaku shiai - a reasonable way to relax the weight classes with relative safety and promote ease of tournament set-up. Everybody may potentiaally face anybody else in the tournament, and you know what, we've seen some amazing things happen, like one of the smallest, youngest, mildest kids beating 3/4 of the lineup just because he had an especially good day with his tokuiwaza. You should have seen his face! You should have seen the faces of the older, larger kids that he beat. There was a lot of learning going on that day!
  • Everybody does randori with everybody. Smaller, lighter folks have to learn how to deal with larger opponents. Large bruisers have to learn how to demonstrate expertise without crushing smaller opponents - and they have to learn to deal with smaller, faster people. Men and women have to learn how to deal with each other in a physical way without gender and sexuality getting in the way.
  • We play gentlenman's rules instead of olympic judo rules. By using a much smaller set of reasonable rules that are enforcable by the participants instead of a referree, we get great variability and a good learning curve. We learn how to either beat or survive being beaten by people who do wrestling, BJJ, or whatever-jitsu.
So, what are you doing to deal with the dumbing down of judo?

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Winchester pocket clip knife

And while we're talking about emergency preparedness, you'll be wanting a good knife. There are an infinite number of choices out there, but here's the everyday carrying knife that I picked out.

The Winchester Stainless Steel pocket clip knife. This knife is surely not the knife artisan's choice, but is a great, functional tool at an absolutely unbeatable price. It has thumb posts so you can open it one handed with either hand, it has a half-serrated edge, holds a good edge, and has a pocket clip so it doesn't get lost on your pocket or tear the bottom out of your pocket.
Go ahead and buy half a dozen of them, use one and leave the others wrapped up in your emergency kits.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Once in every generation...

Stephen King wrote his greatest masterpiece, The Stand, after hearing a radio preacher ranting, "once in every generation the plague will fall among them!" This phrase struck him as so creepy that he typed it out and hung it above his typewriter as inspiration. In the novel he places those exact words in the mouth of his prophetess, Abagail Freemantle. Once in every generation...
The other day, I posted a link and some quotes from Tom Peters' blog in which he discusses the new, foreboding World at Risk report of WMDs and bioterrorism. Today I saw the follow-up at the Anderson Cooper 360 blog, in which AC recommends the following book:

For a sense of what that would mean take a look at The Great Influenza, a powerful book about the epidemic of 1918 which killed 20 to 40 million people worldwide. In excruciating detail author John Barry writes about the disease and what it wrought. Then imagine something like that in our world.

Both the Stephen King quote and the AC360 blog post seem very prescient, particularly when I think of my particular family. see, my dad was born in 1919 during that pandemic that AC mentioned as killing 20-40 million people. For reference purposes, at that time there were just over 100 million people in the United States. Twenty some-odd years later, my oldest brother was born - during the 1951 flu pandemic, which some researchers figure was worse than the 1919 flu. I come from a large-ish family - five brothers, of which I am the youngest, having been born in 1969. Incidently, 1969 was during the third major flu pandemic of the century.
Being Presbyterian, we are strong believers in providence. God takes care of his people. But being southern and American, we also have this deep appreciation for the old axiom that 'God takes care of those who take care of themselves.' (Not a Biblical quote, rather a quote from Ben Franklin's 1757 Poor Richard's Alminack.)
Anyway, I'm interested in what can we do to help ourselves in the face of this impending health and infrastructure crisis, other than the tips I've posted on before. What do y'all think?
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