Saturday, January 31, 2009

The stick & sword class that didn't make

We didn't get to do stick&sword this morning as I'd intended, though the weather was beautiful, the wrong mix of students was here so we worked on other stuff. Had we done stick&sword, here's what I'd planned to cover. You can study up for next Saturday.
Kihon for sword-guy - men-kote-do-tsuki. The idea is to trigger off of uke giving you an opening.
Then some repetitions of menuchi...
... then some honteuchi...
and wrap up with the first jodo seiteikata, Tsukizue...
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Hadakajime - the rear naked choke

Now that we have a new judo yellow belt, we are about to get into (among other things) hadaka jime - the rear naked choke. Here's some good video to study up on between classes. First, a general demonstration of a handful of variations...
And now, Kashiwazaki demonstrating one of the coolest, smoothest entries I've seen. It starts out looking pretty mundane - even to the point of tori seeming dull and inexperienced, but it's a trick, and even seeing it the second time I thought it was really fine!
And here is a link to the best RNC tutorial I've seen anywhere on the net. This is Stephan Kesting demonstrating Rear Naked Choke finishing for Aesopian's BJJ blog. Enjoy.
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Friday, January 30, 2009

Interview: Josh Waitzkin

You guys know I wouldn't subject you to a 56 minute video unless it was truly extraordinary and worth every second.  The following video definitely is.  This is an interview with Josh Waitzkin, World Champion chess master, World Champion tai chi competitor, BJJ practitioner, and all-around with-it dude.  Everything that he says in this interview about tai chi and most of the things he says about chess, you can mentally re-word in your mind to be about judo or aikido and you will have had the best aikido/judo lesson you've had in a while. 
If you can watch this guy's 56 minute video and not want to buy his book (from my Amazon link below) then I suspect that you weren't thinking about what you were listening to.
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Helpful handful: Relaxation

Photo courtesy of Agelakis
Relaxation is a vital principle in martial arts – almost an end unto itself. This past month we have been doing a special focus at our dojo on the topic of relaxation. Following is a handful of the ideas that came up during the month.
  • Relaxation is remarkably difficult because as we age we become habituated to excess tension and we lose the ability to feel the difference between tension and relaxation. This sensorimotor amnesia can lead to all sorts of somatic health problems and the basic jist of several forms of therapy for these problems is to achieve a 'release' in which the muscle that is perpetuating the feedback loop gives up, relaxes, and breaks the feedback loop of tension-dysfunction-pain-tension. In aikido our basic goal is similar – to release the bind that is occurring between uke and tori, allowing tori to smoothly flow to a positon of safety and uke to smoothly flow to ground.
  • In Tegatana no kata you can use flaccid, relaxed arms and shoulders as a gauge of how well your momentum is under control. As you step and put a foot down, if your shoulders and arms are flaccid then they will swing around at least a little bit. With practice you can minimize this flailing, indicating that you are better able to keep your momentum under control. You will also notice that you can use the momentum of your center to initiate the motion of your arms – almost throwing or whipping your arms into the right configuration simply by walking correctly.
  • In Hanasu no kata we are making a detailed study of that release phenomenon that I mentioned earlier. We are not intent on making uke release us – instead we are trying to release the bind between us (or the bad vibe for lack of a better term). Uke grabs tori somewhere, say, the wrist, and that contact point moves in a curve through space. We are trying to learn to move our feet efficiently so that we can perfectly follow uke's curve with our center. Discontinuities happen when one partner moves faster than the other or one partner moves in a different curve than the other. We have to relax in order to release those discontinuities.
  • Ukemi is a skilled blending of relaxation and controlled tension. If you relax completely and flop into a breakfall you can hurt yourself just as much as if you are stiff as a board when you fall. If you slow your ukemi down in practice then you can learn to feel the cyclic tense-relax-tense-relax-tense-relax nature of ukemi. You want your ukemi to be a natural extension of the release curve I mentioned earlier. Ukemi is the art of uke releasing out of a bind into a roll or fall. Uke begins a curve, tori picks up on it and follows it for a while until there is another bind, at which time uke continues the curve into a safe, stable position on the ground.
  • In judo newaza it takes a while to get used to being crushed. That is, it takes a while to learn how to move to control the other guy's ability to put crushing force onto you. We do this by practicing the ground mobility cycle – shifting from hold to hold while keeping your weight on uke's chest. It doesn't take long for uke to learn to use his arms to control some of tori's position, his feet to reposition hips slightly to reduce crushing pressure – to learn to frame up under tori so that he can relax and breathe and think for a moment.
  • In any type of grappling art – call it judo or aikido or whatever – you generally do better if you move the same speed as the other guy. When you are moving faster or slower you are expending energy trying to change his speed. Bodies have a natural frequency or rhythm to them, and since most bodies are roughly the same size, we tend to all have remarkably similar frequencies. It takes more energy to move faster or slower than your natural frequency or to try to move uke faster or slower than his natural frequency. Not only must you relax to move at uke's natural frequency, but the act of moving in synch with your rhythm and his is very relaxing.
Click here to see my previous articles on relaxation.
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Thursday, January 29, 2009

The opposite of tokuiwaza

Photo courtesy of Stephanie Booth
In judo there is this concept of tokuiwaza – techniques that are your best or favorite – techniques that tend to work especially well for you a lot of the time. Most black belt judoka have a handful of tokuiwaza. But is there such a thing as the opposite of tokuiwaza? Throws that just never seem to fit certain people regardless of how much practice you put into them? Sure there is – it just doesn't have a cool Japanese name like tokuiwaza.
This is the basis of my 80% rule in rank demonstrations. I say you should be able to demonstrate 80% of the material at your level with decent mechanical precision 80% of the time. Thus, of the yellow belt throws for instance – deashi, kosoto, osoto, hiza, ukigoshi - a new yellow belt should be able to execute four of those throws and look pretty good doing it 4 times out of 5. This is a forgiveness factor because everyone has non-tokui techniques and you'll even screw up your tokuiwaza once in a while.
This does not mean that you can choose one throw out of five to write off. You still need to be working on those things that are the opposite of your tokuiwaza, but you don't have to beat yourself up about them. Relax and play with those ideas for ten or twenty years.  For most of these techniques, proficiency will come in time. And if you practice a given technique a million times over the course of the years and still can't get it right – consider it a puzzle – a gift from your sensei – the gift that keeps on giving.
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Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Bend or break

Image courtesy of Papalars
We're coming to a close of our month-long dojo focus on the value of relaxation in martial arts.  I'll be doing a full-fledged Relaxation recap here in a day or two but for now I'll leave you with a quick but absolutely vital tip.
You have to learn to relax when you are playing the role of the attacker.  Extra tension/strength does not make it any harder for an experienced player to throw you.  It might make it harder for a beginner to do the tehnique, but that just hinders their learning and yours - and who wants that?  What the extra tension does do is make you more easily broken.  Bend or break!
It's a natural reaction to clamp down with your muscles when you realize you're in trouble, but we're trying to re-wire that reflex so that you are less likely to get broken and more likely to be able to do something positive about the trouble you have gotten yourself into.  When you find yourself clamping down, try rewinding the relationship back to how you got into the trouble that made you tense up, take a breath, relax, and walk back into the killing field to see if you can maintain your relaxation.
Bend or break!
Image courtesy of Jezs
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Mash reset

A student was telling me today that he'd been practicing ukigoshi with his 110 pound wife at home and that it was a lot different than practicing loading my well-over-200 pound butt up at class. That reminded me of a funny story.
Back in college we had this guy who was very much heavier than any of us as well as being about a foot shorter and Kodokan trained. This guy didn't actively try to resist throws just to be a butt, but he instinctively lowered and blocked any throwing attempts. It was terrible trying to throw him.
One day sensei had us working on ukigoshi and I was paired with Mr. center-on-the-ground and I was sweating and heaving and grunting trying to pick this dude up. I thought I was going to bust a gut trying to get him off the ground. Sensei called a halt and everyone switched partners and I wound up with this teenage girl who might have weighed 100 pounds. She looked up and saw me sweating and frothing at the mouth after exerting against the last guy and she held up her hands and commanded me, "Whoa, boy! Mash reset!" Good advice, because she might not have landed yet if I'd grabbed her and thrown her into the rafters after getting accustomed to the previous partner.
Wise girl. Good lesson. Mash reset!

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Heads-up: drills ARE kata

Photo courtesy of Judo Club Tellin
There is this perpetual debate about whether kata are worth a darn as a training method. Some modern martial artists poo-poo kata in favor of drills, proudly claiming that their martial art is superior because it does not have dead kata. Sometimes you even hear this anti-kata propaganda from judo and aikido guys.
My instructor told us a story about learning judo in Japan. His groundwork teacher would show a technique and would not teach another technique until everyone in class had done 25 reps left and right of that technique. And not only that, but that instructor would review and rep all previous techniques before he would teach a new one, so in order to get to the new technique of the day, you might have to do thousands of reps of the previous techniques!
When you get into drill mode like this and begin repping a technique that many times, it becomes a mechanical thing. You might develop a flowing, graceful, alive motion, but there is still a mechanical automaticity to your motion. This is a good thing. It's good to do your drill reps with consistency - the same way every time. That way, if you make a mistake its easier to correct than if you do a different form each time.
So, what do you call the type of practice in which you do repetitions of a given form of a technique with precision and consistency between reps. I call that kata (sorry eclectic MA guys...)
The kata-no-kata debate is being carried to a very high level of thought on Budo Warrior's and Budo Bum's blogs. Check them out.

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Monday, January 26, 2009

Goshin Jitsu

Every so often in Japanese martial arts one hears the term, goshinjitsu.  So, what is goshinjitsu?  the Japanese words simply mean, self-defense, and in the context of a martial arts class it often refers to a set of techniques that are practiced as simple, pragmatic self-defense to some specific situational attacks.  Goshin jitsu sets are generally very small and easy to learn.
Typically a set of goshin jitsu techniques is intended to make up for some of that style's potential weaknesses.  For example, judo, being specialized in throwing and grappling, has a set of goshin jitsu (see the film above) that deals primarily with various punches, kicks, and weapons.  In my karate class in college, the goshin jitsu were intended to give the karateka a chance against various forms of grappling attacks like chokes, bearhugs, and wrist grabs.  Our goshin jitsu was similar to the film below, though much smaller.
One of the coolest things to me about goshin jitsu sets is that they tend to be characteristic of the school where they are taught or the sensei who teaches them.  You might go to one Shotokan school and see one defense for a certain attack, and then go to another Shotokan school and see a very different response promoted as the goshin jitsu for that particular attack.  And often both techniques are drawn from the corps of knowledge that is Shotokan and both follow good karate principles equally well.  Thus the self-defense sets become individual artistic expressions.


Saturday, January 24, 2009

Katagatame - the cure for the common cold

Image courtesy of Major Confusion
This morning I had the remnants of the upper respiratory infection and then it came time to practice katagatame at judo.  I say I had the signs...
I walked thru it and demonstrated it and Todd tapped.  Then I lay down and Todd started to set it up and I started coughing and tapping.  I got up and coughed a while and thought I was finished, lay down and started coughing again.  Finally got all that snot coughed out and managed to practice the technique.  Remarkable thing, Katagatame - the cure for the common cold!

Friday, January 23, 2009


You know, I saw a hitchhiker today at the entrance ramp to the interstate and it got me thinking aloud to myself, "Does anyone actually pick those guys up anymore? Surely not." Picking up hitchhikers seems like one of those things that is so obviously stupidly dangerous that nobody would ever do it anymore.
But then again, you keep seeing them every so often, so the practice must pay off in rides at least sometimes.
My wife spent two years in sub-Saharan Africa and she said that hitchhiking was very common and was not stigmatized as it is here. She says that whenever a young blonde-haired white woman would stick out a hand for a lift, jeeps (or lorries as they called them) would seem to magically appear out of the bush and screech to a halt to pick her up. The drivers' first question was usually something like, "What are you doing walking? are you crazy? Get in here!"
But things are not like that here in the good ole U.S. of A. I wouldn't recommend either hitchhiking or picking hitchhikers up. Neither party can tell what kind of situation they might be getting into. The only guy I might think about picking up might be someone who looks like this.
How about y'all? What do you think about hitchhikers, hitchhiking, and people that pick them up?

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

How to deal with frustration learning judo

Learning judo is frustrating! I remember encountering that frustration learning judo and I just tried to endure it and work harder. Probably not the best way - I could have been trying to work smarter instead of harder if someone had been there to encourage me.
I remember after about 2 years of almost-daily practice I was leaving class one day and my instructor stopped me and said, "So, Pat, are things starting to fall into place for you in judo? Starting to make sense and get better?" Well, he just caught me at a bad moment and I started crying and told him, "No. I get more angry and more hurt every... single... time... that I come to practice. Every single fall I take gets worse."
He asked me why I put up with that sort of punishment without quitting and I said, "I don't know. Judo is just something that I can't quit. It's stuck down deep inside me." You'd think that a moment like that would have been the turning point, after which it would have started getting better, but no. Judo continued to hurt and frustrate me for 2-3 more years until I finally graduated and left that university.
When I started teaching in McComb in 1996, I stumbled into a group of fanatical students who absorbed whatever I would teach and would clamor for more. They wanted to learn judo so I started teaching judo and I promptly affiliated myself with the highest-ranked judo folks I could get my hands on even though it meant having my instructors in Texas instead of here in Mississippi. Mac McNease came to do a seminar at my fledgling club in McComb and that was the turning point for me. The point where I stopped doing judo despite hating it and started doing judo because it was amazing and I kinda liked it. What was the little piece of encouragement that he gave me? He told me, "Pat, this is judo. It's supposed to be easy. If it is not easy then you are not doing it right. Or you are trying to do it wrong."
That's when I really bought into Kano's maximal-efficiency-minimal-effort ideal and when I started improving and enjoying it. The moral of that story is, if you are frustrated with judo, I know where you're coming from.
One of the most frustrating things is being crushed into the ground and smothered in randori and being unable to apply the positional escapes that you are learning. As for general advice that I'd give a frustrated student on the ground...
  • A lot of people have tension headaches after class from being wrung out on the ground or from being whipped into the ground. This gets better within 5-6 such classes. You'll notice a survivability turning-point within about a half-dozen strenuous randori sessions. I can just about guarantee that.
  • There is a difference between learning the mechanics of an escape during drill time and being able to find that escape during randori. In randori, when someone is crushing you, you have to first find a way to get some respite for a moment. This can mean framing under them or shrimping slightly out from under them or just getting them off your diaphragm and floating ribs.
  • During that respite you need to start working your three general groundwork principles that I gave you. That is, get two hands on a point, start with your shrimp-bridge type motion, and insert your knees and elbows as spacers whenever you can.
  • Once you get those three principles going, the situation will tend to rapidly turn into something very similar to one of your escape techniques.
  • You need to do many, many reps of the escapes that I show you. The most important of which are probably uphill escape from kesagatame and bridge&roll from munegatame.
  • You need to to start each class with a few rounds of the mobility cycle. Let a partner get into a hold with weight on you and keep it there as he moves from hold to hold so that you learn to survive on the bottom while being pressed. And not just to survive but to be able to rest and think while on bottom.
  • You also need to start each class with a 2-hands on a point drill for a while. You can practice this at home by tying a belt or a gi around a dummy, getting under him, getting 2 hands on a point, and shrimping out from under him. Push the dummy across the mat one direction while you shrimp your butt the other direction. You might have to reposition the dummy a little but when you reverse and shrimp with the other leg, it should throw the dummy on your other side. So you shrimp while tossing the dummy from side to side.
  • Keep a good attitude. We generally learn to solve the hardest problems we can first, then everything else gets easier and easier. As my instructor says, it's easy to prevail when you're stronger and better and on top, but the guy who can prevail even though he is laying in the ditch bleeding is truly remarkable. You're learning to get out of the ditch!


Blimey at the shin kicking Brits

Dojo Rat just posted a great video of a cool British regional grappling style that involves kicking shins to unbalance the opponent such that he falls on his back. Looks like a lot of fun... to watch. I wouldn't want to participate in such a match even if there were a lot of beer involved.
DR's post is right along the lines of my previous posts on regional or ethnic wrestling styles. This type of video does a lot to disarm the stereotypes of Brits as fops in red jackets marching in lines as guerrilla marksmen pick them off. Anyone who would take a good shin-kicking to get you on the ground can't be that much of a wimp!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Pummeling as a form of judo dance

Pummelling is a common wrestling drill that has made its way into BJJ and MMA.  An interesting practice, besides the games that he mentions in the video, is to practice throws from this pummelling game - finding the grip you need to do the throw that you are working as your hands and feet are moving. This also forces you to learn to let your upper body work for grips somewhat independently while you are attending to synchronizing your feet to the opponent's feet.  Roy Dean shows this on his second Blue Belt BJJ Rank Requirements disk - pummelling into a drop-knee kubinage. 
Similar to our 'judo dance' that we use to teach beginners the throws with an element of motion. In the judo dance you take a normal grip and leave one foot planted, stepping back-and forth with the other foot in synch with your partner. The player whose left foot is moving is usually defined to be the thrower.  This judo dance is a highly efficent way to teach players to recognize the point in randori (chaos) when their feet synch up with the opponent's feet. You might consider adding elements of pummelling to the judo dance with more intermediate-to-advanced students to better simulate the randori/shiai environment.

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Monday, January 19, 2009

Assymetry in Taikyoku

So, who has noticed that the Taikyoku kata are assymetric? You do not do the same things on one side as the other. Taikyoku is a Left-Right-Left pattern repeated 3 times, You do twice as many left-side turns, stances, and blocks as right-sided but you do twice as many right-sided punches as left. The 270 degree turn is only ever done toward the left side Does this suggest to you...
  • This kata might have been intended for a homogeneous right-handed society as evidenced by universally sacrificing the left arm as a block and keeping the right arm in reserve for a strike? I've heard stories of Samurai being taught to sleep with their right arms under their bodies so that if ninja were to attack they would reflexively throw up their left arm as a block. Apocryphal? Maybe.
  • Taikyoku might be a template - you might be meant to flip it and play it R-L-R too. Funakoshi talks in his books about even muscular development. There are kata (e.g. Sanchin) that some people do right-handed and others do left handed. This was explained to me as the instructor standing in front of the pupil acting as a mirror - so each generation of students would do it opposite from the previous generation. Apocryphal? Maybe.
  • Sidedness does not matter - you can't overcome it anyway and to try to is to waste time.
  • The 270 degree left turn is only applicable as hip throw, which you would typically only learn one-sided anyway.
What do y'all think? Do you practice Taikyoku both-sided? Why or why not?

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Sunday, January 18, 2009

Ego in the martial arts

I was talking to a guy at church today and we got off on the topic of ego in martial arts. He asked if there were a lot of folks that get into it for reasons other than to just learn a skill. I told him, "There is a lot of ego mixed up in why people do martial arts and it often takes years to calm that down if you ever do.
For some reason I've been thinking for a few weeks about a couple of my worst moments in the martial arts. Moments that made me wonder, and probably made those around me wonder if I had learned anything at all from studying this stuff.
As a freshman in college I was a State Champion in karate. I worked out all the time and was proud of my flexibility and kicks. One day, I was sitting in my room in the freshman dorm with my circle of friends and with one guy who had sort of insinuated himself into our circle. Nobody liked him. He was arrogant and annoying - and I was far from the only guy that thought so. Let's call him Q-. Well, we all made some excuse to leave the room and go eat together or something. Nobody invited Q- and we all hoped he'd get the message, but no, he hopped up and started out the door to go eat with us. I was seething at his boorish insensitivity as I walked out the door with Q- right behind me. (I'm sure there was a girl to impress in the group or something too). Anyway, as I walked out the door, I slipped to the left right along the wall, hauled off and hook kicked Q- in the face around the door frame. It was a technically perfect hook kick. Something to be proud of! The only thing was, it wasn't Q- I'd kicked. Without my knowing it, he'd switched places with another of my friends - a guy who never offended or hurt anyone. And it was this innocent that I kicked. It wasn't hard enough to hurt him but it was humiliating to him. I tried to assure him that I hadn't meant to kick him, I had wanted to kick Q-. So, not only did I kick the wrong guy, but I humiliated one friend, openly insulted another, and made the rest of them think I was an first class a-hole. I should have had my butt kicked for that - it would have left me feeling better than I did.
Years later, after I'd gotten into aikido and absorbed all the great lessons of the Art of Peace, I was (I think) 4th dan in aikido. We were having an email conversation amongst a group of ourselves about some technical aspect of aikido. One of the shodans sent an email suggesting something or questioning something that I was talking about in the forum. I don't even remember the content but it struck me wrong so I sent out a public message basically asking him how he dare question me when I was a 4th dan and he was just a shodan!? I regretted it as soon as I pressed SEND. I sat there in my office waiting for the rebuttal, and when it came it was pretty gentle. He basically just asked me, "Are you crazy, talking to another person like that - regardless of rank?" I immediately agreed, apologized, and claimed a moment of insanity. Fortunately, he didn't let that poison our relationship (because he was better at the Art of Peace than me) but the training environment was pretty frigid for a while. A few years later we met at a seminar and had a good, sweaty ass-busting session that seemed to put a lot straight - I've seen him occasionally at seminars since then and everything seems okay between us.
The moral of both stories: You have to guard yourself carefully against making irreversible actions.
It's not like I've been feeling unforgiven or unresolved or that sort of thing, but for some reason these two incidents have been on my mind for a couple of weeks.
Any of you guys ever have those ego insanity moments that you want to share?

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Saturday, January 17, 2009

I needn't say more...

Go check out this site if you haven't yet!

January 2009 Kohaku Shiai

Today was our monthly Kohaku shiai (in-club tournament) in which we draw together all the kids from all the different classes into one big competitor pool. Today we had 13 competitors with 5-6 students out with various bugs. We ran 4 events, clothespins, roostertail, steptoe, and newaza randori. We'd planned a fifth event, tachi randori, but ran short on time - with so many competitors we ran 46 matches. The winners at this month's shiai were...
  • 1st place - Jacob Allen (10 wins)
  • 2nd place - Ethan Schwing (9 wins)
  • 3rd place - Tanner Humphreys (8 wins)
Everybody did great and now we have a better idea about the things to work on harder next month.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Helpful handful: tsurikomigoshi

One of my faithful readers emailed me a question about tsurikomigoshi (the lifting-pulling hipthrow). Following is a very good demonstration of my favorite variation - sode tsurikomigoshi (the sleeve-lifting hipthrow) and a handful of hints that I think might help with our tsurikomigoshi.
  • Notice that this builds off of a very loose 2-sleeve grip. If you can control the opponent through this grip with this much slack in the system then you can control him pretty much however you grab him. That makes this a great, versatile grip to practice from.
  • The hip turn-in is pretty much a standard large-hip throw entry - like ogoshi - with the crack of tori's butt on uke's right thigh. You can also do this throw overturned, sticking both buttcheeks across uke's thigh and spinning uke across your low back as in koshi guruma.
  • Tori's left hand wraps uke's right arm around the right side of tori's torso - sort of like a makikomi action. Tori's right hand lifts uke's left arm, leading it upward and forward. Alternately, tori may be able to use both hands to lift both of uke's arms upward and forward during the turn-in
  • This throw builds off of the deashibarai that we start each class practicing. As such, tsurikomigoshi makes a great addition to any of your circles of throws that include deashibarai.
  • Other variations of this throw are approximately the same thing but with different grips. You can do a sleeve-lapel grip and lift his lapel up and forward, or another one of my favorites is to take a sleeve-lapel grip and insert your right elbow into uke's left armpit to lever uke upward and forward.
  • Bonus hint: Get your hands on a copy of Toshiro Daigo's Kodokan Judo Throwing Techniques book. It is the most comprehensive book around on judo throwing and Daigo's descriptions of tsurikomigoshi (pages 89-96) are the best.

John Perkins' ATTACKPROOF kichuando

For the past several months I've been reading a book, Attack Proof: The Ultimate Guide to Personal Protection, over and over again, regularly if not constantly. This book is a primer on some of the drills and methods used in John Perkins' kichuando. One of the reviews on Amazon is titled, "This is not your father's karate." And it certainly isn't. These guys have taken a lot of flak from various folk because of the unusual-looking system and the bold title of the book.
I found the book to be very insightful and informative. It is filled with drills and exercises intended to promote relaxation, flow, sensitivity, and power. These attributes are then applied in a bare minimum of CQB techniques like the palm jabs, eye rakes, elbows, and knees. The result is an interesting eclectic style that appears to be a combination of some Chinese internal arts (minus the exotic terminology) and good-old WWII-era Army CQB.
One of the things that I thought was really remarkable was the apparent similarity of what I was reading to the aikido that we do. Of course, kichuando comes from a different point of view than the aikido tradition, but over and over I kept reading things that made me say, "yeah, that's exactly right!" For instance, the cornerstone of the system - the practice that all the rest of the book leads up to - is Guided Chaos, the kichuando form of randori or push-hands, and again, I found striking similarities between the Guided Chaos that I've seen on YouTube and the push-hands-like hand randori that we practice. If you are looking for a different perspective on the principles that drive our randori aikido, check this book out.
Overall, I would highly recommend that you get the book and read through it a few times. Stay open-minded and consider how the things that you are reading are similar to, or different from, your art and your ideas. This book will certainly be an education for you.

What is a hold-down

Holds are an integral part of martial arts like aikido, judo, and jiujitsu, so it might sound like an overly-simple question - what is a hold? It turns out that it is more than it might seem. Holding techniques can be a lot of things. A hold ...
  • a position from which it is difficult for the held man to move to a better position. Notice that I did not say you wanted to make it impossible for the opponent to get up - just difficult. A hold is not a 'do-or-die no matter what' situation. Sometimes, the tighter you hold, the easier it is to turn you over. Often it helps to think about holds as temporary, transitory positions that happen between the real substance of the art - the transitions. A hold can be a stepping stone to the next, better position.
  • a position from which it is difficult for the held man to attack you. If you hold the opponent in a position from which it is easy for him to attack you, you're doing him a favor. For holds you have you position yourself to neutralize his potential attacks.
  • a position from which it is easy for the holder to disengage and get away. If you are holding your partner and he is holding you or has his legs around your waist or your leg, then even if it is officially a hold per the rules, it's a pretty poor one. A good rule of thumb for getting really good holds is hold the opponent such that he can't hold you.
  • ...can be platform for launching submissions. Most all submission techniques require you to be positioned correctly - position before submission. But on the other hand, a hold might be so uncomfortable that the held player submits just from being held.
No hold is perfect, but based on these criteria, which of the types of holds pictured here seems better?

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Slow down, relax, and maintain ma-ai

  • fast motions tend to contract inward toward the center.
  • slow motions tend to extend outward from the center
I have found that trying to move quickly in a conflict tends to shorten the encounter space and artificially reduce ma-ai. In my practice I see this most in the backwards turning steps (a.k.a. 'goblet steps') of Tegatana no kata and in the first step of shomenate. If I do these motions at a slow-to-moderate speed and relax then I am able to maintain a relaxed natural posture and a normal ma-ai. But if I do them quickly I seem to be jumping back almost into a wrestler's stance, ready to engage - and I tend to be a couple of inches closer than I wanted to be.
Play with this some and see doesn't moving a little more slowly help you maintain a more natural, upright, relaxed posture (shizentai) while opening up the space between tori and uke.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Relax into a natural posture

While we're talking about relaxing, let me throw out this little point: Resting on your heels is not the same thing as relaxing. It is actually just the opposite. While standing on your heels relaxes some of your leg muscles, allowing them to rest a little bit, it screws up your posture throughout the rest of your body and causes much more tension than it releases.  Standing on your heels is the lazy man's path to a poor substitute for relaxation.
Try this: stand in shizentai (natural, upright posture, hips over balls of feet, nice vertical, relaxed posture). Now, without changing your upper body posture, rock back onto your heels. I bet you feel like you are teetering on the brink of falling backward. Now, relax into this posture with heels on the ground. How did you compensate for the backwards tendency? Probably with the butt out behind you, trunk leaning forward some, and head hanging in front of your torso (as in the photo above). Now, imagine a string pulling upward on the crown of your head, drawing you upward into shizentai. Your hips rocked back over your toes as you were drawn upward into a relaxed, upright posture.
Standing on your heels places too much weight behind you, causing you to have to compensate by placing some weight forward of your center. The most common way for this to happen is to hang your head forward. While this seems like a relaxed posture, it places muscles throughout your torso and neck under tension.
The moral of the story - get off of your heels and relax into shizentai!

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

How NOT to escape a hold-down

This is a little notice to some of my students who have, perhaps, been watching rasslin' and applying those lessons to their performance in judo. Pay attention:
When someone is holding you down, it is not enough to bridge your butt off the mat or lift one shoulder clear of the mat - you're still stuck under the guy so you are still held down. You can't just sit there under the guy yelling at the referee, "My back's off the mat! I'm on my side!" You have to get out from under him - better yet, turn him over and get on top of him! Make it obvious for the referee that you are not being held down.
Pay attention to the positional escapes that I'm teaching you and practice them until you can easily find the escape for any hold-down!

Position as submission

A couple of weeks ago I wrote on the idea of position before submission. That is a common philosophy of grappling but it sort of falls short of the potential of the holding technique in judo. A position can and should be a submission in and of itself. The purpose of a judo hold is not only to immobilize uke, but to make him so intensely uncomfortable that he may just submit from the hold.
For example, the judo holding technique katagatame (the shoulder hold) is known in jiu-jitsu as the shoulder choke (See Renzo Gracie's Mastering Jujitsu, p193 for an interesting variant) because the pressure of tori mashing uke's shoulder into his neck is so intense, unless uke is pretty sharp and pretty fast, he'll likely submit from katagatame long before he gets to escape it.
Another great example that is ultra-common is the positional asphyxia trick used in most side-position hold-downs. The idea is to compress uke's floating ribs into his diaphragm and hold tighter every time he exhales. Pretty soon, with tori's weight resting on uke's diaphragm and his chest wall in maximum exhalation, there is no way to inhale. This is a vey frightening submission.
Per conventional wisdom, I recommend that you pursue position before submission, developing good holding skills and good transitions between holds. But if you have previously only thought of holds as platforms from which to launch a choke or armbar, then re-examine them from the point of view of making the position itself into a submission. This will improve your judo game tremendously.

Monday, January 12, 2009

How to drop 100000 calories this year

A lot of people do this resolution thing at the beginning of each new year - a lot of times with mixed results. I generally don't do well at 'cutting back'. I do better when I find a class of food that I can completely cut out. A few years ago I cut out all sweetened tea and sweetened drinks and lost 40 pounds over the course of about 6 months. If anything was ever easy weight loss, that was.
Well, toward the end of last year I took a look at how much alcohol I drink. I am by no means alcoholic. According to the studies, two beers per night is a healthy dose for an adult male. That 2-beer level is about the point in the studies that ETOH has the greatest blood-pressure and cardiac risk lowering effect. Beyond that it tends to raise blood pressure and cardiac risk.
So, I average about 2 drinks a night - sometimes a couple more - sometimes none - and this has been my daily dose for a long time. But here's the shocker - 2 beers per night over the course of a year is right at 100,000 calories! That's one hundred thousand calories.
That is equivalent to 28.5 pounds of fat calories that I have been having to expend to keep from getting fatter, and as I get older I can see the point in the future where I would lose that battle completely.
As I said earlier, I don't do well at cutting back on anything, so I just made my resolution for this year to drink nothing but water - no tea - no coffee, no alcohol - no flavored water - only clear H20. For the first week or so I had a caffeine headache (I drink far more coffee than beer) but so far I haven't missed the alcohol at all. What I have missed is the green tea. But I'm getting used to it and it looks like it won't be a very hard resolution to keep.
Anyone out there want to do this H20 only resolution with me and see what cutting out 100000 calories over the course of the next year does for us?

Friday, January 09, 2009

Using relaxation to your advantage in aikido

I generally do lesson plans for my classes by cycling through lists of techniques, principles, and hints one after another. This makes lesson planning easy and ensures that I cover all the material regularly. I have described how I do these aikido lesson plans and judo lesson plans and I have posted a list of hints for tegatana no kata and a list of hints for hanasu no kata as examples of the lists that I cycle through.
As Todd mentioned a few days ago, I have decided this year to add another layer of this type of repetition to my classes. We will be emphasizing a different broad principle in class each month. For instance, the principle of the month for January is Relaxation. We'll still be going through the technique lists as before, but there will be an emphasis on relaxation in every class this month. That's not to say that we didn't already talk about relaxation before or that we're going to toss it out the window in February - we're just paying particular attention to that concept this month.
So far this month we've talked about relaxation in tegatana no kata - working with flaccid arms as a measure of how well controlled your momentum is, visualizing a string pulling the crown of your head upward in order to relax the neck, relaxing the hips and back and legs to improve mobility, relaxing/collapsing into a step, and measuring the relaxation of your steps using the embusen (performance line of the kata). We've also worked on relaxation in hanasu - particularly in techniques #1 and 2. In #2 it is particularly apparent that tori is unable to move directly behind uke if he is tense but it is easy when he is relaxed. Last night we worked on oshitaoshi from release #1 using the exercises in Ichikata - learning to relax and flow around uke's extreme resistance.
I can go on and on with this theme. Look for more on relaxation in upcoming classes and stay tuned for next month's super theme!

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

2100 FBI jobs and 850 special agent positions

Ever practice posing in the mirror and shouting, "Freeze! F.B.I. Agent?"
Now's your big chance... The Federal Bureau of Investigation is looking to fill 2,100 professional staff vacancies (language specialists, computer experts, intelligence analysts and finance experts) and hire 850 additional special agents. You must be a United States citizen to apply for any of these fbi careers. Check it out!

Evasion is assumed in karate kata

All arts necessarily make assumptions. To have a starting point you have to have presuppositions. Karate presupposes that the practitioner has the sense to step out of the way of a punch and put his hands up. But then that evasion is not really practiced much as a skill in class. Some beginners might have the sense to duck out of the way of an attack, but then they get so tangled up in the teaching system - the 'front stance, downblock, counterpunch' routines - that they drill that common sense evasion right out of themselves. They hope to develop some higher skill but all along they are forgetting about the assumed factor - the starting point - evasion first.
Example - ippon kumite (one step sparring exercises) - mid-level lunge punch countered by downblock-reverse punch. A lot of modern karate systems that do one-step engagements  begin with something like this. It is basically a bunkai - a piece of a kata done with a partner.
Have you ever considered how incredibly hard this first one-step is to do? Your feet get all tangled up with uke's. You have to be faster in order to get your downblock into position at the right time. You bang up your arm against his punch (requiring a lot of 'arm toughening' practice), and worst of all you have to know what is coming to be able to do the move properly.

To be fair, there is some evasion and angulation going on in several of the onesteps above, but Kanazawa seems to be about as good as it gets in the Shotokan world. Also, he's not doing that inane downblock-reverse punch engagement stepping forward into uke - but go with me and you'll see where I'm coming from here.)
If uke is off on his aim, say he throws a face punch or a reverse or hook punch instead of a low lunge punch, then your downblock misses and you take a hit and look stupid (think Jim Carrey's karate skit here). This supposedly basic one-step is really quite complicated the way it is done. You have to be quite good to pull it off spontaneously. I've seen some TSD 4th degree black belts who could sometimes do it, but I don't think I've seen many others that could do this thing out of the blue.
For another, perhaps better example, take Taikyoku shodan, said by Funakoshi to be the universal exercise.  Try to come up with some bunkai for the first sequence: left turn 90 degrees into front stance, left down block, step forward right front stance lunge punch.  The first basic application is, "there's a guy attacking from your left so you..." but now you are right back into the one-step sparring problem from above.  If you're more creative you might come up with 1-2 more pretty solid applications for that move and maybe a handful of possible applications that stretch credibility a bit. 
Want to know how to solve this problem and virtually all others when dissecting your kata into partner bunkai or one-steps? First step out of the way, then do the response from the kata. You might even be surprised to find things like low blocks turning into cool stuff like hammerfist attacks or cool armbars, punch chambers becoming blocks, holds, pulls, etc...
Try this, choose any kata you like. Take it apart into its logical 1-2 step pieces and practice each one adding an explicit evasion (a sidestep or turn, etc...) to the beginning of each one (even if the evasion is not part of the kata). I think the kata will all of a sudden spring to life for you, and a whole bunch of the stuff that is weird and dysfunctional about karate will sort itself out very quickly.
Try making the assumed explicit in your practice.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Why mind beats body

The mind can be loosely defined as the function of the organic brain - the thing that the brain does. Some scientists will try to tell you that there is no mind - only brain, but that is just science guys being dense. The mind is greater than the sum of its organic parts. It is more expansive than the organic machine itself. The expansiveness of mind allows greater leverage and potential for change than do the limitations of the physical frame.

You get more mileage out of changing how you think about the use of your body than you get out of changing the physical abilities of your body.
  • Physical is fleeting - mind is much longer-lived. Unless you work out fanatically, there is an average decline in physicality of 1-2 % per year after age 30. The mind, if exercised moderately, can often remain sharp and active and productive throughout a lifetime.
  • There is not much physical variation between healthy bodies. This is an example where the exception proves the rule. If it were common to occasinally see extremely strong or extremely fast people then the Olympics would not be interesting to watch. It is the exceptional nature of these few freaks that suggests that most of the rest of us are non-exceptional physically. On the other hand, there are a lot of people in the world that know approximately what it would take to become an olympian. Exceptional minds are more common than exceptional bodies.
  • The mind runs the body. Sometimes skilled and experienced teachers in martial arts or other physical arts can tell you what you are thinking just by watching your movement. This is not ESP, it is just a knowledge of how the mind directs the body. If the body is doing this, then the mind must be guiding it like that. Spastic, uncontrolled, undisciplined motion never accomplished anything exceptional.
  • There is vast variability in how efficiently different people are able to use their minds to control their bodies. Read Jim Loehr's classic book, The New Toughness Training for Sports and you'll see that elite athletes really only differ in mental attributes. By this stage of the game there is very little physical difference between competitors because everyone has used the same best training methods to reach their physical peak. Their ability to control their mind separates champions from elite athletes.

But on the other hand, you do have to have a healthy, strong, fast, efficient body to tote your brain (and mind) around.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Honsho - true character

Another great gift for Christmas! Todd got me a new bokken - and not just any old stick. An exquisitely crafted hickory aikiken from Kingfisher with the inscription, honsho, meaning true character. Thank you again, Todd, for such a fine gift.
Tonight I took the new bokken out and tried it on some suburi. It is very nicely weighted and feels more comfortable and natural in my hands than my white oak bokken that I've had for 15 years. Very solid feel. slightly heavier than my old bokken but not nearly as heavy as the red oak basher I bought a few months ago.
There are several of us looking forward to the weather clearing and warming so we can get out of the dojo and do some sword and jo (we only do sword and stick outside at Mokuren) and I will be especially looking forward to getting to practice with this fine weapon.

Lesson plans, week of 1/5/2009

Kid's Judo:
  • newaza randori starting seated back-to-back
  • standing randori
  • bridge&roll escape from munegatame
  • uphill escape from kesagatame
Adult Judo:
  • bumping a stuck deashibarai
  • tsubamegaeshi
  • reviewing the escapes from mune and kesa then playing them in lo-resistance flow
  • standing randori
  • how to relax and release
  • aigamaeate, hikitaoshi, kotegaeshi, maeotoshi
  • coolness from ichikata
On the blog:

Saturday, January 03, 2009

BJ 'The Prodigy' Penn

In BJJ, 2 years per rank and 10 years from white to black belt seems to be be considered a typical course of promotion. BJ Penn earned the nickname, The Prodigy, when he progressed from white to black belt in about 5 years and won the World Championships (Mundials). Following is some cool video of Penn as a white belt beating up some judo black belts.
So now here's a question for you. Should jiu-jitsu students be required to be as good as Penn was when he got his black belt in order to get theirs? I say not every student should be expected to be able to do what 'The Prodigy' did (There's a reason they call him that). To require them to be that good just to get black belt would lead to some ridiculous rank inflation. here's what I mean...
I've heard that many military expats in the previous generation took 6-9 months in Japan or Korea to get their black belts, then they returned to the U.S. and started teaching. What if some of these guys, not wanting to look bad to their teachers, set up requirements that it should take about 2 years to get a black belt. So, the second generation actually ends up better than the first generation when they receive their black belt. Now imagine a conversation like this...
"How long did it take you to get your black belt?"
"Oh, My teacher was rough on us. It took us 2 years!"
"Well, it took us 3 years."
"I heard that fella over there makes his students practice 4 years to get their black belts! They must be really tough!"
Everyone then thinks to himself, "I guess I'd better make my students practice 5 years so we can be the toughest."
Pretty soon it takes 20 years to get shodan! How many people have heard folks bragging on internet forums, "It took me 12 years to get my shodan!" This is like making everyone suffer for someone else's great performance just so folks won't think your martial art is too easy. This is ridiculous when you consider that black belt does not represent expertise - it is just the 'first step'.
Standards are necessarily minimal standards. You don't see medical or engineering (or any) schools making each class have to be 50% better than the previous class just in order to graduate. If you did, soon there would be no graduates.

Renku and ichigo

One of the cool things about the Japanese language is its facility for puns, double meanings, and word games. I was discussing this with a buddy of mine the other day and brought up the example of renku…
Renku (連句 "linked verses"), the Japanese form of popular collaborative linked verse poetry formerly known as haikai no renga (俳諧の連歌), is an offshoot of the older Japanese poetic tradition of ushin renga, or orthodox collaborative linked verse. At renga gatherings participating poets would take turns providing alternating verses of 17 syllables and 14 syllables. Initially haikai no renga distinguished itself through vulgarity and coarseness of wit, before growing into a legitimate artistic tradition, and eventually giving birth to the haiku form of Japanese poetry. (wikipedia)
Renku was a kind of party game in which one participant gave the first line (essentially in the form of a haiku), then passed the poem to a second participant who supplied the second line while twisting the meaning of one of the syllables in the previous line. The twist was generally intended for shock value.
Well, If you guys have missed it, my student, Todd, is doing a blog with his notes and ideas about our training. His blog is titled, Ichigo Dojo, and I was curious about the name but I was too lazy to look it up so I asked him what it meant and he told me a cool translation for that particular Romaji was something along the lines of “lifelong study.” Now that’s a cool name for a dojo.
I looked up the romaji for alternate translations and found the following additional translations that are cool and fitting for the name Ichigo:
一期 【いちご】 one's life time; lifetime
一期一会 【いちごいちえ】 once-in-a-lifetime encounter (hence should be cherished as such)
一号 【いちごう】 number one
一合目 【いちごうめ】 the start of a climb up a hill

Friday, January 02, 2009

What is expertise in a martial arts context?

It used to be commonly thought that the mysterious black belt was 'the expert' at their martial art. Sometimes they are called 'Master,' which is a term that really sticks in my craw but that's probably just a personal glitch. For instance, it would seem normal to me to call a Spanish or Italian fencing instructor, Maestro.
Also, there's the public perception that the black belt is the ultimate goal of the martial arts - an ending point - graduation - induction into the mysterious inner circle. But if the black belt does not signify expertise, then what does expertise in martial arts even mean?
  • Neither expertise nor the black belt signify that you can beat up all comers. On any given day anyone might win a fight. But, after 10 years practice (per Malcolm Gladwell), the martial arts guy should rarely be so outclassed that he doesn't know what happened to him when he does lose, and he should be able to formulate a plan to get better at whatever got him beat up.
  • Expertise means that you have seen the whole system and have seen it in enough variations and practical scenarios that you can make it work pretty good. This generally doesn't happen until about 4th degree black belt (or the equivalent). Some folks say it isn't until 6th degree black belt.
  • To me, expertise signifies the ability to not only do the deed, but to discuss and explain and teach it.
What does martial expertise mean to you?
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