New Schedule and Location for 2016

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Sankata video

Techniques form Tomiki aikido Koryu Dai San kata, A.K.A. goshin no kata or just Sankata. Some interesting variations and twists here and there...


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Taiotoshi on different-sized opponents

Pretty nice lesson on taiotoshi from David Williams


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Heian Shodan - The fine art of hair-pulling

I've gotta get some video capability for this blog - a short video would do a lot to facilitate posts like this, but alas, recession etc... Anyway, I promised this past week a post on Heian Shodan as the Fine Art of Hair-Pulling. I'm not claiming to have the official answer to the age-old question of what do the weird moves in Heian mean, but I have an answer and a pretty good one too.
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Kata says: Chamber a left low block high near your right ear, turn left 90 degrees, low block, then step forward with a right lunge punch.
  • Bunkai: Opponent agresses from the front, you sidestep either way, putting your hands up between you and him. Grab hair with either hand, try to position yourself beside uke (optimally at 90 degrees), pull the hair with a twisting motion toward you then lock your arm out in a down-block position. If there is no hair to grab or you can't get to it, grab clothes or arm or face and do the same move. This may be combined with or followed up by a punch or push from the free hand.
Kata: Chamber right low block near your left ear, turn right 180 degrees, low block, pull back into a vertical hammerfist, step forward into a left lunge punch.
  • Bunkai: The previous hair pull and lunging punch/push failed to down the opponent. Grab hair/clothes/etc... with right hand and pull down at 90 to 180 degrees from his strong line. During this scuffle, if he manages to grab the arm you are grabbing him with, do a release #1 or #4 from aikido (depending on which arm he grabs with), countergrab his arm and twist it, then punch or push with the left arm.
Kata: turn left 90 degrees, left low block, left rising block. Right rising block. left rising block. right rising block
  • Bunkai: the left low block is a repetition of the pulldown one way and if it fails pull down the other way. The rising blocks are alternately grabbing hair, twisting as you pull down, and rising forearm smash into the jawline.
Kata: turn left 270 degrees into left front stance, left low block. right lunge punch
  • Bunkai: the left turn executed from the preceeding high block position is a leg throw, similar to taiotoshi in judo. This can be accompanied by or followed with a punch or push with the free hand.
Kata: repeat the low-block, lunge punch sequence on the other side and then back down the center line of the embusen.
  • Bunkai: repetition of the preceeding pull-downs.
Kata: four shuto block/strikes at 90 degrees and 45 degrees to the starting position.
  • Bunkai: opponent aggresses from the front. grab arm and hold down with one hand, try to position yourself at 45 or 90 degrees to the opponent to expose head/neck targets, and strike with the free hand.
So, you have a limited, but very useful set of skills in Heian Shodan...
  • grab hair, pull head down, and punch/push
  • if that doesn't work, try it on the other side
  • if he grabs your arm while you are doing this pulldown, release, countergrab, and punch/push
  • if you need to up the severity of your response, grab hair and jawjack him with the free forearm.
  • while you're trying that you might get an opportunity to turn into a leg throw
  • or you might just cover his hands and shuto with the free hand.
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Get out 'da way!

Having covered relaxation in January, posture in February, and ma-ai in March, I'm sure y'all are all clamoring to know what our principle of the month for April will be. Well, clamor no more.
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April is Get out 'da Way! month
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Why "get out 'da way!" you ask? Because, as my instructor once told us, you don't have time to "get... out... of... the... way..." You gotta "get out 'da way!"
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All month long we'll be covering ways to evade and avoid efficiently and quickly - ways to get out 'da way!
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Clever judo animation

I thought this animation was really clever, and I figured our blogging buddy, Mark, would get a kick out of it.


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Aargh!

The old-timers are calling this a wet spring, and saying that it's the first we've had in a long time. Last couple of nights we've had inch upon inch of rain. Torrential downpours. Well, I woke up this morning and found that about 1/4 of my broccoli, peas, corn, and green beans in my garden had been washed away by a literal gully washer. Not only that, but the dojo flooded.
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I've spent the morning cutting new ditches where the old ones had silted and grown over (too late - I know). Now I have to take the mats out of the dojo, wash them off, let them dry, and clean the dojo floor.
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Aargh!
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Ma-ai month recap

March has been ma-ai month at Mokuren Dojo. We have paid particular attention to the spacing between partners and the timing of the attack. Following are several good articles that I have written during the past month on the topic of ma-ai (personal space).
In closing, I'd like to refer y'all back to an article I wrote a couple of years ago about ma-ai. This is still my favorite ma-ai article on this blog, and it gels nicely with the above posts:
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Vital points for atemi

Karate-do is, to a large degree, learning how to hit and where to hit. You learn how to hit, including how to move your body to generate power, how to position your body to apply power, and what parts of your body to hit with. You also learn where to hit your opponent - vital points, anatomical weaknesses, and a touch of physiology so that you will understand the results and consequences of hitting a person a certain way.
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I teach vital targets in levels of increasing specificity and precision. At the basic level I teach people to mostly aim for center of mass - the vital points are intentionally vague as the student is learning the 'how to' of atemi. As the student progresses the kata become more and more specific and my teaching of vital point striking becomes more detailed as to location, direction, type of stimulation, etc...
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For the basic level of striking, imagine a human body with a 4" wide stripe painted vertically down the centerline, a 4" wide stripe painted horizontally across the solar plexus and lower ribs, and a 4" wide stripe painted horizontally across the pit of the stomach and the groin. These stripes describe the basics of vital point striking. At the basic level, all your major targets (except knees and kidneys) lie on these three lines, and getting within about 2" on either side of the specific point is precision enough. On these lines, your targets include:
  • facemask area
  • corner of chin
  • throat and neck
  • solar plexus
  • ribs
  • bladder
  • hip joints
  • groin
In closing, an excerpt from Man of the West's pretty good History of Karate article - (a history that agrees in large part with my understanding of the subject and with my opinions, but still gave me a couple of juicy points that I didn't already know - e.g. the Jigen-ryu connection). Here MotW basically agrees with me that learning the 'how to' along with very basic 'where to' is often good enough to git-r-dun.
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At any rate, [karate-do] is still often very effective! Of course, that may be partly because another modification took place, possibly apart from Funakoshi's intentions: his style, Shotokan, began to emphasize the development of power in the execution of techniques. What else could his students do? If you don't have the pressure point knowledge, you had better be able to hit hard. ... And if a practitioner somehow comes into possession of the pressure-point knowledge, then Shotokan becomes all about shockingly powerful strikes to vital points. Certainly nothing to sneeze at.

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Gedanbarai and gedan oizuki in Taikyoku

One of the tools I use for practicing and teaching karate-do kihon (basics) is Taikyoku (The Universal kata), also known as kihon kata. Taikyoku is sort of just a template into which you can put various kihon to practice them. I practice and teach Taikyoku in three forms, similar but not exactly the same as Funakoshi’s Taikyoku shodan, nidan, and sandan. I call my versions Taikyoku gedan (low-level), chudan (mid-level), and jodan (hi-level).
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In Taikyoku gedan, the blocks are gedanbarai (low sweeping block) and the strikes are gedan oi tsuki (low lunge punch). Once you get the basic form of the thing and know where to move your feet and hands, the question always arises, “What is the target? What am I blocking and where am I striking?”
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Gedanbarai is often interpreted as a low block used to sweep a kick aside, but you can also consider it a hammerfist attack to any low-section target. It can also be interpreted in a grappling sense as grabbing some high-section thing (like hair), twisting, and jerking it downward. The gedan oitsuki can be a punch into groin, bladder, or kidneys of a standing opponent, or a punch to virtually any target on a downed opponent.
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I take a broad view of the motions at this fundamental level of the game. For instance, In this photo, can you tell if he has just done gedanbarai (low sweeping block) or gedan oitsuki (low lunge punch)? No, you can’t because they both end up in virtually the same position. You can’t tell from the ending position what path the arm took to get there. Thus, this general-purpose motion/position can be used for a lot of different things.
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So, Taikyoku gedan is a kata that is all about two ways (sweeping or punching) of getting your arm into this low position. That’s all there is to it – right? (Warning: watch out any time someone says, “all there is to it” or “just do…” Also remember, Funakoshi titled this exercise the ‘universal kata.’)
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Nimr Hassan on self-defense

Photo courtesy of Nimr Hassan
Several months ago I got to attend a conference with a lot of very high-level speakers and demonstrators, and I heard several very interesting martial arts lectures. The best in show by far, from my point of view, was Nimr Hassan's aikido lesson.
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Hassan started out by calling six or eight demonstrators from the audience and pairing them up. There were karate guys, MMA guys, and ROSS combatives guys in the group. He showed them the attack that he wanted to work on defending - a jab-cross, the likes of which you might see on the street. He showed the principle evasion that he wanted to work on - fading back to the inside with a parry to the attacking arm. Then he asked each demonstrator to show a defence or two representative of whatever style they practiced. They were to evade the jab-cross, parry like he showed, then follow up with whatever they liked - whatever they practiced a lot. The demonstrators were a flurry of throat punching, spine-elbowing, head twisting, eye gouging fury. I started to get sick to my stomach at the display of unconstrained violence. I almost walked out but I'm glad I didn't
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Then Hassan asked the demonstrators to show their responses in slow motion as the crowd analyzed the likely consequences of each strike. Virtually all the strikes would have reasonably been considered lethal force. The demonstrators all chose to demonstrate deadly force as a response to a jab-cross. Hassan asked how many demonstrators were law enforcement or military. None. Then he asked how many people in the audience were law enforcement or military. One or two out of a few dozen.
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I thought Hassan's summary of this demonstration was especially interesting - These demonstrators, being normal civilians and not law enforcement or military, were not sanctioned by society to use deadly force, but they had all trained to the extent that their first choice was to respond with deadly force. Hassan's summary: These guys were all training to get themselves thrown into prison. These guys needed to work on learning some real self-defense - something with which they could defend themselves against themselves.
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Sure, there are instances in which civilians are justified in the use of lethal force against an attacker, but I thought Hassan's point was good and his demonstration of that point was superb. What do y'all think? What level of force do you train to immediately respond with? Might you be a candidate for some real self-defense training?
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Properties of the principles of aikido

It's pretty common to hear instructors talk about the principles of aikido being more important than the techniques. The techniques are just instantiations of principle. The principles are what you actually do and the technique is what happens. But here are a couple of properties of the principles that some of you may or may not have thought about.
  • The principles are mutually-reinforcing. Becoming a little better at any one of them makes all of the other principles work better. When you find something wrong with your techniques, you can almost randomly pick a principle to focus on and the technique will start working better.
  • The principles are an ordered set. While the greatest masters of aikido might do all the principles all the time, the rest of us peons generally benefit from getting the principles in a certain order.
There might be some disagreement about the exact order, but in general, you want to get the major principles of aikido working in the following order. If you find a problem with a technique, then start with relaxation, then posture, and so on trying to repair the technique...

  • relaxation
  • shizentai (posture)
  • metsuke (eye control)
  • ashi sabaki (footwork)
  • ki-musubi (synchronization with the opponent)
  • ma-ai (personal space and timing)
  • move offline (the aiki-brushoff)
  • orenaite (unbendable arm) and kite (ki-hands)
  • kuzushi (off-balancing the opponent)
  • atemi (striking the opponent down)
  • osaekomi (suppressing the opponent)
  • zanshin (remaining aware)
Notice that kuzushi, atemi, and osaekomi (the majority of what you think of as aikido) are at the end of the list. There is a whole pile of things you need to set in order before you worry too much about offbalancing the other guy or hitting him or holding him down.

Quick update

Whoa! Sorry for no new content in the last couple of days - I've been busier than a one-legged man in a butt-kicking contest (speaking of which, check out this awesome set of photos). In the last couple of days I've installed a new linoleum floor in my laundry room as well as a new water heater - and all that on top of my usual activities.
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My garden is coming in and that is occupying some of my time too - this year I have onions, cukes, potatoes, jalapenos, bell peppers, corn, green beans, tomatoes, squash, zukes, okra, sweet peppers, basil, and cilantro. Good start, huh? I plan to put in some peas and maybe some sweet potatoes and call that enough. Oh, and my muscadines, apples, pears, and peaches are leafing out! I love living in the south!
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I'm glad that I left y'all with such a meaty interview to tide you over until I can get some new content up. Fear not though - I'm not completely out of ideas for blog posts - just a pause for a breath of two.
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Mokuren interview: Wim Demeere

Photo courtesy of Wim Demeere
Today I am pleased to present the latest in our series of interviews with great martial artists – Wim Demeere. Per his website: Wim Demeere started his training in the martial arts at age 14 with judo and ju jitsu but soon switched to a traditional Chinese style called Hung Chia Pai. At age 18 he began competing in Chinese full-contact competitions called “sanda,” obtaining the Belgian national title four times and the bronze medal at the 1993 Wushu world championships. In 1997 he started his study of Practical Tai Chi Chuan. Throughout the years he has studied a broad range of other fighting styles, including Muay Thai, kali, pentjak silat and shoot fighting. Demeere started working as a personal trainer in 1994, helping his clients achieve their goals of martial skill, athletic performance and perfect health. Over the years he has published numerous books and video instructional tapes.
Patrick Parker: Thank you, Wim, for agreeing to talk with me today. Your bio mentions both sanda and taichi - these seem like they would be opposite extremes. Have you found that it was hard shifting gears from one to the other?
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Wim Demeere: This reminds me of an interview with a Chinese master who practiced many different styles. The question was how he managed to keep them all apart, how he didn’t get lost in his practice. He replied that the trick was not learning the same thing twice.
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I try to take that advice to heart and train accordingly. Sanda and tai chi have both commonalities and differences; in my view they aren’t mutually exclusive. The difficulty is usually not in seeing the common ground; both arts use striking, kicking and throwing. The real challenge is finding out how they go about it in a different way and distinguishing between these ways. That isn't always as black and white as you might think. As you progress through your training and get a deeper understanding, it becomes a little easier to distinguish what makes them both unique and different from each other. That said, it's always a work in progress, the learning never stops. But I have found you get better at it after a while.
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Patrick: Does your exposure to judo and jujitsu come into play much in the stuff you do now?
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Wim: I stopped training in judo and jujitsu over twenty years ago so I doubt these arts still play a big role in what I do now. Perhaps they do but I don't notice it.
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Patrick: Do you find that Personal Training and martial arts go hand-in-hand or is that kind of a small niche?
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Wim: It probably depends on your definition of Personal Training. For me, that means one-on-one instruction. I've been teaching like that for a long time and have found it to be an excellent way of training and teaching martial arts. This approach isn't new either: In Chinese arts, it used to be absolutely normal that you followed your teacher everywhere or lived in his house. That way, you had access to a lot of direct training from him instead of only his senior students. Now I don't expect students to follow me around, let alone live with me (my girlfriend would not approve...) but the ones who take private classes usually progress faster.
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Patrick: When doing private one-on-one instruction with a client, how do you get them a breadth of experience with other students and instructors besides yourself? (I try to get my one-on-one students to at least make the occasional group class.)
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Wim: It depends on the student. Some people start their training with me, they have zero experience. I try to teach them solid basics first and then gradually move on to simulate different types of opponents; faster, stronger, different strategies, etc. Obviously, it’s difficult for me to simulate a smaller or taller opponent so there are limits to what you can do in that regard. But I’ve found it helps students a lot if you explain clearly what the purpose is. For instance, certain take downs are not interesting for a tall guy to try on a smaller opponent. They just don’t work well. But vice versa, they’re golden. I try to teach in such a way that it’s clear to the student why he needs to do something, give him qualifiers and nuances to techniques instead of blanket statements like “Do this and you’ll always KO the guy.” I try to give him this information gradually, as his experience and skill increases with practice. It’s no use telling him something he can’t understand because he needs to experience other things first. That’s not me being arrogant or unwilling to give out information; it’s just the learning process. Some information you just don’t get until you’ve trained a certain amount of time or have certain experiences. As a teacher, you try to help your students to have both of those.
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When I look back, there were loads of instances in which I didn’t understand the full implications of what my teachers taught me. I thought I did but I was wrong. A couple years of training later and I get it now. Give me a few more years and I’ll realize I was wrong then too. It’s a never ending process.
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I do encourage private students to train elsewhere or work with others. But they aren’t always interested in that. Some people just prefer to avoid groups. Then it’s up to me to do “role playing” and simulate different types of attackers, like I mentioned above.
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Patrick: So, in your teaching do you tend to emphasize more of the physical development or technique or spiritual/psychological? I've found in my teaching that I used to be heavy on technical with perhaps a minor on physical development but lately I have been more of a technique/psychological teacher.
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Wim: I don’t see it as “either-or”. When teaching, I try to segment my approach and give the student what he is looking for in a teacher. If he wants to compete, he’ll have to spend a lot of time on conditioning and technique. The spiritual side will be less important than the psychological. But with a student who’s looking to develop some basic self defense skills, mind set is more important than technique. So it depends on the people I’m working with. That said, in my class, I have a certain set of guidelines as far as teaching goes. Certain things are important for everybody, like not doing drills that can cause permanent injuries or learning to control your techniques. Regardless of your training goals, you’ll need to focus on those two, along with a host of others.
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But in the past, I saw it differently: I used to teach the way I trained. It took a while to accept that not everybody is as committed to the training as I am. Nor should they be. We all have our personal goals and motivation when training; But more importantly, there’s a life outside of the arts. For many people, that comes first and rightfully so. It would be wrong to expect them to train like a professional competitor. Just because a student doesn’t want to train as much or as intensive as I do, doesn’t mean I can’t teach him. It only means he’s limiting the progress he’ll make. Some students realize that and either accept it or push themselves harder. Either way, it’s my job as a teacher to help them to the best of my abilities.
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Patrick: Other than just accumulating a lot of content-specific martial arts experience, how did you go about starting an international seminar circuit?
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Wim: Do you mean how I started teaching abroad?
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Patrick: Yeah, how did you start building a client base of folks and doing teaching gigs outside of your local area?
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Wim: This all came naturally. My first teacher asked me to cover for classes and that’s how I started teaching. A while later, he wanted me to take over all the classes and suddenly people started asking for private lessons. Word of mouth did the rest and I started teaching professionally.I'm very fortunate in that my hobby and passion became my job.
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The seminars abroad also came about in a natural way. I met some great people when I competed in their country and we struck up a friendship. Apparently I made a good impression and they asked me to come over and teach seminars. In other cases, I went to a gathering of martial artists and self-defense practitioners and taught a few classes there. One thing led to another and more seminars flowed out of that. The common factor is the people I met. They became friends and I always enjoy going to their schools to teach. The seminars are great but getting to see people I enjoy spending time with is even better.
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Patrick: To what degree do the traditional arts that you study play a role in your teaching of self-defense and to what degree is self-defense its own domain separate from the traditional martial arts?
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Wim: Traditional styles have gotten a bad reputation over the years. To a certain degree, I understand why but the reputation is still undeserved. Any decent traditional style has solid self defense techniques; notice I said "decent". Just to be clear, that qualifier points to the teachers and not the style itself. If the teacher doesn't know how to apply the techniques, that isn't the style's fault. It only means that particular person didn't learn things correctly or misunderstood his own teacher.
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It's the old cliché of which art is better. It used to be people asking if a boxer would beat a karateka. 50 years ago, it was judo that people wondered about. Nowadays, MMA is the big thing and every other style is compared to cage fighting. But that's comparing apples and oranges. Fighting arts are context specific. Take them out of the context, put them into another and their effectiveness changes. Some arts will do good in that new area, others not. Try muay Thai techniques standing on ice or wearing slippery shoes. Try Brazilian jujitsu arm bars against multiple opponents. Both arts are great in their own area but less so in others. That doesn't mean they are useless or that there isn't a cross-over of applicable techniques form one context to the other. But like the Chinese master said, you have to distinguish between the common ground and the differences. And as a really smart martial artist once said, the differences are just as important as the similarities.
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That's a bit of a rant but it answers your question in part. Personally, I use many so-called traditional techniques for self defense and teach them as such. But that isn't new either. At the risk of ranting some more, Reality Based Self Defense systems owe a debt of knowledge to Fairbairn and Sykes and their Defendu system. Many RBSD teachers will openly credit these two men as trailblazers for "real" self-defense. But where did they get their techniques from? A variety of fighting styles, actual experience and personal training, which included jujitsu and Chinese arts. So they took techniques form traditional arts and adapted them to their needs while working for the Shanghai police force. If you look at the Defendu curriculum, you'll see techniques found in most traditional systems. That's why I find that traditional styles and self defense aren't necessarily separate. If you find a good teacher, he'll make you just as effective a fighter as these pioneers of hand-to-hand.
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Patrick: Thank you again, Wim, for taking this time with us. I have gotten a lot of great material to think about from this interview - particularly the part about one-on-one teaching. I know my readers will love this material!
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What if...

Photo courtesy of Jacek Becela
A hypothetical and a handful of questions for my dear readers...  What if the world were to go down the toilet all at once - catastrophic, holocaustic, end of the world as we know it type scenario.  The folks that remain alive congregate into tribes and clans and extended families and you, as the martial arts expert, end up as your tribe's guru.
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What part of your art is most rapidly teachable and imminently functional?
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What would your art be like if you disposed of everything but this one most useful thing?
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Why do you teach/practice all the other stuff now?
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Helpful handful: Karate kata bunkai

Photo courtesy of Gypsy4
Before I learned the art, a punch was just a punch, and a kick, just a kick. After I learned the art, a punch was no longer a punch, a kick, no longer a kick. Now that I understand the art, a punch is just a punch and a kick is just a kick. (Bruce Lee)
The guys that designed the solo karate kata were feindishly brilliant. I mean serious genius-type guys. There is so much useful information encoded in the karate kata that you'll never master any or all of them. The really mind-blowing thing is the ability of those guys to encode information into a solo exercise in such a way that the practitioner will be prepared for a conflict against a real opponent.
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But... (there's always a but...) if you approach the kata naively thinking that you are doing blocks followed by punches, your idea of kata will be so impoverished you may never achieve much of anything. In order to get useful information out of the kata you have to have some guidelines or algorithm for decoding what the founders encoded in those kata. Following are a handful of the guidelines that I use in kata bunkai (analysis)...
  • There are no blocks in kata. It is assumed that the defender will naturally throw arms in the way of an oncoming threat. Actual blocking (when and if it is ever done) is considered to be an innate, automatic thing.
  • You have to get out of the way first. There is often an evasion out of the way of an attack that is assumed in the kata. It's the stuff that is not on the embusen that is important. The end position in the photo in the book is meaningless because you can't tell how to get to that position. It's the stuff between the poses that is important.
  • A closed hand may be a closed-hand strike or a grab - as in closing your hand onto something.
  • The larger ideal motions contain the smaller pragmatic motions. A small part of a large motion may be sufficient. For instance, you may step forward 3 feet in a lunge punch in the kata, but that doesn't mean that the opponent is 3 feet away. You may only have to shift your moving leg a little bit to get in the right place to hit him.
  • You are fighting one guy in several potential scenarios - not 3 or 4 or 8 or 12 opponents - and especially not backed up against the edge of a cliff!
A great resource for more info on principles of bunkai is Iain Abernethy's website, including this set of articles in particular.
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Walking the stick

A good exercise to begin cementing the concept of ma-ai, as well as movement from the center, is what I call walking the stick. Take a jo stave and notice that it is probably fairly close to 2X your arm length. That is, a jo is about ma-ai length. Stand in front of your partner with the end of the jo on your hara - the pit of your stomach just below the knot of your belt. Your partner sticks the other end of the jo in his hara and you both take your hands off the jo.
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Now you have an absolute, explicit connection between your centers. Begin moving forward and your partner has got to retreat to keep from being poked. Start with slow, rhythmic tsugiashi and progress toward free-flowing taisabaki. Move forward, backward, left, right, turning steps, circles, etc... matching each others' motion in order to keep from dropping the jo or poking each other. Sometimes you lead and sometimes they lead. Sometimes we will do this exercise with a stick between centers and measuring ma-ai with our hands. This tends to make an even more rigid connection between centers and make it easier. For more of an interesting challenge, give each partner a full cup of water to carry (without spilling) as they do the exercise.
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In this exercise it is both partners' job to not let the jo drop and to not get poked. Both partners are actively trying to synch to the other.
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The correct length for a jo stave

Photos courtesy of Paazio
The story goes that Muso Gonnosuke, founder of jojutsu, received a vision from god during a prolonged fast at a temple.  God apparently told Muso that he would be able to beat Musashi if he would use a stick of certain dimensions.  The magical dimensions translate into metric as about 128cm long or into English as about 51 inches long.  Serious, fanatical jojutsu guys are typically sticklers for this 128cm standard.  There is no flexibility in the standard for smaller or larger participants.
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I am not a koryu snob.  I am more of the ideal of making jodo my own thing - taking ownership of the art - and I say that the standard is not magic.  It seems to me that you need a jo to be...
  • ...short enough that you can palm both ends and move your shoulders through a wide range
  • ...6-8 inches longer than a normal 40-42 inch bokken
That seems to put the natural length of the jo between about 46" and 52".  Within those confines, make the jo fit your body.  If your shoulders are tight or you have a child practitioner, use a little shorter jo if you want to.  I typically practice with a 51" jo, and the way it fits me is like this:
  • I can palm both ends of my jo and it lies at my beltline
  • My jo is almost exactly 2x my arm length
  • My jo is about a fist-breadth shorter than my armpit height
  • My jo is about 6 inches too long for me to palm both ends, raise it above my head, and hold it pointing forward (as in honteuchi).  I have to slide the back hand forward about 6 inches to get the jo on this plane.
I also occasionally practice with a very heavy 48" jo.  I like the variation.  It draws out different kinds of posture and motion problems for me to work on.  Interestingly, my son has used my 51" jo, which is about his height and was able to rapidly modify the jodo kihon to be functional with a quarterstave grip (over-under grip on COM and 1/4 point), which has made me want to get a 6' bo to play with the same way.
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Aiki ninja strike

I've finally figured out Usher-san's dastardly plan. He has been training up a corps of aiki ninja and last night he sicced one on me! Ross came down form Jackson and we were diligently working on shomenate trying to explain some of Ross' questions when out of the blue he uppercut me in the mouth! Blood, guts, gore everywhere - I'd bit completely through my lower lip (as in blood shooting both directions - out of my face and into my mouth). Today I'm about a pint low. Wish I had a good picture to post, but I know that kind of carnage would upset my delicate readers. When I made Ross go upstairs to appologize to my wife for maiming her husband, she was upset at me for not letting her know Ross was here so she could fix him dinner.
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To my credit, I'm not sore about getting busted. That happens when you swing fists around. You know, though, that there are a-hole instructors out there that would have tried to punish the student for hitting the master (anyone ever meet one of those guys?). I'm glad I don't suck like they do ;-).
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Old scam making the rounds again

I've started getting spammed with my favorite scam again. Same details but different name this time (Last 2 times the fictional names were Rhodes Cremas and Karl Bayero). Watch out, fitness and martial arts instructors. These guys get your info, send a bogus check for both people's tuition, then one has to pull out suddenly so they ask you for a refund of half.
Good day,
How are you doing today?My name is Micheal Watt from Conakry Guinea.I got acrossed your email address when i was searching for an instructors who can give me and my brother a private lessons in any aspect of Martial Art .We are based in Guinea but in a while,we would be travelling to United states on holiday in your neighborhood. We would love to get involve in a private lessons with you,we would be available for 2hours per day,3times per week and we would be having this lessons for 3months.Kindly get back to me with the fees you are to receive if you are to instruct me and my brother for 3months and also 3times a week.Our company would be paying for our fees and would like to know if you accept certified cheque or money order as the method of payment. Will be waiting to read back from you soon
Regards Michael
Here are links to my previous posts regarding this particular scam...

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Mokuren Interview: Marc "Animal" MacYoung

Photo courtesy of Marc MacYoung
Today I’m pleased to give you the latest in our series of interviews with great martial artists – Marc “Animal” MacYoung. By way of intro, from his extensive website...
Marc is considered by many to be one of the most analytical thinkers on the subjects of violence and personal safety. He has taught police, military, martial artists and civilians around the world. He has studied Karate, Wing Chun, Baqua/Hsing-I, Five Family Gung fu, Boxing, Western swordsmanship, Kali and various forms of Pentjak Silat. When it comes to street survival and professional use of force he teaches No Nonsense Self-Defense. A combination of formal martial arts techniques and principles and his real life experience, supported by research into the areas of psychology, criminology, sociology and legal use of force.
Patrick Parker: Thank you, Marc, for agreeing to do this interview with me. I know you stay busy teaching and doing seminars. Do you do seminars mostly for karate folks or do you teach a lot of diverse practitioners?
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Marc MacYoung: I do a lot of cross style work, but I prefer working with one style at a time. Kempo does things differently than Tae Kwon Do, Goju does things differently Shotokan. Wing Chun does things differently than Silat. And they all move differently than Aikido. Getting all of those styles in the room at the same time gives me a headache. That's why I prefer walking into a school that does one style and we look at their physics together.
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Patrick: I see from your website that you consider yourself a martial analyst instead of a martial artist. Without giving away the cow, what sort of problems do you see the most when you do martial analysis seminars?
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Marc: I constantly see three generalized problems. Not only do they manifest in many different ways, but they also snowball off each other:
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One way to describe the first problem is most of what people know are not knowledge or facts, but advertising. Why do people believe that Mixed Martial Arts are the ultimate fighting style? Because a lot of marketing, spin-doctoring and propaganda has gone into promoting that idea. I remember one guy who argued that eye gouges AREN'T effective in street fights because they aren't allowed in the UFC. That's not knowledge, that's drinking the Kool-Aid. They either have been told something that is totally outrageous or they've invented their own little explanations. That kid with the 'eye gouges don't work in a street fight' had been fed a lot of propaganda before he came up with his own contribution.
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This kind of -- and I'm going to use the term loosely -- thinking can create in people the belief that having a lot of techniques means you're good at something. And that's the second problem. Instead of the 'Grass is always greener,' I call this the 'Next technique will be more effective' syndrome. People are often trying to add new and 'better' techniques -- usually to try to patch weaknesses in what they are doing. I've met a lot of seminar junkies who are constantly collecting more and more techniques believing that the bigger the pile of disorganized techniques they have, the better martial artists they are. This isn't true, to be a good martial artist you need
  • understand what you already know (and those two aren't the same thing. You know E=Mc2, but do you understand it?)
  • understand how to apply the same MULTI-LEVEL series of moves under a wide variety of circumstances.
I probably need to clarify that last statement. When I'm demonstrating a technique at a seminars I tell someone to attack me. They usually ask 'How?" My answer is "I don't care." Then, do the technique. Then I tell them to attack me again but differently. Then I do the same technique and it works again. I've gone up to five different attacks using the exact same technique. This is why I say: You don't need 5000 techniques, you need to understand how to apply a few effective moves that can handle up to 5000 different problems.
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These first two problems make the third exponentially worse. The third problem is that the techinque doesn't do the job for you. A technique is a way to manifest principles. If the component parts are there and executed in the correct sequence, the physics and principles WILL be there. But this takes a lot of work to make sure the are there.
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Unfortunately too many people believe that by just sticking their arms out there and wagging them around the technique will -- presto chango -- get it done. No. YOU have to make those principles manifest to acheive your goal. It's not just going to happen because you do the technique. The technique is a vehicle. You have to get in and drive it.
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So a lot of what I do at these seminars is before we start with the driving lessons we 'inspect the car.' A lot of the time I find folks that have the body, the tires and the interior, but when I pop the hood, there's no engine or transmission. "Uh I think I found the problem with why this technique isn't working." So while it would be cool to say I teach people how to be race car drivers of their styles, I spend a lot more time being a martial arts mechanic. For those people who do have systems that run, then I spend the time saying "Hey did you know you could do this with that?" "KEWWWWL!"
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Patrick: Besides just spending lots of years in the arts and experiencing conflicts, was there some process or way of thinking that let you come to these revolutionary ideas?
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Marc: A friend of mine once summed it up by saying the talents that I posess are not, in themselves, unique. There are lots of different people who also have these talents -- in fact, there are people who are better at those individual talents than me. What IS unique about me is that these talents come together in one person.
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There are a lot of fighters out there who are really good -- but they can't tell you what they do or how they do it. There are a lot of people out there who are experienced with violence who can walk into a situation, 'read it' like a memo and come with the best strategy -- but they can't tell you HOW they perform this Kentucky windage. There are a lot of artists out there who can notice small details and draw them -- but they can communicate those details except through art. There are a lot of analytical thinkers out there who can reduce complex issues to component parts -- but they aren't fighters or experienced with violence. There are a lot of great communicators and teachers out there -- but unless what they are teaching is functional then it really isn't useful.
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I have all these talents and they combine to make a skill.
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To make a long story short, this skill was developed because when I was young and coming up, I'd ask the old timers 'How'd you know?' The answer of "I dunno, I just knew" really frustrated me. Years later, I heard myself saying the same thing to a young kid who'd asked me 'How'd you know?' When I gave him the same answer, a bell went off in my head that said "NO! That was an unacceptable answer when it was told to me and it's unacceptable now that I'm using it!" The difference was now I able to 'see' what those old timers had seen in order to calcuate Kentucky windage. And if I could see it, I could explain it. I then dedicated myself to making that into a skill.
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The simple fact is I've never mastered a martial art or 'invented' anything about violence, crime or human conflict behavior -- all I've done is tried to report what is out there. And do it in a way that people can easily understand it and apply it out in the field. I can't teach people to do stuff the way I do it. But I can identify the elements I use and give you the tools to develop your own ability. The ability is to wet your thumb, judge the wind and adjust your shot to Git R Done is Kentucky windage. That's what I'm trying to teach people.
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Patrick: I love the idea behind Dango Jiro (your name for what you do). You describe it as a Mulligan Stew, but down here in Mississippi we'd probably call it something like gumbo-jitsu. On your website you call it a training system instead of a martial art. Sounds like you intend it as a way that someone could practice any martial art. Is that what you're getting at on your website and in the previous question about the three generalized problems?
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Marc: This goes back to the previous question about 'how do I do what I do.' It's the ability to analyze what is going on and come up with a working strategy for THAT particular situation. It starts small and just gets bigger and bigger, but it's basically the same question at every level.
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Let's start with a physical technique. Oh BTW, It will help you understand if you know I have the ability to 'see' the physics a move is supposed to create (it's that artist thing). When I look at a technique, my first question is 'What is it supposed to do?' Second question is 'Does it?' Third question is "If not, why not?" That's to say 'where in the process does it start to fail to achieve that goal?'
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I'm not just talking about some of the absurd explanations for moves that someone made up to cover their ignorance.There's enough of that out there as is. What I'm talking about is where the 'power train' of a technique breaks down. (Think of the power train in your car). Now a lot of people try to blame the student by saying he or she is 'doing it wrong.' But after watching for a while I realized, 'noooo... the student is doing exactly what you are teaching. But what you are teaching ISN'T what you are doing.' Often some little tweak or movement that would continue the power train has been lost from the technique. The reason the teacher or senior students can make it work is they've found some kind of 'patch' to make the technique still work against an inferior opponent. That doesn't fix the problem though. I just leaves the students to find their own 'patch.' And until that time the technique won't work.
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Instead of trying to patch the techniques this way, I help people fix the broken power train of a technique. And it's often as simple as '"Okay, when he's in this position, twist this." Thing is, these little twists and tweaks were originally in the technique, but they've been lost.
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On a bigger level, the same question is asked. "What level of threat are you facing?" "What is the appropriate level of force you need to use?" etc., etc.. What I am doing with Dango Jiro is showing people how to assess these issues and come up with workable solutions on the spot.
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Patrick: What do you figure is the best way to start kids in the martial arts so that you don't have to un-teach or re-teach so much later on?
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Marc: Start them not with the basics, but the fundamentals. There IS a difference even though most people -- and I especially mean teachers -- don't make the distinction. I went to my unabridged dictionary and found that a basic is a simplified introduction to a subject. A fundamental is a foundation that a system is built upon. Since I have a construction background, I liken 'basic' to the front door you enter a building through, a foundation is what makes that building stable.
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Incidentally, this why you can run into a wall when you tell a brown belt to 'go back to the basics.' You mean return to the fundamentals. He just heard you say 'Go back to kindergarten.' Whether he hears 'retard' depends on how much ego he or she has in her rank.
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For example in most schools in your first lesson you will be taught a punch as a 'basic.' The first thing we teach kids is how to control moving their weight from one foot to the other. Controlling your body's momentum is a fundamental of everything you do in the martial arts. One that leads to power, balance, structure, speed and effectiveness. In short, that's the engine in your car. And that's the first thing we teach the kids. (And that's why the little boogies can hit so damned hard. I routinely get thumped by them and their boney little knuckles).
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On the other hand, when I walk into schools that teach the punch as a basic, I see a LOT of bad habits.I'll watch 50 people doing the same kata and the only thing they have in common is the end pose of each move. How they get into that pose is wildly different for each of them. And most of what I'm seeing isn't effective because they were never taught the fundamentals of movement.
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Patrick: I ask most everyone I interview... What do you make of the apparent decline of traditional martial arts (take aikido for example) and the apparent explosion in interest in UFC/MMA? Where are these arts going to be in the next few years?
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Marc: I'm going to tell you what I tell people about journalism getting slapped around by bloggers. When the media stopped reporting the news and started both making it and commenting on it, they left themselves wide open to being eclipsed by bloggers. When martial arts began to lower their standards and water down what they were doing to keep students and make money, they left themselves open to being steam rollered by MMA hype.
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When what you're teaching isn't how to move effectively but that you're student just sticks his or her hand out there and wiggles it around, then YES, it IS going to fail. And that gives the MMA and the Reality Based Self-Defense Kool-Aid drinkers lots of legitimate ammo to criticize the martial arts. It isn't that the testosterone driven "Hey Diddle Diddle Straight Up The Middle" strategy of MMA/RBSD is really all that effective, it's just that so many martial arts have forgotten how to handle it.
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A whole lot of what I do is help people put back into their martial arts the things that can counter the bulls rush charge these guys are claiming is the ultimate fighting strategy. It's not. But full contact fighters in North America forgot how to handle grapplers and that is why the Gracies ruled the UFC until people started studying what they were doing. And realistically Martial Artists should be thanking the MMA because as obnoxious as many of them are, they're a stark reminder that martial art system better be able to handle a straight in bull charge. That's not the ultimate strategy for attacking someone, but it is pretty much how someone is going to come at you in a parking lot after a fender bender.
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Patrick: Boy, That's a lot of great info, Marc! You are exactly right on so many fronts, and I know we could go on with these topics forever. You have given my readers and me a ton of material to think about. I know I appreciate it and I know they will too!
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Interested in more info about Marc MacYoung, his research and teachings, or the numerous books that he has published? Check out his awesome and extensive website!

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The aiki-handshake

Photo courtesy of OoohOooh
I've talked in a couple of posts this past week about defining and measuring ma-ai very precisely so that you can build up a good intuitive sense of that distance and so that you can ingrain the habit of stepping aside whenever someone is at that distance.  We talk about measuring precisely and doing it consistently, but as Kyle pointed out in a comment to that post, we actually use that ma-ai sense much more loosely in a more complex way when both players are already in motion.
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Suppose uke and tori start 15-20 feet apart and walk together with uke's job to stride directly through tori's center and tori's job to evade at ma-ai.  Because of the arbitrary distance apart and the random step sizes, a couple of interesting things happen.
  • Just before he reaches ma-ai, uke is very likely to change his tempo or his weight balance.  He is planning a foot to stride through with and he has to get that foot positioned correctly when he is just outside ma-ai.  Otherwise his stride-through will be wimpy.  Look for that glitch in his footwork - it is a pretty reliable indicator something is wrong with the guy who is about to be at ma-ai (i.e. he is an attacker).
  • Tori is unable to wait until exactly ma-ai to begin his evasion.  Tori calculates which step will take him past ma-ai and begins the evasion with that last step.
So, because of the element of randomness added by having the partners approaching, our use of the ma-ai instinct that we have built is broader and looser.  You still have to know how big ma-ai is, and you still want a pretty precise intuition about that, but you have a fudge factor of about 1/4 to 1/2 of the length of your step.  So, in that context, I would agree with Kyle and Strange that how we measure or whether we measure every time is sorta arbitrary.
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Which brings me to one of the best ways I've found to ingrain that ma-ai reflex and get additional practice at measuring ma-ai outside the dojo - The aiki handshake.  Go back for a second to the definition I offered earlier for ma-ai as the distance at which uke can first start affecting you - the distance at which he can casually lean in and grab your extended wrist.  This is also about the range for a handshake.  So here's the exercise:
  • Make it a habit to shake hands whenever you have the opportunity.  Do it firmly, with eye contact and genuine feeling.  You will develop a good spatial sense and goodwill just by doing that.
  • As you step in to grasp their hand, shift your feet slightly to the outside of the hand they are reaching for you with.  As you clasp their hand, turn their palm slightly upward and use your free hand to touch or clasp their elbow or upper forearm.  This is a natural, genuine handshake but it provides you some protection from their free hand and also reduces their leverage if they are the type to want to crush your hand.
  • As the handshake dies out and you both release, use your contact on the elbow to gently and unobtrusively push yourself back outside ma-ai.  Hold your conversation from here - outside ma-ai.

I think you will find that this will build a fine, dynamic ma-ai sense as well as creating an intuitive awareness in you of what a genuine person behaves like at ma-ai as opposed to someone with ulterior motives.
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Strange posture question

Re: Sensei Strange's question on Shizentai - How wide are the feet?
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I really get a kick out of having readers who both read critically and leave comments. I'm sure that there are more folks out there that read things that I write and think,"that just doesn't add up," but they keep their thoughts to themselves. Strange jumps right on in there and lets me know, which gives me the chance to re-examine and make myself better and maybe him too. Kudos Strange!
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Check out everyone's favorite film (above) of Tomiki doing the proto-walking kata. The walking moves happen from about 00:12 to about 01:18. Tomiki is repeatedly stepping from shizentai at the centerpoint of the kata, to various postural deviations that facilitate the arm motions. Then he steps back to shizentai at the center. In the center, at shizentai, he is always narrower than hip-width. Even in the little footwork glitch at 00:26, he steps back to center but is too wide, feels uncomfortable, and shifts his right foot closer under him.
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The photographs that you point to as examples of wide shizentai are not shizentai, even though they are good, relaxed, generally upright posture. Like in the walking video above, in each of those photos he is halfway through a step out of shizentai into whatever technique he is demonstrating. Also, I don't know this for sure, but I suspect that Tomiki liked to stop in these postures so that the photographer could get a good shot of what he was trying to teach. Thus, we get the mistaken idea that natural upright posture is wider than hip-width.
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I, too, was taught by my teachers to make shizentai hip-width or ever-so-slightly wider, and I did that for years, but as I got more sensitive, I started noticing more and more glitches in my walking and force generation and flow so I started looking at how the big-dogs do their thing (regardless of how they say they do it) and discovered that they were all saying "hip-width" and doing "feet under center." So, I changed and my flow and synch and power generation have all gotten a lot better for it.
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Incidently, check out this excellent, excellent discussion by Tim Ferris on learning. Watch the whole thing because it is a great lecture, but the part that applies most to our discussion is the segment on Implicit vs. Explicit knowledge that begins at about 11:00 on the video.
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Trying something new

Since I consider myself to be in a constant-learning mode as to how to teach the kids' judo classes, I think I'm going to be trying something new with their ashiwaza starting this month.
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It is just too darn difficult to teach a diverse group of kids to do footsweeps.  Let me rephrase that - they can do the footsweeps but they can't call their shots, as in telling them, "do osotogari," and having them actually do osotogari.  Half of them will be doing kouchi or ouchi or something, and I'm just plain tired of telling them, "No, do it with this leg, this way," when what they are doing is making the guy fall down anyway.
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Here's what I think I'll try.  I am going to stop teaching these throws in the kids class:
  • osotogari
  • kosotogari
  • ouchigari
  • kouchigari
  • deashibarai
...and I will replace that set of throws with a motion program that goes something like this:
  • push uke
  • grab either of his ankles with the bottom of either of your feet however you can
  • push/pull the foot out from under him with your leg
  • push/pull uke into the hole with your arms
I think I can approximate those five throws with this one program, and let the kids develop whichever specific throws work for them in randori.  If this works like it seems it might, It could leave us with a lot of free time.  We might have to break out one or two of these throws:
  • kubinage (A.K.A. pancake)
  • taiotoshi as a response to when the above push-sweep-pull program doesn't work
  • legpick & sprawl or snapdown defense
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March 2009 Kids' judo promotions


Photo courtesy Elise D. Parker
Last night we had our semi-annual family night, kohaku shiai, and promotion ceremony. It was well-attended by students and families and the kids got to show their parents some of what they've been learning. In the shiai we had a total of 30 matches of rooster-tail randori and newaza randori amongst 16 competitors. The winners were:
  • 1st Place: Tanner Humphries (6 wins)
  • 2nd Place: Andrew Kelly (5 wins)
  • 3rd place: Luke Fortenberry (4 wins)
Note the demographics of the winners: one kid who is middle-of-the-pack size and age-wise, the one kid with the least amount of judo training time, and one of the youngest and smallest players - Validation for the gentle art of judo. Congrats, folks on a great contest and great attitudes - but congrats especially on your new belts:
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Orange belts:
  • Whit – has become a great little technician, honing his outside leg sweep, his leg picks, and his ability to fight from the bottom position on the ground.
  • Mason – is a force of nature on the ground. Sheer willpower often sees Mason through a match. Mason has improved on pacing himself and working through frustration.
Yellow Belts:
  • Zack – Shows good positive aggressiveness in groundwork and standing randori. He will be a force to be reckoned with next year after he learns some more technical aspects of judo.
  • Nick – Has shown leadership and good sportsmanship in playing well with the younger and smaller kids while making great progress, especially in groundwork.
  • Tanner – has shown great progress in his technical skills as well as his competitiveness on the mat.Good sportsmanlike conduct on and off the mat.
  • Knox – has also improved greatly in his attention span and his ability to do repetitive drills. This has shown itself in his ability to use the outside leg sweep in competition. Both Knox and Whit are nearly impossible to turn from their bellies onto their backs.
  • Quin – has shown improvement in his attention span and his ability to approach randori as a fun experience regardless of the outcome of a match. It’s frustrating being the smallest guy in the pile.
  • Luke – has done very well in both standing and groundwork drills and exercises. Luke tries hard, stays on task, and will make great strides in his judo skills during the next year.
  • Brandon – has the best technical knowledge of anyone on the mat. He thinks and tries new things in randori. Keep it up!
  • Laurie – is so focused and aggressive both on the ground and standing that she is hard to beat.
  • Stephen – seemingly calm and quiet, Stephen bursts into motion in standing randori, seeming to be everywhere at once! Stephen has done a great job of playing well with the smaller and younger players.
  • Christopher Lee – has improved in his ability to focus and participate in repetitive drills. Christopher will soon be one of the best technical judo players in the group.
  • Dylan – another well-built athlete, Dylan is a good size to make a great showing in judo competition. Dylan has improved on his focus and attention span.
  • Ethan – is another of our best technicians, placing in competitions despite being toward the smaller end of the line. Keep coming and stay focused and you will become great at this sport!
  • Sara – is most competitive with her brother, Ethan, and she has improved greatly in her attention span and ability to drill skills needed in competition.
Yellow&White belts:
  • Shelby – has fun practicing and drilling with Knox and Quin. Her judo will blossom in the next year or so.
  • Jake – a natural athlete, Jake has obviously watched and learned from jiu-jitsu competitions on TV. The combination of athleticism, aggression, and some technical skill is hard to beat.
  • Andrew – another athlete. Andrew came into class late in the year and took the class by storm, shaking up the developing pecking order of who usually beat whom.
  • Mick – Has shown improvement in attention span and has picked up a couple of good moves that will serve him well when he returns to judo after baseball season.
  • Matt – Has shown terrific improvement in his ability to deal with anger and frustration when things don’t go his way on the mat. Matt will be great in judo next year.

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