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Heian Yondan opening movements

Following is a good video of the first movements of Heian Yondan. This movement seems superficially to be kinda dumb, but if you look a little deeper you can see it as the basis of a whole lot of very fine self defense technique. In this video, tori demonstrates these moves as:

  • a wedge-like block similar to the 'cowcatcher' that we teach at Mokuren.
  • an iriminage-like clothesline throw with a great hip bump as insurance
  • shomenate throwing the attacker straight down his weak stance line.
  • a groin strike (notice how the off-hand follows to stay in the center of the relationship)
  • a gedanate-like throw
  • a pick-up type scooping throw
  • a kubiguruma-like throw
  • a form of oshitaoshi (ikkyo)
It seems as if the first move of Heian Yondan could be one of those universally-applicable techniques.



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Sure, there's something missing in trying to learn these types of applications in a solo form - these things will pretty much be impossible to develop without doing a good bit of partner practice. But on the other hand, the jujitsu guys that practice these same ideas in partner kata all the time are missing something too - the ability to train these things (at least to some degree) solo.

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Helpful handful: Ichikata as an intro to power

Photo courtesy of BekiPeti
Power can be defined as the ability to make something move or get something done. One of the fundamental theories of aikido and judo is that people's power is always ebbing and flowing, waxing and waning as we move. The techniques that we do are timed based on the ebb and flow of the opponent's power.
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Suwariwaza (kneeling technique) is one way to see this phenomenon in action. For instance, in Ichikata, the first five techniques are suwari, and they vary in their timing condition with respect to uke's build-up and application of power.
  • Suwari oshitaoshi (provocative timing) – tori catches uke sitting back, all the way down, before uke has started building power. Tori attacks uke's face, provoking a response that tori uses to throw uke. As such, tori is well ahead of uke in the timing of this technique. Basically, tori overwhelms uke before uke can build up a resistance.
  • Suwari tenkai oshitaoshi – uke attacks tori's face and tori rises with a rising block but uke is not so far ahead in timing that tori is overwhelmed. Still, because tori is behind he cannot run over uke as before so he turns out of the way and throws uke. Tori has successfully played catch-up.
  • Suwari tekubiosae – uke attacks tori's face and tori is ever farther behind. Finding himself in the hole, tori knows he'd better not try to apply power, so he fades around and moves with uke's arm until uke's power peters out and tori's power is relatively high. Then tori pins uke.
  • Suwari ryotedori sukuinage – here tori is absolutely caught flat and dead (energy-wise) and uke grasps both of tori's wrists. Tori retracts his wrists, slipping uke into off-balance and activating uke's back muscles, which tori can then follow into a pin.
  • Suwari ryotedori sukuinage (juntai timing) – this is an odd exercise in timing. Tori is actually pulling uke up from the previous pin and getting in synch with him as he rights himself so that the throw on the opposite side happens immediately as uke regains his knees.
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Spring schedule changes

At the beginning of March we will be adjusting the schedule as follows. Notice that this is mostly the same, but kid's judo will be condensed into two class days and Saturday stick&blade class will be before aikido. I look forward to seeing y'all at class per this schedule starting March 1.
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Tuesday
  • 4:00 PM judo
  • 5:30 PM kids' judo
  • 6:30 PM aikido
  • 8:00 PM karate (by appointment with Patrick M.)
Thursday
  • 4:00 PM judo
  • 5:30 PM kids' judo
  • 6:30 PM aikido
  • 8:00 PM karate (by appointment with Patrick M.)
Saturday
  • 7:00 AM private judo lesson
  • 9:00 AM stick & blade
  • 10:00AM aikido
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What can a large organization do for you?

Pretty much whichever martial art you get into, there is the potential for you to be affilitated with some large regional, national, or international organization or 'governing body.' Generally, you don't get to pick your affiliation when you first get started - you start working out with whatever instructor is local and convenient and agreeable to you, and if you want to keep working out or ranking in that club then you join whatever organization that club is affiliated with.
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But then again, after you have been in an organization for a while and gotten a good dose of the ego and politics involved (Like anything, there are ups and downs to organization membership), you might be on the lookout for some other organization to get involved with.
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I thought I'd give you a list of the things (off the top of my head) that an organization might provide - potential benefits to belonging to a martial arts organization.
  • standards, curriculum, and examples of best practices
  • rank validation
  • connections to other instructors and students - networking
  • connection to a tradition
  • educational resources
  • seminars
  • a source of guest-instructors to teach at your club
  • legal protection/advice
  • insurance
  • teacher training/certification
  • validation for the way you do things
  • economies of scale
  • a common culture/band of brothers
  • competition format/structure
  • business model/training
  • advertising
How about you guys? What benefits to organization membership have I missed? How many of these benefits would it take to make it worth putting up with the inherent disadvantages to martial arts organizations?
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The rhythm of randori

In randori the pace waxes and wanes. There are inevitable spots when you or the other guy can take a moment to rest, or think, or ham it up for the camera, or...

Whit and Brandon pause during an epic battle to smile for the camera! Photo courtesy of Elise D. Parker


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Feldenkrais' Awareness Through Movement

Seeing as this is posture month at Mokuren Dojo, I thought I'd drop you another little hint. Actually a BIG hint. Ok, a REALLY BIG hint!
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I have written often about Moshe Feldenkrais' writings on judo and posture, but I also found this online copy of Feldenkrais' book, Awareness Through Movement. A definite must-read, even if it is not an easy read in places! If you want the free online copy then download it but it you're the type that prefers the mass and feel and convenience of paper, then pick up a copy at my Amazon store from the link below.
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In either case, I consider this necessary reading before you really start to think deeply about posture and movement.


UPDATE: Here is the month-end review of all the posture articles from this month of focus.

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Chuck Holton's Bullet Proof

I just finished reading a very fine book by Chuck Holton titled Bulletproof. It was automatically recommended to me by Amazon as likely being something that I'd like based on my having bought Gavin deBecker's books, The Gift of Fear and Fear Less, and I checked it out. The cover has a picture of a special-ops type guy in black armor in the 9-ring of a shooting target, and the tagline for the book is, "The making of an invincible mind." Cool, I thought. A book about commandos and fear and etc...
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When I got it and started reading it, I was quite surprised. You see, I didn't know that it was a book about Christianity and a Christian perspective on safety, risk, and fear. Told from the point of view and experiences of an Airborne Ranger, the central premise of the book is that until God is done with you here on Earth, you're bulletproof. Basically, if you are living within God's plan for you then you are invincible , but once you stray out of that plan, there is nothing on Earth that can make you safe. Holton doesn't advocate running in front of busses or trying to stop bullets, etc... but gives a very good reminder of what a right relationship to God looks like and what effect that has on your understanding of risk, safety, and fear.
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The book is well-written with powerful vignettes of various special-ops guys, troops and battles in Afghanistan and Iraq, the Black Hawk Down event in Somalia, the slaying of missionaries in Iraq and Amazonia, the DC Sniper shootings, and the Wedgwood church shooting in Fort Worth.
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Perhaps the best chapter in the book, at least from my perspective, is Chapter Ten, which gives numerous suggestions for training yourself to be a more disciplined, less fearful person - exercises that build traits such as concentrated attention, energetic volition, and self-denial.
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I would definitely recommend getting a copy of the book and reading it if you are a Christian wanting a more disciplined, less fearful life, if you are a military buff and enjoy reading first-hand accounts of men and women in mortal risk and peril, or even if you are non-Christian or anti-Christian - maybe you can get a better perspective on what those pesky Christians are all about.
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Holton has written a second book titled A More Elite Soldier, that is definitely on my must-read list.
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Accidents happen

You know it's a sure sign that it's time to take a break when blood starts coming out of an eyeball. To be fair, this didn't happen at judo, it happened on the playground at the park and was self-inflicted (He swung a swing and didn't duck when it swung back). The next day it became a very fine shiner with the entire orbit of the eye a uniform blackish-purple color. Didn't slow him down, though.
You should have seen what the guy that lost looks like! Photo courtesy of Elise D. Parker

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Shotokai tekki shodan applications

Here is an interesting video of applications for Tekki (Naihanchi) Shodan.  These are those Shotokai guys again.  I thought that the first application shown was really odd, but then about 3/4 of the way through the video I realized that I was entranced.  All in all, pretty cool.
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Fantastic karate-do taisabaki

Magnificient karate! Aiki guys, check this out and see doesn't this trip you out! One of my big problems with karate-do the way it is often taught these days is the emphasis on standing still and generating power. In such a training environment, taisabaki (footwork, body shifting, evasions) is often assumed or just plain missing. But this is superb. If I remember my karate history rightly, this batch of karate guys separated from the Shotokan guys, claiming to be practising the stuff the way that Funakoshi actually wanted it done. I'm sure that the other side has their story, but IMO, this is much closer to karate-do done right.



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So, what's the name of that hold-down?

Photo courtesy of Elise D. Parker
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Attacking specific postural deviations in judo

Photo courtesy of Major Confusion
One thing that we practice that improves both posture and randori is doing light randori looking for specific postural events in the opponent as triggers for specific throws. For instance, we might do low-resistance randori, throwing osotogari any time the other guy points his center away from you or we might do randori looking for hizaguruma anytime the other guy leans over and stiffarms.
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What we are really working on here is learning to move around in shizentai and trigger our throws when we see the opponent make specific postural deviations from shizentai. Common deviations to look for include.
  • if he turns his center away from you, do deashi or kosoto or osoto
  • if he bends over and stiffarms, do hizaguruma
  • if uke spreads his legs too far, do kouchigari or ouchigari
  • if he lunges for a grip with his dominant arm and leg forward, do seoinage
  • if he stands straightlegged on his heels, get ready to do anything named otoshi next time he moves
  • if he bends his legs too much, get ready to do anything named guruma next time he moves

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How is kokutsu the opposite of zenkutsu

Photo courtesy of Tomer Gabel
Funakoshi, in his beginner's text, Karate-Do Nyumon, says the back stance, kokutsu dachi, is just the opposite of the front stance, zenkutsu.  But in what sense is this true?  Well, it turns out that kokutsu is the opposite of zenjutsu in several ways, and not all of them are superficially obvious.
  • There's the obvious opposite weight distribution - in zenkutsu, the front leg is bent, bearing most of the weight, while in kokutsu the back leg is bent and bears most of the weight.
  • Zenkutsu is more forward-facing, kokutsu is more side-facing
  • Zenkutsu is all about lunging through ma-ai into touching distance - aggressive movement forward.  Kokutsu is about shifting your weight distribution without gving up ground - standing your ground but being defensive and oblique instead of direct.
  • Zenkutsu is hard (it is about piercing through the center of enemy) - kokutsu is soft (it is about turning and fading and rolling his force off of you)
 
 
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Practice in a spirit of joy!

Photo courtesy of Elise D. Parker
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Tricking a muscle out of a spasm

Photo courtesy of Elbragon.
I often hear people talking about building 'reflexive' ukemi.  I used to think about deeply ingrained falling skills as more of a habitual thing than a reflexive thing.  I mean - you can't build or train or create a reflex, can you?  But you can train a habit.
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Well, consider this.  Everyone gets back pain, and often it is caused by a reflex feedback loop - a muscle gets irritated and reflexively spasms, the spasm irritates the muscle more, which prolongs the spasm.  It is a vicious loop.  A natural reaction is to want to stretch the muscle, but that tends to irritate the muscle more, prolonging the spasm.  Some often successful therapies, like positional release, work by slacking and relaxing the muscle.  On the other hand, allopathic physicians often prescribe muscle relaxers to paralyze the muscle and break the feedback loop.
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Well, I have found a remarkably interesting thing that helps me when I have muscle spasms in my back.  If I do a handful of rolls or airfalls, the spasm often dissipates!  I think what is happening is that ukemi only works properly if your muscles are in a certain state, and when you get your ukemi ingrained to a certain point it works on a reflex level to put your muscles in that state.  I guess an airfall trumps a muscle spasm, tricking your muscles into relaxing reflexly.
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I wouldn't recommend this as a therapy for back pain, but it sure seems to work for me, it sure seems to be a reflex action, and it sure is interesting.
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Reward the behavior you want to see

Photo courtesy of Elise D. Parker
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Last night I had a breakthrough triumph at kids' judo class. Let me tell you about a frustration that I've had for several weeks. When you have beginner children of diverse ages and sizes, and nobody has much skill to offset a size or age disadvantage, positional newaza randori tends to be lopsided and it ends instantly. In other words, I call, "GO" and one child smashes the other one and I call "STOP" and no learning has gone on and noone has gotten any experience.
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Well, last night I figured out how to modify the rules to fix that. I reviewed with them 4 positions (kesagatame, munegatame, ushirokesagatame, and tateshihogatame) and declared that in order to win a match, they must hold all four of those positions for 3 seconds each. That way, if you get a crusher that only knows one hold, then he is forced to give the other kid a chance to practice movement and escapes as he tries to transition to the other three holds.
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It worked like a charm! The matches lasted longer and everyone got more experience with a wider variety of holds and everyone learned. Funny how that happens when you change the rules to reward the behavior that you want to see. I think I have found (perhaps with small rules tweaks) our new default randori ruleset for kids.
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Use of space in judo and BJJ

People say that BJJ groundwork is more advanced than judo's newaza. I have repeatedly written about my opinion that Judo and BJJ are the same thing or that BJJ and judo are just competitive brand names for jujitsu, but I'll have to admit that I have been impressed watching BJJ guys flow so smoothly through a wider range of combos on the ground than it seems most judo guys do.
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But it occurred to me the other day while watching a Saulo Ribero disc (see below) that a friend loaned me - BJJ makes different use of space than does judo. Per Saulo, you need space between uke and tori in order to be able to flow into a wide variety of submissions. In judo you usually try to limit that space, crushing uke into immobility but perhaps limiting the range of submissions or combinations that you can get to work. This is an artifact of the rules - in judo competitions you can win by holding but in BJJ you can't. Perhaps this is why BJJ seems like its groundwork is more advanced - the rules allow us to see a wider technical range in BJJ than they do in judo.
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How about you, Dear Reader, do you do judo or BJJ and do you prefer more or less space between you and the opponent on the ground?
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How to find your correct front stance

 Photo courtesy of Tomer Gabel
One of the first postures that you learn in a karate class is the front stance (zenkutsu in Japanese). Virtually all karate schools I've encountered have some sort of standard beginners' instruction about front stance that is something like, "feet 2.5 hip-widths apart, front knee over big toe, back leg locked, 60% of your weight on the front leg." Some schools say 1.5x hip width, some say 2.5x hip width, but regardless of the specifics, where did these holy proportions come from?
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Funakoshi, in his beginner's text, Karate-Do Nyumon, says the length of the front stance varies around an average of about 75cm (~2.5 feet) heel-to-heel with beginners needing a slightly longer stance. Rob Redmond, in his excellent article on front stance, says he prefers a front stance to be about 38" (3+ feet) heel-to-heel - but that's understandable because Rob is taller and longer-limbed than Funakoshi was. But still, where do you get these numbers?
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They reference your own anatomy - your own height and leg-length and strength and flexability. That is okay, but it suggests that there is a perfect zenkutsu for each given practitioner based on their own anatomy  regardless of the situation or the characteristics of the opponent.
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I prefer a different definition of zenutsu: a lunge long enough to place your hand 2-3 inches inside the opponent's body starting just outside of ma-ai (touching distance). Try this exercise to calibrate the length of your front stance:
  • Stand in front of your partner with straight arms palm-to-palm.
  • When your partner drops his arm, lunge into zenkutsu far enough to place your lead palm flat on his chest or face. This is the proper size of your front stance for this particular situation - a lunge large enough to put your fist 2-3 inches into his body.
So, if zenkutsu is slightly different for every opponent, how do you develop a standardized front stance that you can practice in kata?  Practice the above calibration drill a bunch with a lot of different people, and your body will sort of average the results to create a standard front stance that is about right for you for for most opponents. But more importantly, you'll also develop your intuition for when you have to lengthen or shorten that standard lunge or when you have to start from closer or farther to get the right distance for the particular situation.
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Now that's zenkutsu!
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Fantastic kosotogari

While I was searching for a kouchigari video for yesterday's Helpful handful post, I came across this clip when I mis-typed my search. This is one of the finest kosotogari that I've ever seen in a shiai. It was so sudden that tori actually busted his own nose on uke on the way down!



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Helpful handful: kouchigari

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WOW! What a fantastic kouchigari!  He knocked that joker clean out!
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My yellow belt students begin working on the inside (uchi) footsweeps, including ouchigari and kouchigari, in preparation for green belt. Kouchigari is not really my tokuiwaza, Usher-san is much better at this one and catches me with it often in randori. Here are some of the things I keep in mind when I practice kouchigari.
  • Get in synch with the other guy It is difficult to learn this thing and darn-near impossible to get it in randori unless you can get your feet moving in synch with the other guy's feet.
  • Put a feeler under the elbow on the side you want to sweep. I use an open, cupped palm under uke's elbow. This feeler lets you know when this side of his body is dropping. It also slightly slows down the descent of his moving foot, helping you to skate his foot
  • Step as close to your standing foot as you can with your moving foot - if you can replace your standing foot, that's even better. Make sure that the new standing foot is pointed the direction of your sweep.
  • Step in behind uke's descending foot and stride forward to sweep instead of sweeping sideways. At the end, just before the foot lands, hook it back toward you a little.
  • This throw often places you between uke's legs in the guard, so begin working your way toward the side position on the way down. Both players have to learn how to keep knees out of groins as they fall.
 
 
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Shomenate in a grappling situation

What a fantastic tutorial on our first, most useful, and most important aikido technique, shomenate!  I haven't seen this guy's DVD - just this clip, but if this is any indication of the quality of the material on the DVD, I'd say go ahead and buy the thing!
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How to fix your posture all at once!

Photo courtesy of Natashavora
Is leaning or being 'out of posture' a sign of too much tension or too little tension? Are you doing too much on one side of the body or too little on the other to cause this postural imbalance?
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Could be either, but when we start trying to fix posture we often go for adding tension. “Pull those shoulders back! Tuck in that chin! Suck in that gut!” etc... But what if we try this way to fix a posture that is already out of whack because of too much tension? We end up locking both sides of the body down, like a vice. Let's figure out, instead, how to relax the tense muscles that are creating the postural problem.
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Now, we can go through the whole body trying to fix part after part, but as we concentrate on one structure the previous one tends to go back to its habitual posture. As an example, take a rope and throw it on the ground. If you want to straighten it out, you can crawl along, bending each little length of the rope but you'll see that every time you unkink the rope in one place it bends or kinks in another place. You can't straighten a rope a little at a time just like you can't jump a chasm in two bounds. But what if you just walk away, holding one end. The rope will straighten out and mostly unkink on its own. How can we use this sort of phenomenon to get into shizentai (natural, relaxed, upright posture)?
  • Stand with your feet and legs working as I described in my previous post on good posture.
  • Now, visualize a rope hanging downward from your center of balance with a huge, heavy weight on it. Any time you tilt out of vertical, the weight pulls your center downward and rights your torso like the keel of a boat.
  • Once you've got that feeling of a really heavy center, visualize a giant helium balloon pulling upward from the crown of your head, making your head so light that it puts an upward traction on your neck. It's almost as if the giant weight below you is suspended from the giant balloon above you with your body in the middle being drawn both directions vertically.
  • If you are able to imagine these external forces vividly enough, you can trick your body into relaxing the muscles that would resist those imaginary external forces. As the muscles give up fighting against vertical, you relax and release into shizentai.
  • When you can maintain these visualizations standing still, begin learning to maintain these visualizations while moving, as in your kata.
How does this work? That is the subject of another book or five, and in no way can be easily condensed to a blog post, but you might want to check out the following excellent book on ideokinesis for a good introductory explanation of this trick and numerous other techniques for improving posture and motion.

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Helpful handful: Judo hurts my hands

Photo courtesy of You are your Atman
So, a student asked me today, "You know, my hands really hurt after judo practice from gripping. Is that normal? What can I do about that?" Yep. That's normal. When you first start it is common to have abrasions on your knuckles from rubbing the other guy's gi, and it is common for the joints of your fingers to be sore. They will get accustomed to this contact and exertion pretty soon just doing judo, but if you want some more specific exercises, try these:
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  • Get your hands soapy and practice making fists over and over, opening and closing your hands. Make spearhands, claws, and tight fists. The soap really makes this exercise effective.
  • Get a heavy bag and practice punching it. If you have a grappling dummy or you want a more grappling-specific exercise, throw the bag on the ground and practice ground&pound from the mount and from knee-on-belly. Start sensibly and lightly and progress reasonably and slowly.
  • Get a bucket full of coarse sand or beans and practice spearing your hand into the sand then opening it in the sand. Alternately, practice spearing into the hand with an open claw and closing your fist around some sand. Again, take it easy with this exercise - you are not out to damage your hands more, but to learn a skill and get your hands used to the contact.
  • Get a medicine ball that weighs around 4-5 pounds. Clamp a claw onto it and hold it with your palm facing the ground. Practice releasing it and catching it in this palm-down position.
...and one more to make this a helpful handful:
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  • Practice no-gi grappling sometimes to give your hands a break from the abrasive gis. Or, if you are just doing gi-grappling then use palm hooks instead of grips whenever you can to relax your hands some.
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Chinese posture vs. Japanese posture

It seems that Japanese arts (we'll take aikido as an example for this post) seem to have a different concept of posture than do Chinese arts (like taiji for example).  Check out the following two videos, watching the quality of the postures of each instructor.

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Both seem to be based on a generally upright ideal, but Chen Manching's torso seems relaxed and pliable while  Ueshiba's torso seems to be locked into a unit.  It seems like the taiji motion is characterized by soft, fluid mobility of body parts around a mostly vertical ground path.  On the other hand, the aikido posture is a more rigidly vertical stack of body parts piled on top of each other.  The aikido posture, when it has to change, breaks at the hips while the torso remains rigid.  The taiji posture changes are spread throughout the entire body.
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Of course, this is only one demo from each guy, but I think one can draw interesting conclusions because each teacher's followers have emulated them to the point that these two demonstrations seem characteristic of the arts that they represent.  As an example of this emulation, dig up any video of Tomiki sensei from YouTube and compare the mobility and dynamics of his posture with those of the two videos above and it's easy to tell who taught whom.
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So, they are different.  Does that make one right and one wrong or one okay and the other better?  Maybe it depends on what you want to do with your body.  What you want your art to be like.  Personally, I'm leaning (ha ha, get it?)  toward developing more more taiji-like qualities in my posture and motion.
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How about you guys?
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Posture pals

What a bizarro film!  Notice how the teacher demonstrates everything exactly wrong as compared to my previous post on standing in natural upright posture.  Part of the problem with this type of posture instruction is that their norm for perfect posture is based upon an aesthetic ideal rather than a functional one.  They want the students to look a certain way rather than to be able to do something.
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Helpful handful: The feet in shizentai

Photo courtesy of Toni R.
A lot of people start talking about posture by concentrating on what the neck and shoulders are supposed to be doing. I want to start at the other end - the feet. The largest, most pervasive force that we interact with is the Earth's gravity and, while we usually think of it as pulling downward on our center of mass, we interact directly with the Earth through our legs. If you get your feet and legs interfacing with gravity correctly then the rest of the body will tend to fall into its proper place.
  • In shizentai (natural, upright posture) the feet are less than hip-width apart. The farther apart you get your feet, the greater the tendency to get both of them out from under your center. From this mid-point of shizentai, you want to take small, conservative steps - as small as practical to get the job done.
  • You are weightbearing on the balls of your feet. Specifically, the balls of the first two toes on each foot - the big toe and the next largest toe. These are the longest, strongest bones in the foot and are the only bones in the forefoot that are made for weightbearing. The outer edges of the feet and the heels should be slightly brushing against the ground, helping you to balance over the first two toes of each foot.
  • The feet are turned slightly outward, as is comfortable. The feet tend to turn outward just enough to allow the balls of the first two toes to line up perpendicular to the direction you are facing. It is also important to point each foot in the direction that it's knee bends.
  • The knees are slightly bent so that your knees fall approximately over the balls of your feet. This places your weight forward on the balls of the feet and readies the leg muscles for action.
  • You will notice that when you get your feet and knees positioned right (as above) with respect to the line of gravity then your shoulders and head tend to stack vertically, but if you lock your knees out straight you tend to rest on your heels, your butt sticks out, your shoulders slump, and your head juts forward.
As we are working on posture this month in the dojo, pay attention to what your feet are doing and you'll find that your posture improves accordingly.
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Relaxation recap

This month has been the first in a series of monthly themes during which I will be covering the various principles that make aikido and judo work. This past month I have written several articles on the topic of relaxation in martial arts.
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Patrick Parker is a Christian, husband, father, martial arts teacher, Program Director for a Cardiac Rehab, and a Ph.D. Contact: mokurendojo@gmail.com or phone 601.248.7282
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Suggested great books on aikido, judo, and strategy.
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Reps vs. 'Do it for a while'

Photo courtesy of Doug Sparks

I told the story the other day of how my teacher would have to perform 25 reps left and right of each groundwork technique before his teacher would show him the next thing. There's sort of two schools of thought on drilling and repetitions. Some folks define an explicit goal - a number of reps - for their practice. Other teachers say, "Here's this drill. Let's do it for a while."
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Both methods have advantages and disadvantages. Setting an explicit goal for reps tends to make you learn personal discipline and endurance. With the 'do it for a while' method it can be too easy to say, "Whew, that was a good one! What's next?"
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But on the other hand, the 'do it for a while' method is more adaptable to each student's needs. Not every student needs or can handle 25 reps left and right of every technique. Sometimes in order to get the message of the lesson across you might want each student to do 3-4 reps to get the feel of the thing just so they have a context to understand what you are going to say next. In such an instance it can be too easy to get sidetracked on some technical tangent and get so exhausted with repetitions that the students can't understand what the instructor is saying anyway.
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I must admit, I am definitely a "do this for a while" teacher, and I think I have developed over the years a pretty good intuition for guiding the class this way. But I definitely see the need for repetitions (and lots of them) to produce discipline and endurance as well as a deep technical knowledge. Perhaps a happy medium for me would be a normal practice mode of 'do this for a while' but with explicit repetition drill days.
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Shizentai - Natural upright posture

Our dojo theme for February will be shizentai. Shizentai is the idea that we should find a way to adopt and work from a relaxed, natural, upright posture. We've already talked some about this last month in our relaxation theme because relaxation and shizentai are so interrelated. Relaxation is pre-requisite to shizentai and it is often necessary to adopt shizentai in order to be able to do a technique in a relaxed manner. Notice I am not talking about a rigidly upright posture, but a relaxed, loose, flexible posture in which the head floats generally above the shoulders, which float generally above the hips, which float generally above the balls of the feet.
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Look for the theme of posture to be emphasized in each class this month, and you can expect several articles on the blog.
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Kane & Wilder's Way to Black Belt

My latest read has been Kane & Wilder's The Way to Black Belt, which could have been a pretty lame, 'how to get your black belt quick and easy" book but was so much more.  Knowing the authors there should be absolutely no doubt.  This is an excellent guidebook for beginners written by two guys who have been there and done that.  Did I say, "for beginners?"  Instructors can get a lot out of this book too!
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In particular, I really enjoyed Chapter 4 - Understand Strength versus Skill, Chapter 5 - Practice a Little Each Day, and Chapter 7 - Know How to Work Through Injuries.
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You'll find a ton of information in this book that will ease, if not speed your way to black belt regardless of what kind of martial art you are practicing.
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Other blogs (not as good as mine, but they try awfully hard!) :-)