Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Save yourself some trouble and learn faster

Take the fall.

This is something that I have a hard time teaching my children - the difference between taking the fall and jumping for tori.  Even adults, though they understand the concept, often have a remnant of this problem.

When you are playing the role of uke and being thrown, you should not jump for tori because that is dishonest and dangerous.

But when you are uke, it is your turn to learn to fall out of a certain failure condition.  If you hunker down and dig your toes in and push back and use all your strength to try to stop the throw then...
  1. you are stopping tori from learning what the end of the technique looks like.
  2. you are preventing yourself from learning how to save yourself from that particular failure condition.
  3. you are forcing tori to exert more of his strength to make the throw go - and that's more energy that you're going to eat when you hit the ground.
Or, here's another way of looking at it.  If you do martial arts for long enough, you are going to come across someone who is good enough to force you to take that particular fall by surprise and against your will.  When that fateful moment comes, you're going to want to have thousands of repetitions of practice falling from that condition.  If you have spent a lot of your time not taking falls then you are definitely going to be sorry.

So, take the fall, get up, and practice some more.

[photo courtesy of magali veldhuis]

Patrick Parker

Monday, December 20, 2010

Sensei Claus and the Mojo

I have pondered for a long time about what it is that has kept me doing martial arts.  There are elements of fitness, self defense, self-cultivation...  I'll even admit that there are aspects of ego.  Knowing the things that I know and being able to do the things I can do makes me cooler - at least in my own mind.  But you'd think that after 20 years of fitness instruction, self-defense training, and ego amplification, I'd be about as cultivated as I'm going to get.

But I'm not done.  Not even close.

See, it's not so much the self defense or the sense of personal power or any of the usual reasons.  Its the wonderment.

The sense of amazement - you remember it  from the first time you took a fall from a true master - a technique that instantly translated you from upright and running to horizontal and still - with no inbetween time.

That sense of possibility when you see a demonstration of something that should be impossible, at least from your usual understanding of physics.

The Magic.  The Mojo.

But aikido and judo are kinda like smoking crack.  When you get habituated to a certain dosage it takes a bigger dose to get a similar effect.  Changes in your perception as you get better at martial arts cause you to see more of it as less magical. 

Lately I see the magic more often in the eyes of my students than in my own performance.  When I'm able to inspire that sense of wonderment at the magic that inheres in the world around us...  that's the best part of practicing martial arts.

Sorta like a kid at Christmastime...

Does that make me Sensei Claus?

Patrick Parker

Friday, December 17, 2010

Are hipthrows anyone's tokuiwaza?

I don't mean the cool hipthrows, like sodeTKgoshi and haraigoshi and hanegoshi - I do know people who love those throws and put them to good use.

I mean the basic hipthrows - ukigoshi, ogoshi, tsurigoshi...

I don't think I know anyone, and I'm not sure if I've ever seen film of anyone whose best/favorite throws are basic hipthrows.  They say that Kano's tokuiwaza was ukigoshi.  Has it been anyone's tokuiwaza since Kano?

Patrick Parker

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Hugging the giant invisible gorilla!

So, tonight I was  using osotogari to teach the kids about personal space (ma-ai).  How do you teach a kid to define personal space?  I tell them to hold their arms out in front of them in a big circle, as if hugging a giant invisible gorilla.  That space inside their arms is their space.  They own it.  Anytime someone puts a foot down inside your space, you knock them down with osotogari.
The kids were eating it up, and my smallish 6-year old was able to consistently knock down much larger 8-9 year olds whenever they trespassed! 
We also got to talk to the older, larger, more vigorous kids about control - which I defined as doing just the right amount to get the effect you want - not splattering uke's guts all over the mat, but not being lazy either.

[Photo courtesy of twostoutmonks]

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Cowcatcher and vision

You ever notice when driving a car, that if you turn your head sharply to one side, your car begins to drift that direction?  That is how famous author, Stephen King, got run over and nearly killed - a driver was distracted by his dog in the back of his van, turned around to deal with the dog, and drifted off the road into King.  The moral of the story - your body (and your car) goes where your head (or your vision) goes.

In a conflict, it is often best to face the apparent danger and get your hands into the center of the conflict.  From this position, your hands tend to get in the way of incoming attacks.  Plus, the distance from the center of the conflict to where you have to put your hands to make a technique is usually very minimal.

But how do you figure out what is the center of the conflict?  The only way is to point your vision directly at (or through) your opponent's centerline.  Then your line of vision defines the center of the conflict.  Then just put your hands on that centerline.

Try this in randori for a while...  Put your vision and your hands in the center of the relationship.  Then try looking away and/or moving your hands away from the center and judge how difficult the opponent is to deal with.  I think you'll find that keeping your vision and your hands in the center of the relationship pretty much universally improves your performance.

Patrick Parker

Monday, December 13, 2010

More lost urawaza - maeotoshi

So, lately we've been discussing the urawaza - the counters of the Tomikiryu fundamentals.  My problem that has made my agent orange act up: there are 17 fundamentals and only 10 counters.  So we've been looking for the "lost" counters.
Maeotoshi can be countered by wakigatame.  Where'd I find that?  Kodokan Goshin Jutsu - technique #4 - kataudedori.  Again, kataudedori is not exactly like maeotoshi, but close enough that I bet you can use the same idea to counter it.  Check out kataudedori starting at about 1:25.
Patrick Parker

Sunday, December 12, 2010

The lost urawaza - hikiotoshi

So, a couple of days ago we talked about the Tomikiryu counter-techniques and I posed the question, what semi-standard counters have you guys found for the floating throws?  That is, what have you guys found that disrupts the floating throws most often in randori?
Here's a possibility from perhaps the most aiki-like exponent of our sister art - Kodokan Judo's Kyuzo Mifune.  Check out the first technique in this film in which he readily counters ukiotoshi using taiotoshi.

Now, sure, ukiotoshi and hikiotoshi are not exactly the same thing, but they are certainly closely related to each other.  You might have to take an odd grip as you step in for taiotoshi - perhaps something like in sodetsurikomigoshi.  But if tori does not have a good arm bind and does not hit the timing of hikiotoshi exactly right, I bet you could turn the tables on him in just the same fashion.
Something worth playing with.

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Saturday, December 11, 2010


Years ago, when I was in college, some of my young, smartalek buddies and I liked to made fun of this crusty old martial artist who was seemingly held together from moment-to-moment by his pharmacopea.  
Ha!  The joke's on me.  I've reached the point that my morning includes a cocktail of lisinopril, HCTZ, Indicin, Singulair, glucosamine, condroitin, MVI, and Vit-C.
Can't wait to see what the next 20 years brings!

Friday, December 10, 2010

Kihon Urawaza - the flipside

Urawaza is the Tomiki name for the set of counters to the seventeen fundamental techniques.  The name literally means something like "reversed techniques" or "backward techniques" or even "more profound techniques" but I prefer a looser translation... something like, "The flip-side of the basic techniques."
The purpose of practicing Urawaza is to build skill in common randori situations, but more especially to expose the flaws or weaknesses in the fundamental techniques.  Often, when a student is working his way through the fundamentals, learning the seventeen for the first time, those techniques can seem like some sort of invincible magic.  The look on their faces when they start working Urawaza and they start seeing the huge, gaping holes in the kihon... That look is priceless.
Something interesting about the classic set of Urawaza that I have written about before is that the set is incomplete.  There are counters for all of the seventeen fundamentals except #7, #9, #10, #11, #15, #16, and #17.  That is, there are 17 fundamental techniques but only 10 of them are countered in the Urawaza.
Part of this is because the counters to the ones that are missing are much like the counters to the others.  You can use the principles learned in the 10 urawaza to disrupt most of the other techniques in Junana as well.  For instance, you can disrupt any floating throw (#15, #16, #17) with the same sort of principle seen in the Urawaza to #12.  And since you can treat all seventeen as floating throws (isnt that the principle lesson at about ikkyu or shodan level?) then that means that the #12 counter principle can be applied to all of the 17.
But I guess it's just part of my mental makeup.  Those missing counters bug me.  In our class we have added several common ones, like #7 (udegaeshi) countered by iriminage or hadakajime, and #10 (wakigatame) countered by gedanate or taiguruma.
My big question for you Tomikiphiles out there is this... What do you guys see that disrupts #15, #16, and #17 most often?  I know you can counter the floating throws in a multitude of ways but which ones show up the most for you in randori?
Also, there is #9 udehineri (kaitennage)... I don't know a single good reliable counter for that one...
So... What do y'all do with those few?

-- ____________________ Patrick Parker www.mokurendojo.com

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

An honestly earned black belt

I come from a family of impressive male role models.  War hero dad; a longstanding community leader who was voted King of our little community a few years back.  Four older brothers; two engineers and two doctors.  My dad was a Boy Scout leader and a couple of my brothers made it to the prestigious rank of Eagle Scout.

For years it vexed me that I didn't make Eagle Scout.  For years I felt like a quitter - least among giants.

Today I was chatting with a friend of the family and he told me he'd been talking to my dad recently and my dad proudly told him, "You know, my youngest son is really into that kicking stuff."

I may not be an Eagle Scout, but I am a black belt, and that is something of great value.  Quite an accomplishment!  One of the teachers I taught with a few years back told me I'd have to go through 1000 students for every student that would persist long enough to get a black belt.  I think as a teacher, my ratio has been a little higher than 1/1000, but not much. That's a pretty good rule of thumb.

Some McDojos will practically throw a black belt in your car window as you pass by, so long as you've paid sufficient fees.  I feel strongly that these places are doing a great disservice to their clientele - robbing them of the opportunity to honestly earn a thing with real meaning.  Perhaps the operators of these McDojos simply don't understand the harm they are doing to their clients - or perhaps they just don't care so long as you've paid sufficient fees.

Patrick Parker

Friday, December 03, 2010

More on cost and value

So, what got that Mokuren Dojo guy talking all that nonsense yesterday about martial arts classes not being worth $90/month.  That guy is nuts.  He doesn't know what he's talking about.
Thanks for all the great comments on my previous article on the cost of martial arts classes.  Most of your objections I had anticipated, but some of you brought up interesting points I hadn't thought of or added a local perspective that rendered the discussion fresh and interesting.  Blogging is a lot more fun when y'all interact and comment and discuss and repost, than when you read a post and either say, "That guy's a moron," or "Yep, he's thought of it all."
Regarding yesterday's topic of the value and cost of martial arts classes.  That's a tough issue for me to work through in my mind.  On one hand, I think martial arts are some of the greatest activities in the world and I wish nearly everyone would participate.  On the other hand, I think there are a lot of things that you could be doing with $100/month that would make you a better person and the world around you a better place.
If it is self-defense that you are doing martial arts for, then you are putting a lot of effort (and money) into a methodology that might help you if you happen to get assaulted, when you could be spending that money on living a lifestyle that reduces your risk for assault.
If you are participating for exercise or health reasons, those are certainly good reasons to be doing martial arts, but you could be spending that money on your blood pressure and cholesterol pills, which have a greater effect on your health and survival.
If you are participating to build confidence and reduce your fear of being victimized, does it make sense let your sensei soak you for twice the going rate of the best instructors in the world?
But then, when you go down this path of trying to get your money's worth, how do you quantify the value that you receive from martial arts classes?
Some commentators have told me that people tend to assign greater value to services that they have to pay a premium for.  I've heard and seen that phenomenon before and it still makes no sense.  If, for instance, throughout my martial arts career I had consistently paid my teachers twice what they asked for, would I now be a better martial artist?  If I had paid them 10x what they asked would I now be a demigod?
This whole line of discussion makes little sense to me and it frustrates me to try to wrap my head around it when I could be spending that time and effort and mental power on trying to figure out how to beat people up better.  But I figure there is still some good conversation surrounding this topic of value and cost of martial arts, so... lay on!  Have at me!

Thursday, December 02, 2010

The cost of martial arts classes

Several people have told me lately that they were thinking about getting into martial arts but they expressed some concern because of the cost of the places they had checked out.  Since they asked for my opinion, here it is...

No martial arts class is worth $90+ per person per month.  Period. 

Dont get me wrong.  I think martial arts are the greatest thing in the world.  But even my classes are not north $100/month, and I'm the best teacher in the world!

A more reasonable price would be about $50 to $65 per month.

Consider this...

You can practice at the Kodokan (biggest judo school in the world) for about $95 startup fee and $60/month.

You can enroll your kids at Aikikai (largest aikido school in the world) for $100 startup and $55/month.

So, what do YOU think about paying twice that in southwest Mississippi?

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Muscle tension and ego

Ever notice how you always make yourself especially sore after visiting a different class?  Even if you are in great shape and the "workout" is lighter than you are used to, you end up sore...

This is mostly due to muscle tension and competitive spirit.

Egolessness and relaxation are key to avoiding destroying yourself in the martial arts.  Even if you think you have the relaxation thing down and your ego pretty well under control, you'll find these demons cropping up at unexpected times.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The least sexy is the most important

Some very smart Blogger recently characterized footwork as the least sexy but the most important part of the martial arts.  I agree with this sentiment 100%.

See, aikido and judo are both footwork arts. If you can get your feet working properly then the rest of your aikido and judo tends to start to fall into place.

I've been told recently that some of my local business competition has been telling people that all my aikido is good for is running away.  That it is "merely a get-away art" I suppose by that they mean that it is not a real martial art because we can't dispatch the opponents, just run away.

Well, to that I say, " Thanks!"

See, aiki is a footwork art.  Nearly the only posture we ever use is shizentai (natural, upright posture), and about  the only thing we ever do with our arms is to hold them straight and to open and close our hands.  The entire body ethic of aikido is minimalistic - for the express reason that we don't want our bodywork to disrupt our own footwork.

Aiki is an evasion art.  If you can at all possibly avoid and evade and brushoff and runaway, you do. 

But the problem with that is you have to have a backup plan for when your evasion is imperfect, so we spend a lot of time learning how to hit people for maximum effect and how to bend uke's joints to reduce his mobility so he can't catch up or keep up with our footwork.

When you are good at footwork and you have good strikes and decent jointlocks as a backup plan, the opponents tend to start dispatching themselves.

But you have to have the footwork working properly first.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Settling for less than ippon

It can be tempting sometimes to settle for less than technical perfection (ippon) in judo.

Sometimes we feel like it is not possible or reasonable for certain throws to generate an ippon, so we settle for a merely-acceptable throw (yuko) or for a takedown.  But all throws in Kodokan Judo can be done skillfully for ippon.  The ippon potential exists for all the named throws in judo.
This doesn't necessarily mean that you will be able to develop masterful skill at all the throws in judo.  Your personal set of favorite, most skillful throws is likely to be very small, perhaps fewer than a handful of tokuiwaza.  But this doesn't mean that after a couple of clumsy initial tries you can settle for yuku-skill (or worse) in those throws.  You have to avoid settling.  Seek perfection.
This settling can be even more tempting in aikido, because the ideal is even more stringent than ippon.  For a judo throw to be an ippon, it has to land uke hard, fast, and mostly on his back, with you in control.  But in aikido, not only do you have to throw the equivalent of ippons, you (sorta) have to do it effortlessly and with perfect accord between your energy and uke's.  I say "sorta" because this is mostly an unspoken ethic, but it exists nonetheless.
So it can be tempting to tell yourself that you are "effortless enough" or that you are "fairly effortless" while being  "exquisitely effective."  It's easy to justify rough aikido as being sufficiently close to ideal that you can settle.
Don't do it.  I have seen and felt that elusive perfection (or something much closer to perfection than my current skill level) to know that I don't have to settle in aikido or judo.
So, you can do seoinage and shomenate and make uke fall down... Great!  Now, can you do it softer? With more harmonious blending?  More automatically?  With greater control?
[Photo courtesy of Flibber]

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Saturday, November 27, 2010

Rank test as a teachable moment

We've got a new brown belt at Mokuren Dojo!  Today Todd did an excellent job at his sankyu demo.
In this era of McDojos, what does excellent mean?  Well, I don't think that you have to be the ultimate master of all the Sankyu material by the time that you get your sankyu.  In that case nobody would ever be good enough to get a brown belt.  You should, however, be able to perform most of the material (4 out of  5 techniques or 80%) pretty good and you should be improving on all the previous material.
So, any student in any demo will have better and worse techniques...
I had an instructor one time tell me that they thought that tests should be teaching opportunities instead of torture or punishment.  Seemed like a pretty good idea to me, so today, when our "test" showed that Todd had a pretty good grip on all the stuff, but was weakest on Junana #9 - udehineri (A.K.A. kaitennage or udegarame nage) we spent nearly the whole remainder of the class time working that technique in several of its variations - from a punch, from a wrist grab, and the jodo udegarame where you thrust and uke grabs your stick.  Turned out to be a lot of fun working around and about that single idea.

[Photo courtesy of Peter Bekesi]

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Friday, November 26, 2010

Judo for self defense

Brought to you by the "unbreakable umbrella" guys. Looks like a great program. very similar to the traditional Goshin Jutsu and Kimenokata ideas.

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Tuesday, November 23, 2010

What do you do with a maniac?

What part of your martial arts are you reasonably sure would work... would improve your situation if you were faced with a maniac?

I mean a real frothing-at-the-mouth, doped-up, raving lunatic with nothing to live for?

Thank God those types are few and far between!

(But does it seem like its getting more or less likely you'll see this type person at sometime in your life?)

Monday, November 22, 2010

If a tree falls in the woods...

I got a couple of great comments on my recent article in aikido journal about kuzushi (unbalance).

I asserted that kuzushi was useless unless it is effortless.  One guy commented that if it is forced, it isn't really kuzushi.  Another commenter said that if you force the kuzushi then you areunbalanced yourself.

This brings up another aspect of kuzushi... If nobody is able to make you pay for your unbalance, are you really in a state of kuzushi?  If you attempt to force a kuzushi and create a weakness in yourself that nobody is able to exploit, are you really weak?

Like the old riddle about the tree falling in the woods where nobody can see or hear it...

Like Schrodinger's poor cat...

Tuesday, November 16, 2010


Tonight was one of those nights when I started out the kid's class already so fatigued I wished it was over.  But somehow I managed to drag myself into gear,and we ended up having one of the most extraordinary kids classes ever!

After warming up I asked each kid what was his favorite throw.  Whit said ouchigari, so we did uchikomi, throwing on ten with me giving hints. 

Then comes the remarkable part. when asked for his favorite throws, Knox gave some complex description of some unnamable something. I finally figured out he was talking about sode tsurikomi goshi, a throw he had  never done, and which I had never taught to the kiddies, but which he had seen me do a time or two.  So we uchikomi'd this throw and they all did great!

Quin closed our uchikomi practice by calling for osotogari.

As we were leaving told all the kids I wanted them to do these very throws to their opponents in their next competition.  Quin immediately responded, "No problem.. that will be easy!"

Yeah, baby!

My kids working shomenate

Trying a new thing... Posting video from the Android...

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Tomiki Aikido's Tsunako Miyake

Look what I found!  There are not many (any?) films out there on the net of Tsunako Miyake doing aikido.  Here is a clip of her and Ohba doing some of Sankata and Gokata.

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Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Owaza and atemiwaza

It's cool how every single aikido class gets better and better.  We literally have no mundane classes at our dojo.
Tonite for half the class we worked on owaza #1-5 from 2-wrist grab conditions, then for the second half we worked on junana 1-5 using a cool teaching method that Usher-san showed this weekend.  Nice flow, good intensity, plenty of falling, and decent repetition.
It's really cool having the best aikido class and the best aikido teacher around right here at our school!

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Monday, November 08, 2010

Whirlwind budo tour

Whoa, Nellie!  The last three weeks have been a whirlwind tour!  First we had the Aiki Buddies Gathering here at Magnolia, then I had the opportunity to teach a seminar at Union University's awesome new judo club (800 mile drive) and then this past weekend we had a fantastic aikido seminar at Starkville (400 mile drive) with Henry Copeland.  All three were well worth the effort but needless to say I am knackered and haven't felt like posting to the blog for the past couple of days.
Never fear, these three events have given me a ton of blogging material for the upcoming weeks, including more on ushirowaza, more on how I go about introducing newbies to the Kodokan Gokyo no waza, and some updates on the Henry Seminar, including Owaza Jupon and Koryu Dai Go.

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Friday, November 05, 2010

Kosoto gari

I am no master of judo.  If there is one thing that I have mastered, it is screwing up judo.  I absolutely claim the title of Hanshi Screwup .  For instance, In my last post I mentioned that I start new students with deashibarai, well I've done bazillions of reps of deashibarai and I have messed up bazillions minus about a dozen reps of deashi.
In all my vast experience, I've found two very common ways of messing up deashibarai...
  1. tori kicks uke's leg way up into the sky but uke doesn't fall.
  2. tori kicks uke's leg early and uke's leg doesn't move at all.
The second technique I teach, kosotogari, is a fix for the second problem.  Tori sails in and pulls the trigger on deashibarai but by the time he catches uke's foot, uke has weight on it and it doesn't move.  This is not really a big problem.  Turn the corner around uke's weighted front foot, and when uke's far foot falls again, sweep the same leg you tried before.  Because of the change in angles the second sweep carries uke's leg forward rather than across, making it kosotogari instead of deashibarai.  Works very nicely a lot of the time in randori.  In fact, here is a pic of one of my students throwing a very nice round-the-corner kosotogari during a club shiai:

By the way, I have a super-elegant fix for the first problem above - kosotogake!  I guess that just comes with the title of Hanshi Screwup!
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Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Deashi barai

 Watch "[Dai Ikkyo] 1-De-ashi-barai (Advanced Foot Sweep)" on YouTube

So, I had the privilege of teaching a judo seminar at the new judo club at Union University this past weekend.  We started off with deashi barai.  No big surprise there... Kano placed it first in the gokyo so that's where we start.  Turns out it is a great place to start because,

  1. It is just about the first throwing technique you can get to when uke gets inside touching range, and...
  2. Deashi sets up all other throws.

Want to get better at all your other throws at the same time?  Spend some time on deashibarai.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Kuzushi is useless unless it is effortless

Have you ever noticed, when practicing renzoku (combination techniques) in aikido or judo, that the more effort that you put into forcing the first technique to work, the less likely you are to get the second technique?  Well, consider this...
Classically, any throw is considered to be divided into four parts:
  • kuzushi - getting uke offbalance
  • tsukuri - fitting in for a throw
  • kake - the moment of throwing effort
  • zanshin - followup, or remaining alert
Or, in other words, any throwing action is a combination (renzokuwaza) of those four actions.  Just like when doing combinations, I bet if you examine your technique you will find that the more effort you put into attaining kuzushi, the less able you are to get into proper position (tsukuri), and that if you force the tsukuri then it will be harder to get kake.  Finally, if you do manage to pull off kake by grunting your way through it you won't be able to get any semblance of zanshin.
The purpose of kuzushi is to make it easier to do a technique.  If you have to exert so much to get kuzushi that you make it harder to do the technique, then the kuzushi is useless.
Thus, kuzushi is useless unless it is effortless.

[Photo courtesy of JA Dianes]

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Thursday, October 28, 2010

Kataude dori - release#1 ushirowaza

Here is another example (time 1:25-1:35) of release#1 being used from an ushiro position - this time, uke has tori in kataude dori - a locked-arm come-along.  Tori gets in synch with uke's stepping and steps away, drawing uke offbalance.  To further disrupt uke's motion, tori "kicks" uke's leg.  I use the quotes here because you don't really have to kick, just touch his leg to stop it and stick it to the ground.  From there tori does a large release#1 motion and finishes with wakigatame.
We played with this interesting little tidbit during this past weekend's ABG.
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Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Giant release #1 from ushiro

Here is an old video of Yonkata.  Not a bad example at all.  I particularly like their interpretation of the first two techniques.  Very similar to some ideas that Henry Copeland showed us at a Yonkata seminar a couple of years ago.  I also like the (fast) pacing of this demo.
But the reason that I posted it is as an example of the first ushirowaza that we played with this past weekend, which is the seventh technique from this collection appearing between time 0:20 and 0:22.  This is a good example of what I was mentioning in my previous post about it being very difficult to prevent release #1, even if uke gets behind you.
Later in this exercise (technique #14, time 0:52-0:55) you see this idea repeated.  Tori tries to do #1 release from an ushiro condition but uke succeeds at preventing R1, so tori slips under the arm (release #5) and finishes with maeotoshi.

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Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Ushirowaza as releases

In our particular flavor of Tomiki aikido, we have a set of movements called releases that sorta act as beginnings.  Then we have the basic kata techniques in Junana and Owaza that act as endings.  You can, to a large extent piece together most any technique in aikido by starting with one of the releases and ending with one of the kata finishes.
So, where does ushirowaza fit in with respect to the releases?  Easy.  Most of the ushirowaza are about the same things as releases #1, 2, or 5.
In fact, at the beginning of ABG 2010, I posed the question, "In our system of aikido, what is our first exposure to ushirowaza?" Folks mumbled and stumbled around and finally came up with, "Koryu Dai San."  Well, actually it is at white belt, not quite the first day of practice but soon thereafter - Release #5 is usually introduced to beginners by saying, tori is trying to do #1 but uke is trying to turn the corner and take tori's back, so tori steps under uke's arm.
It turns out that Release #1 is very hard to stop tori from doing.  There are several kata variations (like Yonkata #7) that illustrate a release#1 from an extreme ushiro position - deep in the hole.  But every so often uke grabs your back with sufficient vigor that you can't get #1 to work, so what are the backup plans for release #1?  Release #2 and Release #5.

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Monday, October 25, 2010

What I'm teaching at Union

This coming weekend, October 29-30, 2010, I'll be teaching a judo seminar at Union University in Memphis. The tentative curriculum includes...
  • 4 parts of a throw
  • 2 ways to do kuzushi
  • 1 time to do kuzushi
  • deashibarai
  • kosotogari
  • hizaguruma
  • osotogari
  • koshiguruma
  • taiotoshi
  • renzoku-style practice vs. static uchimata - what each is good for

Any of that sound interesting?  Want to attend? send me an email and I'll direct you to the right folks at Union to get you set up to come play with us.

Why ushirowaza?

The thematic focus for this past weekend's abg was ushirowaza (attacks from the rear).  "Why ushirowaza," I was asked. Well, besides the fact that it is a part of aikido that we mostly neglect, I had a handful of reasons...

To improve randori.  Ever get into a situation in randori where you hesitated to do an otherwise appropriate move because the guy might get your back? I bet if you hesitated then he got your back anyway.  More exposure to ushirowaza should reduce that hesitation.

Rory Miller made the observation in a recent blog post that we tend to tell students to attack from the back, and we teach them how to do it, but when we spar or randori, we revert back to toe-to-toe.  I think greater exposure to ushirowaza will have a positive effect on this.

Thirdly, I have been thinking lately about what a gruesome hodgepodge the advanced kata in Tomikiryu are.  If you want to study ushiro (for instance) you have to search thru all the kata because these techniques are scattered here and there.  To facilitate studying specific attacks, I've been disassembling the advanced kata and cataloging the techniques in lists sorted by attack.  Since it was already on my mind, we took the ushiro list and worked it.

...so that's why ushirowaza.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

ABG 2010 Schedule

This weekend we'll be having our 5th annual Aiki Buddies Gathering (ABG) at Mokuren Dojo in Magnolia, MS.  Looks like we'll be having aikidoka from Starkville, Jackson, Magnolia, Baton Rouge, and perhaps a couple of special guest appearances from folks from Memphis and Seattle among others!  We'll be working on ushirowaza (attacks form behind) so expect a series of posts in the next few days on these ideas that we're working through.
The schedule for the weekend goes something like this:
  • Friday 10/22
    • 5:30-7:30 aikido
    • eat something TBD
  • Saturday 10/23
    • breakfast (unhealthy-but-delicious stuff!)
    • 9:00-11:00 aikido
    • eat something (Elise is making a pot of chili)
    • 1:00-3:00 aikido
    • 5:00-7:00 aikido
    • Woodhenge - cookout - but bonfire is not likely due to burn ban.
 Plenty of open mat time.  Y'all are welcome to sleep on the mat or in the living room if you like.  If you need directions to the dojo, check the link in the top right corner of this page or call me.
Be there and be square (triangle-circle-square, that is)!
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Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Shomenate - foundation of aikido

Shomenate is the first "real technique" that we teach beginner aikidoka because it is foundational to the rest of aikido practice but also because it is just about the best fall-back self-defense technique there is. Here are a couple of hints to make the most of your shomenate.
  • Extend uke's neck fully - Remember, you don't want to press horizontally backward on uke's face. Instead you want to use your palm under his chin to tilt his bead backward so that his spine is locked into an upward-looking position. This makes it harder for uke to attack you (he can't see you), it is disorienting, and it gives you tremendous leverage on uke's center through his locked spine. From this position you press horizontally backward through uke.
  • Tori, extend your step through uke - You want to take a larger-than normal step through uke's feet with both of your feet. If you leave one foot back then you sap power out of the throw. Try to get both of your feet past the line of uke's heels. Try to get your second foot (recovery step) in there as fast as possible. This sort of feels like a hop, but not upward - your direction of travel is downward and forward between uke's feet.
  • Uke, yield and fall - take a step back and sit down. Oftentimes if tori is nice to you, it would be possible to step back and not fall, but this can spoil your learning effect. You want to take this time to learn how to handle this fall so that it is not as severe, so ... take the fall!
 [photo courtesy of Ashley Rose]
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Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Proof of Chinese influence on aikido

There's this conspiracy theory promoted by nutjobs like Dojo Rat and some of his ilk, that Morihei Ueshiba must have been influenced in his creation of aikido by the internal Chinese martial arts - particularly by Baguazhang.  There are similarities between these arts, but nobody has been able to put forth any definitive proof that Ueshiba visited Master-X in year-y and studied these particular parts of art-Z that eventually became this thing in aikido...
Then I remembered this little nugget and it hit me, this is suggestive of a Chinese connection.  Is it proof positive?  Certainly not, but it is at least suggestive...
Canadian Aikido master, Henry Kono, states in this lecture, that he asked Ueshiba directly, "Why can't we do the things that you do?" and Ueshiba replied, "Because you do not understand Yin and Yang."
I watched that lecture a long time ago, but it just hit me today, those are Chinese words for a Taoist concept.  The Japanese terms for the same concept would be In and Yo.  So...
If Kono was quoting OSensei directly and not just spontaneously translating for his audience, then Japanese Ueshiba was using Chinese terms for a concept that he claimed was the secret underpining of aikido.
Interesting.  Maybe Dojo Rat is not as much of a nutjob as you might first suspect ;-)  Nah  I'm sure you're right...

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Monday, October 18, 2010

Shambhala's new Book of Five Rings

I recently got a chance to review a wonderful new edition of Miyamoto Mushshi's Book of Five Rings that was just published by Shambhala.  This is a lovely yellow hardcover binding of the classic Cleary translation (I've read good, bad, and ugly translations of this book, and Cleary's is by far the best) and it has lovely, full-color art on the cover and within.  Also, as a nice bonus, the entire text is included in audio on two CDs.
If you're looking for a good translation nicely bound with good art and audio, this is definitely the book for you.  Click on the link to the left to order from Amazon.

Friday, October 15, 2010

The Legion of Extraordinary Dancers!

I stumbled across this on Netflix today and watched it on a whim. First, let me assert my masculinity. I am not a Gleek and I don't watch dance movies unless my wife threatens me.  I even puke at the thought of having to endure America's Got Talent and Dancing with the (hasbeen) Stars.
But this was the most extraordinary show I've seen in a long, long time. I sat engrossed and watched 10 episodes back-to-back. According to Wikipedia, they have the first three seasons already filmed. I for one, cannot wait to see the rest of the show.
Check it out for a much more engrossing superheroes/martial arts series than Heroes (which went down the toilet at super-speed)

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Tuesday, October 12, 2010

High tech blogging

Trying out a new thing here.  I just got a new high tech Android phone with a blog client, so I'm trying out flogging on the go.  Client seems to work nicely...

Saturday, October 09, 2010

Both Taikyoku and Heian

What do you learn in Taikyoku that you don't learn in Heian?
Nothing really. You could toss Taikyoku out the window if you wanted to - a lot of instructors do. I prefer to practice both Taikyoku and Heian.
So we're back to the question - why do Taikyoku if you are going to be doing Heian?
I consider Taikyoku a very general-purpose exercise. The arm motions are just PNF patterns (PT-speak for universally-applicable general motions) and the lower body work is just teaching how to lunge, transfer weight from leg-to-leg, turn, and recover.
So, why can't we just work on that stuff in Heian? We can, but I prefer to separate out the true fundamentals, so we can concentrate on that stuff in Taikyoku, then start working on how to turn those general-purpose fundamentals into techniques and applications in other exercises. This way you get to concentrate on the fundamentals in their own context and you get to concentrate on the techniques and oyo and bunkai in other exercises.
In any case, I am one of those (perhaps rare) karate guys who see value in both Taikyoku and Heian.
As an aside, why do you suppose Funakoshi named this nearly trivial kata Taikyoku, which means something along the lines of "Universal" kata?
[photo courtesy of Marius Zierold]

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Friday, October 08, 2010

Avoid a fight at all costs?

This is the common, wise-sounding advice that most sensei tell their students... "Avoid a fight at all costs, but if you have to fight..."
I'm waiting for any of y'all to wake up and protest the inconsistency in that. Come on - That's an obvious load of malarkey!  "Avoid ... at all costs...but..."
If there was no cost you were unwiling to pay to avoid fighting, there would be no, "...but..."  It would be impossible to make you fight.  It would literally be "Not worth it, man" (another common piece of folk wisdom).
What cost would you be willing to pay in order to avoid a good ole' fashioned Saturday Night Knife Fight?  Would you be willing...
  • to take a few extra steps? to cross the street? to completely change your itenerary?
  • to be humiliated? in front of your lover? in front of your buddies?  in front of your kids?
  • to give up your wallet or purse?
  • to give up your right to vote?  How important is sufferage, anyway?
  • Are you going to avoid "at all costs", attacking the intruder in your child's room?
Pay attention to this next part...
If you are willing to pay any cost to avoid a fight...
...then you raise the value that someone receives by accosting you.
Whatever you do, do not "avoid fighting at all cost."

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Thursday, October 07, 2010

The long lost Goshin Jutsu kata post

Several months ago I had a great, extended blog discussion with some of my blogospheric Tomiki Aikido buddies about the nature of the Judo exercise titled Kodokan Goshin Jutsu.  This discussion went on for week after week and spilled over at least three blogs that I can think of right off the bat.  If you have good endurance, you can click on the Goshin Jutsu tag below and read through them, but if you just want a summary, the discussion basically went something like...
"It's not a kata... Yes it is... No it's not... Yes it is, here's how you do it... No you do it this way..."
Basically I took the position that Goshin Jutsu is not really a kata, rather more of an exercise or drill with a greater extent of variation within it than one would expect from a kata.  Some of my buddies insisted that it should be done in a high-precision, kata-like way.
Anyway, in my last post in that series I promised a final post on why my buddy's high-precision approach is really a pretty good way to approach it... But I never delivered that promised post, so here is it... The LONG, LOST GOSHINJUTSU POST! (fanfare)
This exercise, whether you call it a kata or not, should (usually) be done with as great a degree of precision as you can possibly muster.  Even if you try to do it exactly the same way every time, some variability will creep in.
Both the precision and the variability are good things.
You still need kata-like precision in your repetitions because this provides a baseline against which variation stands out more clearly.  If you deliberately do the exercise differently every time, you introduce a lot of deliberate variability but you can never detect (and figure out what to do about) more random variation.  Slight changes in timing and pressure and cadence and angle remain hidden and you can never learn from them.
But on the other hand, if you do the exercise (dare I day, "kata") the same way every time, then when there is some random variation, you immediately sense it and you say to yourself, "Hmmm... That was unusual."  (which is the real beginning of the learning process).
It is the striving to attain precision that is valuable to you - not the attainment of absolute precision.
In the striving, you set the stage for variation (which is what you actually learn from) to happen and become noticable.
Did I say this was the long lost Goshin Jutsu post?  I meant that this is the long lost kata post.  That concept of precision and variability is applicable to any kata in any art.  It is even applicable to stuff you would never call a kata (like newaza drills for instance).

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Wednesday, October 06, 2010

"I dare not fight for fear of revenge"

Whenever someone is talking about self defense some interesting questions always come up...
  • "What if I try to fight back and it just makes them mad?"
  • "What if I sucessfully fight back and they blindside me later?"
  • "What if they take it out on my wife or kids or friends?"
Seems pretty straightforward to me. Sure, you might get some revenge action sometime later in your life but you can't live your life right now based on imaginary worst-case futures... .
If there is no chance of avoidance, then you absolutely must stand up for yourself when attacked.  If you are able to successfully solve the immediate problem right now then you can worry about the imaginary worst-case futures as they draw closer to becoming real and immediate (and you'll often find that they are much less than worst-case).

How do you deal with this sort of potential revenge issue?


Doshu doing ushiroryotedori iriminage

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Monday, October 04, 2010

Weapons in martial arts

One thing that is interesting to me is which weapon systems go with which empty-hand arts.  For instance...
  • In karate classes, you most often see long staff, nunchaku, tonfa, and sai.
  • In kung-fu classes, you see longstaff, spear, and saber.
  • In aikido, you see knife, short staff (or spear), and sword.
  • In judo, the little you do see involves stick, knife, and gun.
Of course in each, you see other weapons but for the most part the above seems typical.  Why do we never see bo work in aikido?  I know the answer is because it just isn't done.  But it doesn't make sense that you can weild a jo in an aiki-like fashion but those principles don't translate to the bo.  Why couldn't someone (for instance) do aiki-bo?
When I first started doing karate in college, we did staff work but I haven't done much of that for a long time.  I figure it's time that I dusted off whatever remnant still lies in my brain...

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Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Owaza Jupon is the bomb!

I've said it before, probably more times than you care to read, but I just have to re-iterate that Owaza Jupon is by far my favorite exercise in aikido.  This rabbit hole keeps getting deeper and deeper.
Tonight we spent the whole time on Owaza, doing the techniques from the "standard" fast shomenuchi attack as well as the ryotedori attack that brings in so much of the material and ideas from Koryu Dai Go (see the old video above).
Lately I have most enjoyed the feel of the looser gurumas - the ones with the most slack between uke and tori - namely udeguruma, shihonage, ushiroate, kotegaeshi, and ushiro kubigatame (#4, 6, 7, 8, and 9).
Of all the formal exercises that we've been given, Owaza feels the most like real aiki to me.  I love it!

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Sunday, September 26, 2010

What is aikido?

Aikido is an international language in and of itself.  Here is a lovely short film of a German practitioner talking about the use of hands in aikido.

Translation, as provided by my friend, Alan McKay of the Urban Hippy blog...

"I am always astonished at how (rough) people are with their hands. The strength they use when they grab - either it is far too firm, or they do not trust themselves to grab (ed: meaning, grab too lightly).  It does not feel natural. I think a key benefit of Aikido is that people can learn to use their hands in a more natural way much like kids do when they first start grasping things. Not all cramped up or stretched out. Just simple. Simplicity of movement is what they can achieve."

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Thursday, September 23, 2010

Martial arts as an artistic dialogue

The other day I had a nice phone chat with Sensei Strange.  Today I was reading the preface to a book of short stories by Orson Scott Card (one of my favorite writers) and a quote jumped out at me as pertaining to our phone discussion...
Art is a dialogue with the audience.  There is no reason to create art except to present it to other people; and you present it to other people in order to change them.  The world must be changed by what I create... or it isn't worth doing. (OSC, Flux)
To what extent do y'all think this applies to martial arts?  If it does apply, who is your audience and to what degree do they dictate the validity and value of your art?
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Monday, September 20, 2010

Going from good to great in martial arts

Funny thing... In most martial arts teaching systems that I've seen, they've developed a pretty good system for getting students from day#1 to decent proficiency - say about 3rd black belt level. These systems have been pretty well optimized - there is not too much skill difference between most 3rd degree black belts in Shotokan and Isshinryu and Taekwando - or between 3rd dans in Tomiki aikido, Hombu aikido, and Yoshinkan aikido.
But nobody seems to have a good, systematic way of getting folks from pretty-good level (about 3rd dan) to masterfully amazing skill (8th dan or so).  There is a lot of plasticity in practitioners at this level.  I bet if you did a study of amazingly skilled players - the highest ranked folks in a given style, you'd get a lot of variability in their answers as to how they got from good to great.
See, there is no master's training program because you have to figure out your own path from good to great. There is no way for someone else to tell someone who is approaching mastery the right path to take because it is wholly subjective and personal.  While it is useful to study other masters (living and dead), it doesn't do too much good to try to emulate them because you can't become them any more than you can become a tree frog. You have to be true to yourself and develop your own art that you are the ultimate master of.

[photo courtesy of David Jubert]
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Saturday, September 18, 2010

Aiki playday

Today we had our aikido playday.  Sparse attendance, but those that were here had a good time.  We didn't do any flashy whizbang ninja techniques but we spent the whole time on release#1 and falling safely.  Turns out that front roll and back fall is pretty much the best self-defense you can learn, so everyone got their monies' worth.
In the private aiki class earlier this morning we did all 17 of the fundamentals from release#1, as in Nick's new film.  Lots of fun and good practice.  Check the film below...

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Friday, September 17, 2010

The language of martial arts

The name of a thing holds some power.  Not as in some magical incantation or absolute determinism,  but the name we call things influences to some degree how we think about them.  If we are naming techniques, the naming can influence how we do the techniques. 
For instance, I have mentioned before some controversy in the aikido world about the naming of the technique, shihonage (all-directions throw).

In the Japanese martial arts, I have seen severeal options used for for naming techniques and kata...
  • numeric - ikkyo(first teaching), koryu dai san (old-style kata #3)
  • descriptive - oshitaoshi (push down), hizaguruma (knee wheel), osotogari (big outside reap)
  • poetic - taniotoshi (valley drop), mizu nagare (flowing water), yama arashi (mountain storm)
  • vulgar - not as in obscenity, rather as in the common language of the realm.  In a class in an English-speaking area, taiotoshi might become "body drop" and gedanbarai might become "low block."
Ed Parker, founder of American Kenpo used an interesting combination of poetic and vulgar, when he named the self-defense techniques (really miniature kata) in his system, coming up with names like...
  • Clutching Feathers - a defense against a hair grab
  • Flashing wings - a technique featuring elbow strikes
  • Snapping twig - an elbow dislocation
Oh well... to some degree this is one of those Shakespeare deals...

What do you think are the pros and cons of the different ways of naming martial arts techniques?

'Tis but thy name that is my enemy;
Thou art thyself, though not a Montague.
What's Montague? it is nor hand, nor foot,
Nor arm, nor face, nor any other part
Belonging to a man. O, be some other name!
What's in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet;
So Romeo would, were he not Romeo call'd,
Retain that dear perfection which he owes
Without that title. Romeo, doff thy name,
And for that name which is no part of thee
Take all myself.

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