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.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Kubiguruma as failed shomenate?

Sensei Strange et al are having a nice discussion over on his blog about my favorite kata - Owaza Jupon.  In one of the comments it was mentioned that you can think of kubiguruma as a failure condition for shomenate - in other words, you tried to push uke's face and missed, with your arm passing on the side of uke's head away from his lead arm.
I've heard this explanation before - try shomenate and you miss so you grab his neck and do kubiguruma. But then I got to thinking... (you smelled smoke, I know)
Has anyone ever missed shomenate in randori this way?  The only times I ever remember missing shomenate in randori, I'm either being carried away from uke by my momentum so I miss altogether (and I can't grab his head from here) or I try shomenate and uke pushes the hand off his face with his free hand (as in urawaza shomenate countered by wakigatame) - to the wrong side for kubiguruma.
It's kinda hard to conceive of a situation where shomenate would miss on the kubiguruma side of uke's head and you'd still be in a position to grab his neck.
Is this my lack of imagination or is this a sort of contrived linkage between shomenate and kubiguruma?
Now on the other hand, I have done kubiguruma with my hand on uke's face like in shomenate.  Makes for amazing falls. But switching from a failed shomenate to kubiguruma???  I don't know.

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Saturday, September 11, 2010

The 76th down block

One of the maxims in karate (good karate that is) is that there is no wasted motion.  We do not chamber punches to look good, rather there is some reason for doing so.  Something that robs the opponent of their momentum and gives you an advantage.  For instance, the chambering motion for a downward block (gedanbarai) can be interpreted as an offbalance and drag-by that places you behind the opponent in position for a choke (ushirojime)  or drag-down (ushiroate).  In aikido parlance we call this type of motion release#4 or release#2. 
One of the really cool things about this interpretation of the gedanbarai chamber is that it makes karate kata a constant reminder of your priorities when attacked - your first thought should not only be to slip out of the way, but also to get behind the attacker.  That is one thing that the gedanbarai chamber does for you and it is one reason that it is repeated so very often in the kataset.
I don't know if this particular kuzushi and drag-by is one of the oyo in Rick Clarks intriguing book, 75 Down Blocks.  I haven't gotten a chance to read it yet.  But this 76th down block is what we worked on today in both  karate and aikido.

[Photo courtesy of Marius]

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Thursday, September 09, 2010

The odds and the evens of budo masters

You know, classes have a distinctly different feel to them of there are an odd number of students as opposed to an even number of students.  I think this mostly boils down to the fact that if an odd number of students show up for class, the sensei has to pair up and work in with the class or else do some juggling of students.  When an even number of students shows up, the sensei can stand to the side and look mysterious and inscrutable.  Sensei gets much more exercise when an odd number of people show up.
But if you reduce this to minimal class sizes - like only one or two students showing up, some other interesting things show up...
  • The koryu relationship - Back in the day, when much of this stuff was transmitted from one master to one student in private lessons, the sensei frequently played the role of uke (attacker).  Makes sense...  The sensei already knows the tori/nage part that the student really wants to learn, and the master can provide better ukemi.  More precise, correct attacks by the master make for much better performance and learning from the student.  This sort of thing was more common in the koryu (ancient) arts, and you still see this sort of arrangement in a lot of weapon arts - typically the attacker is the more experienced person in the relationship.
  • The gendai relationship - But a different sort of relationship sprung up in what I might call the "classical period" of the gendai (new) budo (judo, aikido, karate-do) - that is, the first half of the 20th century.  In this new relationship, the student was often expected to take ukemi for the master for an long time before he got to be the tori/nage.  In this sort of class, the master would sling the student around and the student was expected to "steal the techniques."  Students became adept at eidetic learning because they had to - there was no way the master was going to take falls while lecturing an inept student.  The student might not even get to be uke until another, more junior student showed up.
  • The western relationship - And then a third type of relationship emerged - perhaps we could call this the Western period, when the knowledge had been disseminated sufficiently that westerners (who were used to more egalitarian, democratic relationships) mastered the arts and got their own students.  More often in this sort of relationship, the master and the student would be expected to alternate between the roles of tori and uke.  I recall one of my instructors, who sort of started on the cusp of this third period, described getting abused by his instructor until he became skilled enough to put his foot down and demand more egalitarian treatment - as in the master takes as many falls as the student.
Interestingly - these sorts of relationships don't much show up except in very small classes - as in one master and 1-2 students.

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Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Shaun Hoddy ushirowaza

A large chunk of the ushirowaza that we will be working on at the October gathering comes from the Koryu Dai Ni.  Here's a film of Shaun Hoddy demonstrating these ushirowaza (starting at about 0:45)

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Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Leftover questions about Sankata

Last year's (October 2009) Aiki Buddies Gathering I had intended to work on Owaza Jupon and the nidan part of Sankata (first 16 techniques) because a couple of the attendees were working on these nidan requirements.  It turned out that was too ambitious - we had a great time spending the entire ABG on Owaza Jupon and we didn't get to Sankata at all.
So, I had a handful of questions left over from that clinic regarding suwariwaza...
  • We (every aiki class I know of) only does a handful of suwari, and only in kata mode.  Why do we never progress past this kata mode in our practice of suwariwaza?
  • In the other kata (not Sankata) there are hints of other suwari modes - i.e. jutai timing - that we never play with - why?
  • Why don't we play randori on the ground? Why don't we do releases from suwari? Why not chains? kokyuho/kokyudosa?
...these all really boil down to one question...
  • If suwariwaza has significant value, why don't we practice it more often in more varied modes? If suwariwaza does not have significant value, why not drop it completely from the requirements?

 [photo courtesy of Shugyou]
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Saturday, September 04, 2010

Gift horses in randori

Excellent judo this this morning.  We did randori with the explicit goal of getting the other guy on the ground and moving toward udegarame (americana).  Our one take-away point for the day is...
  • When you are attempting udegarame, the other guy can defend by pulling his arm back to his center (attack with wakigatame) or by rolling his center to face his bound arm (take his back and do hadakajime).
Or, stated more generally... You can't be so obsessively single-minded about your tokuiwaza (udegarame) that you look a gift horse (wakigatame, hadakajime) in the mouth.
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Wednesday, September 01, 2010

The aikido decision stick

Was it Rory Miller that coined the term "Decision Stick?"  Or maybe it was Marc MacYoung?  Anyway, the idea is that because your response time increases dramatically when presented with either/or type choices, you have to minimize these branches in your strategy.  You have to prune your decision tree down until it has (nearly) no branches. That's what we worked on last night in aikido.  Our decision tree looks something like...

If the attacker gets closer than ma-ai, then...
  • get out of his way
  • get your hands up between you and him
  • try to push back away from him (or try to move behind him)
  • try to match his motion to minimize his potential energy...
  • if any of the above goes awry, palm to the chin and drive him backward off of you
And the last, most important step in the aikido master's decision stick/tree...
  • if the attacker happens to fall down or get his arm twisted up, give it a name and claim it as your secret technique!
See, the best aiki happens when the tori is trying to work that minimal decision stick and the attacker puts so much thoughtless energy into the system that he becomes unstable and destroys himself.  One of my students put it best... "Aikido is the art of making it look like you meant for that to happen just like that."
[photo courtesy of movestill]
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Yoshinkan ushirowaza

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