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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