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.
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