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What's with the floating throws?

For a while now, I've been pondering on and practicing around the set of ukiwaza in Junanahon kata.  These things are called floating throws, which sorta begs the question, "What's so floaty about floating throws?" or "What do the floating throws have that other throws don't that makes them floaty?"
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Here's one explanation that I heard from a very highly-ranked teacher a while back (or at least my understanding of his teachings). Part of what makes this scheme interesting is it includes shihonage as a floating throw even though it's usually grouped with the wrist throws.
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If you get into exquisite synch with uke, then you can accentuate his ups and his downs slightly.  A lot of what we do involves accentuating a down-step to make uke fall (we call this otoshi).  But there is the other end of the spectrum.  If you accentuate uke's upward motion even slightly then you can get an effect like throwing a ball up in the air, where it floats motionless for a moment.
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In the case of uke, you don't actually throw him upward, but if you catch him at the top of his upward motion and lift slightly, then it sort of unhooks him from the ground, effectively unplugging him from his source of power (the Earth).  The effect is that uke stops exerting (because he has nothing to exert against) and starts trying to get his connection to the Earth back.
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In this scheme of floating throws, you get in synch, float uke as described above, and as he tries to re-establish his connection to the earth in different ways, you guide him (and yourself) into the apropriate form for shihonage, maeotoshi, sumiotoshi, or hikiotoshi (or a lot of other possible throws).
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So, it's the kuzushi that's floaty - not the nage.  Interesting, huh?
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Patrick Parker is a Christian, husband, father, martial arts teacher, Program Director for a Cardiac Rehab, and a Ph.D. Contact: mokurendojo@gmail.com or phone 601.248.7282 木蓮
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Helpful handful: Mastering sumiotoshi

A fellow aikidoka asked me the other day for some advice regarding his desire to focus on sumiotoshi and improve that particular technique. I think sumiotoshi is a pretty good place to start with such a focus, because a) sumiotoshi is fun to play with, and b) sumiotoshi illustrates the floating throw principles well.
  • Don't base your idea of success on uke having to take a big, beautiful fall. Sumiotoshi means 'drop uke in the (back) corner" not "flip uke thru the air." You can get many, many more repetitions if you set uke down into a gentle backfall than if you make uke take the airfall and you can get a much cleaner understanding of the principles if uke goes along with the throw than if he fights with you for every inch of it. If you take a million compliant, easy falls from a gentle sumiotoshi it will be much easier to see when something is wrong with your sumiotoshi or someone elses. The million easy falls serve as a baseline for what sumiotoshi is supposed to feel like.
  • When you start doing the 1-handed versions instead of the classic 2-hands-on-the-wrist version, you open yourself up for a lot of variations and interesting effects. For instance, try throwing sumiotoshi with one hand pushing the arm and the other on uke's face. This sort of practice also leads to the otoshi-guruma connection and has made a lot of difference in my students aikido lately in this area.
  • Sumiotoshi starts from the inside, floating offbalance. Step offline inside and pull uke's arm into the hole. As he tries to stand up, help him up out of the hole. This unhooks him from the ground and floats him for a moment (similar feel as release#2).
  • Practice throwing sumiotoshi by relaxing out of this floating kuzushi instead of by trying to whip uke's arm around the corner at just the right time.
  • As you begin to get a good handle on the floating and relaxing ideas in the context of sumiotoshi, this will likely lead naturally to your wanting to beat the other floating throws (and shihonage) to death. All these same ideas apply there as well. As you get really good at these principles in the context of the floating throws (and shihonage), you'll see them pop up more and more in the other throws throughout aikido.
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Patrick Parker is a Christian, husband, father, martial arts teacher, Program Director for a Cardiac Rehab, and a Ph.D. Contact: mokurendojo@gmail.com or phone 601.248.7282 木蓮
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United Nations Aikido Ninja

Who'da thunkit? The UN has aikido ninjas? The really interesting part begins around 1:00.

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Patrick Parker is a Christian, husband, father, martial arts teacher, Program Director for a Cardiac Rehab, and a Ph.D. Contact: mokurendojo@gmail.com or phone 601.248.7282 木蓮
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Using the startle reaction

One of the ideals in aikido is to make use of simple, natural motions because this makes your art easier to do as well as being more reliable under stress. One example of this is our use of the startle response.
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When surprised by a sudden sound or movement, the typical reaction includes:
  • bend elbows - this results in the hands being rapidly brought in front of the throat and face in a protective gesture
  • bend knees - this results in the body starting to fall backwards, presumably away from the threatening stimulus.
There are numerous other automatic reactions throughout the body, but the most interesting and useful part of the startle response is to start moving back as the hands shoot up between the face and the threat.
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It is possible to deaden your response to surprising stimuli, as in the children's game where you try to stand still while someone feigns slapping you in the face. Little boys like to be the" tough guy" who can stand still in the face of an oncoming strike, or else be the guy who "made the other guy flinch."
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But this startle response is hardwired into your nervous system, so why bother trying to overcome it? It is amazingly rapid, reliable, and effective, so let's learn to use it. You don't really want to fall back into a fetal position when threatened, but maybe we can learn to gently steer our innate startle reaction to be even more useful. Here's the direction that we try to steer the reaction:
  • as your hands come up between your face and the threat, turn your palms toward the threat and extend your arms as if to push the threat away.
  • as you start falling, shift your weight so that you fall to the side or forward instead of straight back.
This type of modified startle reaction results in you automatically stepping out of the way, blocking the centerline, and attacking the face of the attacker (assuming a human threat). You will make your aikido much more robust and reliable if you can work on making all your techniques start with this type of motion. Once you play with this for a while, you will find yourself automatically entering with a 2-handed shomenate (chin jab/eye gouge) when threatened, then falling into an appropriate technique.

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Patrick Parker is a Christian, husband, father, martial arts teacher, Program Director for a Cardiac Rehab, and a Ph.D. Contact: mokurendojo@gmail.com or phone 601.248.7282 木蓮
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Where is the initial kuzushi for shomenate?

So, how do you usually practice shomenate?
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What I'm specifically asking about is the direction of the initial offbalance.  Let me describe it for a sec...
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In shomenate, uke lunges through ma-ai and tori slips out of the way moving roughly 45 degrees forward and inside the punch.  Tori uses his lead hand to parry the punch, switches hands, and pushes uke's face in to make him fall backward.
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So the question: as uke's lead foot touches and you parry with your lead hand, do you push uke's arm the direction of his feet or  perpendicular to his feet toward the rear?
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How do you do it?

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Patrick Parker is a Christian, husband, father, martial arts teacher, Program Director for a Cardiac Rehab, and a Ph.D. Contact: mokurendojo@gmail.com or phone 601.248.7282 木蓮
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Scott Sonnon's IntuFlow

This is pretty interesting, and there appears to be a lot more where this came from - If you like this, check out his subsequent vids.
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Patrick Parker is a Christian, husband, father, martial arts teacher, Program Director for a Cardiac Rehab, and a Ph.D. Contact: mokurendojo@gmail.com or phone 601.248.7282 木蓮
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How to gain or lose weight instantly

Heavier guys hit harder.  Sure, there are small people that can hit hard - some can hit harder than much larger people, but in general the larger you are the harder you hit.  This is why there are weight classes in contact sports, and why weight is valued in such sports.
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The problem with getting larger in order to hit harder is that it takes a lot of time and effort to gain sufficient mass to hit a lot harder - plus, you have the potential to become overweight, which we all know can take forever to recover from.
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What if I could teach you how to instantly get significantly heavier for just long enough to hit someone really hard, then just as instantaneously lose that weight?  Sound useful?
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Try this.  Stand on an analog scale and pulse your feet downward to make the needle jump upward.  You can do this by bending and straightening your knees so fast that you only drop an inch or two - almost as if you instantly retracted your landing gear and then extended them again, just 2 inches shorter.  When your mass drops onto the scale the needle jumps up. (you might want to get a cheap or old analog scale because this exercise is likely to destroy it.)
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Sure, you're not actually gaining mass, but you are allowing your mass to interact nearly-instantaneously with gravity, which creates an effective increase in weight.  During that drop, you are effectively heavier and can hit harder. 
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For a fun exercise/demo, extend an unbendable arm, palm-outwards and touch a punching bag.  Then practice dropping weight and directing the reverberation through your body into the bag in sort of a zero-inch punch.  I bet you find that the better you get at making the scale needle jump, the more effect you'll get on the punching bag.
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Once you get this skill to the point that you can get some good effect on the punching bag, I bet you can find places you can apply this trick in karate, judo , or aikido.
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Patrick Parker is a Christian, husband, father, martial arts teacher, Program Director for a Cardiac Rehab, and a Ph.D. Contact: mokurendojo@gmail.com or phone 601.248.7282 木蓮
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Nagekomi and randori

Like most all martial arts, judo has two main forms of practice - kata (forms practice) and randori (sparring or freeplay).  Nagekomi is a form of kata practice in which certain forms of throws are repeated, or drilled.  Here is a video of some of my judo kids doing some nagekomi followed by some randori.
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Patrick Parker is a Christian, husband, father, martial arts teacher, Program Director for a Cardiac Rehab, and a Ph.D. Contact: mokurendojo@gmail.com or phone 601.248.7282 木蓮
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Ukemi from Tomiki atemiwaza

A couple of my kids doing some falling from several of the atemiwaza techniques from Tomiki aikido. I think it's pretty good for their first time trying these techniques - and the falling is pretty good too.


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Patrick Parker is a Christian, husband, father, martial arts teacher, Program Director for a Cardiac Rehab, and a Ph.D. Contact: mokurendojo@gmail.com or phone 601.248.7282 木蓮
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How is the forward roll structured?


Yesterday I mentioned that ukemi is a coordinated blending of structure and softness, form and pliability.  Today I wanted to point out several of the points during a forward roll where you need structure.  Basically, the places where you can't tolerate pliability in the forward roll include:
  • Lead shoulder - if your body first hits the ground on your shoulder (sometimes you overturn and hit on your lats instead), then you want to make sure that you contact on the back of the shoulder, not on the top or point of the shoulder, as this is more easily broken.  The best way that I know to insure that you strike the mat on the back of the lead shoulder is to pronate, or rotate the entire lead arm inward and palm-downward as far as it will go.  This rotates the deltoid muscles of the shoulder over the point of the shoulder and locks the shoulder in a relatively stable position.
  • Head and neck - as you contact the ground, you will need to clear your head out of the way.  The best way to do this is to look away and tuck your chin, as if trying to stick your nose into your rear armpit.  With the lead shoulder turned as detailed above, and the head tucked into the read armpit, your upper corner becomes very round.
  • Abdominal control - as you roll across your back, you want to follow a path from the back of the lead shoulder diagonally across the back, passing the spine between the meatiest parts of the lats, to the side of the rear hip.  It takes fine coordination of muscular action in your abs and back, as well as slikked placement of your legs as counterbalances to make yourself follow this path every time.
  • Landing position - As I mentioned in a comment in the previous post, there is difference of opinion on this point, but I teach the classical judo landing position with the upper leg bent with the knee pointing upward and the foot behind the lower leg.  The lower leg is mostly straight-ish and you end on the meaty, muscular part of your outer thigh and calf.  There are more specifics to this landing position, but the important point is to land with the upper leg behind the lower leg - not crossed over in front.
So, if you get those four points of structure in place, the rest of the roll before and between  and after can be relaxed and pliable and soft and you won't go too far astray.
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I want to make a little film in the next few days of a kneeling forward roll, because it's the best way to explain some of the little details of the abdominal control thing I'm talking about here.  Stay tuned!

(Photo courtesy of Camilla Hoel)
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Patrick Parker is a Christian, husband, father, martial arts teacher, Program Director for a Cardiac Rehab, and a Ph.D. Contact: mokurendojo@gmail.com or phone 601.248.7282 木蓮
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Softness and structure in ukemi

Ukemi (falling) is an interesting coordination exercise. You have to embody a mixture of pliability and structure - and each at the right time. One of my favorite demonstrations of this involves a jo stick and a judo belt.
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The jo is the embodiment of structure - it is all structure and no pliability. Take the jo and drop it onto a hard floor. It hits and clatters and bangs and rolls around. Unless you threw it down really hard it's not likely to have been damaged because of its excellent structure. But it sure took a lot of abuse banging around on the ground. It's pretty obvious that if you were to make your body all stiff like the jo, you'd take a lot of abuse when you hit the ground.
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So, most everyone immediately thinks, "softness must be the solution." Try this - take the belt and drop it onto the floor. Sure enough - it lands with hardly a sound. The belt, in its softness and pliability is much, much better than the structure of the stick! You could throw the belt as hard as you possibly could at the ground and it wouldn't hurt it because of its pliability. But if you look at the way the belt lands you'll see it lands in loops and curls all in a jumble. Think about that for a minute and you realize that you wouldn't want to land on the ground with your limbs like that, all overlapping and tangled up, or else you'd end up doing things like hammering one leg with the heel of the other foot. So all-soft is not the solution either.
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You have to be soft at the right times and structured at the right times - and both qualities coordinated in the right proportions. That is the major trick in learning to do soft ukemi.
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Sean Ashby is doing an excellent series on Excellent Ukemi. I can hardly wait for the next installment. It has inspired me so much that I wanted to throw in a handful of points of my own. (I hope I'm not scooping him.) Head over there and check out his ukemi series, and then come back tomorrow for some of my thoughts on how you can develop this specific coordination of pliability and structure in your ukemi.

(Photo courtesy of Marius Zierold)
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Patrick Parker is a Christian, husband, father, martial arts teacher, Program Director for a Cardiac Rehab, and a Ph.D. Contact: mokurendojo@gmail.com or phone 601.248.7282 木蓮
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3 ways to avoid a punch

The other day, Zacky Chan asked me to elaborate on a post I made a while back about a certain kind of evasion motion in aikido.  I think I need to put it into context a little.
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Suppose you are standing, facing north in a natural, upright posture and someone is throwing some sort of relatively straight-ish punch directly southward toward your face.  Further suppose you 'decide' that you are going to evade toward your attacker but offline roughly 45degrees forward to your right.  Got it?
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In this sort of situation there are three basic ways of evading...
  • stepping - when you decide to pull the trigger on the evasion you lean your center of balance over your left leg, pick up your right leg, put your right foot back down somewhere over there, lean your center over your right leg, pick up your left leg, and put it back under you.  You have moved out of the way (off the line of attack), but it took you 2-3 weight shifts to do it and you passed through the plane of the attack twice -once when you leaned left and once when you stepped right.  Japanese teachers call this ayumiashi.
  • dropping - This is a more favored technique for getting out of the way.  here, without leaning your center of mass to the left, you pick up your right leg, your center starts falling to the right, then you put your right leg back down under your center and bring your left leg with you.  Here your weight shifts are minimized and you only pass the plane of the attack once as you fall to the right.  Japanese teachers call this tsugiashi.
  • stepping over the hill - But, there is a situation where ayumiashi can actually be faster than tsugiashi.  Suppose you are walking along and you just put your right foot down when they attack and you have to evade right then.  Your right foot is stuck and it's hard to pick it up to drop to the right.  So, you have no choice but to pick your left foot up and step forward and to the right, past your right foot to get off line.
When you are in a natural, upright balanced posture you can (sort of) choose whether you want to step or drop out of the way (but dropping is usually better). But when you are already in motion, you may not have a choice but to step over the hill because it's easier and faster than dropping in some situations.
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Did that make sense?  I promised you a better description, Zacky, but this might just be more verbose.  I will try to film a short video sometime soon to augment this descriptive text.
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Patrick Parker is a Christian, husband, father, martial arts teacher, Program Director for a Cardiac Rehab, and a Ph.D. Contact: mokurendojo@gmail.com or phone 601.248.7282 木蓮
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Elmar Schmeisser's kata bunkai rules

Over the last few years, several authors have tried to put together sets of rules or principles for decoding kata - for figuring out what the kata movements mean. One oft-cited set of kata rules comes from Elmar Schmeisser's several books on Shotokan kata and the bunkai (analysis) thereof. Schmeisser's rules, stated somewhat generally include:
  • Each movement/position must do something useful to the opponent from the defender's point of view.
  • No opponent may be left in a condition to continue or resume an attack.
  • There must be a safety margin in case of the failure of any technique to have full effect.
...and restated more explicitly...
  • Damage the incoming limb(s) while avoiding the main vector of the attacker.
  • Keep control of the opponent by using offbalancing movements and remain physically attached.
  • As far as possible, always have both hands engaged with the opponent.
  • Move away from or interdict any remaining threatening limb(s).
  • Have a backup and/or a continuation available if any techniques fails.
  • Escalate defense combinations with progressively more damaging counters that move inward towards the opponent's body.
Interested in reading more of Schmeisser's ideas about kata, bunkai, and self-defense? Check out his book, Channan; Heart of the Heians:

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Patrick Parker is a Christian, husband, father, martial arts teacher, Program Director for a Cardiac Rehab, and a Ph.D. Contact: mokurendojo@gmail.com or phone 601.248.7282 木蓮
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Ukemi, balance, and sidedness

Photo courtesy of Whatnot

This past week has mostly been a bust for yoga practice because I had other stuff that captured my attention, but there were a couple of really interesting practices.
  • falling out of balance poses - in aikido I often preach that when you are working on your ukemi skills, you want to practice slowly moving through the arc to the "point of no return" - the place where you can no longer control your balance and you have to fall - and then falling from there instead of jumping through the "point of no return" into your rolls. This has several benefits, including chalenging your balance. This past week I practiced rolling out of virabhadrasana III (Warrior #3) and out of ardha chandrasana (half-moon posture). By having the ukemi as a safe extension of the pose after the "point of no return", it allowed me to move farther into each pose with less resistance, and my balance was better, and it made for nice, gentle rolls.
  • Exquisite sidedness - I also noticed this week (I notice it every week) that my practice is very different from one side to the other. In side-bending from a simple cross-legged posture, I am much tighter bending to the right (stretching my left flank) than I am bending to the left. Also, there's an obvious difference in janu sirsasana (modified hurdler's stretch) from left to right - but it's not in my hamstrings. The difference is on my back and flank again. Stretching toward my right leg (stretching my left flank) is much easier than stretching toward my left leg. The interesting thing is that my limitations are opposite in these two postures - I'm limited by my left flank in one posture and by my right flank in another posture. Curious.
Well, not a complete bust I guess... ;-)
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Patrick Parker is a Christian, husband, father, martial arts teacher, Program Director for a Cardiac Rehab, and a Ph.D. Contact: mokurendojo@gmail.com or phone 601.248.7282 木蓮
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My stupidest idea yet!

Photo courtesy of OpalandtheIdiot

What do you think has been my dumbest idea so far here at the Mokuren Dojo blog?
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This blog has been chugging along for years now with near-daily updates.  That adds up to thousands of posts in my archives!  There's no way in the world that all those articles were as thoughtful, inspiring, and mind-enhancing as I must have thought when I hit PUBLISH.  Some of my ideas must have really sucked!
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I want to know which idea in which article you think was the most ill-conceived, least helpful, most retarded thing I've written in all my years!  Leave me a comment and let me have it!

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Patrick Parker is a Christian, husband, father, martial arts teacher, Program Director for a Cardiac Rehab, and a Ph.D. Contact: mokurendojo@gmail.com or phone 601.248.7282 木蓮
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The most important muscle

Photo courtesy of SweetJ

A few years back an instructor pointed out to me an interesting journal article about aging and frailty.
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As I remember, the scientists were trying to figure out what was the difference between elderly people who become frail and elders who thrive.  So, they got a big sample of elders and divided them into two groups (triving and frail), and measured lots of physical variables to figure out what caused the difference between the groups.
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Among all the variables that they measured they only found one significant difference - the thriving group had significantly greater strenth and flexibility in the muscles surrounding the ankle (specifically the calf muscles).
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That can't be right!  What in the world does the ankle have to do with how you age?
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Well, think about it for a minute.
  • Every time you sit down or stand up, you have to either pick your heel up off the ground (putting a lot of stress on the knee) or you have to stretch your achiles tendon so your heel can stay on the ground.  If you can't stretch the ankle and you can't withstand the stress at the knee, then you can't sit or stand in a controlled manner.
  • Every time you have to step down off of a step or a curb, it's the same story - stretch the calf muscles and make a controlled descent, or hop/limp down and risk falling.
  • Every time you walk on any uneven surface you have to make many small adjustments in your ankle to control your balance.
So, if you don't have the strength and flexibility in your ankle to control your balance, then as you age, you're going to have to stop walking outside and stop climbing up and down steps and stop going places where there are curbs.  You basically have to stop moving - and that's a prescription for disaster!
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So, who'd have thunk it - the ankle is the most important part of your body for continued health into old age?
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And that's why activities like taichi and aikido have been demonstrated to be so good for aging people - they carefully and deliberately exercise the ankles under weightbearing loads! 
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Patrick Parker is a Christian, husband, father, martial arts teacher, Program Director for a Cardiac Rehab, and a Ph.D. Contact: mokurendojo@gmail.com or phone 601.248.7282 木蓮
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How to choose a martial art

Another great comment and question I got via email a day or two ago, relating to my recent self-defense articles...

I really like your martial arts articles. I am a guy looking into different MA's to find which I want to study. I was reading one of your blogs and in one you say that Aikido is best in self defense and better than Karate by a wide margin. But in another, about a contest between Karate and Aikido, you say that Aikido sucks and Karate rules, and that you can never rely on Aikido in the street. These ideas seem opposite. If you have time, could you clarify. I'm tending toward Aikido because though having decent athleticism, I'm starting brand new at age 40 and I'm fascinated by the idea of using another's force against them. I've heard that Tai Chi also can really be used at full speed as a viable martial art. Ideas on that? I'm considering taking tai chi to start just because I can get into a free class. Thanks for any thoughts you might have.
I'm glad you've been reading my blog and getting something valuable from it. I also love answering questions and helping folks figure out if aikido is right for them.
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Sure those ideas in those 2 articles are opposite. That was sort of my provocative way of responding to a guy who had asked me if an aikido guy could beat up a karate guy. The straight answer for you is this, there is no "best" martial art.  Each one has its pros and cons that fit or miss your personality and preferences. You might become great at any of them, and as for a fight between a karate guy and an aikido guy, it'd basically be a question of whoever was luckiest that day.
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Aikido works great for self-defense, I think aikido is the best self-defense art I've ever studied (see this article too), though there are some caveats (check out my latest post on the subject). Also, look thru my archives for the topic, self-defense.
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Probably the biggest caveat is this - your mileage will vary a great deal depending on what kind of instructor you get. Some instructors teach the art as almost a dance form, while others teach it as a violent, self-defense thing. Other instructors fall all over that spectrum.
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Tai Chi is also a martial art with combative applications, but in my experience, it's far harder to find a martial-minded (self-defense) tai chi teacher than it is to find a martial-minded aikido teacher. Most tai chi teachers teach the thing as some sort of eastern health improvement thing instead of as a martial art.
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I'd say, go watch several aikido classes (more than one) and see if you seem to jive with the instructor. See if there is a connection there. Then make your decision.  The connection with the instructor is probably one of the most critical factors.
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Patrick Parker is a Christian, husband, father, martial arts teacher, Program Director for a Cardiac Rehab, and a Ph.D. Contact: mokurendojo@gmail.com or phone 601.248.7282 木蓮
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Yoga measuring sticks

Photo courtesy of YoGeek

I don't remember if I got the idea of "measuring sticks" from aikido and it translated into my yoga practice, or vice versa.  In any case, the idea crops up in both artforms.
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What I call a measuring stick is a reference technique or asana that is repeated periodically throughout a workout in order to see what effect your workout is having on your posture or technique.  For example, I might do a sukhasana (simple cross-legged position) with a forward bend at the beginning of class in order to observe where I'm tight or tired.  Then I'll repeat it some time in the middle of the workout to see what the intervening postures have done for me this day.  At the end I might repeat it again, this time settling into it for a prolonged breath count.
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Other common asana that you might see used as measuring sticks include tadasana (the mountain posture), trikonasana (triangle), adho mukka svasana (down dog) or uttanasana (forward bend).  I particularly like to do malasana (deep knee bend) as a measuring stick.
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By repeating the same posture throughout the workout, you can gain some insight into what each set of postures is doing for you in relation to the measuring stick technique.  Do you find your hips more flexible the second time?  Is it easier to breathe the third time, etc...

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Patrick Parker is a Christian, husband, father, martial arts teacher, Program Director for a Cardiac Rehab, and a Ph.D. Contact: mokurendojo@gmail.com or phone 601.248.7282 木蓮
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Should I do aikido for self-defense?

Photo courtesy of TXD

I got a great comment on my last post via email...
Your latest post certainly got me thinking, particulary when you said "That's not really what we want to be learning. Aikido and judo are about improvement of the self, and only peripherally about self-defense..."  It made me inwardly scream "say it ain't so!" Because I'm not really interested in improving myself. Not through martial arts, anyway. The foremost reason I put myself through what I do (aikido, judo, and bjj) IS about self-defense...
Good point. And you are right that this stuff was originally solely combative.  The turning point (from -jutsu to -do) was in the aftermath of the Meiji restoration with the advent of judo and aikido and jodo and kyudo, etc... from the original combative arts.
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But there are some things you have to watch out if self-defense is your primary motivation for training...
  • Non-verifiability - You can almost never tell if your self-defense training is successful. In our society, dangerous as it is, most of us never have to really defend ourselves. So I could be selling you a load of malarkey, betting on the chance that you'll never get a chance to verify my teachings (though I don't think that's what I'm doing).
  • Non-measurability - You can't measure non-events. If you are never attacked, is it because you're lucky (or because of God's Providence) or is it because your aiki training improved your awareness and self-confidence enough that villains never targeted you? Or is it because your aiki training made you better at de-escalating potential problems?
  • Correlation is not causation - Even if you are attacked and you beat the other guy up and save yourself, can you attribute that to your aikido training or is it due to luck or providence or your innate strength or what?
  • Diminishing returns - if you make self-defense the center of your motivation, you can attain that goal as good as anyone can teach it by about green or brown belt. Any martial arts instructor in the world that's worth a darn can easily teach you everything he knows about self defense within about 40-60 mat hours. But there are folks that spend a lifetime studying aikido - so what are they doing with all that time after the first hundred hours or so? Self-defense as a motivation is subject to diminishing returns.
But self-defense is as good a motivation as any - none of the other reasons for practicing are objectively measurable either.  If you claim that you are practicing for "self-improvement," how do you define self-improvement and if you do achieve that self improvement (whatever that is), how can you tell that it's the aikido practice and not simply the passage of time that is improving your character? Practicing for health benefits is likewise shaky - can you say that having no negative health outcomes is due to your practice? If you do have an heart attack then can you say that your aikido practice was a failure?  You might as well just say, "It's fun.  I enjoy it."
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So, my assertion was that un-measurable, un-objective goals like self defense could not really be the center of what we're doing (at least not for long). The central motivation for most folks that stick around for a long time seems to be an intangible, subjective benefit that has something to do with health + confidence (or lack of fear) + fun + socialization.
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Patrick Parker is a Christian, husband, father, martial arts teacher, Program Director for a Cardiac Rehab, and a Ph.D. Contact: mokurendojo@gmail.com or phone 601.248.7282 木蓮
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Aikido is unrealistic

A perennial complaint against aikido involves the supposed un-reality of the training methods.  Apparently some people who watch aikido from the outside would like for aikido to be more realistic.  And aikido practitioners on the inside are not even immune to this idea either - we get a lot of suggestions about how to improve the realism in our training.
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But if you think about it a minute, not only can our training not be much more realistic, but people don't really want it to be more realistic.  Consider this... if some really bad person were to attack another person for real out in the dark, gritty, realistic street, then the defender is likely to try their best to really, really hurt their attacker.  One person or the other (maybe both) is going to end up really broken, cut, or shot with their eyes really mangled and their head really smashed open on a real curb.
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Is that what we should be aiming at simulating in regular everyday classes with regular, non-superhuman participants who have families and jobs and lives outside the dojo?  Of course not.
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So, why can't we come up with some protective equipment or something that would let us inject some small additional fraction of that reality into our learning? Several reasons...
  • That's not really what we want to be learning. Aikido and judo are about improvement of the self, and only peripherally about self-defense against realistic attacks. Now, aiki and judo can be helpful when attacked, but that's not the center of the idea behind the training.
  • Reality is chaotic, and your mind sucks at learning in truly chaotic situations. You have to systematize and organize and compartmentalize that chaos so that you can actually experience some of it more than once in order to learn from it.
  • Chaos is threatening, and your mind sucks at learning when you are threatened and stressed. It's not that you can't learn under stress - people do it all the time. But it's more difficult and more unpleasant to learn that way.
  • Chaotic, threatening things are dangerous, and cannot be made non-dangerous. Most normal students are not willing to increase the danger level by increasing the realism even slightly.
Aikido is unrealistic, and can't be made much more realistic. But so are karate, judo, jiu-jitsu, taekwando, boxing, wrestling, krav maga, sambo, kendo, iaido, capoiera, target shooting, and every other martial art. That doesn't make any of these things less worthwhile. It just makes them not-the-same-as-reality.
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Patrick Parker is a Christian, husband, father, martial arts teacher, Program Director for a Cardiac Rehab, and a Ph.D. Contact: mokurendojo@gmail.com or phone 601.248.7282 木蓮

If it ain't broke...

If it ain't broke... then what do you do with it?
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We've all heard the old axiom, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it," suggesting that we shouldn't make un-needed modifications to a system that is serving its purpose sufficiently.  Well, I don't particularly subscribe to that line of thinking.  I prefer a variation that I think I remember hearing from Tom Peters:
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If it ain't broke
you'd better break it and rebuild it better
before your enemy has a chance to break it!" 
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At my dojo, we are the inheritors of some pretty darn good methods for teaching aikido and judo.  Methods that stretch back more than a century, retaining and preserving the best of the old, while occasionally incorporating the best judgements of masters, each of whom had more than half a century of experience.  These days we really don't have to think too much about how we teach these things - if you mostly teach like your teacher taught, then history suggests your students will generally have pretty good outcomes.
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But, having said that, I am still in a constant process of tearing my syllabus and teaching methods down and re-building them to see if I could do better.  This is generally a private exercise for me - I've found that it doesn't do much good to inject all that chaos into my students' lives.  I try to reserve any changes that I want to make to my syllabus to occur right at the beginning of each year so that my students don't feel like the ground is always shifting under their feet.

But I've found that it is really beneficial for me as a teacher to constantly review the hows, whys, and what-if's of our syllabi.  How we arrange and present the material, why we choose to do it that way, and what if it were arranged and presented differently.
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Because... if you don't break it and re-build it better, your enemy might break it first!
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Patrick Parker is a Christian, husband, father, martial arts teacher, Program Director for a Cardiac Rehab, and a Ph.D. Contact: mokurendojo@gmail.com or phone 601.248.7282 木蓮
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Small ashiwaza IS classical judo

Photo courtesy of Simmr

A couple of years ago I posted one of the cool old judo vs. jujitsu stories for Dojo Rat. Of particular interest was the story of the Metro Police tournament at which the Kodokan judo guys won 8 out of 9 fights against jujitsu guys and fought the remaining one to a draw.
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Well, I stumbled across another account of this tournament in Toshiro Daigo's Kodokan Throwing Techniques book where he gives some more interesting details.  All that you ever hear about that tournament was that the inventor of the yama-arashi technique used it to win one match.  Well, per Daigo (p131):
"In those matches, Kodokan players used small and agile techniques like ashi-barai, kouchi-gari, hiza-guruma, and ouchi-gari to defeat the other side, who used osoto-gari and newaza."
Did you get that?  These Kodokan demigods in the late 1800's were dominating their opponents with small ashiwaza!  That's a far cry from some judoka of today who seem to only want to throw huge uchimata and osotogari throws.
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Some folks claim that the idea of classical judo is a myth, but I say not only is classical judo not a chupacabra, but small ashiwaza was (and still is) at the technical center of classical judo.  
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Want to be able to do judo like the Kodokan demigods of the late 1800's?  Put in a little more study of ashiwaza.
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Patrick Parker is a Christian, husband, father, martial arts teacher, Program Director for a Cardiac Rehab, and a Ph.D. Contact: mokurendojo@gmail.com or phone 601.248.7282 木蓮
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3 ways to rescue a failing hip throw

Photo courtesy of Simmr

It's happened to everyone who has practiced judo for any length of time - you get what you think is sufficient kuzushi, turn in for your favorite hip throw, and uke blocks it or slips it.  Sometimes you might want to start over with a new kuzushi, but sometimes you can rescue that dying hip throw.  Here are three of the best, most common ways to save a hip throw that's not quite there.

  • reset the fulcrum - If you enter for a hip throw and can't get it to go, reset the fulcrum (your hip) lower.  Change ogoshi to tsurikomigoshi.  Change ukigoshi to hanegoshi or haraigoshi.  The lower you get the pivot point, the more likely uke is to fall over it.  If you can't lower the fulcrum then you might try raising your grips (eg. ogoshi to sodetsurikomigoshi).  This can have the same effect.
  • guruma - Sometimes you can't set (or reset) the fulcrum because uke is holding back from you.  If you can't get your hip into position against uke, try a guruma action - particularly ashiguruma or koshiguruma.  This tactic seems to be favored by larger judoka when fixing a hip throw that is failing against a smaller opponent, perhaps because larger, slower judoka have more trouble getting turned all the way in before they are blocked or slipped.
  • sacrifice - Sometimes, despite getting as good a fulcrum placement as you can, you still can't make the thing go.  Maybe the thrower is too small or the uke is too big.  In this case, switch to a sacrifice version of the hip throw (like seoiotoshi or drop-knee seoinage or makikomi).  This tactic seems to be favored by smaller judoka when throwing larger opponents because it lets the smaller player use more of his mass and it's easier for the smaller guy to drop-knee between a larger guy's feet than vice versa.

So, next time you are working your hip throws in randori and you're blocked or slipped, you might try one of these ideas to breathe some new life into a dying hip throw - reset the fulcrum, guruma, or sacrifice.
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Patrick Parker is a Christian, husband, father, martial arts teacher, Program Director for a Cardiac Rehab, and a Ph.D. Contact: mokurendojo@gmail.com or phone 601.248.7282 木蓮
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Seated or standing - mind, body, & breath

Photo courtesy of Stephcarter

A couple of weeks ago I mentioned that I prefer my seated yoga practice over my standing yoga practice. But one of the interesting things that I've known for a while but was pointed out to me lately is that the practice is a wholeness thing. Whether you're doing seated or standing or lying down or standing on your head, you're doing yoga.
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Funny thing I've found is that my seated practice makes me better at my standing practice. On days when I can't drag my mind and body kicking and screaming into a standing practice, rather than fighting against that resistance, I do a nice, comfortable seated practice and more often than not I can come back to the next standing practice in a better frame of mind and performing better.
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Another way of looking at the same thing is this - yoga is a wholeness - you are training your mind, body, and breath (like sanchin in karate, huh?). Whether you are doing standing or seated practice with your body, you're still training mind and breath the same, and those aspects carry over to the next training even if there is little or no crossover between the physical skills of the two practices.
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Interesting, huh?

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Patrick Parker is a Christian, husband, father, martial arts teacher, Program Director for a Cardiac Rehab, and a Ph.D. Contact: mokurendojo@gmail.com or phone 601.248.7282 木蓮
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Other blogs (not as good as mine, but they try awfully hard!) :-)