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Paradoxes in aiki; to attack or not?

Over the years I've heard from multiple instructors that in aikido you must always attack.  Every step must be some form of attack.  You might attack uke's positioning (shikaku), his balance (kuzushi), his mind (zanshin), his body (atemi), etc... but you must attack uke in some way on every step or else the tide of the encounter will tend to turn in his favor.
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On the other hand, I've heard from multiple instructors that in aikido you absolutely must avoid attacking because you don't want to aggravate the violence and chaos in the relationship and you don't want to give the opponent support or give him something that he can counter.  The aiki thing is to stay safe and go with the flow, and because of a strange thermodynamic interaction between you and them, they tend to degrade into chaos pretty quickly.
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I've seen utterly amazing master instructors work their magic and then cite one of these principles or the other ("always attack" or "avoid attack").  I have tried both methods and I can get some pretty acceptable aikido going either way, but whenever I concentrate on one of these principles for a while I get to wondering if I'm missing something on the other side of the coin.
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What gives?  What do y'all think of this paradox?

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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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Marine Corps ma-ai

A while back I was talking to a friend who had just been to visit his brother's graduation from Marine boot camp at Paris Island.  He had an interesting story to tell.  He said that if any of the recruits got within arm's length of a Drill Instructor, that the Instructor would deck the recruit!  My first thought was, "Cool!  Marine DI's enforcing ma-ai."

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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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What are your club's tokuiwaza?

In judo there is this idea that you learn and practice all the techniques, but you develop a set of favorite or best techniques to focus on - things that tend to work best for you.  These favorite techniques are called tokuiwaza.  We usually think of tokuiwaza as an individual thing based on one practitioner's personality and build, for instance, my tokuiwaza include deashibarai, osotogari, and hizaguruma with perhaps an ashiguruma or koshiguruma in there sometimes.

But I bet the tokuiwaza concept could also apply to communities of players.  People that are coached by the same coaches or who practice in the same context (same city, state, etc...) are likely to have similar sets of things that work for them.  For instance, among my students and myself for the past 15 years or so, it seems like we've probably won the most tournament matches off of kosotogari, osotogari, taniotoshi, and sumigaeshi.
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What would you say are your club's tokuiwaza?  Not the individual players but the club as a whole?
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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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Great Gracie grandson story


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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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Over before it gets started good


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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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End the collusion by adding a knife

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Today I wanted to mention another way to improve the attacks and end the collusion - by adding a rubber knife into the mix.
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First, some warnings - use good sense.  Even a flexible rubber knife can destroy an eye, and the handles of rubber knives are often thick and inflexible and hurt when you get hit with them.  Don't ever, ever practice with wooden or aluminum simulation knives because these can still stab, and it's easy to fall on them. (It's nearly impossible to fall on a wooden sword, but easy to fall on a wooden knife.)
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With those common sense warnings in mind, adding a rubber knife into practice can make it a lot better - or it might not change your practice much.  It's tempting to learn 2-3 cool moves (one of them has to be tenkan kotegaeshi) and consider yourself competent at knife techniques.  Phooey.
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Let me suggest a different mode of practice.  You should never become completely comfortable practicing against a knife.  The purpose of adding a knife into practice is to make uke more aggressive and more obviously dangerous - to make the attacker totally outclass the defender.  The presence of the knife should make you very uncomfortable - so uncomfortable, in fact, that it should force you to grow and get better.
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And don't get stuck (pun intended) with simple, slow tsuki (chest stab) or men (overhead) attacks ala Jim Carey's famous karate skit.  Here are a couple of ways of varying things in order to end the collusion and put some spice - some life back into your practice...
  • Stab twice - define uke's role by saying it is his intent to stab or cut tori twice, no matter what else happens in the technique.  Perhaps at a beginning level you might say the first attack has to be a zombie tsuki but the second attack can happen however uke wants.  Here's another article about the stab-twice idea.
  • Progressive chaos - You might start with the first attack being a zombie tsuki, but then progress to practice where they still have to make a tsuki but they might preceed it with a slash or feint.  Progress from there toward freeform attacks in a stepwise fashion.  But progress instead of stagnating.
  • Start already stabbed - Perhaps you can start some techniques having already been stabbed in the shoulder or side, working under the assumption that a sneaky knife attacker might likely hit you before you can pull the trigger on your technique.  Work your technique maximizing control and minimizing the frequency and depth of cuts you sustain.
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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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John Jerome's Staying Supple

Over the past few years I've read a number of good yoga books, but the best by far is Jerome's Staying Supple. I know, I know, "Yoga is not all about stretching," and Jerome's book is not really about yoga, but you can get some great information that will carry over into your yoga practice.  For that matter, you could consider it a great judo book, because judo can be translated as the art of flexibility, or suppleness (as in, supple mindedness or flexible tactics), and a lot of Jerome's ideas about suppleness can transfer to judo..
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This is IMO the best commonsense stretching book around.  Not a lot of technical how-to, but a lot of material on how muscles work and how they stretch and lengthen and how you can maintain a good range of motion through highly enjoyable groundwork yoga-like practices.  This is the book that got me started stretching 20+ years ago, and it is still my favorite.  Highly recommended book!


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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: 5 lessons from karate

Here is a handful of lessons that you should probably get in a karate class.  At least, my karate teachers all emphasized this stuff.
  • karate ni sente nashi - there is no first strike in karate.  That is, you (often) don't have to be the aggressor to defend yourself.  In fact, similar to the ma-ai idea in my previous post on 5 aikido lessons, the second guy to move often has the advantage.
  • kime - When you recognize your opportunity, take a stand and throw all of your power and soul into it instantly, because you may not get a better chance than right now (ichi-go ichi-e - "one encounter one chance")
  • kiai - can defibrillate, demoralize, or destroy.
  • Seek safety in the mouth of the dragon - Seek safety in the heart of danger - it takes a special kind of person to "run toward the sound of the guns" in order to put an immediate end to a problem. Directness is a karate virtue.
  • Circular defeats linear, linear defeats circular - Not exclusively a karate idea, this concept is incorporated into the structure of aikido and judo also, but it lies at the strategic heart of karate. Do not fight the opponent's fight. Wrestle a boxer, box a wrestler. If the attack is circular (like a haymaker), then there exists a linear solution. If the attack is linear (like a jab) there exists a circular solution.
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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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Ananuj is Junana backwards

Tomiki defined seventeen fundamental techniques, uncreatively called Junana Hon Kata (seventeen fundamental forms). In our school and a bunch of related schools, Junana makes up most of the material between white and black belt. We require #1-5 for green belt, #6-10 for the next belt, #11-14 for the next belt, and #15-17 for the next belt. This learning system works pretty good for us.
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But one problem with this organization, particularly in smaller classes where the senior students always have to work with beginners, is that if we go in order through Junana (or through any subset of it) we rarely get to practice the higher rank requirements. Sure, my guys end up being the ultimate masters of techniques #1-5, but we don't get to practice floating throws (#15-17) very much. Even if I break up the class and have the brown belts doing their thing while someone else works with the beginners, they tend to beat #15 to death, get a little less practice at #16, and not see #17 very much at all.
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One solution, both simple and obvious, is to work the rank requirements backwards at least occasionally if not more often than that. This way, the stuff at the end gets some practice too.
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Work on Ananuj instead of Junana - and I think you'll make some progress on #17 and #16.

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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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End the collusion by screwing up

A while back Aiki Journal reposted an old article about Ending the Collusion - the idea being to find a way to put a stop for uke jumping onto the ground for tori without regard for the effectiveness of tori's technique. The necessary compliance in ukemi always stands a chance of sinking to the level of collusion, so we must always be vigilant against this sort of fault.
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One great way to see if uke is deliberately taking a dive for you is to deliberately screw a technique up every so often. Stand still as uke attacks and see if he hits you or if he veers away on his own. Start a technique then let go and stop at some appropriate time to see if uke keeps going. Agree on one technique and try a different one.
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You probably shouldn't throw nasty surprises like this with inexperienced ukes - obviously dangerous situations could result. But as you gain more confidence and experience with your partners, check them every so often to make sure they are staying true to the practice. You don't have to do this very often to put a huge damper on the collusion.


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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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Two most important lessons in judo

I recently read Judo Memoirs of Jigoro Kano by Brian Wilson. Much of the book is very interesting, but just as interesting as the biographical material, is an essay by the author, titled, "Judo's Influence on Japanese Society," in which he describes the structure and operation of local (what we'd call grassroots) judo clubs (machi dojo). The amazing thing about Wilson's description to me is how close it is to the way our dojo operates here in southwest Mississippi. Wilson could have watched us playing judo and written nearly the same essay.
  • run on a commercial basis (i.e. not subsidized by the government)
  • small dojo, perhaps no more than 20 tatami (our mat space is 18x36)
  • ex-champion instructor (that's me ;-) lives on the premises
  • teaches anyone showing interest in judo
  • usually only 2 classes/day - kids in late afternoon and adults in early evening
  • kids as young as 5-6 years old
  • integrated classes (boys&girls of all ages)
  • 1-hour classes
  • part-games part-judo
But probably the most remarkable part of this essay is Wilson describing the prime objective of these local machi dojo. What do you think these grassroots programs in Japan consider their most important objectives? Preparing the next Olympian? Teaching osotogari? Self-defense? No.
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According to Wilson, the ethic in these classes is that their most important objectives are twofold:
  • to teach students how to fall without injuring themselves (ukemi)
  • to teach students how to behave in the dojo (reigi)
I was so impressed with this that I proudly stole it. Frequently during warmups, I'll have a little Q&A session with the kids, including...

  • Q: What does the word judo mean?
  • A: Gentle Art
  • Q: What are the two most important things to learn in judo?
  • A: How to fall properly and how to control yourself (or sometimes I'll accept "How to fall and how to behave.")
.I recommend Judo Memoirs as an excellent, interesting read...






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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 & judo keep you mentally healthy

Today the USA Today reported on some recently published research that concluded that playing video games does not really provide any cognitive benefit - they'd previously been suggested as a way to help seniors stay sharp mentally.  USA Today provided some positive suggestions instead of video games...
  • Keep stress levels low. Research shows it lifts mood and cognition.
  • Stay aerobically healthy.
  • Prevent or treat hypertension and diabetes.
  • Find something that keeps your mind engaged — anything you find interesting.
Hmmm.  Lower stress, go aerobic, control blood pressure and blood sugar, and stimulate your mind...  Sounds exactly like a prescription for aikido or judo class! 
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Call me at 601-248-7282 or write me an email at mokurendojo@gmail.com if you would like me to help you get started in an aikido or judo class.
 
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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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Six best karate books

I have published lists of my favorite judo books, aikido books, Tomiki aikido books, and strategy books. Here is a list of several excellent texts on karate-do. Karate-do is such a diverse subject that I bet some of my readers will have different favorite books. I even suspect there are many better books than these, but these six are probably the best start for your karate reading.






Which books other than these would you guys recommend?

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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 yoga resolution for this week

A while back I mentioned that I very much enjoy seated yoga over standing, though you can express the same principles and get the same sorts of benefits from both. I still prefer groundwork.  so much, in fact, that it is easy to get pressed for time or get to feeling lazy and only do the groundwork to the exclusion of the standing practice.
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Well, one of the interesting things about yoga is its balancing effects.  It's hard to get too far off one end of any spectrum in yoga before you start tending back the other way.  Lately I've been missing the standing practice, though it is onerous to me, so I made a resolution for this week - I will only do standing practices this week - no seated postures.  When the groundwork comes up in my practices, I figure to make the following substitutions:
  • replace all virasana (kneeling) and shavasana (supine lying) with tadasana (mountain pose)
  • replace supta padangusthasana (hip openers) and baddha konasana (bound angle) and upavistha konasana (wide angle) with vrksasana (tree pose)
and etc...  This is what I figure to explore this week whether I like it or not, and next week we'll see if my practices return to a more balanced routine.  Wish me luck!
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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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William Shatner on the physics of the dropkick

Lately, Bob Patterson at the Striking Thoughts blog has been covering a lot of news about some loser named Seagal. I don't know what that's all about. I guess Bob can't come up with enough invective about Real American Heroes like Chuck Norris.

Anyway, I thought I'd proffer a celebrity beyond comparison. The inimitable William Shatner discussing three areas in which he is the undisputed 10th degree black belt grandmaster:
  • Star Trek
  • Physics (or whatever that Newton thing was)
  • Beating up daughters' boyfriends'
Not only is this interesting, but we get a great martial arts lesson from it! Enjoy!



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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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Knox's judo testimonial


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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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Great books on Tomiki Aikido

I have published lists of my favorite judo books, aikido books, and strategy books. I thought I'd get a little bit more specific this time, and suggest some excellent resources for Tomikiryu aikido.


















Which books other than these would you guys recommend?

____________
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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Urawaza - half-assed or full blast?

The Tomikiryu counter kata, Urawaza, has its proponents and its detractors.  I've read one instructor state that he thought it is the ultimate expression of our art.  I've also heard instructors state the opinion that practicing urawaza is undesirable because it can teach uke to make half-assed attacks so that tori can counter them properly.
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I tend to think the right place to stand in this debate is somewhere in the middle.  I certainly see what the detractors are talking about, but I tend to stand a bit closer to the urawaza-is-good side of the scale for several reasons.
  • We always have to beware the potential for uke to give half-assed attacks, whether we're doing Urawaza or Junana or any other exercise. Urawaza does not appear to me to be more succeptible to this weakness than Junana or Sankata.
  • A good way of practicing this exercise is for uke to go into each technique looking to be as close to the sweet spot as possible and for tori to enter each technique looking for one specific weakness.  If the uke throws his technique, then it will be because he did it perfectly, but if tori gets the counter then it is because he successfully spotted and exploited uke's deviation from the sweet spot. In other words, by removing the requirement that tori must win every encounter, practicing these counters can help uke and tori become more precise instead of less.
  • Urawaza is not really any different from the chains that we do in which tori sets up a technique and uke walks out of it and tori moves to another technique.  Some of our chains (like #2) feature this trading-roles style practice in which control switches back and forth from one player to the other.  In fact, at our club we like to jokingly call chain #2 the "Who's the boss now?" exercise.
What do you think?  Does practicing urawaza make you more half-assed or full blast?

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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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Cool aikido video

Cool video. I especially liked the energy and the pacing of the classes. Their ability to work on a crowded mat with good flow and nobody getting smashed. I also especially enjoyed the kids' classes. Check it out.



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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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Why only 10 ura waza?

Tomiki defined seventeen fundamental techniques in aikido - things that you should know how to do in order to have a basis to do good randori. There is also a set of counter-techniques for the fundamental techniques. In this set of counters, called urawaza (perhaps it should have been named kaeshiwaza?), uke begins one of the seventeen fundamental techniques, and tori turns the tide, ending in a classical counter.
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But where there are seventeen fundamental techniques, there are only ten counters. What gives?
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Obviously it's not that the other seven techniques are fool-proof, undefeatable things. All techniques can be countered. There even exist classically-known counters for some of the seven non-ura techniques. For example, most anyone that has done any randori knows that wakigatame can be countered with gedanate, but a wakigatame counter does not appear in the urawaza.
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To some degree, the counters in urawaza are representative ways of countering aikido techniques. For example, the principles learned in the kotegaeshi-kotegaeshi counter and the shihonage-shihonage counter can be used to bust any of the floating throws. But the floating throws only account for three of the seven non-ura techniques.
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This also brings up a topic I posted about a couple of weeks ago - the idea that some of the 17 fundamental techniques are probably more fundamental than others. If you notice, the urawaza closely matches the techniques that I listed in that previous article as being the "main ideas" of the seventeen. The only technique missing from urawaza to make it match my list of "main ideas" is #10 - wakigatame. The techniques that I left off my "main ideas" list, like udegaeshi and udehineri, also don't show up in urawaza.
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Also, I think it is sort of odd that the urawaza is a open set, meaning that wakigatame is used to counter both shomenate and tenkai kotehineri, but wakigatame is not part of the set of urawaza (there is no official counter to wakigatame). I would prefer a closed set of techniques, which could best be done by adding the wakigatame-gedanate counter to the official set of urawaza. This would allow us to easily practice chaining the counters together into a sort of chain or pseudo-randori.
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Anyway, that's my thoughts on the Tomikiryu Ura Waza. What do you think of this kata?

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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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Autogenic discharge

Sounds messy, doesn't it? 
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Actually, if you've done aikido or judo or some sort of bodywork like yoga or massage or Feldenkrais for long, I bet you've seen it.  You may not have thought much about it at the time, but when you think about it some it becomes a curious thing.
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Have you ever seen someone take a fall from a perfect, amazing, aiki-like throw, and hit the ground laughing hysterically?  Have you ever seen someone doing yoga or receiving a massage start crying for no special reason?
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Theory is, emotions have a certain kind of posture and movement associated with them.  Over time these postures and movement patterns can become habitual.  Some folks say this is sort of like storing the memory of that emotion in your neuromuscular system.  Sort of a neuromuscular memory of past trauma.
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Well, when you start doing something to change your habitual motions and postures, something like aikido or yoga or massage, it's possible to release the emotion that was originally associated with that habitual muscle tone, creating a spontaneous, inexplicable outburst of emotion.  Often, when you see this, the person can't tell you why they are laughing or crying.  They just know that its not really funny or painful, but they can't stop laughing or crying.  When I see this, I tend to just quietly continue what we're doing and let the emotion wash  on out.
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I wonder if some of the times that we get caught up in ego during randori and become frustrated or angry at our partners...  I wonder if some of that anger and frustration might just be autogenic discharge?  I wonder if we were able to reframe that frustration or anger, could we release it and move on more productively?


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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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April kids' judo 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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Push level and run like the devil!

I was watching a bit of film from a couple of fellow aikidoka, and one of the things I saw was their method of getting an offbalance was to push uke's arm downward toward the ground.  Invariably, both uke and tori stopped moving for a moment, and then started back into the technique.  I think that the reasons for that stoppage of motion were different for the two partners.
  • Uke was stopping because he thought that was what he was supposed to do.  Maybe sort of an over-compliant thing going on. From uke's perspective, being pushed downward just solidifies his connection to the ground, making him stronger.
  • Tori was stopping because the act of pushing downward on uke tends to lift tori upwards and break tori's connection with the ground.  Tori has to stop moving and re-establish his connection with the ground before continuing. See my recent article on floating.
So, my advice was to push uke into offbalance with your arms level with your shoulder (roughly parallel to the ground).  This will leave uke hanging in offbalance (this time uke is unhooked from the ground) while tori is free to keep moving.

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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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Ancient art of Koryu Hakalugi

Warning: This is generally a G-rated blog but today I will be using a quote with some vile language. If bad language offends you, this would be a good post to skip.
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Some years back, a buddy of mine who was in medical school related this story to us. He'd just gotten to the point of his medical education that he was starting to work in a hospital, and his resident-in-charge gathered all the noobie doctors together and told them something along the lines of, "By the end of this first year, you will have been shit on, pissed on, cussed at, and spit on. People will bleed on you, sweat on you, and cry on you. They will slap, bite, and scratch you. You might even be shot, cut, or stabbed. If you don't think you can handle that, you should get out of this field now."
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That is, I take it, par for the course in the combat zone that is the inner-city ER. But it brings to mind the unpleasant aspects of fighting that we cannot practice in the dojo and that we usually don't like to think about. Unsanitized fighting. If you are going to call what you do, "self defense training," then it behooves you to consider a few things. If you get into fights then everything in the quote above, and maybe more, will likely happen to you.
  • What is worth fighting for to that extent?
  • What would you be wiling to do to someone to prevail? Spit in their eyes? Bite an ear off? Break a knee?
  • What sort of insult and injury are you willing to endure in order to preserve your life or someone else's?
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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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Compare and contrast...

Morihei Ueshiba, inventor of Aikido, was prolific in his poetry.  This is one of his hundreds of doka...
A person who

In any situation
Perceives the truth with resignation
Would never need to draw his sword in haste
I think this makes an interesting contrast to St. Bernard of Clairvaux...
A warrior especially needs these three things--he must guard his person with strength, shrewdness and care; he must be free in his movements, and he must be quick to draw his sword.
What do you think of that?
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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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Rules are made to be broken - sorta

Let's engage in some more aikido heresy - take something as foundational as the centered, unbendable arm and the same-hand-same-foot relationship.
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Any good sensei can offer many demonstrations of how this is an optimal postural structure for aikido techniques.
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But there comes a time that you throw all that nonsense out the window and just move! and sometimes good aikido results. Heck, sometimes great, amazing aikido happens this way.  Obviously, under certain conditions, you may disregard the rules.  For instance, if...
  • you are moving in synch with uke, and...
  • uke is not in position to apply force to you through your arm, and...
  • you are not trying to put force on uke through the arm...
...then the arm doesn't have to be unbendable and centered. In this situation, the arm can do any old thing and it just doesn't matter.  Stated more generally, if the arm is inconsequential to the relationship, then forget about the centered and unbendable ideas - they just clutter up your ooda loop.
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But watch out! These conditions can change in the space of about half a step. The arm can all of a sudden become vitally important and if you are out of structure when this happens, you're likely screwed!
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It's a good practice to work within the rules for a long, long time until you get enough experience to (probably) know if you're going to be screwed in the next step or so.  But it's also good practice every so often to say, "Forget all that principle nonsense," and just move and see what happens.
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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: how to improve your atemi

In aikido randori, we sort of have a gentleman's agreement about atemi. If you can get your hand(s) onto the other guy's face and your body structure is right for an atemi, then in friendly randori you can pretty much consider that a "win" even if the timing or spacing isn't perfect. In this situation, you could have gouged eyes, pushed him down, or landed an impact atemi. So, if you can touch his face, he pretty much falls down and you win by default.
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This unwritten rule works pretty good for aikido training, but it can lead to some problems - some laxity in your attitude about your strikes. If you are going to play "friendly rules randori" like this, then you owe it to yourself to be absolutely ruthless with yourself when you are practicing your kata, in hopes that you can avoid some of that mental laxity.

Following are five points to follow religiously to get the most effect out of your atemiwaza...
  • timing - only strike on a footfall. If you strike as he is picking up a foot or as he is standing on one leg hovering the other foot, then he can step with your strike, reducing the effect. Land your strike the instant his foot hits the ground.
  • kuzushi - only strike after a previous initial offbalance. Don't strike out of the blue. Get an offbalance and then strike on his recovery.
  • direction - only strike on an offbalance line. As he puts a foot down, either strike in the direction of the line of his feet, or strike perpendicular to that line.
  • gravity - add a whole-body drop to each strike. Take at least one short step with both feet at the moment of the strike.
  • leave uke hanging - don't hold onto uke during the strike. This can give him support.
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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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Invisible shomenate

In yesterday's article I enumerated several benefits of doing shomenate by swinging an unbendable arm in an arc upward to uke's face instead of in a straight line, like a boxing jab. Today I wanted to mention another benefit to the vertical arc approach as opposed to a straight line approach from a boxer's guard.
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You usually think about blind spots being in the outside corners of your eyes, beside and behind you. But you actually have a blind spot below your nose and chin. How many of you, when looking forward (or even a little bit downward) can see your own chest or your own lips? Your nose and jaw blocks your vision of this area! In aikido this is called shikaku (lit. "dead zone" or more figuratively, "blind spot").
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Swinging shomenate in a vertical arc keeps your hand and forearm in uke's blind spot the whole time. On the other hand, if you do a palm jab from a boxer's guard position, your arms are in uke's vision the whole time. This is part of why shomenate is so darned sneaky. If you do it right, they literally never see it coming! They might see your shoulder move (but with the rest of your arm in uke's blind spot, that's hardly a telegraph) and then suddenly your hand is under their chin and your fingers are in their eyes.
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Want to see more of my ideas about shomenate? Check out these articles...
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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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Shomenate - direct but not straight

In karate we drilled from day one that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. We were taught to strike in a straight line from where your fist is to where the target is. Today I am reading a historical boxing manual, which includes an elegant chapter on "hitting straight." And this got me to thinking about shomenate.
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In a some ways, you can consider shomenate ro be roughly the aikido equivalent of the boxing jab, but it does not go straight from the initial position to the target.
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In the basic kata form, starting from arms relaxed at sides, the wrists pull back and the unbendable arm swings up to the opponent's face (or to parry the lead arm). The palm is not travelling straight to the target, but is describing a slight arc. It would be possible to train aikidoka to follow a straighter path in shomenate, but there are benefits to the way it is done - benefits that would be lost if we were to mimic the boxing jab more closely.
  • Fast enough: The path in shomenate is sufficiently straight that the difference in time between the straight path and the curved path is miniscule.
  • Simpler: The way we do shomenate only requires we coordinate the use of one joint - the shoulder. A straight-path palm jab would require us to coordinate bending and straightening of the elbow as well as the shoulder.  Doubling the complexity of the motor skill would increase learning time and reduce reliability.
  • Stronger: By only using the shoulder muscles to lift the arm into shomenate, we are restricting the muscle activity to larger, more centrally-located muscles. The straight palm jab would shift part of that load to smaller, more distal muscles of the arm.
So, although shomenate is not technically the shortest path, it is close enough to straight for our purposes. I guess you could call it a direct strike rather than a straight one.
 
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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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2010 Kohaku shiai and rank ceremony


This past Saturday we did our kohaku shiai (club tournament) and rank ceremony.  We had 12 kids ranking and 8 were able to make it to the event.  We did 23 matches in three events - newaza randori (kneeling sparring), tachi randori (standing sparring), and rooster tail (flag randori).  The winners were...
  • 1st place: Matt (5 wins)
  • 2nd place (tie): Nick and Jacob (4 wins each)
  • 3rd place: Whit (3 wins)
It was also notable and interesting to see Quin, the smallest and youngest member of the class, pull off two surprise victories.  Everyone excelled in this shiai!
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The promotions of the day were:
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Blue belt:
  • Whit – good improvement on ashiwaza (footsweeps) - especially osotogari (big outside reap), needs to work on escapes from holds in groundwork, needs to work on consistency of attitude and leadership skills (showing the others how to act right all the time in class), Whit is great at ukemi (falling) but needs to pay more careful, slow attention to proper falling form in order to keep improving. Needs to work on skills other than pulling guard and turtling up. Whit has become great at throwing koshiguruma (hip turning throw) in randori!
Orange belt:
  • Zack – good improvement on ashiwaza (footsweeps), needs to work on ground mobility and ukemi (falling), needs to concentrate on trying new skills in randori instead of rushing in with sumo-like pushes.
  • Nick – good attitude and attention in practice, needs to work on ground mobility and ukemi (falling). Some work on flexibility in hams and hips will help with this. Nick is a natural leader and has a good influence on the other kids' attitudes.
  • Laurie – good improvement on ashiwaza (footsweeps). Great tenacity and intensity on the ground. needs to work on escapes from holds in groundwork. Laurie has taken to the new throws (like koshiguruma) very well.
  • Stephen – very agile, explosive, tricky motion in standing randori. Needs to work on escapes from holds in groundwork
  • Luke – good attention to instructions - particularly in groundwork, improving at ukemi but needs to work on not clinging to the thrower and dragging them down with him. needs to work on trying more varied skills in randori
Yellow/Orange Belt:
  • Knox – Knox has improved greatly at ukemi (falling) but still neds to pay careful attention to proper falling form. He has also started moving faster in the various drills and has shown more competitive spirit in randori. Needs to work on trying more different skills in randori. Needs to work on skills other than pulling guard and turtling up.
  • Quin – good groundwork - especially in holding technique and especially against younger players (even if they are larger than him). Quin has made progress in controlling his frustration at losing because of his small size. As he gains a little more age and motor coordination, we will start working on showing him how to use his small size to his advantage against bigger folk.
Yellow Belt:
  • Mick – good improvement on ukemi (falling) skills but needs to work on falling without reaching for the ground or clinging to the thrower. 
  • Matt – great competitive attitude in randori. Matt still has occasional issues with frustration when he loses, but that is much improved. Needs to work on falling skills, groundwork mobility, and trying more varied skills in standing randori.
  • Bailee - Much improvement in falling skills and randori. Needs to work on getting off the ground in falling drills (like okuriashibarai). Bailee is a great addition to our class because she gives our larger players (who usually dominate due to size advantage) a challenge. Continue working on improving ashiwaza (footsweeps) and trying varied skills in randori.
  • Jacob - improving falling skills and attention span. Jacob is a great competitor, giving all of the kids around his size a run for their money. Jacob has a great attitude about randori, even when he loses.
Want to know more about how I do kids' ranks in judo?  Check out this article on judo rank for kids or look at my archive of articles about kids' judo.
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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 100% atemi!

A while back I mentioned the old aphorism that "atemi solves 80% of the problems in aikido," and I got a response from someone along the lines of, "What? Are you nuts? Do you really think that hitting people in the face will ever solve any problems in aikido?" At the time I didn't respond, but it's funny how this sort of thing roils in my mind for a while until I decide that I really do want to respond.
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So, why in the world would someone think that atemi accounted for most of aikido?
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Sensei Strange, an aiki blogger that I try to keep up with, mentioned in a previous post (sorry I didn't dig up the link) that he thought aikido is primarily about kuzushi. Another blogospheric aikidoka, LF Wilkinson, stated in a previous post (again, I didn't dig up the link for you) that aikido was all about 3 things - timing, ma-ai, and kuzushi.
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Do you see some common ground developing here? Five out of every four sensei surveyed state that kuzushi is a critical element of aikido. I've written before that kuzushi is critical (though I don't think it is the only important principle or even the most important).  This aiki=kuzushi idea is pretty common.
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Consider what it takes to effect a kuzushi - you have to exert some force (sometimes very little) against uke with a certain timing and in a certain direction.
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If the force is exerted over a prolonged period of time, then uke can receive support from you, nullifying the kuzushi. The force must be a sudden-on, sudden-off sort of thing. So, you are really talking about creating a jolt or shock or bump on uke at a certain time and in a certain direction.
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What does a "timed, directed jolt of force against uke" sound like? To me it sounds like a strike. Atemi.
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Thus, to the extent that aikido relies on kuzushi, it relies on atemi because all kuzushi is atemi (except for the no-touch stuff, but even that is generally done by making uke think you are about to hit him).
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Maybe shomenate (chin jab or frontal face strike) itself only solves 80% of problems in aikido, but aikido in general is nearly 100% atemi. There are no techniques in aikido that you can do without jolting uke into unbalance.
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Bet you never thought of aikido as a striking art!

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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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Why 17 fundamental techniques?

A question for Tomiki folks out there... Does it seem like there are primary and secondary techniques in Junanahon Kata?
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What I mean is this... the first 3 techniques seem to me like "primary" things that are all very likely to happen immediately in a conflict. #4 (gedanate) and #5 (ushiroate) seem like backup plans for when 1-3 go wrong. In the second set, oshitaoshi, hikitaoshi, and wakigatame seem to me like primary techniques, while the other two seem like afterthoughts. 11-16 all seem like primaries to me, but #17 seems second-class in some way.
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This may have something to do with my particular tokuiwaza (best/favorite techniques), but do you experience this sort of thing too?
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Or another way of putting it - does it seem like if someone jumped you all of a sudden on the street (or even in a knife tournament) that you'd immediately go for gedanate or udegaeshi or hikiotoshi? Sure these are things that could happen, but does that make them foundational or fundamental?
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And this brings up another question - If you buy my idea that some of the techniques in Junana seem more fundamental than others, then why didn't they narrow it down farther than the 17 techniques and let the other things just occur in randori? My fundamental randori-no-kata would probably be about a dozen instead of 17 if I were putting the kata together.

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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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Aikikai relocates to Texas

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
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Aikikai relocates to Texas
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Today, in a surprise move, the Aikikai Foundation announced that it was ending the hereditary headship of aikido which has until now resided with the family of the Founder, Osensei Morihei Ueshiba.  The Foundation has tapped Sensei Strange of Austin Texas as the new Doshu.
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In an unannounced press conference, Doshu Moriteru Ueshiba made a brief statement, "We all feel that the ideas and teachings of Sensei Strange represent the aikido of the future - a future that we are proud and excited to be a part of."
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In related news, the Aikikai Foundation is finalizing plans for a multi-billion dollar complex in Austin Texas (USA) to house the Hombu dojo of the newly revisioned art.  Henceforth we will refer to the art we practice as Kyuryu Aikibudo and the Aikikai Foundation itself will be know as the April First Aikibudo Foundation.

Contact:
Doshu Strange


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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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