Tuesday, December 20, 2011

New schedule for 2012

Starting January 2, 2012, we are going to be expanding our class offerings. The new schedule will look like...
  • Judo - 6:30 PM
  • Kid's Judo - 5:30 PM
  • Aikido - 6:30 PM
  • Kid's Judo - 5:30 PM
  • Judo - 6:30PM
  • Aikido - 6:30 PM
  • Private classes per agreement
Patrick Parker

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Ritual and spectacle in martial arts

In modern educational circles, folks like to talk about three domains of learning - psychomotor, cognitive, and affective.
  • psychomotor - learning to do the skills associated with the subject of study
  • cognitive - learning about the subject, vocabulary, history, etc...
  • affective - feeling good about, and "believing in" your increased knowledge and skills
 All three are important parts of learning.
Some people have a need for ritual and ceremony and spectacle in their martial arts practice.  It is part of the affective domain of learning.  They can practice and increase in knowledge and skill all day long, but until the "rank test" or the "belt ceremony" or the tournament or demo, they just don't feel like they have reached the mark yet.
Some instructors are very good at using ritual and spectacle and ceremony in the martial arts to augment their students' affective learning.  Bruce Lee and Ed Parker were brilliant showmen who played the mystique of the East for all it is worth.
I am not one of those great affective coaches.  The phoney-ness of having an American Redneck pretending to be Yoda sorta sticks in my craw.  I remember reading about Chuck Norris failing a rank test because all the candidates had to kneel in seiza while the folks ahead of them tested.  He'd knelt on the cold floor for so long that his legs were asleep when his turn was called.  That's kinda stupid in my book.
I'd rather run through all your material, taking turns throwing for a couple of hours, than do a formal, strenuous rank test with half a dozen inscrutible-looking sensei in hakama or suits glaring from the sidelines as the student sweats bullets. 
I'd rather every class day be a test than build up to one big event.  I'd rather spend the agreed-upon amount of months working on the agreed-upon material and then just toss the next belt to the student after class one day.
But there are students that need (or would like) more ritual and spectacle than I provide.  To those students, I'm sorry.  I've tried for years to build dojo traditions and rituals to help provide some of that affective learning, but those traditions seem to always fall to the side and get superceeded by the practical day-to-day running of the club and teaching of the material.
I'm not against having some of that go on.  I just don't do much of it.
Patrick Parker

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Changing forms and the thing-itself

The techniques of Aikido change constantly; every encounter is unique, and the appropriate response should emerge naturally. Today's techniques will be different tomorrow. Do not get caught up with the form and appearance of a challenge. Aikido has no form - it is the study of the spirit. - Morihei Ueshiba
I remember, as I was coming up through the kyu ranks, it seemed to us that our instructor and his instructors were forever changing things up on us.  They would tell us one way to do something, then a couple of months later (usually after coming back from a big seminar) they would tell us what seemed like a wholly different way to do the same thing.
I particularly remember several changes in how we were to practice kotegaeshi.  That thing seemed to change with the phase of the moon.
This was always frustrating from the point of view of the student, but looking back at it from a little greater distance, It seems like just the way the thing has to be. 
We are studying a huge, complex, and chaotic reality.  You have to have some sort of form to put the thing into to study it, but you also have to understand that after you study one form of the thing for a while you will start to be subject to diminishing returns.  You will need to look at the thing from a different point of view.
This does not invalidate the forms of the thing that you have already studied.  It augments them... zooms in and emphasizes different facets. 
Often neither the old or the new form of the thing will be the thing itself, but if you have a good teacher then the older and newer forms should sort of bracket the thing itself.  The aiki always lives in the interstices between forms.  But it is the forms that we use to outline the aiki-thing and study it.

Patrick Parker

Friday, December 09, 2011

Range of self-defense skills in judo

With respect to tachiwaza (throwing skills) in the traditional Kodokan gokyo, how many of those throws have you ever seen or practiced in a self-defense context?  Or, put another way, how many of those throws have you either heard of being used in self-defense, or can even imagine cropping up on the street?  For me, it's mostly the following list...
  • deashi, kosoto, osoto, hiza, ukigoshi
  • kouchi, ouchi, ogoshi, seoinage
  • sasae
  • teguruma or kataguruma
  • morotegari
...and that's about it.  With greater than 25 years of martial arts experience, I can only come up with about a dozen of the Kodokan throws that I've ever heard of being used on the street - or that I can realistically imagine ever coming to pass in a fight.  Sure, anything can happen, but we're really not into preparing for every bizarro eventuality.  We're generally more into probabilities than possibilities.
So, why do we have 40 throws (or 65 depending on who you ask)?  Why not spend more time on the down-and-dirty dozen that I listed above?
For one thing, we're not just practicing self-defense.  The other throws are part of the art.  Also, depending on the ruleset under which you compete, the rules might create situations where some of those other throws might be viable.
But personally, I think that the main reason that we have all that extra material is because when you work on those situations, it makes you better at those more fundamental throws that I listed above.
Patrick Parker

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

One thing - Aikido 2012

Y'all remember the old western comedy, City Slickers, with Jack Pallance playing the wise, old, grizzled cowboy named Curly?  Y'all remember Curly's Law?  When asked what his secret was, he held up one finger.  When asked to expand on that he just said, "Choose one thing, and do that one thing."  Pretty good secret cowboy knowledge.
For a long, long time, there has been an emphasis in my aikido classes on atemiwaza.  Direct, simple, effective.  And we've mostly got a decent handle on that facet of aikido.  So, I've been casting about for a bit of a new direction to take my aikido classes in next year.  That's when Curly's Law came to mind.
I figure we'll pick one thing and focus on it for the whole year and see where it takes us.  And not only are we going to do "one thing" but we're going to do an emphasis on what Ueshiba called, "Thing-One."
Ikkyo.  Oshitaoshi.  Udeosae.
Sure, we'll continue to work folks up through the excellent teaching system that weve developed over the years.  We're not throwing the baby out wwith the bath.  But I think that a few minutes of various forms of oshitaoshi during each class next year is likely to open up some new  ideas for all of us.
And if not, at least I'll know that my students will be the best in the world at One Thing (Thing-One) by the beginning of 2013.

Patrick Parker

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Where we've been - aikido 2011

The technical emphasis in any Dojo changes over time.  Over the past year, I think our Aikido has been characterized by an emphasis on...

Ichikata - especially looking at 90- and 180-degree offbalance pairs and automatically flowing around strength and resistance conditions.

Owaza - emphasis on being able to do this set of techniques from very generalized attacks - as in ryotedori - instead of having to have uke flying at you.

We've ramped up the jo and aikijo this year.

The JW Bode seminar certainly gave me a lot to think about wrt decisiveness, control, and very close range Aikido. For years weve been talking more about synchronization and flow and less about control.  But lately weve been talking more about irimi, atemi, control, and aiki as "instant victory."

So, now the question is... where are we going with our Aikido in 2012? Stay tuned as I collect my thoughts on that...




Patrick Parker

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

BOMP - Ch 28 - Heaviness

This year we are discussing the Book of Martial Power (BOMP)
"Heaviness," check.  Got it.  Next.
Ha, get it?  That was a fat joke ;-)
No, seriously, Pearlman discusses in this chapter, an idea that he calls Heaviness.  This is basically the ability to properly manage your structure so that you can relax, freeing your body mass to drop and affect the opponent.
Consider - strength is highly correlated with sheer body mass.  That is, the heavier you are, the stronger you are (in general).  This is largely because muscle is heavy.  The more of it you have, the heavier you will be, and the stronger you will be.
We discussed, some months back the idea that we can only bring to bear some percent of our power at any given time.  We would like to optimize our strength by eliminating the things that interfere with our ability to apply that strength to the other guy.
But in the same way, we can only drop some fraction of our mass (largely muscle) onto the enemy. The remainder of our (muscle) mass is involved in keeping ourselves from falling, and fixing our posture, and some of it is wasted as tension, etc...
But, to the degree we are able to minimize the amount of our mass (muscle) that is serving some other purpose, the more mass we can drop, like a brick (or even better, like a sack of water) onto the enemy.  If we are using some of our muscle to keep the rest of our muscle from hitting the ground, then we have very little left to hammer the opponent with.

Patrick Parker

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

BOMP - Ch 27 - Structure

This year we are discussing the Book of Martial Power (BOMP)

Chapter 27 is a sort of a review chapter, but in it he does something remarkable!  On the face of things, it is a note that henceforth in the book he will use the word "structure" as a shorthand for five recently-discussed principles...


But, more profoundly, and more importantly, Pearlman  has managed to boil down much of the vague, pseudo-spiritual, mystical-sounding talk about 'structure'  and 'ground-path'  and 'root'  and different 'energies' and such into a handful of easily-teachable, easily understood (though admittedly, not trivial to ingrain) principles.

Pearlman has gone a long way towards giving us the language we need to discuss the more vague, woo-woo, spooky parts of our arts.


BOMP - Ch 26 - Minor axes

This year we are discussing the Book of Martial Power (BOMP)

So, last BOMP post was about controlling the angulation and movement of the major axis of the body - the long vertical axis through the center.

Chapter 26 is a short little note applying the same principle to the other, minor axes of the body, such as the long axis of the forearm, for instance.  Pearlman brings up two points regarding the minor axes of the body...

1. Seek the smallest axis possible for any rotation.
2. Rotate within the width of the rotating limb.

Pretty good points.  Don't really have anything to say about those.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Punctuated equilibrium

Ever look at the old masters doing kata and marvelled at how incredibly smooth their motion was?  Ever marvel at their amazing ability to stay right in perfect synch with uke the whole time?  Ever compare your own skill to theirs and think, "Boy, I suck!"?
Sometimes (maybe even often) it seems like when we get to trying to synch with uke, something interferes.  There is some sudden discontinuity and by the time you figure it our and switch tracks, uke's gone. 
If you've ever wished that you could get in synch with uke and stay there longer, I have bad news for you.  The world ain't like that.  About the best that I can do under pressure against a non-compliant partner is about two synchronized steps with uke, and I suspect that even the folks that are way better than me can't maintain a nice, constant synch much longer than that. (Of course, if someone were able to reliably maintain a synchronized state for three steps, that would make them 50% better than me, and in a fight 50% might as well be infinity.)
But my point is, I don't think that its realistic or healthy to beat oneself up about the disequilibria that pop up in the uke-tori relationship, because those disequilibria are just part of the nature of the thing.  It seems to me that synchronization (kimusubi) mostly happens in short snatches here and there amongst the motion between uke and tori.  A much healthier, achievable, and still functional skill level is being able to synch with uke for a step or two, then when it goes to chaos, follow along, keeping yourself safe until you recognize another step or two of synch.
Now, we do often try to train in large, drawn out arcs of equilibrium even though that isnt how the world works, but this is because we think that this is a pretty good way to train beginners to recognize little pieces of those arcs when they occur.
Even though its easier to learn to see these things in the long arcs, you should'nt beat yourself up about your inability to find one of those long arcs in randori.  It's definitely a good thing to step out of the long, beautiful kata arcs into the punctuated equilibrium of randori - and to practice that way frequently. 
Patrick Parker

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Lazy is not the kind of slow that you want

I've seen an interesting flaw crop up in some aikidoka's practice.

We are forever preaching efficiency - we spend a lot of time and
effort on trying to get each motion just right, to clean up the
connection and coordination between our minds and bodies such that
when the mind tells the body, "step there," the body executes the most
efficient step and nothing else.

When you look at the highest-ranked practitioners - people who have
been striving at this for years, often their motion is so efficient
that it is deceptive. It almost looks lazy, or careless. This is not
the case.

But when we start preaching "move slowly...be more efficient..." at
students, and they look at the masters who look like they are
lackadaisical in their movements, often the student begins to affect
that lackadaisical motion in an attempt to comply with the "slow but
efficient" instruction.

Slow by means of inefficiency or laziness is not the kind of slow that you want.

What you want is motion that is so efficient that it has nothing
extraneous or incidental or arbitrary in it. This sort of efficiency
gives you so much slack that you can relax and slow down a little. In
turn, the relaxation and slowness will allow you to conserve your
energy and be a bit smarter in your tactics and techniques.

Efficiency begets slack which begets slowness which begets relaxation
which begets aiki.

Getting this out of order by going for "slow" first, you can lose the
prerequisite to slowness (efficiency) as well as getting the wrong
kind of slowness, which prevents you from attaining any of the
subsequent benefits (relaxation and aiki).

Patrick Parker

Friday, November 11, 2011

Different bullets for different beasts

Some of my buddies posed a judo question onour FB group last night about koshinage.  Basically, they wanted some specific hints about applying hip throws - particularly ukigoshi and particularly against larger and heavier opponents.  I thought, having taken the time to put my thoughts together on this, I'd post them here for everyone to laugh at (ahem) I mean, benefit from...
First, different beasts need different bullets.  You wouldn't want to go hunting a bear with a .177 spring-air rifle, and you wouldn't want to shoot a squirell with an elephant gun.  In the same way, not every judo throw is meant for every opponent.  I know, it's tempting to want to develop such exquisite mastery that you are able to throw anyone at any time with any throw of your choice - to be able to just have your way with anyone you come across.  But not only is that not the way the real world works, it is also an unhealthy ideal.
Just as you will eventually have a handful of throws that you feel super-confident that you can throw nearly anyone with (tokuiwaza), you will also probably always have a handful of throws that are of no use to you at all - throws that youve never been able to throw anyone with. Most throws will likely fall inbetween these two extremes, meaning that different throws are more useful against different people at different times.
There may be people that you will never be able to throw with ukigoshi.
But you'll never know which throws are your tokuiwaza and which are useless to you until you try them out in randori, so with all that said, you asked for some specifics about variation and direction and grip, so here's what I usually try...
  • I find it easiest to teach beginners to turn into shoulder and hip throws when uke is stepping backward and tori chases him down, stepping across and through, throwing about 90 degrees to the side of uke's path of travel.  Not only is this the form of hipthrow that I prefer to teach beginners, but it works nicely against larger folk, because youre throwing them off their heel, which often makes it easier to get larger opponents down.
  • As for grips, for an ukigoshi I will often hook his left shoulder with my right elbow (sort of like a hip toss in rasslin), or hook his head with my elbow for a ukigoshi-flavored kubinage.  I usually want my left hand as far up his right arm as possible- definitely above the elbow, and maybe as deep as his lapel.
  • Somebody in the thread mentioned understanding teaching ukigoshi as a concept, but had problems doing it in randori. I think that's okay - to sort of categorize ukigoshi in your head as a theoretical sort of thing that you have to learn before you get to the cool stuff, because a lot of the later cool throws are just variations of ukigoshi that are created when you can't quite get ukigoshi, or when uke resists certain ways - throws like haraigoshi and hanegoshi.
So, keep working on ukigoshi but don't obsess about it.  Try it every so often in randori, and sort of keep it in the back of your mind as an ideal or theoretical version of the later one-legged hip throws like haraigoshi and hanegoshi.
Patrick Parker

Monday, October 31, 2011

Misc thoughts on ukiwaza

Some miscellaneous thoughts on Tomiki's floating throws...

Our Ikkyu requirement is Junana #15, 16, and 17.  You can sort of throw #14 into that group as well, but youve already done that one at nikkyu.
These 3 or 4 throws are classified as 'floating throws,' which is sort of a misnomer, because all the techniques of junana can be done as floating throws.  Its just that these three (4) techniques exemplify the floating throw principle well, and all the other stuff in junana is usually done with a different focus.
What does 'floating throw' mean anyway?  Basically two things...

There is a loose, airy, void sort of lack-of-feeling between uke and tori. You are not mashing on an elbow or twisting on a wrist to make the throw happen. It is a subtle connection, light-touch type of thing that is executed through exquisite synchronization and footwork.

Like all of junana, these throws are done on otoshi timing - on a footfall - but in these three (4), there is an emphasis on exaggerating the preceeding rise in order to make the timing window for the otoshi more obvious.  You literally throw uke up in the air, wait for him to come down, and when he does, exaggerate his drop so that he hits the ground.

In the kata, all of these are done entering to the inside, capturing the wrist, making a golf swing through the offbalance hole, and tweaking the wrist and the elbow just a bit on the rise in order to exaggerate their rise.
Then, each of these throws is differentiated from the others by how uke tries to get down off of point...

in #14 - shihonage, uke retracts his arm by bending the elbow.  Tori turns and follows  and exaggerates that retraction

in #15 - maeotoshi - uke tries to take a step away. tori catches uke's far-footfall, and extends his step, pushing uke away.

in #16 - sumiotoshi - uke pulls his hand back, as if chambering a punch.  tori follows that retraction and exaggerates it, pushing uke into the back corner on a near footfall

in #17 - hikiotoshi - the footwork is confused and uke somehow managed to foul #16 for you and ends up facing you, about to come down on you.  Tweak the elbow again to get a bit of rise, then drop backward away from tori as he comes in and down.

Any of that make sense?
Patrick Parker

Friday, October 28, 2011

BOMP - Ch. 25 - Axis

This year we are discussing the Book of Martial Power (BOMP)
In Chapter 25, Pearlman discusses the positioning and use of our long, vertical axis - the line that runs through the crown of our head and our center of mass (and usually, through one foot).  This line represents our center of full-body rotation.  Pearlman gives several good examples of how to position and control our axis - most of which boils down to...
  1. vertical axis (upright posture) promotes easier, faster, cleaner rotation
  2. smaller footwork creates a narrower axis, which promotes faster and easier rotation.
I agree 100% with this as a general case, but wanted (just for argument's sake) to discuss some counter-examples...
Pearlman seems to be saying that faster is better... "As martial artists, we need to exercise the smallest Axis possible... [because this is faster]".  Well, it turns out that faster is not always better - we see this in judo and aikido  especially.  It is often important to be able to move at uke's speed instead of your own arbitrary (faster) speed.  One of my instructors once phrased this as, "It's not so much how fast you go that matters.  It is when you arrive that matters."  Timing trumps speed.
But, with that said, It is still a good idea to narrow your axis through relaxed upright posture and narrow footwork, because this potential increase in speed actually allows you to slow down and relax and process as you wait for uke to arrive at the timing window.  My students will probably see kosotogari as the ultimate example of this idea.  I stress narrow, fast, efficient footwork so much that kosotogari often feels like a "lazy throw" - that is, tori has to wait, and wait, and wait some more before he can pull the trigger and dump uke.  Tori's footwork becomes so fast and efficient that he feels like he has to lounge around waiting for uke to get to the place where he can be thrown.
Another interesting point that came to mind reading this chapter, is when Pearlman discusses keeping ones mass centered around the Axis in order to avoid wobble in the rotation.  Again, I agree with this in general cases, but there are instances where that wobble can be useful.  The two examples that pop immediately into my mind are kataotoshi and koshiguruma.  Both of these throws happen by placing a foot (the bottom of the axis) near uke, attaching the same arm to uke, and spinning the opposite leg around the axis. 
The uncentered mass of the leg creaets a flywheel-like effect, transferring power to the arm that is hooked to uke.  You can sort of see this idea in Pearlman's illustrations labelled Ax13a and Ax13b.  The oval shape of the uncentered rotating mass can act as a cam (see the excellent animation at Wikipedia) to impart linear motion to uke.
Again, my counterexamples do not damage Pearlman's excellent discussion of the principle of properly managing your long axis of rotation through upright posture and narrow footwork.  Just interesting ideas that cropped up.
Patrick Parker

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Jim Elliot was a judo master

In 1956, Jim Elliot, a Christian missionary in Equador, was murdered by members of the Waodani tribe that he was attempting to make contact with.  His life and mission and death are commemorated by the fabulous movie, End of the Spear.  Elliot is perhaps best known for a famous quote that his wife, Elizabeth pulled from his journals after his death...
He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.
So, what does this have to do with judo?  I can think of three parallels right off the bat... 
  • Kano gave up on the 'unsafe techniques' of jujitsu that he couldnt get really good at anyway because they couldn't be safely randori-tested, and because they were socially unacceptable at the time.  In exchange, this allowed Kano and his students to perfect a smaller set of techniques, to thoroughly randori-test everything, and to get so good at what they did that Kano-ryu (Kodokan judo) became the predominant form of jujitsu in Japan and throughout the world.
  • Strength and speed are fleeting.  They are subject to inexorably diminishing returns as one ages.  Sure, you can (and should) exercise and eat right and take care of yourself, but that's just pushing that decline a little bit down the road.  True-ju classical judo holds these ephemeral physical attributes in reserve, so that the judoka can get better at timing, mobility, and strategy - qualities that tend to persist better well into advanced age. (Note that I'm not saying 'no strenghth and speed' - I'm saying 'timing, mobility, and strategy first')
  • Static balance is an illusion in the context of the human body. You cannot ever be in a condition of static balance (standing strong and immovable in jigotai, for instance), so give up on that in favor of mobility - dynamic balance.  This will make you quite hard to throw and it will destroy your opponent's ability to try to balance themselves.
It is true-ju judo to give up that which you cannot keep in order to gain that which you cannot lose.  And for that reason, I say Jim Elliot was a master of judo.
Patrick Parker

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

BOMP - Ch. 24 - Spinal Alignment

This year we are discussing the Book of Martial Power (BOMP)
Most of the power that we are able to put to use in martial arts applications comes from our interaction with gravity and with the mass of the Earth.  The placement of the point(s) where we interface directly with the Earth (our feet) is obviously important.  The placement of our center of mass relative to our feet and the line of gravity is also important.  Obviously, the way that we place our hands on the opponent is important.
But an often overlooked, vital linkage in the power chain is the alignment of the spine.  It is through the structure and musculature of the spine that power is transmitted back and forth between our arms and our legs, or ultimately, between the Earth and the opponent.  If we can manage to place our feet and our hands right, and to align our spine correctly, we can serve as a very efficient conduit between the opponent and the Earth.
What is proper spinal alignment?  I was brought up in the old rigidly-upright posture school of thought.  The idea that if you have to lean to do it, then you don't do it.  Or, another way to think about it is, if you can't do it with a perfectly upright posture, then you can't do it.
But in the past few years I have come to think that there might be some acceptable deviation from that perfectly vertical posture.  These days, I think that we generally want to operate in and around a generally upright, comfortable, natural, neutral posture, but that we can (and must) deviate from that to some degree in our movement.
But how much is it permissible to deviate from vertical?  Generally I think that your torso can bend forward at the hips so long as the torso remains one stable structure - the torso does not bow and flex like a noodle.  And I think that a good, common-sense limitation to this forward bend is however far you can lean and keep your torso between vertical and the line of the back leg. So, you might, if you have to, lean forward until your torso and your back leg make a straight line...
But it would be better if you moved your feet instead of leaning - generally, if you have to lean then it is an indicator that you got the preparatory footwork wrong.
So, the lean is a backup plan for when your feet don't end up just exactly right.  But you have to get the feet correct enough that you can keep the lean to within functional limits.
It's sort of like those infuriating delta-epsilon proofs in Calculus I - where you just have to get one variable sufficiently close that the other variable stays within the bounds that you want.  Crikey! I never thought that I'd ever see a use for those awful things!

Patrick Parker

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Balance is mostly in the mind

It occurred to me the other day (probably should have thought of it years earlier), balance exists mostly in the mind.  Sure, there's some muscular tone involved, and you can train your nervous system to fine tune your balance some, but consider this...
If you find a 4-inch wide curb or a 4-inch wide stripe on the road, and you try to walk along it, it's not too difficult, but for most folks it is at least a little bit of a challenge.  Everyone has to exert at least a little bit of attention to this task.  Most everyone that walks down an eight-foot 2x4 a few times will fall off the side occasionally.
But think about this for a minute (we learnt this in college in a biomechanics class)... Healthy adults walking on level ground, not thinking about their balance at all, their average gait width (horizontal distance heel-to-heel) is about 4 inches.  This means that if they were to take a walk and you were to follow them drawing a line through all their right footprints and another line through all their left footprints, those lines would average about 4 inches apart. 
Everyone walks 4" wide paths all the time every day, and these people almost never fall over sideways or even stumble!
But as soon as you tell them to walk on a 4" wide line and they think there are consequences to failure (embarrassment about poor balance, threat of being arrested for DUI, perhaps fear of falling...) then suddenly walking a 4" wide path is a challenge.
What is the difference?  Not the path - the state of mind with which we undertake the path.
Balance is mostly a function of the mind.
That is why I could teach an ukemi (falling) seminar to a bunch of yoga experts a few weeks ago, and immediately after the class, several of them told me that they felt more stable and centered and poised in their challenging balance poses - because I was able to remove or reduce a bit of the fear of falling out of those balance poses.  We didn't do enough actual exercise of sufficient repetition or intensity to create a neuromuscular training effect  - I just changed their minds about how they approached their balance poses.
Balance is mostly in the mind.

Patrick Parker

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Why is it...

Why is it that pretty much whoever you ask around the country (maybe around the world) will tell you...
Public schools all suck, except our local school is not as bad.  It has caring, competent professionals who are trying hard - it's all the other schools that really suck!
But they'll also tell you...
Hospitals all suck - especially our local hospital.  They are a bunch of greedy, incompetent, uncaring bastards - and our local hospital is much worse than the rest!
Apparently, no matter where you live, the local schools are better than average and the local hospitals are worse than average.  Different institutions seem to induce folks to esteem their local instantiations of those institutions higher or lower than average.
...and heres another one that I heard today (that may be true, I don't know) that I found interesting...
Mechanics at car dealerships are crooks that do unnecessary work to squeeze people out of some cash - except our local dealership - theyre honest there!
Is it the same phenomenon as how we are all convinced that we have stumbled into the one true martial art with the only true master that really understands the magic of the ancients?
Patrick Parker

Monday, October 17, 2011

Goshin jutsu as randori starters

Most of the martial arts that I've been involved with over the years have had sets of goshin jutsu, or situational self-defense techniques.  You can sort of think of goshin jutsu as a concession to the folks that are forever asking, "Well, what if he grabs like this?" or "What if he kicks like this?" 
Often these goshin jutsu sets include situations that aren't otherwise commonly practiced in the rest of the system.  For instance, the Kodokan (judo) goshin jutsu includes defense against kicks and various weapons. The Tomiki aikido goshin jutsu (koryu dai san) contains clothing grabs, chokes, and seated techniques that we seldom practice outside of that context.  Often in karate classes, the goshin jutsu sets will be heavy on grappling defenses, assuming that the typical mode of practice is more kick-block-punch oriented.
These sets of techniques are usually relatively small - maybe twenty to fifty techniques, and as such they are meant to be representative instead of comprehensive.  You can't really come up with a programmed response to every possible "what-if" situation, so a set of goshin jutsu typically deals with probable situations instead of possible situations.
I've been thinking about goshin jutsu a bit lately, and something that has caused a bit of head-scratching is, what is the role of goshin jutsu in our martial arts?  See, you can treat each situational technique as a distinct kata to be performed just so.  This is sort of the approach that the American Kenpo guys took - they have dozens of short little pseudo-kata, evocatively named things like "clutching feathers" and "gift of destruction." They call these things self-defense moves (so they are goshin jutsu) but they are practiced and tested and performed as if they are kata.  They seem to have evolved from goshin jutsu into kata over the years.
Most systems that do goshin jutsu or self-defense sets, seem to take the same process of kata-fying (codifying) goshin jutsu until it becomes kata.  But that seems to lead in the direction of the American Kenpo guys - dozens upon dozens of kata-like situational self-defense moves.
Although I generally really like American Kenpo, I don't like that aproach to goshin jutsu... too much to remember... too technique-based instead of principle-driven.
So, how can we do goshin jutsu and not slip down that path to technique multiplication?
How about goshin jutsu as randori starters?  Randori matches that begin in one of the goshin jutsu situations. So, after the initial attack/situation the randori reverts to normal aikido toshu randori rules wth both players active, and the partners play out the scenario.  Then, however it ends, the partners switch roles, set up the situation again, and go again...
I suspect that goshin jutsu situations, if they were randoried sufficiently, would result in a lot of the same termination points as found in the canned goshin jutsu sets - just because many of those solutions are highly efficient, but this manner of practicing them should result in the practitioners getting much, much more practical experience than if we were to program the responses and run them like kata.

Patrick Parker

Friday, October 14, 2011

BOMP - Ch. 23 - The Primary Gate

This year we are discussing the Book of Martial Power (BOMP).
The Primary Gate - control the position and motion of the center of the opponent's chest (the triangle between shoulders and solar plexus) and you more easily control the entire opponent.  If you leave your primary gate unguarded, you are more easily struck or controlled through it.
Pearlman's examples are mostly about striking through or into the Primary Gate of the opponent, but the concept comes into play in grappling arts, like aikido and judo, too.
In judo, it is generally advantageous to have the inside grip, meaning you have you hands on his body with your arms occupying the primary gate.  This allows you to deliver power directly to him, while forcing him to take an outside grip, and deliver power to you in a roundabout way.
In aikido, I tend to think about this Primary Gate as a sort of Cone of Power, or funnel, with its apex at the opponent's chest and sides  mostly congruent with their arms.  Inside this cone is most of the opponent's power and potential.  Aikido's two primary tactics involve either spearing through this funnel into uke's Primary Gate (irimi) or else turning out of the way of uke's force and potential - mostly outside uke's cone of power (tenkan).
A good randori game is to do some light randori, looking for times when your hands (holding him) are inside your cone of power and his hands (holding you) are outside his cone of power.  At this point, you are relatively stronger and he is relatively weaker.  You can execute a technique at this point, but I usually like to just hold him in this potition long enough to mark it in my mind, then return to randori.
Patrick Parker

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Doin' the junana drag

I came up with an interesting idea for a drill to work towards multiple opponents this weekend.  We didn't get to play with this because we had other things to do, but you might try this and see what sort of mileage you get out of it.  I know we'll be trying it soon.

Choose a kata that you are thoroughly familiar with, like releases or junana, and execute it with a second uke hanging onto one of your sleeves, or hanging onto your shoulders.  You could do this with different levels of difficulty - for instance, it will be easier if the hanger-on will willingly trail along with Tori, mostly staying out of the way, so that Tori does not have to drag them around.  Or it will be harder if the hanger-on were less mobile and compliant, forcing Tori to move them while interacting with the other uke too.

Either way, the hanger-on represents a challenge because no matter how compliant they are, they constrain tori's motion and take up space that tori could otherwise be using.

Try it - you might find it fun and interesting.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Multiple opponents bullets

Any seminar I go to (even the ones I teach), I like to boil them down to a handful of bulleted take-home points.  I learned this practice from Sensei Jack Bieler, and I recommend it to you.  You will get a lot out of processing and condensing lectures into a handful of bullets instead of just attending and experiencing them.
This past weekend was our annual Aiki Buddies Gathering here at Mokuren Dojo.  It was super-well attended with 12-16 folks from Mississippi, Louisiana, and Tennessee at each class.  We worked on multiple opponents randori in aikido.  The following is what I think I primarily taught...
  • We're not especially trying to learn to beat up 3 or 5 people at a time.  Just like in tanto randori we are not learning to beat up people who have knives (that's just stupid).  We are adding extra constraints to make our motion and timing and sense of distance more critical.  We are adding constraints to force ourselves to adopt a more robust, workable strategy.  Hopefully, we can eventually do enough of these sorts of practice that we treat every encounter with every uke as if they have a knife, or as if they have 2-3 buddies waiting to jump on us.
  • A good, incremental way to inject a bit of randori in a controlled way is to do a kata that you are already familiar with, but with multiple ukes taking turns attacking.  This takes the kata a step toward multiples randori, and forces you to occasionally choose different variations of kata techniques more suitable for multiple attackers.  When this happens, go back and ask yourself why the kata movement is different when you know there is only one attacker than when you know there are multiples?
  • In multiple opponent randori, you get different sorts of interactions if tori is trying to work the edges versus working the spaces or working the centers (Ledyard's concepts and terms, not mine).
  • We worked on several interesting tricks that come into play, like using uke as a shield, slingshotting around an uke, rolling the ball, and using an uke as a doorway to safety.
Y'all that attended, I'm sure that you each got something different from my bullet points and something different from each other.  Consider condensing your experience to a bullet list, and consider sharing it with the rest of us - sort of a mutual benefit sort of thing...
Patrick Parker

Friday, October 07, 2011

Reflexive vs. responsive

The falling skill is not a reflex, it is a learned, habituated thing, but it does take into account (work with instead of against) true reflexes that take place when we slip or stumble.

Everything is all status quo from our body's pov, then something disrupts us (stimulus) and a bunch of reflexes happen (postural righting, extension, crossed-extensor, metatarsal kick, etc...) and while the reflexes are happening and we are beginning to fall, our mind has time to catch up to what is happening and guide the fall enough to minimize the consequences.

So, yes, the skill part of it is responsive instead of reflexive, as Rick pointed out in the last post. But the response is based upon, and works in harmony with reflex to the extent possible.

That is reflexive falling skill.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Reflexive falling skills

Some of my instructors in the past have liked to use the phrase, "reflexive falling skills." Saying that we strive to teach folks "reflexive falling skills."  But the word, "reflex" is used in so many common ways, aside from the actual physiological meaning, that it can be hard to tell what that means.  What is a "reflexive falling skill"
A common definition of reflex is an action that is performed unconsciously in response to a stimulus.  Some definitions add that reflexes occur rapidly, with little lag time between stimulus and response.  So, a reflex is:
  • a bodily motion
  • that happens automatically
  • triggered by a stimulus
  • usually very rapid onset
Often, when we are talking in the medical sense about reflexes, we're talking about hard-wired reflexes - the way God made your nerves hook together to make reflexes happen.  But that's obviously not what we're talking about in the context of falling skills, because we think that we can develop these skills instead of having to rely wholly on our congenital hardware.  The loose definition that we commonly use is really more like habituation, but the habit, once developed has the four characteristics of a true reflex listed above.
Human locomotion (walking, running, jumping, etc...) is a very reflexive thing.  It is hardwired into our lower spine.  To a large extent, all the brain does is says, "go over there," and reflexes, like tiny sub-processors, handle most of the details about how to get your legs and feet to go over there properly.
Similarly, we have some hardwired reflex actions that happen in response to a disruption in normal locomotion.  When we trip or slip or otherwise begin to fall, several things happen...
  • we draw in a sudden breath
  • the head draws upward away from the ground
  • the arms extend, placing hands between body and ground
  • the back extensor muscles contract, trying to arrest or slow the fall
  • one leg extends forward, trying to arrest the fall
So, when you start to fall, your back and neck tries to get your head away from the ground, and your arms and legs try to stop your fall.  Getting back to "reflexive falling skills," we sould like to build our falling skills such that they take account of the normal posture (characterized by extension) that we reflex into when we stumble.
This is where I think many aikidoka and judoka (myself included) went astray.  We were taught to do forward roll by "make a circle with the arms, crouch to get closer to the ground, stick your head inside the circle of your arms, jump forward, and try to land right."  The problem with this is that this is a posture of flexion, which we never reflex into when we stumble, so it takes a long time and we take a lot of punishment trying to figure out how to translate our basic rolling form (flexion) to something that will save us when we are surprised into a reflexive extension posture.  The crouch-and-roll is not reflexive.
Patrick Parker

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

More examples of seize&freeze

A near-perfect example of the seize&freeze pheomenon that I've been talking about this week is hizaguruma (knee wheel) in judo.  If tori gets you into position for hizaguruma and you straighten your back or pull back against it, then your low back and hip muscles lock up (seize&freeze) and you break and turn over in the air pretty abruptly.  However, if you get into hizaguruma and instead of seizing and freezing, you relax your lower back - even to the point of slouching forward or laying your head on tori's shoulder, then your relaxed back and hip muscles facilitate a more complete range of motion and more often than not, you can pick up that leg and walk out of the unbalance.  It is uke's seize&freeze reflex that makes hizaguruma into a large, magnificient ippon. (See can't you find a YouTube video of a hizaguruma that stalls for an instant, then suddenly breaks and smashes uke.  I bet you can)
The same applies to deashibarai (front footsweep) in judo.  This throw most often results in a nice, low-amplitude sidefall for uke, but every so often someone does deashibarai and actually clears both of uke's feet into the air and uke drops like he was shot.  Times like this, deashi is not uke's friend.  So, how does someone end up getting both of uke's feet into the air when only sweeping the front foot?  That's right - seize&freeze!  Uke's foot starts slipping and he naturally resists by tightening up on his hip muscles. These suddenly-locked-up muscles bind the hips and both thighs into one big lump of meat and bone and the standing foot starts to slip and rotate along with the swept foot.  Seize&freeze has killed uke again.
When you get right down to it, I suspect that seize and freeze plays a major role in nearly every fall we take.  Take shomenate (face strike) - the most foundational thing in aikido - for example. This time, tori deliberately locks uke's spine and back by pushing upward on uke's chin until he is looking straight upward.  All of a sudden uke's entire torso is locked into one big chunk and his hip and leg range of motion is limited.  At this point, tori drops his entire weight forward through uke, throwing uke's locked-up body backwards and downward.  Shomenate done with proper spine-lock is a very severe thing.  Shomenate done without full spine lock usually results in uke fading back and absorbing or countering the throw.  
I bet once you get to looking for it, you'll find lots of examples of this reflex being the difference between you getting a marvelous ippon and uke shrugging off your throws.
Patrick Parker

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

The seize & freeze

I like to walk along the edge of sidewalks or on concrete bumpers in parking lots whenever I get the chance. Its just one more opportunity to play with balance and motion.  I suspect a lot of my readers play like this too - aikido and judo people tend to be like that.

Have you ever noticed, while walking on a balance beam or playing on a rocker board or balance trainer, there are times that your body completely seizes up to avoid falling.  You're moving along fine and suddenly something disrupts your balance (usually you misplace a foot) and your arms fly out to the side and you lean and freeze.  It is as if your brain figures if you continue moving then your position can only get worse, so you lock up to try to avoid the degradation. I have started calling this phenomenon,  "the seize&freeze."

Yogis, have you ever felt that same fear reaction during a balance pose in yoga?  I get that feel in triangle pose and in half-moon all the time, when I get my hips rotating properly then I tend to fall over backward.

Have you ever noticed that when your postural muscles seize and freeze, there is no avoiding falling?  The seize and freeze is like a denial of the inevitability of a predicament. Just like in my previous post when I talked about hospital patients who seize and freeze, locking up their torso in a fear/pain reaction, making it impossible to stand up.

Denial does not sound very much like yoga, does it? And denial does not sound very healthy in the martial context of aikido or judo either.

The seize and freeze is counter to the ideals of yoga, aikido, and judo because it is mindless and automatic instead of being voluntary and controlled. Feldenkrais talks in his books a good bit about the undesirability of mindless, automatic fear reactions.

What if we were to learn to safely and gently fall/roll out of those broken postures instead of doing the seize and freeze?  That way, all the places on the far side of the point of no return become part of the spectrum of that particular posture.

If we can eliminate the fear of falling out of a yoga pose (or any posture), then we can eliminate the seize and freeze fear reaction and make the ukemi just part of the exploration of that pose. This way, the pose becomes a whole range of postures and motions in and around and before and after the actual textbook photograph.  That should make your yoga more joyful and more flowing.

Interestingly, the same thing happens when walking along the edge of a curb.  If you get out of whack and can just take one more step instead of going into seize and freeze, more often than not, your balance will right itself - gently and without making a fuss, just walk out of the unbalance instead of submitting to the seize and freeze.

Monday, October 03, 2011

Fear - the mind-killer

Once I attended a therapy seminar in which the seminar leader taught us a truly miraculous technique for helping a patient rise from seated to standing.

She introduced this technique by pointing out that most patients that need assistance to stand are in pain and are afraid to stand up, and that a common reaction to this pain and fear is to take a breath in and hold it, locking the chest muscles, effectively making the entire torso into one massive, unmoving block of meat and bone. It's no wonder the patient can't rise to standing while locking their torso.

So, the solution is to get the patient to the edge of the seat with his feet under him, and get him rocking forward and backward. The rocking motion is soothing, it facilitates breathing, and it prevents them from locking their torso. Then, after two or three rocks, at the peak of a forward rock, you suddenly say, "look up!" And the result is the surprised patient looks up and sucks in a breath, and their respiratory accessory muscles almost fling them up out of the chair to their feet.  This technique works like magic!

It is the fear of the maneuver that prevents normal function. And the miracle of the technique is in using deeply-seated natural reflexes to bypass the fear reaction, facilitating normal function.

We want to learn a similar trick for falling. We don't want to have to prepare for the upcoming fall, to screw up our courage and suppress our fear and steel ourselves, because resisting the fear strengthens and solidifies it. We want to learn to fall out of positions that we naturally reflex into when we stumble, and we want to learn to use natural reflex actions (like a sigh of relief) to facilitate our fall.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Weapons exercise the brain

One of the benefits to martial arts training is it provides a unique form of stimulation to your brain, which your brain can then use to (mostly unconsciously) reorganize your habitual modes of posture and motion.  Moving in ways that you don't usually move g  ives the body-mind some new input that it can use to heal itself.
But then, after a while the motions of the martial arts become more integrated into the practitioner.  As you get better, these motions stop being unique stimuli.  They become more like the status quo. So, something I try to do every so often is add or swap out some part of my practice to get a bit of brain exercise.
The best thing I've found for this sort of thing is weapons practice. There are so many interesting, unique weapons associated with the various martial cultures that it is easy to find something that will stretch your brain and make you move in ways you're not used to.
My latest foray into the world of martial arts weapons is the Ieku - the Ryukyu oar - apparently traditionally used by Okinawan fishermen to beat up whoever they deemed needed a beating.  The Ieku bears interesting similarities to bo and jo use, but also to polearm weapons like naginata.
And the thing that I think is the Ieku's most interesting feature is it is assymetric in every way.  A plain-old jo or bo is symmetric and has its center of mass right in the middle.  But the Ieku has a blade-like paddle that occupies almost half of its length, so the handling of the ieku bears more similarity to Western quarterstave than to some of the Eastern pole weapons.  But the interesting factor of the Ieku does not end there.  The blade, or paddle of the ieku is also assymetric - there is a ridge running down the length of one side, while the other side of the paddle is rounded.  Each part of the ieku is different from the others, and each has a particular method of use - so youre dealing with a totally assymetric weapon - you have to constantly monitor and control the orientation of the weapon in your hands so that the proper part is brought to bear at the right time.
I can feel my brain stretching already!

Patrick Parker

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Get your feet off the ground!

Ever heard (or been part of) one of those endless old debates, like how best to survive a freefall in an elevator?  Do you jump at the last moment or do you lie down or what?  I for one, think that it won't matter because you'll be disoriented bouncing around the floor and ceiling as you are free-falling, so you wont be in any position to jump or lie down.
Another of those famous questions involves the best way to get hit by a speeding car?  Lots of folks propose jumping at the last moment, so that you bounce over the top instead of getting hit in the legs and driven over.  This one makes more sense to me, though I bet you wouldn't be in very good shape after bouncing over the top of the car either.
A similar phenomenon happens in ukemi - especially for judo, and especially for throws like osotogari and taniotoshi.  It seems that the most common beginner falling problem with these throws is the desire to keep the feet on the ground instead of letting the throw clear your feet and turn you over for a nice landing.
In osotogari, for instance, Tori the Tank sails in and kicks the everlovin' shnot out of the back of your leg, and for an instant there, you're not sure if tori has enough to actually make you fall, so you strength-up and put some weight on that foot.  Problem is, even if Tori the Tank does not have enough oomph to throw you cleanly, he often does have strength enough to buckle your leg and crush you into the ground.  When this happens, he often gets his leg entangled with yours and falls on top of you in a heap of twisted, mangled legs.  I can think of nothing that makes me cringe in judo more often.
Then there's taniotoshi.  This thing is fairly gentle and soft when thrown by a proficient tori with a compliant uke, but as soon as uke sticks his foot and shifts weight onto it, there is this awful torque in the system that is a veritable machine for breaking knees!
The solution to both of these throws, and a lot of similar problems, is (listen up) uke, GET YOUR FEET OFF THE GROUND AND TAKE THE FALL!
The only way that you'll develop presence of mind enough to get your feet off the ground and take the fall when hit by surprise with one of these terrible leg-benders in randori or shiai, is to take a lot of falls like that during cooperative practice.  When you are doing nagekomi practice (trading throws) and you know ahead of time that you are going to be uke, then you know that you'd better GET YOUR FEET OFF THE GROUND AND TAKE THE FALL! 
It also helps a lot to add a couple of rounds of okuriashi falls -  just like in nagenokata - to your warmup/ukemi time at the beginning of each class.  Okuri is almost never a leg-bender (though it can twist ankles), but it can suffer from this same foot-stick, and this is a good chance to start learning to fix that foot-sticking resistance problem.

Patrick Parker

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Helpful handful - shomenate (redux)

I love having new white belt students! They make me revisit and rethink how I present the basic fundamentals.  I have a theory that you can find the best Aikido teacher in the world by finding the one person who has brought the most students through the white belt material.  And I think I'm definitely in the running for that position! :-)

So, last night we were working on shomenate.  I've done this helpful handful before, but here are the things that I was emphasizing last night...

1. Kuzushi-tsukuri-kake - these elements might show up in different orders or they might develop all at once, but you have to have all three.
2. Get uke's chin lifted fully, so they are looking at the sky instead of you.  When they can't see you its harder for them to continue attacking.  Plus, lifting the chin locks the spine, which then becomes a great lever for you to use to move their center of mass away from you.
3. Step both of your feet all the way between and beyond uke's feet.
4. Don't add the little extra oomph with your shoulder at the end.  If dropping your entire mass onto their locked spine is not enough to blast them, then a little extra shove from the shoulder won't be either - plus you can wreck your own posture and maybe hurt your partner's neck.
5. Uke - take the fall. Take a step or two back to absorb some of the force, then sit down.  This gets you lots of practice falling from one of the most severe back falls you'll ever have to take, and it allows Tori to learn to apply his mass over a full range of motion.

Friday, September 16, 2011

How to make jodo practical and useful

One of the things that many modern students and potential students of jodo want to know pretty quickly is, how come we are forever practicing Jo vs. sword, when nobody uses swords anymore?  Why don't we learn something more practical and useful?
Well, it turns out that there are good pedigogical reasons for spending most of our time in that practice mode, but that koryu "wait and see" sort of answer is completely unsatisfactory for many students.  Following is a list of seven hints for making your jodo more robust and practical and useful - and more fun and rewarding...

  • Really hit real stuff every so often - hang a tire from a tree, plant a post in the ground, get a heavy bag, whatever ... and beat it with an axe handle or a cheap suburito.
  • Find a way to do at least a little of some kind of sparring or randori with another person, whether you have to armor up and use lighter sticks, or padded PVC, or just move at micro-speed.  You have to practice at least some against an opponent instead of a partner.
  • Do the kata properly, the way Sensei wants, but also play with every conceivable variation of each kata - change every grip, and see how the things work. Look for the places that look like you could easily slip from one kata into another. What if you struck this way instead of that way at this point in the kata?
  • Different kinds of attacks - not just sword.  Work your jodo on unarmed ukes, on knife-wielding, stick-wielding, etc... work on defending against the Jo guy, taking Jo and sword away from an attacker, and keeping your Jo from being disarmed.
  • Work with different size sticks - not just the official 7/8 inch diameter, 128 cm long, white oak stick... use pencils, canes, and six and eight foot staves.
  • Look up info from different traditions, including western european, Filipino, Chinese, and Korean.  Pay particular attention to the commonalities and the differences between the SMR jodo guys and the aikijo guys. 
  • Ask the hard questions.  Is this true, or BS? Why is it like this - why not like this?  Is this custom or tradition or best practice or the only way that it can be?
photo courtesy of Fred Hall

Saturday, September 10, 2011

BOMP - Ch 22 - Centerline

This year we are discussing the Book of Martial Power (BOMP) on Saturdays

I don't have much to say about this chapter in Pearlman's book, not because it is not important - control of the center line is one of the most fundamental and important concepts. But because I just don't have much else to say beyond what Pearl an has said in his explanation.

Simply put, because most of our vital targets are located on our center line, we must protect ours, while seeking to own theirs. Additionally, because most of the important action in a conflict between two people happens in the center of the space between them, we must seek to own the center line of the conflict.

I think if I were writing this book, I would have placed this chapter before the two that surround it, because Owning The Center is the central theory, and Triangle guard and Primary Gate are primarily how we go about owning and controlling our center, their center, and the center between us.

Friday, September 09, 2011

Metaphors and stuff

You know, there's like, metaphors and all sorts of other smart-sounding stuff in judo.  Judo is a microcosm of life. 
In judo we do randori (sort of like sparring), which is a competitive testing of the ideas and skills we've been working on.  Sure, we're all about mutual benefit and "you and me going forward together," but we're also about effectiveness and honesty and Truth (with a capital-T).  That is why we have to do randori. 
If you only do co-operative, give-and-take type exercises, then you never get to learn to deal with someone who wants to take-and-take (and take and take and take...) - and that is the most primal element of what martial arts are about.
There are martial arts clubs (and, believe it or not, there are a lot of them), that have remove all competitive exercises from their curricula.  I mean no sparring, no randori, no face-to-face with other students.  Now I know some of you guys are starting to moan that age-old grunt about those hippie aikido guys and their lack of competition, but they're not the ones I'm talking about.  I'm actually talking about some commercial karate and TKD clubs.
On one hand, it makes sense to remove the competitive elements...
  • We want to keep classes a positive experience for the student, so that they get a self-esteem boost and leave class telling the parents, "I LOVE judo."
  • We want to keep our injury rates low, and most all the injuries in class happen during competitive exercises.
  • We want to avoid having students get frustrated and quit, and zero-sum (one winner and one loser) games are a fast route to frustrating half of your students at a time.
But you still can't do martial arts (at least not well) without a competitive element.  It goes back to that microcosm thing...
  • There are going to be times in your life that you are going to want to reach some goal but someone is out to stifle that ambition.  You learn through randori to improvise, adapt, and overcome.
  • There are going to be times in your life that you are going to need to stifle someones ambitions and randori teaches you that if you jump on it and smother it right at the beginning its usually easier than letting it go for a while then trying to slow its momentum.

It's a fine balancing act, and it is the nightmare of all martial arts instructors (at least the ones with any sense) because you have to go for the right balance of co-operative and competitive, frustration and building the student up.

Patrick Parker

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

WANTED-used judo mats

If you have used mats appropriate for a young judo club, I have a coach who is interested in making maximally efficient use of his mat funds!

Contact Mario at Union Judo Club in Jackson, TN

Shift from student to sensei

Everyone's practice of the martial arts is filled with growth and change ... with transition. There are transitions that lots and lots of people make - like the transition from white belt to yellow belt.  Then there are transitions that very few practitioners make - like the transition from student to sensei. Of course, any good sensei will always remain a student of the art, but not every student becomes a sensei.  The sensei is a student - plus something.
How does that transition happen?  There are probably as many paths as there are people who have made that journey.
  • Some people knew from the very beginning of their training that they wanted to teach, and they actively pursued that role.
  • Some students move and there is no sensei near their new home, so they become the defacto neighborhood sensei.
  • Sometimes the sensei moves away and a student is left to fill his role, keeping things running.
  • Sometimes a student seeks out a sensei who otherwise would not be teaching.
What other paths have you seen people take to transition from student to sensei?
Do you have any helpful hints to ease the growing pains for students trying to make this transition to sensei?
Patrick Parker

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Explaining judo randori to kids

This is something that I have always had trouble explaining to my kids classes - the nature or feel of randori in judo.
Kids seem to want to make it this win-lose, dominance game in which the larger, older, more athletic always wins, and I have tried lots of different times to explain the kind of randori that I want to see. I don't want to make it a take-turns-throwing thing - that's not randori - but it's so hard to explain the difference between randori and shiai to these kids.  And how do you get the stronger kids to give the smaller kids a chance without telling them to deliberately stop moving and take a fall?
So, I have a new thing to try.  I'm going to try to explain them something to the effect of...
  • The goal in this sort of randori is to make lots of throwing attempts and to fall down a lot of times.  So, we're not resisting throws.  If the other guy gets anything fairly close to a throw, then take the fall. Someone should be falling down and getting up almost continually.
  • It doesnt' matter who throws first - I personally like to let the younger or lower-ranked student have the first and last throws of the session.  But somebody has to start off with a throw.
  • Between throws we're going to count steps.  After I throw, I give the other guy about 5 steps to do a throw.
  • If, after 4-5 steps, the other guy doesn't appear to be doing anything, I'll do another throw.
  • So it is a give-and-take thing without being an absolute take-turns-throwing thing.  Each player has about five steps to take their turn, then their turn goes back to the other guy.
 Yall have any additions or changes or better way to explain the dynamic of randori to kids ranging from 6 yo to about 12 yo?
Patrick Parker

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Dissolving the Black Vice

I'm leading a workshop in a few weeks at a local yoga school on the art of falling - ukemi.  I've got the technical details pretty much lined out - what were going to be doing for about how long.  But I've been pondering how to tell the story... how to explain what falling has to do with yoga and why a yoga practitioner might want to be interested in the input of a martial artist.

Then all of a sudden, I got some input from a couple of my aikido buddies.   Its funny how ideas swirl around, almost as if in some sort of collective consciousness, cropping up here and there in different forms.  One of my teachers posted a short lesson about the nature of balance and unbalance,  and he closed it with this (paraphrased) idea...

When placed in assymetrry, and held there, falls naturally occur.

Seems pretty straightforward.  No big stretch there.  But, phrased that way, that idea coalesced with something I've been tumbling in my mind.  That is...

The desire to refuse to fall creates a Black Vice that crushes your mind, body, and spirit.

When placed in assymetry and held there... whatever is holding you there creates one arm of the vice.  The other is created by your desire not to fall.  Just like a rock wall reflects the heat of a campfire, amplifying it for someone sitting by the fire, the two walls of the Black Vice reflect the energy and fear of your desire, focusing and intensifying it.

You have to stand here...but you can't... you need to fall... but you can't... so you have to stand here... but you can't...have to... dare not...can't.... must... need... can't...

And by this time you have been run over and don't even know it because you're so confused and broken.

So, I'm thinking about this, and another nice tidbit pops up from a buddy that went to a seminar and came back talking about how there must be absolutely no resistance to falling because that urgent desire to remain standing hijacks your mind and prevents aiki from ever happening.

The aikido solution - when placed in assymetry,  go that direction with no resistance...

The yoga solution - when placed in assymetry, stand there until your mind goes quiet...

Both are effective ways for dissolving the Black Vice.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Which master is most like you?

Ha, I just got this idea from a Facebook buddy - a conversation starter...

Which of the revered old masters do you think are most like you?  Which of the venerable superstars of the martial arts got their skills by studying you using a timewarp?

Friday, August 26, 2011

Chicken or egg

I've been thinking a bit about the timing of events in the first two techniques of Junanahon kata.  The way that I teach these techniques, they start off with the same actions - as uke invades ma-ai, tori gets his hands up between his face and uke's, and tori also steps off the line of attack toward the inside.  But tori ends up in different places with respect to uke in these two techniques.  In shomenate, tori ends up inside uke's arm and in aigamaeate, tori ends up outside uke's arm. 

Same actions place tori in two different places. Sorta like Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park lecturing whats-her-name about chaos theory - microscopic differences cause the water to run off of her hand in different directions.

But it turns out that it's not just how uke and tori happen to knock together that drives these two techniques. The timing of tori's actions tends to place him either in front of or behind uke.

Tori's step out of the way has a wave like, down up quality. As a general rule, Tori wants to synch the rise and fall of his arms with the rise and fall of his body so that he is not raising his arms as he is dropping out of the way.  This means that he can either raise his hands then drop out of the way, or he can drop out of the way then raise his hands.

If Tori raises his hands then moves, he tends to end up behind uke's arm - aigamaeate  If he drops out of the way, then raises his hands, he tends to end up inside uke's arm - shomenate.

Photo courtesy of Nicolas B

BOMP - Ch 21 - The Triangle Guard

This year we are discussing the Book of Martial Power (BOMP) on Saturdays (usually).  
Now this is an idea that I can sink my teeth into!  Pearlman's concept of the Triangle Guard is essentially the same as the Cowcatcher idea that I preach all the time, and very similar to John Perkin's Close Combat Universal Entry (CCUE) that I was reading about in his book recently.
The idea is that you need a strategically sound, mechanically strong action that you start every enounter with.  This universal response must be reflexive or habitual, it must occupy the centerline of the conflict to force the opponent's attack to come around the outside, and it must do some damage to the opponent in order to take the initiative from him and put him on his heels.
  • When I teach this idea, I call it The Cowcatcher (as in the grate on the front of trains).  I tend to do it as a straight-armed two-palms straight up the centerline to the opponent's face as I step slightly aside.
  • Perkin's version of this is a step-aside combined with what is essentially a neckchop-palm jab combo ... just a more vigorous version of my two-palms to the face.
  • I've also seen this done as a step-aside, put your hands on your own head pointing your elbows at the opponent.  This creates a sharp, pointy fender that is just like the 2-palms to the face that I do, except closer-ranged.
There are plusses and minusses to each form of this thing.
  • My version is very close to the natural reaction to back away and out hands up when surprised.  As such, it is very quick and easy to teach and impossible to forget.
  • Perkin's version is probably more damaging than mine, which likely will put the attacker on the defensive and take the initiative from him better.  It is, however, composed of more specialized skills/strikes, and is likely harder to teach.
  • The hands-to-the-head version is good for close-range fighting, but the way i've seen most folks do it has too much of a defensive feel to it - they often fail to use it to take the initiative.  It is also very intuitive (it's always easy to touch your own head), but it is possible to smash yourself in the face if the opponent runs into your fender before you get it solidly locked in on top of your head.
Whatever you call it, and however you do it, the strategic principle is the same:
  • You must start every encounter the same way or else you multiply your choices and Hicks' Law suggests that you will freeze when you start multiplying your own choices
  • Your initial response should be simple to learn, trivial to perform, and impossible to forget - thus either reflexive or habituated
  • Your initial response must occupy the centerline - that is, the plane that your spine and the opponent's spine both lie in.  This forces the opponent's attack to take a weaker, slower outside path to you.  The easiest way to do this is to reach for their face or throat.
  • Your initial response should damage or startle the opponent, placing them on the defensive and giving you the initiative.
Patrick Parker

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The myth of multiple attackers

This Fall, at our yearly Aiki Buddies Gathering here at Mokuren Dojo, I'm planing to work mostly on multiple attacker randori in aikido - unless someone shows up with some other topic that is burning them up. I figure to repise some of Nick Lowry's Incremental Chaos material from his 2009 intensive, along with a few twists and hints and drills of my own. But I wanted to start off by laying one concept to rest from the beginning.
We are not teaching you to beat up two or three or four people at once.
No martial art can.  If they tell you that they can, they are lying and/or trying to sell you something.
Back in the mid-80's to mid 90's, when I was mostly doing karate, it was common to hear propoganda from various instructors that karate could teach you to beat up several guys at once.  I've been told multiple times by different instructors regarding different karate kata that, "This kata teaches you to put down eight attackers at once."  I even remember an instructor telling me that if I got good enough I could put a beat-down on twelve attackers at once! 
I don't know how much of that kool-aid I drank, but let me tell you, I was pretty good at karate - state- and regional-level champ. I was also a large, athletic guy in the best shape of my life, but I never approached the ability to beat up two attackers at once.  I had some major cognitive dissonance with that idea in karate.  What I learned was...
A conflict with any one aggressor is at best a 50-50 proposition - that is, it's an even chance of you winning or losing.  Much of the time the odds are much worse than that because aggressors can be assumed to work the odds in their favor by using surprise, weapons, and whatever other advantage they can come up with.  Martial arts (any martial art) might tip the odds in your favor somewhat, but they are not magic talismans. When two or three or four guys accost you, the smart option is to comply and give them what they want and hope they go away (that's a pretty good option when one guy accosts you too).
If the fight, the deadly clawing, biting, scramble for your life, is inevitable, then some multiple-attacker training might improve your outcome some little bit, but there's no way that you'll ever get your odds of success back up toward the 50-50 that I estimated your chances could be with one attacker.
So, what are we doing playing around with multiple ukes in the dojo?
  • It's a good strategic exercise - highlighting some principles better than we can with one uke
  • It's a good way to work in a more adrenalized state than we usually do
  • It might help you some in a real fight
  • It's good physical exercise
  • It's just plain fun
Patrick Parker
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