New Schedule and Location for 2016

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All in or all out

Another concept that JW Bode taught at the seminar in OKC this past week is that of being "all in or all out."  That is, at extreme long range (greater than about 2 arms lengths) the unarmed bad guy cannot harm you.  Also, at extreme close range when you are hugged right up against them it is more difficult for the bad guy to attack effectively.
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It's the middle range (between about 0.5 arm length and 1.5 arm lengths) that's the killing field. You have to be all in or all out.
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In the seminar we approached this problem from the perspective of having to move from the outside condition through the killing field to the inside condition in order to take control.  Typically in my classes we have worked this same problem backwards - that is, we tend to assume that the bad guy will want to be in middle-to-close range so we have to work to get behind the attacker, flow with them to stay safe until we can get an offbalance and/or throw, which will give us an option to move through the killing field to the outside condition.
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In other words, with JW we worked this problem moving through the killing field to get all in, while we usually work this problem by moving through the killing field to get all out and escape.  (Turns out that the solution is the same in both approaches - use wrist releases to make yourself safer while moving through the killing field.)
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I think these two actions are complementary.  Flip-sides of the same coin.  Facets of aikido. You must have both of these tactics in your repertoire.
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But my question is... You have to train one or the other of these ideas to be your initial reflex, so which one should be your standard first action?  Which one of these should you train so much that it becomes your go-to tactic when stressed or frightened?
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My guess is that tactical operators (police, military, etc...) must necessarily train to run toward the source of the problem and take control ("Seek safety in the mouth of the dragon.") and that civilians should train to create space and escape ("No be there") as their standard action.
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And if that is so, then how much can we afford to train in the other mode before we begin spoiling our go-to reflex?
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____________________
Patrick Parker
www.mokurendojo.com

Rooftop and Letter-C

Those of you that know me know that I have a fondness for my own personal, very colloquial translations for Japanese names of techniques.  Well, here's one you might enjoy.  The jodo kihon named kuritsuke, I call "Rooftop and Letter-C."  The rooftop part of it corresponds to something like a rising block or deflection.  The Letter-C corresponds to a sweeping arc downward from the rooftop position to waist level that can be used to trap or throw.
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The other day I had a student comment that the motions in jodo and aikijo seemed to be esoteric and crazily precise - so specialized as to be virtually useless for anything but jodo kata.  So I bet him that I could do all of Tomiki's Junanahon Kata using only rooftop and letter-C motions (with or without a jo).    This is pretty cool and fun and I bet if you take just a moment or two, you can figure out how to make this work...
  • shomenate - enter to the inside and rooftop, striking under uke's chin (with end of jo or with your hands)
  • aigamaeate and gyakugamaeate - rooftop under uke's elbow, pushing elbow into head with a letter-c
  • gedanate - rooftop, step outside, letter-c striking uke's flank
  • ushiroate - rooftop - step outside, letter-c striking uke from the rear
Turns out that it doesn't take too much extrapolation to make all of Junana work using only rooftops and letter-c's.  I think my student was impressed and this demo piqued his interest in both jodo and aikido.  Try it... Enjoy.
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____________________
Patrick Parker

Rank requirements for high Dan grades

At some point in the curriculum of most schools and organizations, ranking ceases to be technical and becomes political. Typically in traditional gendai budo, the teaching curriculum extends as high as about 3rd or 4th dan.  So, what should be the rank requirements for higher Dan grades - say, past about 4th dan?
Some general ideas of mine...
  • Time in Grade - A pretty good rule of thumb for time in grade is it should take about as many years as the rank you are progressing toward.  For instance, a shodan should stay shodan for about 2 years before they are ready for nidan.  A 4th dan would stay 4th for about 5 years before being ready for 5th.
  • Age minimums -   Children, regardless of how long they have been practicing the skills, do not have the maturity to be black belt.  Children should not begin in a regular adult class until they are about teenage, and they should not achieve shodan before about age 16-17 (and possibly not even then).
  • Shodan (1st degree black belt) traditionally does not mean "master" or even "teacher", but rather more like a "beginner that has taken the first step." A shodan is someone who can safely and competently practice a large portion of the superficial teaching syllabus, and is ready to delve deeper into the art.
  • The Nidan (2nd black belt) is still working on the fundamentals but is beginning to diverge a bit from his teacher - or at least is beginning to see where the art may have to be modified to become his own art.
  • Through about 3rd Dan is generally considered student ranks.  Achieving 3rd dan means that you have seen and practiced the whole teaching syllabus.  In the case of judo, for example, a 3rd dan should know the entire gokyo, katamenokata, and nagenokata.
  • Yondan (4th black belt) begins the actual teaching ranks, however, in The United States, there are often not enough yondans to go around, so lower-ranked practitioners are often called upon to teach - especially in local or grassroots clubs.  Often these 2nd and 3rd degree black belt students are actually the best teachers in the system because they still remember what it was like to be a beginner and they are still diligent about teaching the syllabus unchanged.  Also, if a student is expected to assume the role of teacher by yondan, then she had better have pretty extensive practice at it prior to that time.  Therefore, students should be getting progressively more teaching responsibilities starting at about brown belt, and sandans may have been teaching long enough to have shodan students.
  • Godan (5th degree black belts) should have been teaching long enough to have produced at least one student of sandan level. One might wish to to extend that scheme to higher ranks, such that a 7th dan should have at least one 5th dan student and a 9th dan should have at least one 7th dan student, etc...
  • Regarding terminal rank - the idea that except for truly exceptional cases, most people should max out at 3rd to 5th dan - I think that in order to advance you should be physically able to do the skills appropriate to that level - so you probably shouldn't be able to achieve 9th dan just by surviving long enough if you are incapacitated by health problems or physical conditions.
  • Shiai for rank - In many clubs (historically - but not so much anymore), you are expected to compete to advance.  That might mean you go to tournaments to collect points toward a promotion requirement, or it might mean an in-club shiai where you compete against your classmates to gague your preparedness for rank.  I think this is 100% appropriate for student ranks in kids and young adults, but it is ludicrous to think that a 70 year-old 7th dan ought to compete against a bunch of young adults in order to become 8th dan. I do think that kata competition or demonstration could still be appropriate.
So, basically, most of that verbiage lies around the idea that technical requirements and tests apply up to about 3rd or 4th dan, and advancement beyond that should mostly be based on time, service, and teaching.
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How do you quantify and "test" for time, service, and teaching beyond the above bullet points?  I don't know.


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Patrick Parker
www.mokurendojo.com

July 2011 - JW Bode seminar - recap

This past weekend I had the extreme pleasure of being able to attend the Seminar at Windsong in OKC with JW Bode teaching aikido from a tactical (police and military) POV. Of the vast amount of knowledge that JW and his cohort put out there, I gleaned the following...
  • Releases into Lateral Vascular Restraint (LVR) - emphasis on immediate, decisive kuzushi, control, and restraint - bring overwhelming positional and mechanical advantage to play. break his hip/leg posture with your hip/leg so that you can use both hands for the LVR (many of us have a habit of using one hand on the low back or butt to break the hip posture)
  • Releases into gyakugamaeate (sokumen iriminage) - entering strongly from different relationships and controlling uke and the space all the way down into the ground.
  • This seminar was very much about yin/yang.  JW was presenting (in many ways) a perfect complement to what I taught a couple of months ago at OKC, and the aiki brushoff that I've been emphasizing in my teaching for several years.  We also saw several examples and demonstrations of the yin/yang, give/take relationship between uke and tori.  It reminded me of playing catch, as if we are throwing control back and forth between uke and tori (in randori) and each partner is trying to seize initiative and control so that he gets to take all the turns. Saw a great demo by George and Danny, wherein someone attacks and the tori seizes control and just before the move is set in, uke says, "Freeze" and uke demonstrates and discusses how he is reversing the situation and seizing control.  More playing catch.
  • releases as a doorway to begin practicing hand randori
  • Adapt yourself
  • - Don't assume that uke will jump for you, and don't assume that you have enough horsepower to force uke to adapt to your will.
  • The word, "uke" does not translate to, "dumbass!"
And as always, there was plenty of free mat time, where I got to work with Nick and Jack and Danny on jo and with Danny and Kyle et. al. on judo...
  • RE: hikiotoshi - (per Nick) slow and large till contact - hands sliding on the jo - softball pitch - front foot facing sword man - as hands solidify, don't pull back with rear hand - reach straight into uke. (per Jack) position feet so jo starts on correct diagonal - slow at first then fast - whiplike - sword works the same way (per Miyake) - on contact, solidify and lean weight into uke.
  • RE: tsukizue - hands slide on jo a bit to clear sword - large motion threatening eyes
  • RE: suigetsu - target is bellybutton, not solar plexus - set stick on side of butt instead of along forearm to create strong thrusting angle.
  • RE: the traps - catch, then start the motion with a step (gross power), then the hands come in (fine control)
  • In judo, we warmed up with uchikomi of deashi and okuriashi, then did kouchigari, a sweet twitch on the backward perpendicular during a forward footfall as a setup for seoinage.  Then we worked a seoinage-to-yokowakare counter.  At some point in there someone landed on me and knocked an "ow, dammit" out of me, and choked me so fast that I saw stars for about 15 minutes - so I don't really know what we did in newaza ;-)
  • Played with the ineffable Sensei Strange for a few moments on the up/down systema ukemi thing he's been playing with.
  • Got to do an epic randori battle with George Spriggs for about 3 or four hours.  He claims I choked him out, but that's just a crock of hyperbolic mendacity! What really happened is George wrung me and smeared me across the mat until I thought I'd been beat by an angry washerwoman with an old timey washboard.  A few hours (subjective time) into this match, I managed to get him off my diaphragm a little bit, and I laid down on one of his legs to slow him down so I could breathe.  I looked up and JW's wife, Adele, was laughing at me, saying, "George is never going to tap or give up."  By this point I was thinking, "Crikey! what have I grabbed hold of, and how can I turn it loose!"  Now I wonder when we can go again (after I recuperate and grow a new spleen).
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____________________
Patrick Parker

BOMP - Ch 18 - Imperception and deception

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

All warfare is based on deception. Hence, when able to attack, we must seem unable; when using our forces, we must seem inactive; when we are near, we must make the enemy believe we are far away; when far away, we must make him believe we are near. Hold out baits to entice the enemy. Feign disorder, and crush him. (Sun Tzu, The Art of War I.18-20)
Sun Tzu said it before Steven Pearlman. Combat involves deception.  We want to make our opponent think we're doing something when we're not (typical of feints in karate and combos in judo), or make him think we're inactive when we're not (typical of aikido).
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What do y'all think of that?
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____________________
Patrick Parker
www.mokurendojo.com
 

Gripe about Tomiki jo

In your martial arts practice, do you do kata in order to get better at doing those kata?  Or do you do kata in order to get better at some underlying principle (ju or aiki or ran or whatever)?  Are kata a vehicle or are they an end goal?
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This is part of what has frustrated me for a long while about my jo practice - both in seiteijo and in the part of the Tomiki syllabus that utilizes the jo - like Sankata.
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Take Tomiki's syllabus of jo material for example - several jo techniques in Koryu Daisan and several more in Koryu Dairoku.  These few techniques are probably okay to develop a basic self-defense competence in the context of the stick, but they are also supposed to be examples of something - and so far as I can tell, that something is the same thing that is being pointed at by the rest of the syllabus - takemusu aiki - free-flowing, spontaneous, creative, robust motion. 
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We want to develop the ability to do real aiki while holding a jo (or anything else) but the few techniques that we do in San and Roku seem to be insufficient examples to practice in order to develop that state of aiki in the context of the jo.  I'm not sure that you can practice that set of forms enough to learn to do the things that Ueshiba and a few of his students were able to do with a jo.
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And, if you can't use those kata to develop that sort of aiki-like skill, they seem like kind of a waste of time.
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So...
  • Am I completely missing the point?
  • If not, do we drop the jo material because it is a waste of time and practice something else?
  • Or do we supplement Tomiki's jo material with sufficient additional examples and practices that we have a complete system that will lead us toward the quality of skill that we're looking for? 
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Patrick Parker

How to break a judo hold - chock the hinge

This is a great example of a motion that will help you to start tearing apart your opponent's hold-downs so that you can facilitate an actual escape technique.  This particular example is kesagatame (the scarf hold), and the idea probably shows up most clearly here but it is definitely applicable to other situations besides kesagatame.  I call this maneuver, "chocking the hinge." You can see it in the above video at about 0"10 and again at about 0:16 (though it is kinda de-emphasized here.)
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Imagine that you have a heavy door on a hinge and you want to break the door off the hinge (Why?  I don't know.  Just go with me for a minute.)  If you place a chock (redneck word for a block or wedge) right against the hinge and slam the door against the chock, the weight of the door will tear the hinge apart.  The chock becomes the fulcrum for a class 1 lever with massive mechanical advantage at the point of the hinge.
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Now, imagine kesagatame as a door on a hinge.  Your shoulder that is being held is the hinge, your body and his body are the leaves of the hinge.  You already have a chock in place (the curve of your ribs and his ribs), so go ahead and open the door (swing your feet and hips away from your opponent's) and slam the door violently over the chock by banging you hips hard into his.
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Try this breaking the hinge motion a time or two and see don't you have more space around your held shoulder, either facilitating an escape or forcing him to reposition.

Ukigatame - the floating hold

In judo we tend to practice in phases. For instance, we might practice some gripfighting sequences to move from a free-movement phase into a clench phase.  Or (more often) we might allow the partner to take his grip and we practice throwing with tori remaining standing. Or we might start on the ground and practice some newaza.  It's fairly rare in this sort of class to practice the entire range of skills from grip to clench to throw to groundwork.  There are a couple of benefits to practicing with this separation of phases:
  • Safety - It's harder to practice standing judo while others are rolling around doing newaza.  People fall on top of other people or trip over them. 
  • Concentration - This type of practice also lets us to concentrate our time and effort on specific phases of combat (free-motion, clench, newaza, etc...)
But this type of practice in separated phases mostly fails to address the transition from one phase to the next. We try to minimize this problem by having most all nagekomi (throwing practice) techniques end in ukigatame (the floating hold, A.K.A. knee-on-belly) and many of our groundwork exercises begin in ukigatame. Thus, ukigatame is the transition between standing judo and newaza.  And as we saw in a previous post, since ukigatame is a core element of several aikido holds, ukigatame also represents one of the links or transition states between aikido and 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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Suggested great books on aikido, judo, and strategy.
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BOMP - Ch 17 - Training Truth

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

All of the instructors I've ever had have spouted this mantra at us: "You will fight the way you train."  But I think it has meant different things to different folks.
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Some instructors use this as a goad to make you train more vigorously - with greater intensity.  While I think stepping up the intensity is a good thing, that's not necessarily the same thing as harder or more vigorously.  I think it's easy to want to train for self-defense or combat, but to get sidetracked with sparring or shiai.
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On the other hand, other instructors have used this as a reminder to themselves to structure our practice to develop and reinforce the qualities and attributes that will benefit us in a fight - calm under pressure - sensitivity and control - building techniques out of motions that are more precise and controllable when adrenalized.
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Does it do you any good in a fight to develop your endurance to the point that you can spar vigorously for five minutes?  Well, it probably doesn't hurt you, but no fight will ever last 5 minutes.  Most will tend to be like the old country aphorism, "Two hits - me hitting you, and you hitting the ground."  Endurance never comes into play in a fight.  Endurance can, however allow you to train longer with greater intensity, getting more repetitions in during your allotted training time.
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Does it do you any good to develop your punching speed so that you can strike 12-15 times per second, like some of the awesome American Kenpo guys?  Maybe.  It is possible to overwhelm someone with a flurry to the point that you shut their mind off.  But all of the altercations I've ever been in, things have gone much slower than that.
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Does it do you any good in judo class to develop 3- and 4-technique combinations or chains built on the idea that the other guy knows what you know and will spoil your first technique or two?  Maybe, but that sort of reasoning is much more reasonable in an actual judo match than in a fight.  Often as not, your first technique or maybe your second will surprise the guy and smash him.
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For that matter, does it do any good to seek Ippon (perfect technique) in judo?  Maybe.  A perfect technique is thought to be one that will instantly end a conflict.  But really most judo techniques of lesser intensity (a wazaari or yuko) will put enough hurt on an untrained opponent to either make them stop aggressing or to allow you to get a really good headstart on them.
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I think our typical practices in all classes in all arts are rife with this phenomenon.  We fail to train the way we think we would like to fight.  This is part of the reason that martial arts occasionally  "fail" practitioners on the street, and it is also part of the reason that it takes so long to train people to competence in some arts.  I think we would be able to train folks faster and have more robust reliability in our defense if we were able to start with the end in mind.

[photo courtesy of Huminiak]

____________________ 
Patrick Parker 
www.mokurendojo.com

Continuity in ukemi

In aikido (and to some degree in judo) when tori throws, he pushes/pulls uke to extend uke's center of balance beyond his base of support. 
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So long as uke has a foot on the ground, he has some degree of strength and control over his fate. Tori must push uke sufficiently far through some arc over a foot that he is unbalanced enough to give up his footing and fall. 
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If uke is unfamiliar with being inside that arc (post-kuzushi but not yet falling), he might be so uncomfortable that he gives up his footing at the very beginning of the arc, before he has been pushed very far - basically jumping into the throw as soon as he is pushed.  But if uke becomes more familiar with that arc and more proficient and confident with his falling (and surviving) skills then he will be able to wait longer - to get farther into that arc before he has to give up control with his foot and fall.
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Extending uke's arc makes uke better because it gives uke more more control for longer.  He may be able to use that control to reverse the technique.  It also makes tori better because it forces tori to have sufficient stroke to push uke far enough to insure that he falls (or in other words - to control him all the way into the ground).
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What if uke were able to extend that arc all the way into the ground?  What if tori pushing uke into the arc was just the beginning of a French curve that ends on the ground.  What if uke were able to allow tori to place uke's upper arm or shoulder all the way on the ground before he had to give up control and fall?
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Aikido is not a discontinuous aiki-then-ukemi process.  There is a continuity in aikido that extends seamlessly all the way through your ukemi.
____________________
Patrick Parker
www.mokurendojo.com

BOMP - Ch 16 - Reflexive action

This year we are discussing the Book of Martial Power (BOMP) on Saturdays 
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So, Pearlman makes the point in this chapter that we are trying to make some set of skills or actions reflexive - so deeply ingrained that the proper stimulus is automatically and immediately met with the appropriate response.  An additional related thought is that we must avoid ingraining skills that we will have to un-learn and replace with different skills later.
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I agree with all of that - particularly the part about avoiding un-learning.
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But, what I think is more important to concern yourself with is not so much which skills (techniques) to work toward ingraining.  Rather, what attributes or qualities do you want to ingrain?  Not so much what do you want to be able to do, but what do want to end up becoming
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Consider, you're going to have to learn some basic techniques that are not as good or useful as later stuff, and you will want to use those basic techniques as a vehicle to develop yourself so that you can get to the real learning of later stuff.  But you can start from day #1 working on the qualities and attributes - the spirit or energy of what you want to become.
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So, what is the spirit of the thing that you want to eventually become as a martial artist?  How do you work to avoid practicing in other modes, developing other qualities that will have to be un-learned later?

[photo courtesy of etee]

____________________ 
Patrick Parker 
www.mokurendojo.com

Uke-centric seoinage

[Somehow I got out of order on my ukecentric nagenokata posts - this is the second one that I thought had published a couple of weeks ago. ]
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In teaching my children nagenokata I am placing the primary emphasis on ukemi and the role of uke, with tori's role being that of a spotter.
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The second tewaza (hand technique) of nagenokata is seoinage done from a vertical overhead strike.  Tori deflects the blow, turns in, and executes seoinage.
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In our uke-centric nagenokata with the kids I'm building up seoinage in a few different ways.
  • as rolling drills.  We start out having tori (the spotter) kneel on all fours and uke slides over their back to land on their side.  This not only simulates the type of fall that uke will be taking, but it starts teaching the spotter to  be strong and stable underneath of uke.  If the spotter is much smaller than the uke then instead of sliding weight over them, they can gently balance across their back for a second or two (with coach thumping tori on the belly reminding them to be strong), then uke gets off of them.  This way the spotter can begin developing the strength and form needed.
  • as uchikomi. After both uke and tori are goot at the rolling drills, we have uke (the faller) take a position with right foot forward, weight loaded onto it, with the right arm extended as if in the middle of the downward strike.  From here, tori can begin learning to deflect the blow and turn into the proper place to lift uke.  Uke is also learning to prop with his free hand on tori's hip (the closed-gate effect) and to straighten out and balance (as in junokata).  After lifting uke for a few seconds, tori sets uke back on his feet.
  • as the actual technique - mostly.  At this point the uke can enter in motion and tori can deflect, pick uke up, and stand strong as uke demonstrates his ability to close the gate, straighten out, ooze over tori's hip and land properly (with tori's help).  This is very similar to the actual form of nagenokata, though it is easier to control this and slow it down if tori enters with a full hip-across position instead of making it the dynamic, true hand throw of nagenokata.
[photo courtesy of Bunny]

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____________________
Patrick Parker

Uke-centric kataguruma

I've been doing a series on teaching judo's nagenokata from an uke-centric perspective - that is, with greater attention to uke's motion and role instead of looking at it as, "tori grabs uke thusly and smashes him like so."
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Raise your hand if you've gotten into nagenokata, gotten the first couple working nicely, then been frustrated by the third technique, kataguruma.  Sensei tries to tell you, "more pull," and "catch him when he's up," but you still wish your uke would go on a severe diet. 
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The kata version of nagenokata - at least as it is commonly taught - the one that we affectionately call "The Iron Cross," - is extremely hard to do to someone approaching your own size or bigger.  Usually our response to this fact is to gripe that "I'm just no good at this thing," or to strive to get stronger so you can lift heaver people in the air - when we should take this as a clue to stop trying to lift squirming, person-sized things!
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Here's another hint... In aikido, when we first approach hand throws (you did know kataguruma was a hand throw, didn't you?) we call them "floating throws," but they are also called "otoshi" throws, which means "dropping".  Hmm... floating and dropping sound like opposites... almost like one might lead to the other.
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Well, it does.  It turns out that whenever the body rises, it has to drop in order to get back to a normal state, and when it drops, it has to rise again.  It is that pesky physics thing, "What goes up must come down," and its converse. So, in aikido, when we want to get an otoshi/drop, we start it out by accentuating uke's rise (or float).  The rise makes the timing window for the subsequent otoshi wider and easier to hit.
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Same thing happens in reverse in kataguruma.  "Guruma" is a turning motion, but it happens on a body rise.  So, if we want to make guruma/rise easier... (that's right) preceed it with an otoshi/drop!
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In the kata technique you take normal sleeve, lapel grips and fade back 3 times, changing your left hand grip on step 2 and "lifting" on step 3 - right? Almost.  Try it this way instead...
  • take normal sleeve-lapel grips and fade back.
  • switch your left hand grip as per the book on step #2
  • on the footfall of step 3, turn 90 degrees toward uke's front arm and push your left arm straight.  This stretches uke out on the line he's standing on and threatens him with a sumiotoshi-like motion.
  • here's the uke-centric part.  Uke has to refuse to roll out of the otoshi.  In doing so, he tends to take a step forward with his back leg, rising and almost having to climb on top of you.  This is when you fit in and stand up.  There is very little lift involved, because uke is vigorously stopping the otoshi/drop by rising into a guruma motion!
So, instead of the typical 1(fade back), 2(switch grips), 3 (fit and lift) timing, try a timing more like 1 (fade), 2 (grip), 3 (otoshi), and 4 (fit and stand).
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I think you'll find that preceeding kataguruma with a credible threat of sumiotoshi makes the kataguruma much easier and fits within the form of the standard kata.

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Patrick Parker

Does the weapon teach the hand?

From what little exposure I've had to Filipino martial arts (FMA), as I understand it, they teach the weapons part of their systems first, and after you get good at that, the empty-hand comes later.  I had one of my FMA buddies tell me that their philosophy is "The weapon teaches the hand, but the hand never teaches the weapon." Meaning (I suppose) that they've found that the weapon should come first or else bad habits from empty hand training will carry over and spoil your weapons training.
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Aikido generally seems to work just the opposite - empty hand for a while, then weapons are added in, perhaps concurrently with more advanced empty-hand training.  The aiki philosophy on this is basically, "Nothing changes," meaning that aiki is expressed empty handed about the same as it is with an object in your hand. 
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I don't think this is exactly true.  There are differences, but it does seem like because aikido was derived to some extent from feudal weapons arts, those principles carry over into our early empty-hand training, which allows us to add the weapons back in later, claiming, "Nothing changes."


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____________________
Patrick Parker
www.mokurendojo.com

How to build a judo combo

So, in judo you learn some throws and you do some randori and suddenly the idea comes to you that you ought to have some combos.  But you can't just combine any two random techniques (even though the Kodokan book says that all imaginable combos are possible).  Can you imagine doing a sotomakikomi-to-kataguruma-to-utsurigoshi combo?  While that sequence might be possible (if infinite monkeys did infinite rounds of randori), I wouldn't want to waste the years of effort it would take to develop it.
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There is structure to the way throws fit together into combos.  It is this structure that I wanted to explore a little bit today.
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Consider this - different throws happen at different ranges.  Some throws are functional when you are just inside touching distance - as in a two sleeve ends grip.  Other throws happen when you can get your hands on their lapels or when you are close enough to put a leg across their body.  Still other throws are up close and personal with uke and tori smashed right up against each other.  So, lets divide the gokyo into these three groups:
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Long range (happen at first contact, conceivable with sleeve grips only)
  • deashi
  • kosoto gari/gake
  • kouchi
  • sasaeTKashi
  • okuriashi
 medium range (need elbow or body grips and/or leg across uke's body)
  • hiza
  • osoto
  • ouchi
  • taiotoshi
  • ashiguruma
  • haraiTKashi
  • osotoguruma
  • sumiotoshi
  • ukiotoshi
Close range (tight body contact – or have to turn in a long way - mostly koshiwaza & pickups)
  • ukigoshi
  • ogoshi
  • seoinage
  • koshiguruma
  • TKgoshi
  • haraigoshi
  • uchimata
  • tsurigoshi
  • hanegoshi
  • kataguruma
  • oguruma
Excluding counters and sacrifices, the gokyo mostly falls into these groups like this. Some folks might argue that a particular throw should be shifted up or down by 1 category, but I don't think any of these throws will easily shift 2 categories.
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Now we can make some observations about the structure of combos...
  • Combos generally progress from looser contact at longer range toward tighter contact at closer range. Or they might occur from one technique to another within the same range.  Combos more rarely go from tighter to looser.  So, you probably wouldn't spend your time on something like kataguruma-to-haraiTKashi-to-kouchigari.
  • If your tokui is in the medium range set, then you'll likely want to get good at some of the long range techniques as setups. If your tokui is close range, then you probably need some functional techniques at both long and medium ranges. These create pathways toward your tokuiwaza.  These are the combos that you probably want to spend your time on.  Stuff like deashi-kosoto-hiza or kouchi-ouchi-kouchi-taiotoshi.
  • If your tokui is in the long-range set, then you need to be able to stay at that long range when fighting people who want to get closer.  You need to be able to use kuzushi and medium or close-range attacks to stop the other guy to give you time to step back out to longer range for your tokui.
This is one way that I construct combos - from longer range through medium range toward closer range.  Do you guys do something similar?
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Patrick Parker

How to be an honest uke

One of my ongoing blog features this year is I am working my way through Henry Copeland's excellent list of principles that make aikido work, and adding commentary from my POV at this point in my journey.
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The next idea on Henry's list is, "Uke provides honest responses."  This is a kinda funny concept (funny-strange, not funny-haha), because outside observers are forever griping about aikido sucking because it appears that the attacker just jumps on the ground to make the defender look good (and that does happen some).  But on the other hand, we are always telling our "attackers" in class to give stronger, better attacks - attacks with better intent - to be an "honest uke."
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I personally dislike choreography in aikido class.  When I hear an instructor tell a class, "uke attacks like this, so tori does this, which causes uke to do that, so tori responds with this thing..." I have a hard time not rolling my eyes.  I don't have much use for an instructor that writes uke a script for uke to follow. 
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I tend to almost go to the other extreme away from choreography.  I tend to tell uke something like, "Ok, come at me and let's see what it looks like if I respond thusly."  My instructions to uke are usually more like, "Try to survive this thing without hurting yourself," instead of "attack just so, then fall down right there."
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But actually, neither extreme is correct.  You don't want uke to attack like a knucklehead and jump on the ground for you, but you also don't want an uke that tries their best to confound everything you do.  Both extremes make for poor learning of bad aiki.
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So, what specific instructions can you give uke for how to behave without giving them some sort of deterministic script?  I tell uke...
  • Start from just outside touching distance.  This is one of the basic assumptions of most aikido, at least at the beginner level.  From this distance, in order to touch tori, uke has to take one large step forward.
  • When unbalanced, give yourself to the unbalance at least a little bit.  You (uke) will never learn to survive unbalance if you refuse to go there.  This doesn't mean jump on the ground to make tori look good.  It just means don't refuse to move.
  • Recover and reorient. Whenever you find yourself off-balance, or realize that your attack missed, or tori is not standing where you thought he was, stand up and turn to face tori.  Anytime tori diffuses your ability to attack, move to a place where you could be a threat again.
  • Fail gracefully.  If you want to recover, reorient, and continue to attack then do it safely.  Don't be crazy about it.  And don't refuse to roll out of something if that will keep you safe and uninjured.
 I think Henry's "Uke gives honest responses" is mostly just a shorthand for these four points.
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Patrick Parker

BOMP - Ch 15 - Opponents are illusions

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


Opponents are illusions - not the person himself, but the idea that he must necessarily be an enemy.  
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You know, I've heard it remarked and I think that it's mostly true that any good instructor of true martial arts in the world can teach a new student everything they know about self-defense application  in a pretty short period of time - weeks to months.  But we certainly want the students to play with us for longer than a few months so what do we do?
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I think there's largely just a couple of approaches.  In one, we continually emphasize the awful potential of the worst sorts of people to destroy our lives and our peace at a moment's notice.  We create a sense of fear of the other that binds the student to the master for longer periods of time.  But the ironic part of this fear motivation is that the student is motivated to study only the most superficial aspect of the arts - the part that you can get in weeks or months.
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The other approach is to get the self-defense instruction over with in the first few months, and although you do have to continue to put enough practice into this material to maintain your skills, you then use the self-defense skills to create a sense of freedom.  Freedom to live your life without constant, unwarranted, gnawing fear - but also freedom to explore more interesting, more artistic aspects of the martial arts.  These profound facets of the arts can bind the student and the master as friends in a lifetime of creativity and expression.
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So, why should we create these imaginary boogeymen to motivate us to restrict ourselves to the most superficial aspects of the arts, when we can create a freedom from the boogeyman and use that freedom to live a life of beauty and of creative expression?
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Patrick Parker 
www.mokurendojo.com