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
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