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31-jo kata recap

This past month I have done a focus here on my blog on the 31-jo kata that is central to aikijo, as well as some of the associated exercises.  I'm certainly no expert in this stuff, but these are some of the ideas that have occurred to me as I have explored this material.  If you're interested in jo-work then check out the following articles:

[photo courtesy of Quemando Chirucas]
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Patrick Parker

A month of Tekki/Naihanchi

This coming month I will be doing a thematic focus on the Okinawan karate kata known as naihanchi (or Tekki in some circles).  This kata forms the core of most of the Okinawan styles, and is a most remarkable exercise.
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Quickly though, before you aikido and judo guys lose interest and tune out, you should know that this kata is a grappling exercise that makes extensive use (as you would expect of a karate kata) of atemi.  Or another way of thinking about this thing is it illustrates some great ideas about using atemi in grappling situations, much like aikido and much like some of the judo curriculum!
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Stay tuned for a LOT more on this fantastic exercise, and in the mean-time, check out this video...




[Photo courtesy of Mike Oliveri]
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Patrick Parker
www.mokurendojo.com

More of Mamy Rahaga aikijo

These videos illustrate the fluid control of initiative (sen) in aikijo.


____________________
Patrick Parker
www.mokurendojo.com

Nice aikijo work

I very much enjoyed the fluidity, precision, and power demonstrated in this video of the beginning of 31 jo kata.



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Patrick Parker
www.mokurendojo.com

The Book of Martial Power

It's not everyday that I agree wholeheartedly with Sensei Strange's nutty, tinfoil-hatter ideas, but today I thought I'd take a walk on the wild side.  ;-)  
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A few months ago I got a phone call from Strange and we chatted about a bunch of things.  He told me that he'd found this interesting book in a discard bin at a library someplace.  He warned me that it had a stupid-sounding title - The Book of Martial Power - but that the book was all about universal principles underlying martial arts, and that the whole thing was pretty cool and interesting.  It even spawned a short-lived series of posts on Strange's blog.
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Well, the idea that he planted simmered in my mind for a while till I went searching and found a steeply-discounted copy of the book in the old&moldy section at Amazon - and I have to say, Strange was right (this time;-).  The book is a very interesting look at principles that underlie all martial activity.  Disregard the nutty title and the fact that crazy people recommend it and go get a copy of the book.  I think you'll find it well worth the reading.
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So much so, that I think I'll try my hand at a prolonged series of responses and discussions here at the blog.  Looks like the book has about 75 chapters and some introductory material, so that should be good for about a year and a half of weekly posts.  I think I'll make this my standard Saturday fare for a while, so stay tuned...
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...and go get yourself a copy of the book so you can join in with the conversation!

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Patrick Parker

Save the hands for last

Try this, in both judo and in aikido.  Do not add in your hands until last - until after you've already got the guy wrecked and on the way down.
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Instead, build your throws from the ground upward.  Build the skill that you need in order to get your feet in a powerful position.  Then get your feet and hips in the right place.  Then finally, when everything else all the way down the line is in order... then throw your arms and hands into the mix.
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If you do it otherwise, you will often get your hands working when your hips and/or feet are out of position, and the exertion in your arms stops you from moving properly, ensuring that you will never get the rest of your power train in position to work properly.
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Just like in the conclusion of the classic sci-fi novel, Ender's game, they realize that "a small force kept in reserve often has a disproportionately large effect on the outcome.

[photo courtesy of dangoodwin]

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Patrick Parker
www.mokurendojo.com
the difference between teaching ukemi and teaching your students to lose/fail/die

comment about modern combatives from previous post

loren christensen reference

competitive judo idea about not teaching ukemi because it teaches students to respond to kuzushi by putting their backs on the ground



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Patrick Parker
www.mokurendojo.com

Uke for formal demonstrations

In our club and many associated clubs, there is a mostly-unspoken rule that when someone does a rank demo, their uke should be about their same level or perhaps slightly lower in rank.  Whenever possible, we tend to do rank demos with pairs of people advancing to the same rank.  There are several potential benefits to this practice...
  • It provides a preview of what is to come for the lower-ranked uke.
  • It gives the students a sense of solidarity or comradere to have gone through a demonstration together.
  • It might provide a more realistic demonstration to not have a super-uke jumping for the testee.
But right now I have a shodan candidate preparing to demo in April, and I have no suitable ukes for that demo, so I am instituting a tradition that is actually much older than our similar-rank demo tradition.
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Have you ever noticed - primarily in koryu (ancient) arts and especially in weapon arts - that the higher-ranked participant is typically the uke.  That seems to have been a normal mode of training and demonstrating in these ancient arts.  The master is uke so that the student can be successful at the role of tori.
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This sort of arrangement is also seen in other arts.  Have you noticed that when several musicians (especially in bluegrass) are performing together, the less-skilled player takes the primary role in center stage first. Then the teacher or the more skilled player(s) join in.
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There are several potential benefits to this sort of demo...
  • The master can give more precise attacks that better simulate the situations that the student is demonstrating
  • The master can help control the pace and form of the demonstration better than an adrenalized student uke.  This should make for better demonstrations.
  • Modern combatives theory suggests that you should never train your students to fail. No training encounter should end in a failure mode that in any way represents death to the student. So, obviously the losing/dying role has to fall to the teacher. (Please don't lecture me about ukemi not being equivalent to losing.  I know that.)
So, the gist of this is... I am going to be the uke for my student's shodan demo in April, and if this little experiment works out, we might do this sort of demo more often.
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Patrick Parker

Yes-and vs. No-but

This is probably one of the most important posts I've ever written here at Mokuren Dojo.  It is certainly an issue that I struggle with, and I think it's probably pretty common because it involves what I think is a universal glitch in our human nature, so you might find it of use.
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It involves how you teach.  Do you more often find yourself telling students, "NO!  That is wrong.  Do it this way." Or are your encounters more often like, "Yes, that's pretty good!  And here's something more that you can try."
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See, adults dont get into martial arts to be psychically beaten down a little more each day.  We get enough of that throughout the rest of our lives.  They come to learn a skill and to be strengthened and encouraged.  They come to interact with yes-and teachers instead of no-but teachers.
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And let me tell you what is even more infuriating than a no-but... That is, a yes-but.  We had an exchange student a few years back who literally started every verbal exchange with the phrase, "Yes, but..."  What he was actually doing was starting by negating and dismissing his listeners' opinions and statements and finishing with the typical modus operandi of a no-but.  This guy was a no-but, except you couldn't trust anything he said because he inverted the meaning of his yes and his no.  Everybody at his school and in our community soon started calling this fellow, "Yes Butt."  That became his American name.
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Anyway, I try to interact with my students through a yes-and model...
  • YES!  You got it.  And here's another little hint you can try.
  • YES! That's what I'm talking about!  And have you thought about it this way?
  • YES! Fantastic! And here's the next thing that builds on that idea.
I say that I try to do this because I think it's human nature to want to be no-but type teachers. I certainly fall into that trap sometimes.  No-but makes us sound wiser and better than our listeners, but it also makes us sound like a-holes.  Yes-but is even worse!  Try to go with the yes-and technique.
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Patrick Parker

Variation: continuous aikijo suburi

So, you have application, from which is abstracted solo kata, from which is abstracted kihon or suburi.  Sort of like the process of distilling salt out of a solution.  Works great, but eventually (especially if you are working this system backwards as I mentioned in the previous post) you are going to want to put the salt back into solution to get something like the original thing that you started with (functional application).
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Here is an interesting attempt to take the 20 suburi of aikijo and put them back into solution, as it were.  They are still condensed and identifiable as the kihon of the system, but they have been placed back into a context of more flowing motion.  The commentators on YouTube were about evenly split as to whether they liked or disliked this flowing kihon.  I think it's an interesting mode to practice your kihon in.  You might want to learn the kihon in a more traditional, separated mode, but once you've repped them a few thousand times to the satisfaction of every sensei you can find, why not use this as a more interesting shorthand for practicing kihon?





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Patrick Parker
www.mokurendojo.com

20 aikijo suburi

So, in building the aikijo system, centered around the 31 jo kata, we start with the applications - what it is that you want to be able to do with a stick.  This material is best practiced with a partner, and because of its potential lethality, it can mostly only be practiced as kata.
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Then we have the solo kata - this system is centered around two kata - the 31 jo kata and the 13 jo kata (I wonder if there's some sort of ancient Japanese numerology going on there?).  These kata are abstracted from and are representative of the applications.  This provides you a way to practice the applications through visualization and active meditation when you do not have a partner available.
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In nearly all systems built up this way (think karate-do), there is a third level of abstraction - kihon.  The kihon are representative of the movements found in the kata, but they are removed from the context of the kata so that they can be practiced deliberately and carefully without the threat of an attack and without the mental load of visualizing the context of the kata.  This allows us to perfect the motions and mechanics of the most important movements found in the kata and the applications.
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Funny thing - whenever we set about teaching such a system, we almost always go at it exactly backwards.  You learn the kihon, then the solo kata, then eventually (hopefully) you might get to the application - the stuff you actually want to be able to do with the stick. Curious.
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Anyway, in this aikijo system, the kihon are called suburi, which means something like "swinging" or perhaps "repetitions".  There are 20 of them and as you would expect, many of them are similar to the 12 kihon found in SMR jodo (there's only so many ways to beat a person to submission with a stick).  But perhaps the most interesting part of this set of kihon are the ones that don't have an obvious analog among the SMR kihon.  These are the things that make aikijo unique.


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Patrick Parker
www.mokurendojo.com

Let the sword be a sword

A student of mine who unfortunately had to move a couple of thousand miles away reminded me today of the lesson he remembers most fondly.  It involves the use of the sword in aikido and jodo.  It goes something like this...
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Consider what the sword is - a 3-foot long, razor sharp knife with a swept blade.  You do not have to swing it like a caveman wielding a stalagmite!
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Let the sword have the sword-nature!
  • don't power all the way through the stroke with arm strength - raise it in front of your body and let it drop by relaxing your shoulders
  • don't drape the sword over your back in preparation for a menuchi or yokomenuchi because you will have to exert muscularly to pick the blade back up before you can drop it on the target in front of you.
  • Let the blade drop with absolutely minimal steerage from your muscles.  The more you try to steer the blade, the more it wavers from its true path - and a blade that is vibrating laterally will not cut cleanly.  Let gravity drop the blade in a straight line.
Let the sword be a sword.
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Patrick Parker

Variation: 31 jo kata - 4 directional

Here is an interesting variation of the 31 jo kata performed by Stenudd Sensei.  Typically the kata is done in a line, facing either forward or back for each move.  In this variation, he changes some of the turns to place him on all four cardinal points, similar to the shihogiri sword exercise.  This version has nice rhythm and flow, and so long as his changes do not interfere with the applications that the solo exercise is supposed to represent, this version is fine with me (as if I'm the authority on this thing).




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Patrick Parker
www.mokurendojo.com

You don't have to strike a pose



Here is an interesting old film of M. Saito demonstrating the 31 jo kata.  Part of what makes this film most interesting to me is that he appears to be wearing zori or geta and that affects his taisabaki and kamae.  Specifically, he is placing his feet more carefully and is using more upright, natural postures than are seen in most demonstrations of the 31 jo kata.  The lesson to take from this is that you do not have to strike a wide-legged pose between every move (see the following film) for the exercise to be correct.


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Patrick Parker
www.mokurendojo.com

Application before 31-jo kata


When working a solo kata, like 31-jo kata, into your routine, you need to be aware that the best way to utilize this kata is as a reminder of the paired-kata that you have already practiced with a partner.
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Application must come before solo kata, or else you will have no guideline for what the solo kata is supposed to become and what it is supposed to do for you.  With no prior experience of the application, solo kata is very subjective and vulnerable to our fantasies about what we might be doing.  If you learn the solo kata outside of the context of application then you can easily come up with some retarded, imaginary applications that then become written in stone because of your solo kata practice.
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Instead, if you learn and practice the paired applications first, then the solo kata becomes an aid to visualization and review of that material when you do not have a partner.
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So, if possible, you should learn the applications with a live partner before you spend much time on the 31-jo kata - or at least learn application concurrently.
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Patrick Parker

Sumigaeshi and tomoenage

So, what's the difference between sumigaeshi and tomoenage? Are these two throws the same thing except with two different "grips" or connections?  Your high-powered Trick-Question Sense should immediately start tingling when you read that question, because as I've said before (repeatedly) the old, dead Japanese guys that developed this stuff were not into mindless multiplication of techniques.  If two things were not significantly different in principle then they lumped them together and give them one name.
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So, now that we know there really must be differences between these two throws, what are those differences?
  • name - tomoenage means something like, "circular throw" or "yin-yang-shaped throw," while sumigaeshi means something like "corner counter" or "turning the corner."
  • direction - at least as I think of these two throws, tomoenage happens in one axis of rotation(flipping forward), while sumigaeshi happens in two axes of rotation (turning horizontally as you flip frontally).  In other words, I usually throw tomoenage in uke's direction of travel, but I throw sumigaeshi close to 90 degrees to uke's direction of travel (similar to the yokoguruma in nagenokata).
  • force - tomoenage appears to me to have more muscular insurance associated with it.  If you get it close to right, often you can push hard with the strongest muscles in your leg and finish the throw.  On the other hand, sumigaeshi often feels like a less forceful, more graceful action that you have to get closer to right because you do not have as much muscular backup.
I have never gotten much mileage from tomoenage. I suppose because of my long legs it is hard to get seated directly under uke and still get my foot in his gut and not in his groin.  I do, however have a yokotomoenage that I like a lot, and I get good mileage out of sumigaeshi.




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Patrick Parker
www.mokurendojo.com

No class tonight


We might could have class tonight despite the ice and county-wide bridge closings and wrecks and etc...

But let's practice some real self defense instead.

Stay home and stay safe and I'll see you for Jo class Saturday at 9am.

You take all the turns


Sensei Strange asked me in an interview a couple of weeks ago, "When does our practice become not-aiki?"  Today this question got me thinking regarding the 10 kumijo applications to the 31 jo kata - What is it that makes this exercise aiki instead of just stick-swinging?
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Well, there might be several answers, but here's one thing that can potentially make it not-aiki.  Aiki is not about taking turns, as in...
  • you strike and I block
  • then I strike and you block
  • then you strike and I block
  • and so on...
Nobody ever gets ahead of that cycle except by luck.  Aiki is about seizing the initiative so that you get to take all the turns.  So an aiki encounter might go something like...
  • you strike and I evade and counterstrike
  • you try to deal with my strike and I strike again
  • you try to deal with that strike and I strike again (notice that these "strikes" might be any sort of technique - not just atemi)
  • until the attacker is destroyed or controlled or irrelevant...
When working these kumijo exercises beyond the uttermost basic levels, avoid the taking-turns mode.  Get into the taking-uke's-turn-away-from-him mode.  Watch for places where the pattern looks like it might become taking-turns but tori breaks the rhythm, seizes the initiative, and triumphs.
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As you are watching for this shift in initiative in the kumijo, notice that it often happens in non-weapon aiki via the application of atemi and/or kuzushi, and it is always accompanied by exquisite taisabaki.
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Patrick Parker

Blocking-in the moves of 31-jo kata

This is the best instructional vid I've found on YouTube for helping to learn 31 jo kata.  Note, when I say 'learn' the kata, I don't mean application or really anything more than superficial blocking-in of the movements.  For that purpose, this video is excellent because of the slow and step-wise pacing.
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Also notice the reference lines on the floor.  You can take those as general indicators of what direction to step, but instead, I prefer to pay attention to which quadrant he is stepping into with each foot rather than which line he is stepping on. Concentrate on stepping off of lines rather than onto lines.
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Solo kata like this has some major issues, that can be overcome through other forms of training.  I will get into that in a later post.


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Patrick Parker
www.mokurendojo.com

Seitei jo kihon in 31 jo kata

Jo and aikido go together like peas and carrots. But what kind of jo?  There are several jo systems that various aikido classes use as an adjunct to aikido, including
  • Shindo Muso-ryu Jojutsu (developed feudally)
  • ZNKR Seitei Jo (developed 1968)
  • aikijo and aikiken (developed pre-war by Ueshiba and formalized in 1973 by Saito)
One distinctive feature of Aikijo is its pair of extended, solo kata titled (uncreatively) the 31-step kata and the 13-step kata.  Seitei Jo does not have this sort of prolonged solo forms and from what very little I've seen of the Koryu Jo, neither do they. 
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31-jo kata is interesting as an exercise when you do not have a partner because it provides a method of practicing some of the same kihon as found in Seitei Jo - but within a context of aiki-like movement.  The Seiteijo kihon that are easiest to identify in 31-jo kata include:
  • tsuki (both honte and gyakute)
  • honteuchi
  • gyakuteuchi
  • hikiotoshi uchi
  • kaeshizuki
  • gyakutezuki
  • makiotoshi
  • kuritsuki
  • kurihanashi
More kihon analogous to stuff in Seitei Jo are probably in 31-jo kata but I just haven't been able to find them yet.  In any case, 31-jo kata makes for an interesting solo exercise when you don't have a jo partner available to help keep your jo skills honed.
 
[photo courtesy of Quemando Chirucas]
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Patrick Parker

Helpful handful: why emphasize small ashiwaza

According to Daigo's Throwing Techniques book, the Kodokan guys  mostly used small ashiwaza to win their matches in the famous Police judo tournament.  That is, throws like kosotogari and deashibarai and hizaguruma.  These throws are certainly not the most commonly seen things in judo tournaments these days, but here's a handful of reasons you might consider brushing up on these techniques.
  • Small ashiwaza is usually the first thing you can get into position for as uke moves into touching distance.  When uke steps close enough to grab you, he first exposes himself to deashi, kosoto, sasaeTKashi, and kouchi attacks.
  • Because these throws are generally less favored by competitors, they are relatively unexpected.
  • Small ashiwaza is low-commitment and therefore relatively low-risk for counterattack.
  • Small ashiwaza is ideal for setting up other throws.  Regardless of what your tokuiwaza is, it can always be preceeded in a combo by small ashiwaza.
  • Because they are small-motion, low-strength throws, they are particularly energy-efficient.
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Patrick Parker

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