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Suwari - perhaps the best reason

Suwari is an onerous practice for many people.  In a couple of previous posts I have discussed this idea and tried to give some good pointers and excuses why we should make suwari a regular part of our practice.  Today I think we came up with the best excuse for suwari yet.
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Do it simply because you don't want to do it.  If your spirit rebels against the idea and you find yourself trying to make excuses to rationalize your way out of it, go ahead and do it.  Immediately.
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I liken it to a sort of a mortification of the lazy part of yourself that avoids unpleasant practices.
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As we were discussing this idea today, a very wise black belt offered his own version of the same idea, "It's not just suwariwaza.  Hell, I don't like exercise of any kind.  I'd rather spend my life sitting around eating spaghetti and drinking red wine.  But I can't do that so here I am at aikido practice!"
[photo courtesy of Dimmerswitch]

____________________ 
Patrick Parker 
www.mokurendojo.com

BOMP - Ch 10 - Ratio

This year we are discussing the Book of Martial Power (BOMP) on Saturdays.  
  
In this chapter, Pearlman compares our resource usage to our yield in several ways.
  • Effort vs. Yield
  • Power vs. Yield
  • Movement vs. Yield
  • Time vs. Yield
  • Space vs. Yield
This provides us several additional targets to aim for technically.  We would like for our techniques to maximize yield or result or output or effect, while minimizing our expendature of effort, power, movement, time, and space.   These are so inter-connected that they are almost five different ways of saying the same thing, or I suppose you might see them as different lenses through which to examine your technique.
  • Can I change this technique so that it feels easier to me but gets the same effect or greater?
  • Can I change this technique so that more of the power that I generate gets transmitted to the opponent?
  • Can I make the movements of this technique smaller while getting same effect or greater?
  • Can I modify this technique to achieve my effect sooner or faster?
  • Can I modify this technique so that my power is applied to him over a shorter space?
Sometimes you can make something faster, and sometimes you just have to make it better at the speed it is already going.

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____________________
Patrick Parker

Don't push yourself into the ground

There are a lot of non-obvious, but interesting phenomena that show up in aikido and judo.  One such is this idea that you should not take a step while lifting or raising your arms.  When you raise your arms, you are actually pressing your body downward into the ground, making your feet slightly stickier and potentially making your footwork clumsier.
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The solution, which we drill over and over in the walking exercises - you have to either pick your arms up then drop-step, or else step then pick your arms up.
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Try it and see what sort of mileage you get out of it.

[photo courtesy of Wilhelmja]

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____________________
Patrick Parker

Ichikata - variations on ryotedori

The fourth and final set of techniques in Ichikata are ryotedori (both hands held) responses. I like to play these with a very light, void feel similar to the 3rd set in which you fade back away from a shoulder grab.  Here, you fade back, drawing uke into overextension as he grasps for your arms.
  • tenchinage
  • kataotoshi
  • shizumiotoshi
  • shihonage
  • gyaku kotegaeshi
  • ushiro ryotemochi maenage
Another thing that really stands out to me is the similarity between this set of techiques and those of Owaza Jupon.  All but the last of these ryotedori techniques have analogs in Owaza.  Makes me think that whoever invented Owaza must have been looking at and thinking about Ichikata or Gokata (this stuff is repeated there).
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____________________
Patrick Parker

Jodo hints from Jack

I got the golden opportunity to do some jodo with Jack Bieler this weekend!  Jodo in general is one of those things that is mind-altering because you have to do it just right or it becomes dangerous and ultra-scary.  Sorta like the feeling that you get standing on the edge of the Grand Canyon.  Sure, you're safe.  You're 3 feet from the edge with good footing and no wind and nobody around you to push you in... but what if you were one step closer?
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Playing something this scary with someone this much more advanced than you are is quite an experience.
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Which reminds me of a tangent!  A few years ago, I attended a Henry seminar in which the theme was Sankata weapons - particularly the sword-on-sword stuff.  As always, he blew us away with his awesome skill and charming manner, but after about an hour of having people swing swords at my head, I was a nervous wreck!  Having green- and brown-belts practicing this stuff was like stepping right up to the edge of the canyon 300 times (with wind and jostling people and a blindfold).  Quite an experience!
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But anyway, Jack gave me a handful of hints about improving my jodo.  I'm going to list them here, but mind you, any mistakes are my misunderstanding - not his mis-instruction.
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Most of my errors were kihon errors - small stuff that compounded to make my jodo really suck...
  • #1 - arm/stick makes its motion in the same time as one direct step forward.  "Weaponize" the stick early, so that you don't spend half your step lifting the stick.  Then you can put that step on uke.
  • #2 - let the wrist break to keep all the fingers on the stick.  On this and #1, don't over-wring the stick, but line all your knuckles up on bottom and wrist bone on top to form an "edge" to the stick.
  • #3 - the chest hand is open and at the sternum.  Dont let it drift off to the rear.  on this and #1 and #2, keep the rear hand little finger on the stick instead of letting it hang off - this keeps the stick live instead of rotationally dead.  aim to project 3-ft sideward and 6-ft back. Watch for wobble caused by working the stick with the hands.
  • #4 - arms more vertical, and in the same time as a hipswitch.  Not 'set then stab' but 'hipswitch&step-stab'
  • #6-9 - bring lead hand (fulcrum) toward head so that it is closer to the power structure of the body.  Use more of the tip of the jo instead of the middle.  make sure youre keeping your hands in the safety margin of the stick.
  • #7 - rear hand in hip joint, turn feet to face uke. Turn front hand over to honte just before the stab.
  • #9 - punch face and solar plexus
  • #11 - stick starts slightly forward of head
And with regard to the kata...besides the kihon errors above...
  • #1 - bigger, more vertical arc, like a circular saw, to threaten eyes to stop uke's rush.
  • #2 - stab lower - not in the xiphoid process and not in sternum.
  • #3 - present right at ma-ai.  Disrupt uke's sense of ma-ai and set your own.
  • #4 - Jack was not doing this as vertical as Usher - more "upside the head"
  • #8 - hikiotoshi to protect the hand instead of honteuchi
...and beyond that my mind was fried.  I'm sure he told me all the ninja secrets of the universe, but I failed to catch them.  Anyway, this is enough for a year or two of work.  Heck, a fifth of this advice would have been a goldmine.
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Then I got to chat with Nick about jodo.  His (more concise) advice...

  • Really hit really real stuff more often.  Get used to transmitting force for real into real objects.
  • Go back to the Big-Strong-Fast-Light model and proceed from there (see the video below)



____________________
Patrick Parker
www.mokurendojo.com

Returned from Windsong

Whoa!  I just got back from leading a seminar at Windsong Dojo.  We worked on my understanding and interpretation of Koryu Dai Ichi.  Funny thing was, I got the opportunity to "teach" this stuff to a huge group of my longtime heroes in the art.  These guys that I have always looked up to, and whose skill I've measured my own by.  And you know what was particularly trippy?  They liked it!  I got the most effusive compliments!  This seminar was one of the most affirming, enriching things I've ever been to!
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I know that I missed my weekly blog post on the Book of Martial Power this past Saturday.  I'll get to that early this week.
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I think they got some good video of me massacring Koryu Dai Ichi, but I think it's likely a tremendous amount of video (they shot three 1.5 hour classes from 2 cameras, one fixed and one roaming) so I think it'll take a good while before that is edited and available.
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You can also look forward to me finishing up my comments on Ichikata this coming week, and a list of jodo tips that I got from Jack Bieler.

____________________ 
Patrick Parker 
www.mokurendojo.com

Aikido is mostly just illegal judo

I've seen this idea blogged on several times in the past, I think on Nate Teodoro's blog and Charlie James' blog and Chris Marshall's blog - but I'm too lazy to chase down the URLs for you.  The idea that if you want to see what the most useful techniques would be in a real street fight, look at the actions that are illegal in any combat sport.

Take Judo for instance, If you look at the IJF judo rules, section 27 - Prohibited actions and penalties, you will see that what is illegal in judo includes...
  • To intentionally avoid grabbing the guy - and not letting them grab you.
  • To avoid attacking the guy, or to try to get away from them
  • Endangering small joints or spine (neck cranks, finger locks, wrist locks, leg locks)
  • Grabbing their legs
  • Touching/hitting the face, kicking
  • pushing the opponent out of bounds
  • squeezing leg scissors
  • entangling a leg and falling onto it
  • lifting and dashing them against the ground
  • falling while applying jointlocks (like wakigatame) or falling/bridging backward into the ground with them on your back
  • wearing/using hard metalic objects
  • and of course, such non-sporting actions as poking, gouging, ripping, biting, spitting, head-butting, groin attacks, etc... fall under the category of "against the spirit of judo."
Typically we like to think of the aikido that we do as self-defense judo.  That is, all the stuff that is illegal in judo contest, we try to find a way to practice in aikido.  So, in aikido you see lots of hitting/pushing the face and a wider variety of jointlocks than you see in judo. You also see good taisabaki and gripping actions that deny the opponent a grip/position.
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But there are still actions in the above list that our aikidoka are probably unfamiliar with.  Might be worth going through this list and finding a way to safely and carefully and systematically give aikidoka some exposure to some of these situations.
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____________________
Patrick Parker

Significance of position within the Gokyo

The original syllabus of the Kodokan was called the Gokyo no Waza (five sets of techniques).  Originally (in 1895), the five kyo consisted of various numbers of techniques ranging from seven to eleven.  Then in 1920, the gokyo was re-thought, and re-arranged so that each set had eight techniques.
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Even the kyo that stayed mostly the same were re-arranged.  For instance, deashibarai was the 6th technique of the 1st kyo in the 1995 gokyo, but it was the first technique of the first kyo of the 1920 gokyo.
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I've been trying for a while to figure out if there is any significance to the techniques that were selected for each kyo, and more specifically, if there is any significance to the position of each technique.  For instance, are the techniques in the first position of each kyo related in some way?
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What do the following groups of techniques have in common?
  • pos 1 - deashi-kosotogari-kosotogake-sumigaeshi-osotoguruma
  • pos 2 - hiza-kouchi-tsurigoshi-taniotoshi-ukiwaza
  • pos 3 - sasae-koshiguruma-yokootoshi-hanemakikomi-yokowakare
  • pos 4 - ukigoshi-TKgoshi-ashiguruma-sukuinage-yokoguruma
  • pos 5 - osotogari-okuriashi-hanegoshi-sukuinage-ushirogoshi
  • pos 6 - ogoshi-taiotoshi-haraiTKashi-oguruma-uranage
  • pos 7 - ouchi-haraigoshi-tomoe-sotomakikomi-sumiotoshi
  • pos 8 - seoinage-uchimata-kataguruma-ukiotoshi-yokogake
Why were the techniques selected for each kyo the way they were?
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Why were they placed in the order they were?
____________________
Patrick Parker

Ichikata - from earth toward void

So, anyone noticed in your practice of Koryu Dai Ichi that the kata progresses from a less mobile, more solid/structural-feeling aikido toward a lighter, more airy, void-feeling aikido?  Check out the organization of the sets...
  • suwariwaza (solid, grounded, with techniques ending in pins)
  • release #1 (I like to practice this set with a slightly more solid, stronger uke)
  • release #2 (but practiced with tori fading back out of the way of a shoulder grab)
  • ryotedori (very airy, void feel - with techniques that project uke away instead of pinning)
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____________________
Patrick Parker
 

Ichikata - variations on release #2

The first set of Ichikata is suwari, and it tells a story about variation in distance and initiative.
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The second set of techniques in Ichikata are standing techniques - wrist grabs that tell a story about variation on wrist release #1.
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The third set initially appears to be about variations on shihonage, but then all of a sudden the kata throws in two forms of iriminage, forcing you to re-think what this set is all about.  Well, it turns out that this set is about release #2.  It is just sorta hidden because in the first several techniques tori is doing the wrist grab instead of uke.  This illustrates the point that the releases can be done with any sort of connection.
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In the first four techniques, uke reaches in for a chest/lapel/shoulder push/grab, and tori fades back slightly out of reach (creating sort of an airy, void feel to the techniques), picks up the wrist, and does shihonage, hikikime, sukuinage, and tenkai kotegaeshi.  The last two techniques are iriminage done from release#2 and release #4 conditions.

The problem with combinations

In judo, most coaches consider it a necessity to teach and drill combo techniques - stuff like ouchigari-to-taiotoshi.  This is standard practice, and you pretty much have to teach combos or your players will think that you are a bad coach, but there is a problem or two with developing an over-emphasis on combinations.
  • The harder that you attempt any given technique, the harder it is to flow to the next technique.
  • If you don't really try the first technique, then you can more easily flow to the second technique, but you are opening yourself up to some potential problems with feints.  Specifically, you have to make the feint realistic enough to trick the receiver, and that can open you up to having the feint countered.  If you don't do enough of the feint that you might be countered, then you are not doing enough to affect the receiver, so you might as well not do the feint.  In essence, you are training to do half-assed kake on the first throw, which tends to get you countered.
There are some other ideas about how to develop combination techniques, besides "first this then that".
  • Either-or combos - you can build combinations by grouping 2-3 techniques that can all be done from about the same position but which throw in different directions.  For instance, osotogari and haraigoshi are the same motion and occur from nearly the same place.  That means, if you can step to that place that is right between those two throws then you can decide to do either this one or that one.  Another good classic either-or pair is osotogari and hizaguruma.  Another is kouchigari and ouchigari.
  • Chain combos - In this approach, you chain several techniques together and drill stepping from one to the next.  This differs from the first-this-then-that combos because you are never attempting (or even feinting) any of the techniques in the chain.  What you are doing is doing kuzushi and tsukuri for technique-1, then kuzushi and tsukuri for technique-2 and so on.  When you get good at stepping from one place to the next, you can decide at any of them to complete the throw with kake and zanshin.  Our favorite chain combo to drill is deashi-osoto-ukigoshi-ouchi-kouchi-taiotoshi.
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Patrick Parker

Koryu Dai Ichi at Windsong

Wow! I can hardly wait!  This coming weekend I will be leading a class on the aikido exercise, Koryu Dai Ichi at Windsong Dojo.  What's even more special than the interesting material will be the group of ultra-cool aikido folks in attendance.  I can't wait to get to play with these folks again!  If you guys are able to make it I'd love to see you there.  Details from the Windsong flyer follow.




Patrick Parker :  Koryu Dai Ichi Clinc
Friday  May 20, 2011  - 6-9 PM
Saturday May 21, 2011 10 Am to noon  and 3-5 PM
cost $20 per session or $50  for all three

Patrick Parker, 6th Dan Instructor at Mokuren Dojo, will be presenting ideas and interpretations from his study of Koryu Dai Ichi.  This exercise presents several interesting variations on distance, initiative, and resistance conditions in suwariwaza, wrist releases, and ryotedori attacks.  These variations and ideas are critical for exploration as students advance beyond the initial learning of the Junana Hon Kata.  Koryu Dai Ichi also provides an amazing exploration of "weaving offbalances" that you will not want to miss.

____________________ 
Patrick Parker 
www.mokurendojo.com

BOMP - Ch 9 - The Power Paradox

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

This particular principle plays a huge role in how you practice and how you perform your martial art.  Basically, The Power Paradox states, that if it feels powerful then it isn't, and if it feels weak but gets a big effect then it really is powerful.
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I usually think about this like this - The only way I can feel my own power is if it is reflected back from you.  If I apply power to you when you are totally incapable of resistance, then you will reflect almost none of my power back to me and I will not feel my own power.  But on the other hand, if I apply power to you and feel you resisting, then you are reflecting much of my power back to me.
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If you can learn to skillfully manipulate synchronization, ma-ai, and kuzushi, then uke will never be in a position to resist, and he will eat all of the power you apply to him.  You only ever feel the power that he doesn't eat because you mis-managed your synch, ma-ai, or kuzushi.
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I think this is why the haymaker (or as we call it the Redneck Punch) is so prevalent with untrained fighters.  When a haymaker hits, some power is absorbed in the receiver as damage, but a lot of power is reflected back to the puncher to be absorbed in the musculature of the chest and shoulder.  So, because of the feedback, the puncher feels like the haymaker is very powerful.  On the other hand, a straight punch executed correctly creates a very big effect in the receiver and does not reflect much power back to the puncher, so the puncher feels like the punch was weaker than a haymaker.
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True Power feels like weakness.  Power that feels powerful is weak.

[photo courtesy of Clover 1]

____________________ 
Patrick Parker
www.mokurendojo.com

The automagic aikimatic

There are as many preferred ways of running a class as there are instructors.  I have mentioned before that I tend to do my aikido classes like this:
  • warmup and ukemi
  • fundamentals (walking and releases)
  • rank requirements (junana and owaza)
  • then randori or a COOL NINJA TECHNIQUE O' THE DAY!
Most of this is pretty standard.  It's the COOL NINJA TECHNIQUE O' THE DAY! (CNTOD) that is somewhat unique to my classes.  After we get through with all the fundamentals and rank requirements for the day, I like to play with something from the advanced kata, or do some chaining (renraku) practice, or something else that is cool and ninja-like.  This adds an interest factor and keeps class fresh.
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But where do the CNTODs come from?
  • Sometimes I will work through one of the Koryu no kata over the course of a few weeks - technique #1 one class, technique #2 the next class, etc...
  • Sometimes I call for suggestions of favorites or things they don't understand.
Another great way to create an endless stream of CNTODs is to build an Automagic Aikimatic Device (AAD)!  You'll need a 10-sided die and a 20-sided die.  You can get these from your local comic book shop, or hit up the nearest Dungeons & Dragons geek.  Take your two dice and put them inside a clear plastic box, and voila!  You have an automagic aikimatic device.
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Whenever you need a CNTOD, grab your automagic aikimatic and shake it.  Take the result from the 10-sided die as the number of a release motion (9 and 10 are the first two releases from yonkata).  Take the result from the 20-sided die as a technique from junana or owaza (18, 19, and 20 would be a guruma, kataotoshi, or iriminage).  Then chain them together.  Do the stated release, and see what it takes to get from that position into the given technique.  Sometimes it's easy, sometimes it takes a lot of moving-with and hand switching like in randori.  Great practice!
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Patrick Parker

Let's take kataguruma out of nagenokata

Nagenokata was intended as one of the Randori no Kata - that is, techniques that might be used in randori.
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Since the powers that be removed kataguruma from competition by by making it illegal to grab uke below the belt, this technique no longer fits the intent of the kata.
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I suppose that you could keep kataguruma as a sort of historcal artifact, like ashigarami in katamenokata.  In this role, kataguruma would be a sort of hint to the practitioner that there is more in Heaven and Earth than is demonstrated in this kata.
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But it seems to me that it would be better to just take kataguruma out and replace it with something else that demonstrates a similar idea and is usable in competition...
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Something like... taiotoshi maybe...

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____________________
Patrick Parker
www.mokurendojo.com

Switching sides in Ichikata

Different martial arts take into account our natural sidedness in different ways.
  • Jodo, and some classical judo instructors teach everything on one side.  In jodo this is because of the inherent assymetry of the sword grip and scabbard placement - much of the material just wouldn't make sense on the other side.  In judo, this is justified by saying that learning things on both sides would take more than twice as long and you'll never be as good on your off-side as on your good side anyway.
  • Some classes (taichi and some karate for instance) teach the forms one-sided and leave the mirror forms or the off-side as individual homework.
  • Some instructors obsess about teaching everything both-sided to try to minimize that weak side.  This is a pretty good idea, but it takes a tremendous number of reps on the off-side to bring it up to par (if you ever can).  It can easily take 3x longer to teach something both-sided as to teach it on the domnant side only.
Tomiki aikido has an interesting answer for this sidedness issue - kata that alternate sides between techniques.  In some of the advanced kata (including ichikata and yonkata), you do the first technique right-sided, the second technique left-sided, the third on the right, and so on.  This is a pretty good nod to the advantages of all the ideas above.  You get some activity going on both sides, but you don't have to obsess about reducing sidedness to the point that you use up all your practice time bringing the off-side up to par.
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Coming form arts and instructors that mostly fit the third style above - try to become ambidextrous - I have found the switching-sides katas irritating and frustrating for some years, but this training method is starting to make more sense to me these days and I'm actually beginning to enjoy the switching-sides kata.
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Patrick Parker

Aiki "right now" trumps "right" aikido

A buddy of mine wrote me an email asking what I think about a situation.  Seems someone told him that he should go a thousand miles out of his way in order to get training from the best aikido teacher in the country instead of going to the lower-ranked local instructor for regular training.
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Reminds me of a situation we had in college.  We had our club established and running for several years, and a new guy moved to town - a shodan in another organization.  He boldly came forward and wanted us to loan him our mats so that he could teach a class his way.  We politely declined and suggested that he come practice with us, to which he politely declined, responding, "No, I'd rather not do aikido than do aikido your way."
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This sort of inane, mind-boggling snobbery crops up every so often.
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We've been over this same thing before in the form of "Which martial art is best," and the answer is the same for this new question, "What is the best kind of aikido to do."  My standard answer comes in four parts...
  • The best aikido is the one that you enjoy enough to practice regularly.  If you can't practice regularly then you'll have a really hard time improving.
  • Local is better than exotic.  You can practice all the time with the local guys.  You might only be able to travel to NeverLand to see the #1 sensei once a year (or once a decade... or once in a lifetime)
  • Relationships matter more than the #1 sensei's absolute skill level.  If the head guy is a jerk that you can't stand being around, then your aikido career would be more successful if you practice regularly with people that you like.
  • You don't have to have the BEST aikido (as if there was such a thing) - you just have to have an environment that will make you better than you are today.
So, in short, aikido "right here right now" trumps aikido "done the right way." Find a local, accessible club where you like the people, and train regularly to try to make yourself a little bit better tomorrow than you were yesterday.  The rest of the "which one is best" nonsense will sort itself out.
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Patrick Parker

BOMP - Ch 8 - Standard of Infinite Measure

One of the things I like about judo is that it has this pair of competing ideals that help to keep us on track.  One of these is explicitly defined - ippon is the technically perfect throw - that is, a throw that is smoothe and fast, lands uke hard, mostly on his back, under your control.  Hard - Fast - Back - Control.  
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The other of these is an unstated (bur definitely pervasive) ethic of pragmatism.  Everything we do in judo is against a live opponent, and much of it is done against a live, resistant opponent who knows what you could potentially do to him - a pretty tough standard.  So, if you can't get the guy on the ground, then the thing simply doesn't work (for you right now).  On the other hand, if you can get him on the ground even if you can't do it with ippon skill - that's pretty good.
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These two ideals of technical perfection and pragmatic sufficiency are like fenceposts on either side of a pretty good path to improvement in judo.  If you don't stray too far into perfectionism or pragmatism then you are likely to be on the right path.
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It seems to me that most martial arts (or perhaps most martial artists) run off the road by concentrating too much on one or the other - pragma or perfection.
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Pearlman's Standard of Infinite Measure appears to be an attempt to fix a martial art that is running into the ditch on the pragma side of the road.  Simply stated, we must strive toward 100% of our own personal potential.
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Aim for ippon, but don't beat yourself up to much if you just merely win.

[photo courtesy of misha penkov]

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____________________
Patrick Parker

Ichikata - variations on release #1

The second set of techniques in Koryu Dai Ichi is a set of seven standing techniques that represent interesting variation on the first wrist release that we teach to beginners (this wrist release motion can also be seen as #3 of the shichihon no kuzushi, for those that use that set of releases early on). 
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This set also demonstrates a progression of uke trying to get progressively more difficult to deal with. 
  • In the first technique uke interferes with release #1 by becoing strong, so tori steps back to create space, and does release#1 anyway. 
  • In the second technique, uke interferes with release #1 and with the resulting oshitaoshi, causing it to flow in a tenkai motion.
  • In the third technique, he grabs the wrist and the elbow to prevent tori from moving around his wrist as in release #1, so tori does release #5 into tenkai kotehineri (junana #13)
  • In the fourth technique, tori grabs the wrist and elbow, and tori applies kotemawashi and oshitaoshi to the elbow hand
  • In the fifth technique, uke grabs tori's wrist and collar (again to prevent release#1), so tori ducks under the arm, ruining uke's position, and throws kotegaeshi
  • In the sixth technique, uke grabs wrist and reaches for tori's collar or other arm and tori does release#5, breaks the grip, and throws kotegaeshi
  • In the last technique, tori grabs wrist and tries to apply a rear choke so tori turns under (release #5) into maeotoshi
 So, what we see here is a couple of ideas...
  • Release #1 is very difficult to successfully interfere with because tori can almost always step back, creating a little space, and then continue with release #1.
  • If you are able to successfully stop release #1, then it is very easy for tori to flow into release #3 or #5 - both of which lead to some dramatic techniques.
I suspect that in most classes that start with the 8 releases that we start with, the instructors emphasize to intermediate students that release #1 can flow into #2 and #5, and that #3 can flow into #4 or #7.  It is this either-or nature to these releases that makes them so powerful.  But I also suspect that in most classes, this teaching is a somewhat haphazard thing, only occurring when it comes to the teacher's mind.  Here, this teaching is encoded in a specific and systematic way into Koryu Dai Ichi.
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Patrick Parker

Suwariwaza in Koryu Dai Ichi

The first set of techniques in the first advanced kata of the Tomikiryu curriculum is a set of five suwariwaza (kneeling techniques).  These techniques illustrate a handful of interesting points...

  • When kneeling you are just about as far down as you can get without lying down.  This means 1) you have very little potential energy, and 2) you cannot execute techniques against uke by dropping into him (otoshi).  You can pretty much only execute by rising with uke, amplifying his rise to unhook him from the earth.
  • Any time you press hard against uke, your knees stick to the ground.  You cannot push and move at the same time.  This phenomenon occurs when standing too, but we hardly ever notice it.  When kneeling it becomes obvious.  In the first technique, for example, if you find yourself falling on your face unable to keep up with uke as he falls away from you, then you are pressing on uke and sticking your knees.
  • These techniques illustrate different timings.  In the first technique, tori is acting before uke.  In the next technique, uke is earlier, and manages to act slightly ahead of tori (forcing tori to turn out of the way).  In the third technique, uke is dramatically ahead of tori and tori catches uke coming down onto him.  When tori is this late, he will be completely pinned in place if he does not redirect and yield to uke's strike.
  • The fourth and fifth illustrate an interesting practice mode that we don't play too much - jutai (continuous) timing.  Starting so late that uke has already come down on tori and pinned him in place, tori shrugs uke off to one side, then using uke's attempt to rise, throws him decisively to the other side.

[Photo courtesy of Joshua Smith]

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Patrick Parker 
www.mokurendojo.com

Suwariwaza - why bother?

I have mixed feelings about the suwari (kneeling techniques) found in aikido.  I have written in the past that suwari is an interesting link between standing and groundwork, and that people that like groundwork should be shouting, "Yippee! We get to do suwari!" instead of the constant groaning.  But I also understand that the kneeling material has a lot of perceived negatives for a lot of folks.
On the pro side, suwari:
  • is part of the art, and always has been.
  • (when done right) it is a beautiful and impressive historical/cultural artifact.
  • makes your legs and hips more flexible and stronger (if it doesn't wreck them completely)
  • allows you to practice techniques without big falls.
  • gives some hints about how aikido works at close range or in limited spaces or when your mobility is hampered.
On the con side, suwari:
  • is culturally irrelevant to pretty much the whole world outside Japan.
  • is boring.
  • is abstract.
  • is mostly inapplicable to real conflict.
  • is painful to the knees!
Suwariwaza is featured in the koryu no kata of Tomiki-ryu in the beginning of ichikata, sankata, and gokata. 
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Basically I suppose if you don't like suwariwaza, it's just something that you have to trudge your way through as you advance in rank.  But you should do your due diligence to try to find and learn whatever lessons it holds while you're there.  Also, there is the added bonus of doing the suwari in ichikata because there is at least a little less of it there (5 techniques) than in sankata (8 techniques) or gokata (7 techniques).
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Patrick Parker

Structure of koryu dai ichi

As the first "advanced" kata beyond the fundamentals in the Tomiki system, ichikata is designed to provide variations in timing, spacing, and fundamental techniques.
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The techniques seen in ichikata are almost all immediately identifiable as ideas that the student has already worked on in junana and in owaza.  The techniques in this kata include oshitaoshi, tenkai kotehineri, kotegaeshi, maeotoshi, shihonage, iriminage (aikinage), tenchinage (guruma), kataotoshi, and shizumiotoshi - all things found in junana and owaza.
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The kata is divided into four sections:
  1. suwariwaza (variations on timing and spacing and mobility)
  2. variations on release #1 (yonkata #3)
  3. variations on release #2 (yonkata #5)
  4. variations on ryotedori and morotedori
So, because of its predominantly fundamental techniques and its emphasis on variation of the first two wrist release techniques that you learn at white belt, ichikata makes a pretty good first try at building upon the foundations of the system.

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Patrick Parker

Koryu no kata in Tomiki aikido

In most of the Tomiki aikido clubs I'm familiar with, the instructors restrict kyo-ranked students to a fairly narrow technical spectrum.  Before black belt we concentrate almost exclusively on...
  • slow-to-moderate speed ukes feeding us straight attacks to the face or simple wrist grabs
  • tori executing techniques using whole-body pushes - i.e. throwing by stepping through uke's center with straight arms
  • techniques happening with otoshi timing (when uke makes a footfall)
These conditions make for good, clean, understandible learning of concepts and ideas, and they make for nice, straightforward rank demonstrations.
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Then somewhere around ikkyu or shodan, when the student has a good grasp of the fundamental 17 techniques done in the above manner, we begin introducing variations in techniques, speed, timing, attacks, spacing, throwing actions, etc...  Shodan truly is just a starting point - the tip of the iceberg - the point at which the student can do the fundamentals competently enough that they are ready to delve into the art.
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At this point, our students begin working on Owaza Jupon, which introduces some interesting and crucial variation - but some clubs do not use the Owaza Jupon.  Some clubs begin delving into variation through the Koryu no kata.
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The koryu no kata are six groups of techniques that, as I understand it, Tomiki sketched out and Ohba detailed and finished.  Most clubs spend far more time on two of these kata (#3 and #4) than the other four.  These two are considered to be largely representative of the technical range and the energy and flavor of the entire set of six kata.  Our American clubs have occasionally delved off into kata #5 and #6 to some degree, but most everybody I know of largely neglects #1 and #2.
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I think that is a shame, because #1 and #2 have distinctive flavors and energies and feels to them that are not found in the other kata.  Sure, many of the techniques are repeated in other of the kata, but that is to be expected, since Tomiki only defined about 15-20 fundamentally unique techniques.
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It is the unique selection of techniques for each kata, and the ordering of the techniques, and their division into sets within the kata that creates a unique logic to each exercise. While the techniques are largely common between the different koryu no kata, it is the structure of each one that tells the interesting story.
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Each particular kata is designed a particular way to teach a particular set of lessons. 
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This month I will be blogging pretty extensively about the first of these koryu no kata, titled koryu dai ichi, which we nickname ichikata.  Hang on for the ride, because there's a lot of info here!


[photo courtesy of Joshua Smith]

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Patrick Parker

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