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Dissolving the Black Vice

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Both are effective ways for dissolving the Black Vice.

Which master is most like you?

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

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

Chicken or egg

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

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

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

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

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

Photo courtesy of Nicolas B


BOMP - Ch 21 - The Triangle Guard

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

The myth of multiple attackers

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

BOMP - Ch 20 - Posture

The previous chapter in BOMP was about breathing, which I equate to a large degree with relaxation. The current chapter in BOMP discusses the importance of proper posture.  I have posted in the past on the idea of the relationship between posture and relaxation but I think today I'd like to grind this sacred cow into cheeseburger...
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See, the ideal of posture in much of the Japanese martial arts world is basically SRU - Stay Rigidly Upright.  I think SRU is a pretty good first approximation of a generally good, useful, efficient posture, but when you think about it, there's not too much you can do if you dedicate yourself blindly to the SRU ideal.  In order to do anything, you have to move, and in order to move, you have to relax your hold on that SRU ideal.
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Now, I do think that your postures that you use in the martial arts should largely revolve around a neutral, relaxed, upright posture (shizentai).  But there are times where it is appropriate to flex or bend or even [gasp] lean over
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When you don't have some other better posture for what you want to be doing, you probably want to be in shizentai.  But if it will accomodate your goals and strategies better to lean or bend or flex, then by all means, do. 
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Gentle, flexible, yielding-but-strong, flow in and through and around shizentai - that is my postural ideal.


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Patrick Parker
www.mokurendojo.com

Kihon: general or specific?

The most fundamental pieces of your art/system that you practice all the time - should they be very general-purpose, generic, and abstract or very specific, detailed, and concrete?
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The more generalized you make your kihon, the more things they can potentially be applied to later.  The more specialized you make your kihon, the fewer things you can apply them to later.
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For example - the wrist releases that we do in aikido.  You can view these things as defenses against wrist grabs, in which you get behind them, countergrab, twist just so, and then put a cool technique on them.  Or you can view these releases as simply diffusing the immediate threat by getting out of their way and putting your hands between you and them.  This second, more general form can easily be modified on the fly, in the moment, to become countless cool techniques if you need to do that, but the first form, in order to become something else, has to first have the coolness and the twisting and the countergrab stripped off of it.
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Another example - Taikyoku - the universal fundamentals kata in karate - generally the first kata karate guys do, is comprised completely of turns (either 90 or 180 degrees), sweeping down-blocks, and lunge punches.  You can think about these movements as down-blocks for attacks coming from the side and lunge punches, but then once you get that idea ingrained in your mind, it's harder to change it so that you can use the down block as a hair pull or the lunge punch as a push or reverse uppercut, etc...  On the other hand, you can think of this kata as turning and extending your arm in front of your body in a sweeping motion and weight shifting and extending the other arm in front in a pushing motion.  Now, all of a sudden you no longer have to un-think the downblock and lunge punch in order to make those body mechanics something else.
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One more example - in judo we tend to begin every class with a few rounds of strolling across the mat with a partner, touching or picking up their foot with your foot on every step .  Usually we informally think of this as uchikomi for deashibarai, but if you start to think about it as only deashi your body starts to subtly and unconsciously soldiify in a structure that would allow you to throw deashi.  But it turns out that this motion is also useful as okuriashibarai, harai TK ashi, hizaguruma, etc... as well as illustrating the timing that you need to be able to step into every other throw that exists!  So, if you just put in the reps, making the motion, thinking about being in synch and touching his foot, almost as if your foot is just an antenna that you are using to verify the status of his balance and weight distribution - That can be used for anything!  But the harder you try to make it work as deashi, the harder it will be to get anything else out of it.
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I suppose it's kinda obvious that I prefer generalized, almost abstract kihon over special-purpose kihon.
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Patrick Parker
www.mokurendojo.com

How dramatic are your failures?

Any martial art has value.  But all martial arts also have the potential to fail you, if misunderstood or misapplied or if they are applied by a poorly skilled practitioner.  Heck, even when the skills are done perfectly by a master, there is potential for a fight to go badly.  There are no guarantees.  Nothing is fool-proof.  Your martial arts skills might save you in 999 fights out of a thousand, but you'll still never know when that one fight will happen.
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So, in your regular training, do you mostly work to learn to win, or do you work to learn to minimize the unpleasant consequences of failures?  I figure you should work on both, but it appears to me that the aikido that we do is more focussed on reducing the potential for our failures to kill us.  Principles that we are always harping on, like ma-ai, shikaku, brushoff, shizentai, getting offline, ukemi... those do help us to learn to trash bozos, but they are (IMO) mostly involved in keeping us safe when we are the bozos that are getting trashed.
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Even if you are the boss in 999 fights out of 1000, how dramatically is that last one going to affect you?

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Patrick Parker
www.mokurendojo.com

BOMP - Ch 19- Breathing


The simplest, most human of activities, we breathe about 800 million times during an average lifespan, mostly without thinking about it.  I think that this is also perhaps the most difficult of principles to get a handle on.

Certainly breath is related to other rhythms in life and in martial arts. Research has shown that elite runners and rowers learn to spontaneously entrain, or synchronize, their breathing with the rhythm of their activity.  The same research shows that entrainment of breathing reduces perception of effort, but it is not shown to reduce actual energy expenditure.

Breath is intuitively important.  It feels like something we should concentrate on. But it is such a slippery concept that every supposed guru that you can find will tell you to control your breath in different ways.  For that reason, whenever I've had a student ask me for specifics about breath control, I've mostly told them, "Do this thing a million times and try to get to the point that it doesn't make you too out of breath to do it vigorously."

In other words, pay attention to other stuff for a long time, and your own subconscious will figure out how to best control your own breathing in acceptably good synchrony with your own biomechanics.

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Patrick Parker
www.mokurendojo.com

BOMP - Section II - Physiokinetic Principles


A small, physiokinetically sound person who exploits the physiokinetic flaws of a larger opponent (instead of confronting his size and strength) will emerge victorious. (BOMP, p67)
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In our study of Pearlman's Book of Martial Power, we have completed the first section on Principles of Theory, and we are beginning on Section II - Physiokinetic Principles.  "Physiokinetic" is Pearlman's $10 word for anatomy, physiology, kinesiology, and biomechanics.
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...Martial technique does not emerge randomly.  Techniques do not... emerge from "just because" rationales... In credible martial arts, technique emerged from, and is limited by how the body works, and how one physiology best works against another.
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Thus, in our study of martial arts, the studies of anatomy, physiology, kinesiology, and biomechanics must become our masters.  We need to pay more attention to the roots and trunk of this tree, than to its flowers and leaves.
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Stay tuned to begin our study of Physiokinetic Principles of Martial Arts.


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Patrick Parker
www.mokurendojo.com

Chocolate in my peanut butter!

Excerpted from a buddy on FB - we were talking about aikido and judo being the same thing...

@Patrick Parker, I have a drill for you and it is mostly mental. 1) STOP separating aikido and judo 2)Recognize that Aikido is out and Judo is in. 3) When out Aikido throws 4) When in judo sweeps 5) This is all relative/relational...in that sometimes your feet are your hands and your hands are your feet. If you remember the release relationships, sweeps are at least the first four of the 8 releases except the relationship is sub-torso (legs). I think this is what Kano and JW were/are saying. O Sensei had perfected (completed) Judo at a distance and Kano recognized that. Take the Yin-Yang, Um-Yo relationships and ride through the changes as one morphs into the other vice stopping to transition from one change/source to the other as if the two entities are separate...they are one and the same but they are dualistic and require balance at all times....May the Force be with you...Master Jedi!!! Write this down and spread it if you wish...I am but the simple janitor and in 15 minutes I may not remember this conversation or what I said. Seize the moment.

I thought this was really interesting, because it is exactly what I've told all of my students from day #1 - that aikido (esp. Tomiki) and judo (esp. classical) are the same thing.
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...sorta...
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But despite paying lip service to the idea that aikido and judo are about the same thing, I've always kept the two things separate - to be practiced in their own classes.  Much of this was based on recommendations by one of my teachers who demanded that we keep them distinct things with their own practice times for reasons of "artistic purity."  Lately I've begun to think that a lot of what we heard as absolute gospel fact was actually more along the lines of personal preference or recommendations for "best practices."
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Lately I've gotten to watch and/or practice with several very-highly ranked folks who have thoroughly gotten their chocolate mixed up in their peanut butter...  That is, they do aikido and judo, judo and aikido, aikijudo, ju-ish aiki, aikibujutsu-type things - flowing freely from one to other and back. An amazing fusion state!  Some of these amazing teachers do the two arts separately and some of them teach the fusion aiki-judo in the same classes.
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What do y'all think? 
  • Are Tomiki aikido and classical judo about the same thing?
  • Should we practice them together in the same classes or separately?
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Patrick Parker

Shomenate - how to get started with aikido

There's probably about as many ways to approach teaching aikido as there are teachers of aikido.  But one way that you can sorta divide teachers into camps is by looking at what they teach first.  Most aikido teachers begin with some sort of footwork drills or body-coordination taiso or something like that, then they proceed into the "real techniques."

photo courtesy of Beau Saunders
In a lot of non-Tomiki schools, what you will see first is Ikkyo (literally "the first thing") which is basically using an elbow control to press uke face-down into the ground into an armlock.  Tomiki folks call that oshitaoshi (arm press) and teach it sixth.  What the Tomiki folks teach first is shomenate (frontal strike or frontal entering).  It is interesting to compare these two techniques to see what different teachers might place primary emphasis on.

Oshitaoshi (ikkyo) is a control/throw that happens with tori standing behind uke's arm in a fairly safe place.  Obviously this is a better place to be than standing toe-to-toe with uke.  The Tomiki folks, however, for the first technique, have tori entering directly in front of uke and standing directly between uke's feet.  The idea behind this (at least my understanding) is that it is assumed that you will occasionally make tactical mistakes.  Even though you would like to end up behind uke's arm, sometimes you will move the wrong way under stress or sometimes the attacker will out-maneuver you, placing you toe-to-toe.  The Tomiki idea is to give you a reliable backup technique first, so that you'll have a simple, effective answer for when you do make this tactical mistake - then proceed with teaching the more preferable behind-the-arm stuff.
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That's not to say that it's wrong to teach ikkyo first.  I don't think it really matters what you work on first (technique-wise), because everyone eventually gets to about the same technical point no matter where you start.  It's mostly a matter of custom and preference.  I actually enjoy teaching shomenate and oshitaoshi (ikkyo) together first as opposite sides of the same coin.  For an interesting demonstration of oshitaoshi being taught before shomenate, check out Nick's Merritt Stevens videos.
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But for my buddy, Mario, who asked for some more concrete guidance on starting aikido practice...
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Patrick Parker

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