New Schedule and Location for 2016

...

Joining the conversation

Aikido and Judo etc... are self-defense and physical exercise - sure - but if you do them solely for those purposes, I think they are kinda limited.  They are more.  They are fine arts and they are self-development disciplines.
.
Back in ye olde time days, there were several of these disciplines that people used besides martial arts.  People prayed, meditated, and journaled.  Frequently nobody ever read their journals, but journaling was considered invaluable for the discipline.
.
Blogging is the modern form of journaling.  I recommend all my students consider starting a blog because it can enhance your martial arts experience greatly.



Want to discuss this blog post?

Come find me on Facebook at my Mokuren Dojo FB group
 ____________________
Patrick Parker
www.mokurendojo.com

Down south we call antennae "feelers"


Our muscles and tendons surrounding our joints contain position sensors - proprioceptors - that are constantly feeding our brain information.  These sensors are the reason that you can touch the tip of your nose or clap your hands or scratch just the right spot on the back of your head without looking.  As your joints move through space, they keep your brain apprised of where they are and what they are doing.
.
Except when they don't.  Y'all have seen in movies the field sobriety test in which a police officer asks someone to stretch their arms out, tilt their head back, close their eyes, and touch the tips of their fingers to their nose.  Well, there is another thing besides alcohol that can inhibit your proprioceptive sense of where your joints are and what they are doing - isometric muscular contraction.
.
When you contract the muscles on both sides of a joint to lock it into place, you essentially turn off the position sensors in that joint. Essentially you can think of it like this - if you will not allow your joints to move, then you will not allow the motion sensors in them to work.
.
One instructor told it like this - your muscles have two mutually exclusive modes - feeling or doing.  When you are doing something with your muscles then you cannot use them to feel.  When you are feeling things with your muscles, you cannot do (much) with them.
.
In judo and aikido we are forever preaching "relax,"and, "don't stiff-arm," and, "not so much upper body." etc....  This is because in our normal practice mode we don't want to brick our brain up in an impregnable fortress of muscle - you would rather be able to use your mind to tilt the odds in your favor and to do so, you have to give it a constant stream of input.  If you turn off your inputs (by strengthing up) then you are being counter-productive.
.
You can also think of it as easier to learn how our bodies are interacting if you have light, pliable feelers on the other guy's body constantly feeding you information like a bug's antennae. 
.
It's not (too) difficult to figure out how this works with your hands.  What is really interesting is when your feet start acting like feelers or antennae during ashiwaza!  When you start reaching out and checking what uke's doing with a foot instead of trying to kick uke out of the ground. Four antennae are better than two ;-)

Photo courtesy of aussiegall


--
____________________
Patrick Parker
www.mokurendojo.com

Uke determines the flavor of the aiki



There are a lot of different flavors of aikido out there.  If you search a little bit, you can find an instructor and a class where you can be as light and airy or as powerful and grounded as you want.  You can find more linear approaches or more circular.  You can even find different feels under different names ranging from hapkido to aikijujutsu to shintaido.
.
To a large extent, the feel and flavor of the aikido that you get is determined by how you train uke (the receiver) to do his thing.
.
Above is the first in a series of several videos where Nick discusses how we prefer to train our ukes to behave.  One thing that I find interesting about this approach is he talks about dialing uke's intensity level in so as to maximize the amount of communication going on between the partners and maximize the learning occurring in both partners.
.
You don't want an uke that is programmed to jump on his head when you wave at him, and you don't want someone that is going to go full-blast 100% pedal-to-the-metal the whole time.  The optimal uke, it turns out, is somewhere in the middle of that spectrum.
.
You have to have your uke attuned to that Mutual Benefit thing.

____________________
Want to discuss this blog post?
Come find me on Facebook at my Mokuren Dojo FB group
____________________
Patrick Parker
www.mokurendojo.com

Hikiotoshi-uchi shibboleth

(Geseundheit)
.
Of all the kihon and drills and practices in SMR jo curriculum, it seems to me that the paired form of kihon #3 - hikiotoshi-uchi  - is the shibboleth.  I bet that by watching a handful of repetitions of hikiotoshiuchi, an instructor could pretty closely diagnose where the student stands in their overall understanding and skill.
.
Hikiotoshi seems to be the shibboleth that separates super from sucky.  The sucky hikiotoshi says something like "CLACK" or "tap-SMACK," while the super hikiotoshi uchi whispers something like, "ka-shwhoooooooshhh."
.
A few times last night I heard the ka-shwoooosh on my right sided hikiotoshiuchi but the more I tried it, the more CLACK I heard.  My left side consistently said tap-SMACK.
.
Hikiotoshiuchi is the bane of my existence.

--
____________________
Patrick Parker
www.mokurendojo.com

Shooting for a double (morotegari)


One of the mainstays of some forms of jujutsu and amateur wrestling, which was fairly recently removed from judo tournament play by an inane governing body is shooting-in for a double leg pick (morotegari in judo).  I personally think that morotegari is a very important thing to leave in play because judoka will encounter this thing if they want to play with jujutsu guys AND because it is one of the most-commonly seen attacks in American streets.
.
I can sort of see why this technique was de-emphasized (but not removed completely) in classical judo - it is so intuitive that it can easily become the only takedown anyone tries.  Judo can devolve into players taking turns attempting a tackle.  It is also incredibly easy to mis-apply or to execute poorly.
.
Following are a handful of helpful hints for making the most of morotegari
  • Drop before you shoot-in.  In an upright natural posture, your legs are positioned to hold you off the ground but not to make fast, powerful horizontal motions.  Take a hint from the best in the world at making sudden horizontal displacements (sprinters) - and drop into a crouch similar to a sprinter's start before you shoot-in.
  • Morotegari is not properly done as a pick-up.  You use your hands/arms to hold uke's legs in place, while you push uke over backward with your shoulder or chest.  Alternately, if you can hit them while they are floating then you can pull both legs out from under them and rotate them around your shoulder, but this is a much harder feat to pull off (HA! get it? Pullling Feat... Pulling feet! I'm funny! ;-)
  • Spearing is stupid and rightly-illegal in competition.  You do not hit/push their body with your head because this endangers your own neck.  Turn your head aside, as if listening to their hip or belly, and push with your upper chest or your shoulder.
  • Landing on your belly or your knees at uke's feet is not a good finish.  As uke begins to fall, tori needs to either disengage and run away, or scramble/roll upward into a controlling position.
  • Watch out for the side-step, the sprawl, the guillotine, and the bale throw.  These are the most common defenses, and you pretty much have to experience both sides of morotegari in randori a bunch to figure out how these defenses work and how to bypass them.

Photo courtesy of Mike Oliveri

--
____________________
Patrick Parker
www.mokurendojo.com

Ego and power in judo


There is something about judo that is at the same time, both un-intuitive and exquisitely sensible (once it is explained) - the concept of ju - The idea that by yielding before force you can overwhelm it - SAY WHAT?!
.
You might think about it this way...
.
It doesn't make too much sense to practice dealing with people that you already have the power to easily throw down, control, and submit.  If you can throw someone whenever you want to, why bother practicing throwing them?  You've already got it.
.
That is why, when we are practicing hold-downs and uke starts bridging and pushing out of the hold, instead of holding tighter and trying harder to maintain control, we yield and go wherever uke is trying to make us go - even if it places us at a disadvantage.  Because we assume that there will come a day that we may grab someone that has sufficient power to force us out of that position - and when faced with overwhelming force, we'd better have some experience being a pliant receiver. 
.
That is why, when we are practicing throws and tori makes a pretty good approximation of the throw (as we understand it), uke yields and falls.  Because we assume that one day someone will surprise us and whip us into the ground totally against our will, and when that happens, we would like to have a few thousand repetitions of skillfully receiving and dissipating that type of force.
.
That is why, when we are trying a submission and the opponent (naturally) opposes it, we don't lean in and pile on more weight and effort to force it to work - we move to something else - somewhere that we can have an effect AND be unopposed. 
.
There is something about our ego that makes us delight in being tori and doing, and steering, and forcing the future into the shape of our own imagining.  But it turns out that the more valuable skill is being able to bend the self and the ego to conform to the real shape of the future.
.
When you possess the power to make the world work like you like, you have the power - we are practicing to learn how to deal with the times when we don't have the power.
.
The real hard part is how to trick or beat or otherwise coerce the ego into submission.


Photo courtesy of Simmr

--
____________________
Patrick Parker

Victorian era judo carol


I saw my sensei turning-in On Christmas Day, on Christmas Day; I saw my sensei turning-in On Christmas Day in the morning.

And what throw was he setting up, On Christmas Day, on Christmas Day? And what throw was he setting up, On Christmas Day in the morning?

Deashibarai into Osoto, On Christmas Day, on Christmas Day; Deashibarai into Osoto, On Christmas Day in the morning.

So how was that combo working out, On Christmas Day, on Christmas Day; So how was that combo working out, On Christmas Day in the morning?

I think I hit the stratosphere, On Christmas Day, on Christmas Day; I think I hit the stratosphere, On Christmas Day in the morning.

And sensei really rang my bell, On Christmas Day, on Christmas Day; And sensei really rang my bell, On Christmas Day in the morning.

And all my students were watching me, On Christmas Day, on Christmas Day; And all my students were watching me, On Christmas Day in the morning.

And they all saw him knock me out, Upon the mat, upon the mat; And they all saw him knock me out, Upon the mat in the morning

I don't think that I'll live it down, Till next Christmas, Till next Christmas; I'm sure I will not live it down, Till next Christmas or the next one!

Gazing at far-distant mountains


People occasionally look upward - at a stop light or at a road sign, or occasionally at a startling cloud or sunset, but for the most part we keep our worlds within about 4-5 feet of the ground.  Especially if you work at a desk or at a computer.  We look downward a lot and this becomes habitual.
.
There is a great practice in jo and sword work to help counter this - when working solo kihon or suburi, you want to find a reference point in the distance - upward from the horizon.  Trees and the corners of buildings often work nicely for vertical strikes like menuchi and honteuchi.  Focus your eyes on these reference points in the distance and pretend that your jo/sword is a giant paintbrush and paint a stripe down the tree or down the distant corner over and over.
.
The old dead guys referred to this as enzan no metsuke - gazing at the far-distant mountains, and it is an important practice in creating a good mindset as well as proper posture.

Photo courtesy of Brice Canonne

--
____________________
Patrick Parker
www.mokurendojo.com

Confident yet?


How do you feel about the fundamentals of whatever art you practice?  Have you gotten to the point that you are confident in your ability to apply the beginner-level stuff?  In aikido, have you got release  #1 and shomenate down pat?  In judo, is deashibarai and bridge&roll escape from kesagatame old hat?  Are your jodo kihon and kenjutsu suburi so perfectly polished that they bore you to death?
.
If so, you definitely need more practice, because you do not have it yet!
.
I've now been doing martial arts for about 26 years and aikido and judo for about 22 years.  I've been teaching these arts for around 16 years and have gotten some of my students as high as sandan (3rd degree black belt).  Other instructors occasionally tell me that I'm passable good.
.
But the most basic stuff still perplexes me every single day.  The more I learn, the more I find that I have yet to learn.  There are just so many facets of every single step - so many rabbit holes...
.
I'm beginning to think I'm going to have to live to be 200 years old!

Photo courtesy of Ryusinkan.ru

--
____________________
Patrick Parker
www.mokurendojo.com

Diversify for survival

There is a lot of talk these days on Facebook and even some on the more traditional news sources about some combination of the Government and the UN and the Democrats (and maybe even alien invaders and undead communists) plotting and planning to take away our Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms.
.
I can't ever figure out who to trust - I'm certainly not going to get my news from Facebook, and sources as diverse as Public Radio and FOX news are all at times both reasonable and ridiculous - so I will not weigh in today on the likelihood of our gun rights ever being seriously abridged.
.
But I did want to make a comment - and this applies to whichever side of that gun control issue you think you're on.  Don't rely solely on guns (they're just machines, for goodness sake!) and don't count on the perpetual good-will of the government toward your use of a gun.
.
You would be well-served to diversify your self-defense and survival skill-set.
.
Sure, you should practice with your guns and you should continue to lobby to protect your right to keep and bear arms, but you should hedge your bets.
.
Practice Proficiency in ...
  • BULLETS
  • BLADES (knives and swords)
  • BLUDGEONS (sticks and clubs)
  • BODY (unarmed)
  • BRAIN (the art of strategy)
  • BRAWN (strength, endurance...)
...for Protection.
.
One B is not enough.

(Can you tell I was feeling assonant today?)

--
____________________
Patrick Parker
www.mokurendojo.com

Release into kuzushi


Everybody knows, you pretty much have to have some kuzushi before you can do a technique on someone.  But there's this seemingly eternal debate... Is kuzushi something that tori does to uke or does uke just become unbalanced because of the way the world works and tori's job is to spot and make use of that kuzushi. I personally think the answer to that question is, "yes" but that's sort of a topic for another day.
.
My interest for today is in how does tori effect kuzushi upon uke (if you will allow me to take that side of the previous debate)?  Does tori effect kuzushi by exerting (pushing/pulling) against uke, or does tori effect kuzushi by becoming conspicuously absent from the relationship, by creating a void to lead uke into? (Again, I think the answer is, "Yes.")
.
A lot of American Tomiki folks have this set of 8 or 10 exercises that we call "releases" or "Hanasu."  The Europeans and Japanese tend to call these same exercises "kuzushi."  So, what we call Hanasu, they call Shichihon no kuzushi (7 forms of off-balance).  We differ in what we call these exercises, as well as how many (7 or 8 or 10...).
.
But, the two names for this one set of ideas/movements are not accidental.  It turns out that they really are the same thing.  Releases are off-balances.  
.
The mechanism that appears to be happening in most all of these releases is that as uke grasps the wrist, tori (usually) steps off-line and pushes back against uke.  This push creates a natural resistance in uke - a directionality to the conflict.  Then, as smoothly and instantaneously as possible, tori changes the direction of push by 90 or 180 degrees.  This creates a void, or a weak direction, into which tori directs uke.  This type of 90 or 180 degree change is what we call "releasing" and it produces what the Japanese call kuzushi - a moment of dis-balance and weakness in uke.
.
We release uke into unbalance.

Photo courtesy of Paco PH

--
____________________
Patrick Parker
www.mokurendojo.com

Micro-randori



Aikido is such a broad technical field, ranging from groundwork to multiple opponents to swordwork - and everything in-between, that it is frequently hard to come up with enough class time to get to all of the coolness that we feel like we should be working on.  Something has to be cut from practice so that the domain can be narrowed to something manageable in the time we have.
.
In my school, we have separated out the weapons stuff into separate classes to narrow the domain of our aikido classes to just taijutsu, but even with that narrowed domain, we often spend so much time on kihon and kata that we run out of time for randori - or else we get to doing randori and chasing down rabbit holes in randori and we lose something with respect to kata.
.
In the past year or so, J.W. Bode Sensei has shown us what seems to be his favorite practice mode, and after playing with it some, it is rapidly becoming our favorite too.  That is, start an encounter with a particular wrist release and work your way into each of the conditions from Junanahon Kata.  So, your techniques have a beginning (Hanasu), and an end (Junana) with some somewhat ambiguous, amorphous movement in the middle, where tori is trying to keep moving and stay safe until he finds the right endpoint for the kata we are working on at the moment.
.
Waitaminute!  Ambiguous and amorphous movement!?  That sounds like randori!
.
So, our main form (or what is becoming our main form right now) of practicing the foundational kata (junana and owaza) is actually a piece of hanasu glued to a piece of junana/owaza, where the glue in the middle is a little micro-burst of randori!  
.
This is reminiscent of Judo's katamenokata, in which tori gets into a holding position, then cinches tight.  Then uke gets a chance to try three (unspecified) escape actions before submitting.  So, really the most interesting part of this kata is the fact that it is actually short bursts of kata and randori interspersed.
.
By using micro-randori as the glue that connects hanasu and junana, we are getting more randori-time than it might seem - we're just not getting it all at once in contiguous 20-30 minute blocks of time!
.
Photo courtesy of Angel.Medinilla
--
____________________
Patrick Parker

Except when you don't

You want to keep your arms unbendable... except when you don't
You want to keep uke at arm's length... except when you don't.
You want to move using tsugiashi... except when you don't
You want to get out of the way... except when you don't
You want to use center power instead of muscle power... except when you don't
.
I could go on forever...

.
Eric posted a nice article a while back about how all the aikido teachers that we like to hang out with regularly break each other's rules with impunity.  I think Eric's conclusion was pretty much that there are no real principles - just preferences.
.
I remember being so damned aggravated and frustrated as a shodan and nidan trying to do toshu randori with some of the masters in our organization.  I would try my darnedest to follow all the rules/principles correctly and they would just have their way with me.  And all the while, they were obviously breaking all the rules!  Stepping wrong, pushing with the wrong hand the wrong way, getting too close, moving too late...  Then, when I would ask them how come they're always throwing me down in randori and I never get to throw them down, it always came back to something like, "Learn to follow the rules better."  Aaaarrrrgh!
.
It turns out, these masters just had so many years more experience following and breaking all the rules that they knew when the rules had to be kept and when they had to be broken.  They had so much experience that they had earned the right and learned the ability to take artistic license with our martial art.
.
Artistic license!
.
I finally learned to think of these principle/preference thingies as guidelines or expert opinions or best practices.  There is no rule against breaking the rules.  In fact, one of our great sensei is fond of telling us, "If you're not cheatin' then you're not tryin'!"

You want to follow all the rules... Except when you don't
.
You want to say, "Screw the rules"... Except when you don't



--
____________________
Patrick Parker
www.mokurendojo.com

New to judo at age 40!

I got this great question in the email this morning!

Hello Patrick, ... I don't study any martial art right now but I'd like to sometime in the near future. I'm a hefty lad and in my 40's. I'm thinking of taking up judo once I drop some more weight and become a bit stronger and stretchier. Do you think this is realistic at my age and physical condition? You're about my age I believe so I thought your opinion would be worth learning. Thanks. New-to-Ju

Hi, New-to-Ju

Thanks for writing me with your question!  I love helping folks out however I can.

People in their 40's (and older) start judo all the time.  In fact, one of my instructors started judo when he was about 40 and was a state/regional champ by his early 40's.

I think that it is important that you shop around to find the club and instructor that best fits your personality.  Look at all the judo, aikido, and BJJ schools in your area (and even karate, taichi, kungfu, etc...), go watch 2-3 classes of each, chat with the instructors and discuss your age concerns with them.

It is probably most important that you find an instructor that you like and that your personality jives with.  Any martial art can be made intolerable by a jerky instructor or it can be made into an amazing experience by an amazing instructor.

Bottom line - of course you can start martial arts training when you are in your 40's!

Let me know if I can help you any more with your quest ;-)

Pat

Some additional resources related to starting a martial art in your 40's (or later) can be found right here!  http://www.mokurendojo.com/search?q=older

See also...


--
____________________
Patrick Parker

Diminishing returns in ukemi practice

I'm sure that you can tell from my previous articles as well as from talking with me that I consider ukemi (falling) to be one of the most practical, most important skills that we teach in the martial arts.  It is the single best self-defense skill that you can have and it is good exercise, so it deserves continual practice.
.
BUT... we are practicing an inherently risky thing - surviving unexpected descents to the ground.  Hitting the ground always carries with it the potential for injury, even when using good equipment and even when properly supervised (see my standard disclaimer at the bottom of every page of this blog).  
.
It does not make sense to injure ourselves trying to learn self-defense or trying to become healthier.  It is not only counter-productive - it's just plain dumb.
.
So we have a bit of a conundrum - ukemi practice is potentially the most valuable practice we can do, but it is potentially very risky.  There comes a point of diminishing returns - where increasing the risk (by increasing reps or intensity) does not yield increased benefits.
.
Here is a handful of hints on how to try to stay on the productive side of that limit...
  • Choose lo-impact practice forms - While you are going to want to get a LOT of repetitions over the course of a LONG time, not every repetition has to be a hi-amplitude, spine-crushing ordeal.  In fact, the two best exercises we have found for learning the forward roll are 1) the slow, careful no-impact forward roll from kneeling, and 2) the reverse - rolling backward over a shoulder from a side-lying position.
  • Utilize equipment - Of course, you're going to want some mats - and certainly something better than half-inch puzzle mats.  About the minimum you should start on is a 1.5 to 2 inch mat designed for falling or tumbling.  Better than that would be a mat on top of a suspended floor - most of these floors use springs or 4" foam blocks to make them more forgiving.  Perhaps the most valuable and best-loved piece of equipment for learning to fall is the crash pad.  Most of these are 8" thick foam pads that are excellent at eliminating negative consequences of an errant fall.
  • Utilize spotters - just about any fall can be made into a much safer exercise form by inserting a trained spotter - a partner - to help position the faller properly and support them during the exercise.
  • Stop while you are ahead - Sometimes very severe injuries can sneak up on you through repetitive motion or frequent micro-trauma.  You do want to get regular falling practice, but there comes a point where more is not better.  If you start to become tired during falling practice or you notice your form becoming sloppy then it is smart to stop while you are ahead and do something else - but then come back to your falling practice another day.
  • Stop while you are behind - If you do injure yourself, stop doing things that aggravate the injury.  Sounds like common sense, but it is super-common for fanatical judo folks to get on the mat injured, relying on tape and ibuprofen to keep them going.  This is a recipe for a short martial arts career with an abrupt end.  Don't be dumb.  If you are injured, watch from the sidelines.
So, in summary, it is wise to get a LOT of ukemi practice, but do it smartly by 1) reducing the intensity (by using lo-impact practice forms), 2) reducing the consequences of a mistake (by using good equipment), 3) reducing the likelihood of a mistake (by using spotters), 4) reducing repetitive-stress injuries, and 5) not practicing while injured.

--
____________________
Patrick Parker
www.mokurendojo.com

Three questions regarding falling...

Question 1:
In your adult life, how many times can you think of that you or one of your close friends has been physically assaulted - as in, some situation that we train for in our martial arts?  For me, off the top of my head...
  • I was in a multiple-attackers, knife assault in Krystals in Bessemer Alabama in college.
  • A friend of mine was attacked by a handful of rowdies one New Years night in college.
  • A friend of mine had her breast grabbed by a guy at a dance club - the grabber was then dispatched by her boyfriend.
  • A friend of mine in college used a wristlock to shut up a smartalek that grabbed his arm in a bar.
  • Some low-life street punks threw a brick at me and my son a couple of years ago, then ran off.
...and that's about it.  And that's pretty much straining at gnats to try to remember situations.
.
Question 2:
How many times in your adult life have you or your close friends fallen down - as in an unintended descent to the ground?
  • A buddy of mine slipped yesterday on a waxed floor and hit on the back of his shoulders.
  • Another buddy of mine fell off his roof a couple of weeks ago.
  • My elderly mom fell three times in the past two weeks, and she has fallen a couple of times in the years before that.
  • A building contractor friend of mine has fallen off of a ladder twice recently.
  • I can remember three of my patients falling during my rehab career.
  • My elderly dad fell from a ladder off a porch a couple of years ago.
  • I got an email from a college buddy the other day saying that he slipped twice playing soccer with his son.
  • A buddy of mine fell off of an elevated porch when a rotted step broke under him a few months ago.
  • My wife tripped and fell in a school parking lot when she was pregnant with one of our sons.
  • A student of mine fell out of a moving truck at work.
  • Another friend of mine fell about 25 feet off of a telephone pole at work!
  • Another student of mine slipped on wet concrete and landed on the back of his head.
  • I slipped twice in college - once on snow and once on mud - and I frequently tripped running up steps.
...and that's just the ones that I can remember in about 5 minutes without really trying too hard.
.
Unless your job involves people trying to hurt you (police, military, etc...), you are probably like me and my friends...
.
You will slip, trip, and fall many, many more times in your life than you will ever be assaulted.
.
And I'm not talking about just a little bit more likely.  I'm saying your likelihood of falling is orders of magnitude greater than your likelihood of being assaulted.
.
.
Question 3:
What proportion of your class time do you spend practicing dealing with violent assaults and what proportion do you spend carefully, systematically learning to control unexpected descents to the ground?


--
____________________
Patrick Parker
www.mokurendojo.com

How to become great at tai-sabaki

In the past year I've had a couple of very interesting compliments from a couple of interesting sources.
.
One was from a boxer who has been doing the sweet science for some years now, who has been training MMA-types, and who has successfully used his boxing skills in self-defense situations.  He got to looking at some of the stuff I do and what do you think impressed him most?  Was it the big amplitude spine-smashing judo throws, the beautiful aikido projections, or the precision of the jodo?  No, it was my footwork.  He goes on and on every time we meet about how if there is one thing that I understand and can do and teach better than anyone he knows, it's footwork.
.
The other compliment was from a former amateur wrestler who loved to get into (and win) streetfights but who has since grown up into a real nice guy.  He came to play with me a while back at a judo class and what do you suppose impressed him?  Slippery ground mobility?  Cool submissions?  Great tachiwaza?  Nope. It was the footwork.  We worked for a couple of hours on various cool technical stuff and after a while he stepped back and shook his head and said it was my footwork that was amazing - that I really had good control of where my feet were going every time I put them down - that more often than not I put my feet down in just the right place the first time I moved them.
.
Thanks guys!  I really appreciate that, especially from folks that have had to put their skills to the test.  See, what they were calling footwork, we call taisabaki - body management, and it includes elements of footwork, evasion, yielding, timing, and structure especially in legs and hips.  Tai-sabaki is one of the 2-3 most important foundational skills in all martial arts.  It is also one of the least glamorous and most under-practiced skills.
.
There was this genius therapist named F.M. Alexander who was asked one time, "How can I learn to do the amazing things you can do?"  He responded, "Anyone can do the things I've done.  All you have to do is do all the things I've done."
.
So, how did I get to be so widely-recognized as the foremost master of ashi-sabaki in the world? :-) All you have to do is spend 5-10 minutes at the beginning of every class for 20 years, slowly, deliberately, obsessively, systematically contemplating and experimenting with balance, weight shifting, and efficiency in your footwork and structure.
.
Sounds like a lot.  Like a daunting task.  But it's only 5-10 minutes of your warm-up and it has this cool snowball effect.  That 5-10 minutes improves everything else that you do.


--
____________________
Patrick Parker
www.mokurendojo.com

Aikido in tight spaces - Koryu Dai Ni

A frequent complaint about aikido is that it requires vast amounts of clear, smooth mat space for the aikidoka to move around and fly and roll across.  I suppose this is a remnant of the personal styles and preferences of some of the masters of prior generations in how they preferred to do demos.  But it is just not true.  Any of the techniques in aikido can be done large and flowing into projection, or small and abruptly throwing straight downward into control.
.
The aikido we do (coming from Tomiki Sensei) was much influenced by Kano's ideas and interactions with Tomiki.  I've heard it said that one of Jigoro Kano's pet theories about physical education is that large motions are more appropriate for beginners and small motions are more appropriate for experts.  (Incidentally, Funakoshi said the same thing about karate-do.)  So, it would make sense that our preference for large flowing motion and projection was intended by the old masters to be appropriate for beginners.  But at some point you have to move beyond the beginner exercises (I think we generally have a problem with this in a lot of ways in our aikido, but that's a post for another day).
.
Again, any of the material in aikido can be done short and fast and throwing into control instead of projection, but in Tomiki's and Ohba's curriculum (unsoku, then junana, then koryu-no-kata), one of the first places one sees much of this idea is Koryu Dai Ni - the second advanced kata.  The first three techniques sort of state the theme of the exercise...
  • #1 - katatedori katagatame - is an interesting shoulder rotation trick in order to get sufficient motion without moving the feet much.  It is also a controlling action rather than a projection idea.
  • #2 - ryotedori gyakugamaeate - is an interesting hip shift offbalance to induce uke to move his feet so that tori can step into uke's space.
  • #3 - ryotedori iriminage - is an interesting direction change to solve the problem of when tori is unable to make uke's feet move on #2 .
Things you see here include innovative ways to induce kuzushi when tori cannot move his feet much.  I like to play these three techniques with uke and tori working in a taped-off section of the mat that is about 2 feet by 6 feet.  I like to designate the rest of the mat outside the working area as "poisonous acidic lava boiling over razor-sharp stalagmites" so obviously tori's goal is not to step in the lava.  ;-)   Adds some psychological incentive to try to figure out how to control uke's balance immediately upon contact without moving around too much!
.
And once you get the feel of working these first three techniques with that confined-space, small footwork, powerful hip-switch feel, it is fun to begin to spread that feel out into the ushirowaza and yokomenuchi attacks in the rest of Koryu Dai Ni and from there into the rest of your aikido.

--
____________________
Patrick Parker
www.mokurendojo.com

Structure of koryu dai ni

The second of the "advanced" kata in Tomiki aikido (Koryu Dai Ni), is comprised of 16 techniques.  Almost all of the techniques are repeats of previous material (Junanahon kata), but applied here in different contexts.  There are, however a handful of new ideas here, including juji garame nage (the crossed-arm throw - allegedly one of Tomiki's specialties) and a couple of judo techniques (katagatame and ukiotoshi).
.
The techniques in this kata are applied with an emphasis on small footwork and powerful hip shifting/twisting movements.  This type of application is particularly suited for small, tight spaces.
.
Overall, the kata consists of...
  • 3 wrist grabs
  • 8 attacks from the rear
  • 5 diagonal slanting strikes to the head
The 8 rear attacks are broken up into sets of 2 attacks, alternating right and left sides, and you can see that there is a progression to the techniques - uke is attempting to apply tighter and tighter control to tori in subsequent sets...
  • 2 rear 2-wrist grabs
  • 2 rear wrist-and-collar grabs
  • 2 rear 2-shoulder grabs
  • 2 rear wrist-and-choke attacks
The 5 slanting strikes also alternate between right and left sides


--
____________________
Patrick Parker
www.mokurendojo.com

Ukemi is not a warmup exercise

Ukemi (falling practice) is not some onerous aside that we have to get through at the beginning of class before we can go on to the real judo.

Ukemi is actually closer to being the main event - the most valuable physical skill and the most beneficial practice form that we do.  It is far more important to get good at mediating impact than learning 20-30 ways to knock someone down or choke or bend an arm.

Accordingly, the ukemi practice at the beginning of class needs to be slow and careful and deliberate and thoughtful.   Avoid jumping into the ukemi to get it over with.  Instead, pay attention and go slow enough that you can get very intimate with every aspect of each falling form.

Whenever you think that you've got a handle on ukemi and it is becoming boring and commonplace, cut your rolling speed in half and all of a sudden a whole new crop of issues will pop up.   In this way you can keep your ukemi practice challenging and productive forever!

What do you teach the day-1 beginner?

I figure pretty much everyone has an opinion on this one...

At your club, what do you like to teach an absolute beginner on their very first day of judo or aikido classes?

A lot of it is probably similar from club-to-club, but I bet there is a lot of variation too, and anywhere there's variation there's the potential for something surprising and excellent!  So I'd love to know how you handle the day-1 beginner.

Come find me on Facebook at my Mokuren Dojo FB group and let me know!

--
____________________
Patrick Parker
www.mokurendojo.com

Homework for the Union Judoka

I've been talking for several days about how I think about combos and how I like to train doing combos.  Of course, your mileage might vary.  You might think about them differently or you might prefer to train them differently.
.
Pretty much every judoka that has ever lived has gone through the process of learning some combinations.  Some particular combos are so blatantly obvious (like kouchi-ouchi) that they are documented from way back and everybody works on them, and other combos are so novel and interesting and creative (like seoinage-nidan kosotogari - A.K.A. "The Twitch") that when you see someone throw them in a match it makes you want to go out and work on those combos.  Both of these types of combos tend to pass rapidly into the collective memory.  Everybody works on them and everybody tries them in tournaments (but consequently, more people have experience countering them).
.
Even though throwing classically known combos can get you busted, it's not bad to work on some of them.  A pretty good list of combos can be found at JudoInfo.  I like this list because it is basically a bunch of three-step combos - it has both setups and follow-ups for lots of techniques.  Some of my favorites include...
  • ouchi-kouchi-seoinage (or taiotoshi)
  • deashi-ashiguruma-osoto
This weekend I get the privilege of teaching the Fall Seminar at Union University in Jackson, TN.  One of the topics they called for is how to put combos together.  So I figured since these are college folks They would probably enjoy a touch of homework...
.
Brown belt Unionites, before this weekend, look over Ohlenkamp's list of classically-known combos and find 1-2 that pique your interest.  Try to pick combos using techniques that are about your level and for simplicity, let's avoid counters and sacrifices.  Then we'll spend some time Saturday PM working through your combos that you picked and trying to figure out how to put them together using the system and method that I've been blogging about for the last few days.


--
____________________
Patrick Parker
www.mokurendojo.com

A method for practicing combos in judo

Two days ago I mentioned that you (judo brown belts) need a system for organizing your knowledge re. combos and a method for practicing and internalizing some combos.  Yesterday I gave a few guidelines as a systematic way to think about combos - to sort of limit and focus your study of judo combos.  Today I wanted to talk a bit about my preferred method for practicing judo combos.
.
One might, of course, practice combos as nagekomi (trading throws) type practice where one partner does throw-A (which uke resists) then tori does throw-B (and uke falls down).  But the problem with this is it is tiresome and inefficient.  There is just too much wallowing on the ground and getting back up and fixing your gi and taking a breath or two and so on... even with focused partners you might get only 4-5 repetitions per minute.
.
You might come up with the idea of doing static uchikomi to increase the reps and decrease the in-between time, and this is also an okay practice, but it has the down side that it can lead you to think and train you to act as if throw-A is a feint - and I've already discussed a potential problem with feints in a previous article.
.
So, my favored form of combination practice is a kind of dynamic uchikomi that some of my buddies call "Footsweep to control" and which I call "Running the table."  We usually start this practice with 1-2 small ashiwaza in a cycle. Different folks like different starting cycles but common ones include...
  • left-deashi, right-deashi, turn the corner
  • left-deashi, right deashi, left-hiza
  • left-deashi, right hiza, right deashi, left hiza
...and the point of the exercise is for tori to run this cycle for as long as possible without falling out or getting his feet confused or losing control of uke.  Tori repeatedly does the kuzushi and tsukuri for each throw in succession, attacking uke's feet on every cycle.
.
Once you become good at the basic cycle, you will start seeing places where you can insert other small ashiwaza.  For instance, the place and time for hiza is almost the same as the place and time for kouchi so if you miss a hiza you can do a kouchi, then get back into synch in your basic cycle.  Or as another example, the action on deashi is about the same as the action on kosoto, so if you (or uke) misplace a step you might get kosoto then step right back into your basic cycle.  In this manner you can fairly rapidly work through most of the ashiwaza AND you get tons and tons of reps of moving into and out of these ashiwaza positions.
.
Since I have previously asserted that we start our judo instruction with ashiwaza because it teaches the footwork for the other judo throws, pretty soon you will be able to insert the non-ashiwaza kihon (like seoinage and ukigoshi) into the cycle.
.
And since I have also previously asserted that most all the throws in judo are minor variants of the 5-10 fundamental throws, Once you can smoothly insert those 5-10 throws into your cycle, you can suddenly insert any throws into your cycle.  So you have a method for efficiently practicing nearly any combo you can come up with.
.
But wait, there's more! This game is actually a bit more than just cyclic uchikomi.  You have to remember that uke is active and not a dummy!  Uke is constantly moving and flowing with the foot controls that tori is putting on him as best he can so that the game is prolonged (instead of the game stopping when uke has to fall) but uke is also actively looking for tori to screw up!  Any time tori loses control or has to take an extra step or two between establishing foot control on uke, it is an opportunity for uke to switch roles and become the tori.  
.
So, this cycle game is actually a form of limited randori or a gateway to randori.  It is like a footwork-intensive combo-specific randori.

--
____________________
Patrick Parker
www.mokurendojo.com

The System - guidelines for combos

I ended yesterday's article about combinations in judo by asserting that by about brown belt, you should already know the techniques that comprise the vast majority of combos as well as all the footwork that comprises all the transitions between techniques in combos. So, all you really need is a system for organizing your knowledge and a method for practicing the ones that interest you.
.
The System - Theoretically any two techniques can be chained together into a combo - at least it should be possible to combine any two techniques - but in practical application it turns out that some combos are so crazy as to be nearly impossible.
.
There are guidelines that govern how techniques flow together into combos...
  • Terminal positions - You can't really imagine doing a yokogake-to-seoinage combo, right?  Some techniques, especially sacrifices and hipthrows, leave you in a position from which it is difficult to recover into another technique.  These techniques are essentially terminal positions so they can be the last technique in a combo but not the first or in the middle.
  • Changing directions - Sometimes it works to try something and if it fails, try the same thing again - sometimes.  But that is Einstein's definition of insanity.  It is also against the spirit of judo because we are supposed to be adaptable and flexible so that we can flow around obstructions.  Instead of attacking the same direction twice, combos often change the direction of attack by 90 or 180 degrees.  So you frequently see forward-backward combos and left-right combos (180 degree combos).  Less obvious but often more effective is the 90 degree change, like pulling uke forward (ukiotoshi) then throwing seoinage almost directly to his side, or tsurikomi (pull horizontally to float uke) then otoshi (downward).
  • Changing ranges - (from a previous article) Combos generally progress from looser contact at longer range toward tighter contact at closer range. Or they might occur from one technique to another within the same range.  Combos rarely go from tighter to looser contact.
  • Chaining techniques to get you in range for your tokui - If your tokui is a very close-range technique (like koshinage or teguruma), then you'll likely want to get good at some of the longer-range techniques as setups. These create pathways toward your tokuiwaza.  On the other hand, if your tokui is a longer-range technique (like deashibarai or kosotogari), then you need to be able to stay at that long range when fighting people who want to get closer.  You need to be able to use kuzushi and medium or close-range attacks to stop the other guy to give you time to step back out to longer range for your tokui.
So, although a chain of throws could theoretically go in any direction through any techniques, in practice these guidelines or rules-of-thumb eliminate part of the set of potential combos, limiting you to the more plausible, more profitable combos.
.
Stay tuned for an article on The Method.



--
____________________
Patrick Parker
www.mokurendojo.com

You already know all possible combos

So, I was talking in the last post about the necessity of winnowing the vast amount of material in the domain of judo down to a core of material that is manageable not only within a human lifetime, but within a few months.  I also mentioned the necessity to organize and practice this material efficiently and wisely so that (for instance) you don't needlessly multiply the material you have to practice.

There are only a very few types of motion that act as transitions between techniques in combos. Your feet move as in ...

  • Footsweep to control
  • Turn the corner
  • Step on the line or in the hole (with foot facing uke or facing away)

So, we teach all kihon in the form of combos, using those common motions - not because that's the most direct, practical way to get to each throws, but rather because it teaches the transitory footwork right from the beginning.

We also start everything from deashi - because it is what is common amongst all combos...
  • Deashi
  • Deashi-kosoto
  • Deashi-hiza
  • Deashi-osoto
  • Deashi-ukigoshi
  • Deashi-ogoshi
  • Deashi-kouchi
  • Deashi-kouchi-ouchi
  • Deashi-kouchi-(seoinage or seoiotoshi)

So, since just about any throw in judo is a minor variation of these nine techniques, and because you can prefix or postfix any throw in judo with deashi, by the time you get these nine throws down, you already know the prerequisites  for all possible judo combos.

You could almost say that by brown belt you already know all possible judo combos - you just don't know that you know them.  All you need re. combos is a system for organizing your thoughts about combination of techniques and a method for practicing and internalizing the ones that strike your fancy.

What do you spend your time on?

We only have so much time in our lives, and only a fraction of that can go toward getting better at judo.  So, what do you spend your time on?

If you figure that the Kodokan guys said that there are about 40 throws in judo and if we estimate that it takes about a month of classes to get pretty good at each throw, then it'll take us several years just to get good at all the throws.

But then, what happens when you start adding in combinations?  If you treat each combo as a technique then you can guess that it will take a month to get pretty good at it.  All of a sudden you're looking at an infinite amount of time to get competent at 40 throws plus several combos of those 40 throws.

So, what do you spend your time on?

I first approached this problem by defining what I consider to be a minimal set of representative throws - a kihon.  I say there are about six or eight techniques that are representative of the rest of judo.  Just about every other throw is a minor variation of one of these ideas.  Also, if you watch a bunch of competition videos or do a bunch of randori, i think you'll see that 80 some-odd percent of the throws come from this set of 6-8 techniques.

So now we spend most of our time on these kihon and all of a sudden we're down from 40 months to 6-8 months to become decently competent at most of judo. But still, if you only pay attention to a half-dozen techniques, there are more than 700 potential combinations! 

Judo is certainly something we want to be able to practice for the rest of our lives, but who wants to spend the next 60 years systematically working through combinations? 

We need a way to work some combos and become competent and effective in real-time.

We need to apply Kano's "Maximally efficient use of effort" ideal not only technically but strategically to how we go about learning judo.  We need to work on maximally efficient doctrine and pedagogy.

Stay tuned for some of my ideas about how to do this...

The connective tissue of combinations

In our bodies we have connective tissue.  This is the bone and ligament and fascia and tendon that keeps everything hooked together and contained and looking human-shaped.
.
In judo, deashibarai (and/or kosotogari) is the connective tissue for combinations, because...
  • anytime you are in a grappling situation (close enough to touch) you are likely to be able to reach deashibarai/kosotogari
  • anytime you try a deashi/kosoto and it fails, it leaves you in synch with the other guy (better off than you were)
  • you can do a deashi-anything combo
  • you can do an anything-deashi combo
  • this means that you can pretty much insert deashi in the middle of an anything-anything combo as a productive bridge between thing-1 and thing-2.  Or in other words, deashi allows you to connect any two techniques in either order into a combo.
For these reasons, just like our judo pretty much starts and ends with deashi, our study of combinations starts and ends with deashi.


--
____________________
Patrick Parker
www.mokurendojo.com

Union U. Fall seminar topics

One of the topics that the Union Judo guys were saying that they wanted me to cover in our Fall seminar in a week or so is more advanced tachiwaza - like for Brown belts. Gotta keep feeding those budding club leaders and instructors.
.
Well, here is what I consider to be the core issues in tachiwaza in our syllabus...

White-to-Green
  • 9 fundamentals (deashi, kosoto, hiza, osoto, ukigoshi, ouchi, kouchi, ogoshi, seoi)
Brown-to-Shodan
  • 3 ashiwaza (okuri, haraiTKashi, ashiguruma)
  • 3 koshiwaza(TKgoshi, haraigoshi, hanegoshi)
  • 3 tewaza(ukiotoshi, taiotoshi, sumiotoshi)
  • 3 pick-ups(morotegari, sukuinage, teguruma) - these have been historically de-emphasized and are again out of fashion, but I think it's important to keep them in the game.  But with that said, I don't plan to cover these much at all at our Fall seminar.
Nidan
  • 3 back sacrifices(tomoe, sumigaeshi, urranage)
Sandan
  • 3 side sacrifices (yokootoshi, yokoguruma, yokowakare)

Sure, someone's first comment is bound to be, "You didn't list the most important throw (my favorite throw)" - like sasae TK ashi or uchimata or oguruma.  I don't consider those to be central throws but rather minor variants of other throws.  In any case, I plan to work primarily with the brown belts on the ashiwaza, tewaza, and koshiwaza listed above.
.
We will also be having some awesomeness for the lower ranks, some discussion with the brown belts about how to put combos together, and some choking/self-defense awesomeness for everyone.


--
____________________
Patrick Parker
www.mokurendojo.com

Principles of aikido as spectra

Another way to think about variation between practitioners of an art like aikido...
.
Kata techniques are intended to be formal examples, or instantiations of principles.  If, for instance, we say that we have 4 principles:
  • control ma-ai
  • evade off-line
  • synchronize
  • enter and control space
Any one of these four principles, if applied perfectly by some hypothetical master, would completely invalidate any hand-to-hand attack.  In much kata - particularly fundamental kata - we would like to express all four principles to as great an extent as possible.  
.
But in certain applications some principles do not make sense.  For instance, controlling ma-ai may not make sense or even be possible in suwari or in ushirowaza. In more "advanced" kata like the Koryu no kata, we often see some principles discarded in order to spotlight others.
.
So, you can sort of view each of the principles or guidelines or rules-of-thumb or practice preferences as a spectrum, like I wrote about in the last article.  In the example above, you can imagine a particular technique expressing ma-ai control to a degree between 0 and 100%, evasion between 0 and 100% and so on.
.
This sort of idea about the expression of principles in technique becomes more valid and intuitive in randori.  In any given encounter, the tori is able to choose to use any of several tools (maai, taisabaki, entering, ...) to some degree, so onlookers will see tori expressing some of these principles more than others.  In some performances of kata, some performers will rely more on ma-ai and taisabaki (for instance), while other practitioners doing the same kata techniques the same way will express more synchronization and irimi.
.
If tori stays safe and uke ends up on the ground under control because tori controlled ma-ai - is that better or worse than uke ending up grounded and controlled through the use of irimi?
.
If a kata description in every kata book in the world says that a technique must be done via irimi, but some certain practitioner (because of body build or psychological make-up or whatever) does the same technique via synchronization, does that make it an invalid expression of aikido?

--
____________________
Patrick Parker
www.mokurendojo.com

Spectra in aikido kata

A masterful painter could use any of a number of tools to paint a painting.  He might use several types of brush, or he could cut a reed and chew up the end and paint with it.  He could paint with a feather or with a metal spatula.  Part of the reason that the painter is a master is because he understands the use of all these tools and he understands the consequences of each tool - the effect it will create.  Part of the reason that such a painting would constitute fine art is because it is the product of the choice of an artist who is exercising artistic choice or license.
.
Martial arts are the same way.  I frequently hear people talk about the "right way" or "wrong way" to do a kata but I more often see variation as a mater of artistic license.
.
Imagine, for instance, a spectrum with large, soft, flowing motion at one end and direct, fast, forceful execution at the other end.  One practitioner might usually do a particular kata closer to one end while another practitioner does the same kata closer to the other end of the spectrum.  Which is right and which is wrong.
.
It appears to me that this particular scale (soft/flowing/roundabout vs. forceful/immediate/direct) is a particularly useful one for categorizing different martial artists' performance.
.
It also appears to me that students should be taught variations of the fundamental techniques close to each end of the spectrum.  That way, as they gain more experience they will be able to better make that artistic choice of an appropriate variation in the middle.
.
It appears to me that most instructors tend to pick their own favorite place on that scale and teach all techniques near that point on the scale.  For instance, we constantly hear that "right" vs "wrong" discussion when we encounter practitioners who are operating at a different point on the scale.
.
It appears to me that this tendency is more pronounced at the more fundamental end of the syllabus.  For instance, in aikido, we could teach good, competent releases and Junana at both ends of the spectrum, but we frequently hear things like "That's not the right way to do oshitaoshi." or "That oshitaoshi should be more direct (or more roundabout)."
.
I think I hear less griping about right vs wrong regarding more "advanced" material, like the Koryu no kata, as if that material is supposed to be subject to greater artistic license.  But that's kind of funny, because there's nothing all that amazing about any of the Koryu no kata material that would prevent a green belt from being able to do it...
.
Anyway, just running through some thoughts regarding spectra in aikido kata.  I think the bottom line of this is, I've thought about this for a while and I'm leaning toward teaching relative beginners both the direct/forceful and the indirect/flowing variations of releases and junana and then trusting them as competent artists (around brown belt or so) to begin sorting that choice out for themselves.


--
____________________
Patrick Parker
www.mokurendojo.com

Psy-ki-do - Visualization rehearsals

In aikido and judo, most all of the kata are partner exercises that require a real partner to work with.  So, what do you do when you don't have a kata partner available when you want to get in some practice?
.
One possibility is visualization exercises - sort of like meditating and going through the kata sequence in your mind.  This sort of rehearsal has been shown to be very helpful in all sports.
.
Here are a few hints on how to get the most out of your visualization rehearsals...

  • First, write out a script for your visualization.  A good way to begin is to divide the kata movement into three steps (like kuzushi, tsukuri, kake) and then write out a numbered list of what is happening in each step.
  • Make your descriptions highly sensory.  Describe in great detail what you are seeing and feeling, how the mat feels under your feet, what your breathing is doing, if your hand is slik with sweat, etc...  It can also help to write out what's going on with your emotions - if your first step is a surprise/fear reaction or your final control is calming instead of letting your anger and indignation wash over you and make you want to punish the attacker...  Don't forget to include in your script the cues that uke is giving you that you are reacting to, like "Uh oh! I see uke moving toward me  and crossing closer than ma-ai..." or "Now I can feel uke pulling away from me..."
  • Now, get in a quiet, comfortable place where you can concentrate, and read through your script, trying to visualize each step in as much sensory detail as possible.  Try to evoke the emotions associated with each step.  Once you get the visualization in place, examine it from every angle.  You might even rewind and re-run the step like reviewing a film a few times.  Don't forget to run through your visualization from the point of view of bothe roles (uke and tori) - you will need separate uke and tori scripts.
  • When you get good at the 3-step visualization, break one of the steps into three so that you have a higher-resolution visualization.  For example, you might re-write your script with 5 steps - kuzushi, beginning tsukuri, middle tsukuri, end tsukuri, kake.  Then spend some time in that visualization before you break one of those five steps into three to get still-higher resolution.
  • When you do get a partner to practice with, pay attention to how well your real kata practice fits your visualization.  Allow your kata practice to inform your next visualization session by remembering more sensory details.  Over time, pay attention to the positive emotions that you experience when you have a good day of real kata practice - when everything works right - and make sure to insert those emotions into your visualization instead of the negative emotions that happen when your real kata practice goes awry.


--
____________________
Patrick Parker
www.mokurendojo.com

How kotegaeshi works

Someone posed me a question yesterday along the lines of, "There are so many different variations of kotegaeshi that I've seen, what is the central principle that lets you call all of these kotegaeshi?"  Here's my understanding of kotegaeshi...
.
First some background.  The technical center of Tomiki's teaching system is Junana Hon Kata (the seventeen fundamental forms).  This set of techniques is divided into 4 parts - atemiwaza, hijiwaza, tekubiwaza, and ukiwaza.  Kotegaeshi is a tekubiwaza (wrist technique).
.
In all of these techniques, tori is trying to establish connection to and control of the movement of uke's center of mass.  In the atemiwaza, this is done by making a connection directly to uke's centerline and applying a spinelock so that tori can move uke's center.  In the hijiwaza, tori is connected to and moving around uke's elbow (but still trying to get to uke's center).  In tekubiwaza, tori is hooked to uke's forearm and is moving around (still trying to get to uke's center).  In the ukiwaza, tori is hooked to uke's hand (still trying to get to his center).
.
So in each successive part of the kata there are more degrees of freedom between tori and uke's center.  More technical skill is required to control the slack between the partners.
.
In kotegaeshi (all forms of it), tori is connected to uke's wrist/forearm and is moving around through space around uke's wrist.  Tori has the same difficulty here that he has in all the techniques - controlling the slack between uke's and tori's centers.  If tori just pushes on uke's arm any old way, uke has slack in his wrist and elbow and shoulder and spine that he can use to spoil the technique.
.
So, tori turns uke's wrist (or follows it as it turns) until it is at the end of its range of motion.  This takes the slack out of it like twisting a towel makes it stiffer.  This allows tori to push or pull uke down.
.
Another way to look at it.  If you watch uke walking relaxedly and smoothly across the mat, you will notice that all of his joints are moving smoothly, opening and closing in a finely coordinated way to allow smooth, balanced motion.  But if you flex uke's wrist and turn his forearm until all the slack is out of his forearm, elbow, and shoulder (even if you don't push the joints to pain) then uke can no longer walk smoothly.  He has a hitch in his gait caused by the restriction on one side of his body.
.
Usually uke can compensate for this restriction over a distance by distorting his posture and sort of limping along.  Often you will see him lift his opposite hip to try to get some more control of the assymetry, and this results in a really noticeable limp.  But what happens when uke is sailing along all joints working fine and then BAM! all of a sudden there is no motion in one side of his body and one leg is suddenly shorter?
.
I usually think about kotegaeshi as a technique for removing all the slack from one side of uke's body at the moment of a footfall.  When this happens, uke usually reflexes into a severe offbalance and perhaps even a fall.  Even if uke doesn't fall immediately it is usually easy to push him down with your next step.
.
So I think you're on the wrong track if you are trying to look at the superficial commonalities (whether you are flexing or turning more, the direction, whether you are pushing or pulling or doing guruma or otoshi).  What is common among all these techniques is...
  1. move in synch with uke
  2. watch for a footfall
  3. on that footfall, take all slack out of one side of uke
  4. push/pull uke to the ground however you have to to get him down
(N.B. The same recipe works great for kotehineri too)
.
Now there are instances of kotegaeshi that don't exactly fit this recipe, but this is how I usually think about making that technique work and I have gotten good mileage out of this.

--
____________________
Patrick Parker
www.mokurendojo.com

Uke's Sword of Damocles

Cicero once told a story about King Dionysus forcing a fool named Damocles to sit in his throne with a sword suspended above him by a single hair.  The (literal) suspense was so great that Damocles finally begged to be relieved of the throne.  The "Sword of Damocles" has come to be a warning about the constant fear and anxiety that hangs over people that assume a position of power.
.
In aikido, shomenate is the Sword of Damocles.  Tori would much rather end up behind uke but in this first technique, tori makes a critical mistake and steps to a position directly in front of uke almost toe-to-toe and between uke's arms!  Tori has given uke the Holy Grail so far as positional power goes, but along with that power comes the threat of shomenate.
.
In Southern U.S. (redneck) culture we call this concept "The Hammer" instead of The Sword of Damocles.  The Hammer is your one great backup plan or technique that you are holding in reserve in case the rest of your plans go awry.  As tori you would prefer to step behind uke, but every so often you can't or you just don't so you end up toe-to-toe and between uke's arms - so you let The Hammer drop - and more often than not, shomenate will extract you from this terrible position.
.
We often talk about how all of our aikido system is built around shomenate and the consequences of shomenate.  That is true, but another way of thinking about it is that shomenate is such a great backup plan that it gives us the psychological freedom to explore the rest of the aikido system.  Since we know that we have a good chance of extracting ourselves from just about the worst mistake we can make by using shomenate, we can safely relax and work on the other techniques.
.
Shomenate is tori's Hammer and uke's Sword of Damocles.

--
____________________
Patrick Parker
www.mokurendojo.com

Gaining context for aikijo

So, how have I been approaching the context problem in aikijo that I was discussing in yesterday's post?
.
I started out with the premise that making uke into a better attacker would make tori's aikijo better.  Sounds simple, right?  Well, it turns out that this involves getting uke several skillsets...
  • Uke has to be better at handling and attacking with the jo
  • Uke has to be competent with a bokken, because some of our practice is bokken vs. jo.
  • Uke has to get some skill at jodori because jodori is basically what uke is doing when tori is practicing jonage.
  • Uke should also be familiar with jonage because if tori is leaving huge gaping holes in his jodori practice then we want uke to be able to point those out (by reversing the technique.
Basically, Uke and tori have to both be familiar-to-competent with jo handling, bokken handling, jodori, jonage, and tachidori, because all of these skillsets feed upon each other and reinforce each other.  This brings up another perpetual problem at our dojo - time and partners.  None of us have the time to spend becoming proficient in kenjutsu AND jodo (each one is a lifetime of study) in order to create sufficient familiarity with jo and bokken to begin to have a good aikijo practice.
.
So, I began looking for some minimal subset that would systematically deliver some jo and sword-handling skills.  And having exlpored Saito's aikijo, films of Nishio's material, SMR jodo, kendo, kenjutsu, arnis, and european traditions, what I finally came upon was Saito's Roku-no-jo - the 6-step jo exercise.
.
Roku-no-jo is interesting because it is so short and simple that you can learn the thing in about 5 minutes, but it is cyclic (ends where it starts - with a straight thrust) so you can cycle it over and over, getting millions of reps.  It also provides the student with three common jo attacks and three common jo defenses from two common grips - as well as footwork and transitions between these six common positions.  Each of these positions are also very similar to common sword positions and motions.
.
But perhaps what makes Roku-no-jo most interesting with respect to my aikijo problems is that it serves as the basis for a modular weapons system.  That is, you can plug techniques from various Tomiki sets directly into this cycle.  For instance, most of the Tomiki jodori and jonage plug into Roku-no-jo at the first move (a thrust), while most of the tachidori and tachi-tai-tachi fit into Roku-no-jo at the third movement (a kesa, men, or yokomen).  Even the SMR jodo material and the kenjutsu material appears to fit directly into roku-no-jo, making this simple exercise the core of an ever-expanding domain of study.
.
We have gotten a good bit of mileage out of using Roku-no-jo to organize and provide context for Tomiki's weapons material from Sankata and Rokukata.





--
____________________
Patrick Parker
www.mokurendojo.com

Tomiki aikijo

This weekend we got a goodly amount of practice in, among other things, the pieces of aikijo that Tomiki left us as parts of Sankata and Rokukata.

For quite a while now I have had a problem with this material that I have been unable to fully articulate.  Well, I'd say I still need a lot of practice time on this material but i have at least made some progress in defining my problem and moving toward a resolution.

I've heard it said multiple times regarding both Ueshiba and Tomiki that their classes were sort of like Graduate schools for folks that were already either expers or else they were at least familiar with the domain.  It seems that Ueshiba and Tomiki were both able to assume some familiarity with sword and yari/shortspear/bayonette.  Uexhiba's students had either used or seen these weapons in use as children, and Tomiki's students were products of a public school system in which kendo (and to a lesser extent, jukendo) were widespread.

So, these teachers were able to give their students a fairly small set of modular add-ins that plugged into their pre-existing knowledge base and made sense and showed how to apply the principles of aiki to a weapons context.

But modern, western students completely lack that background in sword, spear, and bayonette - so the small sets of add-ins (jodori and jonage for instance) lack context and don't make sense.  They just bring up more problems than they answer and they lack closure.  They lack the background or context that they need to plug in successfully.

So... how did we work on fixing this perceived problem this weekend? Stay tuned to find out...

Jodori or jonage?

In aikido there comes a point where we begin playing with sticks (called jo).  There are a couple of major practices modes that we play with called jodori (in which we are taking a stick away from an attacker) and jonage or jotsukai (in which we are throwing an attacker that has grabbed our stick).
.
Somewhere around second or third degree black belt we begin playing with jodori and jonage in these sets of techniques that are included in Koryu Dai San and Koryu dai Roku.  There are a few of each sort of technique scattered between these two kata.  But I have a bit of a problem with this sort of stick practice, and my problem is sort of hard to articulate.
.
Suppose for instance, I am tori and I am doing jodori.  Uke stabs the stick at me and I step aside and parry or grab it.  At this point my problem comes in... when we are both touching the stick, whose stick is it?  Does the stick belong to uke and tori is trying to take it away or does the stick belong to tori and he is trying to prevent uke from taking it away?  Are we working within the set of jodori like we originally thought, or might I just as well sidestep, grab the stick, and consider myself to be in the set of jonage (throwing uke off of my new stick)?
.
If uke stabs the stick at me I can do the jodori techniques or I can grab the stick, take ownership of it, and then do the jonage techniques.
.
The division between these two practice modes is arbitrary, and I generally don't do well with arbitrary.
.
Rather than learning (for instance) 8 ways I can take a stick from an attacker and 8 ways I can keep an attacker from taking a stick from me, I'd rather just do stick-aiki.  I want to be able to flow into and out of these two technical ranges freely and appropriately instead of learning 16 new things and having to select which one of the 16 is appropriate at any given moment.
.
I want to be able to do real randori, pitting the jodori ideas against the jonage ideas.
.
Does that make sense?
.
If so, perhaps you should come play with us this weekend at the Aiki Buddies Gathering, because that is some of the material that I want to work on.

--
____________________
Patrick Parker
www.mokurendojo.com