Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Nothing ever works

I like to occasionally peruse Henry's wonderful list of principles that make aikido work.  Lately I've been working my way through this list, blogging about my thoughts on each one, and I've worked my way up to #3
Nothing Ever Works
Also occasionally stated as, "I wouldn't bet my life on THAT!"
All martial arts have assumptions and presuppositions.  Axioms that they use as starting points.  One of our most foundational assumptions in aikido is that it is near-useless to rely on strength and speed to get things done because (again, we assume) the bad guy is always bigger, tougher, stronger, faster, and more clued-in to the circumstances of the attack.  This assumption makes sense because weaker, slower, smaller folks don't usually try to victimize more powerful people.  So, it's not too bad a starting point to assume that you're always going to be the underdog.
Being the underdog means that Nothing Ever Works.  Any time you try strength, he's stronger.  Any time you try speed, he's faster.  Any time you use your skills, he's more skilled.
This means that you have to build your martial art based on strategies that do not require abnormal amounts of strength, speed, or skill to work.  Your techniques have to be robust and fail-soft, and everything has to have a back-up plan.  If you have the co-ordination and athletic skill that it takes to stand up and balance and walk around at a fast walking pace, then you have enough athleticism to make aikido work.  If you are strong enough to push or pull a heavy door open, then you have enough strength.  And by the time you get to about green belt (around 60 mat hours) you have just about all the knowledge and skill that you need to make aikido work pretty good.
It's a crazy sort of near-paradox.
Aikido works because we start out with the assumption that nothing we do will ever work.
It's crazy, but it works.

Patrick Parker

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

BOMP Ch. 29 - Relaxation

Please join our ongoing discussion of Steven Pearlman's excellent tome, The Book of Martial Power

In this chapter, Pearlman covers the much-talked about topic of Relaxation.  I have previously covered relaxation in several articles here.  Pearlman doesn't seem to add too much in this chapter except that his previous chapter, Heaviness, really has the meat of the issue in it.

What I did find interesting was Pearlman's typically elegant description of the issue, "...power comes from movement in one or more joints." [as opposed to coming from isometric strength across those joints.]  This brought back to mind the physics definitions of the phenomena under consideration.  I'm certainly no physicist, but basically...

Power is the ability to do work.

Work is the ability to make things move.

Thus, you get work done, or you exhibit power, by moving - not by trying to being strong.  I thought that little reminder was interesting

[photo courtesy of takomabibelot]

Patrick Parker

Monday, January 16, 2012

Ma-ai and the blood circle

If there is one principle that is discussed and trained extensively, perhaps even obsessively, in aikido classes and some judo classes, it is the idea of ma-ai.

Ma-ai is usually thought of as a boundary around your body, the inside of which is defined as your personal space.  So long as uke is outside of ma-ai, he cannot touch you without first moving toward you.  If you allow uke inside your ma-ai then you cna potentially be attacked without having time to respond.  Typically, ma-ai is thought to be the length of your arm plus the length of the attacker's arm, but this distance can flex a bit under various circumstances.

Despite our tendency to obsess about ma-ai, it is easy to get lax in your thinking and practice.  This is something that you have to watch out for in your practice.  A good way to instantly remind everyone about ma-ai is to put a rubber training knife in uke's hand (or in tori's).  You dont have to change anytihng else about the practice, but as soon as someone is holding a knife, ma-ai becomes more obviously important.

A very good expression of ma-ai that is used by the Boy Scouts to teach knife safety is the idea of the Blood Circle.  A blood circle is a radius around the knife-user the length of his arm plus the length of the blade.  Obviously, anything or anyone within this radius is at risk of being cut if the knife-user slips.

At our house, my oldest son has reached pocketknife age, so we've been talking in terms of Blood Circles a good bit lately.  Today, he picked up a bokken to do some jodo, held it at arm's length and turned in a circle and said, "Look, Dad, A really big blood circle!"

I smiled, and promptly the jodo lesson of the day became an emphasis on the interplay between uke's and tori's blood circles.

[photo courtesy of Hani Amir]

Patrick Parker

Saturday, January 14, 2012

The art of the collar choke

My judo instructor when I was coming up through the ranks was uncanny with his choking techniques.  He seemed to be able to set a choke from any conceivable position.  Those chokes usually appeared from nowhere.  There's even a great story about him being thrown in a tournament but choking the guy out on the way down, such that he won because the thrower was judged to not have control of the throw (since he was unconscious)!

Some of my students have recently asked me how I got so uncanny good at chokes.  They make me want to laugh because my skill really is very modest. But seriously, my choking skills really have come together lately, and I've started getting these crazy, eye-crossing chokes in randori a lot lately.

So, I thought I'd give out one tip that I think is mine to give.  I say I think, because I don't ever remember being taught this lesson, though I don't delude myself into thinking I'v invented something here.

Do not attempt to grab the collar in any old place and by main force wrench it around uke's neck. 

Place your hand directly on the artery, then gather the collar into your hand.

This way, you will get much better positioning of the choking hand, and the collar will serve to anchor you hand to the artery.

Perhaps another way of thinking about this is - all collar chokes begin as katatejime - set the one hand properly, anchor it in place, then add the second hand in when you get the chance.

Patrick Parker
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