Friday, November 30, 2012

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 ;-)


Some additional resources related to starting a martial art in your 40's (or later) can be found right here!

See also...

Patrick Parker

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

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

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

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 falls?

Patrick Parker

Monday, November 26, 2012

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

Friday, November 09, 2012

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

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

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

Sunday, November 04, 2012

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!

Thursday, November 01, 2012

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
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