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Kodokan Goshin Jutsu - kata not-a kata?

A couple of years ago we had a nice blog discussion here on Mokuren Dojo about whether or not Kodokan Goshin Jutsu (KGJ) is or is not a kata.  Honestly, it is an interesting thing because it has characteristics of both kata and non-kata exercise sets or drills.  I can see it either way.  But for the sake of argument, and to be a bit provocative and draw some folks into a good conversation with me, I took the side that it is definitely and obviously not a kata.
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I thought today that I'd summarize the old conversation and maybe add one or two more points...
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Of course KGJ is a kata...
  • There are pre-defined uke-tori roles and the action and both players have foreknowledge of the sequence and flow of actions in each technique.
  • It was deliberately designed by some of the greatest masters of judo, aikido, and jujitsu, to illustrate principles and lessons that they wanted communicated to future generations.  Therefore, there is a proper and an improper way to practice and execute KGJ.
  • IJF, in recent years has even standardized the proper execution of KGJ so that it can be contested and judged as a kata.
KGJ is not really a kata - just a collection of drills...
  • Depending on what sense of precision you have in kata, it may or may not even be possible to achieve kata-like precision.  If precision means to make the same motions in the same sequence every time, it is not possible to practice KGJ (or really any other partner forms) with kata-like precision.  But if by "precision" you mean to express the same principles in response to a similar attack form, then sure, precision is achievable.
  • Since being delivered on stone tablets with techniques writ by the finger of Tomiki, every teacher that has ever taught this thing with vastly different emphasis.  This collection is not teaching the same lessons every time. It is not telling the same story every time.  It simply lacks the internal consistency and logic (riai) of kata.
  • It's not even called a kata - the other Kodokan kata are all suffixed with " - no kata" while the drills and exercises are not.
Goshin Jutsu is not unique to Kodokan.  Most martial arts have similar collections of situational self-defense scenarios that they practice in addition to whatever other curricula they teach and practice.  When KGJ was developed in the 1950's, it was (so I've heard) because the American flyboys in Tokyo were clamoring for a set of "modern self-defense moves" to practice - something mroe up-to-date than the knee-crawling, scimitar-flinging stuff found in Kimenokata.  And Kodokan obliged them by creating a committee to meet to figure out what would be the best modern self-defense situations to practice, and to offer suggestions as to how to solve these self-defense problems using judo.  The output of that committee became known as Kodokan Goshin Jutsu.
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There is no question of the value and validity of KGJ. The real question (at least for this debate) is how to practice it.  Should it be treated as a kata (to be practiced formally and precisely) or is it a collection of valuable drills (to practice to gain experience in variation around central principles).
 
Incidently, I think it would be an interesting exercise to reprise that old blog conversation with my Honorable Opponents (HOs) and myself taking opposite views - Perhaps LF could try to write a couple of posts on why KGJ is definitely and obviously NOT a kata and I would attempt to defend the other view, that of course it is a kata. Come on HOs, bring it on! ;-)
 
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Patrick Parker
 

Why go before ju/aiki?

The other day, one of my aiki-betters made the comment on an online forum, "You can't learn to do soft till you know how to do hard."  And although that's pretty much how I developed as a martial artist, the statement of it that way struck me as interesting and unique.  The first question that sprang to mind was, "WHY does it have to be that way?" and upon further consideration, I think I can answer my own question.

It seems to me that you have to start with go (hard) before you can get ju (yielding) because "ju" means something different to everyone you ask.  You tell a group of newbies to "be soft" and some become flaccid while others remain hard.  Some try to do the "when pushed, pull" thing and others try to do the "no be there" thing.  Some are working on tactile invisibility while others are working in slow motion.  Then you have some guys in the corner "closing the waki" isometrically so you cant see them applying strength and still others stare into space and chant, "ommmmm."

But then you tell someone, "be strong." and you jostle them a time or two or slap them on the chest or shoulder and they make a pretty good approximation of the kind of stance and posture and body management and mindset youre talking about.

Reminds me of a training paradigm that Nick Lowry posted a while back for jodo (but it applies elsewhere too).  Basically, Nick says you start out with big, all-inclusive motion, then after you get the hang of it, you make it strong, and from there you move to fast, then light.

"Big-Strong-Fast-Light"  appears to me to address the same ideas as "you can't do soft until you know how to do hard."

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Patrick Parker
www.mokurendojo.com

Seek safety in the Heart of Danger

There is an axiom in aikido that applies especially to our weapons practice, but which provides some nice crossover benefits to empty-handed work -
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dodge small - strike big
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Our tachidori and jodori in Tomiki aikido are mostly based on shomengiri (straight-down sword cut) or tsuki (straight forward jo thrust).  As uke passes ma-ai and becomes committed to the attack motion, uke attempts to enter past the weapon at least far enough to take control of uke's arms, while slipping only slightly out of the way so that the strike barely misses.  Then, several of the disarms-  especially the jodori - end with tori smashing uke with a huge, strong, decisive atemi.  There are several benefits to applying "dodge small-strike big" in practice...
  • Assuming that you only have finite energy/strength/resources, everything you put into off-line evasion is that much that you cannot put into entering, and if you are to have any hope in the disarm, you've got to enter past the weapon to control uke's arms.
  • People, when excited and adrenalized, like in a real life-or-death situation, often tend to make large, wild evasions and small, timid, hesitant strikes.  We try to counter this tendency in our practice by getting accustomed to evading as small as possible and by making the atemi as large as possible, assuming that in a real encounter the actual evasion will be somewhat larger and the strike somewhat smaller.
  • By evading small, you limit the amount of free space that uke has to screw something up for you.
  • It builds intestinal fortitude to steel yourself to calmly watch a sword descend toward your head, then at just the right moment to slip barely out of the way.  It also builds spirit and audacity to grab someone by the face and launch your center through theirs, smashing them.
  • It is good practice for uke to learn to absorb large atemi (though it is definitely an advanced ukemi practice).  This builds resilience and confidence in your ukemi.
The way that I teach this small evasion is to imagine that, uke and tori are standing on railroad tracks.  There is a track running through uke's right foot and tori's left foot, and vice versa.  The evasion is done by tori sliding one foot straight forward on its track, then turning the other foot onto the track behind the lead foot.  Enter strongly as far as you need to, then turn just far enough out of the way.
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The way I teach the strong atemi is to tell tori to place an unbendable arm under uke's chin, gently lifting it into spinelock, then to stride between and beyond uke's feet with an emphasis on bringing the second foot up as soon as possible - you want tori's feet to land as nearly to the same time as possible.  The power in this push comes from the speed of the recovery step - not the length of the lunge.  It is very important to coach uke to yield to this strike by taking a large step back and sitting down out of it.  If uke is hesitant about yielding, he will endanger his neck.


Seek safety in the Mouth of the Dragon.
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Patrick Parker

Basics vs. fundamentals - and taiso

Mark MacYoung has this interesting article at his website about the differences between basics and fundamentals.  The gist of his assertion is that the basics are just starting points - like kindergarden abecedario type instruction - not much content but just a launching point for instruction.  Fundamentals, however, are the foundations upon which the rest of the study is built - the "meat" of the subject in which lives the principles that make everything work.  MacYoung talks about how students can resent being told to "go back to the basics" when the instructor actually means "focus on the fundamental principles of what you are doing." 
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In our aikido classes, we have both fundamentals (how to stand, how to enter, how to turn, how to deliver power, how to follow, etc...) and basics (like the wrist release forms - we might argue about their combat utility, but they provide a great starting point to talk about a lot of the material). 
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We have this pedagogical desire to review all of this material very frequently, but we don't want to bore the student senseless or make them resent being "sent back to the basics."
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So, we use taiso (warmups) as a way to get the review and repetition of the fundamentals in the beginning of every class.  In most of the classes that I have experience with, the warmups consist of a little (useless but mostly harmless) range of motion - arm waving and twisting, followed by the "walking kata" - a set of taiso developed by Tomiki Sensei to teach weight shifting and footwork and body coordination in a sport-specific way.  The benefits of using fundamentals as taiso are (at least) three-fold:
  • Students get a nice warm-up and get loosened-up in a dynamic, activity-specific manner
  • Students get the desired repetition on the fundamentals of stance and posture and footwork and coordination and power-delivery)
  • The instructors and students all get a common basis of sensorimotor and kinesthetic experience that they can use as a context to communicate "higher" ideas - a common ground.
So, in summary, I think it is important that your warmups (taiso) that you do before every class consist of far less empty arm-waving range of motion, and far more activity-specific fundamental motion.
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Patrick Parker

Taiso is the Rosetta Stone

The conundrum I've been discussing for the past week here on the blog is, how can an instructor and a student who might come from extremely different backgrounds ever develop a shared context or some sort of basis for real communication?  I've likened it to a similar communication problem from the late 1800's - namely, how to figure out how to read heiroglyphics with no shared background.  That problem was solved relatively quickly when they found the Rosetta Stone, which provided the key for deciphering  heiroglyphics by relating them to two previously known languages.
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Sure, the student can imitate the sensei as closely as possible and gradually build up that context.  But we've already seen in the previous post that can take many years to start speaking the other party's language.  What we need is a Rosetta Stone that can create some sort of relation between sensei's background and experience (particularly kinesthetic and sensorimotor) and that of the students.
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In many traditional Japanese martial arts, the Rosetta Stone is taiso.  Westerners often mistake taiso for simple warm-ups or calisthenics.  It is easy for many students to let the mind slip out of gear and just go through the motions during the taiso, thinking that it doesn't matter because it's just some warmups before we get to the real heart of the matter.  But taiso should be done mindfully, with emphasis on practicing motions that will be used later in kihon and kata.
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So, if you think of kihon as the essential movements found in kata, but formatted so that it is easy to get mindful repetitions, then you can also think of taiso as the building blocks of kihon formated so that it is easy to practice them in a light, rhythmic manner.  The taiso should warm up the practitioner, but it should also build a foundation of movement for kihon, which should, in turn, build a foundation for doing kata.
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An instructor and a student doing a set of taiso together provides a common kinesthetic and sensorimotor body of experience that both parties can draw upon when trying to teach or learn kihon and kata.
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Taiso is the Rosetta Stone.
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Patrick Parker
www.mokurendojo.com

O Sensei was a space alien

When I was a child, one of my imaginary friends was a space alien that had been sent to Earth to study our curious culture.  It had monitored our transmissions for years and thereby learned many of our words and figured out our syntax and grammar, but it still couldn't understand much.  A typical conversation with the alien (it had an un-pronouncable name) would go something like this...
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"What is that... thing?" (pointing a tentacle)
"Oh, this? This is an apple."
"What is... appul?"
"It's a fruit.  It grows on a tree and we eat them."
"What is... froot?"
"Trees make them and we eat them."
"What is eeet?"
and so on and so on ad infinitum, ad nauseum.
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Our problem was, even though we understood the same words, we came from totally different backgrounds.  We were alien to each other.  We had no context and despite our best intentions and our best efforts, we couldn't figure out how to manufacture a context.  We ended up building spaceships and laser weapons and destroying each other's home worlds.  That we understood.
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In what sense might you say O Sensei was an alien?  He lived in a newly-industrializing country just emerging from feudalism, while many of his students lived in agrarian and industrial societies and now we live in a technological service economy.  His education and religious practices were pretty different from ours.  In the immortal words of the venerable Hootie..."You and me, we come from different worlds..."  Maybe an easier question would be, "Was O Sensei like us at all?"
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The most important difference was not cultural or environmental but the fact that he and his contemporaries habitually used their bodies differently than did the generation after him and the generation after them.  They sat on their knees on the floor - we use chairs from infancy.  They climbed and crawled up and down hills - we use elevators and escalators and peoplemovers.  They walked - we drive and fly (in seated positions). They tended their animals and plants - we buy our food pre-processed and packaged.  They chopped wood for cooking and heat - we push buttons.  They worked in many varied postures - we sit and perform the same small motions repetitively.
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Even the most active of us are a far cry from the most sedentary of them.  They simply had a completely alien body experience when compared to ours.
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So, when O Sensei says something that sets our B.S. meters off, like "I am the Universe!"  Maybe we should give him the benefit of the doubt that maybe he was expressing something physically, tactically useful based on his body experience instead of something annoyingly etheral.  Maybe that was something that his contemps would have understood better because of a different body of kinesthetic aposteriori knowledge.
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The question then arises, how do we translate knowledge and teachings from an alien kinesthesia so that they will be useful to us?  We need a kinesthetic Rosetta Stone, so to speak.
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Stay tuned, Dear Reader, and I'll tell you about this Rosetta Stone!
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Patrick Parker
www.mokurendojo.com

No common ground

Who here has ever read through any of Osensei Morehei Ueshiba's quotes and sayings and instructions and thought, "What the hell is that nut talking about?"
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Or perhaps youve attended a seminar with a highly-ranked instructor approximately two generations older than you and you weren't even sure they were speaking the same language as you.  Oh, sure, they were using proper words and they arranged them into sentences that seemed to abide by most of the rules of grammar and syntax, but you couldn't draw much meaning from them.
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The ideas were not passing from their heads to yours through the medium of language.
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I have had the extreme fortune of having a regular aikido instructor for the last twenty some-odd years that is a true master.  His skill and knowledge were only exceeded by his willingness to share and his quiet humor.  All of his students love him and respect him greatly.  But at the beginning of our relationship none of us mere mortals were able to understand a damned word he said!  I fondly recall one time he gave me some technical advice, which I didnt understand and couldn't really implement.  Then he told me the same thing six months later - and again in six more months and again six months after that and finally, a couple of years later, I understood what he was trying to communicate.  We found that it took all of us on average about 18 months to decipher his instructions.
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We simply had no context - no shared experiences to form a basis of communication.
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Over the years, as we persisted with this particular instructor and as he patiently repeated himself, we found that he got better at teaching us and we got better at understanding him.  Eventually we were able to understand things after only six months or a year of patient repetition ;-)
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We had gained a shared context or a common ground - a basis for communication.
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In my next post I will discuss possibly the most important and valuable form of common ground or shared experience that you can have with your instructor, without which, communication is severely limited if not impossible.  So stay tuned!
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Patrick Parker
www.mokurendojo.com

Tomiki on initiative in Junokata

Today my martial studies are focussed on exchanges of initiative in Junokata.  Although I know of no existing teachings by Tomiki Sensei on Junokata, you can bet he was thoroughly versed in it because Kano seemed to esteem the exercise highly.  Tomiki does discuss initiative in this excellent essay...
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In all athletic sports one must, in order to gain the victory, surpass the opponent in mental power, technical skill, and physical strength. These three factors must be united in gaining the mastery over an opponent. The mastery is brought into play in the form of various techniques, and although there are a large number of them, they may be summed up and resolved into one word sen (initiative or lead).
In the old densho (books of secret principles) the way of taking the initiative is explained in three stages.
  • Sen-sen-no-sen (superior initiative). Superior initiative is given play in a delicate situation where one confronts an opponent who intends to attack, and gains mastery over him by subtly guessing his mentality and forestalling his actions. This is the highest reach of the mental cultivation in any military art and is regarded as not easily attainable. But if you consider it more deeply, you will find it too late to try to gain command over anything when it has taken a concrete form, and you must have the mental preparedness to hold it down beforehand. For this purpose it is necessary to learn to maintain the openness and serenity of mind as signified by the old expression, "Clear as a stainless mirror and calm as still water." Lao-tse teaches this almost divine state of mind in the following words: "It is the way of heaven to prevail without contention."
  • Sen (initiative). This is to forestall your opponent by starting an action before he begins attack on you.
  • Ato-no-sen (initiative in defense). This is not to guess the mentality of your opponent and check his action before it is done, but to start action in defense the moment you have an inkling of the offensive of your opponent. It is to avoid the opponent's attack the instant it is about to be launched upon you, and to make a counter-attack taking advantage of a pause in your opponent's movement and a disturbance in his posture. A man who takes the initiative in defense rises in opposition to his opponent's attack, and parries or averts it. Seemingly it is a defensive move. In order to stave off the opponent's attack at the last moment and restore one's position one must keep the moral attitude of initiative so as not to get worsted by the adversary.
With regard to Tomiki's schema of initiative, one may make some statements about the techniques in Junokata...
  • All the techniques of junokata are Ato-no-sen (A.K.A. gonosen) - that is, uke acts and tori reacts.  In fact, it seems from some of the Kano excerpts that I posted in the last couple of days, that Kano thought that the true principle of Ju could only be applied in gonosen - that direct action or pre-emption by tori was not Ju.
  • Many of the techniques of Junokata involve more than one exchange of initiative in renzoku (continuous or combination)fashion - that is, uke acts, tori reacts, uke reacts, tori reacts...
  • The kata seems to mostly be organized in order of increasing complexity - that is, the techniques of the later sets in the kata tend to involve more interchange of initiative than those of the earlier sets. 
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Patrick Parker

More Hoare on Gonokata

Another fine piece of commentary from Syd Hoare - this time  on the topic of Gonokata.  Apparently, Kano found gonokata to be unsatisfactory for unspecified reasons, and he shelved the kata.  Below, Hoare ventures some guesses as to some of the problems with the exercise (as reconstituted and recently demonstrated on YouTube)...





The kata, as available on the internet, does not flow that well and the responding techniques do not especially 'click'. For example there are a number of times where tori moves behind uke and does a rear daki-age/uranage-like move which as it stand is virtually unworkable. See how wrestlers do it. Also the tension that is created with the pushing and pulling is either handled by turning on the periphery of it or is simply converted with a
ju yielding motion. Some of the techniques look like sumo and taichi especially its 'pushing hands' exercise (tsui-shu). Finally some of the jigotai postures cry out for a ko-uchi-gari. If you can't go through the arms attack the legs!

The Go no kata is a very interesting historical relic of judo. I do not think it holds any answers to the prevalent muscular style of judo. Sumo is much better at dealing with resistance than judo especially with its technical use of doshin (concentricity) and its hiraku and soto/uchi muso techniques (The pushing hands practice of Taichi, however, could be worth doing on a regular basis. Perhaps the go ju no kata also owes something to the Chinese martial arts practice of strong (go) breath out and soft (ju) breath in. Maybe there is more to this than meets the eye.

 
Read the whole article - it is very interesting.

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Patrick Parker
www.mokurendojo.com