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Atemi waza or irimi waza?

In my aikido and judo classes I'm in a constant process of trying new ideas out.  I'll take some part of our curriculum and flip it and turn it and look different facets of it.  I'll put it in different orders and try looking at it from other perspectives.  I often end up putting it right back into the curriculum the way it was given to us by our teachers, but sometimes my studies yield what appears to be a better way to teach the thing or practice the thing.  And not only that, but even if I put it back just the way it was, I end up with a better understanding of why our teachers gave it to us in that form in the first place.
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Lately I've been thinking about the first five techniques of Junanahon kata.  These things are referred to as a group as atemiwaza - striking techniques - which doesn't make much sense to a lot of beginners because they don't look like how we usually think about striking someone.  It looks and feels like more of a pushing thing.  You can sort of justify calling #1-4 strikes because "Hey, you could hit the guy from that position if you wanted to," but then you get to #5 (ushiroate) and it seems like the least strike-like thing you've done so far.
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What if we stopped calling these things strikes and went back to calling them what the rest of the aikido world calls them - iriminage (entering throws)?
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See, an argument could be made that Ueshiba only taught two things - irimi (entering) and tenkan (turning).  The basic strategy of aikido could be boiled down to something like, "First try to enter in (irimi) occupying uke's space so decisively that he is overturned - BUT if something goes wrong with your entering, turn out of the way (tenkan) and look for another time/place to enter.
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Tomiki's atemiwaza fit this strategy perfectly.    In fact, didn't Tomiki allegedly say, "None of this will work unless you apply shomenate first."  That's about the same thing as saying "You pretty much have to try irimi first, then your tenkan techniques will work better."
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I don't know that changing what you call the thing changes it too much, but then again it could help to get us a little more in line with the rest of the aikido world so that some more meaningful communication and sharing of ideas could go on...

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____________________
Patrick Parker
www.mokurendojo.com

What Tomiki thought about weapons

Trying to divine the thoughts and intentions of the founders by looking at their kata (especially as performed now by students of students of students) can be tricky.  It can be easy to get off on a misleading tangent and spend a lot of practice time chasing ghosts.
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It would be better to read the writings of the founders and see video of them doing their thing - but sometimes the kata that they left behind are all we have to go on.  Take Tomiki Sensei, for instance.  There is relatively little available that was written by him and relatively few videos (though the ones we do have are very educational).
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I don't think I've ever seen a video or read anything regarding Tomiki doing any of the weapons work (jo and sword) associated with his teaching system.  The jo and sword work that he (or Ohba maybe?) did leave us consists of the second half of Koryu Dai San kata and the second half of Koryu Dai Roku kata.  The weapons techniques in Sankata and Rokukata feel to me like a sampler platter of just a few options with each condition - a foretaste or hint that there is much more there to explore if we're interested.
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This lack of material makes sense - they just weren't as interested in that aspect of the art.  They had different fish to fry -  they were engrossed in the randori problem.  But they did apparently consider it important enough to leave us at least a remnant of the weapons material.  .
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It occurs to me that perhaps we can divine a bit of the founder(s) thinking by looking at the structure of the weapons forms that they left us.  It looks like they may have been suggesting certain practices as more interesting or more important or valuable than other practices based on the number of each sort of technique that they put into the kata.
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For instance...
  • jo-tsukai (jonage) - 12 techniques (8 in sankata and 4 in rokukata)
  • tachidori - 9 techniques (5 in san, 4 in roku)
  • tachi-tai-tachi (kumitachi) - 8 techniques (all in sankata)
  • tantodori 8 techniques (all in sankata)
  • jodori - 5 techniques (all in sankata)
  • tanto-nage (4 techniques in rokukata)
Do the relative frequencies suggest to us that we should spend more time and thought and energy on jotsukai (jonage) than on the other practices?  Does it suggest that we shouldn't worry much about the opponent grabbing our knife-weilding arm? Does it suggest that we won't get much from working on how to take a jo/yari away from uke?
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Or does it suggest we should invest more on jo (17 total techniques) and sword (17 total techniques) than on tanto (12 techniques)?

UPDATE - A reader rightly pointed out that i failed to count the five tantodorin in rokukata. that means that there are 17 techniques for each of the three weapons, but the numbers between the different practices are still unequal.
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Or something else?
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Or nothing at all?
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____________________
Patrick Parker

7 reasons Bram Frank's Modular knife is exceptional aiki

Lately Ive been hyping Bram Frank's Conceptual Modular knife system to all of my buddies as being exceptionally aiki-like and therefore, a great match for aiki-folks looking to improve their knife skills.  In fact, this is a large part of what I'm planning to share at our Aiki Buddies Gathering in October.

I thought today that i'd enumerate seven reasons that I'm so thrilled with Bram's work - particularly in the hands of aikidoka.

- It is conceptual rather than technical.  We always like to claim that our aikido is based on principles rather than techniques - and this modular knife system is the same way.  It teaches how to handle and move a knife in a functional way instead of trying to learn "100 new and improved techniques!"

- it is a small (think Tomiki-small), cyclic, modular training system very similar to the renzoku chains that we have spent so much practice time on for the past decade.

- It is based on probabilities rather than possibilities.

- it is relatively compassionate - so far as the act of cutting people with blades can be.  The biomechanical cutting concept is not only less lethal than exsanguination, but it is faster and safer and more of a sure-thing.

- it gives a rich context to the knife stuff that we learn in sankata and rokukata.

- it makes extensive use of aiki-like off-line movement and angulation.

- both partners are learning simultaneously - similar to the renzoku chains or toshu randori - instead of one partner having to waste half of his time being a dummy while the other guy gets to learn something.

Can't move? Move where you CAN!

Part of the beauty of judo and jujutsu is their ju-ishness.  Because these arts are built on the principle of pliability, it means that whatever problem you are given, the answer lies not in what you can't do, but in what you can do!  This is freeing and empowering and it gives us hope in any sort of difficulty.
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Sure, the problem places restrictions upon you, but no problem can restrict you completely in every way.  If there is somewhere you can't move, then move somewhere else.  If there is somewhere you are not strong enough, then be strong in some other place or some other way!
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Take kesagatame as a concrete example.  We often approach groundwork from the perspective of trying to identify the hold-down and then apply the correct, known, named escape.  We say (in a bad kung-fu movie accent), "Aha! I see your kesagatame is strong, but my uphill escape is stronger!"  This is an okay way to get started playing with groundwork, but there is a problem - you have to know an answer or two to every problem that the other guy could pose.  Otherwise, you rapidly reach some position or condition that you dont know the answer for and you get frustrated and lose hope and submit.
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Look at the real problems that kesagatame presents...
  1. Your side of ribs are being compressed (probably painfully)
  2. Your back is being pressed flat against the ground, creating lots of contact surface and limiting your mobility.
  3. Your head is being controlled, and is probably being pulled out of alignment with your spine, weakening your muscles.
  4. One (maybe both) of your arms is being controlled tightly.
  5. It is hard to breathe - positional asphyxia is imminent.
  6. The opponent is hooked to you in an assymetric position, making it hard to lift or push him off.
  7. The opponent is sitting close to one side of your body, which makes it hard to move that way.
So, in the face of such daunting problems you might be tempted to submit just so that you stop the pain and breathlessness and lack of control.  But check this out.  Those are just about the only ways that he IS controlling you!  He is leaving you several options, like...
  • Bridge with your powerful leg muscles to lift your butt a little bit, then turn on your side facing them and press your sternum against them.  This reduces or resolves several of the problems above, including 1,2,5, and 6.
  • Fling your hips and legs away from the opponent, rotating at your held head/shoulder, then fling your hips back into the opponent.  This will often tear some space in the hinge, reducing or resolving several of the problems above - 1,2,4,5
  • Put your free hand on the back of the opponent's head/neck and bridge your butt as high as you can, piling weight into their neck and driving their face into the ground.  This reduces or removes problems # 1,2,3,4,5,and 7.
  • Put your free hand between their head and yours and push as you turn to your belly and get your knees under you.  Voila - problems #1,2,3,4,5,6, and 7 solved.
We happen to call this sequence of actions "uphill escape" for convenience, but it is not "uphill escape" that the bottom man is thinking when he gets those problems piled on him.  He is thinking, " can't breath...hurts... can't move... Let's see where I can move freely.  Yep, I can move there.  Yep I can move there too!  Now it's not so bad and I can move here!  Oh!  where did he go?"
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All of these actions have in common that they are motions in unresisted or minimally resisted directions.
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It's not about what you can't do.  You can never know if you are powerful enough to blast through any potential problem, but you can know for certain that you are powerful enough to act in ways that you are not resisted.
 
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Patrick Parker
 

Aiki lives within movement

O Sensei Moirhei Ueshiba was reported to have said, when asked about the meaning of aiki, "When I move around, that is what aiki is."

Much of what he said is up for interpretation - nobody knows just what he was thinking most of the time - and this one is no different.  But I'd like to offer a possible glimmering of understanding for this particular statement.

I think perhaps Ueshiba was saying something like, "Look! Aiki lives within the movements - not in the techniques!  It is the relative movements of uke's and tori's bodies that makes aiki."

I was watching an instructional video by Bram Frank, and he said something that put me in mind of this quote and led me to this interpretation.  He said, and I paraphrase, "This is all movement.  The techniques will not keep you from being cut.  Movement will keep you from being cut.  It is the movement that will save you - not the techniques."

____________________
Patrick Parker
www.mokurendojo.com

Taking kihon into pieces

What makes kihon different from other techniques?  For one thing, they are considered more foundational - kihon are the building blocks of other techniques.
    
But also, kihon are usually stripped of their practical fight  context and placed into an artificial context or structure to make them easier to do many repetitions more easily.  For instance, uchikomi in judo are set up so that you can efficiently do many, many reps of them, but the techniques in shiai and randori often do not happen just like uchikomi.
  
One of my favorite practices is taking kihon into pieces and doing them in steps, or "by the numbers."  Since the structure of kihon is somewhat arbitrary, you can conceivably break the same action into different numbers of steps. 
  
I like to do kihon with three steps for a while, then do the same kihon with four steps, then with five steps and so on, breaking each action into more microscopic parts for examination.
 
For instance, in Jo you can do kihon #1 - honteuchi - in 3 steps...
1-draw
2-raise
3-drop
 
Or you can do 4 steps...
1-draw
2-raise
3-drop
4-point at eyes
 
Or 5 steps...
1-draw
2-compress Jo
3-raise
4-drop
5-point at eyes
  
Each time you divide a step into two is an opportunity to explore the kihon in greater detail - and there is no end to the potential for explorations with this method.