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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.
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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).
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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...
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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.


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____________________
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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.  
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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.

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____________________
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.
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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.
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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.
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Stay tuned for an article on The Method.



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____________________
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.
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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.


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____________________
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.
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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.
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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.


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____________________
Patrick Parker
www.mokurendojo.com

Principles of aikido as spectra

Another way to think about variation between practitioners of an art like aikido...
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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.  
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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?
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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?

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____________________
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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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)."
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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...
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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.


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____________________
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?
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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.
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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.


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____________________
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...
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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).
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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).
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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?
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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.
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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)
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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.

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____________________
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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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Shomenate is tori's Hammer and uke's Sword of Damocles.

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____________________
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?
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.





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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).
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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.
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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)?
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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.
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The division between these two practice modes is arbitrary, and I generally don't do well with arbitrary.
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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.
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I want to be able to do real randori, pitting the jodori ideas against the jonage ideas.
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Does that make sense?
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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.

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Patrick Parker
www.mokurendojo.com

12 ways junokata teaches randori

I have been blogging a good bit in the past year or so about Junokata - one of the oldest formal exercises in judo and one of the kata that is supposed to especially express the Ju spirit of judo.  One of the surprising things that I learned is that Kano designed Junokata as a tool to deliver practical randori knowledge to relative beginners in groups too large to handle in actual randori sessions. This is surprising because the modern competitive mind looking at junokata is hard pressed to find any practical randori lessons in all the dance and drama of the kata.
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Well, a few weeks ago I was blessed with the opportunity to teach junokata to a group of aikidoka familiar with both Kano's Kodokan judo and with Tomiki's aikido methodologies.  At the end of the 6-hour training I posed the question to the group, "What does all this have to do with practical randori lessons?"  The following are the students' responses...
  1. Junokata is about controlling the slack in the connection between tori and uke.  If uke is able to control the slack then he can spoil or even counter tori's techniques.  If tori is able to control the slack, he wins the engagement. This is a good way to look at who "wins" and "loses" in randori too.
  2. Junokata is about yielding intelligently instead of collapsing in front of uke's force - yielding but providing feedback to uke to maintain the connection and draw him into disbalance.  The ability to yield intelligently is also what makes randori into true judo instead of mere wrestling.
  3. Junokata exhibits a wide technical range more typical of classical judo than that of modern technical judo, where 1-2 tokuiwaza rules the day.  In junokata we see hand and hip throws as well as chokes and armbars.  We see these skills applied at separated (haamrejudo) range as well as close grappling (kumijudo) ranges.  We also see, for instance, only left koshinage in junokata - countering the modern tendency to only practice large hipthrows right-sided.  We would like to use randori as a forum to experiment with and explore as large a technical range as possible instead of just doing 1-2 things over and over in randori.
  4. In Junokata both uke and tori are learning judo at the same time in a mutually beneficial manner, unlike in uchikomi (for instance) where uke has to spend half his time being picked up and set down like a dummy while only tori is actually doing judo.  It is also obvious that in the randori mode of judo practice, both partners are learning simultaneously instead of sequentially.
  5. Junokata is a fascinating study of kuzushi (offbalance) and irimi (entering) to occupy uke's space so that he is stuck in offbalance.  Kuzushi and irimi (usually called tsukuri in judo) are vital phases of all judo techniques.
  6. Junokata is a rigorous and precise practice of modulating and controlling your own power.  You have to be able to use just the right amount of power to place uke right on the edge of the cliff without tipping him over the edge.  If tori's power is poorly controlled then he will be completely unable to do any of the Junokata techniques because his overflow of power will make uke's motions unpredictable.  In randori you don't want to add so much power that you make the chaos (the ran in randori) more un-manageable than it already is.
  7. Junokata is a study of the synchronization and exploitation of rise and fall.
  8. Junokata is a set of judo-related physics experiments that you run repeatedly and repeatably - just like in the scientific method.
  9. Junokata is all about edge.  By repeatedly moving slowly right up to the very edge of the world (where all the Wild Things live) you gain much experiential knowledge of the phenomena that surround the edge.  This is why there is no falling in Junokata - that aspect of ukemi is simply not of interest in this practice because falling is what happens when you get beyond the edge.  We want to know how to move up to the edge.  Likewise, the falls are not the really interesting part of randori.
  10. Junokata is about disrupting and controlling uke's balance by constantly changing grips and contact points.  This is a useful trick in randori too.
  11. After the first contact, everything is tactile in Junokata.  It can all be done by feel without relying on sight.  Tactile sense and kinesthesia is important in randori too.
  12. Junokata is a nice format for relaxing the body and mind enough to actually experiment with the physics of the edge.  By removing enough of the practical considerations of combat that make us anxious, we free our mind to explore.  This is also important in randori because when you completely overwhelm someone either physically or emotionally, they refuse to learn.
I was really, really impressed at these responses by this group of students - much of that I had been mentioning on each technique throughout the seminar, but I had not been able to put together an explicit list of ways that Junokata was teaching practical randori knowledge.
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I used to do Junokata with all of my students much more than I have been lately.  This seminar and this list have made me want to re-institute those kata as a regular part of my classes.

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Patrick Parker
www.mokurendojo.com