New Schedule and Location for 2016

Mondays, Tuesdays, & Thursdays from 8-9PM at Rejoice Dance Studio, 1418 Delaware Avenue, McComb MS.

Joining the conversation

Aikido and Judo etc... are self-defense and physical exercise - sure - but if you do them solely for those purposes, I think they are kinda limited.  They are more.  They are fine arts and they are self-development disciplines.
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Back in ye olde time days, there were several of these disciplines that people used besides martial arts.  People prayed, meditated, and journaled.  Frequently nobody ever read their journals, but journaling was considered invaluable for the discipline.
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Blogging is the modern form of journaling.  I recommend all my students consider starting a blog because it can enhance your martial arts experience greatly.



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Patrick Parker
www.mokurendojo.com

Down south we call antennae "feelers"


Our muscles and tendons surrounding our joints contain position sensors - proprioceptors - that are constantly feeding our brain information.  These sensors are the reason that you can touch the tip of your nose or clap your hands or scratch just the right spot on the back of your head without looking.  As your joints move through space, they keep your brain apprised of where they are and what they are doing.
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Except when they don't.  Y'all have seen in movies the field sobriety test in which a police officer asks someone to stretch their arms out, tilt their head back, close their eyes, and touch the tips of their fingers to their nose.  Well, there is another thing besides alcohol that can inhibit your proprioceptive sense of where your joints are and what they are doing - isometric muscular contraction.
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When you contract the muscles on both sides of a joint to lock it into place, you essentially turn off the position sensors in that joint. Essentially you can think of it like this - if you will not allow your joints to move, then you will not allow the motion sensors in them to work.
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One instructor told it like this - your muscles have two mutually exclusive modes - feeling or doing.  When you are doing something with your muscles then you cannot use them to feel.  When you are feeling things with your muscles, you cannot do (much) with them.
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In judo and aikido we are forever preaching "relax,"and, "don't stiff-arm," and, "not so much upper body." etc....  This is because in our normal practice mode we don't want to brick our brain up in an impregnable fortress of muscle - you would rather be able to use your mind to tilt the odds in your favor and to do so, you have to give it a constant stream of input.  If you turn off your inputs (by strengthing up) then you are being counter-productive.
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You can also think of it as easier to learn how our bodies are interacting if you have light, pliable feelers on the other guy's body constantly feeding you information like a bug's antennae. 
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It's not (too) difficult to figure out how this works with your hands.  What is really interesting is when your feet start acting like feelers or antennae during ashiwaza!  When you start reaching out and checking what uke's doing with a foot instead of trying to kick uke out of the ground. Four antennae are better than two ;-)

Photo courtesy of aussiegall


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Patrick Parker
www.mokurendojo.com

Uke determines the flavor of the aiki



There are a lot of different flavors of aikido out there.  If you search a little bit, you can find an instructor and a class where you can be as light and airy or as powerful and grounded as you want.  You can find more linear approaches or more circular.  You can even find different feels under different names ranging from hapkido to aikijujutsu to shintaido.
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To a large extent, the feel and flavor of the aikido that you get is determined by how you train uke (the receiver) to do his thing.
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Above is the first in a series of several videos where Nick discusses how we prefer to train our ukes to behave.  One thing that I find interesting about this approach is he talks about dialing uke's intensity level in so as to maximize the amount of communication going on between the partners and maximize the learning occurring in both partners.
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You don't want an uke that is programmed to jump on his head when you wave at him, and you don't want someone that is going to go full-blast 100% pedal-to-the-metal the whole time.  The optimal uke, it turns out, is somewhere in the middle of that spectrum.
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You have to have your uke attuned to that Mutual Benefit thing.

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Come find me on Facebook at my Mokuren Dojo FB group
____________________
Patrick Parker
www.mokurendojo.com

Hikiotoshi-uchi shibboleth

(Geseundheit)
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Of all the kihon and drills and practices in SMR jo curriculum, it seems to me that the paired form of kihon #3 - hikiotoshi-uchi  - is the shibboleth.  I bet that by watching a handful of repetitions of hikiotoshiuchi, an instructor could pretty closely diagnose where the student stands in their overall understanding and skill.
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Hikiotoshi seems to be the shibboleth that separates super from sucky.  The sucky hikiotoshi says something like "CLACK" or "tap-SMACK," while the super hikiotoshi uchi whispers something like, "ka-shwhoooooooshhh."
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A few times last night I heard the ka-shwoooosh on my right sided hikiotoshiuchi but the more I tried it, the more CLACK I heard.  My left side consistently said tap-SMACK.
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Hikiotoshiuchi is the bane of my existence.

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Patrick Parker
www.mokurendojo.com

Shooting for a double (morotegari)


One of the mainstays of some forms of jujutsu and amateur wrestling, which was fairly recently removed from judo tournament play by an inane governing body is shooting-in for a double leg pick (morotegari in judo).  I personally think that morotegari is a very important thing to leave in play because judoka will encounter this thing if they want to play with jujutsu guys AND because it is one of the most-commonly seen attacks in American streets.
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I can sort of see why this technique was de-emphasized (but not removed completely) in classical judo - it is so intuitive that it can easily become the only takedown anyone tries.  Judo can devolve into players taking turns attempting a tackle.  It is also incredibly easy to mis-apply or to execute poorly.
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Following are a handful of helpful hints for making the most of morotegari
  • Drop before you shoot-in.  In an upright natural posture, your legs are positioned to hold you off the ground but not to make fast, powerful horizontal motions.  Take a hint from the best in the world at making sudden horizontal displacements (sprinters) - and drop into a crouch similar to a sprinter's start before you shoot-in.
  • Morotegari is not properly done as a pick-up.  You use your hands/arms to hold uke's legs in place, while you push uke over backward with your shoulder or chest.  Alternately, if you can hit them while they are floating then you can pull both legs out from under them and rotate them around your shoulder, but this is a much harder feat to pull off (HA! get it? Pullling Feat... Pulling feet! I'm funny! ;-)
  • Spearing is stupid and rightly-illegal in competition.  You do not hit/push their body with your head because this endangers your own neck.  Turn your head aside, as if listening to their hip or belly, and push with your upper chest or your shoulder.
  • Landing on your belly or your knees at uke's feet is not a good finish.  As uke begins to fall, tori needs to either disengage and run away, or scramble/roll upward into a controlling position.
  • Watch out for the side-step, the sprawl, the guillotine, and the bale throw.  These are the most common defenses, and you pretty much have to experience both sides of morotegari in randori a bunch to figure out how these defenses work and how to bypass them.

Photo courtesy of Mike Oliveri

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Patrick Parker
www.mokurendojo.com

Ego and power in judo


There is something about judo that is at the same time, both un-intuitive and exquisitely sensible (once it is explained) - the concept of ju - The idea that by yielding before force you can overwhelm it - SAY WHAT?!
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You might think about it this way...
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It doesn't make too much sense to practice dealing with people that you already have the power to easily throw down, control, and submit.  If you can throw someone whenever you want to, why bother practicing throwing them?  You've already got it.
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That is why, when we are practicing hold-downs and uke starts bridging and pushing out of the hold, instead of holding tighter and trying harder to maintain control, we yield and go wherever uke is trying to make us go - even if it places us at a disadvantage.  Because we assume that there will come a day that we may grab someone that has sufficient power to force us out of that position - and when faced with overwhelming force, we'd better have some experience being a pliant receiver. 
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That is why, when we are practicing throws and tori makes a pretty good approximation of the throw (as we understand it), uke yields and falls.  Because we assume that one day someone will surprise us and whip us into the ground totally against our will, and when that happens, we would like to have a few thousand repetitions of skillfully receiving and dissipating that type of force.
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That is why, when we are trying a submission and the opponent (naturally) opposes it, we don't lean in and pile on more weight and effort to force it to work - we move to something else - somewhere that we can have an effect AND be unopposed. 
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There is something about our ego that makes us delight in being tori and doing, and steering, and forcing the future into the shape of our own imagining.  But it turns out that the more valuable skill is being able to bend the self and the ego to conform to the real shape of the future.
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When you possess the power to make the world work like you like, you have the power - we are practicing to learn how to deal with the times when we don't have the power.
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The real hard part is how to trick or beat or otherwise coerce the ego into submission.


Photo courtesy of Simmr

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Patrick Parker

Victorian era judo carol


I saw my sensei turning-in On Christmas Day, on Christmas Day; I saw my sensei turning-in On Christmas Day in the morning.

And what throw was he setting up, On Christmas Day, on Christmas Day? And what throw was he setting up, On Christmas Day in the morning?

Deashibarai into Osoto, On Christmas Day, on Christmas Day; Deashibarai into Osoto, On Christmas Day in the morning.

So how was that combo working out, On Christmas Day, on Christmas Day; So how was that combo working out, On Christmas Day in the morning?

I think I hit the stratosphere, On Christmas Day, on Christmas Day; I think I hit the stratosphere, On Christmas Day in the morning.

And sensei really rang my bell, On Christmas Day, on Christmas Day; And sensei really rang my bell, On Christmas Day in the morning.

And all my students were watching me, On Christmas Day, on Christmas Day; And all my students were watching me, On Christmas Day in the morning.

And they all saw him knock me out, Upon the mat, upon the mat; And they all saw him knock me out, Upon the mat in the morning

I don't think that I'll live it down, Till next Christmas, Till next Christmas; I'm sure I will not live it down, Till next Christmas or the next one!

Gazing at far-distant mountains


People occasionally look upward - at a stop light or at a road sign, or occasionally at a startling cloud or sunset, but for the most part we keep our worlds within about 4-5 feet of the ground.  Especially if you work at a desk or at a computer.  We look downward a lot and this becomes habitual.
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There is a great practice in jo and sword work to help counter this - when working solo kihon or suburi, you want to find a reference point in the distance - upward from the horizon.  Trees and the corners of buildings often work nicely for vertical strikes like menuchi and honteuchi.  Focus your eyes on these reference points in the distance and pretend that your jo/sword is a giant paintbrush and paint a stripe down the tree or down the distant corner over and over.
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The old dead guys referred to this as enzan no metsuke - gazing at the far-distant mountains, and it is an important practice in creating a good mindset as well as proper posture.

Photo courtesy of Brice Canonne

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Patrick Parker
www.mokurendojo.com

Confident yet?


How do you feel about the fundamentals of whatever art you practice?  Have you gotten to the point that you are confident in your ability to apply the beginner-level stuff?  In aikido, have you got release  #1 and shomenate down pat?  In judo, is deashibarai and bridge&roll escape from kesagatame old hat?  Are your jodo kihon and kenjutsu suburi so perfectly polished that they bore you to death?
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If so, you definitely need more practice, because you do not have it yet!
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I've now been doing martial arts for about 26 years and aikido and judo for about 22 years.  I've been teaching these arts for around 16 years and have gotten some of my students as high as sandan (3rd degree black belt).  Other instructors occasionally tell me that I'm passable good.
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But the most basic stuff still perplexes me every single day.  The more I learn, the more I find that I have yet to learn.  There are just so many facets of every single step - so many rabbit holes...
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I'm beginning to think I'm going to have to live to be 200 years old!

Photo courtesy of Ryusinkan.ru

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Patrick Parker
www.mokurendojo.com

Diversify for survival

There is a lot of talk these days on Facebook and even some on the more traditional news sources about some combination of the Government and the UN and the Democrats (and maybe even alien invaders and undead communists) plotting and planning to take away our Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms.
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I can't ever figure out who to trust - I'm certainly not going to get my news from Facebook, and sources as diverse as Public Radio and FOX news are all at times both reasonable and ridiculous - so I will not weigh in today on the likelihood of our gun rights ever being seriously abridged.
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But I did want to make a comment - and this applies to whichever side of that gun control issue you think you're on.  Don't rely solely on guns (they're just machines, for goodness sake!) and don't count on the perpetual good-will of the government toward your use of a gun.
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You would be well-served to diversify your self-defense and survival skill-set.
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Sure, you should practice with your guns and you should continue to lobby to protect your right to keep and bear arms, but you should hedge your bets.
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Practice Proficiency in ...
  • BULLETS
  • BLADES (knives and swords)
  • BLUDGEONS (sticks and clubs)
  • BODY (unarmed)
  • BRAIN (the art of strategy)
  • BRAWN (strength, endurance...)
...for Protection.
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One B is not enough.

(Can you tell I was feeling assonant today?)

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Patrick Parker
www.mokurendojo.com

Release into kuzushi


Everybody knows, you pretty much have to have some kuzushi before you can do a technique on someone.  But there's this seemingly eternal debate... Is kuzushi something that tori does to uke or does uke just become unbalanced because of the way the world works and tori's job is to spot and make use of that kuzushi. I personally think the answer to that question is, "yes" but that's sort of a topic for another day.
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My interest for today is in how does tori effect kuzushi upon uke (if you will allow me to take that side of the previous debate)?  Does tori effect kuzushi by exerting (pushing/pulling) against uke, or does tori effect kuzushi by becoming conspicuously absent from the relationship, by creating a void to lead uke into? (Again, I think the answer is, "Yes.")
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A lot of American Tomiki folks have this set of 8 or 10 exercises that we call "releases" or "Hanasu."  The Europeans and Japanese tend to call these same exercises "kuzushi."  So, what we call Hanasu, they call Shichihon no kuzushi (7 forms of off-balance).  We differ in what we call these exercises, as well as how many (7 or 8 or 10...).
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But, the two names for this one set of ideas/movements are not accidental.  It turns out that they really are the same thing.  Releases are off-balances.  
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The mechanism that appears to be happening in most all of these releases is that as uke grasps the wrist, tori (usually) steps off-line and pushes back against uke.  This push creates a natural resistance in uke - a directionality to the conflict.  Then, as smoothly and instantaneously as possible, tori changes the direction of push by 90 or 180 degrees.  This creates a void, or a weak direction, into which tori directs uke.  This type of 90 or 180 degree change is what we call "releasing" and it produces what the Japanese call kuzushi - a moment of dis-balance and weakness in uke.
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We release uke into unbalance.

Photo courtesy of Paco PH

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Patrick Parker
www.mokurendojo.com

Micro-randori



Aikido is such a broad technical field, ranging from groundwork to multiple opponents to swordwork - and everything in-between, that it is frequently hard to come up with enough class time to get to all of the coolness that we feel like we should be working on.  Something has to be cut from practice so that the domain can be narrowed to something manageable in the time we have.
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In my school, we have separated out the weapons stuff into separate classes to narrow the domain of our aikido classes to just taijutsu, but even with that narrowed domain, we often spend so much time on kihon and kata that we run out of time for randori - or else we get to doing randori and chasing down rabbit holes in randori and we lose something with respect to kata.
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In the past year or so, J.W. Bode Sensei has shown us what seems to be his favorite practice mode, and after playing with it some, it is rapidly becoming our favorite too.  That is, start an encounter with a particular wrist release and work your way into each of the conditions from Junanahon Kata.  So, your techniques have a beginning (Hanasu), and an end (Junana) with some somewhat ambiguous, amorphous movement in the middle, where tori is trying to keep moving and stay safe until he finds the right endpoint for the kata we are working on at the moment.
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Waitaminute!  Ambiguous and amorphous movement!?  That sounds like randori!
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So, our main form (or what is becoming our main form right now) of practicing the foundational kata (junana and owaza) is actually a piece of hanasu glued to a piece of junana/owaza, where the glue in the middle is a little micro-burst of randori!  
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This is reminiscent of Judo's katamenokata, in which tori gets into a holding position, then cinches tight.  Then uke gets a chance to try three (unspecified) escape actions before submitting.  So, really the most interesting part of this kata is the fact that it is actually short bursts of kata and randori interspersed.
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By using micro-randori as the glue that connects hanasu and junana, we are getting more randori-time than it might seem - we're just not getting it all at once in contiguous 20-30 minute blocks of time!
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Photo courtesy of Angel.Medinilla
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Patrick Parker

Except when you don't

You want to keep your arms unbendable... except when you don't
You want to keep uke at arm's length... except when you don't.
You want to move using tsugiashi... except when you don't
You want to get out of the way... except when you don't
You want to use center power instead of muscle power... except when you don't
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I could go on forever...

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Eric posted a nice article a while back about how all the aikido teachers that we like to hang out with regularly break each other's rules with impunity.  I think Eric's conclusion was pretty much that there are no real principles - just preferences.
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I remember being so damned aggravated and frustrated as a shodan and nidan trying to do toshu randori with some of the masters in our organization.  I would try my darnedest to follow all the rules/principles correctly and they would just have their way with me.  And all the while, they were obviously breaking all the rules!  Stepping wrong, pushing with the wrong hand the wrong way, getting too close, moving too late...  Then, when I would ask them how come they're always throwing me down in randori and I never get to throw them down, it always came back to something like, "Learn to follow the rules better."  Aaaarrrrgh!
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It turns out, these masters just had so many years more experience following and breaking all the rules that they knew when the rules had to be kept and when they had to be broken.  They had so much experience that they had earned the right and learned the ability to take artistic license with our martial art.
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Artistic license!
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I finally learned to think of these principle/preference thingies as guidelines or expert opinions or best practices.  There is no rule against breaking the rules.  In fact, one of our great sensei is fond of telling us, "If you're not cheatin' then you're not tryin'!"

You want to follow all the rules... Except when you don't
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You want to say, "Screw the rules"... Except when you don't



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Patrick Parker
www.mokurendojo.com