Saturday, December 28, 2013

2013 - A year in the life

Lately I've been reflecting on this past year (2013) and projecting some plans...

In 2013 I planned to attend/teach one event per month (including my ABGs here).  I ended up doing 10 instead of 12.  Not bad...

  • I started out with a trip to Corpus Christi for a get-away with Eric, Matl, Waddell, Nick, and some other excellent folks.  We ought to do another of those this next year sometime...
  • I had the privilege of teaching a benefit seminar in Jackson MS to raise money to send Police trainers to Thailand to show people there how to extract children out of the sex trade.
  • I got to attend a most excellent Isshin/Aiki camp at Hazlehurst.  Can't wait for the next one of these.
  • I did one seminar at Union University (on kuzushi) but I wasn't able to attend the Fall shindig because of illness.
  • I got to teach Koryu Dai Go at Windsong In OKC - what a great group of people!
  • We did two Aiki Buddies Gatherings here in Magnolia - at the first one we worked on groundwork and goshin jutsu and we had two excellent Shodan demos - Jason in judo and Todd in aikido.  At the one in the Fall we worked on koshiki kihon and aikijo  - the second one was very well attended.
  • In November I got to return to Richmond VA to teach a couple of classes on koshinage and Junokata.
  • I made a flying trip to Starkville to work with James Reuster (who I haven't seen in about 15 years).  He taught a profound class on releases that has and will continue to impact my aikido.
  • I also got to attend one judo tournament with Mike.
Here at Magnolia, we had several areas of emphasis in our studies...
  • Aikijo and modular knife
  • Ukemi as the most important, most practical self-defense skill
  • Koryu dai go - more proactive, direct initiative "go and get em'" type aikido
  • Tomiki's aiki taiso
  • The extensive gray area between Kodokan judo and Tomiki aikido - we've been playing more with starting judo throws from releases and ending aikido throws in ukigatame (for instance).
  • I've been watching a lot of Yoshinoro Kono - particularly his footwork, his aikijo,  and his students Koshiki no kata.
  • I've also been watching a lot of Tokio Hirano and his students - particularly his wave-like entries into uchikomi and his Nanatsu no kata.  This man is inspiring.

There have been many ups and downs.  I've been plagued with elbow and shoulder pain problems for about 8 months.  It's getting better but it really put a damper on my jo work at Windsong this past summer.  I wasn't the only one with shoulder problems - Kel fell over a bush or something and broke his rotator cuff and had to have surgery so that put a major damper on our working together.  I'm looking forward to having him back with us this coming year.  On the positive side, I moved my oldest son, Whit, from kids classes to adult classes and it's been a blast having him as a regular partner.

In the coming year - 2014...

  • I would like to attend 1 event per month, with the exception of January (new baby girl is due).  I'm especially looking forward to the Windsong Summer event - sounds like it'll be a hum dinger.
  • Mike will attend 1-2 more tournaments this spring.
  • I'd like to devote Saturday 9-noon classes for 2014 to embu-mode kata practice with emphasis on Koshiki, Nanatsu, Nage, Katame, Ju, and Nikata.  Hmm.  sounds like 6 katas 2 months each.
  • We will continue our emphasis on aikijo and knife.






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Thursday, December 26, 2013

Hirano sensei's interesting kaeshiwaza


At about 5:05 in this video of Hirano Sensei doing Nanatsu no Kata, he does a really interesting counter.  Uke is turning in for something like TKgoshi and Sensei just takes a knee.  Uke falls as if it were a taniotoshi, but tori's action looks like a backwards ukiotoshi.
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So... what name would you guys give that thing?



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Monday, December 23, 2013

Syllabus and drills are encoded in the kata

What does kata give to judo as an art?  A lot of things, but the one I'm thinking about today is - Kata gives your instructor a syllabus and a set of suggested drills - sort of like a set of bullet points on what to teach when.
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Take for instance, Nage no kata.  This kata can serve as a reminder to instructors of appropriate skills to work on...

  • Nage shows some suggested possible defenses against three of the most common attacks experienced on the street - an overhand right to the head, a two-handed chest-level grab/push, and an encircling low grappling sort of hug.  Three things that can easily get overlooked if we concentrate too much on how to win tournaments.
  • Nage shows a wide range of technical responses - hand throws, hip throws, foot throws, and two kinds of sacrifices.  This is a huge technical range that is easily enough to stretch any instructor into teaching beyond his tokuiwaza.
  • Nage shows some lessons about how to vary throws based on uke's resistance - for instance, the ukigoshi-haraigoshi-tsurigoshi sequence.
  • Nage shows some lessons about good ways to teach particular actions - for instance, the side-to-side okuriashi action is a good drill to get folks working on okuriashi, but it seems to never occur that way in randori.  In randori it happens stepping around the corner, but it seems to be harder to teach stepping around the corner into okuriashi to beginners whereas the side-to-side okuri is an easy introductory drill.
  • Nage teaches uke how to handle a wide variety of falling actions.
The list could go on and on.  So, Nage no kata is like a set of bulleted reminders to the teacher about what to teach and how to try teaching it.
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Ju no kata is the same way.  It's hard to see specific ways that the techniques (as demonstrated) in Ju no kata can be used in randori (which Kano said was its purpose), But when you look at it like a set of reminders of topics and prescribed drills, it makes much more sense instantly.  Take the first technique, for instance.  To be able to do this movement, ...
  • Uke and tori must develop a good perception of ma-ai, a smooth, graceful tsugiashi, and an understanding of how to deliver and receive a deceptive attack to the face -  so the 3-step approach works as a drill.
  • Tori is learning to yield out of the way and disrupt uke's timing and balance.
  • Uke and Tori are both learning a very common reversal for a rear attack and tori is learning how to diffuse that reversal.
  • Uke is learning to know when he has been had - while still testing tori's control (by bridging back onto tori)
The fact that this technique is first, and is similar in structure to the rest of Junokata suggests that is a good way to teach any technique - that is,...
  • Teach how the technique develops during the transition from hamare to kumi judo.
  • Teach the technique from both points of view - uke and tori.
  • Make sure that the technique fits the Ju ideal of judo.
  • Teach how to reverse it or the weaknesses where the technique can be broken.
  • Teach how to recover a broken technique.
  • Teach uke how to safely submit when he is truly compromised.
Once you have taught one good (ju-ish) technique from both perspectives(uke and tori), and how to counter it and how to counter the counter and how to submit you now have all you need to start doing randori!





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Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Major throws on non-dominant side


Every so often someone asks me something about learning throws on their non-dominant side, or someone recommends to me or my students to learn to throw left seoi or left osoto or something. I have mostly resisted this because one of my teachers recommended some years back that we should learn a few small ashiwaza on both sides but probably not major throws like seoinage. He had a few reasons -
  • You will always have a dominant and a non-dominant side and regardless of how many reps you put into it, your non-dominant throws will not be as good as your dominant-side throws. 
  • It takes more than twice as long to learn a throw on both sides because you need some number of reps on your dominant side and maybe 2-3 times more reps on the non-dominant side just to feel competent. So, learning throws only on your dominant side lets the students progress mroe than twice as fast. 
  • You will not miss throwing opportunities only throwing one-sided because any opportunity for left osotogari (for instance) can be thrown by some other throw (right kosotogari comes to mind). 
But regardless, you should be able to throw some portion of your throws on the non-dominant side. There are reasons on this side too -
  • Kano intended judo to promote balanced physical development - to teach left and right actions both big and small. Learning to throw on your non-dominant side fits the spirit of judo (gentle, yielding flexibility) the same way that learning 40 ways to throw the guy down fits the spirit of judo better than only practicing 3 (dominant-sided) tokui fits that spirit of judo. 
  • It's good for our ukemi skills to be able to take falls on both sides with more-nearly equal facility. 
  • It's good for your brain to learn to work both sides of your body. 
Note I'm not saying necessarily that we need to learn to throw all 40 (or 67 or however many) throws on both sides. But for starters, Kano suggested 15 throws that should be learned on both sides (nagenokata)...
  • ukiotoshi, ippon seoinage, kataguruma 
  • ukigoshi, haraigoshi, TKgoshi 
  • okuriashibarai, sasaeTKashi, uchimata 
  • tomoenage, uranage, sumigaeshi 
  • yokogake, yokoguruma, ukiwaza 
I might add to that some throws from what I consider the kihon of judo...
  • deashibarai, kosotogari, hizaguruma, osotogari, ukigoshi 
  • kouchigari, ouchigari, ogoshi, seoinage, koshiguruma 
This would suggest that we should work perhaps as much as half of our throws bilaterally. As it is, my pre-nagenokata students mostly only work on a handful of throws on both sides ....
  • deashiabarai 
  • okuriashibarai 
  • hizaguruma 
  • kosotogari 
  • ukiotoshi 
I don't think I want to blow up my time-in-grade requirements right now by making my students practice half the gokyonowaza on their non-dominant sides, But I do think I want to expand our repertoire some this year. How about we start by devoting significant effort to learning/practicing the following on our non-dominant side this coming year...
  • ippon seoinage 
  • osotogari 
  • ukigoshi 
  • kouchigari 


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Patrick Parker
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Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Friday, December 06, 2013

Happy little trees

Who remembers this fellow?  Bob Ross was an artist who did a PBS show in the 1980's and 1990's - The Joy of Painting.  He was much parodied (even self-parodied) for painting "happy little trees" and painting in "your world,"  but there was real artistry here.
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And not just in the finished paintings.  There was artistry in his technique, and in his selection of tools and media.  There was mastery behind his eyes and artistry in his manner of talking about what he was doing.  There was artistry in the filming of his processes.  So, in the case of Bob Ross's work, what was the artifact - the finished paintings or the film recording of him doing his thing?  Was he a painter or was he a movement/spoken-word artist?  Who was his audience - his own soul or the TV audience or whoever ended up with the finished paintings?
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Artists create artifacts, right? Painters create paintings, dancers create dances...  Some folks say that without producing an artifact for an audience -without that communication between artist and audience - there is no art.  Some of the artifacts are consumed instantly by the audience (e.g. dances, sushi) and some are more durable (e.g. bronzes), but pretty much all artists produce artifacts for an audience.
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So, in the martial arts, it's easy to figure out who is the artist, but what is the medium?  What is the artifact?  Who is the audience?




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Thursday, December 05, 2013

Kata for knife defense is big-time B.S.


This thing makes the rounds every so often, and it's a good 4-minute laugh-riot, right? Well, if we are  honest, it makes instructors uncomfortable too, because of the kernel of truth within it.
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In aikido and judo, we often do hand-to-hand randori or sparring with a goal of 50% success rate. That is, I "win" about half the time and the other guy "wins" about half the time. This is not just trading throws (nagekomi), it is managing the intensity and controlling our objectives such that it is a toss-up as to who is going to come out on top in every encounter. If you find yourself throwing the other guy down 80-100% of the time then something is wrong with how you are doing randori. You need to dial it down so that the other guy has a chance to work his material and you need to reconsider what your goals are for randori - maybe work on something besides throwing.
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But when you give uke a knife, if the practice conditions are even remotely realistic, then tori's success rate should plummet to near-zero. The knife is just that good a weapon.
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If, through practice, we can build tori's success rate back up to near 50% while maintaining moderate realism, that is a phenomenal result! That suggests that the addition of a knife wouldn't change the odds much beyond those of a hand-to-hand encounter. That would be superb knife-defense - bordering on amazing!
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I think we get into trouble doing knife-defense in kata (as in Kodokan Goshinjutsu or Tomiki Sankata or Rokukata). In kata, tori is defined to have a 100% success rate and he is forced to look and move a certain way while doing it. The only way this is possible to overcome this double-whammy against a knife-wielding partner is for uke to throw the encounter badly in tori's favor, like Bob is teaching in the video above.
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Therein lies the knife-defense B.S. factor.
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I think kata is the culprit - at least, embu (demonstration) mode kata. Attempting to hit 100% against a knife while moving in a prescribed manner is impossible. But kata is not totally useless - what if we take the kata patterns as starting points and redefine our goals and what we think kata is supposed to be.
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What if kata were a set of pre-arranged starting points for a randori-like drill, in which the goal were to survive (not triumph) about 50% of the time against a live (semi-resistant) partner?  That would be doable!
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By starting with the kata patterns, you are able to reproduce the starting conditions precisely, which allows you to study some particular area of interest.  
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In drills you are allowed (maybe even expected) to fail sometimes - which is unacceptable in kata.  By reducing the target from 100% to 50% you eliminate the ego threat involved in learning to do kata. No longer do you have to worry about failure as an ego threat because a drill is like a game of tag in which you are supposed to lose 50% of the time (because losing is valuable experience too).


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Wednesday, December 04, 2013

More productive aikido randori

Randori is a funny thing.  Funny-curious - not funny-ha-ha.  It is a lot of different things to different people.  Randori is a test of your skills, an ego-booster and an ego-killer (at the same time), a fun social game...
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For me lately, I've noticed an interesting thing about randori.  I'm tired of throwing people down.  When you throw someone down the randori goes into a different sort of mode, in which no more randori happens until uke gets back up and fixes his suit and wastes a bunch of time, then eventually we get to do another encounter.
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Randori is about accumulation of domain-specific experiences and encounters.  Anything that gets in the way of accumulating experiences (like throwing your partner down) is counter-productive to randori.
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I can hear some of my lazier readers sighing a breath of relief.  He's not gonna make us fall down any more! Not so fast!  Falling is the most important skill, and it is almost the whole game.  There are only about 3 kinds of experiences that we are really interested in during randori - 

  • falling down
  • getting a arm in a bad bind
  • getting punched in the face

If we were to remove the falling down part then the arm-bind face-punch randori would be of limited value and would also get old real quick. 
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So, we have to take falls, but the ensuing getting-up and re-starting part of randori is the biggest time-waster.  There are a few potential solutions...

  • Do tsukuri randori - that is, take uke right to the edge of the abyss (kuzushi and tsukuri) but instead of pulling the trigger (kake), allow them to walk out of that back to a viable position.
  • Implement a form of groundwork (newaza and/or suwariwaza) such that the encounter can continue after a fall.
  • Allow a fallen uke to take tori down or attack from the ground  - again, so that a fall is not an encounter-ender (zanshin).
  • Add in another uke or two so that when one is down, the other(s) can continue the randori (sannin randori)
  • Yell at uke to get his butt off the ground faster each time (better ukemi).

I suspect we all could benefit from implementing some of those suggestions...




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Saturday, November 30, 2013

Kihon and suburi - keiko and renshu

The basic practice in Aiki-jo is called suburi (swinging), while the SMR jo guys do a bunch of kihon (fundamentals).  These practices are largely similar, large motion fairly atomic-level foundational practices, and it is fairly easy to treat the two practices as the same.  
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It may be a false distinction that I am making, but I think the two practices are distinct and each is valuable.  To me, the difference between kihon and suburi is very similar to the difference between keiko and renshu practice modes.
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To me, kihon is almost like miniature kata that are often-repeated and used as building blocks for other, more complex kata...
  • there are prescribed right and wrong ideals of how to do each kihon
  • the kihon are often practiced in a series of steps, or postures practiced in a 1...2...3... manner
  • Kihon are frequently done fairly slowly to give time to get the mind working the body right.

While suburi has the same foundational feel as kihon ...
  • Suburi is about repetition...repetition...repetition
  • Suburi folks often talk about muscle memory, and they like to talk about doing so many repetitions that they exhaust the practitioner into figuring out how to swing efficiently.
  • There is not so much a right and wrong way - just better or worse.  If you are not as "right" as whatever ideal you have, don't analyze it too much - just swing the stick another thousand times and you will either be closer to the ideal or you will have a better idea of what the ideal is.
  • Suburi are often done faster and more fluidly than kihon - so that you can get more reps in 
  • Suburi are often done with longer, heaver practice weapons (suburito) to build strength and endurance.



[photo courtesy of Daniel Imfield]

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Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Paranoia

There seems to be a fine line between situational awareness and full-blown paranoia.  As martial arts instructors, we like to promote awareness but we don't want to push the students and ourselves over the line into paranoid delusion - or do we?
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I mean, we do stand to benefit in a business sense, by amplifying our students' fears while setting ourselves up as the solution.  But that's not what we're supposed to be about.  We are supposed to be about alleviating fear through skill and confidence.  I think as martial arts instructors, in the face of this potential conflict of interest, we should be alert to that sort of behavior in ourselves.
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I went to a play in New Orleans this past weekend with my wife.  I absolutely hate New Orleans with an undying loathing, Everything about the city sets off my paranoia   Add to that the recent media coverage of the "knockout game" and I end up sore the next few days because of the tension of constantly being on the look-out, constantly scanning every passer-by for potential weapons or pre-attack indicators (like changing gait right as they get to ma-ai).
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It's not healthy for people to always be walking around with their swords drawn - at a state of constant alert.  St. Bernard recognized this hundreds of years ago in one of my favorite quotes...
…a warrior especially needs these three things--he must guard his person with strength, shrewdness and care; he must be free in his movements, and he must be quick to draw his sword. In Praise of the New Knighthood (Liber ad milites Templi: De laude novae militae) St. Bernard of Clairvaux 
To me, the fact that the warrior must be quick to draw the sword means that he is unable to live a normal life with the sword already drawn.  Contrast that with the famous Stonewall Jackson quote...
The time for war has not yet come, but it will come, and soon; and when it does come, my advice is to draw the sword and throw away the scabbard. 
To be alive and sane, you have to live in one mode or the other - you have to give yourself 100% to love and peace, or 100% to the destruction of war - and you have to do each at the right time, and you have to be able to switch modes at the right times and completely.  If you try to do both at the same time, you cannot be effective at either.  I suppose that might be the origin of the term, paranoia - meaning beside mind or 2 minds, or something like that.
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My New Orleans experience reminds me of an old sensei who told us that in order to develop and ingrain the "step offline at ma-ai" habit, he never shook hands or even hugged his mom without first stepping off-line of engagement at least slightly.  Is this aiki handshake a genius way of training that reaction or is it a sign of an unbalanced paranoia?
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Is it possible to develop a good sense of situational awareness that will save us when the feces hits the oscillator but will not drive us insane?  Here is one hint at training that sort of awareness.




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Sunday, November 17, 2013

Take the Damn Fall!

A couple of days back I received a pretty cool rant from a pretty cool dude.  Since I like to publish pretty cool stuff here on Mokuren Dojo, I asked if I could copy it over here as a guest post, and here it is...

A Kind Suggestion from a Bewildered Judoka: 
I don't need to tell you that many judoka neglect the study of ukemi. It is too often treated as a beginner subject, which is taught intensively for the first few classes as a white belt and maybe worked on sporadically until green, at which point the student is expected to take falls well enough to survive them. Here, the skill of ukemi plateaus, and it pretty much remains at this level until the judoka decides they are too old / too high rank to take falls any more, after which they forget it almost entirely. I don't like this paradigm, but I can accept it.
What shocked me, and I mean really dropped my jaw, was the realization that some very respected and competent sensei are teaching their competitors, from children upward, to turn out of throws and land on the stomach, or cartwheel out of them by extending a hand. Until a loophole was recently closed by a (for once reasonable) rules change, it was even favored among elite competitors to land in a "bridge" position on the heels and head, thereby avoiding back contact and ippon. Oh boy, where to start? 
If you look at the old film strips of Kano, Mifune, Nagaoka, Fukuda, and the other greats, their ukes always land on the back or side, even in randori. This might be minimally compelling, because the camera was rolling, and who would dare make an insturctor look foolish by carwheeling or turing out of a throw during a filmed demonstration or randori, particularly in Japan and back then? But, if these methods of falling are considered skillful, worth learning, even appropriate to include in the dojo curriculum, why not demonstrate them? 
Even in old films of shiai, and I mean competitive, brutal, win at all costs shiai, no one turns out. Had they just not thought of it? Is it so aesthetically displeasing that the formal Japanese of yesteryear couldn't bring themselves to do it? I would not guess so. Even Fukuda Keiko, until her recent death the final word in American Kata and a beautiful technician, was not above rough, wham slam inelegant randori in her younger days. If you doubt me, take a moment to see for yourself:  The falls aren't kata falls, and certainly no one is "letting herself be thrown" or "jumping". So why was this clever innovation in competitive ukemi not implemented earlier? 
I have some ideas: 
It is tactically unfavorable. Do a quick experiment for me: lay down on your stomach, and let someone sit in a kesa gatame position and hold you. They don't even need to get an arm around your neck, just sit nice and tight in the armpit and apply some pressure. You can't get out. Bridging is impossible from the stomach, as is shrimping, as is getting a leg up to pull guard or attempt a triangle or shove them off. Worse, from a (ghasp) self-defense standpoint, it is impossible to ward off blows with the hands, or mule kick, or gouge the eyes. You can't even curl up to avoid being pummeled. There is a reason the (sadly often more practical than us) bjj folks value taking the opponent's back so highly. Why on earth, when you've been knocked down by a throw, would you ever, EVER, roll to your stomach? If you say, "this is just for shiai, we wouldn't do this in a fight", I ask you to reconsider this sentiment. Shiai is a test of one's skill in the martial art of Judo. If you want to come out and say it's an end in itself, a sport done for sport's sake, that's a resaonble stance. But don't call it Judo. "Wrestling in pajamas with all the good leg throws taken out" might be a more appropriate name.
It risks injury. This is the obvious one. Falling on your front is bad news. Anyone who has worked with me knows that I love ukemi, and I take as much of it as possible, from all kinds of throws at full force and height. I will gladly take kata guruma from a six foot tori, and only bother with a crash pad if we're going to be doing it many many times. I'll take uchi mata makikomi all day, but I hate flat front falls. The back is just better engineered for taking a fall, period. When you fall on your face, there is no safe way except to eat more of the energy with your arms, because you can' exploit a slight curve to dissipate force as you can with a fall to the back. 
It is athletically exclusive. I'm probably going to catch the most flack for this, but I belive Judo is for everyone. While any able bodied person can learn ukemi, many are just not athletic enough to cartwheel or spin out of throws midair without serious and immediate injury. This is just an opinion, but I prefer randori and shiai to favor the player who does more skillful judo, not the player with the most gymnastic skill. By teaching your players to avoid a score when they have been legitimately thrown, your are teaching exploitation of what should be an irrelevant physical advantage. I've said this many times and I'll say it again, shiai can be a sport, but Judo is not. So, should players just accept that as soon as kuzushi has been done to, they are going to land on theirs backs and lose? No. I am not advocating "jumping" into throws, or taking kata style formal ukemi in shiai. There are many ways to block a throw before being launched and rotated. Everyone knows how to hip in and stuff a forward throw, but what about relaxing at a key moment and becoming unthrowably grounded, or better yet, accepting the kuzushi with so little resistance that you can step through it back to a favorable position? Mifune is the cannonical example of these skills, which are largely going untaught. Since I became intersted in Mifune's groudning ability, partly due to my Aikido crosstraining, I have developed the ability to "go dead weight" very briefuly and successfully stop larger, stronger, higher ranked players from throwing me. I'm not saying it's a magic bullet, but I am saying there are many defensive skills applicable before the opponent has exectued a throw. How about we teach defenses that apply while defense is safe and in the spirit of Judo, not attempts to dangerously snatch back a victory after the opponent has earned it? 
Finally, let me just say that proper Ukemi is offensively useful. I'm not talking about judo shiai, which of course ends at ippon, but in bjj, taking a clean, beautiful fall is advantageous. It some cases it creates separation between uke and tori which allows the recently thrown player to maneuver before the opponent is on top, and apart from falling into the fatal trap of being pinned on your stomach (see above), a good fall also insures that a player does not land injured, stunned, or with his breath knocked out. In a fight, a person on their back can mule kick with the full force of their legs and torso using the brace of the ground behind them, or post up and stand while maintaining their defense against kicks and blows.
So please, take another look at ukemi as the old-timers did it. They knew what they were doing, really.

Andre Goran is an enthusiastic martial arts nerd. He has studied Tracy lineage Kenpo, Judo, and Shodokan Aikido, and holds the rank of shodan in the latter two with Kaze Uta Budokai, as well as shodan in judo with the USJI. He currently lives in Philadelphia, where he trains at Osagame Martial arts under Ray Huxen Sensei and Alma Qualli Sensei.



[top photo courtesy of Isa Walde]


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Thursday, November 14, 2013

Contact


It almost goes without saying (almost) that in the context of judo and especially in newaza, you cannot affect, much less control the other guy unless you are physically in contact with him.  This disregards some special weird effects at a distance that are possible - but this guideline mostly holds.  If you are not touching uke you can't do judo to him.
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What's more, you can't really learn newaza unless you get in contact with uke for a prolonged period of time.  One of my pet peeves is seeing practitioners that are supposed to be practicing newaza do one repetition and then roll off of each other and take a break and fix their gi and say, "good one!"  If you spend 50-60% of your newaza time not touching your partner, you're not learning newaza.
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So, we're going to try a new practice mode.  Starting tonight we're going to try to do the entire class without losing contact with our partners.  From the beginning of class, when we choose up partners, stay in contact before, during, and after every rep.  If you have to stop to fix your gi or re-tie your belt, your partner better be hanging onto you.  If we do decide to switch partners, get in contact with your new partner as your old partner gets hooked up with their new one - no ukes left behind.
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Don't know if this will lead to better newaza practice, but it probably won't hurt and it should help my sanity a bunch.


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Patrick Parker
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Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Ryuha descending from Kodokan Judo

I was chatting with Chad from Akari Dojo this weekend and I brought up an incident that interests me.  In my club, we teach judo tachiwaza trying to end every throw that we can with ukigatame (floating hold - a.k.a. knee-on-belly).  Then we begin our newaza instruction in ukigatame - so the knee-on-belly is basically our most favorite transition from standing into groundwork.
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Chad didn't think that was all that interesting.  "Doesn't everyone do that?"
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Apparently not - I was at a seminar some time back and there was a call for the instructors to show some transitions between standing and groundwork.  "OK, I thought, this is going to be a nice, short session on ukigatame." 
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But the first instructor got up and showed (If I remember right) standing wakigatame transitioning into the ground. "Cool," I thought.  I'd seen that before but we don't do it much.  Then the next instructor got up and showed something else (IIRC kouchi passing the legs as uke falls).  "Interesting.  I'm sure ukigatame is coming soon."  Instructor after instructor got up and demonstrated different entries into groundwork and none were ukigatame.
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Well, some time later I wrote a blog post on ukigatame and how we use it as sort of a universal joint between a standing and a grounded judoka.  Some real olde-timey judoka with plenty of experience commented, "What the hell is ukigatame?" and when I explained that it is the old knee-on-belly thing they said, Yeah, I'd seen that, but we don't do it much."
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I'm not trying to say one or the other groups does something wrong - what is interesting to me is this suggests a couple of separate lineages (ryuha) passing judo knowledge down through the generations.  My first instructor (and Chad's) was adamant that we end everything in ukigatame.  Presumably that instructor got that practice from one of his instructors...  But this other group doesn't do that, and neither did their common instructor, and presumably neither did that teacher's teachers.
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It sorta suggests that at some time in the past, some prominent instructor started using ukigatame to great effect, and passed that down through his students to their students and through my teacher to me and Chad, while other prominent teachers passed other stuff down through the generations.
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So, ukigatame seems to be an example of the division of judo knowledge into different streams of thought (ryu or ryuha).
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It seems to me that at some time in the past (early 1900's? early post-WWII?) there must have been some large, diverse body of judo knowledge, and each of the prominent instructors got a subset of that judo knowledge and they began passing their subsets down.  There was, of course, some cross-pollination of ideas between different lines, through tournaments and seminars, and videos and books...  It also seems to me that the overall cloud of judo knowledge has decreased as compared to what that original cloud of judo must have been - perhaps due to standardization of kata for competition judging, or champions teaching wanna-be champions their tokuiwaza, etc...
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Wouldn't it be interesting if we could trace the streams of thought of the major instructors down through the generations from Kano et al. to today, so we could determine what ideas were added or lost and when and by whom and under what circumstances?



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Patrick Parker
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Monday, November 11, 2013

Broken rhythm is broken balance


How can you tell when you have someone off balance so that you can execute your technique?
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We usually think about kuzushi as making uke lean to the edge of his base so that he has to recover or fall, but I think that is sort of a correlation-not-causation thing.  Certainly we have all seen highly-ranked people that can make use of much, much smaller kuzushi - so how do they tell when they have the guy offbalance?
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They rely (at least partly) on their sense of rhythm.
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Try this demonstration - have uke stroll across the mat with a slow, steady, metronomic rhythm.  Then partway through his stroll, bump him on the shoulder.  It doesn't have to be violent - just enough to cause a pause or a stutter-step.  Or alternately, in randori watch for times when you and the other guy take 2-3 steps together in synch, and after step 2 or 3, bump him on the arm or shoulder and see doesn't the rhythm change and he leans to some degree out over his edge.
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Any disruption in uke's chosen walking pace is an indicator of kuzushi because uke must be in control of his own balance in order for him to operate at his own chosen rhythm.
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So, broken rhythm is broken balance. 




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Wednesday, November 06, 2013

Kotegaeshi is a pain in the...ahem... wrist


For some reason, kotegaeshi has always been one of the 1-2 most onerous things to teach.  Beginners to kotegaeshi are often scared of the elevated fall, which makes them tighten up and then their wrist seizes and it hurts more, which reinforces the fear of the thing.  
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I often teach versions that sit uke down in an easy backfall, but eventually they are going to encounter the forward elevated version, and then I feel like I'm not doing them any favors babying them with the gentle backfalls.
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I've got a new crop of folks just ready to deal with kotegaeshi so I'm back to trying to figure out the best way to teach the thing.  I've been thinking about the suwariwaza version...  Any ideas?






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Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Junokata and the individual nature of kata




An interesting thing to note in Ju-no-kata - in the 6th technique - Kiri Oroshi (about 1:00 in the Miyake film, about 2:50 in the Abbe film)

Tori evades uke's initial chop and grabs the arm.  Then tori takes 2-3 steps forward to off-balance uke.  Notice the number of steps is not set in stone – Miyake does 2 steps and Abbe does 3 steps. 
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This is not just an interesting glitch – it speaks to the nature of kata – what is being programmed? 
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These kata are not intended to program details like, “make two steps of 22 inches each at 22.5 degrees...” but more of something like “Move forward until uke is off-balanced backward.” 
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The principles are programmed but not each exact motions. 
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The strategy is programmed but not necessarily all the tactics.

This sort of leeway occurs often in the more advanced Kodokan kata (Ju, Koshiki, Itsutsu).  Sure in the beginning the kata are programmed on the tactical level to a larger degree, with the kata specification indicating to grab just so, step just so, turn just so... But later on, the judoka seems to be assumed to know that tactical-level stuff pretty good, so the kata deal more with strategy and principle and aesthetics.
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You can see a similar organization in the Tomiki/Ohba kataset.  The beginning exercises/kata are more tactical, while the Koryu kata are more strategic.  There is (there has to be) some flex built into the more advanced kata for individual interpretation.

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Patrick Parker
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Thursday, October 31, 2013

Be an enemy-whisperer

Halloween is probably the perfect time to talk about this idea, because everyone wants to be scary on Halloween.  In fact, a lot of martial artists want to be scary all the time.  Their tactics are designed to overwhelm the other guy with violence and cow them into compliance.  This sort of martial artist likes to be feared because fear is sort of synonymous with respect and nobody screws around with people that they respect.
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Let me explain how fear and pain are not only non-productive, but martially counter-productive.
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When you do things to hurt or frighten people, they will automatically resist you.  When you create an antagonistic relationship between you and the other guy, you can bet they will resist your efforts.  So, if your strategy relies on intimidation or pain-compliance you are making your job harder that it needs to be.
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In fact, medical studies have shown that when someone is in a state of acute pain/distress, they are incapable of making an intelligent, informed decision - like complying with you or at least not resisting what you are doing to cause the distress.
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Don't rely on pain-compliance.
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Don't use fear to keep you safe.
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Don't antagonize the other guy.
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You can learn to be an enemy-whisperer instead of a terrible thing to be feared and avoided!


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Patrick Parker
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Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Intersection set aiki jo-jutsu


I could probably count the things I know for sure about jodo on 3 fingers or less.  But in some ways, jo is falling into place for me - or perhaps I'm just starting to come to peace with the jo.  I thought today I'd enumerate some of where I'm at in jo right now...
  • Intersection-set jo - For me, aiki-jo and SMR jo and kenjutsu and etc... have got to be the same thing.  I don't have the time left in my life, nor do I have the personality or patience to learn two or three distinct weapon systems and be able to keep them separate from each other.  I am content to spend 80-90% of my practice time on the intersection set between aiki-jo and SMR and etc...
  • Principles based jo - The weapon has got to be an extension of my body such that I can apply aikido strategies and heuristics and principles that I already know. Just like I can't deal with multiple weapon systems, I can't handle even one weapon system that teaches me to behave differently than I do in the context of taijutsu.
  • Weaponizing the jo - Lately, I've been thinking that my kihon should be even simpler and more atomic than it is in the SMR kihon or the aiki-jo suburi.  For instance, there are only about 3 ways you can hold the stick to use it as a weapon (honte, gyakute, sakate), and there are about 4 real common ways we hold a stick when we are not using it as a weapon (hanmi, tsune/sage, ichimonji, monomi) so lately I've been working on drilling how to get offline and manage ma-ai while weaponizing the jo from each of the 4 starting points to each of the 3 grips.
  • Poke and whack - When you get down to it, once you get the stick in one of those 3 grips, there's only about 2 things that you can do with it - swing or thrust.  So, for me these days, jodo has largely become a practice of figuring out how to 1) weaponize the stick, while 2) moving like I'm used to in aikido, and 3) swinging and thrusting effectively from whatever grip I have.
  • Henka in jodori and jonage - We've also been practicing the jodori and jonage from each of the 3 grips, because you can't tell how you will be holding it when they grab it.
  • Aiki-cane jutsu - and lately I've been thinking a lot about tanjojutsu...
I'm sure all that will bore the hardcore aiki-jo or SMR enthusiasts to death, but for me, "intersection-set aiki jo-jutsu" provides plenty of entertainment!





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Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Kito ryu probably gave us ashiwaza



Yesterday, when I posed the question, "What Koryu did the modern Kodokan ashiwaza come from?" I suspected I already knew the answer, but I wasn't sure.  Nick reminded me that Nagaoka has been called "The inventor of modern ashiwaza," and supplied me with a link to some biographical info on Nagaoka...
(per Wikipedia) Hideichi Nagaoka (Japan, 1876–1952) (his first name is sometimes mispronounced as either Hidekazu or Shūichi) promoted to Kōdōkan 10th dan in 1937. He was the last of only three people to be promoted to 10th dan by Kanō-shihan himself.
(per Judo Channel) Shuichi Nagaoka studied the Kito-ryu style in Okayama under Kensaburo Noda. He came to Tokyo in 1892 and entered Kodokan in January of 1893.
But the 1895 syllabus of the Kodokan already contained a wide variety of ashiwaza under the names we know today by the time Nagaoka was shodan or nidan - just 2 years after he started at the Kodokan.
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So, much of the ashiwaza must have predated Nagaoka.
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In fact, Daigo says in his Kodokan Judo Throwing Techniques book that the early Kodokan demogods used small ashiwaza almost exclusively to demolish their field of competition in the 1886 Metro Police Tourney.  So, they were making good use of sophisticated ashiwaza years before Nagaoka.

I do not, however, think that it is a stretch to suggest that the ashiwaza that was present in the Kodokan in the 1890's resonated with Nagaoka - probably because of his prior training and experience - so much so that Nagaoka became known for his ashiwaza.  Something in his past jived nicely with the ashiwaza that Kano had instituted at his school.  I think that past something was probably Kito ryu.
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So, it appears that the ashiwaza of Kodokan probably came from Kito Ryu.  That jives nicely with my Kito guy that showed me some weird and gruesome footsweeps a few weeks ago, calling them, "old Kito stuff."
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But that idea - that the ashiwaza came from Kito Ryu - just took me by surprise, I suppose because there is not even a hint of ashiwaza in the Koshiki no Kata that Kano passed on to us.








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Monday, October 28, 2013

Where did Kano's ashiwaza come from?

The story goes that Kodokan judo was derived primarily from Tenjin Shinyo Ryu jujutsu and Kito Ryu jujutsu - with some interesting tidbits from a bunch of other schools thrown in.  So, we watch some demonstrations of Tenjin Shinyo and of Kito Ryu...





Now, I realize these are not demonstrations of the entire systems - but one would think these demos would be largely representative of the overall flavor of the strategies embodied by the two systems.
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So, the question arises, Where did the wondrous variety of ashiwaza in Kodokan Judo come from?  The only ashiwaza that I see in the above demos are a couple of osotogari/kosotogari type things.  Granted, those Kito/Tenjin demos are ostensibly battlefield ideas and some of the modern judo repertoire of ashiwaza would be impractical for that purpose.  If you look at the Kodokan Goshin Jutsu and Kime no kata, you get a similar range of ashiwaza - mostly only osotogari.

So, even if it was some of the Kodokan demigods in the 1890's that came up with all these ashiwaza from their randori/shiai experience, you'd expect some of those ashiwaza ideas to be reflected in the older material.
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So, where (in the Koryu) does the gendai ashiwaza come from?


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Thursday, October 24, 2013

Thoughts on my Kito connection

I mentioned before that I've managed to find a teacher with a certificate in Kito ryu.  Apparently, sometime in the past he deliberately shifted away from teaching what he calls "the old stuff" to teaching a more modern aikido because he considered the older Kito-flavored aiki to be rough and abusive to his students.  Additionally, he and some of his senior students have told me that they'd always considered Tomiki aikido, with its distinct Kito-flavoring to be very direct, linear, rough, crash&smash-type aikido.
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But this past weekend I got to play with them at their yearly Fall Aiki Fest, and when it came my turn to show & tell, I got to lead a class in the ushirowaza from Koryu Dai Ni.  Everyone seemed to enjoy it and do well.  I had an aikido sandan tell me that he'd never seen ushirowaza like that and that he loved it.  My Kito connection told me that it reminded him distinctly of "the old stuff." And some of the other instructors told me that this was nothing like the preconceptions they had of Tomiki (crash&smash) aikido.  It was apparently sufficiently sophisticated and light enough to be delightful. 
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I took that as a huge compliment. :-)  
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As for my observations from getting to play with them, their aikido is beautiful and sophisticated in a different way from mine.  It appears that they are much more striking-oriented, whereas we characterize Kito-derived arts as more grappling-oriented.  The tactical expression of their aikido that they teach at the Police Academy seems to be much closer to the aikido that I'm used to - more tori-initiated and more grappling -oriented.
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Their aiki appears to be highly influenced by the Kali that they have practiced for years alongside their aikido.  This influence seems to be most distinct in their irimi.  These Kali-flavored irimi seem to serve the same purpose as our wrist releases (move from all-out to all-in through ma-ai without getting killed and get a connection and a kuzushi via atemi).
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I'm definitely looking forward to playing with these folks again, so I can unload some of our Kito-flavored Tomiki-ryu on them and absorb some of their Kali-flavored, more Daito-esque aikido. Perhaps, also, having seen that Kito-flavored aiki can be expressed gently, I'll be able to talk my Kito-connection into unloading some of the "old stuff" on me.


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Patrick Parker
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Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Think out of the box by speaking out of the box


Because of this whole Conversation of Ideas thing, it used to be a requirement for admission to all grad schools to be proficient in languages other than your mother tongue.  For some grad schools this is still a requirement.  In some fields the languages are specified - for instance in Christian theology programs it is common to require proficiency in Hebrew, Greek, and sometimes in Latin.  This makes sense, because it is assumed that if you are getting into graduate studies, that you are going to have to communicate with scholars from other nations, and you're going to have to read original documents.
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If we were to operate our aikido organizations like classical colleges, then we would need either a common language (Japanese) or proficiency in the various languages (Aikikai, Tomiki, etc...) used in aikido circles.  I have done two or three articles comparing Tomiki terminology with Aikikai terminology, but it goes deeper than just knowing that some folks call ikkyo by the name oshitaoshi - that sort of translation by vocabulary list only goes so far.
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See, these terms are like boxes that we put ideas into, and the set of ideas that Aikikai guys throw into their box labeled, "ikkyo" is not quite the same set of ideas that Tomiki folks throw into their "oshitaoshi" box.  They are similar and there is some overlap between those sets, but they are not 100% synonymous.  What's more, Daito guys have an "ikkyo" box and its contents are different from both the Tomiki "oshitaoshi" box and the Aikikai "ikkyo" box.  We won't even get into Yoshinkai - those guys label their box, "ikkajo osae."
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Learning the other guys' language would require us to immerse ourselves in their world, just as language acquisition happens in the real world, but it would allow us to think about aiki outside of the boxes that our first sensei put things into for us.


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Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Toward an Aiki Renaissance

Much of Tomiki's contribution to aikido was in the formation of rational, sequential teaching methodologies for getting beginners up to speed rapidly.  He was teaching in a University setting and only had the students for a few years - maybe 3-5 years - and wanted to get them up and running, exploring and working on aikido within that time.
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So he created primers - small sets of techniques - 12 taiso, 7 offbalances, 15 (later 17) techniques... That represented a rational way to get students emulating Ueshiba's intuitive genius - particularly with respect to getting students doing randori quickly.
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But here's a thought for you - In what other domain of knowledge do grad students recite their primer or their catechism for most of every class, year after year?  I'm not trying to downplay Tomiki's teaching and organizational genius, but these things that he gave us are primers (very good ones) meant for kyu grades.
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So, along comes Hideo Ohba, another very talented student of Kano, Ueshiba, and Tomiki, and he organized a group of 5-6 kata (#3 might have been Tomiki's work) representing some of the pieces of Ueshiba's art that didn't fit into Tomiki's primers.  These kata represent most of the "advanced" work that we do in most Tomiki aikido classes.  But these things are still like High school textbooks - they point and hint at phenomena within the larger world of aiki but they are still somewhat superficial.  It is hard (if it is even possible) to get to the magical aiki by repeating those 6 kata ad infinitum.
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In my opinion, we need to continue studying Tomiki's primers - they are just too good a method to dispense with.  And we need to continue studying Ohba's Koryu work as a set of hints at directions that we can take our research.  But I think we need to broaden our explorations even beyond that.  Similar to the previous post where I was talking about communication between Graduate students in Medieval and Renaissance colleges - we need to be working with instead of separately from Aikikai and Yoshinkai and the innumerable independent aiki instructors, and the Daito guys, and the Kito guys...
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We need to move out of the Dark Ages of organizations that preach that they have the only true aikido.  We need to get past the Medieval aiki feudalism into a Renaissance of aikido.  We need to join The Conversation of Ideas - and I don't just mean absorbing Aikikai and Yoshinkai and Daito methods into our own, but also demonstrating and offering Tomiki-lineage ideas to the rest of the aiki world.
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More on this thread later - stay tuned...

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Monday, October 21, 2013

The Conversation of Ideas


In a lot of ways, most of the aikido world has treated their art like a religion.  That is, many instructors and clubs and organizations have been operating under the premise that they have the only Truth, the only REAL aikido - and that all outsiders are sadly ignorant or willfully wrong-headed.  Some organizations that have embodied this sort of model have become self-segregated, if not just plain inbred.
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I think that this model is a thing of the past.  Many groups and practitioners seem to be growing out of this idea and trying to engage the broader world of aikido and of budo in general.  I think that a more appropriate model for an aikido organization (as opposed to religious dogma) would be that of a sort of Institution of Higher Learning - like the classical Ivy League colleges of old.  These were not places where kids went to trade school or apprenticeship to learn to do a craft.  These were colleges where scholars gathered to engage in The Conversation of Ideas.
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If we were to try to make our aikido clubs and organizations like Martial arts Grad Schools, what would this mean?  What does it mean to be in Grad School?  Among other things...

  • Working on more advanced material - not just primers and vocational training
  • Joining in the Conversation of Ideas - not just learning, but communicating with other scholars working on the same problems in different ways around the world.
  • Solving real world problems instead of abstract exercises - or at least engaging real-world problems, whether they could be solved or not.
  • Contributing - Graduate students were expected to make significant contributions to the world and to their field of study.

Expect more on this topic over the next few days, and stay tuned...


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Patrick Parker
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Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Hanasu or musubi? Or both?

One of our first exercises that we do in our aikido classes is a set of 8 or so responses to wrist grabs.  We have always called them "releases" although we are explicitly taught on the first day and reminded throughout our training career that we are not necessarily trying to make uke let go of our wrist.  So, what are we "releasing?"
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I have long felt like it was the conflict building up between uke and tori that is being released.  In the past I've likened it to a pressure release valve that will only let so much awkwardness and danger build up between uke and tori before it triggers and bleeds some of the pressure off.
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I have also used a magnetism analogy.  Try to push two like-polarized magnets together and they will get to a certain point where they vibrate for a moment, then they shear apart or else one will spin to the other pole.
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In any case, as uke approaches tori from outside ma-ai you can feel a psychic pressure building between them.
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Some aikidoka have taken to calling these exercises something like "musubi renshu" or "connection practice."  Their reasoning  is that if you do the release motion and roll around uke and get behind him without affecting him (kuzushi) then you've used your initiative to accomplish nothing.  I think that is debatable - you have diffused/won a psychic duel (attacking his mind is one sense of atemi), and you have gotten into shikaku (the dead angle behind uke's shoulder), which can be seen as attacking uke's position relative to tori.
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So, "releasing" does not actually do nothing to uke - it attacks his mindset and his position, which absolutely has to be reflected in his posture.
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But their point is well-taken.  Tori would like his first motion to be as effective as possible, so if we were able to achieve a kuzushi and a connection then we would like to do that too.  But kuzushi and connection are both somewhat ephemeral constructs - hard to define objectively, especially for beginners (the folks practicing these exercises the most).  So it might be sufficient, or even preferable, to tell beginners that their 4 objectives (no specific order) in the exercises are to...
  • get offline
  • get hands up
  • get behind uke's arm (shikaku)
  • move with uke for 1-2 steps
But certainly at some point we want to start using these exercises to talk about kuzushi (it is actually popular in Europe and Japan to call these exercises Shichihon no kuzushi or "seven offbalances").  Somewhere around green or brown belt I give my students a fifth objective...
  • kuzushi - leave uke feeling like he should take one more step to stabilize. 
The sixth objective (musubi - get a connection) doesn't get a lot of explicit teaching in my school - I just don't have a lot of good words to talk about those ideas.  I think that my students tend to eventually get some subset of those skills - like particularly when we start emphasizing getting kuzushi earlier and earlier in the encounter, but it sure would be nice to be able to teach that earlier and more explicitly.
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In some sense, the fourth objective (move with uke for 1-2 steps) is part of musubi (or maybe it is a Kito-flavored interpretation of musubi), but there is more involved in that construct than I have vocabulary and exercises for.
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Here's a couple of cool videos of Strange and Nick talking about musubi...


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And here's a book that seems to demystify  musubi a good bit ...



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Patrick Parker
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Monday, October 14, 2013

Interesting phenomenon - the toe-jo conjunction

A while back I was talking with or watching a video of an aikido instructor - I can't remember who - might have been Nick Lowry or George Ledyard.  Anyway, they were talking about a curious kinesthetic phenomenon in which people are able to extend their sense of proprioception outside their body.  Sounds like some astral projection hoohoo, but go with me a bit here.
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The demonstration they used was for tori to get a connection with uke through a wrist grab, close their eyes, and then proceed to reach with the free hand to touch uke's opposite shoulder or knee or free hand.  I've tried this game with several folks - some beginner white belts, and more often than not, so long as there is a connection tori can either reach directly to a target or get real close.
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I recently discovered another example or demonstration of what I think is the same phenomenon.  I carry a jo with me whenever I go for a walk - partly as a dog-warder, partly as an exercise weight, and partly just to get used to the weight and balance of the stick.  I have found that I can hold the stick near one end, drop the tip, and kick the tip back upward.  I almost never miss.  Toe always meets jo, even when holding the dog leash with the other hand, walking on uneven surfaces, looking somewhere else, or changing where I hold the jo.
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I need to run this game with some other folks to see if it's just me or if it is something everyone can do naturally or if it is a training effect.


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Friday, October 11, 2013

Crawling man randori


This is one of my top three favorite forms of randori for the kids (the others are chicken tail randori and zombie attack).  I particularly like this because the bottom man's objective is to not wrestle with the top man - rather to escape and flee to safety.  This is a mode that judo folks don't get to practice much because we are usually so tied up in grappling and submitting the other guy that we automatically re-engage after an escape even when that might not be appropriate (i.e. in a self-defense scenario).
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The rules are simple...
  1. Bottom man starts on hands and knees.  Top man starts standing behind bottom man, with both hands on bottom man's back.
  2. When referee calls "go" or "hajime" bottom man crawls across the mat to a finish mark while top man tries to grapple and slow or hold bottom man.  Bottom man is to avoid being drawn into a grappling match - rather escape and flee to the objective.
  3. Top man cannot pounce.  Neither player may choke or jointlock-  it is a purely positional game.
  4. If the action stops (top man holds bottom man) long enough to bore the ref, the ref may coach the bottom man or stand them up and start them over.
  5. When the pair reaches the objective at the end of the mat, they switch roles and come back.
  6. If one player or the other vastly out-ranks or out-sizes the other, the ref may throw handicaps to level the field (one hand holding belt, close eyes, no grips, etc...).
It is such a good form of newaza randori for the kids, I really ought to play it with the adults more too.


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____________________
Patrick Parker
www.mokurendojo.com
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