Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Extrapolation or interpolation

There is no way to teach someone the exact form that they will have to use to do a given technique "on the street" or in "real life."  In the dojo, we practice representative forms of techniques that allow us to talk about strategies and ingrain principles - but these practice forms are just abstractions - they are not likely to be the same as what actually occurs in reality.
So, we have a teaching problem.  Do we...
  • Teach one form that is sort of an average of the most common situations we think we might encounter?
  • Teach 2-3 of the most extreme forms, assuming that the form of reality will be somewhere in the middle of those extremes?
Well, it turns out in aikido, we do some of both.
Take for example, shomenuchi shihonage.  We can (among other options) slip inside a right-sided strike and grab the arm from the top with our left hand or from the bottom with our right hand.  Which hand predominates determines what the footwork in the rest of the technique looks like, and what direction the final throw happens in.  Nearly the entire technical domain of shihonage - everything that can be called shihonage - lies between the left handed form and the right-handed form.  These two forms are like brackets that contain most of the forms of shihonage.  So, if we practice these two extreme forms of shihonage, then we should be okay whenever we run into a situation that falls within that solution space that is shihonage. This practice of picking a desired form between two known extremes is called interpolation.  (BTW - your extremes might not be left and right.  Many aikidoka interpolate between omote and ura forms.)
On the other hand, some aikidoka teach shomenuchi shihonage by slipping inside the attack and grabbing with both hands.  This is one of the points in the middle of the two extremes, and it is sort of assumed that if you learn this one form, then you should be okay if circumstances force you to vary it either direction (left or right) from the mid-point.  You might call this process of coming up with an appropriate variation based on one known reference point, extrapolation.
In our classes (by the way) we use both methods to teach shihonage.  We teach both one-handed extreme versions and call them releases #6 and #8, then we teach the two-handed version as the actual shihonage technique in Junana.
It is probably a good idea to look for these three forms (two extremes and one representative middle-form) for each of your techniques.  That way you can find your way through jiyuwaza and randori via interpolation or via extrapolation, and you can probably be more assured that you will be able to come up with an appropriate form on the street if you ever have to.

photo courtesy of Angel Medinilla

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Come find me on Facebook at my Mokuren Dojo FB group

 Patrick Parker www.mokurendojo.com

Friday, January 25, 2013

Morihei Ueshiba and Lulu Hurst

O Sensei Morihei Ueshiba did amazing things - there is no doubt - things that appeared magical.  He seems to have had a fondness for demonstrations of what looked like superhuman strength or spirit magic, like having a bunch of folks try to push him over or holding people back at the end of a jo. Even the folks (that I've met) who claim to know how he did much of what he did cannot replicate all of it.  But there are apparently a lot of folks that can replicate some of his parlour tricks.
Even in his time, there were folks that could do such tricks.  One fascinating individual was Lulu Hurst, a teenager from Georgia USA in the 1880's.  According to Wikipedia...

Lulu Hurst (1869-1950) was an American stage magician. Under the stage name the "Georgia Wonder" or "Laughing Lulu", the teenage Hurst specialized in demonstrations of super-normal strength. Her act involved having a number of men hold an object (such as a chair or pole), and then moving the object and the men holding it with an apparently light touch. Her performances were popular in the early 1880s, drawing crowds in major cities such as Atlanta, New York and Chicago. She performed for only two years, before cancelling a planned European tour and retiring in 1885 (aged 16). Soon after her retirement, she married her manager. She later admitted, in her biography, that her "supernatural" powers were in fact due to the judicious application of body mechanics and deflection of force, although during her teenage years she herself believed them to be genuine.
Her autobiography is fascinating - especially Part II, in which she spills the beans on how she did the things she did!  This book has bearing upon the internal strength ideas we've been tossing around for a year or two, as well as bearing upon Ueshiba's parlour demonstrations of ki and aiki.
Highly recommended for aiki folks and internal strength folks:

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Ju don't know Ju!

So, they say that this judo thing that we do is based on the principle of "ju", which is supposed to mean something like "gentle," but westerners tend to assign some screwed-up connotations to the word, "gentle" - connotations like "flaccid" or "weak" or "wimpy."
Sensei Strange (pictured above, working his ju magic) has discussed the kanji for ju at his blog a couple of times here and here.  And I'm no Japanese language scholar, so I thought I'd dig a bit into the English denotations for the words we frequently use for ju.

Dictionary.com says re. GENTLE ...

    adjective /ˈjentl/ 
    gentler, comparative; gentlest, superlative
    1. (of a person) Mild in temperament or behavior; kind or tender
      • - he was a gentle, sensitive man
    2. (of a person) Noble or having the qualities attributed to noble birth; courteous; chivalrous

      • Moderate in action, effect, or degree; not harsh or severe
        • - a little gentle persuasion
        • - a gentle breeze
      • (of a slope) Gradual
        • - a gentle embankment
      verb /ˈjentl/ 
      gentled, past participle; gentled, past tense; gentles, 3rd person singular present; gentling, present participle
      1. Make or become gentle; calm or pacify
        • - Cobb's tone gentled a little
      2. Touch gently
        • - her lips were gentling his cheek
      3. Make (an animal) docile by gentle handling
        • - a bird that has been gentled enough to sit on the hand

    and SOFT ...

    adjective /sôft/ 
    softer, comparative; softest, superlative
    1. Easy to mold, cut, compress, or fold; not hard or firm to the touch
      • soft margarine
      • - the ground was soft beneath their feet
    2. Having a smooth surface or texture that is pleasant to touch; not rough or coarse
      • soft crushed velvet
      • - her hair felt very soft
    3. Rounded; not angular
      • - the soft edges of their adobe home
    4. Having a pleasing quality involving a subtle effect or contrast rather than sharp definition
      • - the soft glow of the lamps
      • - the moon's pale light cast soft shadows
    5. (of a voice or sound) Quiet and gentle
      • - they spoke in soft whispers
    6. (of rain, wind, or other natural force) Not strong or violent
      • - a soft breeze rustled the trees
    7. (of a consonant) Pronounced as a fricative (as c in ice)

      • (of a market, currency, or commodity) Falling or likely to fall in value

        • Sympathetic, lenient, or compassionate, esp. to a degree perceived as excessive; not strict or sufficiently strict
          • - the administration is not becoming soft on crime
          • - Julia's soft heart was touched by his grief
        • (of words or language) Not harsh or angry; conciliatory; soothing
          • - he was no good with soft words, gentle phrases
        • Not strong or robust
          • soft, out-of-shape executives in a computer company
        • (of a job or way of life) Requiring little effort

          • (of news or other journalism) Regarded more as entertainment than as basic news
            • - fashion is regarded as soft news
          • Willing to compromise in political matters; moderate
            • - candidates ranging from far right to soft left
          • Foolish; silly
            • - he must be going soft in the head
          • Infatuated with
            • - was Brendan soft on her?
          • (of a drink) Not alcoholic
            • - all they had was ginger ale and a few other soft drinks
          • (of a drug) Not likely to cause addiction

            • (of water) Free from mineral salts that make lathering difficult

              • (of radiation) Having little penetrating power

                • (of a detergent) Biodegradable

                  • (of pornography) Suggestive or erotic but not explicit

                  I think the first 3 definitions for the adjective GENTLE are interesting, and I especially like the first couple of definitions for the verb TO GENTLE.  Brings to mind "The Uke Whisperer!"  There are several interesting definitions in the entry on SOFT, but overall, those ideas don't fit my understanding of ju.

                  Ooh! Wait! What if we look up my personal favorite - FLEXIBLE

                    adjective /ˈfleksəbəl/ 
                    1. Capable of bending easily without breaking
                      • flexible rubber seals
                    2. Able to be easily modified to respond to altered circumstances or conditions
                      • flexible forms of retirement
                    3. (of a person) Ready and able to change so as to adapt to different circumstances
                      • - you can save money if you're flexible about where your room is located

                  Well, that's just about exactly what I mean when I talk about judo - with perhaps shades of GENTLE as defined above. ;-)

                  So, how do y'all think judo or ju is like or unlike those denotations for SOFT or GENTLE?

                  Want to discuss this blog post?
                  Come find me on Facebook at my Mokuren Dojo FB group

                  photo courtesy of Tanakawho

                  Patrick Parker

                  Wednesday, January 23, 2013

                  De-escalation for maximum learning

                  The first nine minutes of this video is an excellent lecture by Sensei Bob Rea on what he calls zones - what I've called "edge."
                  In a nutshell, Bob says that there are different states of being, or "zones" that uke and tori (and even attackers on the street, etc...) can be in.
                  • We can be in a SAFE ZONE, where we are comfortable and competent and not at any significant risk of stress or injury, and that is a good place to operate, but not much learning goes on within that SAFE ZONE.
                  • We can stretch ourselves and get into a LEARNING ZONE, where we are less comfortable and have greater risk, but we have maximum potential for learning.
                  • Beyond the LEARNING ZONE is a PANIC ZONE.  This is a self-defense type situation in which we react instinctualy to protect ourselves.  No learning goes on in the PANIC ZONE.
                  • And beyond the PANIC ZONE is what BOB calls the TWILIGHT ZONE - the place where dragons live.  Being in this place scares the hell out of everyone involved and nobody ever wants to go back there once they've peeked across the border.
                  This is similar in some ways to the classic color code system for self-defense, where you have GREEN, YELLOW, RED, and BLACK alert conditions depending on where you are and what is going on around you.  It is also similar to some stress theory that postulates an inverted-U shaped learning curve where low-stress is non-productive for learning and high-stress is dysfunctional so you want a moderate level of stress.
                  What I think is interesting, is it is possible to expand and contract your boundaries (your EDGE).  If you lie on the couch in the dark all the time, the edges between SAFE and LEARNING and PANIC will contract, but if you regularly approach your edge and look around at what happens at the edge and maybe peek over the edge, then you will expand your boundaries.  Some of your LEARNING territory will become SAFE for you and some of your PANIC territory will become a LEARNING ZONE.  You don't have to leap past your edge to expand your boundaries - just approach them regularly and systematically.
                  I also really, really like his brief discussion late in this lecture about how the instructor or leader or higher-ranked player in a pair needs to be able to read his own state and that of his partner, and he needs to be able to protect himself (stay out of TWILIGHT and PANIC ZONES) while working to move both partners closer to that edge between LEARNING and SAFE zones.
                  I agree, that is an extremely valuable skill - perhaps one of the 2-3 most valuable skills to learn in judo and aikido - de-escalation.

                  Patrick Parker

                  Friday, January 18, 2013

                  Uphill & downhill escapes from kesa

                  Coming up through the ranks, we always wondered why the uphill escape from kesagatame was called the "uphill" escape.  We joked that the Kodokan must have been built on a slope, so they must have had an escape for uphill and one for downhill - and probably a sideways escape.  Well, that question stuck with me for some years until a few years ago I came upon a satisfactory answer - I don't know if this is the right answer, but it is satisfactory to me.
                  The uphill escape is the opposite motion in a lot of ways from the bridge&roll escape, so I got to wondering why the bridge&roll escape wasn't called the "downhill escape."  Well, it turns out that the bridge&roll is the downhill escape.
                  When you are lying on your back, in a cross-sectional view from above your head, your chest looks like a hill, sloping downward from your sternum across your ribs to either side. If you plan to roll the guy down the far side of the hill (as in bridge&roll), the easiest way to do it is to start with him on the very top of the hill (resting on your sternum). The easiest way to get them onto your sternum is to turn to face them, loosen their grip on your shoulder a bit, place your sternum against their ribs, and use your free hand to hold them there. Then when they press your shoulders back to the ground, this places them resting on your sternum right on top of the hill, ready for you to start them rolling down the far side when you bridge.
                  This explanation of bridge&roll as the "downhill escape" makes the naming of the uphill escape make sense. If the holder is not on the top of the hill, you can't roll them downhill without first picking them up onto the top of the hill (inefficient). So, if they are on the uphill side of you, you do the uphill escape instead of lifting them to the top of the hill.  But if they are already on the very top of the hill (or if you can get them there easily), then roll them down the far side of the hill (bridge&roll).

                  Photo courtesy of Simmr

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

                  Thursday, January 17, 2013

                  How okay is proficient?

                  We're supposed to be about self-improvement and mutual benefit and all that jazz in judo and aikido, right? Well, how much improvement counts as sufficiently proficient? How okay do you have to be at something to be satisfied that you are really okay at that?  
                  Clarke's law states that any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.  Well once you meet that threshold of sufficiently advanced, how do you get better? And if you do get better, are you just more indistinguishable from magic?  If you chase your art form to the point that your skill is magical, how much more magical can your magic get?
                  With me, it seems to be a cycle.  Take gedanate for example.  When I started I (of course) had no clue, but after a couple of years I had a great gedanate!  Then I started teaching and my students didn't seem to be able to get the same effect with gedanate that I'd been getting.  Then I realized I couldn't get the thing to work for me anymore!  My students were so bad at gedanate that they made me forget how to do it! ;-)
                  My students and I limped through several years of terrible gedanate and I consulted with various gurus and watched all the films, and put in the mat time, and all of a sudden, BAM!  For the past few months, gedanate is amazing again!  Now, though, I am taking that amazing magical gedanate skill with a grain of salt because I'm sure that another layer of suckage is on its way one day.
                  I think that this cycle is caused by skill and sensitivity improving at different rates.  For a while, your sensitivity is so poor, it seems amazing when you can get any skill at all to work in a consistent way.  You coast along for a while thinking that you've finally got the skill down but in the meantime, your sensitivity is improving and all of a sudden your skill is no longer sufficient to meet your improved sensitivity.  Then you go for a while feeling like you can't do anything right until you can improve your skill.  Back and forth... There and back again...

                  This seems to happen at all levels of the art - from micro to macro - from the individual techniques (like gedanate), to large subsets of practice (like randori or kata or suwariwaza) to entire arts (my aikido as a whole waxes and wanes in how I feel about it).
                  I suspect some folks are unprepared for the cyclic nature of the path and are unable to tolerate the cognitive dissonance brought on by constantly shifting levels of sensitivity and skill.  Those folks go so far then quit, while other folks are able to deal with periodic suckage - and those folks thrive in the arts.

                  Photo courtesy of Stefan Schmitz

                  Patrick Parker

                  Monday, January 14, 2013

                  Koryu Dai Ni - introduction

                  I'm getting ready to go play with the Starkvillians here in a couple of weeks.  We're going to be playing with Koryu Dai Ni.  So, by way of introduction, what can be said about Nikata?
                  I've heard it called (only half jokingly) the "sore-knee" kata, because it is has no suwariwaza so it lets crusty old guys with bad knees have a nice rest between Koryu Dai Ichi and Koryu Dai San - both of which have some of the dreaded knee-crawling.
                  Nikata is the shortest of the Koryu-no-kata, at only 16 techniques - all tachiwaza (standing techniques) and all taijutsu (empty-handed - no weapons).  Short and sweet!
                  It is traditionally divided into two sets - one set of 11 responses to grappling attacks and one set of five responses to yokomenuchi attacks.  I prefer to think about it in three sets  - 3 wrist grab techniques, 8 grappling attacks of increasing intensity, and 5 yokomen attacks.
                  I also, in my backward way, like to think of Nikata as "the kata of twos" instead of "kata #2."  There are numerous paired techniques in this kata.  Sure, there are paired techniques throughout the Koryu-no-kata and the Randori-no-kata, but they seem to stand out more clearly here in Nikata.
                  There is an emphasis on small footwork - as if tori is confined to a small space.  In most of these techniques, tori stays put, perhaps taking one half-step to adjust his position (sort of like basketball traveling rules).  I like to play Nikata with uke and tori both standing within a 2x6 taped-off section of the mat.  I also like to pretend that I am standing with uke on a pillar of stone and everything outside the taped-off box is molten lava flowing around razor-sharp poisonous stalagmites so I would much rather uke move out of the box than  step out myself (adds a bit of interest factor for my small mind ;-)
                  To make up for the inability of tori to move around, there is an emphasis on powerful hip turning and shifting movements that induce offbalance in uke, forcing him to move.  Frequently, tori will force uke to move, clearing some space for tori to then move into - tori often moves into the space that uke had been standing in, or the space that uke needs to be standing in next.
                  Another trend in Nikata is there is somewhat of an emphasis on control rather than projection.  Tori tends to drop uke right where he stands rather than throwing them away "over there."  I know, this interferes with tori's innate desire to pitch uke into the lava, but that's just the way it is.

                  Photo courtesy of SugurdR

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                  Patrick Parker 

                  Sunday, January 13, 2013

                  Personal practice between classes

                  So, what sort of personal solo practices do you folks do to keep occupied between class times and inform your martial arts practices?

                  Me, for instance, i carry a jo with me wherever i go around the house.  I use it as a walking stick, a pointer, a measuring stick.  I turn lights on and off with it, pick clothes up with it, use it to hang my gi up... I get hundreds of reps per week of the first three aikijo suburi and a good bit of practice with deploying the jo from whatever random positon it is in into honte, gyakute, or sakate.

                  For the past year I have been experimenting with Popkin's internal strength exercises - both in and out of class - but nowhere near regularly enough.

                  For the last few months, thanks to Rick Matz, I've gotten a good bit of regular stake standing practice - that i can do wherever i am at - whenever i am standing around i am usually in first position.  These practices feel to me a lot like Popkin's IS exercises.

                  Lately I have also started mining the Chinese traditions for solo exercises that i can find good instructional materials on, and that has added a bit of bagua circle walking and the beginning ideas in taiji.

                  Of course, I am also constantly working the Tomiki Judo Taiso ideas wherever I am.  My students like to tease me about my advice to them to do judo taiso whenever you're brushing your teeth.

                  So, what sort of solo practices do y'all get into?

                  Want to discuss this blog post?
                   Come find me on Facebook at my Mokuren Dojo FB group
                  Patrick Parker www.mokurendojo.com

                  Wednesday, January 09, 2013

                  Learn to teach, teach to learn

                  There's this interesting thing in both aikido and judo - an uke-tori relationship in which uke and tori are both learning the art at all times. Each partner is actively feeding off of the other. Both partners learning, both partners teaching, each partner serving as training equipment for the other, each serving as the media through which the art is expressed.  This is part of that "mutual benefit" thing that Kano was always talking about.
                  Without one partner or the other, without someone filling both roles, the amount of aikido or judo you can learn is pretty limited.
                  The roles of teacher and student are similar to the roles of tori and uke. Both are active, both are giving something and both are receiving something.  Because the teaching of these arts is structured in this mutually-beneficial feedback loop between two partners,

                  you can't learn the thing without teaching it,

                  and you cannot teach it without remaining a student.

                  Photo courtesy of Angel Medinilla

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                  Patrick Parker

                  Monday, January 07, 2013

                  Where we've been, where we're headed

                  The beginning of January is, for most folks, a time for reflection and planning seeing where we've been over the past year and trying to figure out where we're going in the next year.  Sure, it's sort of arbitrary to do it at this time.  Sure, we should do it more often - perhaps even constantly.  But I think it is a pretty good custom so long as one does not go overboard and get compulsive about it.
                  2012 has been a year of intense personal growth and dojo growth...
                  • I had the pleasure of seeing two of my long-time students successfully demonstrate for shodan and one for nidan! Congratulations again, Mario, Kel, and Andy!  Keep it up and there is no limit to our potential!
                  • Weapons emphasis - We instituted regular weapons classes and have improved greatly in jo, ken, and tactical knife.
                  • We had a lovely ABG here at Mokuren dojo - Jodori and Jonage
                  • I got to attend the Howard Popkin seminar at Windsong in OKC - Internal strength and Daitoryu
                  • I got to go teach at Windsong in OKC - Kodokan Junokata
                  • I got to attend a great get-together with Nick Lowry, Greg Ables, Kyle Sloan, and the gang at Union Judo in Jackson TN
                  • I got to teach at Full Circle Aikido club in Killeen TX - Owaza & etc.
                  • I got to teach jo at Wall-to-Wall in Denham Springs a couple of times.
                  • I got to go teach jo and sword at Akayama at Foley Alabama.
                  • I got to attend an SMR jo seminar at Dallas TX
                  • I got to go teach at Richmond VA - Ashiwaza and Junokata
                  • I got to host the incomparable JW Bode here at Mokuren Dojo for a couple of days.

                  In 2013...
                  • This year we will be having an emphasis on Koryu-dai-ni, Koryu-dai-go kata, and Kodokan Goshin Jutsu.
                  • I fully expect to see two more of my students demonstrate for shodan this spring - It's coming down to the finish, Jason and Todd! At least the finish of the first step!
                  • I would like to schedule one seminar or teaching trip per month with the exception of October (ABG in Magnolia) and April (rank testing in Magnolia)
                  • Two weekends each month will be spent shooting, hunting, or camping with the family.
                  • I'm looking forward to seeing the growth and flourishing of my students' clubs - Union Judo, Konwakai Dojo, and Kazoku Dojo

                  Patrick Parker
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