New Schedule and Location for 2016

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Laser-focused autumnal tachidori

We have a small dojo space with limited headroom, so almost all of our long weapons practice (bokken, jo, etc...) is done outside on the driveway or lawn.  The only problem is it is usually scorching hot and 100% humidity outside in the summer here in southwest Mississippi, so summertime becomes our taijutsu (empty-hand) and tanto (knife) season, when we can practice in front of an air conditioner, and fall and spring become our taijutsu and long-weapons season when it is pleasant outside.  We don't quite hibernate in the winter-time, but that is our season to do more tandoku (solo practice) and much less falling while the mats and our bodies are cold.
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We've been doing this for several years this way, but our weapons practice has not been as focused and productive in the last year or so (or perhaps I've been paying more attention to it and have just realized how sorry we are in the past year or so ;-).  So I decided that this year for our autumnal long-weapons practice we would have a laser focus on one particular aspect or kata or facet instead of doing a little bit of this and a little bit of that and then not seeing it again for several months.
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So I asked Whit what facet of weapons he wanted to work on this Fall and he immediately said, tachidori! (Taking a sword from uke as you throw him!)    Really - the toughest aspect to practice outside (unless we drag a mat outside each day.  But you know what?  I'm up for it if he is!
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I figure for the next 2-3 months to devote all our outside weapons practice to tachidori and collateral skills (kihon, maybe some jodori, maybe even some sparring or kumitachi with foam sticks?).  
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Here is a list of the 9 Tomiki tachidori...

Tomiki Tachidori
Sankata
  • men maeotoshi
  • men shihonage
  • men aigamaeate
  • do oshitaoshi
  • men hijikujiki
Rokukata
  • men oshitaoshi
  • men wakigatame
  • men hineri oshitaoshi nage
  • men kotegaeshi

And a couple of videos...

Sankata tachidori (starting at about 6:00)
 

Rokukata tachidori (starting at about 2:00)



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Mutual benefit with undesirables

Most folks in judo pay some lip service to Kano's two ideals  - as if they are mottoes that we are supposed to recite at the beginning of class and then never think about again.
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NO!  Kano actually intended to create an ever-increasing group of people who made best use of their strength and power in order to help improve each other's lives and society.  This is documented.  I bet you'd be hard pressed to find a transcript of a lecture by Kano where he did not mention improving society or mutual benefit or efficient use of effort and resources.
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This ideal is so much the foundation of judo that I've said it before and I'll say it again - Judo classes cannot function without all the participants buying into that ideal to a larger degree than just lip service.
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Here's a particularly challenging example of applying the judo ideal...
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What about when you have an undesirable partner or judo classmate?  Maybe he's a mat bully or a warrior wannabe, only out to learn to fight.  Maybe he's dangerously unpredictable in randori.  Or maybe he's lazy and wants to do 1-2 reps then sit on the side of the mat and chat. Or maybe he monopolizes your training time working at his pace on his material and you never get to work on your own stuff?  Or maybe you hate how his roughness infects you and makes you want to be rougher and rougher in a vicious circle.
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Whatever it is, this fellow is a pain in the ass!  Every time you work with him he agitates you more and you do your best to write that guy off as an asshole and find some other partner to work with in class and hope that you can avoid the undesirable until he eventually quits.
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Is this an application of maximum efficient use of power toward mutual benefit?  Obviously not - the undesirable partner is apparently not trying to help anyone but himself.  But are you using all of your powers to help this undesirable fellow improve himself?  Are you helping your other partners, who end up having to work with him?  And if you do succeed in ignoring him until he goes away, how are you going to help him improve himself then?
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Here's another thing to think about - from a practical self-defense perspective, what are we in judo to learn?  We are in judo to learn to deal with unpleasant, chaotic, unpredictable, violent people by means of gentle (genteel) grace.  So, this undesirable fellow might just be your ideal partner
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Sure, this is setting the bar high, and sure, you have to keep yourself and your partners as safe as you can, and it's not easy learning to deal safely and gently with violent people, but who ever got into judo to learn how to dominate only placid, compliant Milquetoast partners?
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And here's a crazy idea - What if we got so good at applying these ideals to control unpleasant partners with grace and gentleness that we could reliably and safely view real bad guys on the street as undesirable partners that need help to change? 
  • I'm not claiming to be great at applying the judo ideal with undesirables, but I can tell you that the answer involves Kano's ideals of maximum efficient use of power toward mutual benefit.  
  • I can also suggest that this skill is related to the verbal aikido idea.
  • One place that I got a GREAT lesson on this is from Sensei Bob Rea's discussion on de-escalating your judo partners so that they remain in an optimal learning state-of-mind.


photo courtesy of Wikipedia

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Kano's two ideals for judo

Jigoro Kano (Founder of Judo) had two ideals upon which he based Judo.


Of course, Japanese is notoriously hard to translate literally, so those are loose translations.  When I am talking about these two ideals to my kids' classes I try to put them in simpler terms...
...and to drive the point of those ideals home, I quiz the kids each time, "What is your main job in judo class?" The correct answer to which is, "To make everyone else better."  Often I'll ask each participant in the class, "What is your main job in judo class?" and make them acknowledge that they are here to help everyone else in the class get better and/or win.
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I don't do this just to have some nice morals to talk about to the kids.  The judo ideal is a super-important lesson, without which judo classes devolve rapidly into a fight club situation.  Judo classes simply do not operate when everyone is a mat bully who is out to get what he can get at the expense of the others in the class.
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Judo does not work unless everyone in the class keeps in the forefront of their minds all the time that their main objective is to nurture the development of the other participants.
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And this applies just as much to adults as to kids.
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And it applies to aikido (A.K.A. separated judo) as much as to judo.
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Stay tuned tomorrow for an article on perhaps the most difficult situation in which to apply these judo ideals!



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A society of guilt


A funny thing happened to me this morning.  Funny strange, not funny ha ha.  
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I was eating breakfast in the cafeteria at work.  My typical breakfast is usually something like a veggie sandwich from Subway or some yogurt with raisins and flax seeds - not because I'm some sort of granola-munching hippie - I just like how I feel when I usually eat like that.
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But today I decided I wanted scrambled eggs, a piece of sausage, and a biscuit so that's what I got and I was happily munching down when in walks the Dietitian from work and I was hit with an intense wave of remorse - as if the Breakfast Police were going to come check my breakfast against their master list and rap me on the knuckles with a ruler or something.
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None of the Dietitians at work ever do that sort of thing.  They are always pleasant and professional and positive. And I, having had just about as much nutrition training as they have, know I'd done nothing wrong.  But the guilt was still there.
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Reminds me of another curious interaction I've had with several people over the years.  
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Occasionally I'll run into a former student of mine and they will almost invariably act excited to see me and tell me how they were just telling so-and-so that they wanted to start back in my classes that very night!  It's amazing how every time I run into a former student they were already planning to come to class that very night!  It's like some statistical Twilight Zone or something.
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They never tell me, "Aikido bored me to tears," or "I decided to spend my time doing yoga instead of judo," or even "It's just not my thing."  They act like they are reluctant to hurt my feelings by taking responsibility for their own lives and leisure time.  They act like they are guilty of something.
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How is it that we have turned taking responsibility for our own health and activities into a society of guilt?


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Patrick Parker
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Reading the dictionary


"Okay class, today we're going to read through the dictionary again, just like we do every day!"
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"Wooohooo!  Yippee!  Thanks, Teacher!  We love you!"
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We often compare the process of learning aikido to that of learning to write.  We start by learning to make various brush-strokes - diagonals and loops and that sort of thing (tegatana dosa), then we learn the shapes of capital and lower-case letters (releases), then we learn to spell simple words (junana) and harder words (owaza), and along the way we learn some rules about the structure of sentences (the riai within junana), and eventually we get to the point we can write essays and love letters and poems and stories (randori, embu).
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But who here has ever learned to write love letters by reading through the dictionary from start to finish over and over again?  Sure, dictionaries and encyclopedias and the thesaurus are useful tools in writing - but they are certainly not primary teaching/learning tools.
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Junana hon kata is largely organized like an (albeit short) encyclopedia of things that you can do in aikido - five common ways to hit uke, five things you can do with his elbow, four things you can do with his wrist, and three things you can do when uke is coming down from a peak in his walking cycle.  Sure, within each set there is a little bit of implied teaching on strategy - sort of "if this doesn't work, you can do this other thing." but this kata largely reads like an encyclopedia - lots of  "whats" and "hows" and not many "whys" or "whens."
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And this thing is our primary teaching tool up to about shodan!  We are learning composition (randori) by repeatedly reading through the encyclopedia (Junana hon kata) over and over again.  I don't think this would be so bad if we used Junana like it seems Tomiki might have intended it - as an aikido primer that we spin through a few times right at the beginning of our aikido careers to prepare us to jump into randori and Koryu kata.
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But what makes it worse is we actually stretch Junana out over the course of 2-3 years as a ranking thing.  That would be like saying that 1st graders have to read through the As and Bs of the dictionary for a year before they can become 2nd graders and get to read through the Cs and Ds. - it's not till 12th grade that we have all the tools we need (like Xylophone and Youth and Zither) that we need to actually write something cool.  Hell, we wouldn't even be able to write "See Spot Run" until 9th or 10th grade, when we get to the Rs and Ss!
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What do we need to begin doing composition (randori) early and to get there in an orderly, structured, pedagogical manner?

  • a decent (but still small) vocabulary - maybe 1 or 2 techniques from each set of Junana
  • some grammar rules about how to put things together - 2-3 releases and some hints about what techniques might follow each release
  • some composition assignment rules - guidelines for safe and productive randori 
  • and maybe a tutor would help - an uke that already knows what's going on in randori.

A couple of attempts that I've made at describing this problem and suggesting possible solutions...
  • The urawaza was an early attempt at providing a step between Tomiki's primer (junana) and full-fledged randori, but they can tend to teach players to do half-hearted techniques so that they can be properly countered. Sometimes we still like to play with urawaza and here is how we solve the half-assed problem.
  • JW Bode's practice of practicing each junana technique from each release is brilliant, but one potential problem is you multiply Tomiki's minimalistic aikido primer (15-25 techniques) into a practice set of 8 releases times 17 junanas plus some owazas = around 200 things to practice. 
  • Something that I've been working on lately is creating a whole new primer - shorter and faster-to-learn than the Junana, containing a few techniques from each set in Junana, with each technique glued to a release or other common attack (as per JW above).  I think the new primer would have about a dozen techniques and I think this primer would be thoroughly teachable by about green belt (40-60 mat hours).





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Patrick Parker
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Dockery's Aiki Secrets

William B. Dockery's book, Aiki Secrets: Six Precepts and the Dynamic COB is one of those books with a presumptuous name - but unlike some , this one really delivers a ton of material to think about and work on - particularly for the Tomiki Aikido practitioner interested in finding the elusive magical aiki in aikido.  This one really struck a chord with me because I'm all about simplifying the complexity and mystery in the art down to a handful of useful heuristics and getting rid of the parlor trick aikido.
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A quick bio of the author - Dockery is a yudansha-level student of Moe Stevens, son of the famous American aikido sensei, Merritt Stevens!  So, this book provides a peek into the Merritt Stevens lineage of aiki thought and practice.
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Dockery starts out by describing and defining some home-grown (central-Ohio, USA) vocabulary and terminology and models that he will be using throughout the rest of the book. Most of this fundamental knowledge we already make use of (under different names) in our (southwest Mississippi) classes, but there were a couple of really elegant models for some things that have been assumed or vaguely explained - things like the hip-cam action that makes it easier and more powerful to move forward or backward.
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For me, the real highlight of the book so far is Dockery's reimagining and explanation of aiki-age and aiki-sage and Daito-hands.  These are concepts that I've been struggling with for a while, and I think this simplified model will help in my understanding and use of these concepts.  It's definitely going to take some reading, thinking, re-reading, and experimenting with to put these ideas into practice, but it is promising material.
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I would absolutely recommend this book to aikido folks (particularly Tomiki aikido folks) who are interested in aiki and internal strength and who may not have gotten a chance to work with this central-Ohio gang and hear their ideas about aiki.  This also definitely makes me crave a chance to get to Ohio to lay hands on some of these folks and feel their feel!


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Hang on and be dragged to death!

I remember coming up through the ranks trying to learn the next technique and the next kata and the next thing and frequently being frustrated because the targets seemed to be constantly shifting.  Our instructor would go to a clinic and come back and inform us that they'd shown a different or better way to throw kotegaeshi or a different way we were supposed to be doing junana.  The flux made sense, because we are all working toward this vague ideal of aiki - but it was still frustrating - we often wished that the system would just hold still long enough for us to get our next batch of ranks before having to think about something else.
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But it turns out that this phenomenon is not unique to our clubs or lineage.  There are accounts from Morihei Ueshiba's students that O sensei never taught the same thing the same way twice.  They say they were often frustrated because they could not ever nail him down on what they were supposed to be doing.
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Recently I got to be a fly on the wall listening to a group of aikidoka from a different lineage kvetching about their main sensei never giving two students the same rank requirements - and when they did press him for standardized rank requirements he put out a list of material that none of them claimed to know - and then tested them on a different set of stuff.
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Let me tell you - not only is this flux not unique to any one group of clubs - but it does not resolve itself as you get higher rank.  If anything, I am even more aware now of the shifting nature of the ideal.  The only thing that I know for sure is that I don't know anything for sure.

Sometimes  I still wish that takemusu aiki would hold still for just a moment so that I could catch up - but I don't think that is destined  to be.  Flux is the nature of the thing.  You just have to latch on and let it drag you along till you die.  But you know what?  It's a hell of a ride!  I suspect that if aiki ever held still and let me catch it I'd grow bored and go off and do something else with my life.



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Katsujinken and polishing the fire engine

Some years ago I heard someone at church refer to apologetics without evangelism as being like spending all your life polishing and maintaining a fire engine but never using it to put out fires.
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Similarly, we like to claim that we train martial arts so that we never have to use them.  Now, I understand what the folks that use that cliche are talking about - there is a tendency for martial arts practice to diminish our desire to get into physical fights and hurt other people.  We train so that we never have to use satsujinken - the killing blade.
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But what about the other side of the coin - katsujinken - the life-giving blade?  What about the constructive, beneficial skills that budo builds within its practitioners?
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Isn't it kind of pointless to practice martial arts all our lives so that we never have to use them (to help other people and to build a better world?)
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Let's stay in the dojo and hone our swords - but then let's get out of the dojo and be a beneficial, constructive force in our communities. 
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God knows, the world needs katsujinken right now.



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Koshiki and Ju - brothers from another mother

I don't have the exact quote because I don't have the book in front of me, but last time I read Keiko Fukuda's Ju-no-Kata book, I was struck by her statement that she didn't ever understand Ju no kata until she had years of experience working on Koshiki no Kata.
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I've spent some time over the past year or two (admittedly it wasn't ever a priority in my practice) looking at Koshiki no kata and couldn't ever figure out what it was in that kata that clued her in to Ju no kata so much. It's hard to see past the window dressing in the Kodokan form of the thing - all the waddling about pretending to be Armored Robot Samurai Executioners (ARSEs).
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But then a couple of months ago we found this very Ju-ish variant of Koshiki, and I can't stop watching it.  I watch it several times every day.  We started a while back working on this kata as a falling exercise (instead of a set of Deadly Onerous Ninja Unpleasant Techniques (DONuTs for short) in all my classes - and guess what!?
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I think I'm beginning to see and feel some connections between Koshiki no kata and Ju no kata!  I might have to alternate watching Kano do junokata with watching these fellows doing koshiki.


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Koshiki is king of context

We learn most of our domains of knowledge outside of meaningful context.  For instance, we learn to sing our ABCs long before we are taught the rules that make those letters work together to cue us to make sounds that make others think about trees or tables or whatever we are talking about.
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We do this in aikido too.  We learn several forms of falling and rolling that sort of resemble things we're going to have to do when someone throws us, but then there is a logical leap when we move up from doing solo ukemi forms to being uke for someone.  Our foundational ukemi practice lacks the context in which it will be used.  That does not make practicing back falls and forward rolls bad - it's a good way to do it.  Just be aware that there is going to be a contextualization process.

For the past month or so, we have been using this variant of an old Kito Ryu kata - Koshiki no kata - as a warmup and falling exercise.  It makes for a great falling exercise because...
  • In each of the 21 techniques, both uke and tori are falling or dropping.  This is a mostly unfamiliar mode of practice for us because we are mostly used to pitching uke while tori remains standing.  Having to fall while connected to another falling person improves our situational awareness and it also allows us to get in twice as many reps as if we had one person falling at a time.
  • It exercises the three most important falling skills - taking a knee, forward roll, and backward breakfall.  These three skills will save you from most aikido encounters as well as most falling incidents on the street.
  • Because Kito was one of the ancient influences on both aikido and judo, the techniques in this kata can be considered sort of a proto-aikido or proto-judo.  The falling practice is surrounded by a bunch of motion that provides context for future aikido and judo practice.  It is sort of like a preview of what is to come in these arts.
  • It provides a context for the student to understand the seeming paradox of compliant partner practice in a combative art. As kid in America, the only activities that we generally have as prelude aikido and judo are competitive sports like football or wrestling or baseball or karate - or else totally non-combative activities like dance.  This prior context makes learning to fight using compliant partners seem stupid to us.  This kata is sufficiently non-combative and dance-like that it does not stimulate the beginner students' desire to beat each other up, but it does exercise ukemi skills while developing a context for later practice - so it provides a context for understanding that aikido and judo, while being combative contact martial arts - they can be practiced in a compliant partner mode.
  • It is really kind of fun moving with a partner and practicing falling skills in odd configurations without having to get our egos inflamed with winner/loser dominance games.  It is sort of like playing catch prior to a baseball practice.  My oldest son (12yo, alpha-male type, natural athlete) told me the other day that this has already become his favorite kata ever.
So, we are still in the midst of experimenting with this kata, but it looks promising to become a standardized warmup/ukemi practice for us in both aikido and judo classes.




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Prices and Services at Mokuren Dojo

People are always asking me what I charge for various classes and services here at Mokuren Dojo and I'm always having to re-write or re-explain, so I figured I needed a price sheet to post here at the blog. It's pretty straightforward...
  • Dues: $60 per month for an individual, $100/month for 2 members of your immediate family, or $120/month for everyone in your immediate family - this entitles you to participate in any or all regularly scheduled classes during the month.
  • Contracts: There are no contracts at Mokuren Dojo.  Everything is on a month-to-month basis.  You do, however have to sign an informed consent saying that you know what you're getting into.
  • Equipment: I don't sell uniforms or belts or equipment. Instead I recommend my students purchase from Amazon through my links and Amazon will throw me a little kickback on any purchases.  Occasionally when I have a bunch of folks wanting uniforms at the same time I will place a wholesale order and you can have them at cost+shipping.
  • Rank fees: I collect no rank fees.
  • Seminars: I can also do seminars at your location for $200 per day plus travel and expenses (price is flexible - work with me - I love to travel and teach.)
  • Private Lessons: $30/month for a recurring weekly 1-hour class - these are almost always on Saturday mornings.
  • Discounts & Deals:
    • I'd rather have you and your family than your money, so if these suggested prices are onerous, pay whatever you think you can handle. 
    • Everyone gets to try a class or two for free.
    • I do not charge black belts to work out with me at my regularly-scheduled weekly classes (they do pay for private classes and seminars though).
    • If you refer someone to my club and they sign up (i.e. they pay their first month's dues) then you get a free month.

Watakushido, grounding, and the aikido ghetto

Yesterday I stated that martial artists should feel free to take ownership of their artform and their practice.  Take what the old dead guys did and tear it apart and rework it and refit it and make it your own thing that works for you. Watakushido.
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But there are a couple of caveats...

  • It would be wise to get a solid base of understanding in your teacher's way before you tear the thing apart and put it back together again.  Otherwise, if you tear the thing apart without any grounding in reality then you might never get it back together again - or it might not work properly when it is re-arranged.  Problem is, how do you know when your grounding in the art is sufficient to start making it your own?  Who knows?  There's probably no way to be sure. It is completely subjective.  But we have found through the years that somewhere around nidan (2nd degree black belt) you probably have a sufficient grounding to start thinking about how it might work better if your practice were re-arranged some.
  • Be careful that you don't end up in an aikido ghetto.  By that I mean, you don't want to do your own thing your own way by yourself for so long that you become insular and unrecognizable and disconnected from the real world - some strange dead-end form of parallel evolution from The Dojo That Time Forgot. Sure, you want to be creative and artistic and you want to love the thing because it is your own creation, but Best Practices are usually called Best Practices for a reason and standards (ie kata) are standardized for a reason.  




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Tachi-tai-tachi and permission


I'm getting ready for the 2013 Aiki Buddies Gathering this weekend and I've been reviewing Koryu Dai San (Sankata).  Looked up some films and found this thing that I'd seen before and categorized in my mind as curious and hadn't thought about much more.
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This is an extreme variant of the last section of Dai San - and I mean EXTREME variant!  different number of techniques, the ones that are in common with what we know are in a different order and performed wildly differently - plus it has 1-2 new things not in our regular version.  The variation is so extreme here that I'm tempted to say this is not the Dai San Tachi tai Tachi, but just a couple of guys fooling around with things of interest when both guys have swords - but for a few things-

  • These are Tomiki Aikido practitioners
  • They are apparently doing a demo (there is clapping at the end)
  • The video is labelled Tachi tai Tachi, which is what Tomiki folks like to call the end of San Kata.

Today when I watched this again, it suggested a different story to me.  The extreme variation in this section of San Kata (probably the most important set piece of advanced Tomiki Aikido practice) suggests to me that San kata is not so much kata as it is a repository of things of interest.
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I've heard it told before that San kata was primarily comprised of the left-overs from Tomiki forming his Randori-no-kata.  All the stuff that didn't seem to fit with the toshu randori stuff in Junana was collected into San kata as a sort of repository of old ideas that Tomiki didn't quite know what to do with wrt a randori system.
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The extreme variation in this demonstration of Tachi tai Tachi seems to fit with that assertion.  If San kata were something less than Kata-with-a-capitol-K-passed-down-from-God-to-Tomiki then there would be nothing wrong or unseemly about these practitioners removing that entire section and replacing it with some sword-v-sword stuff that they liked better.  That's cool, because there's a lot of sword-v-sword stuff that I'd like to play with.
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This gets at something I've been thinking about a lot lately - permission.  Folks seem to need permission to take their KATA and start making them Kata, and eventually kata and kata and kata. To start taking the capitol-K out of the thing and disassembling the thing and tearing it into pieces and rearranging and reconstituting and reforming the whole system and making it your own.
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If you are the type that needs permission to take ownership of your martial art, here it is...
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I hereby give you (and me) permission to take the stuff that the old dead guys did and totally wreck it and rework it into something that speaks to your soul - an art form that you think is so cool that you want to practice it every day for the rest of your life!



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 ____________________

Patrick Parker
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