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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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Patrick Parker
www.mokurendojo.com

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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Patrick Parker 
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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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Patrick Parker
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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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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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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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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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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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