New Schedule and Location for 2016

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Tomiki's solo taiso for judo and aikido


For the past couple of weeks, some of my blogging buddies have been helping me beat to death our footwork and coordination exercises that Tomiki gave us.  Alternately named judo taiso, tandoku renshu, unsoku and tegatana dosa, or tegatana no kata, these exercises are widely used in the Tomiki lineage to teach the types of movement that are thought to be useful in aikido and judo practice.
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There are many versions of these exercises, each with different numbers and orders or movements as well as different emphases.  In the version that we do in my club, there are twelve exercises, and I find them easiest to keep in my mind if I divide them into three groups...
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3 Steps
  1.  nanameashi (diagonal step) - more info here. VIDEO
  2. wakiashi (side step) - more info here. VIDEO
  3. tenkanashi (turning step) - more info here. VIDEO
4 Pushes
  1. shomen tegatana (push forward). VIDEO
  2. soto mawashi (over the top). VIDEO
  3. uchi mawashi (up the middle). VIDEO
  4. uchi-soto gaeshi (reach around-push up). VIDEO
5 Turns
  1. uchi mawashi gaeshi (release #1). VIDEO
  2. soto mawashi gaeshi (helicopter pivot). VIDEO
  3. koshi kaeshi (hip switch). VIDEO
  4. omawashi (backward turn). VIDEO
  5. yoko omawashi (big side circle) - more info here. VIDEO

The English names above are our nicknames, rather than literal translations.  The videos are of the incomparable Nick Lowry explaining how he teaches and practices these exercises.
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I have, in prior posts, given some general hints for walking kata, as well as this post which has become a classic reference... 100 Things to try in Tegatana




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The Walk - 12 - yoko omawashi


Last (and yes, least), here is a video of yours truly doing The Walk.  Sure, it's not a great video - none of my videos are great productions, but you can tell that I'm a really tough guy because you have to be tough to wear a shirt that says your name is SUE! 
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Links to previous articles on The Walk - nanameashiwakiashi,  tenkanashi,  shomen tegatanasoto mawashiuchi mawashiuchi-soto gaeshi,uchi mawashi gaeshi, soto mawashi gaeshi, koshi kaeshi, and omawashi.

Last, but not least - Yoko o mawashi - the big side circle
  • If you're looking for practical techniques that look like this, sometimes kotegaeshi looks a bit like this, and this also greatly resembles a cool way to splatter someone that is shooting at your knees for a leg pick.
  • More than looking like particular techniques, I think that we use this motion as a contrast to the other movements - we usually do all the other motions small and conservative and this one shows some of what happens when you take a much larger than normal step.  It also suggests to us that we should every so often practice all the other stuff in larger-than-usual mode.
  • This is an experiment to see all the places that we can put our centered, unbendable arms by moving hips and feet instead of arms.
  • I also like to use it as an experiment to see where you can move shoulders and arms and hips without moving feet
  • Yoko omawashi also serves as a no-impact strength and flexibility exercise for the legs and hips.
That's the last of the move-by-move breakdowns, but hardly all that can be said about The Walk.  I figure to have a couple of summary posts, so stay tuned and I'll try to get this thread finished this weekend so we can go back to talking about how to trash bozos properly.



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The Walk - 11 - omawashi


Links to previous articles on The Walk - nanameashiwakiashi,  tenkanashi,  shomen tegatanasoto mawashiuchi mawashiuchi-soto gaeshi,uchi mawashi gaeshi, and soto mawashi gaeshi, and koshi kaeshi.

The penultimate movement exercise in The Walk is O Mawashi - the big  turn.  Our nickname for this is "the backward turn."  I actually don't have much to say about the backward turn today - I'll have a bit more to say about all the turns in a couple of days, but I suspect that my lack of discussion material for this movement means I need to spend more time working this thing over.

  • We usually think of this motion as most closely resembling the tsukuri (turn-in) for seoinage or koshinage, but this motion also shows up in various other places, like release #6 or the tanto shomenuchi ushiroate from Sankata.
  • Like the other 180 degree turns, If we start in shizentai, it takes 3 steps or weight shifts to turn 180 degrees.  You want to be a bit obsessive about counting these steps (on all the turns) - make sure that it doesn't take you 4-5 steps to do this 3-step motion, and also make sure you're not blurring two of the steps together so that it appears to take 2 steps.
  • To the degree that this represents the turn-in for koshinage or seoinage, you want to get your mind straight that you are not lifting and pulling with the left arm as your right side steps in, because lifting causes you to root to the ground and pulling with the left arm prevents your right side from entering smoothly.  Whatever it is that we are doing with that left arm, it is not lifting uke or pulling tori in.



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Large kihon, large spirit


Bear in mind I'm not criticizing or disrespecting anyone's practice. As I've said before, The Walk is largely auto-didactic - it has different lessons for each person, and what works for one person may not work for another.  What works for you will even change throughout your lifetime of practice.
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But, watching these two videos of similar versions of The Walk reminded me of a great quote that Sensei Jack Bieler told me a while back.  Apparently one of his Japanese Jodo sensei liked to say something to the effect of, "If you practice kihon small you will have small spirit, but if you practice kihon large, you can have large spirit."
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I've noticed this in my own practice - sometimes I get preoccupied with not making mistakes and not making any extraneous motion, and pretty soon my practice has a cramped feel to it.  At other times I do my practice with great, sweeping motions (big ice-cream scoops we call them) and my practice ends up feeling expansive and inclusive.  It's probably a good thing to practice exercising your spirit in small spaces as well as in large spaces.


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The Walk - 10 - koshi kaeshi



Links to previous articles on The Walk - nanameashiwakiashi,  tenkanashi,  shomen tegatanasoto mawashiuchi mawashiuchi-soto gaeshi, uchi mawashi gaeshi, and soto mawashi gaeshi.
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The next motion in this set of exercises is koshi kaeshi - the hip switch.  Of all the motions in the exercise, this is probably the most universally applicable.  Hip switch is absolutely everywhere in aikido and judo.  I don't think it is possible to do any technique or action without using koshi kaeshi to adjust the direction or facing of your hips.
  • In virtually all of Tomiki aikido, techniques are performed from shizentai (natural posture) instead of Ueshiba's hanmi (half-facing stance).  From shizentai it is not possible to hip switch more than about 135 degrees and still end up in shizentai.  As you switch farther, you start to get into hanmi.  If you start in hanmi, though, you can hip switch 180 degrees and end up back in hanmi.
  • This is not "doing the twist" or "stomping roaches."  The weight does not stay even between the feet and heels twist to face a different direction - this is weak and endangers the knees and is difficult to do with grippy shoes.  The feet move at different times, with the front foot turning, the weight shifting to that foot, then the hip and the other foot switching.  The weight shifts slightly to the new back foot leaving you in a shallow hanmi or back stance.
  • The kata form of this hip switch is sort of generic.  When it shows up in specific techniques, like shihonage, it looks different.  It is good to practice the hip switch in different configurations, like Adrian and Eddy do in the first few segments of the above video. And this applies to all of the exercises - it's good to tear this kata apart into individual chunks and practice each chunk in different configurations with different emphases or exaggerations.



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Whoever said it?

Whoever said it and made us believe it,

That we have to all look like the ancient masters and each other to be doing legitimate budo?

That we have to do the same exercises and kata the same way month after month, year after year, hoping one day to transcend?

That a bunch of old dead guys from another part of the world should know best how we should express our artform here and now?

That there even exists one right way to do an ARTFORM, for goodness sake!

Who was it? Because we should hang them up in effigy and fling our poop at them!


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The Walk - 9 - soto mawashi gaeshi


Links to previous articles on The Walk - nanameashiwakiashi,  tenkanashi,  shomen tegatanasoto mawashiuchi mawashi, uchi-soto gaeshi, and uchi mawashi gaeshi
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Next comes soto mawashi uchi - the outside sweep&turn (our nickname is "the helicopter") - and like all of the moves in this set of exercises, there are several interesting points to be made here...

  • This motion most closely resembles release #4 - the basic idea is that you have stepped offline but engaged (blocked maybe) with the opposite hand.  Finding yourself in an inside condition, you sweep uke's arm down ans across and turn to place yourself behind uke.
  • Prior to this, all of the motions have been same-hand-same-foot.  After this, all the motions are goofy foot - that is, the left foot and the right hand are operating together (or vice versa).
  • In this motion the arm rises up the centerline, drops off to the side, and sweeps back into the center.  All this happens prior to the turn to illustrate that you cannot sweep and turn at the same time.  So, your hand comes back to center before you start the turn.
  • Likewise, you cannot lift and turn at the same time.  The turn occurs - then there is the extra body rise that Nick talks about on the above video.
  • Incidentally, one of my favorite applications that features this motion is kaiten-nage.  Tori steps offline outside uke's punch, sweeps the arm around and trades hands.  Then the same sweeping hand repeats the same motion again except it strikes the back of uke's neck and sweeps his head around under his own armpit - similar, but not exactly like this one...
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The Walk - 8 - uchi mawashi gaeshi

Links to previous articles on The Walk -  - nanameashiwakiashi,  tenkanashi,  shomen tegatanasoto mawashi, uchi mawashi, and uchi-soto gaeshi.
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Previously we have discussed the three footwork actions and the 4 pushing actions in The Walk.  Today is the first of the five turning actions (wherein we turn more than 90 degrees during a step - 90 degree turns are covered in the previous work.)
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This first turn has been called uchi mawashi gaeshi - the inside sweep&turn...

  • The action of this turn most closely and obviously resembles release #1 - alternately called hon soto hanasu or chudan aigamae in different clubs.
  • This action begins with a drop step and an outward hip turn.  Make sure that the knee and foot are pointing the same direction and working in the same plane by the time that foot is weightbearing.  This is important for knee safety and strength, and it is also probably the most common mistake in this motion.
  • As the body turns, the unbendable arm rises straight up the centerline and does not arc off to the side.  This sort of feels like pushing something upward and stepping under it or wedging your own hand and foot apart as you step your center between them.
  • At the end of the turn, you rise up onto your toes and emphasize the upward push.  This serves a couple of purposes.  First it is a simple momentum/balance check - if your momentum is out of control during the turn and you raise your center like this, you will fall over or have to make an extra step to catch yourself.  Secondly, it illustrates that you cannot lift and turn at the same time - if you are going to lift, you have to make the turn then lift.
  • Interestingly, we were taught to do 4 reps of this turn but only 2 reps of all the others.  I've asked and gotten a couple of different answers about why - perhaps this was to make this turn conform to a regular 8-count like the rest of the kata, perhaps it was some extra practice for some class in the past that was sucking at that movement and the extra reps just became codified in the exercise.  I personally like to think that we do twice as many reps of this movement because it represents release#1, which is the basis of all the releases, which in turn are the basis of all of our aikido.  So, in my mind we do twice as many reps of this exercise because it is the most important turn.



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The Walk - 7 - Uchi soto gaeshi


 Links to previous articles on The Walk -  - nanameashiwakiashi,  tenkanashi,  shomen tegatana, soto mawashi, and uchi mawashi.

The next movement in The Walk is uchi soto gaeshi - the inside sweep&turn...
  • This illustrates an interesting thing about the structure of The Walk - the exercise as a whole is constructed to lull you into a rhythm and then break that rhythm to trick you into a mis-step.  This happens often in this exercise  For instance, in the three previous pushes, we get into a left-right-left-right rhythm (for 12 beats) and then all of a sudden, uchi soto gaeshi is left-left-right-right.  When the exercise changes rhythm, watch carefully for extra footsteps and awkward pauses.
  • Uchi mawashi gaeshi represents pushing with the shoulder.  The contact point is not the forearm or hand, but the upper arm or shoulder.  This feels to me like the pictures you've seen of olde timey football players turning the arm inward in order to hit with the shoulder.
  • This movement is most commonly seen as representing parts of iriminage or kotegaeshi.
  • Instead of pulling uke's head to your shoulder in iriminage, try pushing it in an arc back toward your own shoulder.  Sounds weird, but uchi soto gaeshi can teach you how to push toward yourself instead of pulling.
  • This motion also illustrates the entire range of motion of the arm all the way from hineri to gaeshi.  This sort of motion can be an interesting kuzushi induction - before you contact uke, place your own arm into hineri, then as you get a connection, relax and allow your arm to rebound back to neutral or even into gaeshi - that twist will be transferred into uke's body.  This is useful in the tenkan version of kotegaeshi  This is similar to the beginning of Koryu dai ni.


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The Walk - 6 - uchi mawashi

 Links to previous articles on The Walk -  - nanameashiwakiashi,  tenkanashi,  shomen tegatana, and soto mawashi.
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Q: How many Tomiki aikido folks does it take to do The Walk?
A: Twenty - one to do the thing and 19 more to watch and say, "That's not how we do it at my dojo ;-)"
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But anyway, today's discussion on The Walk is on the 6th movement - uchi mawashi, or as we call it, "The up-the-middle." 
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As I've said in a previous post, The Walk is a very auto-didactic practice - it has different lessons for different people in different parts of their lives.  It's not possible (probably) to do the thing wrong, but different types of practice will yield different types of lessons.  Uchi mawashi is somewhat de-emphasized in the above rendition of The Walk, or perhaps I should say, he places emphasis on a different aspect of this movement than we do.  Some of the things that we are working on here...
  • The beginning of the motion is sweeping an unbendable arm upward along the centerline from hip-level (gedan) to above and in front of the head (jodan).  We usually think about this as a flying wedge, or cowcatcher motion.  This is the part that we call the "up-the-middle."
  • Next, the arm comes offline to the side, drops, and turns over in a small circle.  The drop of the arm is timed to coincide with the drop of the center.  This can be interpreted as release #4 similar to Yon kata #9).
  • Some people (as in the film above) de-emphasize or skip the cowcatcher motion in this exercise (they may get the cowcatcher elsewhere) and emphasize this as a dropping diagonal chop timed with the drop step.  This is another good element to get in there.
  • Notice that after any drop step, there is a recovery step, in which your feet come back together and your center rises.  After the drop-chop, there should be a slight rising push so that your arm stays synched with your center.
  • This and the previous movement (soto mawashi and uchi mawashi) are actually very similar to the two arm PNF patterns (to put this exercise in geek speak), and one of the interesting things about these two motions is that you can construct any arm motion from pieces of those two motions.




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Infectious self-discipline

What is it, exactly, that we are doing in aikido and judo?  Ostensibly, we are learning to trash bozos, right?
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Well, best as I can tell, at least my working thesis right now is that what we are actually trying to do in both aikido and judo (real judo - beyond competitive sport application)...
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We are trying to develop the ability to retain such exquisite control over the self that not only can an opponent not exert control over you, but you can use that self-discipline to lead the opponent back toward balance and sanity.  Aikido (and good judo too) is supposed to be infectious, winsome self-discipline.
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That sound's kinda crazy, doesn't it?  Sounds like some of the nonsense that Morihei was always spewing, doesn't it?  Sounds like a Utopian dream to me.
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But lately, I've been seeing more and more ways that this is both foundational and practically applicable in both aikido and judo, and it's been suggested to me that jodo is the same way.  It's funny how all our bozo-trashin' crash&smash death waza get right back around to Morihei's hippie poetry.


By means of the way

Call out the misguided enemy
Advance and persuade him with words of instruction
Through the Sword of Love.


[photo courtesy of Yupa]

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The Walk - 5 - soto mawashi

The Walk as is familiar to us doesn't begin on this video until around 1:30.  Before that are some interesting ashi sabaki exercises that are either not part of The Walk or are extrapolated from The Walk.  Links to previous articles on The Walk - nanameashiwakiashi,  tenkanashi., and shomen tegatana.


The next movement that we work on in The Walk is soto mawashi - the outward sweeping motion, also known to us as "over the top".  This is a large arm sweep upward to the side until the hand comes into center above the head, then it drops down the centerline to face level.  
  • The up-down-up rhythm of the sweep of the arm should be synchronized with the down-up rhythm of the center of mass during the drop step. This means that the arm should start moving first, and must be overhead and ready to drop before the step begins. 
  • The obvious interpretation of this motion is a strike - a shomenuchi or backwards yokomen sort of chop, but this motion also shows up in numerous grappling situations. 
  • This action actually makes your arm longer because of the way it articulates your shoulder - I know, it sounds crazy, but try it ;-) 
  • When tori's palm is facing away or down, tori is pushing with his hand. This is the orientation for the strongest push. The pushing surface will change for later palm orientations. 
  • On the 90 degree turns, we like to start the sweep with the arm to the side, out of center, and as the hand starts down to face-level, the hand and the centerline converge facing to the side. The hand is moving into the center and the center is moving to the hand.
In some older forms of The Walk, soto mawashi is paired with shomen tegatana as a combination. You will see folks do shomen tegatana, then retreat a bit and then drop in the strike from the top (or sometimes you see it in the opposite order - soto mawashi then shomen tegatana). This feels like a distinct tie-in to sword work. With a sword, this would be a tsuki-gyaku-yokomen combo.




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The Walk - 4 - shomen tegatana


The Walk (as we usually do it) may be divided into three sections - footwork, pushes, and turns.  In our dojo we commonly practice 3 footwork movements, 4 pushes, and 5 turns.  Previous articles on the three footwork movements can be found here - nanameashi, wakiashi, and tenkanashi.
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The first of the four pushes, shomen tegatana, is a direct forward movement of the hand to face-level.  This movement illustrates several of our fundamental movement principles or preferences or heuristics...

  • Same-hand-same-foot - whenever the right foot moves, the entire right side of the body moves with it (arm, hip, leg) and vice versa.  This is not universally applied this way in aikido, but it is a pretty good rule of thumb for power transfer.
  • Another way of thinking about same-hand-same-foot is to conceptualize it as stuck-hand-stuck-foot.  Imagine, in this first exercise, that uke has grasped you by your left hand and has anchored it in place.  This heuristic says to anchor your left foot to the ground and throw your right arm-hip-foot at uke.  So, whichever side is stuck, that entire side is stuck, and whichever side is free, that entire side is free.
  • Unbendable arm - Notice this does not mean, "straightarm." The arm is gently curved, but during the power transfer the arm does not bend because this either cause you to use arm muscle to generate power or it acts as a shock absorber.  Whatever shape the arm is in at the moment of power generation, it locks in that shape and the weight of the body drops into it.
  • Ki hand - different practitioners form their hand to deliver power different ways.  We usually pull our fingers back to deliver with a palm heel.  Tomiki seems to have preferred to do this action through a kite, or spear-shaped hand.  Some folks (like the above film) choose a handblade sort of inbetween the spear and the palmheel.  Interestingly, Gichin Funakoshi, father of Shotokan karate-do, made this shomen tegatana the first four movements of his 10-movement Tennokata (Universal forms) - he just did it with a fist. In any case, the hand position is not arbitrary.
  • Arms and center move together - This is a heuristic that is probably somewhat peculiar to our dojo and those near us.  In theory, you want your arms to move in synch with your center.  This means that you don't want your arms rising when your center is dropping.  One practical reason is because, if you raise an arm as you drop your center, and that arm encounters resistance, it drives you into the ground and tends to stop you.  So, we are kind of particular about drop-stepping wherever we are going to move and then raising the arm with the recovery step.  Whether you take this idea to these extremes or not, you want your arms and your center moving in a coordinated fashion.



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The dirty dozen

A thing I've been working on lately - a standard set of follow-ups to the releases...
  1. r1 - oshitaoshi
  2. r2 - maeotoshi
  3. r3 - wakigatame
  4. r4 - kotegaeshi
  5. r5 - tenkai kote hineri
  6. r6 - shihonage
  7. r7 - kaitennage
  8. r8 - iriminage
  9. yk1 - r2 - maeotoshi
  10. yk2 - shomenate
  11. ryotedori tenchinage
  12. ushirowaza jujigarame

These sort of represent the first techniques to pop into tori's mind after each release condition.

Sure, Tomiki has already given us the 17 as a condensed intro to randori, and sure, JW has suggested to us (flat out told us) that we should be able to get from any of the release conditions to any of the Junana terminal points... but...

  • I think this provides kind of a nice intro to that idea of chaining techniques off of releases
  • this provides an intro to the 17 as well as some techniques not seen in the 17
  • notice, that these are mostly the first techniques in the renzoku chains, so it serves as a nice intro to that renzoku practice.
I do think, however, there is some potential to turn this into a sort of a minimalist fundamentalist aikido, so if we'were to decide to start working this set of techniques regularly as a followup to releases, I'd suggest we continue running thru the releases on their own, with attention to them alone a time or two before we work this set each class.



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The Walk - 3 - tenkanashi


This is the third in a series of articles on Tomiki Sensei's Judo Taiso, or as we call it, "The Walk."  A curious thing about this set of taiso is the names of the individual movements.  Our extended group has pretty much always had Japanese names for each of the movements, and even a Japanese name for the whole thing - Tegatana no kata.  But in the late 1990's we had a Japanese sensei visit and do a teaching tour of several of our dojos around the country and at one of them she saw a poster on the wall with the Japanese names of the various moves in "Tegatana no kata," and she laughed and said, "No, this is not a kata, it is a bunch of exercises - taiso - they don't have names."
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So, nobody can figure out where we got those names from or who came up with the names.  But in any case, sometimes you have to have something to call a thing so you can talk about it, so in this series of articles, I am using the Japanese names that have come to be used for these movements in our extended aikido family.

The previous movement - Wakiashi

The third movement is a turning step - Tenkanashi

  • To me, this movement seems to be the most useful of the first three - at least as an evasion.  Think about it - if you are going to get out of the way of an attack by stepping off line, you are not going to continue facing straight forward as in the first two movements.  You are going to turn to face the attacker.  To me, that suggests that the first two are not primarily evasive, but they are weight-shifting drop steps that are useful in a lot of places.  This tenkanashi appears to me to be the first (only?) real evasion.
  • This movement is also the most universally useful displacement in aikido and judo technique.  You see this turning step in virtually all aikido techniques, and many judo techniques like the turn-in for seoinage or the turn-the-corner movement that sets up so many throws.
  • Notice that in all the movements so far, which ever leg is closest to the direction of travel moves first.  If you are moving to the right, the right leg moves first, and vice versa.  The two backward turning steps (the ones we usually practice) violate this rule - when turning into the back right corner, the left leg moves first.  It is possible to follow this same-foot rule, but because of hip flexibility on most folks it results in a very shallow turn - almost like the previous sidesteps (see the above video).
  • The goofy-footed backward turning steps are not drop-steps and take a bit longer than the other steps.  If you set up a monotonous 1-2, 1-2, 1-2 rhythm with the previous stepping movements, you will find that these backward turning steps operate on a different rhythm - this is another instance of something that you want to understand and learn to  live with.
  • It may just be me, but these goofy-foot backward turns tend to make me want to crouch into almost a wrestler's posture, whereas on all the other steps and turns I can easily retain a relaxed upright posture.  Watch your posture on these turning steps to see if it differs from the other steps.




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The Walk - 2 - wakiashi

I'm doing a series on  the taiso, or activity-specific warm-ups that we do in aikido class (and occasionally in judo too.)  Above is another film of a nicely-done variant of this exercise.  None of these videos will look exactly like I do them or teach them - and that's because The Walk is a very auto-didactic thing - it is a thing that you experiment with over time to teach yourself about movement.   Not only does everyone do The walk differently from me,  but everyone draws different lessons from it.


Regarding the second set of movements - Wakiashi...
  • Here, as in the entire taiso (and all of aikido), we are practicing drop step again.  This time the drop-step is directly to the side.
  • In any of these drop-step exercises, it may be helpful to get the feel of the drop by taking larger-than-usual steps so that you get a larger-than-usual drop.  But after you get a handle on the concept of drop step, you will probably want to dial your steps back down to small, conservative steps - and you may even want to experiment with smaller-than-usual drop steps.
  • Wakiashi illustrates a thing that also occurs throughout these taiso.  That is, working most, if not all possible combinations.  For instance, by doing the sidesteps in the pattern given to us - left-right-right-left-right-left-left-right, we get too practice single sidesteps in either direction, double sidesteps in either direction, and switching directions left-to-right and right-to-left.  This sort of repetition covering most conceivable combinations is found throughout The Walk.
  • We usually think of this as an evasion, but wakiashi is useful for other purposes - namely power transfer. Try thinking about it as dropping your weight into uke, driving with the side seam (the waki) of your jacket as in gedanate or perhaps iriminage.  One of my instructors even showed me a strange and wonderful sumiotoshi using wakiashi as the power mechanism.
  • This sidestep is also useful in spending momentum when switching from moving from one direction to the opposite direction.  For instance, if you are moving forward and you stop to move backward, you will have to take some time to control your momentum and get back to neutral before you can move backward.  On the other hand, you can move forward, then make a sidestep and move backward immediately - the sidestep spends some of your momentum while keeping you in motion so you're not a sitting duck.


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Patrick Parker
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The Walk - 1 - nanameashi

In typically minimalist redneck fashion, we call the first exercise that we do in aikido "Walking kata" or sometimes just, "The Walk."  This is the exercise that teaches footwork and posture and coordinated body movement.  Most forms of aikido have these sets of taiso, or activity-specific calisthenics or warmups, and they are valuable training.  Ignore the taiso at your own peril.
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I thought I'd dissect The Walk over the next few weeks and perhaps throw out there a few hints and comments that some of y'all might not have encountered.
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Regarding the first motion - Shomenashi or Nanameashi...
  • The first motion of The Walk is a drop-step in four diagonal directions - forward left, backward right, forward right, and backward left.  By drop-step, I mean that the movement is powered by gravity and the down part of the up-down walking cycle comes first.  We move off the line by picking up a foot and allowing our center of mass to drop out of the way.  Make sure that you do not try to lunge off the line really fast, because this pushes you into the air and makes you float, vulnerable and unstable for a moment.
  • So that you can drop when you pick up a foot, you have pre-position your feet out from under your center of gravity.  If you put both feet together right under your center and pick one up, you just stay put.  So, get your posture and stance right before you try a drop-step.  Your feet should be about shoulder-width apart - narrower makes you slower and lighter, wider makes you more stable but less mobile.  If, during The Walk you notice a time lag between your picking up your leg and your center moving, you might experiment with slightly wider stance.
  • Actually there is some debate and some difference of opinion about whether the steps are directly fore and aft or whether they are stepping diagonally off the line.  In my opinion, off-line is more functional, and when you break it down and go really slow, I think you'll see that it's not even possible to drop-step directly fore or aft because whenever you pick up one foot or the other you get at least a slight vector that direction. You can only drop-step on or near the line that your feet are on.  If you are moving directly forward or backward, you are lunging into the air - not drop stepping.
  • Since your drop-step is powered by gravity, the speed of your drop-step is determined by the length of your leg.  A drop step takes a discrete amount of time, so learn how long that is and learn to live with it so that your subconscious can figure out how to start your drop-step when you have time to do it in your various techniques.
  • You are, however, able to increase the speed of your recovery step, in which you bring your trailing foot back up under you after a drop step.  You pretty much have to figure out how long a drop step takes and live with it, but once you have done a drop step, you don't want to hang out there - you want to recover your step very rapidly, so that you can drop-step again.  So, there is a slooooooow-fast sort of rhythm to the drop-step and recovery.



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Patrick Parker
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The STUPID drill!

There is this flow drill that we do that we affectionately call "The STUPID drill!"  There is a story there.

The drill that I'm talking about involves  release#4 into a backwards kotegaeshi that is done as a control behind uke's shoulder instead of a throw.  If uke pushes out of kotegaeshi, he gets kotehineri.  If he puts his other arm into the grinder(i.e. punches or grabs with the free hand) then he gets the same treatment on the other arm.  Plus, as icing, there is a shomenate or gyakugamaeate that can be added before and after each hand change or step.  It's a lot like dribbling a ball named "uke."

Anyway, one of our instructors some years back got on the kick of making his classes do this exercise for a few minutes each class.  It became so repetitious that one of the students finally exclaimed, "Not this STUPID drill again!? Can't we do something else?  ANYTHING else!" To which the instructor replied, "No, shut up and do the drill some more."

Well, it turns out that this same student came back the next week and exclaimed, "This stuff really works!  I got jumped by this big monsterous coal miner named Mongo with wrists as big as my thighs and he went to grab me and I was behind him holding kotegaeshi, and he went to punch at me and all of a sudden I was behind him again!  and he turned towards me again and I was behind him and he sat down!  This thing aint so stupid after all!  Mongo couldn't even touch me!"

To which the instructor responded, "Shut up and do the drill some more."

We have thenceforth called this exercise, "The STUPID Drill!"

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Explicit & implied in Tomiki-jo



Any artform is necessarily limited in scope.  Martial arts are no different.  In our aikido and judo there art things that are explicit and things that are implied.  Different arts, and even different teachers within a single art, will make different things implicit or explicit in their practice.

But I think it is importantant to know what the implicit things are - what are you assuming and ignoring  for the sake of your practice?

In Tomiki's expression of aiki-jo ( as seen exclusively in Sankata and Rokukata) there are jo and sword take-aways (jodori), jo-retention throws (jonage), and sword vs sword (kumitachi).  So, what's that represent?  For the most part, this is the grappling part of the encounter - it leaves out or implies the free-motion phase where tori is moving and jiving and maintaining space and poking and cracking with the stick.  I think Tomiki (or Ohba) assumed you know to move around and crack the bad guy with the stick until the bad guy manages to grab you or the stick. And that might not be a bad assumption in a society where schoolkids are universally exposed to kendo, but in the west in the 21st century, there are loads of folks that dont know anything about swinging a stick except what they see at the baseball games.

So, I think it would probably help our aiki-jo a great deal to make some of the free-movement phase of the encounter more explicit in our teachings.

If you look at the Saito or Nishio lines of aiki-jo, you see a much more explicit teaching of how to do moving and striking with a jo.  They also have the grappling components - much the same as Tomiki - but they do a better job (or at least make the attempt to explicitly teach) the striking part.

This makes sense.  Tomiki/Ohba was interested in the taijutsu and randori aspects of the art but he was making at least a nod to the older line of the school.  I want to make a bit more than a nod.  I think we should make the striking part of aiki-jo (as in 31-jo and 13-jo kata) more explicit.

Incidentally, Saito aiki-jo has solo practice elements - a useful mode that Tomiki-jo is also missing.  Also, a nice side effect - if we make the aiki-jo ukes/attackers more competent, they will in turn, make tori more competent at his thing.


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Patrick Parker
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Aikido, doff thy name

Tis but thy name that is my enemy;

Thou art thyself, though not Jujutsu.

What's Jujutsu? It is nor hand, nor foot,
Nor arm, nor face, nor any other part
Belonging to a man. O, be some other name!

What's in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet;

So Aikido would, were it not Aikido call'd,
Retain that dear perfection which it owes
Without that title. Aikido, doff thy name,
And for that name which is no part of thee
Take all myself.


Every so often, we in our extended martial arts group have an identity crisis.  Are we doing aikido even though it's not quite what Ueshiba did? Or are we doing judo even though it's not quite what Kano did?  Is it Tomiki aikido even though it is not really Shodokan?  Should we call it hamare judo or just plain old Aikibudo?  Is it really just a new form of the ancient Kito school with a couple of drops of Daito flavoring?
Who knows?  Who cares?  What does it matter?
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I personally do think it does matter. Names make a difference. See this thread of articles about how the name, shihonage, affects how you do the technique.  But I still haven't come up with a satisfactory answer for myself about this - what-do-we-call-what-we-do problem.



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Patrick Parker
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Optimal grips for aikido learning

There's this funny phenomenon that we discover perhaps a bit earlier in judo than in aikido - taking out the slack in your grip. Because we are doing jacket wrestling, we have to figure out how to make a connection to the other guy through grabbing his clothes.  When you grab uke's sleeve, for instance, there is a bit of cloth between your fist and their arm.  This cloth creates slack in the connection, so we rapidly learn to twist or turn the gi or re-position the hand a bit to remove the slack.
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But, we don't do so much clothing grabbing in aikido - The grabs mostly happen directly on the body (like on the wrists or forearms), so we don't ever think about slack in our grip.  But there is.
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If you take your forearm for instance, it is composed of two nearly-parallel bones surrounded and covered with soft tissue - muscle, skin, connective tissue, etc...  So, if you take a moderately firm grip (firm enough to connect to the flesh of the arm but not crushing into the bones) then when you push or pull on the arm, the flesh deforms and stretches a bit - slack.  You can most readily see this stretch along the long axis of the forearm but there is some rotational stretch that happens as you twist the flesh around the bones.
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So, there is going to be some slack in your grip that you're going to have to deal with as you get more sensitive and precise in the martial effects you are putting on uke.  But there is more to this thing than just taking up the slack in your grip so you can push or pull.
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Ever have an uke that grabbed your arm so hard that you felt like he was going to crush your bones to dust? The uke with the vice grip hands?  You tell them to lighten up but you feel a bit bad about it because it makes you seem like the wimp because you can't deal with a real manly grip - maybe your aikido is insufficient for a real attacker. No, actually we tell Mr. Vice Gripper to lighten up because a convulsive grip is not conductive to learning aikido.  There is so much noise in that grip that uke can't feel signals from tori and there is so much pain in the grip that tori can't feel signals from uke.  Without being able to feel each other's motions through the connection, it's hard to learn aikido, so we tell VG to soften up.
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But then you've also had ukes on the other extreme.  They are so light that they are almost ephemeral.  Any exertion at all on tori's part tears uke's powder-light grip off and then there is no connection.  Makes you want to slap uke around a couple of times and tell him to man up and clamp on so that we can do some real aikido instead of a fairy dance.  Well, we have to tell Mr. FairyDance uke to apply some strength, again, because with no signal passing through the connection, there can be no learning.
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So, you don't want Vice Grip ukes, and you don't want FairyDance ukes.  How do you tell uke to make an optimal grip without spending a ton of time playing back and forth between these extremes until they finally get it?
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Tell them to grip just hard enough to get a firm (not crushing) connection to the flesh, then take all the slack out of the grip - so uke's hand is pulling flesh, which is in turn pulling fascia and bones.  It turns out this is a very good (perhaps optimal) grip for passing signal through touch from one partner to the other.
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Following is a good demonstration of this idea...


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Don't try so hard

One of the best pieces of advice that I received at the recent most excellent budo seminar in OKC was from sensei Jack Bieler.
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We were doing a jo class in the middle of a four-day, 8 hour/day seminar and I was tired and sore but I sure wasn't going to miss Jack's jo class because I want so badly to "get it" wrt jo.  I'd gotten to the point that my right shoulder, which has long had problems, and which I'd had tweaked for me the week earlier at a different seminar - that shoulder was by this point sore and weak and nearly useless and I was having to compensate majorly in order to even limp through honteuchi (thing #1) like Quasimoto.
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So, Jack came up to me in the midst of my slacking off taking a break and asked if everything was ok - did I understand what we were working on and I started trying to explain why I was malingering with excuses about pain and reduced range of motion and etc...
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Jack's response, in a soothing voice... "Don't try so hard.  Relax."
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Don't try so hard!?  Dammit! Why didn't I think about that?   That is so obviously what was wrong.  Don't try so hard.
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This is a marathon, not a sprint.
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We are supposed to be marinating in budo instead of getting our budo through a Cajun Injector.
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Reminds me of one of Nick's stories - A guy comes up to a budo master and asks how long it'll take to learn his art.  The master says, "5 years."  So the student asks, "What if I work twice as hard as everyone else?" and the master replies, "10 years."  Then the student asks, "Well, what if I work with 100% intensity all day every day?" and the master says, "20 years."
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Or, in shorter form, "There is no shortcut, because there is no endpoint."
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Or, even more succinctly, per Jack, "Don't try so hard. Relax."


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Sucked into the eyes

We're advised from day-1 in our classes to look the partner in the eyes - maintain eye contact.  but then someone eventually brings up the famous Ueshiba quote...
Do not stare into the eyes of your opponent: he may mesmerize you. Do not fix your gaze on his sword: he may intimidate you. Do not focus on your opponent at all: he may absorb your energy. 
I, for one, have found immense benefit to my aikido in maintaining eye contact, and I have only been "mesmerized" once or twice in  the last 20 some-odd years - but I suppose in a lifetime of life-or-death encounters, a samurai wouldn't have been able to tell when that 1 fatal time would occur.
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Sean has done a good treatment of this look-don't-look paradox in our practice. I just wanted to add a little anecdote to this discussion.
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I have discovered recently that I am not able to watch really good jodo practitioners doing kata.  I'm not able to see what their arms and legs and weapons are doing because I get sucked into their eyes!  It's really weird - as if there is some sort of really high-energy communication going on between the eyes of uchitachi and shidachi, and if I ever meet their eyes, even as an observer on the side, I am sucked into that data stream and I can't see anything else. There have been several times lately that a sensei would say, "watch this kata," and I would start watching and get sucked into the intensity of their eyes and at the end I'd think, "Damn! I missed the whole thing!"

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I've tried squinting and focusing on hands and feet, but if either participant's hands ever pass near their eyes, as in jodan, I'm sucked in again.
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It's creepy.
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Anyone else experience this?




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Patrick Parker www.mokurendojo.com