New Schedule and Location for 2016

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Be an enemy-whisperer

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


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Patrick Parker
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Intersection set aiki jo-jutsu


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





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Kito ryu probably gave us ashiwaza



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

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








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Where did Kano's ashiwaza come from?

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





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

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


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Thoughts on my Kito connection

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


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Think out of the box by speaking out of the box


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


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Toward an Aiki Renaissance

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

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The Conversation of Ideas


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

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

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


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Hanasu or musubi? Or both?

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


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



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Interesting phenomenon - the toe-jo conjunction

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


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Crawling man randori


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


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More on men suburi

Ok, I'm belaboring the point and I know it, but here's some more video examples of men giri - how to make a vertical downward cut with a sword.  Last time we saw that there are some technical differences between men cuts done by different schools of aikido, kenjutsu, kendo, iaido, and jodo - mostly because they are trying to accomplish different things in their training.  So this time all the samples are from aikido folks.  We would expect to see more commonality.







Now, this next fellow looks like a raving lunatic dancing about and flailing the sword, but this is Shirata sensei - one of Morihei Ueshiba's close buddies and reportedly a pre-war badass.  For purposes of this discussion, ignore all the screaming and dancing about and look how clean and controlled his downward cuts are! (the sword swinging doesn't start until about 3:45)


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How to swing a sword

Time for another break from tachidori to look at uke's attack again.  Uke is primarily doing vertical men cuts in the tachidori, so the question comes up, how do you make a proper vertical men cut?  Turns out that it depends on who you ask.  Aikido guys have different cuts from iaido guys, and the kendo and jodo guys are subtly different from the others and from each other.  But you can see some commonality - makes sense - it's all humans cutting vertically downward with very similar weapons.  So my basic idea on this one is to pay most attention to the commonalities and try to make intelligent compromises when instructions differ.





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Sugano tachidori shihonage


So, what does tachidori teach us (besides how to take a sword from a swordsman (yeah, right)?  For one thing, it helps to show us what is the principle at the heart of various techniques.
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This particular tachidori shihonage, for instance, yells at me, "Don't get stuck in the Junana/kihon form of the thing - that's not shihonage.  At least, it's not the only shihonage.  Kihon shihonage is dressed in some nice clothes to make it presentable to beginners." 
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This shihonage is interesting to me because it is a more horizontal than vertical circle, and because it does not force uke down backwards (how uke falls doesn't define the technique), and because of the "Gimme that sword!" feel in tori in the end.


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Dan Penrod tachidori


Now this is a beast of a whole different color!  I really like this the best of any of the tachidori videos that I've posted this week.  This aikidoka has a lot to commend his performance...

  • Tori is much smaller stature than uke - he is giving up far more with respect to ma-ai than would a larger tori but he still overcomes that disadvantage with relaxed but decisive irimi.
  • Atemi, atemi, atemi!  Tori thumps uke in the solar plexus or side of the neck each time, further leveling the playing field.
  • His technical range is larger than the 8-10 tachidori that everyone does - and the standard ones that he does do, he does in interesting directions after following uke for a step or two.  This demo has a distinctly randori feel to it.
  • But what I really like the most is his relaxed demeanor.  No big deal, it's just a big guy swinging a sword.

Overall, this performance points at what tachidori could be - more than a nod to the past, more than just another set of 8-10 things to have to do for rank.  This is verging on randori with a sword (or stick).
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Personally I think a format similar to this, with foam bats or kendo armor and shinai, would be a much more interesting mode to play Tomiki aikido shiai in than the rubber knife thing.



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Chris Mulligan tachidori

More tachidori - much the same, but in this presentation you can see a couple of things more distinctly than in some of the other videos.
  • This Aikidoka, for instance has a nice irimi with a gesture across uke's face indicating where he could insert an atemi, but also demonstrating that he is entering into the right space - sort of like a measuring stick.  A third possible benefit of this gesture is it helps to keep his hands out of the arc of the sword.
  • Also shown is a beautiful explanation of the spinning sokumen iriminage (sort of a gedanate from a release 5 entry).  In many of the other films, this move looks like it's just a bit of fancy nonsense, but at about 2:00 in this film it is demonstrated beautifully with a sword-wielding tori. 


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Men - the vertical cut

One of my practice principles at Mokuren Dojo is that if we make uke better then tori will have to become better.  I think it's a good thing for folks to take some boxing or karate, and if it's available, some kendo or kenjutsu, because if uke gives us sorry attacks, our responses to those attacks will be sorry.
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So, in our autumnal focus on tachidori, we ought to pay a bit of attention to how to make a proper vertical cut (menuchi) because that is the majority of what we are responding to in the basic tachidori.  Following are some good exercises for menuchi.



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Hitohiro Saito tachidori


This is Morihiro Saito's son, Hitohiro Saito demonstrating the Iwama tachidori.  Again, this is much the same as the previous tachidori films - I guess that is to be expected because there are only so many plausible options when uke has a 3-foot razor-sharp knife. But this demonstration has a nice live-action tempo to it as opposed to the kata or teaching feel of the previous films.  There is also an outstanding guruma that took me by surprise in there.


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Morihiro Saito tachidori

Here is another very nice take on tachidori from Morihiro Saito.  These are much the same as the tachidori and jodori that Tomiki taught.  In fact, it's kind of interesting and surprising how similar these two sets are technically because of the time that passed between Tomiki and Saito (Tomiki was learning this stuff before Saito was born, and Tomiki was 8th dan in aikido before Saito began.)
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We always hear about all the differences between the earliest pre-war aikidoka and the post-war aikidoka, but what Saito is doing in his 13 tachiwaza is largely what Tomiki left us in the tachidori and jodori.
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Now, admittedly, Ohba was apparently largely responsible for the Koryu no kata - including the tachidori and jodori - and that would help explain the similarities because Ohba was studying with Ueshiba much closer to (but still prior to) Saito's time.  But Sankata (which contains the majority of the tachidori and jodori) is widely thought to be Tomiki's development - not Ohba's.
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In any case, Saito's performance here is lovely and interesting.


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Patrick Parker
www.mokurendojo.com