New Schedule and Location for 2016

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The hammer and the nail

Sometimes (not as often as you think) you are the hammer, and sometimes (much more often) you are the nail.
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I tell all my students that ukemi is the most important self-defense aspect of the arts that we do for several  reasons...

  • Unless you are paid to be the hammer (i.e. police, military...) then you will trip, slip, stumble, and/or fall many more times in your life than you will get into violent interpersonal situations.
  • Without constant ukemi, aikido tends to devolve into an ephemeral, cerebral game and judo tends to devolve into bad aikido.
  • Ukemi is the most physical, most exercising part of judo.  It is good for your body (within sane limits) to hit the ground and have to rise back to standing over and over again.
  • Ukemi is the aspect of the art with the most psychological leverage for personal change.  When you practice for a while you accumulate a huge number of instances in your memory when you made a mistake and then immediately hit the ground.  Feedback is dramatic and immediate.  Pretty soon you start to develop as an important core of your personality, "If I screw around I'm going to hit the ground and have to drag myself back up again."
  • When there is no contact and no ukemi, we tend to descend into our own fantasies, but when actual energy passes between partners - that is, enough actual energy to overwhelm someone and knock them to the ground - the art remains based in reality.

Anyway, I've said most of that before here and there in this blog and in my classes.  What I might not have said as often is ...
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It is foolish to underestimate or dismiss another person who you KNOW has taken 50-100 falls a day, 100 days per year for some years and who is still doing it!  Sure you may not prefer to practice the way they do - maybe you're a judo guy and don't like the aikido stuff, or maybe you're a karate guy and think that you've honed yourself to the point that you could beat any judoka to the punch (as it were).  Maybe you have imbibed too much of your sensei's kool-aid about having the ultimate martial art.
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But for goodness' sake, when you look at another guy, who you know has interacted violently with the planet for some time now, do not let yourself fall back into that old, ignorant reflex of talking smack about how wimpy he is...
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That guy has been hit with a Class-M planet thousands of times and has gotten back up thousands of times, so he must have some potential.



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Patrick Parker
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Trial by fire

Back in the day (as I understand it) it used to be common for competition to be an integral part of ranking in judo.  I'm not talking about the points system, where you accumulate points toward your next rank by competing, etc...  I'm talking about getting a bunch of folks together who want to advance to the next level and having a shiai amongst them and then promoting those who place in the competition.  Sort of a trial-by-fire thing.
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For example, the following is from the British Judo Association's website...
To attain a Dan grade, a judoka can enter an examination against other judoka of the same grade and, by demonstrating superiority over a cross-section of judoka at the same level, can win promotion to the next rank. Wins against judoka of the same grade or above in certain competitions may also count towards promotion. In this way, promotion through the Dan grades becomes increasingly difficult, since for each new grade the players will be of a higher standard. Judoka must also complete a competitive skills assessment that becomes progressively more demanding as they move through the Dan grades...
This is not necessarily the only way to rank, but it seems to be considered a standard.
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I don't think this is a bad idea.  In fact, this is a pretty good way to do quality control on your dan structure.  There are some potential glitches though.
  • Making rank by combat the standard and making it harder to advance technically (without combat) might make it more difficult to build a cadre of excellent teachers.
  • When you have a small number of candidates for a high-rank shiai, you have to pull from a larger area.  In a smaller country or organization, where are you going to get enough 5th dan candidates (for instance) to have a good pool of competitors for a 4th-to-5th dan promotion tournament?  ...especially if you are going to divide the competitor pool into weight categories...  Drawing aspirants from all across a nation can make for onerous travel and burdensome expense.
Don't get me wrong.  I think it's a good idea to make aspirants to higher rank demonstrate under pressure, skill commensurate with that rank, but there needs to be some flexibility built into the system for excellent non-competitive judoka.  What about the kata experts?  What about the goshin jutsu experts?  What about the amazing teachers?  
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You want room in your art for folks with different ideas of what the art really is.



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Patrick Parker
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The REAL reason for terminal rank

Why is it that in judo, 10th degree black belt is the highest rank attainable?
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I have no way to find out, but I suspect (pure conjecture) that it has to do with the expected time-in-grade for each rank.  As I understand it, the time-in-grade in years for each rank is equal  to the rank. So it takes 2 years to get to nidan and 3 more years to sandan and 6 years to rokudan, etc...
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So, assuming that the practitioner is an adult (mid-20's) when they get their shodan, it will take about 54 years to get to 10th dan.  That would put the practitioner near 80 years old (like Karl Geis).  Another 11 years for 11th dan would put him in his early 90's (like Helio Gracie), and another 12 would put the practitioner near 105 (like Keiko Fukuda).
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Now we have certainly improved life expectancy over the years, and we like to think that with good fitness and healthy habits, more people have the potential to reach those advanced ages, but there is still an effective cap on maximum age - and that glass ceiling is around 115-120 years.
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The old dead guys that came up with the ranking system didn't just pull the 10th dan out of a hat and say, "That'll be the highest rank."  It's just that not many folks live healthy active lives capable of practicing and/or teaching judo into their 90s and 100s.  
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This guess of mine also sort of makes the story make more sense about the Judo powers-that-be awarding Dr. Kano 12th dan as the founder to put him "beyond the rank system."  It's not that the number 12 is magical, it is just nearly inconceivable that someone could live and practice and teach judo for another 23 years after getting a 10th dan.


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Patrick Parker
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Terminal rank

Over the years, a lot of folks have recognized that the modern colored belt kyu-dan thing that Kano-san came up with was an imperfect thing.  I think even Kano realized during his lifetime that there were problems with it, but instead of throwing the baby out with the bathwater, he kept the rank system and emphasized the positives and de-emphasized the negatives.
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Also, over the years, people have suggested tweaks to make the advancement system more stable or equitable.  One of these potential adjustments is the idea of Terminal Rank.
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Terminal rank is the idea that not just everyone has the potential to rise to the highest rank levels.  Folks that tout terminal rank as a solution have some pretty good arguments...

  • Just because someone manages to practice judo long enough to get lots of time-in-grade doesn't mean they should be promoted to the highest of ranks.
  • Regardless of how hard they try, some people will not be able to obtain skill commensurate with the highest ranks in judo.
  • The highest ranks are considered teaching ranks and some practitioners never teach.
  • They don't want to de-value the highest ranks by turning them into a "participation award" like we see in youth soccer or tee-ball.
  • Extraordinary ranks should only be given to people with extraordinary skill and service to the art.
Those all sound pretty reasonable to me, but the terminal rank idea also has a couple of major glitches...
  • What is going to be the terminal rank for most folks?  With average attendance and time-in-grade and average effort and potential, do you throttle back on their ranking at shodan or is it sandan or is it godan?  Wherever you place the cutoff, it is arbitrary.
  • Wherever you set the terminal rank, what are you going to do with all the people in the organization that are already beyond that rank?
As a buddy of mine pointed out a while back, most of the folks advocating loudly for terminal rank are folks that are already beyond that rank.  Nobody wants to put that hurdle in the way of their own advancement.  So that buddy's response to the guy that said terminal rank should be godan... "What do you think YOUR terminal rank should be?"




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Patrick Parker
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Judo rank vs. karate rank

When I was digging through Wikipedia for information for that last post about karate ranks I noticed an interesting thing.
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When you read through any of the articles on the famous big-name judo guys, almost all of them contain pretty extensive detail about when they received each of their ranks.  for instance, 
After 15 months of training, Mifune achieved the rank of shodan ('beginning dan,' indicating 1st dan ranking) in Kodokan judo,[2] and after the remarkably short time of four more months, nidan (2nd dan).[2] Through timing and speed, Mifune quickly gained a reputation, and was never defeated at the annual Red and White Kodokan tournament.[2] By 1912, he was ranked rokudan (6th dan) and an instructor.[2] He was already being called the 'God of Judo.'
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Tomiki was one of the early students of the founder of aikido Morihei Ueshiba, beginning in 1926, and also of Jigoro Kano, the founder of judo.[2] In 1928 he obtained 5th dan in judo and in the following year he represented Miyagi Prefecture in the first judo tournament held in front of the Emperor—this tournament became the All Japan Tournament the following year. From 1936 till the end of the second world war he lived in Manchukuo (Manchuria) where he taught aikibudo (an early name for aikido) to the Kanton army and the Imperial Household Agency. In 1938 he became an assistant professor at Kenkoku University in Manchukuo. He went on to be awarded the first 8th dan in aikido (1940) and an 8th dan in judo (1978).
But when you look at the articles about the big-name karate guys (Shimabuku, Egami, Harada, Itosu, etc...), trying to find info about their ranks, it's mostly absent...  There could be several reasons for this relative lack of info...

  • Maybe it took a while for the karate guys to adopt Kano's kyu-dan belt rank system.
  • Maybe karate was at that time more of a rural thing and they weren't as interested as the cosmopolitan judo guys in record-keeping.
  • Maybe this was just a curious oversight on the part of the Karate authors at Wikipedia.
Or maybe this suggests a real difference between judo folks and karate folks in how they think about the rank thing.





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Patrick Parker
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Jump-ranking (sorta) in karate

While we are on the subject of ranking, there is an interesting story about the history of Isshin-ryu karate-do.  I don't know where it falls on the spectrum from absolute truth to apocrypha to pure B.S. but I've heard this piece of 'history' from several sources over the years.
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The story goes that Shimabuku trained a bunch of American GIs during wartime and having earned shodan or nidan they left Okinawa and brought Isshin-ryu to the United States (that much is mostly fact I think).  Some years later, it seems, his students organized a trip to see and train with Shimabuku, and the Master, knowing that these were all dedicated students that he might never see again, issued them certificates for each rank up to Roku-dan (6th degree black belt) with the understanding that they were not to claim those ranks until they had proper time-in-grade and practice.
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Effectively, Shimabuku promoted his inner circle - the folks that would become the Isshin-ryu demi-gods from shodan to rokudan.
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Again, I don't know how much of this tale is true, and I don't intend this to scandalize the Isshin-ryu folks.  Shoot, the most skilled karateka I've ever met and laid hands on are Isshin-ryu folks.  I just thought the story was interesting while we were talking about ranks and jump promotions.


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Patrick Parker
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Batsugan!

In the judo world every so often someone will get a promotion based solely on their performance at an event like a tournament (or more rarely a seminar or camp).  This sort of field-promotion is called batsugan.  In fact, maybe I shouldn't say, "every so often," because it seems like it is not that uncommon at all.  I rarely attend tournaments any more, but back in the day it seemed like it was pretty common - we would go to the larger regional tournaments and some grizzly old dude in a candy-striped belt would come up to someone's sensei and tell them that their student was obviously under-ranked and inform them that they were being ranked-up effectively immediately (be sure to send your rank fees in to the national organization when you get home Monday).
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Batsugan promotions tend to happen more often at lower-ranks, which makes sense - there is less difference between a green belt and a brown belt than there is between a 2nd dan and a 3rd dan.  But it does also happen at higher ranks. The highest-ranked batsugan promotion I ever heard of was at a USJA training seminar in the late 1990's, when a guy that had been a shodan for about a year was abruptly promoted to sandan because of his extraordinary performance as the main instructor's kata uke.
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So, what do I think of batsugan as a practice?  It is a traditional practice that high-ranking people engage in sometimes, so it has historical precedent and social validity, but I think it is generally unwise.  Rank is about a lot of things, but one of the most primary of things represented by the rank is the relationship between the sensei and the student.  Anyone can win or lose on any given day at a judo tournament, so basing a promotion on a shiai performance (or even a several-day seminar) is shaky.  That's why, when batsugan promotions happen, sometimes everyone watching nods their head and agrees, "yeah, that's probably a good promotion," and in other cases everyone stands around biting their tongues to avoid saying anything.
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Batsugan is one of those things that can happen and can be valid, but I don't think that it is the sort of thing that should happen any more often than occasionally.



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Patrick Parker
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Private York becomes Sergeant York

There are precedents stretching back through military history of people honorably circumventing the typical rank promotion system.  One of these is the practice of Field Appointment or Field Promotion.  A memorable example of what I'm talking about is Alvin York.
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A lot of people have seen the movie, but if you haven't, the 1-sentence spoiler is, "Country boy goes to serve in WW-I and becomes a national hero by capturing a bunch of Germans almost single-handedly."  There is a lot more to the history surrounding those events - interesting stuff that is worth reading - but the aspect of this that I wanted to examine today is Mr. York's rapid advancement in rank and honor.
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At the time of the action that made him famous, York was a "newly promoted Corporal," (that means no time-in-grade) and afterward, per Wikipedia, "York was promptly promoted to Sergeant, and a few months later, following a thorough investigation, he was awarded the Medal of Honor."  This set off a virtual firestorm of promotion, resulting in York being awarded "nearly 50 decorations, including...

Medal of Honor
Distinguished Service Cross
World War I Victory Medal
American Campaign Medal
Légion d'Honneur (France)
Croix de Guerre with Palm (France)
Croce di Guerra al Merito (Italy)
Montenegrin War Medal (Montenegro)

Not bad for a guy who, 2 years earlier had been an alcoholic brawler in the backwoods of Tennessee.  York's story is remarkable, and you should read up on it.
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My point for today is, it is not unheard-of for a young man, through personal merit and through meritorious action, without proper seniority or time in grade, to change the course of his destiny to the point that he circumvents the normal course of promotion or advancement.
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There is a normal progression of rank advancement, but it is necessarily flexible.


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____________________
Patrick Parker
www.mokurendojo.com