New Schedule and Location for 2016

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Merritt Stevens Aikido

Once upon a time (about 30 years ago) in a land far, far away (Ohio) there was an aikido teacher named Merritt Stevens.  Stevens sensei had a major influence on the development and spread of aikido in the Midwest.  Merritt's son, Moe still teaches in Ohio - look him up.
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Merritt's work appears to have dealt largely with self-defense and perhaps tactical police application of aikido.  One piece of Stevens' work that is still referenced fairly often in the Texas and Oklahoma aikido crowd is what they call "The Merritt Stevens System," which was intended to be a rapidly teachable (hours-not-months) and applicable condensation of Tomiki's work.  The Merritt Stevens system is remarkably elegant while being technically minimal (only 10 techniques vs. 3 attack forms) and based on gross motor skills (like sidestep, raise your hands, and push forward).  It also answers the 2-3 most common Habitual Acts of Physical Violence.
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The Merritt Stevens System (as I've seen it) includes -

Defenses against an overhand right punch to the head (most common street attack) -
  • tenkai oshitaoshi
  • kotegaeshi 
  • gyakugamae ate
  • aigamaeate
  • tenkai kotehineri
  • wakigatame
Defenses against a left jab or overhand punch (in case you sidestep wrong or they throw a left punch) -
  • shomenate
  • shihonage
  • kubiguruma
Defense against a shoulder/chest/lapel push/grab (#2 most common street attack) -
  • kotemawashi udegatame



Good 3-part instructional on Merritt Stevens System -




3-part video of Stevens teaching Tomiki's Junana -




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Nanatsu no kata speaks to the gokyo

When scholars try to figure out how dead languages sounded when spoken by native speakers long ago, it is largely guess-work unless they have access to a body of poetry written in that language.  This is because the poetry provides clues as to how words sounded - what things rhyme with what other things and how the rhythm of the language went.
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I've been contemplating Tokio Hirano sensei's Nanatsu no kata a bit lately.  I personally think Nanatsu is poetry - high art.  And looking at the technical range of Nanatsu provides some clues about the organization of the grammar and syntax of the art (the gokyo).

Nanatsu no kata
Omote
  1. osotogari (1st kyo)
  2. osotootoshi (4th kyo of the habukareta waza)
  3. haraigoshi (2nd kyo)
  4. ouchigari(1st kyo)
  5. tsurikomigoshi(2nd kyo)
  6. uchimata(2nd kyo)
  7. taiotoshi(2nd kyo)
Ura
  1. osotogari X ukiotoshi (4th kyo)
  2. osotootoshi X yoko wakare (5th kyo)
  3. haraigoshi X utsuri goshi (4th kyo)
  4. ouchigari X ushiro goshi (5th kyo)
  5. tsurikomigoshi X taniotoshi (4th kyo)
  6. uchimata X sukashi (shinmeisho no waza)
  7. taiotoshi X yokoguruma (5th kyo)
I find the selection of techniques interesting.  This kata - basically a record of how Hirano did the amazing things he did  - a record of "his system" - is composed of...
  • two large ashiwaza from the 1st kyo
  • four techniques from 2nd kyo
  • one technique from the old preserved set (habukareta waza)
  • six counters, all from the 4th and 5th kyo
  • and one counter from the new set (shinmeisho no waza)
So, one might characterize Nanatsu as  mostly fundamentals (1 and 2 kyo) and counters (4 and 5 kyo).  Interesting that there is nothing from 3rd kyo in there. 
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If you look at the 3rd kyo, I think you'll find mostly a pile of miscellaneous minor actions that fill in the corners of the system.  Sure there have been some notable examples of folks that have used tsurigoshi, and you'll sometimes (rarely) see hanegoshi or tomoenage in a tournament, but I think it's fair to say that the 3rd kyo is largely ignored as irrelevant to the modern (post-Hirano) competition crowd.
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What you do see a bunch in tournaments - the place that almost everyone's tokuiwaza comes from - 1st and 2nd kyo.  Foundations.
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So, looking at how Hirano used the techniques of the gokyo in his kata suggests (to me) that the gokyo is basically...
  • foundations (1-2)
  • miscellany/trivia (3)
  • counters (4-5)








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Patrick Parker
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Where we've been - where we're going

Lately I've been thinking about where I've come in the last 30 years or so, and where I'll be going in the next few - so I started putting together this timeline...

30 years ago
25 years ago
  • In college
  • Karate guy, pretty good competitor - ranked 2nd in Mississippi and 3rd in Louisiana. Specialties included reverse counterpunch and an incredibly sneaky arcing outside crescent kick.
  • Beginning to get an idea of diminishing returns with modern karate (at least for me)
  • Beginning to try out aikido, judo, and hapkido
20 years ago
  • Graduating from college
  • Soon to start my first dojo in Southwest MS.
  • Met two major influences on my aikido and judo - Karl Geis and Mac McNease
15 years ago
  • Back at college, teaching aikido and judo there
10 years ago
5 years ago
NOW
5 years from now (ca 2020)
  • oldest son graduating High school - He should be shodan
  • next 2 sons should be well into the adult class
  • next 2 girls should be in the kids' class
10 years from now (ca 2025)
  • All my sons will be graduated from High School, oldest may be graduated from college!
  • 3 sons should be black belt and older daughter should be approaching shodan
  • Younger daughter should be getting ready to graduate into adult class





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Patrick Parker
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Uke-centric kata and subtle patterns

Slight changes in nagenokata (as compared to the standardized form they came up with in the 1980's and 90's) reveal interesting patterns in the kata.  Here's what happened...
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We have been working nagenokata with our 8-12-year old kids.  For simplicity we are doing it one-sided instead of alternating between both sides.  Also, they are all very proficient at ukemi but to reduce the mat-banging, we threw a crashpad in the middle of the mat and we are landing uke on that pad.
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Then all of a sudden last night, Knox pointed out a pattern that I'd never seen in the kata...
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To land uke on the pad, you have to shift the line of the kata slightly to one side for the first throw.  Then for the second you have to shift the line to the center of the crash pad.  Then for the third throw, you have to shift the line to the other side of the crash pad.  Then for the fourth, you're back in the middle of the pad and the fifth is back on the original side of the pad and the sixth is back in the middle.
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The kata (at least the first 6) is ordered (if you are only doing right side) to alternate throwing uke to the right side of the kata line, straight down the kata line, and to the left of the kata line...
  • ukiotoshi - throws uke to his right
  • seoinage - straight ahead
  • kataguruma - to uke's left
  • ukigoshi - straight ahead
  • haraigoshi - to uke's right
  • tsurikomigoshi - straight ahead

An instructor once told me that in judo and aikido, "nothing is random."  That is, there are no patterns in the kata that are just accidental - they were all designed that way.  I have no way of verifying or disproving that, but it feels true - nothing is random in judo.
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I'm not sure what the significance (if any) is to this right-center-left-center-right-center pattern - but it sure was interesting - and it was cool that my 10-year old pointed that out to me!  I'm growing a new crop of sensei to teach me judo!


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____________________
Patrick Parker
www.mokurendojo.com

Techniques in uke-centric nagenokata

Typically in nagenokata, we give the techniques names based on what tori is doing (floating hip throw, sliding foot sweep, etc...), and this is okay, but in our uke-centric exploration of this kata it is sort of counter-productive because it can lead back to that ego thing I mentioned in the previous post - that is, it can make everyone think that tori is the star of the show.
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Try watching the above standard demo of NNK but try thinking of uke as the star of the show and tori as a supporting actor.  That can be quite a stretch for some folks.  The kata seems to be set up to suggest to the viewer that tori is the leading man and uke is a bit role.
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So, lately we've been starting to nickname the techniques based on uke's perspective.  The techniques of nagenokata become...

Tewaza (hand techniques)
  • 3-step attack - forward roll (tori looks like ukiotoshi)
  • step&konk attack - forward airfall (tori looks like seoinage)
  • 3-step attack - wrong-sided roll (tori looks nominally like kataguruma)
Koshiwaza (hip techniques)
  • step&konk attack - other-sided airfall (tori looks like ukigoshi)
  • 3-step attack - skipping back forward airfall (tori looks like haraigoshi)
  • 3-step attack - the big airfall (tori looks like TKgoshi)
Ashiwaza (leg techniques)
  • 3-sidestep attack - slipping side-fall (tori looks like okuriashi)
  • 3-step attack - tripping forward airfall (tori looks like sasae TK ashi)
  • 3-circling attack - slipping forward airfall (tori looks like uchimata)
We haven't gotten beyond that point yet, so we haven't come up with nicknames for the sacrifice falls.  But it looks like the major variable in the next 2 sets from an uke-POV is tori is either not supporting uke during the fall, or uke is having to derive support from tori's falling mass in a different way.


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Patrick Parker
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Uke-centric kata and personality issues

Working with children on nagenokata has given me some interesting insights about kata in general and about teaching kata to adults.  I'm not sure that kids are any less capable or intelligent than adults.  In fact, I think that adults often have many of the same personality issues as kids - it's just that kids are more transparent about their issues.
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For instance, kata is a paired event - a 2-man sport if you will.  It is both partner's responsibility to make the kata work properly - but it is SUPER easy to get into a tori-centric frame of mind, in which uke's role is to attack properly and be the fall guy.  In this tori-centric mode, uke is relatively passive, like a throwing dummy, and tori's job is to do 15 amazing, terrible things to uke (the evil attacker).
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With kids especially (and I suspect this plays a part in adult kata too), tori-centric mode makes for piss-poor kata.  It makes sense - no kid wants to be physically coerced into taking a beating 15 different ways, even if the child is easily capable of doing the ukemi safely.  It is the interaction of the coercion upon uke's and tori's minds that makes the kata difficult and onerous.
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As soon as the "Uke vs. Tori" idea enters their mind, they become unable to do kata because they become unable to work together to demonstrate a physical idea.
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This is compounded by the fear factor.  As soon as a competitive wedge is driven between uke and tori - as soon as uke begins to think that tori's job is to "do martial things to me," the falls in nagenokata become a terrible, fearsome thing.  
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But when you strip out the part of the kata that seems to magnify tori's ego (that is, the formality of the kata that is designed to make tori look like the centerpiece) - and when you re-focus both partner's minds in a uke-centric frame in which tori's role is to help uke demonstrate 15 kinds of ukemi properly, all of a sudden much of the fear factor and ego magnification seems to dissolve.

[photo courtesy of Wikipedia]

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Patrick Parker
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Uke-centric Tsurikomi Goshi

The last of the three hip throws in Nagenokata, tsurikomigoshi, is another bear to teach kids, partly because it is such a large-amplitude throw.
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In my work with my kids on Nagenokata, I've been emphasizing the role of uke to the point of almost making the main purpose of the kata to demonstrate uke's ukemi skills.  This does not relegate tori to the role of passive by-stander.  It forces tori develop the ability to position and support uke properly so that uke can demonstrate the ukemi properly.  So, tori is the spotter.
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So, how does this idea apply to TKgoshi?
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By this point in the kata, uke and tori are pretty familiar with the 3-push attack and the tsugiashi stepping.  In the previous 3-pushes, tori adjusted his left hand (in kataguruma) and his right hand (in haraigoshi) during the middle of the 3-step attack.  This time, tori adjusts his footwork right at the end, by sliding his forward foot sideways to right beside uke's right foot at the end of step 3.  Then tori turns back in with his hips against uke's thighs and pushes up on the collar grip.
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From here, uke is positioned to take a regular forward rolling breakfall ro airfall (albeit a slightly larger than usual one). 
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So, from uke's POV this is not really a unusual thing.  From a uke-centric POV you can say that this technique is in the kata just to allow uke to demonstrate a slightly larger than usual forward roll.  The interesting part of this kata movement is how tori/spotter adjusts his footwork to position uke for his fall.


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____________________
Patrick Parker
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Uke-centric haraigoshi

We do an ukemi exercise starting about the time students get a good handle on forward rolls from standing.  We have the student stand in the starting posture for the forward roll, with his weight leaned forward onto the front foot, then instead of pushing forward into the roll, the student hops his forward standing foot backward 2-3 inches, which immediately disrupts their equilibrium and forces a forward roll.  This is a great exercise for getting beyond the beginner stage where the uke has to be in complete control of when the fall happens toward the stage where uke can safely roll out of sudden, unexpected balance disruptions (like sasae for instance).
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In our kids' uke-centric Nagenokata, where the focus is on uke and tori is mostly just a spotter, we are using haraigoshi as a similar exercise.
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The approach is the same as in Kodokan Nagenokata - three tsugiashi steps with tori switching his hand to uke's shoulderblade on step-2 and using that hand to tilt uke forward onto his front foot on step-3.  But we are using that action by the spotter as an excuse for uke to demonstrate the hop-back ukemi.
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Tori/spotter takes 3 steps with uke, adjusts his grip and tilts uke forward on step-3, fitting his hip and leg against uke as in haraigoshi.  Then uke hops backward 2-3 inches, tori follows that hop with his leg, and uke executes his forward rol/airfall using tori for support.
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This has turned out to be a good simulation of the mechanism and the ukemi for haraigoshi, and the kids caught onto it right away! 

[photo courtesy of Wikipedia]


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Patrick Parker
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The dreaded rank demo

When I was coming up through the ranks - particularly when I got to about the shodan-nidan range, our instructors liked to make their rank candidates go test in front of a pile of highly-ranked examiners. The rank demos would be at the end of a week-long grueling seminar, and often as not, by the middle of the rank demos there would be 2-3 of the  10-15 examiners either barely awake or just flat-out snoring!
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I remember a couple of candy-striped belts joking one time that they's seen so many new shodans screw up Owaza Jupon (a kata called "The Big Ten") in so many creative ways that they'd started calling it "The bigger 11" or "the lesser 9."
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I used to think those guys were real jerks for not being able to stay awake and respectful during such a big deal, but since then my role has been reversed and I've had ample opportunity to watch shodan rank demos and while, to my credit, I haven't ever fallen asleep in one, they do get monotonous after a while.
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Why does that have to be?  Where is it written that there is one list of things that all up&coming shodans have to do to get their rank?  What if there were some flexibility in how the demonstrations were done?  I'm not talking about dancing velociraptors or backflips through flaming rings or anything.  You don't even have to change the rank requirements - just demonstrate something besides the same 20 techniques in the same order that the 100 people before you did. 
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I've heard it said that any instructor worth anything can watch you do whatever you want to do for about 3-4 minutes and know what level you are.  So, how about we inject some creativity into the rank demo process.
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I bet it'd be fun for the students, and I bet more of the geriatric candy-stripers would stay awake longer ;-)

[photo courtesy of Wikipedia]

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____________________ 
Patrick Parker 
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