New Schedule and Location for 2016

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Gracie University and distance learning


There's a lot of folks that talk a lot of smack about Rener's Gracie University distance learning program, but it looks to me to be a good program, and this video is a good demonstration of that fact.  I enjoyed this narrated roll very much - especially watching how a distance student handled live rolling.  Rener was, admittedly, keeping it playful, but this guy is definitely speaking the language and able to flow and roll.  He's on the right track.  Kudos to this guy, and to Rener et al for designing a good distance learning program.






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Patrick Parker
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Can, should, and must

Here's a photo of our buddy Jules.  The photo comes from an article in which he discusses (among many other interesting things) instant gratification vs. slow, careful internalization of the art.

This is related to a lesson in martial arts that is perhaps the greatest lesson that I want my kids to get - that is, the difference between can, should, and must.  I think the world would be a better place if more people (especially world leaders) had a more visceral understanding of this concept.
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Just because you can do something does not mean you should do that thing.
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You may have a Right, but that does not mean you have to exercise that Right.  You might just have the Responsibility to hold that Right in reserve.
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Even if you think you should do a thing does not mean you must do that thing.

A lot of aikido practice is about waiting - almost procrastinating.  One of my instructors often preached to us, "Never solve a problem right now that can wait till later.  Solve right now's problems right now and leave the future for the future."  The problem with solving future problems is they are often imaginary - that is, they don't exist and may never exist and even if they do come to exist they may not have the impact you predict - so by proactively solving problems, you are necessarily creating a mess of unintended consequences that makes your future even more messy.
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So, in aikido, sure we are learning skills and actions that we can do (that is the jutsu), but we spend a lot of time in practice waiting to see what will be the consequences if we do not exert our wills upon the world.  We are trying to achieve a deep, abiding understanding of can, should, and must.
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Can (jutsu) is generally easy - we all have a lot of knowledge and power and skills and ability to do things.  What we are trying to achieve is the should/shouldn't and an understanding of when we absolutely must act and when we can wait for the picture to become more clear.


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Patrick Parker
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Circle walking

A common feature of many of our arts is many instructors use a foundational footwork/body management exercise.  In Tomiki Aikido we use "The Walk" known in various groups as Unsoku, Tandoku Undo, or Tegatana no Kata.  I'm always looking for interesting looking exercises, and this looks to be a good lesson on a fun footwork exercise.  Don't be surprised if you show up one day and find a circle chalked on my driveway.


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Patrick Parker
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Learn aikido in 20 hours!?

So, Malcolm Gladwell suggested in his Outliers book that it takes something like 10000 hours of deliberate practice to become an expert at any field.  But then along comes this guy - Josh Kaufman and says that's too long - WAY too long!  Kaufman is not so much interested in becoming an expert, rather, he wants to be able to learn things to a pretty good level of proficiency - and he found that you can pretty much learn any skill pretty good if you follow these four steps...
  1. Deconstruct the skill - figure out what the central skill is that you want to be able to do and what are the sub-skills that make up that central skill - then practice the most important sub-skills first.
  2. Learn enough to self-correct - you don't have to learn everything about your domain of practice - just learn enough to be able to tell if you are on the right track (leading toward the central skill) or the wrong track.
  3. Remove practice barriers - like procrastination and scope growth and feeling like an idiot
  4. Practice for at least 20 hours
So, if we were to apply this to learning aikido...
  • What is the central skill in aikido that we should be working toward?
  • How much of which sub-skills would we need just to be self-correcting?


  

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Patrick Parker
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Tesla on human fragility and The Secrets

A couple of thoughts from a renaissance man - probably not a stretch to say this is applicable to aikido and judo...

“Everyone should consider his
body as a priceless gift from

one whom he loves above all, a

marvelous work of art, of
indescribable beauty, and
mystery beyond human conception,
and so delicate that
a word, a breath, a look, nay, a
thought may injure it.”






“If you want to find the secrets of the Universe,
think in terms of energy, frequency, and vibration."




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Patrick Parker
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Martial arts as fine arts

Aikido and judo are martial arts - a form of fine arts like dance or art or poetry.  Just like other arts, you can use them for a lot of different things.
  • You can compete (as in dance)
  • You can demonstrate (as in music)
  • You can use the art to re-shape the media (as in sculpture)
  • You can use it for the practical (as in commercial art) - or self defense
  • There are realistic martial arts but there are also impressionistic or abstract martial arts. In fact, each martial art has elements of realism and abstraction
  • Some people do art for themselves just because they enjoy it. Others produce art for other people to see, or consume
  • You can stretch your own horizons and learn new skills (self-improvement)




But don't just take my word for it...

Nothing is ever random

A few years ago I noticed something in my martial arts practice and I asked a group of higher-ranked players if what I was seeing was real or if it was just some random coincidence.  One of them replied, "Nothing is ever random."  That statement has stuck with me and made an impact on my martial arts.
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One place we see this non-randomness is in the taiso, or warmup exercises that we do.  Following is a video of one of the footwork exercises (unsoku).

There's nothing (that I know of) that says you always have to start these things off on the left side.  You might just as well start left or right or do 25 left one class and 25 right another class or something.  But...
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Tomiki always started off to the left first, and everyone I've ever seen do this exercise has always started on the left - as if it is a kata.  Why is it that way?  Who knows?  It's just random, except nothing is ever random.
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Then along comes Merritt Stevens and condenses Tomiki's aikido primer down into ten or so movements that are especially useful in tactical situations like self-defense or police DT.  To make it fast and easy to teach, Stevens taught his system one-sided - always stepping to the left out and around  an attack.  This makes sense in this context because statistically the vast majority of "street" attacks are right-handed, So stepping to your own left would usually put you behind the attacker's right arm or shoulder.
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So, it turns out that the first movement that Tomiki taught and always practiced first can be seen as primary because it is the most useful single piece of footwork in the system.  It just took someone like Stevens to make it obvious and explicit.
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Nothing is ever random.


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Patrick Parker
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Things Karl taught me

There was so much that Karl taught me, and so much that Karl taught my teachers who then filtered the lessons to me, that it is difficult to condense it to a handful of memorable teachings,but here goes...
  • Karl was a master of heuristic-based teaching - He was very good at coming up with specific, measurable, rules of thumb to guide practice, but he always phrased them as absolutes, like,"always keep your arms exactly centered and unbendable."   This sort of rules-based aikido got a lot of us emulating some form of jutsu pretty quickly, but the rules-based thing is a self-limiting form of aikido.  He would often tell us, "There will come a time to break all the rules, and that moment will make itself known.  Until then, follow this rule religiously and it'll make your aikido work better."  Even with him telling what he was doing, it was years before we figured out that they were rules of thumb instead of absolutes.
  • And that brings up eidetic learning and the difference between explicit and implicit teaching - There is always, necessarily some difference between what a master teacher tells you he is doing and what he is really doing. A lot of times the masters are not even sure what they are doing to make something work, so they grasp at straws trying to describe it.  The secret is you have to know this phenomenon happens and carefully watch for yourself what the instructor is actually doing (as opposed to what he says he is going to do) so that you can "steal the technique."  Karl taught us this, or else we learned it from dealing with Karl.
  • Karl was a master of finding aiki in fun places in everyday life and bringing it back to the dojo in innovative ways - We were always experimenting with ping pong, dart-throwing, tango, BOSU boards, electronic surfboards... the list goes on and on.
  • What Karl called "Kihara" in the later years was essentially what Ueshiba called "takemusu aiki" in the early years.  A lot of folks gripe about the changes Karl made in his class structure and teaching methods around Y2K, but I think they are probably missing that he was looking for a way to get at that ineffable mystery that Ueshiba had described years earlier when he said, "Whenever I move around, that is what aiki is."  They were both getting at a kind of movement that is spontaneously generative of infinite technique.
  • Do it while it's fun, and when it's not any fun any more, stop doing it - Similar to Becky's proclamation that she "has a religion and aikido ain't it," Karl often advised me to "do aikido and judo while it is fun, and if there comes a day that it is no fun, then stop."  Several times during the last years of his life he told me that he wanted to move away from Houston to some tiny Nowhere-ville and start over with maybe a half-dozen brand new students at a tiny house dojo (similar to mine).  I don't know if he was blowing smoke up my ass, or if that was a real dream of his that he never got unstuck from, but like the rest of Karl, it was interesting and memorable.


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Patrick Parker
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Things Becky taught me


Becky adopted me into her Baton Rouge dojo after I graduated from college and moved back south.  I spent 2-3 years sometime around nidan or sandan  travelling an hour and a half to and from her dojo every Saturday to continue my training.  I think a lot of what Becky was putting out, I was not ready to pick up.  She was always saying things like, It's about the feel in the hands.  Look at this.  Can you feel that!?"  I would always look at her dumbly and she'd say, "Exactly!" and move on to another partner or to the next thing.
  • Do not underestimate little old ladies - Or, as Karl would later put it, "You never know who you're standing next to."  Despite the fact that she was a sweet old eccentric Southern woman teaching a gentle, "peaceful" martial art, she was a scary woman, and it was impossible for anyone not to recognize that she had a lot of potential for that red hair to burst into flame.
  • Repetition, repetition, repetition - She, and her primary students, Usher and Gary, were big proponents on high repetition of technique and kata.  It seems like a lot of days she'd only work on 1 or maybe 2 techniques per class.  I know there were many days when Becky would tell me, "one more time" so many times that I would have rather died than continued with that lesson.
  • I've got a religion, and aikido ain't it - At that point in my life I was into aikido in a BIG way.  I was consumed, and knew for certain that I wanted to do martial arts every day of the rest of my life.  I could not comprehend how someone could do a martial art for 20-30 years and then just stop and do something else. Soon before she retired and turned her dojo over to a couple of her students, She told me,"I've got a religion, and aikido ain't it."  I was impressed, and have pondered that for years - and it turned out to come in handy.
  • You can't just yo, you've got to yo-yo - This harkens back to Becky's and Karl's and Mac's lessons on gentle, rhythmic kuzushi.  She likened it to a yo-yo.  If you just throw the yo-yo real hard (interestingly called "yo" in Japanese, it won't do it's function, But if you tweak it gently at just the right time, it functions perfectly and effortlessly.  She called this "yo-yoing instead of just yoing."
  • It's my dojo and I'll do what I want to, wear what I want to, smoke if I want to... - Becky made Karl crazy in her dojo because she took his advice as advice instead of gospel.  He hated her wearing the Korean TKD dobok jackets that she preferred (softer and better fitting on a woman).  Lots of people have told me over the years that they'd tried out aikido at Becky's in Baton Rouge and just couldn't get into it because they came looking for the ancient oriental sage with the long white beard that they'd seen on the kung-fu movies and what they got was a chain-smoking, intimidating, unashamedly American, Southern, and Christian teacher.


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Patrick Parker
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Things Mac taught me


I beat my head against the proverbial wall of judo for a long time until Mac came along.  He was a compassionate encourager and put things in a way that made us feel good about what we were doing. Among the lessons I gleaned from Mac include...
  • Ju and aiki are supposed to be gentle, soft, natural - almost easy.  If they are hard or difficult or painful to you (like they were to me) then you are deliberately trying to do them wrong.  You have to take each piece, one at a time, and figure out how to do it gently, naturally, softly, and easily.  Eventually enough of judo will be ju-ish that the whole thing will fall into place.
  • Mac told me I had a really nice ashiguruma.  That encouragement impressed me and made me work even harder on ashiguruma to try to live up to his estimate of me.  Eventually ashiguruma became one of my tokuiwaza!
  • Mac had a fantastic osotogari-haraiTKashi combo that I have long sought to imitate.
  • Mac also had an amazing oguruma!  He would turn in (in shiai even!) and lazily throw a leg across uke's hips, daring them to hunker down and grab his leg.  Then he would stand there on one leg looking bored until uke tried to figure out the next step.  Problem is, to make the next step (any next step) uke had to rise out of that defensive posture and then Mac would pull the trigger and up-end uke!
  • People joke that Mac was the reason they outlawed Kanibasami in judo - he hammered so many folks with that that they took away his favorite toy to balance things out a bit.
  • Mac was the ultimate go-between between the aloof masters and the flunkies.  Once we were all sleeping on the mat at a clinic and Henry was snoring so badly that noone else could sleep. But none of us were brave enough to go wake Big Bad Henry, so I was reduced to walking around in a stupor.  Mac asked what the matter was and when I told him he just walked directly over to Henry and kicked him awake and said, "Henry, You're snoring, turn over."
  • I made the mistake of asking Mac how to do sukuinage one time, problem was, we were on the porch drinking whiskey at  the time.  Mac said, "Easy!" and grabbed my arm and nudged me into offbalance, then as I rose, he slipped behind me and slapped me on the inner thigh real close to my old kujukies!  I jumped into the air thinking, "This is where my life ends." but he caught me and set me on my feet and said, "Like that!"
  • Mac always emphasized assymetric kuzushi separated by 90 degrees.   He never pushed or pulled on uke with both arms at the same time.  Rather he'd put an impulse on you with one hand and then on the next step he'd put an impulse on you with the other hand but 90 degrees off of the direction of the first kuzushi.  Tick-tock. back and forth until you fell apart enough for him to snatch you out of your root.


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Patrick Parker
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Things Usher taught me


Before Becky and Henry and Mac and Karl, there was John Usher. Usher-san was my first aiki instructor, and was the instructor I spent the longest with, so he has been most formative of my aiki thinking.  Over the 20+  years I've been working with Usher, he has taught me many things besides a bunch of techniques, a handful of which include...
  • Embrace your slowness and weakness ASAP - At some point in your life you will get to where you are unable to beat your opponents by being harder and stronger and faster than them.  At that point, if you continue martial arts, you will only be able to do so by embracing the slowness and gentleness of aiki and ju.  And because there is a long learning curve on aiki and ju, you need to embrace those qualities while you're still young - long before you reach the point where you can only function in slowness and gentleness.
  • Learn to diagnose and solve your own problems - Around the time we were shodans or nidans Usher began inoculating us with the idea that unless we figured out for ourselves what was good aiki and what was bad aiki and started diagnosing our own problems and coming up with a plan to fix our own problems - then we would always suck at aiki.
  • If something malfunctions at a high level, there's always a problem with the foundation.  We were hammered on ukemi and walking and releases and kihon every single class - and it paid off!  When we would go to seminars people started asking us why their stuff didn't work and we would reach back and pull out an Usher kihon lesson.
  • Kata is kata - when you do kata for real, it becomes Real Kata.  Usher is a bigtime kata proponent - it is how he thinks and how he teaches.  But he always managed to walk that path without becoming a kata nazi.  Usher did his sandan demo in Seitei jodo kata in Houston in front of all of the big-name teachers, and afterward, Henry-sensei told us that Usher was one of the only guys that level that he'd ever seen who looked like he understood what was happening with a jo and a sword.  On the other hand, Karl-sensei once told Usher-san after a shodan or nidan kata demo, "That was real pretty, now would you like to learn how to make that kata Real?" Tomiki called this real level of kata, "Painting the eyes of the dragon,"
  • Randori can wait till later.  Until we were around nidan we had no clue what randori was or how it was different from sparring or what the goals were.  Usher's feeling was that until around nidan we did not have a technical foundation, ukemi skills, or time on the mat to understand how to do productive randori.  It turns out that I just heard that lesson indirectly from Henry-sensei a few weeks ago through a long-time direct student of his.





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Things Henry taught me

I got to chat a while back with a long-time direct student of Henry Copeland - one of my favorite people and teachers of all time.  I haven't gotten to see or play with Henry in quite a while, so we reminisced about what a mind- and practice-altering experience it is to lay hands on Henry or to sit at his feet and listen.
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I've been trying to come up with a bullet list of things Henry told me or even implied during our 20-someodd years together.  Some of his most memorable lessons include... 

  1. Don't fight sideways - that is, avoid applying power in any plane except that one defined by tori's midsaggital line - basically only push or pull straight forward or backward.
  2. Never stop moving long enough to hit uke - This is most visible in jo work and in sword disarms, but it applies directly to how Henry does all of his aikido and judo.  Basically, anytime you stop moving (even if it is just momentarily) you lose all your momentum that you've built up and you have to start over.  Plus, that momentary stop is a chance for uke to get a shot in.  Henry said, "That's not really a bokken.  It is a 3-foot razor blade," then he asked, "So, how long would you like to stand still inside uke's reach?"
  3. Tori should never add speed or energy to an already hectic encounter.  Tori's job is to use offbalance (not muscular power) to slow uke down to a manageable speed - not to speed uke up until he goes totally out of control. Don't pour gasoline on a fire.
  4. Make your move when uke is not capable of observing it.  Some of the most  terrifying budo that I've worked with anyone was doing tachi-tai-tachi with Henry.  A lot of this was because he appeared to be able to teleport.  When I finally got him to explain how he did this, he said as you raise your sword from chudan to jodan to get ready to cut, there's a time when your own forearms are blocking your vision.  Henry could move during that time and the effect was so disorienting and startling that uke would often freeze up.  Another example is shomenate - if you bring your hand upward right along uke's body instead of attacking frontally, uke's nose and chin obscure his ability to see your hand and forearm.  Henry made great use of tricks like this as amplifiers of his technique.
  5. Henry showed me a koshiguruma years ago that was very similar to Matl Sensei's magic that I wouldn't see until years later.  That had an interesting effect on my understanding of guruma in both judo and aikido.
  6. Henry is constantly demonstrating that magic is possible.  Several times in suwariwaza, he projected me off my knees into the air with kotegaeshi, and there was never a feel of muscular power - certainly not enough power to knock a kneeling guy upward three feet into the air. He spent a lot of time trying to convince us that the things we were doing would work on a big strong guy if we behaved according to the above points but it would fail dramatically if we did not.









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Police-jo

I know - it's technically not "Aiki-jo," but this is a cool old film that I'd not seen before...



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Why tanto in randori but not in practice?


We have been told often by our aikido instructors that Tomiki's aikido was particularly aimed at randori - that is, developing a way for aikidoka to pressure test their skills with a viable randori system.  And I do think that is characteristic of Tomiki's aikido... to a point.
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But go with me down this line of thought...
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Tomiki was out to come up with a way for aikido guys to do real randori - not taking turns being uke for each other, but both guys trying to apply aikido skills at the same time against a skilled player.  To make the game interesting and productive, Tomiki had to get the players to give each other real attacks because aikido guys when they don't want to be thrown by other aikido guys stop exerting and withdraw their energy. So he made uke's attacks count for points.
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But why did he put the foam knife into the mix?
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Why not leagalize punches, like in a karate contest? Aikido folks deal with punches.
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Why not a shinai, like in kendo? Aikido folks deal with swords.
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Why not a padded stave, like in the old-style European quarterstave matches still popular around Tomiki's time?  Aikido folks deal with jo staves.
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Heck, those pre-war aikido guys even played with bayonets like in jukendo - why not have randori matches against a guy armed with a juken?
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What is it about the tanto that of all the weapons that the old aikido guys played with - what made tanto particularly suitable for randori?
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And if tanto was so particularly suitable an instrument for the randori that would be central in Tomiki's aikido, why is the tanto not more prominent in the rest of our practice?
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What I mean is this - we learn all of our aikido empty handed against empty-handed ukes who are making empty-handed attacks.  Then at some point the tanto is thrown in almost as an afterthought - a little bit of knife evasion practice, some junana with a knife, and a pretty minimal nod to tanto skills in a couple of the Koryu no kata.
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If randori (with a knife) is supposed to be so central to our aikido, why don't we do all of our training from day-1 with knives? Ukemi with a knife, taiso (tandoku and sotai dosa) with a knife, junana and owaza and urawaza with a knife, suwari with a knife... Tanto Everything Aikido.

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True, there's nobody telling us we can't practice that way - but (almost) nobody does practice that way.
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Another sort of aside - I wonder what would happen in a tanto match if you gave both guys a foam knife and allowed both guys to score with the blade or with aikido techniques?  Or maybe a hybrid of tanto randori and hat randori where either guy could score with the knife, the hat, or aikido techniques??



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The Old Man Paradox

Martial arts are intense body contact physical activities - for most folks.  But then you hear stories and occasionally meet nearly crippled old men who can barely move but still have seemingly magical ability.
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As young men, we don't want to do martial arts like old men - even though we do want to eventually have similar magic.
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As young men, we want to be vigorous and strong.  But the old men assure us that if we would reduce the intensity a bit, we would sustain less damage and stay young and capable longer.  These are the same crippled old men that used to be vigorous, intense hellions when they were young.
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Sometimes, you see old men who still exert like young men - geriatric supermen. But realistically, how many of us think we won the genetic jackpot that would allow us to be that vigorous that long?
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I guess the best plan for dealing with the Old Man Paradox is do the best you can for as long as you can and don't feel bad about choosing to practice with either intense power or with delicate finesse whether you are young or are old - and hope that you can still do both power and finesse when you are old.


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Violence is not even a thing

We are always talking about how we are all about dealing with violence, "reducing violence," "leading violence to harmony," "Meditations on Violence," and that sort of hippie language.  But it seems to never occur to us that Violence is not even a thing.  
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Violence is not a noun (I don't care what the dictionary people say).  It is an adverb that has been nounified - almost personified.  Violence is a kind of relationship.
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We are about relationships.  In the dojo we simulate and role play different kinds of relationships so that we can learn from them and grow.  Violence is involved in many of the dojo relationships.
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Often we are very poor at role-playing or nounifying or personifying the violence in a way that we can work with and grow from.  We call this "poor ukemi."
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A lot of times we gripe about partners who are too rough or mean or abusive - who won't play the role like we want so that we can examine it comfortably, but this is just another type of violent relationship - and probably the very one that we need to work on.
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You have to stay at least somewhat safe - after all, we all have other stuff to do besides play-acting violent scenarios stuff like marriages and work and kids.
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I just find it funny that we say we want to learn about violence and then we gripe about the partners who play that role most naturally.


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Injury potential in Hirano's Kata

I just got back from Summer Seminar 2015 at Windsong Dojo in OKC, where I was honored to lead an exploration of Tokio Hirano's ideas that were groundbreaking in the 1950's in European Judo, and which are still amazingly innovative in American Judo.
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Each class we worked on ...
  • ashi-sabaki drills (because Hirano was an amazingly agile guy with great footwork).
  • uchikomi of some of Hirano's tokuiwaza (like osotogari and seoinage and taiotoshi) using his interesting rhythmic practice methods.
  • Hirano's Nanatsu no kata (A.K.A. Hando no kata)
Here is a pretty good video of the type of things we worked on...

At the end of the 3rd day of the seminar, we'd not quite finished all of Nanatsu no kata - we had run out of time for several of the counters, most distinctive of which are uchimata sukashi, harai-utsurigoshi, and jumping around taiotoshi into yokoguruma.
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If y'all want to explore this whole kata including those last few counter sacrifices, I'd like to give y'all some advice - to the degree possible, work slowly and carefully with a compliant partner and a crash pad and make sure everyone involved always knows what's coming.
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The reason I say this is because the jump-around counter to taiotoshi is the only technique that I've ever been seriously injured practicing!  In college we were practicing this exact counter - jumping around taiotoshi into yokoguruma.  It's not too difficult when you go slow and step through it with a compliant partner, but as you get it moving more quickly with both uke and tori moving into their techniques at the same time, it becomes tricky.  Anyway, I moved into taiotoshi and my partner tripped and fell on my leg.  In his attempt to regain his balance, he pulled me down on top of him and we ended up with my leg entangled and trapped under him, with him trapped under me.  I was yelling and he couldn't get off of me because I was lying on top of him.
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Broken ankle. No fun.  Put a major damper on my participation and enjoyment of judo for about a semester.

The technique I'm talking about is demonstrated here by Hirano sensei so smoothly that it looks easy. (starting at about 5:50)
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Tokio Hirano's ouchigari

Watch Hirano's variety of entries and twitches on this particular throw.  This looks like a whole lot of fun!



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Tokio Hirano's Hando no kata

I received an interesting message from a fellow who is planning to attend the Summer intensive in OKC this year.  He asked if the Nanatsu no kata that I planned to lead was the same thing as Hando no kata.  I had to look it up, but sure enough - there are groups of people doing Tokio Hirano's exercises under the name Hando no kata.  (Unfortunately, that video can't be embedded in my blog, so follow the link for an interesting performance.)
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It's neat to see other interpretations by people with different ideas.  Even the name, Hando no kata, is interesting because it is yet another lens on what Hirano might have been thinking - my dictionary says the name Hando means something like "reaction or recoil or kick-back or back-lash" - and this is very much an exercise of inducing a reaction in uke and then amplifying that reaction until it overwhelms uke.


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We all act like lepers

From the time we're born - perhaps even before then - we are playing with motion.  We move around for the joy and experience of movement.  We walk, skip, run, hop, crawl, dance, climb and wiggle our way around exploring our environment and figuring out what muscles and joints and fascia feel like.  We map out our bodies as we map out our world.
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But then a funny thing happens as we get older.  Funny curious - not funny "ha ha."  About the time we hit puberty, we begin slowing down and trying to look cool and conserve energy and be efficient and not sweat and this insidious thing happens - we begin to forget what our muscles and joints feel like when they move - and then after a while, without even realizing it, we have forgotten that some kinds of motion are possible.  And after a while of thinking that a motor skill is impossible, we become correct.
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Therapist, Thomas Hanna calls this phenomenon Sensorimotor amnesia, and he attributes a lot of somatic dysfunction to it - see this interesting book about Hanna Somatics ...


We can find lots of examples of this sensorimotor amnesia in our physical practices.  For instance, learning a kata the instructor tells us, "take one sliding step forward and end up in a heel-toe stance with upright posture," and we do that and the instructor stops you and tells you to look at your poture and sure enough you are all over the place.  You thought you were stepping just so far and putting your feet just so, but your feet end up shorter or farther and turned in strange angles, posture distorted randomly.
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It takes some time to figure out how to step one step forward, end up in heel-toe stance with upright posture, because we either never knew we could do that or we've forgotten.  Sensorimotor amnesia strikes again.
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So, how do you beat that insidious forgetting process?  Here's a trick I call The Leprosy Check.
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I read somewhere that  healthcare folks that worked with lepers back in the day would advise them to make a self-check every few steps.  That is, every ten steps or so, they would stop and check to see if they'd knocked up against something and damaged themselves.
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When I read that I must have just been reading Hanna Somatics because I immediately thought, "Shoot, we all behave like lepers as we progressively become more and more insensitive to our own bodies."
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So I figured a Leprosy Check might help us in our physical practices too - For at least the first few (hundred) reps of a new technique or kata or etc... put a pause in between each step.  Pause long enough between each step to figure out if you are in the position you should be in, and to fix anything that is wrong - then do the next step followed by another Leprosy Check.


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Patrick Parker
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Is your martial art a cult?

Checklists like this one have circulated on the internet for several years, and have cropped up every so often with regards to martial arts organizations.  In fact, this idea has cropped up in my reading or my email 2-3 times recently with regards to some groups close to me.
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I don't think this list is necessarily diagnostic or definitive, but something to think about.  You might take this list as a sort of Jeff Foxworthy-like list-  that is, if you check too many of these...you might be in a cult.
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  • The group displays excessively zealous and unquestioning commitment to its leader and (whether he is alive or dead) regards his belief system, ideology, and practices as the Truth, as law.‪ 
  • Questioning, doubt, and dissent are discouraged or even punished.‪ Mind-altering practices (such as meditation, chanting, speaking in tongues, denunciation sessions, and debilitating work routines) are used in excess and serve to suppress doubts about the group and its leader(s).‪ 
  • The leadership dictates, sometimes in great detail, how members should think, act, and feel (for example, members must get permission to date, change jobs, marry—or leaders prescribe what types of clothes to wear, where to live, whether or not to have children, how to discipline children, and so forth).‪ 
  • The group is elitist, claiming a special, exalted status for itself, its leader(s) and members (for example, the leader is considered the Messiah, a special being, an avatar—or the group and/or the leader is on a special mission to save humanity).‪ 
  • The group has a polarized us-versus-them mentality, which may cause conflict with the wider society.‪ 
  • The leader is not accountable to any authorities (unlike, for example, teachers, military commanders or ministers, priests, monks, and rabbis of mainstream religious denominations).‪ 
  • The group teaches or implies that its supposedly exalted ends justify whatever means it deems necessary. This may result in members' participating in behaviors or activities they would have considered reprehensible or unethical before joining the group (for example, lying to family or friends, or collecting money for bogus charities).‪ 
  • The leadership induces feelings of shame and/or guilt in order to influence and/or control members. Often, this is done through peer pressure and subtle forms of persuasion.‪ 
  • Subservience to the leader or group requires members to cut ties with family and friends, and radically alter the personal goals and activities they had before joining the group.‪ 
  • The group is preoccupied with bringing in new members.‪ 
  • The group is preoccupied with making money.‪ 
  • Members are expected to devote inordinate amounts of time to the group and group-related activities.‪ 
  • Members are encouraged or required to live and/or socialize only with other group members.‪ 
  • The most loyal members (the “true believers”) feel there can be no life outside the context of the group. They believe there is no other way to be, and often fear reprisals to themselves or others if they leave (or even consider leaving) the group.


An interesting film of Hirano's kata

This is a right interesting film, the first part of it is Hirano's unusual rhythmic uchikomi and nagekomi exercises.  The second part beginning at about 2:20 (that caught my attention today) is Hirano's Nanatsu no kata.

This rendition of Nanatsu no kata is interesting to me because:

  • He does not do the crazy big wave arm swinging thing before each move.  This suggests to me that the arm swinging thing was either a sometimes thing - an option, or it was a teaching/demonstrating thing.
  • He appears to do different techniques than in his other demos.  One of the most notable instances is the first ura technique is usually demonstrated as osotogari countered by ukiotoshi, but here it is osotogari countered by sukashi.  This suggests to me that either 1) the kata was not finished when this film was made, or 2) the techniques might have been somewhat interchangeable.  I have suspected for a while that the techniques were somewhat interchangeable... Something to think on for a while...



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Yield uke into ikkyo instead of driving him there

Corky has a very nice way of explaining and demonstrating katatedori ikkyo here.
Notice the emphasis on yielding to draw (or allow) uke's arm to move into extension - the same technical idea that you see in the beginning of the tachiwaza oshitaoshi in koryu dai ichi (starting at about 2:00).


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How to practice ikkyo (and everything else)

In the past several posts, I've been working on oshitaoshi (or ikkyo - thing #1).  Here is a video of Waka Sensei demonstrating two of the primary forms of this thing that you might call omote and ura.  This seems to be a pretty common practice mode, in which tori gets to do four reps (one omote and one ura on each side) then the partners switch roles.


And interestingly enough, though the Tomiki/Ohba gang seems to have done a lot of things differently, here is that same practice mode cropping up as the first part of the first kata (hmmm... thing #1).  And you will see this pattern show up again as the first and second thing in the next section at about 1:00.


The first parts of Ichi kata appear to me to be a nod back to an old training mode in which ikkyo (for example) was repped over and over in rapid succession - right omote-left omote - right ura - left ura - switch roles and keep going - and this was done in an aerobic manner. Little formality except before and after, lots of moving and falling and lots of sweat and repetition.
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I like that mode of practice.  I don't so much like the do-two-reps-and-stop-and-talk-about-it-for-a-while mode. Nobody gets any exercise that way and nobody gets enough reps to make the technique their own - to transform thing one into just one thing.

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The boat rudder analogy

In the previous post I suggested that ikkyo/oshitaoshi seemed to me to be something like using uke's shoulder girdle and spine as levers to steer his center, like using a boat rudder to steer a boat.
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Now, I realize that all analogies fall apart when taken too far, but I think this one may bear a little extension.  Imagine trying to steer a small boat down a swiftly moving stream by controlling the rudder.  Now imagine trying to do that while standing on a rock in the river.
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That second one is not going to be too successful, because in order to use a rudder to steer a boat, you have to be riding in the boat.  Likewise, to use uke's arm and shoulder as a lever to steer his center, you have to be riding uke - or at least connected to him and moving with him.  Standing your ground and trying to turn uke upside down with a lever will not work as well as moving with him and using the lever to steer him.
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We are not standing our ground and mashing uke's elbow backwards into the ground. We are riding him into the ground using his arm and shoulder to steer him.


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Thing number one or "one thing"

They say ikkyo means something like "thing number one," but I often like looser, more colloquial translations, so I sometimes wonder if it might be better to think of "ikkyo" as "one thing," just like Curly the Cowboy in City Slickers.

There are many, many forms of ikkyo, or oshitaoshi that we practice.  I think the idea is to look at this principle from lots of different angles and under the light of many different conditions, until it becomes one thing - ikkyo - in our minds instead of many things.


For me, the one thing that all these different forms seems to be congealing into is the idea of controlling uke's center by manipulating the primary cross (the spine and shoulder girdle) sort of like a rudder on a boat - but maybe you should play with these things for 10 or 15 years yourself and see what conclusions you can draw from ikkyo.


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Thing number one - shomenuchi ikkyo

It probably does not matter too much where you start in aikido or judo or any sort of jujutsu, because whatever technique or movement you decide to call thing number one, as you play with it some, you will eventually find the other things - the other techniques and ideas surrounding thing number one will eventually make themselves known and you can call them thing number two and so on.
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Tomiki began his students' training with some taiso (coordination exercises) and then worked on shomenate as thing number one.  Beginning with shomenate seems axiomatic to us - it is just obviously the right place to start our studies.  But some aikido folks don't even consider shomenate a thing - at least not a thing worthy of a name.  They just tell uke, "hit me in the face" and they proceed with their thing number one.
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And it turns out that their thing number one is a pretty darn good place to start studying aikido.  In fact, that's where most of the rest of the aikido world starts.  They call it ikkyo, and I like to poke a little fun at their inability to come up with a better name than "thing number one," but actually, Tomiki wasn't that much more creative, because he called it, oshitaoshi, or "push the guy down."
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The following is some film of me exploring a peculiar form of shomenuchi ikkyo at Nick's beautiful Windsong Dojo in OKC.  The action starts at the 2:00 minute mark.
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And here is another bit of exploration of the same technique from a wrist grab - katatetori ikkyo.  Again, the action starts at about 2:00.
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Not only is ikkyo the starting place for most of the aikido world's studies, my law enforcement buddies assure me that it is exquisitely effective and useful in controlling aggressors in real world situations.  In any case, ikkyo (oshitaoshi, thing number one) deserves a good bit of your attention.


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Mutual Fault and Blame-sharing

I have said it many times, and my instructors before me, and theirs before them all the way back to Kano - Judo is about Mutual Welfare and Benefit.  I know that's sort of a loose translation of the principle of Jita Kyoei, but it's a common translation and as good as any.
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But Human Animal Males (HAMs) tend to fail to get the mutual benefit thing, or we get it in an incomplete sense.  It just does not make deep visceral sense to some of us that we are doing a deadly martial combat thing with a partner instead of an enemy - that our main goal is to improve both the self and the other.
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Sometimes we start class out with some vague admission or nod to Jita Kyoei, or at least with some pseudo-Japanese etiquette, but then we inevitably end up with an uke that doesn't work quite like we want and we get into this vicious cycle of pushing harder, causing uke to resist harder or do ukemi more un-naturally, which causes tori to struggle more, which makes uke more miserable...
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So, let me try to put it in different terms - one syllable each...
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If your arm gets hurt it is both folks' fault.
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If your elbow (or whatever else) gets bent, tori should not have pushed that hard, and uke should not have stood there and let tori push that hard.  It is almost always possible for uke to yield (and to yield productively) to force rather than to stand against it.  It is almost always possible for Tori to get the effect you're looking for with far less struggle.
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But since this issue  ALWAYS crops up, maybe we're all just knuckleheads who are addicted to power and bent on making our artistic pursuits so difficult that they are self-destructive.  I think that is likely the case.  We are all idiots.
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So, maybe it would do us some good to approach our practice from the angle that we really are ALL idiots, and search for ways to prevent the other guy from mashing our own personal triggers that throw our own personal form of stupid into high gear.  What are my triggers that make me stupid, and what are the ways that other people push those buttons during a conflict?  How can I respond productively to someone mashing my stupid button?
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Maybe we should approach aikido and judo from the idea of working on ourselves rather than from the perspective of applying the power of our will effectively to someone else.
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Have I heard that idea somewhere before?



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Mode-switching and switch-flipping

Toshu randori in Tomiki aikido is a strange beast.  I do not think it teaches us what we think it teaches us.
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It seems at first glance, that toshu randori would be similar to sparring in karate.  But it is not.  Randori cannot be a contest of both folks attacking to see whose attacks succeed and whose fail because that tends to lead to clashes that are not what we're looking for in aikido.
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Likewise, you can't have both guys playing the gentle, receiving, flowing role to see who has better skills at the soft aspects of the art - if both guys play that strategy then nobody does anything and we might as well sit down and share a spot of tea.
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For us to practice aikido skills, we have to have an attacker - someone playing the role of uke so that the other guy can practice being tori.  The tricky part about toshu randori is that both guys would like to be tori, so they have to either trick the other guy into being uke or find a time when he is in that mode.
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To avoid the nobody-does-anything problem, Karl used to advise us "always attack."  When in doubt, attack.  But then to avoid the everybody-always-attacks sort of clash and to actually get some aikido done, one of the partners has to switch gears in mid-attack from attacking to flowing/blending/receiving mode.
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That sounds like I'm saying someone has to choose to be uke and take a dive.  I'm not.  Funny thing is, the guy that is more adept at flipping the switch and can more smoothly and more completely take the role of receiver usually ends up being tori.
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So, that is what I think toshu randori teaches us - it develops skill at identifying when your attack is going to be insufficient and switching to receiving mode so that you can ride the other guy's attack until it is your turn again for a more decisive attack.
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Toshu randori is a mode-switching, switch-flipping practice.


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If your timing is perfect...

I'm slow, I know.  But I just realized...
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When people would ask Karl for advice on "good" technique and "proper" form, frequently he would say, "You can do anything you want if you have perfect timing."  He beat us to death with drills that worked largely on timing - and largely on timing of footsteps.
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All of his heuristics that we took as law - that we thought were THE gospel way to do aikido correctly - those were not actually THE way, they were his preferred, suggested ways to handle the problems caused by imperfect timing.  All of our heuristics can be seen as backup plans for imperfect timing.
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Why do we do the same hand/foot straight arm thing?  Because it makes us stronger when our timing fails.
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Why do we do tsugiashi instead of ayumiashi? Because it makes us more stable when we miss our timing.
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Why do we spend so much time on reflexive ukemi?  Because tori is either going to get the timing right, in which case uke will need good ukemi, or tori will screw up the timing, in which case, tori will need good ukemi as a backup plan.
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It's all about the timing, because if you have perfect timing then your form does not matter.
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Of course, nobody has perfect timing - that's why we spend so much effort on timing drills and why we have so many backup plans that we all recommend keeping in place all the time.

That's why our aikido appears to be based on lists of rules or heuristics-  Keep your arm unbendable, same-hand-same-foot, arms stay centered, etc...
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And that's why the masters , the guys that trifle with us in randori and make us look dumb, appear to break all the rules that they just told us was the right way to do aikido - they break the rules and they still come out on top because they have better timing than we do.


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Energy, Frequency, Vibration


Many of the worlds' greatest thinkers and warriors have been telling us the same thing.  Ueshiba, Tesla, Hirano, Laban, Tohei, Solomon.  The influential school of jujutsu, Kitoryu, was all about the waxing and waning of energy.  Henry Kono said (in essence) that he didn't understand aikido until he realized that Ueshiba was talking about yin-yang, and the implications of that.
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Karl Geis was fond of telling us, "You can do anything you want if you have perfect timing."



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Some of the lessons in Nanatsu


In some ways, Nanatsu no kata seems to be a better introduction to randori than does Nagenokata.  Watch the above video and observe, among other lessons,
  • It has a good technical range - several ashiwaza, koshiwaza, tewaza, and sutemiwaza spread out across the gokyo
  • It teaches tori to throw right-sided against both left and right postures by uke.
  • It teaches tori to throw uke out of jijotai as well as shizentai.
  • It teaches tori to throw tori out of light, moderate, and strong resistance conditions (watch uke's posture and arms going into each technique).
  • It teaches tori a counter (or a weakness to watch for) to each technique.
Nagenokata is also a good exercise and a good introduction to randori techniques, but I would not be offended if any of my shodan candidates chose to work up Nanatsu no kata for their shodan demonstration.




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Be like water, My Friend


Hirano was putting this lecture into a physical instead of verbal form when he devised and demonstrated Nanatsu no kata.



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Why all the arm waving and spinning!?



Modern judoka, competitive and recreational alike, seem to have about two distinct initial opinions about Tokio Hirano when they see his videos - 
  1. Whoa! This guy has amazing light technique that still gets big amplitude throws!
  2. What the hell is all that arm waving and spinning around nonsense!?
Those were certainly my initial thoughts, but then the question struck me, "how did he get from those crazy practice motions to that amazing skill?" or "What is the meaning and idea behind those unorthodox training motions?"
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I spent most of a year or so obsessed with Hirano and his videos and his crazy kata. I did searches on Google for info about Hirano and the kata. I played with what I could understand of the kata. But it still took a long time for me to get a glimmer of what I think he was getting at.
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Follow me here...
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The name of the kata is Nanatsu no kata, which means something like "seven forms." Not much help there. But then I found somewhere on the net some French practitioners that refer to it as le "kata des vagues" or "The Form of Waves." I like to use my own loose translations, so i call it "Seven Waveforms."
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It seems that Hirano was obsessed with ocean waves and spent a lot of time watching them and thinking about how they behave. He came to see judo throws as similar to the motions of waves. I also think that he was looking at the waves in a naturalistic, non-scientific way - like art, because his Waveforms kata is a work of art and not a Physics thesis.
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Once I started thinking along the lines of "He is demonstrating seven kinds of waves that exemplify judo throws." all of a sudden the pieces fell into order.
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Also note, there is video of Hirano's students on the net doing the kata and they don't always do the arm-waving thing, so apparently that was a teaching or a demonstration or a sometimes-practice sort of thing.
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Hirano was a stranger in a strange land. There was probably a language barrier and there was certainly a skill-level barrier between him and his European students. It must have been hard to communicate advanced ideas like he wished he could. Here's what I think. Here is the monologue that is running in my head as I watch Hirano do Nanatsu...
"Alright, listen up, monstrous, clumsy westerners. I'm about to really lay an idea on you. Judo is like waves..."
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(Imagine Hirano holding a giant paintbrush and painting a huge wave on the wall beside him...)
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"Some waves wash in and subside like this...Some judo is like that... Some waves wash in and cut along the shoreline like this...Some judo is like that... Some waves wash in and hit a rock and splash back like this...Some judo is like that... Some waves come in and become whirlpools like this...Some judo is like that..."
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He was saying the same thing as Bruce Lee in Lee's famous "Be like water, my friend" lecture.
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Hirano was, as literally as practical, painting you a picture of the sort of motion happening in the waves and the judo throws.  Watch it again and let me know if the arm waving thing makes more sense.


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