New Schedule and Location for 2016

Mondays, Tuesdays, & Thursdays from 8-9PM at Rejoice Dance Studio, 1418 Delaware Avenue, McComb MS.

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
www.mokurendojo.com

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
www.mokurendojo.com

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
www.mokurendojo.com

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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Patrick Parker
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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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Patrick Parker
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