Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Different perspectives of etiquette

After studying at Windsong Dojo for a number of years, a friend of mine moved to another city. Hoping to continue his study of Aikido, he attended a class at a local dojo. Right off the bat, several things unsettled him.

It should be noted that Windsong Dojo, when compared to many martial art dojos, is a relatively casual one. My friend assumed that this new dojo would operate similarly, having a passing knowledge of the dojo cho to begin with. He was, apparently, mistaken.

First off, he was corrected when he walked across the mat before class on his way to the dressing rooms. He was then told his belt was tied improperly. And when he attempted to address the chief instructor by his first name, the man didn't answer (the other students informed my friend that he must use the term "sensei" when addressing the chief instructor).

So, my friend, having come from a much more relaxed atmosphere, and himself being a fairly relaxed individual, evidently didn't care for the prevailing attitude in that particular school (though I will admit that I heard this story second hand) and never went back.

I can see both sides. As an American, I can see how such strict adherence to protocol, and the resulting consternation when anyone trespasses it, might seem, well, a little uptight. To someone like my friend, such a school might seem a bit austere, and such behavior might translate as an expression of an over-inflated ego.

However, in the Japanese culture, these sorts of traditions and classes or rank structuring run deeply throughout their entire society and have for centuries (although some might say the youth of today are far more Western in their behavior than traditional). I would imagine that, those participants in a Japanese school would view behavior like my friends as careless and inconsiderate, walking in and acting as if he owned the place! Whether or not that's actually true is really beside the point. It's a matter of interpretation.

Now, in all fairness, the dojo cho is not Japanese (and neither was his sensei). But even still, they have, in their school, opted to follow a traditional course in how they handle the matter of reishiki, or etiquette; that is certainly their prerogative, and I believe, should be respected.

That being said, did they handle the new-comer's indiscretions in the best possible way? Perhaps not; or, perhaps my friend was far too offended to give them the chance (as I said before, I can't really know for sure). I suppose that, in the end, it comes down to one thing: which is more important, the observance of proper etiquette or the retention of a new student?

Of course, some might point out that the reaction of a potential student to these sorts of admonishments could serve as a sort of litmus test to determine whether that person is suited for that dojo, or the martial arts in general. Perhaps.

I don't entirely know. I've never run a dojo, nor have I trained in any others, so I hesitate to make any sort of judgment on the matter. But I do think it's interesting (because perhaps someday I will). On one hand, I appreciate the value of etiquette and all that it offers. On the other, I also understand that the American mind-set is a radically different one than that of the Japanese, and perhaps some effort should be made to make sure the intent behind our behavior isn't lost in translation.

Over all, I value the human being, the spirit of the individual who walks through the door. They may not be ideally suited for my school, or even my art, or any art at all. But they are human, after all. We all are, and that alone deserves a certain amount of respect, wherever we may be. I suspect there is a way to follow in tradition but still care for and nurture the newcomer. I also believe in respecting the way someone chooses to run their dojo (or their private life for that matter) even if I may not agree with it. "When in Rome," as they say, "do as the Romans do."

The etiquette stands, after all, as a means of showing reverence and respect, not just to a high-ranking individual, but to the art, to the school itself, and to each other. That respect goes both ways, not just from student to teacher but from teacher to student. I believe in honor, but also patience (though I may often fall short of both). I believe in softness and temperance, as well as in self-discipline and reverence.

To paraphrase Jigoru Kano, "You, me shine together." The question I believe should be, when all is said and done, does the etiquette observed help in that pursuit, or hinder it?

And when shopping for a new dojo, you might bare in mind the advice of Paul Linden Sensei: "Go and visit several dojos and see how people treat each other. If you want to be treated like the people there are treated (either by other students or by the sensei of the dojo) it's probably the place for you."

Dog judo

This may be old news to some folks, but it still cracks me up.

Find the rest at www.dogjudo.co.uk/video.html. There's quite a few.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Why wear the get-up?

The question of why we bother to wear the traditional garb of a given martial tradition is an old one. Bruce Lee, and others since, felt that one should practice in the clothes they would most likely be wearing when actually engaged in a fight "on the street". Which makes a certain amount of sense. On the other hand, I know a lot of martial artists, and not many of them have ever had to use what they know "on the street."

So why do it? A special get-up is not reflective of reality, and it doesn't improve the technique. They're certainly not cheap, either. Well, over the years, I’ve thought of a few reasons why we would, although the reasons might well vary from person to person (I'd love to hear anyone else's two cents), and here's one or two.

First of all, in terms of sheer practicality, no, it’s really not necessary.

One reason I do it (I owe this perspective to the acute insight of Lowry Sensei) is because of the focus it gives you. It’s for the same reason practitioners of a particular religion might dress up in special robes and go to a holy place to pray and to worship. Do they NEED to go somewhere special and wear special clothes to gain spiritual direction and enlightenment? Probably not.

But all of it has a way of focusing the mind on the task at hand in a way casual observances can’t. It tends to shut out the rest of the world, just for a little bit. I feel different in a gi, and particularly in hakama, the same way I feel different in a nice suit and tie than in a pair of jeans and a t-shirt. Jeans are more comfortable, but a suit has a way of making me feel... sophisticated, smarter, smoother. (Whether or not I actually am is debatable). Something about the way we dress, the way we take care of our bodies, the way we keep our environment, effects our mindset.

So the keikogi and hakama remind me to take what I’m doing seriously, to pursue it with a sober mind, with honor and dignity. Presumably, we study these arts for reasons other than just sheer self-defense, and the vestments which are unique to budo remind me of it. Otherwise, well, it’s just a fight club.

I also like the idea that everyone is dressed the same. When we enter the dojo, we're all wearing something different: some people may be wearing expensive, stylish clothes, while others wear the only threadbare pants and worn-out shoes they have because they can't afford anything better; some prefer to exude a sophisticated style, while others prefer a waggish or even more subversive one. But once we don our white keikogi, we step into a world where everyone is more or less on the same level. Oddly enough, any latent judgments regarding class, age, status or even race tend to evaporate.

We are family. Not a perfect one; we still bring with us our own dysfunctional attitudes and philosophies. But something about the identical uniform prompts us to remember that we're all in the same proverbial boat together, and our goal is a mutual one. There exists a unique sense of fealty to each other, to the school and to the art that I have yet to find anywhere else. Is it any coincidence that the dojo to which I belong has given me some of the most meaningful, enduring and unflagging relationships than any other organization (including church, sad to say)? I don't mean to suggest that this is due entirely to what we're wearing, but I believe it's a small piece to the puzzle.

These are a few of the reasons, at any rate. I may remember more as time goes on.

Of course, there is also something to be said for training in "street" clothes. I'll have to save that for another post!

Bitten by the bug

A young judo sankyu mentioned this morning how he was trying to study the other night, but just couldn't keep his mind from wandering, from thinking about Judo.

I just smiled and laughed to myself. Yep. He's bitten by the bug.

Sometimes, I lie awake at night thinking about this stuff, even when I'm dead tired. When I'm hanging around the yard while my son plays, I walk through throws in my mind (I do the same thing with Aikido). If anyone saw me, they'd probably think I'd lost my mind.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Every class is different

Every class is different. That can mean, of course, a great many things, but the way in which they differ, the way I've been thinking of lately, is how each class makes me feel when all is said and done. I'm certainly not proud of most of these emotions, but there they are, and I can't deny that they bubble to the surface once in a while.

Sometimes, after a class, I feel...

Sometimes, we have a great lesson; maybe I received one, or I actually managed to teach one. Sometimes I get to work with a skilled and talented individual (either higher ranking or lower, it doesn't matter) and together, we produce some beautiful budo. For whatever reason, the stars and planets align, I'm feeling energetic, I'm in a good mood and the work is truly exceptional, not just for me, but for my partner or even the entire class. I think about it incessantly afterwards, and can't wait for the next one. I love those classes; who wouldn't?

Sometimes, nothing seems to work out right. This can usually be attributed to my own sour mood, but there can be other contributing factors. Maybe I have to work with someone who, though a decent person, doesn't move all that well; or perhaps they're just not my "type of person"; or maybe they're just a plain ol' fashioned jerk. Perhaps the lesson doesn't go as well as I thought it should have, or didn't cover what I would have covered.

On the other hand, maybe I let my ego get the better of me during randori, and I walk away ashamed of myself. Even I can recognize when my ego needs a good re-alignment, but I figure the best thing to do at the time is to put my shoes on and go home. I wonder if I've just wasted an hour, or worse, just wasted someone else's hour.

Sometimes, it seems like my skills have flown out the window and nothing works the way it used to. In fact, it can seem like they're worse! Or maybe a lower rank (inadvertently) shows me that I'm not as accomplished as I might think I am (or should be); or working with a higher rank will remind me how clunky and ill-timed my technique is. I feel like starting over, like I don't deserve my rank, like trading in my black belt for a brown one, or heck, even a white one!

Sometimes, I wonder what I'm doing there. I've seen this lesson before, done this technique a hundred times already. I secretly yearn for something more "advanced", for a magical new technique or kata, something new and interesting to rekindle my passion for the art. But no; instead, I find myself working on the same old release movement or an elementary o-soto gari entry with a white belt. I try to remind myself that there are no "secret advanced techniques", that the true magic comes in mastery of the basics. Even still, I feel like I'm going through the motions, like I'm just not being challenged enough.

Sometimes, someone comes along and turns my world upside-down. Just when I thought I had something figured out, they show me something a new light, and allow me to look at it in a way I'd never considered before. There's a startling, unsettling realization that there's so much more to learn, that despite all my years of training, I have barely scratched the surface.

Sometimes, I just don't know if I have it in me to make the next class. I think about skipping just once. Especially now that I attend the morning classes, sleeping in is a regular temptation. I think, maybe I just need a little break. My brain can only take so much budo, and perhaps a rest would do me good. I've taken breaks that lasted months and years, and regretted the training time lost; but at the time, something in life seemed more important (and probably was, to be honest). Sometimes, it seems like the best thing to do is to step away and clear the mind, so that I can return again later fresh and ready.

The emotions run the gamut, and the differences between two successive classes can be dramatic: euphoric and confident on Monday, frustrated and humbled on Tuesday. And in the case of the recent shochugeiko, I felt all of the above in one singular week! Fortunately, for the most part, I walk away from my practice feeling pretty good. Overall, over the years, the positive experiences far outweigh the negative.

But then, now that I stand still for a moment and gaze back at them, were any of them really negative? Or was there something that I learned from all of it, even when it may have felt uncomfortable, fruitless or even painful at the time?

I think that yes, though I might be hard pressed to put my finger on what, exactly. I do know I'm a better person today than when I started as a young man of 19, for whatever reason, and I'm a better budoka. I don't know that I ever handled any of these emotions in the smartest or most proper way. But regardless of my response, they shaped me, and defined me; they refined me.

I don't know what to recommend anyone else when they feel frustrated, or bored, or tired, or overwhelmed, other than this: that however I feel at the end of a class, for better or worse, the most important thing is that I come back.

Regardless of how I feel, the best thing I can do, the hardest thing, the bravest thing, the simplest thing is to keep going. To show up again, to remove my shoes and put on my gi one more time. To bow in all sincerity to my partner, to my teachers, to my dojo, and to say "Thank you" regardless of the kind of experience I've had and mean it.

Because I am, I'm grateful. And that is how I feel every time.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Shochugeiko Day 6

It's done. This was the last day of a week-long shochugeiko, and it's been quite a week. If you happen to have the time to attend every single class plus the special sessions, you would have spent around 45 hours or so doing budo in one week. I had the chance to do about 20, and that certainly felt like a lot.

The odd thing is, there are people who work in physically demanding fields (even a pharmacist who stands on his feet all day is demanding to me) and do it for 40 or more hours a week, so why would 20 hours feel so overwhelming, mentally and physically? Perhaps because I/we did it in addition to our normal jobs (and I sit at a desk all day and don't exercise like I should, which doesn't help, either).

Today, though, was the toughest for me. I did the 6:30 am Aikido class, the 7:30 to 9:00 judo class, then the 9 to 11 jodo class, took a half hour break and then did the 11:30 to 1pm Aikido class. Phew! I need a shower. And I think it's time to wash the gi!

Unfortunately, I rolled my left ankle while doing a little judo randori with Greg Ables Sensei, but I think it's okay. I kept going for the rest of the classes, but now that I'm home, it's a little tender. 

The biggest casualty, however, is my brain. It's just fried. A lot of good information, in all arts, from all levels of participants. A good experience, though, that I was happy to be a part of.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Shochugeiko Day 4 noon, Day 5

During day 5 at noon Aikido, we spent the majority of class doing randori and switching partners on the bell. It was mostly good, but randori is a tough subject in Aikido for many reasons. More reasons, in fact, than I want to go into at the moment.

This morning and at noon, Jack Bieler Sensei from Denton, Texas, went over many of the subtle but differences between Seitei Jodo and the traditional Shindo Muso Ryu. In both classes, we covered the kihon (as performed solo, or tandoku dosa) and a little bit of the first kata in the Omote series (which the 8th kata in the Seitei no Kata), tachi otoshi. Those who had taken time off from work stuck around after the hour to look at the second kata, tsuba wari, but some of us had to get back to work.

We'll be doing more with Bieler Sensei during tomorrow's jodo class (which is two hours, so we should be able to go over more material).

It will be interesting to see what everyone thinks after the fact. There are some differences, no doubt about it, and it can be confusing as to what one should do with those differences. Should we adopt those ideas as if "this is the new way we're supposed to be doing it"? Should we say, "That's nice," and then just go back to the way we were doing it? Or should we pick and choose like a sort of buffet which ideas we like and which we want to leave by the wayside?

I don't exactly know the answer to that. Different people will probably have different preferences. The one thing I do know is, there is no One Way. There is truth all over the place. Despite this, I've noticed that human beings, for some reason, tend to crave a single solution and can't stand the idea of multiple answers. We want safety, I guess, security.

The only answer I can think of may be found in something Morihei Ueshiba once said: “You’ve seen my aikido; now go out and find your own.”

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Promotions are a funny thing

Getting promoted is always a strange experience, for me at least. Mostly, I just never really feel worthy of it. I suppose I should worry if I, or anyone else, ever thought with any degree of sincerity, "I deserve to promoted, darn it! What's keeping my sensei from giving me that belt or certificate?"

So, if I never really feel worthy, then I suppose it falls upon my superiors to be a more objective judge of my readiness. But then, sometimes I even questions their judgement! I shouldn't I suppose. They stand further down the road, they see a bigger picture from their vantage point than I do.

And for that matter, while we have a standard written down in terms of hours and time in grade, etc. every budoka is different; progress and achievement varies from one person to the next. So one sandan may stand at a different level of skill than another, and that's okay. The two were never meant to be compared side by side, but rather compared to how far they've come given the individuals inherent skill and physical capabilities.

On the other, I have just recently been made aware of a slight discrepancy in the number hours that a given rank required in the organization I've spent the majority of my practice time with and the rest of the world within the same arts. Basically, we got promoted a lot earlier than most folks do. In the simplest of terms, someone who held the Aikido rank of, say, godan in my former organization would be either a yondan or even a sandan on the verge of becoming a yondan in most any other Aikido organization. And the number of years it takes? Nearly double.

Well, now I really feel inadequate and undeserving.

But should I?

What's rank, really? What does it matter when I really ought to be concerned with is, Am I better today than I was yesterday? But I still feel silly when people ask what rank I hold in such and such. Ah, well.

It is what it is. No more, no less. In the end, I still keep walking along the path, regardless of the color of my shoes.

Shochugeiko Day 3 evening, Day 4 morning

Let's see, what happened... Judo was fairly informal last night, just a handful of us. I spent it working with a young brown belt (I love working with spry young brown belts who can take lovely falls all night long!) on the series of throws I'd been thinking about based off of the foot-sweep action, and getting some wonderful feedback from Kyle Sloan and Nick Lowry Senseis.

Which has been the absolute beauty of this week: the experimentation, the influx of ideas and thoughts from other perspectives. I think there's a time and a season for everything, and perhaps most of the time one should devote oneself to the practice of, shall we say, "established principle." But once in a while, the exploration, the broadening or even bending of the mind is a wonderful way to stretch one's skills and knowledge a little further than where they were.

I ended up spending most of the Aikido class sitting out in the genkan with Lowry and Sloan Senseis talking about some surprisingly deep and philosophical discussions, not just about budo, but about one's general approach to life. I don't know if there's a term for it (and you know I'm crazy about those stupid terms), but I think there's something important and valid about just sitting down and chatting, philosophizing with either someone who is your sensei or at least sempai (whether in budo or in any other facet of your life). It's another element of training, in a way; again, not one to do all the time, mind you. In fact, the majority of the time, I find it's best to shut my mouth and just start doing. But once in a while, stopping the body and discussing and pondering through conscious thought is refreshing and enlightening.

This morning in Aikido, we spent the whole time on the hanasu no kata, the 8 releases. Once upon a time, we used to go through them every class as a matter of course before moving on to whatever section of junana hon kata the kohai we were working with happened to be working on at the time. But since we started focusing on the renraku waza (the release series), we've only been doing the releases in the context of moving on to another technique. Which is fine; you end up doing the release either way. It's just funny to take a class and do just the 8 releases, and watch dan grades struggle to remember which one is next!

I also learned a few interesting things from my partner, which is always a treat. I've mentioned it before, but I learn so many things from folks who are technically my kohai! It humbles me, for sure. It also gives me reason to keep my mouth shut most of the time; if I'm busy yapping about what I know, I'll miss what other folks know.

I have one Aikido class today at noon, and then I'll be hitting the two Jodo classes tomorrow, in the morning and at noon. Should be interesting, because I've never had the opportunity to participate in any kind of seminar, godo-geiko or what have you that focused on Jodo.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Stefan Stenudd

One of the Aikidoka I've been following somewhat of late is a Swedish gentleman by the name of Stefan Stenudd, 6th dan. Most of my exposure has been through video, although he's written a number of books as well; I just haven't had a chance to investigate any of them.

But I am impressed with a lot of his seminar footage, where he exhibits a wonderful ability to keep things extremely light. Then, when you look very closely, and you know what to look for, you can see he's very skilled at finding the right angle of off-balance at the right moment in a very sub-conscious, intuitive way (it reminds me of Jim Ellison Sensei quite a bit, someone I would characterize as "devastatingly light"!) Plus, he just seems like a genuinely nice guy.

This is one example among many. The first portion is devoted to shiho nage, followed by some nice kokyu nage applications (something fun I've been playing with myself since observing a number of Ueshiba style Aikidokas perform it) but the later half really showcases his light-touch off-balance.

Shochugeiko Day 2 evening, Day 3 morning

I'm a little stiff and sore today, but I'm not sure why. Sore, I think because I made a few less-than-perfect attempts at ippon seoi nage during a lesson/discussion with Kyle Sloan Sensei. That's mostly isolated to my lower back, but it's not unbearable. The general stiffness all over, though, I'm not sure why that is. Sure, I went to several classes, but I didn't exactly exert myself to an extraordinary degree.

. . . . . . . . . .

In Aikido, we continued working on the kaeshi waza reversal techniques, and saw some nice experimental discoveries. The one problem that always seems to plague most aikidoka when attempting randori is we get into a competitive state of mind (winning and loosing) and many time forgo "real" attacks and honest recoveries for a spirited game of "slap and tickle." We all do it, me included; it's human nature, I suppose.

Lowry Sensei has described truly productive randori as a game of catch, tossing the "ball" back and forth, but for some reason, the idea has had a hard time sinking in, and most folks (again, myself among them) descend quickly to (as he puts it) a game of dodge ball.

But these kaeshi waza exercises/experiments are resembling a game of catch far more than any free and open randori session. Both partners seem to be more interested in exploring possibilities and finding "cool stuff" rather than in winning. Which is probably how it should be!

. . . . . . . . . .

In judo, we shared the teaching time (with nage waza, anyway). Sloan Sensei talked about ashi guruma (and showed an entry I hadn't seen, where tori is moving backward, which I liked and I think is easy to teach). Kelly (I forget her last name, sorry) talked about one of her tokui waza, seoi nage, or morote seoi nage. For someone her height, it's a great through; for tall guys like me, it's a little tougher. I try to be reasonably proficient with it, if for no other reason than to be able to teach it, but it's perfect for smaller judoka.

I talked about a series of throws that I've been thinking about which come off of the deashi harai foot-sweep drill that we do at the beginning of every class. It's sort of a lead-in to the foot-sweep-to-control drill. Or you can think of it as using the action of catching the foot as a form of kazushi to set up another throw (depending upon how uke gets his foot free). I'll have to make a post specifically about that some time.

In newaza, we covered a bit of the envelope drill, and Sloan Sensei shared some sneaky "dirty" judo techniques. Always good to have in your back pocket.

This morning we went over much of the same things we did last night, plus a grueling sort of "pretzel making" technique to pull once you've established yoko shiho gatame.

I also got to play with Ben Nowland a bit after class as I explored my thoughts on throws which come off of that foot-sweep. I don't know why I've been thinking along these lines, because I don't know that it's necessary, but it's kind of fun for me, at least!

I'll be heading back tonight for another judo and aikido class. Should I take the Ibuprofen now, or when I get home tonight?

Kesa Gatame

I've heard several terms for this little sub-set of holds, but not all of them were the original Japanese name. All of these are based around one of the fundamental hold downs of osaekomi waza (pinning techniques), kesa gatame, or "scarf hold".

The first, most basic form can also be called hon kesa gatame (hon meaning "main" or "basic/normal/regular"). Oddly enough, I had a hard time finding a decent picture of it online (everyone seems to favor one of the variations).

Then there's what I've mostly heard of as the "envelope" but which is technically kuzure kase gatame. I most often hear kuzure translated as "broken" but most online dictionaries translate it as "crumbling" or "collapsing", which makes me wonder if this hold was originally thought of as a lesser form of the hold, as in "the world is falling apart and this is the best hold you can manage"? Hmm. Anyway, here's what it looks like, mostly like kese gatame, but with your right arm around uke's middle rather than the head.

There's also ushiro kesa gatame (ushiro meaning "behind" or "rear"). For a long time I mistakenly called this one kuzure, thinking kuzure meant something like "reverse". Oops. Here, you're facing uke's feet.

Lastly, there's makura kesa gatame. I'd never actually heard a name for this and had to do some research. I've always heard it referred to simply as the "pillow hold" or "pillow lock" (because uke's head is sort of "resting" on your thigh). I thought maybe that was a quaint western nickname for something whose name they either couldn't remember of just didn't know. Turns out makura actually translates as "pillow." Oops again.

There, now I've got myself straightened out and I can sound like I know what I'm talking about!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Tuesday noon shochugeiko class

Another good class. I got to work with Byron Curtis for the hour, someone with whom I haven't had a chance to work since I moved to the morning schedule, which was nice in itself.

Jim Ellison Sensei had us all work on a favorite drill of his (and a good one): transitioning back and forth from kote hineri to kote gaeshi. The idea is to follow uke, let his movement drive the action. (You can also pick a point at random when instead of going to kote hineri, you transition into tenkai kote hineri, but that's essentially the end of that sequence!)

Then we did the same thing with oshi taoshi and ude gaeshi. After that, we did a little bit of another one of Ellison Sensei's favorites. Basically, uke and tori stand facing each other, and tori has a hold of uke's wrist, but lightly. Very slowly, uke takes a step (either foot) toward tori. Tori's job is to sense that movement through his hand and move uke's hand either down the line or perpendicular to the line. If tori has a tight grip, his sensitivity is diminished, and often can't react in time. But with a light grip, your hand acts sort of like a cat's whisker, sensing the slightest change in movement.

Ellison Sensei has been doing this a long, long time (since I was in Kindergarten and I'm 35 now), and it's always a joy to learn from him.

Next up, Aikido at 6pm and Judo at 7:30. Can't wait!

More budo terms

Renraku waza
Basically, it means combination techniques, or flowing from one thing to the next. I've also seen it as renzoku waza, which seems to be a clearer term according to the Denshi Jisho online Japanese dictionary.

Henka waza
Variations of a given technique.

Shochugeiko Day 2

Day two has begun. The schedule for the week, which I failed to mention yesterday, goes as follows (all times are part of the normal schedule except the 9:30 am and 2:30 pm sessions, which are unique to this week):

6:30 am Judo
9:30 am Aikido kata kihon/henka
2:30 pm Aikido Randori Renzuko Waza
6:00 pm Jodo
7:30 pm Aikido

6:30 am Aikido
9:30 am Aikido kata kihon/henka
12:00 pm Aikido
2:30 pm Aikido Randori Renzuko Waza
6:00 pm Aikido
7:30 pm Judo

6:30 am Judo
9:30 am Aikido kata kihon/henka
2:30 pm Aikido Randori Renzuko Waza
6:00 pm Judo or Chi Gung
7:30 pm Aikido

6:30 am Aikido
9:30 am Aikido kata kihon/henka
12:00 pm Aikido
2:30 pm Aikido Randori Renzuko Waza
6:00 pm Aikido
7:30 pm Judo

6:30 am Jodo
9:30 am Aikido kata kihon/henka
12:00 pm Jodo
2:30 pm Aikido Randori Renzuko Waza
6:00 pm Aikido

6:30 am Aikido
7:30 am Judo
9:00 am Jodo
11:30 Aikido

The Aikido emphasize for the week is to be on randori; the judo emphasis on ashi waza and ne waza; and the jodo emphasis on Setei no Kata and also the Koryu no Kata (Jack Bieler Sensei from Denton, Texas will be leading the instruction in the Koryu no Kata since our school only focuses on the Seiter no Kata).

The week will conclude on Saturday night with a potluck and Drum Beat party. Now what is a "drum beat" party you may ask? Some years ago, Windsong got into the tradition (which dates back even further to clinics in Houston with Karl Geis Shihan) of having everyone sitting around after a day of budo, finding whatever objects they can find, and simply beating on it like a drum, or making any kind of percussive noise they can. There's no established tempo, no one leads, there's no predetermined start or finish point, people migrate in and out of the "song" (although there are usually break in between songs). It's all very organic, very primal. And loads of fun.

Unfortunately, I haven't been to one in a long time. Something about having a wife and kids that tends to take priority over that sort of thing. Which is why I can't do too much this week. I'll hit all the morning classes as I normally do, and I've worked out a "deal" with the Mrs. to attend the Tuesday and Wednesday evening classes, as well as Saturday. I also arranged to be gone during work for the Tuesday, Thursday and Friday noon classes, but I will be unable to attend any of the special mid-morning or mid-afternoon classes.

I actually pretty disappointed in that. I'm told that there were a number of people at yesterday's special sessions, and I can't help but wonder, Who are these people?!? Don't they have jobs? Wives and children?

Some people, I know, have taken a week's vacation from work to participate. There's no way I could do that; if I take vacation, it's going to be spent with family and extended family. (Which is not a bad thing, please understand; I love my family. But sometimes I'm a little envious of some European countries and a few others who get up to a month of time off during a year. I'd sure like to spend some of that on budo!)

. . . . . . . . . .

At any rate, this morning in Aikido we worked on some kaeshi waza, or reversal techniques. We've actually been working on this for a week or so prior, and it's a little new. So far, we've taken the first five or six techniques of jun nana hon kata, and played with reversing the technique not just once but a few times (reversing the reversal and so on, going back and forth). It stems, obviously, from randori, but allows one to practice it in almost a kata-like way, being able to experience the subtle nuances of when a technique is working and when it's not, and why. Here's what I've seen so far:

1) Shomen ate > waki gatame > gedan ate or mae otoshi
2) Aigamae ate > oshi taoshi > oshi taoshi
3) Gyakugamae ate > gedan ate or mae otoshi > tenkai kote gaeshi/shomen ate (although the tenkai kote gaeshi is slightly different than the one in san kata; it's mirror handed, which is definitely different)

We experimented with various endings to these and everyone came up with some wonderful variations (including a few judo throws stuck in there, believe it or not). Even the green belt I was working with came up with a wonderful application, which just goes to show you that you can learn from anyone, regardless of rank (which helps keep those egos in check).

There are more variations written on the dry erase board, but I haven't had a chance to play with them yet (maybe Thursday).

I'm looking forward to a noon class and two evening classes to really get into the spirit of the shochugeiko. More on that later.

I also understand Dave Rose has been snapping pictures, so hopefully I'll have some to post online eventually, as well.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Review: "In the Dojo"

In the Dojo
A Guide to the Rituals and Etiquette of the Japanese Martial Arts
by Dave Lowry

Synopsis: "Beginning students in Japanese martial arts learn that when they are in the dojo, they must don their practice garb with ritual precision, address their teacher and senior students in a specific way, and follow certain unwritten but deeply held codes of behavior. But very soon they begin to wonder about the meaning behind the traditions, gear, and relationships in the dojo.

"In this collection of lively, detailed essays, Dave Lowry, one of the most well-known and respected swordsmen in the United States, illuminates the history and meaning behind the rituals, training costumes, objects, and relationships that have such profound significance in Japanese martial arts, including the dojo space itself, the teacher-student relationship, the act of bowingwhat to expect—and what will be expected of you—when you visit a dojo, the training weapons, the hakama (ceremonial skirt) and dogi (practice uniform), the Shinto shrine and more."

. . . . . . . . . .

Lowry himself admits in the introduction that this sort of in-depth exploration of reishiki (or etiquette) may not interest most readers. Perhaps only the Clif Clavens of the world, those (like myself, admittedly) who love the nuances of the culture and the traditions every bit as much as the art itself, will devour it, as I did.

Aside from that, I enjoyed Mr. Lowry's writting style: educated, articulate, but easy to understand, even when delving into facets of deep history. I look forward to reading some of his other works.

Budo terms

I recently happened upon a few new words that I thought were kind of interesting:

I'd heard of kohai and sempai or course (someone who is your junior or senior, respectively), but what if someone is your exact same level? Well, he'd be your dohai.

Shucho embu
Public demonstration of a martial art. I've participated in a few, but never knew it had a name!

"Free practice" where one may move around, training with various folks with no formal "lesson." We'll do this in our school periodically, and it's a nice change of pace.

Practice session where two or more dojos get together to share an informal practice. We've always just called these "play days", but now I have something "official" to call it (even if I'm the only one!)

To train through teaching. Ever realize you knew something only when you tried to teach it someone else? Or even learn something entirely new? That's one of the beauties, I think, of budo. Always something to learn, even as the "teacher".

Tandoku renchu
Training by yourself. For the most part, Aikido really requires a partner since it's based primarily on using an attacker's energy against him. But there are other little drills and things a person can do (I'll have to share those another time). Sotai renshu would be training with a partner.

To train by watching. Even when you're injured or not feeling up to snuff, you can (and I have) learn a lot just by watching.

Nafuda kake
Name board where students names are hung on the wall displaying rank. Lowry Sensei put one of these up in Windsong not too long ago, and it looks pretty good. Windsong is an old dojo, and there are a lot of names, but he made it work. Of course, there's not a lot of room left, so I wonder what will happen when we promote enough dan grades to overflow it?

Quite simply, the foyer, or place where you enter a dojo or place your shoes.

The First Step

I never had any intention of starting a blog about budo, and yet, here I am. I didn't want to do it for several reasons:

1) My time is limited. I have a career, a family, other interests, another blog on a completely unrelated topic, church, and now Facebook (my, how that thing is tempting).

2) Whatever I could possibly think of to say about budo, someone further along the path than I could probably say it better, or with more authority, or, heaven forbid, would say something completely contrary.

But I do think about budo, a lot, really, so why not jot a few of those ideas down? Maybe no one will read them, but that's fine. Mostly, I think, this is for me. If anything, the process of transcribing my thoughts helps to either solidify them in my own mind, or bring to light their inherent flaws. Either way, if I alone learn something, grow, take a few steps further down the Path, then it will have been worthwhile.

And so I begin...

Today was the first day of Shochugeiko at Windsong Dojo, where I currently train. For those who might be unaware, there is a tradition in Japanese martial arts to hold two long, intensive training sessions, one in the middle of summer (shochugeiko) and one in the midddle of winter (kangeiko).

Different arts and dojo arrange these sessions differently, and we, ourselves, have experimented with a couple of formats. Nick Lowry Sensei (the dojo cho) first held a kangeiko that lasted from 6pm one night all the way until 6am the next morning! I tried it, and couldn't last. I went upstairs and fell asleep around 3am or so. My schedule hasn't allowed me to attempt another since then, until this week.

This time, Lowry Sensei is holding the shochugeiko all week, to include both regular classes (morning, noon and evening, plus Saturday), but also some additional mid-morning and mid-afternoon sessions. If one were to attempt every single class/session, (as two of my fellow budoka are attempting to do!) you would accumulate over 45 hours of training in a single week!

Needless to say, for me, that is out of the question. In addition to my normal morning classes, I'm going to try and make the Tuesday, Thursday and Friday noon classes, Tuesday and Wednesday night classes and all the Saturday classes, which will total somewhere around 20 hours. I will definitely be trading off time with my wife to watch my son (mommy needs time off, too!), but ultimately, it should be a good experience.

This morning, we started with the normally scheduled judo class. We covered a few interesting variations from the first position of the "envelope" drill which included an arm bar and a choke. We went on to review the first several techniques of goshin jitsu no kata, which Lowry Sensei has decided will be an acceptable substitute for nage no kata in regard to rank advancement demonstrations.

All in all, a great start. It was good to see Kyle Sloan Sensei (who normally instructs in the evenings) as well as Lowry Sensei; we morning folk don't get many guests that early!

Hopefully, I'll keep this up and post more as the week progresses and hopefully more about budo in general. Thank you to anyone who chooses to follow along.