Monday, August 31, 2009

Foot sweep uchi komi

Okuri ashi harai

I guess we can't get enough of new drills in morning judo. This one is another variation of the basic advancing foot-sweep drill we typically do at the beginning of every class.

That drill consists of starting on one side of the dojo and one partner advancing and sweeping uke's foot with every step, left right left right, and so on. When he gets to the other side of the mat, it's the other guy's turn. It's primarily a control drill, although sometimes we might throw on the very last one, or have uke do tsubame gaeshi.

It's a good, solid drill, especially if you're just learning how to do a foot sweep, but after a while, I think it becomes necessary to add little challenges into the mix [sly grin]. Scott has been keen on getting guys to starting moving around in a more random fashion once they get the hang of something (green belt, maybe third brown), which is a good thing. We often teach a throw in a similarly basic fashion, with limited linear motion: uke steps back and forth with one leg, and we learn how to step on the correct line and how to do it off of uke's step, etc. It's a good way to teach a throw to someone new; but once they get the hang of it, why try to get them throwing more on the fly.

Which is usually where hop randori comes in: we move around, I throw one, then the other throws something, back and forth.

But today, we decided to try something a little different. Instead of doing the foot sweeps in a straight line, Scott had his partner going any old direction, moving around the mat. Great idea, so my partner and I started doing the same thing. Then I had them add in one throw. For example, you move forward, sweep sweep, left right left right, then at some point, I take the foot I've just swept with and step back with it, three feet on a line. As uke comes forward with me, I reach out and snag ko uchi gari. I would do that a couple of times (both sides), and then it was the other guy's turn.

Then we switched partners and did the same thing, but with hiza guruma only, also changing directions and going back to throw (although when Scott and I played, we messed around with doing an advancing hiza, which was fun).

Switch, then work with o soto gari only; then ouchi gari; then okuri ashi harai.

One thing we didn't think of at the time that may have helped would be to have uke be the one to determine when tori needed to step back into the throw by suddenly resisting or pushing slightly back forward, which would also help develop the "you pull, I push; you push, I pull" sort of flowing response.

At any rate, it was kind of a nice way to combine our foot sweep drills with our uchi komi drills.

Friday, August 28, 2009


Buddy Christ Wilson has started his own judo blog,, which includes a few videos. Hopefully, he'll keep it up and I can learn a thing or two!

Affecting the center line

Once again, someone else's blog post got me thinking about something and prompting a series of thoughts too large to simply leave as a comment.

When first learning randori no kata (the 17/23), I sort of misunderstood what I was really doing. I looked at each technique as individual things, doing individual jobs, different jobs. With shomen ate, I was attacking his face; with kote gaeshi, I was twisting up his wrist in an uncomfortable way; with waki gatame, I was locking up the elbow, and so on.
I also tended to focus more on what my hands were doing, rather than what my center was doing. (I suppose all this might be what's referred to as omote, what is seen from the outside, or on the surface, and the reality of the matter being the ura, the hidden or maybe not-so-obvious truth).

Then, one day (and this probably took longer than it should have) I finally realized that I'm not attacking unique, separate parts of uke's body, but rather I'm always looking to disrupt uke's center line, and consequently his balance, and his effectiveness to attack me. I'm also doing it with my center, the energy just happens to be transmitted through my arms.

Suddenly, the 17 started to make a little more sense. With the first 5 (ateme waza), we're going after the center line directly; with 6-10 (hiji waza) we've moved further away and are now affecting the center line but now through uke's elbow; the next set 11-14 (tekubi waza) we've moved even further away and are affecting the center line by way of their wrist.

The last 3 (uki waza) are still affecting the center line, but in a more subtle way. I'm still using my center, and I'm still attached to uke, but now shearing across his lines of movement: mae otoshi, across him to his left front corner (if he's attacked me right side), sumi otoshi to his right rear corner, and hiki otoshi takes him forward and down. 
I also realized that the arm twisty thing in mae otoshi, as well as the arm lock in hiki otoshi, which both occur before the throw are get if you can get them but are really ancillary to what's really going on.
But there still, those moments, too, should affect uke's center line. The coil in mae otoshi makes uke's hips jut out a little (which makes him go up on his toes) and get his line out of whack. Uke should want to try and uncoil, to get out of that tension; when he does, then we step in and displace or shear across his center with ours. The straight arm lock in hiki otoshi should put uke on his toes, too, loading his weight back, and again, when that tension is released we shear down.

Actually, the last three I'm still working on defining and deciphering in my own mind. Perhaps another epiphany will strike someday, and they'll make even more sense.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Unusual circumstances

As I've mentioned before, for some odd reason, I've been thinking about how the average aikidoka could or should react when grabbed anywhere other than the wrist. I (and those with me) experimented with doing the 8 releases (hanasu no kata) from a grip above the elbow and came up with some fun results. It's nothing earth-shattering, mind you; we didn't invent any new techniques or anything, just found what techniques tended to lend themselves to that slightly unusual condition.

There are a number of those sorts of odd conditions present in the koryu kata, of course, so it isn't as if the subject hasn't been addressed at all. I guess I've just been looking through the eyes of those students who are still mudansha, or below dan rank (the kyu grades). The entire time spent learning from day one through first degree black belt, you study tegatana no kata ("the Walk"), the 8 releases (from the wrist), randori no kata, or junana hon kata, and o-waza ju pon (the "Big 10"). None of which deal with "unusual" attacks, such as from the rear, or from inside ma-ai, etc.

I suppose it should be obvious why: the kyu grades need to study the basics, to internalize the fundamentals first. Once they've established a foundation, you can start adding variables. It makes sense; you learn to add, subtract, multiple and divide for a while before you ever get into fractions or algebra or trigonometry, etc. And that process just takes time, plain and simple.

Still, I guess a part of me is impatient. It doesn't take long before you begin to genuinely care for these students, and consequently, I get a little nervous thinking about their safety out in the "real world". I know they're still young, fledglings, newly hatched, but I want them to be able to handle some of the misfortune that comes hurtling our way from time to time.

Milwaukee mayor Tom Barrett

In particular, I've been thinking about the Milwaukee mayor who tried to help a grandmother who was trying to protect her 1 year old granddaughter from a 20 year old man (supposedly a domestic dispute) at a local fair. When the mayor tried to see what was going on, the young man beat attacked him with a lead pipe.

The funny thing is, aikido principles apply regardless of the situation. I understand Ueshiba tended to go back and forth from empty hands, using a jo, and using a sword when lecturing. It was all the same to him. And I suppose in theory, if a young aikidoka who hasn't had any experience dealing with a weapon, if he still used aikido principles (getting off of the line of attack, or even a good old fashioned shomen ate) he would fair pretty well.

My concern is, even though their subconscious mind can probably handle things, their conscious mind has a tendency to get in the way when the situation becomes even slightly unfamiliar. You come at them with nothing in your hand, they know what to do; put something in your hand, and suddenly they freeze for a split second.

So is it diluting or undermining the education and progression of a kyu grade to occasionally (not a lot, but once in a while) spend a class dealing with an odd grip or a weapon? Even if they don't remember a thing, I'd hope that the sight of something new at least won't paralyze them when it counts.

Since we've started reviewing the goshin jutsu kata in judo lately, I thought it might be fun to play with it in aikido this morning (half of us had seen it in judo anyway). The beginning handful of techniques introduce some odd grabs, but the resulting techniques are still rather aikido-esque (it was influenced by Tomiki, after all). Everyone did pretty well with it, and it was in interesting change of pace.

Maybe next time we have a little "special class" we'll dig out the knives.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

50 armbars in 4 minutes

Grab some popcorn, sit back and watch a little kansetsu waza.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Arm bar drill

Good ol' juji gatame

This relates somewhat to my earlier post about taking notes. We don't spend near as much time on kata in judo as we do in aikido, so whenever I encounter a new drill, or series of techniques, I have to jot them down if I am to have any hope of remembering them down the road. This is as much as I can remember of an arm bar drill I've seen a few times, but it's been a while. (And the ending I may have made up entirely!)

Begin with uke on his back, and tori in a loose kazure kesa gatame, down at the hip level (right side).

1) Uke turns toward you, pushing you, doing all the work. You roll flat against him.

2) Uke rolls back onto his back. You switch back into kazure kesa gatame.

3) Uke turns toward you again, really trying to push you. You snag his arm in waki gatame.

4) Uke tries to curl his arm out of the arm bar. You use your right arm to snake under his for a quick coil armbar (this one is really hard to describe in words without a video, sorry.)

5) Uke keeps rolling onto his back. You use your free left hand to yoke his wrist and push it all the way to the mat on the far side. You're now laying on top of him (shoulder level). Take a figure four coil armbar. (You can also grab his wrist with both hands in a "motorcycle" grip.)

6) Uke tries to uncoil his arm. You keep the same figure four grip, and now do a straight armbar, one arm under uke's elbow.

7) Uke curls the other way to get out of it, toward his hips. You slip your left arm under his bicep, grabbing your own label. You use your right hand to yoke his wrist and get another figure four arm bar with uke's arm pointed down (you'll let go of your lapel for it). (You can do the "motorcycle" grip here, too.)

8) If, before step 7, uke is wise enough not to let you get the second coil armbar and he hugs you tight to keep you from getting his arm, keep the label grip with your left hand. Bring your right knee up, then step over his head with your left foot. You're now sitting upright, on one knee, your bottom directly over his face. Now his arm is stretched out and you can get another coil.

9) From there, you can spin to uke's other side, sit down and get good ol' juji gatame.

Now, I wonder if I'm forgetting something, or completely getting something wrong?

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Aikido glossary

I found another fairly in-depth glossary.

A new look at old kata

It would seem that my sensei's new-found (or perhaps renewed) interest in examining our kata and where they came from has infected me somewhat. I haven't even begun to delve into the complex history of our kata, as Lowry sensei has, but I've at least been looking at what other Tomiki systems do with their current katas. That alone has proved rather eye-opening.

In particular, I've been working with a fellow budoka, Scott Weaver, on the last half of koryu dai yon kata. After looking at several other videos, I realized there were some techniques that we a little different than what I was used to. In particular, #22 jyuji garami nage and #24 tentai hiji garami.

I don't have a video of the way I was taught, but I there are a few on YouTube showing the typical Tomiki-ryu approach. The main difference with the other schools is that, with 22, uke grab tori's left hand and steps around behind to grab uke's right hand; the way we've always done it is without that second grab. I believe we worked under the assumption that uke was on his way to grab and we snatched his hand out of the air and got the second, kote gaeshi, grip. We also tended to throw it as a flipping sort of breakfall; others get uke's arms really twisted up and then use that as a lever to send him into a rolling breakfall.

With 23, the others have uke step around behind uke again and grab tori's collar. One tori steps under and trades hands to tentai kote hineri, he brings uke's arm down in front of the arm uke is gripping the collar with. Then tori peels off the collar grip, gets his kote gaeshi grip. Again, we've always done it from the idea that uke is in the process of reaching and we snag it out of the air. On both of these, we never twisted up uke's arm the way others do.

Frankly, I think the way the others do it makes sense. If I start 22 and 23 as if I'm doing a normal # 5 release, then why not just do any number of other techniques from the 17 like we would in the renzoku waza (chaining technique drills)? To me, uke's second grip is what causes us to do something unique, to deal with a unique set of circumstances that force us to do something a little odd, though still within principle; if it isn't unique, if it's already been covered in earlier kata, than why repeat it?

I've also noticed a similar difference in a couple of techniques from san kata, the sixth technique of tachi waza (standing techniques). We always did it as a #5 release, but we turned quickly or early so the body contact was close, and you did mae otoshi. Again, the others do it with uke's second hand involved. It's that second grip that keeps you from doing a normal release and you have to do something unique. The name is ushiro waza mae otoshi, after all: a mae otoshi from a rear attack.

All of which makes me wonder: why the difference? Or perhaps more accurately, why the change (if indeed it was actually changed by conscious decision)? Perhaps it's those sorts of discrepancies which have prompted Lowry sensei to delve into the past so vigorously.

In a way, I almost feel what I imagine an Amish kid would feel like when stepping out into the "real world". It's definitely different out there, not like what I grew up with. But, as all Amish kids must decide for themselves, is that new world necessarily any better?

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Senpai or Sempai?

A quick note about something I learned regarding whether to write "senpai" or "sempai". This from Wikipedia:

...Senpai is often seen romanized as "sempai" because it is pronounced that way (the Japanese "n" (ん) is pronounced as "m" when it comes before bilabials, such as "p").

Always a student

The lone ship at sea

After the birth of my son three years ago, evening budo classes became a thing of the past. Which is fine, mind you, I actually enjoy my family, so I'm not complaining. After that, my main option was to go to aikido classes at noon during the week, during my lunch break. But I didn't have a judo option, and since I could rarely make it into a Saturday morning class anymore, I didn't have a jodo option either (is it jyodo, or jodo? I can never settle on one).

So I started a noon class for both: Monday and Wednesday judo and Friday jodo. Which went well for awhile, until my work moved further away from the dojo which stretched my lunch hour to the breaking point and I had to start coming in for early morning classes (thankfully, judo and jodo classes were already in place!).

Again, I never minded the noon or morning classes; they're a great bunch of guys. What I missed was the presence of anyone higher ranking than me! I hold dan grade ranks in all three, but I still consider myself a student; if and when I teach, I feel like an "adjunct professor" at best. I enjoy teaching, quite a bit, and for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is that I learn a lot when I actually try and convey something I thought I understood to someone else.

But I still need instruction, I still need help, guidance (and so do the students under me). I still need a sensei (or several!)

There was some enlightening discussion on the KUBK forum not long ago about the nature of the sempai/kohai relationship (you can read the thread here). The gist of the matter was, the system works well (at least in budo) when dealing with kyu grades or large gaps in rank and experience, but once the parties involved grow into the dan grades, a more horizontal structure takes its place, where people are interested in "better ideas, the greater skills and the more natural human relationships."

I agree with that, of course. It makes sense, and describes well what I had been experiencing all these years but never recognized.

At the same time, I can't but wonder if it isn't still necessary to retain a few "sempai" or, perhaps more appropriately, a sensei. I've still got a number of years ahead of me, but I'm no beginner, either. I can teach, but good heavens, I don't know everything! I still feel the need for a guiding hand, someone who is not only somewhere on the same path as me, but quite a bit further down that road. I wonder if I will ever outgrow that? Will I be a sixty-something year old 7th dan or 8th dan still needing guidance from a 90-something 9th dan?

I don't know. I would imagine that eventually, a transition must take place. It's something I'd love to ask a sixty-something year old 7th dan or 8th dan, for sure!

For now, I need help. I try to make as many special training sessions, such as shochugeiko and kangeiko (summer and winter intensives) or godo-geiko (inter-dojo "play days"), or a series of Saturday classes whenever possible. That's one of the main reasons those events exist. I also look to other sources for guidance such as books, DVDs and, though for some reason it shames me somewhat to admit it, YouTube. (There are some charlatans, certainly, but I think there is some genuinely valuable information out there, you just have to do some digging.)

I'm not looking for some mystical oracle, some archetypal Mr. Miyagi type of "guru" who will give me all of life's answers in the form of cryptic riddles. I'm not looking to engage in hero worship, either. If anything, the presence of a sensei keeps me humble. Sometimes, you need two reference points to gage where you are in the process (I'm not a pilot or a boat captain, but I'm sure there's some sort of profound object lesson that could be extrapolated from either profession): those behind you and someone ahead of you. (Triangulating your coordinates? Some silliness rattling around in my head as a result of too much TV as a kid.)

Anyway, I'm grateful for my sensei, my senpai. I try to take advantage of them whenever I can. Maybe, someday, I might be able to return the favor to someone coming up the path behind me.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Taking notes

So much to learn, so much to learn. Fortunately, a lot of it is codified in the form of kata, and along with the frequent repetition of those techniques in day to day class, there are often quite a few resources available in the form of books or videos or web site to help us along or remind us of anything we may have forgotten.

But there's always something extra, some added bits of information that don't seem to be covered anywhere; I pick them up from higher ranks periodically, or sometimes from other schools or even other systems. I would like to incorporate them in classes when appropriate, but the problem is remembering all of them. Kata serves a lot of purposes, and one of them is it serves to aid memorability when passing down information from person to person (before all the books and videos became so easily accessible). But what about all the tid-bits?

Mostly, I've tried to take notes over the years. For whatever reason, the renzoku waza, or "chained" techniques stemming from release movements, which were introduced into our system about a decade or so ago, were never committed to a permanent, transmittable form such as a book or video. So, after every class, whenever I picked up a new piece of the chain, I would immediately go home and write it down. Sometimes, those chains grew quite complex, and the method I used to start recording them may not be the best.

I use a computer all day, so that's what I'm most comfortable with, so I used Adobe InDesign (a program common for graphic designers) to type them up nice and neat. While that helps in the sense that I don't go back months or years later and struggle to decipher my own handwriting, they're still somewhat random and disorganized, and I'd love to spend some time doing just that.

Although, currently Nick Lowry sensei and his many helpful budo elves are in the process of compiling a number of videos which will cover a great many of those pesky details and tidbits in addition to the kata. But it's a massive undertaking, and will likely take years, and I'm sure there will be more added to it in perpetuity.

I also wonder how to incorporate some of those things into the normal routine of class. I've been experimenting with the "secret ninja trick of the day" for the last few minutes of class in aikido and that's been fun. Not only do the newer students get to see something a little different, I get to experiment with the new things I pick up (and pretend like I've know about them for years, of course...) Dojo play-days are another great way of pairing up with someone and experimenting. Heck, it may even be worthwhile to do something like that during a normal class if you have the right mix of people.

I guess it's just my nature, to organize. It comes with the job of being a designer, really: the client gives us a bunch of information, or no information at all, and we have to learn it, digest it, and find the best way to organize and communicate that information to people who aren't experts in that field.

The main downside, however, is I have a hard time translating a written description of a physical movement into an action, going from words to picturing it in my head. Which is the nice thing about videos, obviously, so I'm excited for those.

Until then, it's back to writing notes.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Ukemi drill

Yesterday in aikido, Scott Weaver had us play with an interesting ukemi exercise that helps introduce a bit of a random element to our practice.

When we're first learning ukemi, we typically do it with conscious effort: we do it along side someone else, with a class, and to a count, etc. as part of our warm-up. Then, once we get enough repetitions, we can start playing with a few variations (rolling opposite hand and foot, etc.).

The last stage of ukemi development comes when it begins to sink into our subconscious mind. We fall when we don't expect to, and the proper ukemi just comes out. It's happened to me, and several people I know, out in the "real world" in situations having nothing to do with self defense. You slip, you step off of a curb you didn't see, slip off a soapy truck bed (not me, but a good story) and you hit the ground before you even realize what's happening. Other people get hurt or break things; trained budoka, however, more often get up, brush themselves off and go about their business.

But there's a barrier between falling as a result of a conscious decision and having something yank you out of your world unexpectedly and send you hurtling toward the ground without you worrying about what's happening. In a word, it's fear.

Millennia of evolution has taught us that falling is bad, that hitting the ground will get you hurt. At the very least, protect the brain and face even if that means an arm or wrist has to break in the process. It takes time and practice before the subconscious can ever get used to the idea that it's okay to fall down. I find that younger students adapt very, very quickly (part of the inherent fearlessness of youth), and older students take much longer—if ever—to get fully comfortable with falling. Something about an older mind resists the idea more than a young mind.

Much of that transition from conscious to subconscious will happen in the course of regular training. Even still, many times we're working on a specific technique, and we really know what fall is coming up, so it still isn't always 100% spontaneous.

Which brings me to my original thought: Scott's exercise. All you do is pick one person to stand in the middle of the mat; everyone else stands around him. The person who's "it" simply starts walking (if you're really comfortable with falling, you can even close your eyes). Everyone else will, one at a time, come up and do something to disturb his balance, to interrupt his gait. It's nothing drastic, we're not trying to "throw" the guy. Just a hand, something to alter the "norm".

The job for the guy in the middle is simply to go with it. To relax entirely, to go with the flow, absorb the energy. It could be a back fall, a side fall, a rolling breakfall which in turn could go in a number of directions. That's it, really. But it goes a long way to overcoming the fear and really lets ukemi become as natural as walking itself.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Grab a little higher

In the last month or so, our dojo has decided to go back to a format more reminiscent of the "old days" when we paired up and did the 8 releases (hanasu no kata) and follow that up with practice on the randori no kata (or the 17, junana hon kata, or the 23 which would be what? ni ju san hon kata?). This morning, though, since we had all yudansha except one, I thought we play a little with the releases.

(I was worried when I first got to class because I was so tired and didn't feel like doing much of anything, but fortunately Scott was feeling saucy and got us all revved up, for which I am very grateful!)

We started by doing the releases in the basic, normal way. Afterwards, I explained that I had noticed many folks, during any sort of random attack exercise, completely freeze when someone grabbed them anywhere on the arm higher than the wrist. They looked like a deer caught in the headlights: Oh, no, what do I do?! We've never done anything where uke grabs there!...

The first thing I told was, just do the release, the same as always.

The interesting thing is, because the structural relationship between tori and uke is slightly different now, you get some interesting opportunities to exploit. None of this is gospel, of course, merely my own experimentation mingled with some past experience with my teachers.

Ude gatame from Koryu dai san kata

1) Hon soto hanasu
Uke grabs anywhere on the sleeve above the wrist (cross grip) and tori does the number one release. If you make the motion fairly large and circular, you'll find your arm coming down over uke's, pinning it to your thigh, and your free hand draped around the far side of his neck. A position which, as you might imagine, looks an awful lot like the fifth technique of o waza ju pon, or aiki nage.

2) Hon soto te osu
This one is a little odd, and I'll be the first to admit it may have flaws. Uke grabs the same as before, and tori steps just as he would for the second release, allowing uke to go right on by. Now, because of the different grip, it's much more likely that he will turn around on you, and also pretty likely that he will turn toward his own hand (if he's gripping with his right, he'll turn to his right to come back at you). As he turns the corner, your hand (the one with the grip on its sleeve) is free to place in the inside crook of uke's elbow. Gently push his elbow past his butt and you get a fairly slick sumi otoshi.

3) Gyaku soto hanasu
Uke grabs high, but mirror side this time. You step to the outside as you would a normal number 3 release. Here, we came up with a couple of options. The main variation comes from san kata. If uke grabs high, above the elbow, you step as you normally would, then curl your arm to your belly, palm up, crimping uke's elbow much like the third techniqe of the standing section (tachi waza) from san kata. Once you let uke rise, your hand, palm up, goes under the chin/across the torso, and stepping sideways, knock uke into a back-fall (some Tomiki folks will do it palm pushing out, but you get the idea: it's gyaku-gamae ate).

If uke's grip is below the elbow (but above the wrist), however, you'll find that as you turn back toward uke, his wrist will lock in a sort of kote mawashi, and his elbow will be locked, keeping you from crimping it like san kata. We still made the same action with our grabbed hand of curling our palm to our belly, but our free hand cupped uke's shoulder and rolled it forward into a sort of standing armbar similar to the fifth technique of the knife section of san kata.

4) Gyaku soto te osu
This one's also odd. As usual, you do everything the way you would a normal #4, but you keep your arm swinging in a wide arc until it comes comes back underneath uke's arm. You end up coiling uke's arm into a very uncomfortable position, but I'm not entirely sure what to do from that point. Since uke can't let go, you could basically walk him out the door if you wanted, but I don't really have a definitive throw, or kake, in mind. You decided you could use your near foot to sweep uke's out from under him, if like. You also may be able to allow his arm to uncoil as you step across his front in mae otoshi. Requires a little further experimentation, I think.

5) Hon uchi hanasu
The "under the arm" releases are a little tricky. Well, 6 and 8 I had answers for, but 5 and 7 still perplex me. When uke's grip is high, you really can't go under the arm (unless you're really short or you bend your knees pretty deeply). About the only thing I could come up with here would be to proceed as you normally would, turn, but instead of going under uke's arm, you slip your foot behind uke and your free arm across his middle and get gedan ate. Otherwise, I'm open to suggestions!

6) Hon uchi ude hineri
This variation, as well as the one for #8, I had been shown a long time ago, and I'm not positive where they came from (I'm pretty sure they're just variations of techniques from yon kata), but I've always loved them. In this release, you step to your right (if your right arm is the one being grabbed), shearing uke's arm across his own body. This action, as we know, tends to turn him. Instead of going under your arm (which you can't do), you turn back toward him into an aiki nage/irimi nage position. The action is very quick and tight, and startlingly effective.

7) Gyaku uchi hanasu
This one really befuddled me. Mostly, we kept wanting to go to the outside, as in #3, but then we realized that we had to assume we didn't have enough space or time to do that. In the end we came up with the same ude gatame standing arm bar as in the knife section of san kata. But we also found that a form of kaiten nage could possibly live there, and maybe the technique that's similar to kaiten nage where you cup the far side of his neck and spin him until he sits down (if it has a name, I've never heard it!)

8) Gyaku uchi ude hineri
This one goes much like the #6 variation, stepping across uke, getting him to spin, but now as you turn back toward uke, instead of an aiki nage/irimi nage position, you get a gyakugamae ate position (palm up under chin, our palm out pushing). Again, very quick and tight, but wickedly effective.

So there we have it! By all means, if anyone has any thoughts or ideas, I'm happy to hear them!

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Secret ninja techniques

I believe it was Pat Parker who brought up the idea of reserving the last few minutes of class, after covering the normal curriculum, for what he called the "secret ninja technique of the day". I like the idea (and the name!) so just for fun, I've been doing something along those lines during the morning aikido class.

Once or twice, I'll take something from the higher, koryu kata, which the average green or brown belt hadn't seen yet, but would be simple enough to pull off. Then, sometimes I see something new that, from the outside, looks as if it follows principles well enough (ours at least) and try and see how it feels in practice. This is one we played with today for the last five minutes.

We've done a tenkan (turning) form of tenchinage in our renzoku waza (release chains), but I'd never played with an irimi sort of entry. I'd say it works pretty well, and can come as quite a surprise to uke, even if he's not attacking that hard! Of course, if you try it and get jammed up, you can switch to a tenkan action, turning, switching which hand is up and down and get it that way. I love this stuff!

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Variations in Ukemi training

During the course of a regular class, we go through a prescribed regimen to learn and practice ukemi. But there are other variations we'll add to the routine from time to time just for fun, to round out our ukemi skills after we've grown fairly comfortable with the basics.

I saw this video on the Kaze Uta Budo Kai forum, and found a few interesting things to play with.

1) Around the 0:30 mark, on of the gentlemen does a few back-falls while taking a step backward or forward with one foot. Normally, we practice back-falls from a static position (feet together). Once in a while, I think it's a good thing to introduce a little motion to the action once a student has the basic motion down.

2) Now, that much, I'd seen before. The part that I had not seen was practicing the back-fall with a partner, as they do at the 0:54 mark. We tried it in aikido this morning, but from a slightly different set-up. We started with both arms up, our palms meeting, with slight pressure. Tori begins to walk backwards while uke follows him (moving forward), trying to maintain a constant pace and pressure. At some point uke changes the equation slightly by stepping a little further/deeper than normal. Not much, just enough change to tip tori over his heels.

3) The we did something similar to what they do at the 3:57 mark for forward rolls. When we tried it from static, as they do in the video, we found we didn't quite get an honest "oh, crap!" sort of off-balance; tori would pitch forward, but he could stop himself without having to roll. So we tried it walking, arms up just as in the previous exercise, and at some point while moving back, uke stepped off the line to one side or the other. Then, tori's forward moment was enough to force him to roll.

Just a few fun things to try to break up the monotony.

What doesn't help

I will say I'm pretty certain will not help my grappling. Avoiding it. For one thing, taking several "leaves of absence" from budo over the years has not helped my progress (there are many that started at the same time as me or even after have long since passed me by).

But for another, it's become easy to just keep working of nage waza during class, especially if we happen to get involved in an interesting aspect of the subject. For a time, I was running a noon class twice a week, and since I was in charge, that was particularly easy to do. Basically, I've avoided it because I didn't like it.

The answer is the same, of course. Keep doing it, keep doing it.

Monday, August 3, 2009

I wish I liked grappling

Really, I wish I loved grappling, but right now, I'd settle for "like". I don't know why, but it's never been my favorite thing about budo. I love nage waza (throwing) and I love pretty much everything about aikido and jodo. But katame waza...

I know plenty of other guys who can't get enough of it, who would probably rather grapple than throw. Sick puppies, how I envy them. So what is it about it I don't like? Well, one thing mainly. And bare in mind, my reasons for struggling with katame waza are not ideological or philosophical or even practical. This is just me...

Basically, it scares the willies out of me. You see, I'm not a competitive person, not at all. I don't even like playing board games (my wife does, and it's always a chore for her to drag me into a game with friends, although I usually enjoy myself once I get into it). I've played soccer, and I like watching it, but I have a very hard time watching a team I actually care about (watching the US play in the world cup makes me a nervous wreck; teams in whom I have little or nothing invested I can actually enjoy).

Now, I realize that our dojo is not focused on tournament play, more on technique and principle, and so the idea of "winning or loosing" shouldn't theoretically be a concern. But when we venture away from kata (where the outcome is know ahead of time) and into anything resembling randori, I'm just not good as recognizing that it's still "play", that it's still "practice". My mind slips fairly easily into "fight or flight" and all my adrenaline dumps into the system and I panic.

With a few hours under my belt, I can usually keep a hold of myself when working with a newer judoka. But once I get mixed up with someone who knows a little bit about what they're doing, all composure flies out the window.

Logically, I realize there's nothing to be afraid of. No one here is out to hurt me, we're all friends. But once I feel the other guy breaching my defenses and zeroing in on a hold or anything else, it seems to trigger something deeper-seated than logic, something primal that supersedes all logic and self-control. There are a handful of joduka whom I admire greatly for their ability to maintain their composure even when dealing with a more inexperienced player who insists on going fast and furious. Of course, that may just come with time.

Which almost always seems to be the answer to most dilemmas we face in budo, doesn't it? How do I get over this obstacle? Time. Hours on the mat, just doing it. Not a particularly encouraging answer, for sure. I suppose we all want an instant answer: tell me something that will make me better now. Of course, it just doesn't work that way. We can pick up little things here and there to add to our repertoire of techniques or tweak the ones we already have, but only time internalizes principles and allows us to really do magical things.

Once in a while, I'll work with someone on the ground in a way that I do enjoy: put simply, we trade. In other words, my partner gets me in something, and I take time to think about it, even talk out loud about it. I try things, some of it doesn't work, but eventually something will, and then I find myself in an advantageous position and then it's my partner's turn to pause and reflect, to talk his way out of it, and for me, even, to suggest certain ideas: "What if you moved your hand here, and grabbed your own gi, could you get an arm bar that way? Hmm. Maybe not..."

Or maybe so, and I tap. "Yep, that will do it." Then we back up, or "rewind" if you will, to a few moments before the point of tapping and then we see what I could do from there. At that speed, I can definitely last a lot longer. When I get sucked into the primal "fight or flight" adrenaline dump, I may have 30 seconds at best. With slow trading, I could probably go for a half hour or more.

Some would suggest we probably learn and internalize a lot more doing it this way ("fast is slow, slow is fast" as the adage goes). But then, some folks just can't do it that way, period. Fast and hard is the only gear they have. In those instances, I'd love to be able to keep my cool and ride it out. I've heard some say that all you have to do is wait until the "fast and furious" players just run out of juice and then do your thing, but I swear, there are some guys who just do not run out of gas, who can go full speed all day long (these are usually the ones who love grappling, unfortunately).

So there you go. This is my love/hate relationship with grappling. I wish I loved it, I wish I were better at it (or at least able to keep my cool; I wouldn't mind getting "got" repeatedly if I could just keep my energy under control). I do it anyway because, for one thing, it's an element of self defense that I may need (if I ever got into an altercation "on the street" which, let's be honest, hasn't happened yet, and frankly not too likely to happen in the future; I don't really frequent the sorts of areas where that sort of thing is likely).

Mainly, I do it because it's a demon that I want to control a little better. Not to defeat or vanquish. I think that would be a delusion to imagine I can eradicate any and all tendencies for ugly, selfish, impetuous behavior. Just a modicum of self-mastery, is all. But then, I suppose that's always the real challenge, isn't it? At the risk of sounding hackneyed, the real enemy we face is ourselves.