Saturday, October 31, 2009

Quote: Munenori

It is a disease to be possessed by ideas of victory or of technique.
It is also a disease to be possessed by the idea of showing the results of your training.
It is a disease to be determined to attack first or, conversely, to wait for the opponent's move.
It is a disease even to be possessed by the idea of removing all such diseases.
The disease is a state of mind that is rigid and fixed, in whatever situation.
All such diseases stem from your state of mind.
It is important to control the mind.

—From Hei-Ho-Kaden-Sho by Yagyu Tajimanokami Munenori

Friday, October 30, 2009

Dan grade class

I've been far too tired by the end of the week to get up in time for jodo on Friday morning the past couple of weeks. I finally made it in this morning, and discovered that the few folks who have been showing up have decided to do aikido instead. They happened to be a little higher rank in aikido than jodo, so in ended up being a sort of black belt class, which is actually kind of nice once and a while.

When all you have are dan grades, you can get a little more refined in your analyzation of technique, you can explore higher kata, and you can have a little more confidence in your uke's ukemi abilities.

Today, one black belt mentioned how he'd like to look at the latter half of randori no kata, since he typically spends classes working with lower ranks on the first half. We only managed to cover waki gatame, kote hineri and kote gaeshi, but we got a lot of good information out of it. Too much, really, to try and go over here (I don't know that I could remember it all!)

We talked about making a solid, committed attack, for one. We tend to give lower grades a lot of slack so that they can learn in an environment of success. But with shodan and above, we had to be sure we stepped it up a little and made sure tori did a proper balance break, etc.

We talked about uke always keeping the second hand engaged and ready, always trying (at least in our minds) to get at tori. We hear a lot about tori keeping his second hand up and engaged, but it's good to remind ourselves, that uke can't just let his second arm dangle uselessly (the Bad Guys on the street certainly wouldn't!)

Everyone seemed to have to tenkan version of kote hineri down pretty well, but they hadn't spent much time on the good ol' fashioned, straight line, elbow through the ear version (which I did when it was my turn to be attacked and surprised everyone). Good to know both.

We also talked a bit about kote gaeshi and some cheeky ways to handle the guy with an iron grip who's hell bent on ripping your wrist off (with no hazumi, natch).

Anyway, lots of good stuff. I hope we get to do it again soon.

Jiyu waza and Randori

Okay, more terms I didn't know. (How long have I been doing this stuff? And I still don't know these things? I feel like I need to take some sort of GED exam, study a text book day and night and pass a test to catch up).

Jiyu waza
From what I understand, this refers to a sort of middle step between kata and randori, which I knew always existed, I just didn't have a name for it. The rolls of uke and tori are agreed upon beforehand, and uke is usually compliant.

Despite being a "freestyle" sort of exercise, I mostly do jiyu waza with some sort of limit, i.e. limited types of attack (only releases, or only shomen ate, etc.), or in some cases, limited to variations of just one technique. It's a wonderful training method that I'd like to do more of, actually.

(Literally: taking/grasping chaos) Whereas kata resides at one end of the spectrum where everything is known (we know who uke is, what the attack will be, which hand, and what the technique will be), randori lies at the complete opposite end, where nothing is known.

We start with an uke, who attacks however they like (within reason) and is trying to overwhelm tori, with varying levels of resistance. The "roll" of uke and tori are often lost, or at least change hands back and forth, much like a game of catch. This obviously is much harder training, that has more potential for becoming a little scrappy!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

French aikido instructor Andre Nocquet

I've been interested lately in the late French aikido instructor Andre Nocquet. An interesting video which features, among other things, some interesting technique against bokken and using a jo.

A clear and empty space

"If you take up this practice, do not agitate your mind; let it be like a mountain. Let your mind be like a clear and empty space and continue to reflect on enlightening Dharma like the moon reflects the sun. Whether others think that you are right or wrong is not your concern. Do not judge or criticize others. Just be at ease and go on mindlessly like a simpleton or a fool; or, be like one who is struck deaf and dumb. Spend your life as if you cannot hear a thing, or like an infant. Then, sooner or later, all the delusion will disappear."

—Excerpt, The Great Matter of Life and Death by Kyong Ho (courtesy of Nick Lowry Sensei)

(I don't pretend to understand these sorts of discourses, but as I read certain things, they strike me, or resonate like the string of a guitar plucked by an unseen hand. Then, I feel the need to share them!)

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Fresh batch of new terms

Part of my never-ending budo education comes in the form of terminology. Sometimes it's a word for something I was already aware of, but just didn't have a Japanese name for, and sometimes a new word opens me up to a whole new concept that, upon closer inspection, was already there, but was not something I have ever considered directly. I try to keep a record of them here, as I encounter them, if only for my own benefit and recollection. A few recent discoveries:

Foot movements. Unsoku is a series of body movements designed to promote good posture and avoidance skills within the Tomiki system of Aikido. The first section of tegatana no kata is comprised of these sorts of movements.

Force created through motion, or the movement of one's center.

Classically, any force created through use of muscle, but I've come across many applications where very little muscle is required to cause kazushi, but the hands and/or arms are still acting independently of the center.

Equilibrium or timing. This includes the timing of the footsteps, the timing of the hands (as in grasping), and the overall speed of the center of gravity moving through space (a tall person may take fewer steps than a short person, for example, but the two travel the same distance in the same time).

Tai sabaki
Whole body movement, or repositioning. It can be translated as body-management. Tai sabaki is usually used to avoid an attack, such that the receiver of the attack ends up in an advantageous position, (more than just simple evasion), usually in a turning fashion.

Though I had a hard time pinning down a definition for this, it seems to connote the idea of advancing and retreating motion. I've also seen it defined as "displacing the total body as one unit." (Anyone help me out on this one?)

Basically, good posture.

Change or variation. For example, in aikido, we're starting to look at some variations of the basic 8 releases.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Release #1 variation

One of the many new series of videos posted on the Kaze Uta Budo Kai YouTube page concerns the 8 releases and 5 different approaches to each of them. Although I've been through it before, it's been a while, and I've been looking forward to the review in class.

There's another neat little possibility that I found from the 4th variation of the 1st release. It's the version where you begin by stepping back first, as shown in the video below:

I had found this next video a while ago, and liked much of it except the beginning. Our dojo's approach is much more focused on keeping our centers moving through space (hazumi), so I tried this "back of the hand to the face" idea after an initial back-step (like the first video). The result was very nice, very light, and yet pretty potent.

I love experimenting. I feel like a little mad scientist!

Foot sweep drill videos

Alrighty, here are the videos of me going over the foot sweep drills I've been writing about. Sorry, the volume isn't that great because I'm a long way away from the camera and don't have a mic (it wasn't planned). The link to the original blog post is followed by the corresponding video.

(Someday soon, I'm going to try and film the rest of the series, but I'll probably have to do it myself.)

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

New videos online from Kaze Uta Budo Kai!

Nick Lowry sensei has begun posting a number of videos through the Kaze Uta Budo Kai on YouTube, and they're wonderful. I can't wait to see more. To my surprise, I also found this section taken during the Shochugeiko over the summer when I went over the ashi waza combination drills I mentioned earlier (starting here). The lovely and talented Matthew Ghata is my uke.

(It's always so strange to see oneself on video, isn't it?)

Sunday, October 18, 2009

What's the right answer?

There's something of a saying in our dojo (though it may very well have origins in other schools): Ask any five red-and-white belts (six dan or higher) the same question, and you'll get six different answers.

There's a part of many of us, particularly in the beginning, when I think we would prefer one way of doing things, one solution, one method. It's easier, and makes life simple. Especially in the beginning, when we're so overwhelmed by a wave of new information. Aikido was so completely alien for me, and not just the kata, but the very principles upon which those techniques were based: walking on the balls of my feet, stepping same-hand-same-foot, unbendable arm, etc.

I imagine it must be confusing then, for a "younger" budoka to ask the same question of several teachers and get different responses. Which one is right? seems to be the first thought, as if there were only one right answer, or even Which one is the way I'm supposed to do it? almost as if we didn't want to get in trouble for doing something the way the rest of the school or the head teacher would do it.

Then, the higher ranking I got and the more I taught others, I would get annoyed when a student would stop me and say, "But so-and-so said to do it this way." I'm still searching for the best way to respond to that, but I think the tone of my response has changed. I used to get upset and think, "How rude! While you are working with someone, you don't question them, but do it their way for that hour (as long as it's safe) and be grateful for their input!"

But I had forgotten what it was like to yearn for one path, one true answer to which I could cling so that the world would make sense. The longer I do this, the more comfortable I am with ambiguity or uncertainty, with the possibility of there being more than one right answer, and even then understanding that "right" may only mean "right for the time being" or "right for the circumstances."

I suppose we need a path to start on, a direction to begin walking. I suppose many beginners would quit if they saw how vast and nebulous it all is from the outset, without being able to see, as those who have walked much longer can see, how very, very simple it is, too.

Consequently, I find it harder to teach as if the thing I am teaching is the "right way," knowing full well, that someone else, most likely some one with more experience than I will come along and shatter that illusion for both me and my student. Over time, I find I have developed a list of qualifiers and conditions which I often use to preface my answers:

  • As I understand it...
  • From what I understand...
  • This isn't gospel, mind you...
  • This isn't carved in stone, you see...
  • This is just my 2 cents...

And so forth. I worry sometimes if I might be undermining my own credibility. I may not have done this as long as many others, but doing it for over a decade should give me a little credence, especially in relationship to say, a green or brown belt. Does it do anyone any favors to act as if I'm doing little more than guessing?

When confronted with the statement, "But so-and-so said to do it this way," does it help to explain that yes, that's one way to do it, but that's okay because there are many ways to approach it? On one hand, as I said, I fear the young and inexperienced will walk away thinking, Geeze, these guys can't get their act together and agree on anything! On the other hand, I want them to open themselves up to possibility, to explore, to trial and error, to self-expression.

In fact, more often lately, when confronted with the statement, "But so-and-so said to do it this way," I ask in all earnestness, "Oh, and what did they do?" and let my partner show me. Sometimes, it's something I've seen before, but sometimes not in which case I walk away with a new piece of insight, another avenue to explore.

If it's something I've already come across, I don't discredit it, but try to smile and stay encouraging. "Yes, that's wonderful. So-and-so is very skilled and talented." At which point, I offer to give them an alternative, and perhaps explain how I, personally, have come to the method I am currently exploring, but encourage them to explore all these options on their own as well.

It's something like a father, whose child is old enough to leave the house and make his own life, and who must now let go and allow him to find his own path. So, too, must we allow each other, ourselves, and our students to find their own path, and their own aikido. 

Friday, October 16, 2009

Aikido defense against a jo staff

I've been interested in Stefan Stenudd (6th dan Aikiki, in Sweden) for a while now, and just recently discovered this short video of techniques against a jo staff. There's basically just a handful of ideas, performed as irimi and tenkan, but they're interesting and different from what I know of san kata (I haven't explored go or roku kata yet, and I seem to recall one or both of those had more jo techniques).

I'm not fond of the idea of tori doing things in the beginning while uke just stands there, but I can see how one might keep the movement going based on what I've gathered from other experience. I may play with these when I get a chance.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Becoming truly "engaged"

I've mentioned before the rather disquieting tendency for many I've observed to not carry a technique to it's conclusion, either by resulting in a throw or an arm bar, but I've also noticed a tendency to take a technique just shy of efficacy.

By that I mean, we take uke to the point where his range of motion ends and then stop, rather than take him an inch or so beyond what's comfortable for him. This time, I noticed it with ude gaeshi, the seventh technique of randori no kata.

It's a matter of mere inches. When tori "goes through the motions", the get uke's arm coiled up but their arms are lax, loose, devoid of real purpose. Uke's arm, consequently, is bent but his hand doesn't get very far behind his own head (if at all). He not only still has his posture, he still has sufficient bicep strength to curl down and push tori's elbow away with his free hand while turning and escape.

All it took was taking the slack out of tori's arms, to engage the left hand (if we're doing this on uke's right side) into an unbendable arm. It doesn't make tori's arms "strong" as if he's using muscle, but now he has "intent" (I can't think of any better word to describe it). His mind and his body are "engaged". Some might even explain it as ki flowing through your arms.

Most importantly, uke's hand slipped past his head and shoulder line, and magically, he came up on his toes and his spine bent. Now, he had no curling strength whatsoever.

Is that "laxness" due to laziness? Inexperience (even from a shodan)? Did I suffer from the same malady at shodan or even above?

Certainly, I think time (a lot of it) breeds confidence, and confidence can often be the final, determining factor. I felt very uncomfortable and unsure of gedan ate for the longest time. At some point, suddenly, I felt okay with it. But now I see that same sort of nervousness in others.

It's amazing how you can study the basic kata for so long, and still find ways to improve.


Ah, zazen. Seated meditation, more or less. Having been raised in a fairly typical American/Christian home, my experience with meditation is fairly limited. Not that there's anything inherently "un-Christian" (or certainly "anti-Christian") about meditation, it just isn't discussed or even acknowledged in those circles. It's as if that sort of thing is reserved for the exotic "heathen" nations of the world.

Still, as was pointed out to me, the human body, the human soul gravitates toward stillness. Perhaps that's why so many of us enjoy television? The chance to stop, sit, unmoving, without thinking for a time. But the mind is still cluttered with thoughts and images. I can see the value in true zazen, but at the same time, I'm trepidatious.

Something in me believes that there must be a right way and a wrong way to do it, that it must be this large, complex function whose meaning runs deeper than what I am capable of fathoming. I want instruction, guidance, but my life is so busy, where would I find the time or the person to help me, much less the time to fit it in somewhere?

Excuses. Fear. Internal struggle. Stuck. Even more need for stillness. Sigh...

Monday, October 12, 2009


The stillness of the Kyokochi Pond at Kinkaku-ji (Golden Temple) - Kyoto

It's been a while, hasn't it? Why, I can't say.

At times, I seem full of ideas and thoughts; I'm bursting at the seams and anxious to share it all with someone, anyone (which is the main reason I started a blog in the first place). But then there are times, when I have nothing to say.

Not that I've lost interest in budo, or that I'm sick, or being held hostage in a far-off country with no internet capabilities (although I've succumbed to all but one of those scenarios in the past). Rather, my mind is quiet, still. My eyes are open, as are my ears. My mouth, however, is shut.

This morning, I had a hard time getting out of bed and dragging myself to judo (it's been hard for a couple of weeks actually). When I got to the dojo, two other yudansha were already there and suited up. For some odd reason, I decided not to even put my gi on, but instead just sat on the bench and watched. Toward the end, I ended up throwing out a few comments into the conversation, (it's hard to resist opening your trap sometimes) but for the most part, I tried to keep my own thoughts out of it and listen to two very skilled budoka, to simply absorb. I believe the Japanese term for this is midori geiko, or (loosely) to train by observing.

There are plenty of discussions bubbling and brewing on the KUBK forum, but for some reason, it overwhelms me right now. I can't weigh in, because I don't have an opinion. Mostly, I feel as if I don't have enough information on a subject. In fact, I feel like I don't know anything about anything.

Every once in a while, I pass through such a phase. I feel stupid, like a beginner. I stand in utter awe of the amount of sheer knowledge possessed by my sensei on budo, or on politics, or anything. The last thing I feel like I should be doing is teaching anyone!

All I feel like doing is being still. The image above takes my breath away for a number of reasons. But I place it here because I feel very much like the water. Still, placid, saying nothing, but reflecting what is around me. Light passes through me, and a single stone could send ripples through me. I feel fragile, as if a single small stone could disturb me and send ripples through me existence. I don't feel solid enough to bare any burdens. I'm neither cold, nor hot; I'm here, but not completely present. I'm neither advancing nor digressing. You could attack me and I would probably allow it.

I don't know if that's good, bad, or ugly. It just is.

Already, I feel I've said too much.

Perhaps soon I will return to talking about matters of budo, things much more interesting!

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Photos from morning judo

Some photos taken a little while ago by Chris Gilbert's dad, who popped in for a visit. Chris was about to go in for minor surgery that day and wanted to get one last judo session in. So, I obliged him! We tossed each other around for a good 15 minutes non-stop while the camera clicked away.

Unfortunately, Chris up and moved to Texas for another job. Such is life, but he'll really be missed around Windsong Dojo. Great guy and really talented budoka.

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