Monday, November 30, 2009
Wednesday, November 25, 2009
At last, you've earned your brown belt.
For one thing, you're not the "new guy" anymore! You know how to fall pretty well by now, so you don't look to awkward out there. You know some names, your appearance in class has become almost expected, you know a few inside jokes. You're one of the gang! Heck, you even get to be the "senior" partner sometimes! Life is good.
Then you notice something. Every time the black belt leading the class needs to demonstrate something, he picks... you. You notice that this means you fall down—a lot. In judo, you get thrown down, a lot. You get arm barred and choked and pinned. A lot.
What's going on here? Why are they always picking on you, for crying out loud?
Well, here's the funny thing: you're actually lucky. For starters, you are more than likely singled out because you make a good uke, which means, you have good ukemi and a good working knowledge of the material. Take it as a compliment!
It's also a time to relish, because you're getting to feel first-hand what a technique should feel like from some very experienced teachers. Seeing a sensei perform a technique is one thing, feeling is quite another. Take this blog post for example, where a student talks about the difference it made when she experienced the technique first hand.
You might think of it this way: Lowry Sensei always talked about the process of learning from the part of uke as being like a film negative. Expose that blank negative to light, and once that negative is properly developed, you can produce an endless number of “positives” or prints.
Even now, I'll jump at the chance to uke for those who are my senior whenever I get to be around them. So enjoy being the "punching bag" while it lasts. Believe it or not, your budo will grow by leaps and bounds when all is said and done.
Tuesday, November 24, 2009
I've been really intrigued by these arial backfalls. Most of the ukemi I learned consisted of the straight backfall (as in squat, roll back and up onto your shoulders), the side fall, the forward roll, and the flipping version of the forward roll where you basically slam into the mat, and maybe the front fall where you land on your forarms and you feet kick up into the air and you land like you're sort of breakdancing.
Which seems to cover most of the bases, but I'm sure that these aren't totally unnecessary. The regular backfall seems to suffice in many instances, but there have been times when both feet cleared the mat and I ended up landing flat on my back which nearly knocked the wind out of me. (Someone caught me in a good ushiro ate a month or so ago which prompted that sort of fall.) I wonder if this sort of rolling approach would take away a lot of that flat impact.
I wonder if the sort of falling we do stems from a judo background (since both Mr. Tomiki and Mr. Geis both came from a judo background), where uke tends to remain attached to (and controlled by) tori during the fall, as opposed to aikido where uke can very literally be caught out in space all alone after a throw?
Monday, November 23, 2009
Friday, November 20, 2009
I had a discussion the other day with some of my classmates about the use of the crash pad, and it brought about an interesting point that some may miss in the course of our training. There are two main reasons why I like to use the crash pad, not only when teaching and leading class, but when I myself am training.
The first reason, is perhaps the most obvious one: landing on a crash pad over and over is a lot easier on uke than landing and the harder mat over and over. And if we learn more the higher number of reps we do, it makes sense to do it in a way that will allow us to do it with less ware and tear on our bodies.
If you're just learning ukemi, say as a white or green belt, the crash pad can not only protect you when you're fall isn't 100% right, but it also takes a lot of the fear out of falling. Let's face it, the last thing we want to do is walk into a dojo and break something within the first couple of months.
When you ease that fear a little with a crash pad, uke can relax. And we all know tensing up is probably the worst thing you can do when taking a fall.
But even though I'm still relatively young, and have pretty decent ukemi, my theory is, if I want to keep doing this for another 30 years or more, I think I'm going to pace myself.
Now, the second reason, may or may not be so obvious. Using the pad also takes the fear out of a young, inexperienced tori. After all, the next to last thing we want to do is walk into a dojo and break our partner within the first couple of months. I think newer students, if throwing on the regular mat, hesitate, knowing that they aren't going to throw correctly, and while worrying about not hurting their partner, self-sabotage the technique, in effect making it worse.
If they're working with an advanced player, of course, who has great ukemi, they needn't worry about it, but then they tend to think their sempai is "jumping" for them anyway.
With a crash pad, younger students can throw each other without some of the anxiety.
And, well, besides all that, it's actually kind of fun.
Thursday, November 19, 2009
Recently, however, I've started playing with a little variation. I'll use my right hand (the collar grip to do the light "on/off" action to uke's shoulder as he's stepping back. Then, instead of using both hands flicking back to get him pitched forward, I'll simply lift my left elbow. The right hand stays out of it, and my left does literally nothing more than raise the elbow (the hand does nothing).
Wednesday, November 18, 2009
Even today, many people stand in front of his paintings in a museum and say, "Phh! Look at that! The figures are all crooked, the eyes are messed up. I could do that in about five minutes!"
Sunday, November 15, 2009
I recently read this interesting article on Aikido Journal by Toby Threadgill, entitled "Assumptions."
It begins: "Recently I was introduced to a gentleman interested in martial arts training. He was not really aware of what I teach or of what constitutes Nihon Koryu Jujutsu. He just assumed that because I taught it, that I must believe it to be “the best”. When I told him I did not believe the art I taught to be “the best”, an uncomfortable silence ensued. I finally broke this taciturn moment by explaining that there is actually no such thing as a “best” martial art."
It's a nice article, and I don't think I could improve upon it by anything that I say. Ultimately, no one is bulletproof. No art art will save you 100% of the time under 100% of circumstances. And the purpose of studying any given art will be vastly different from a police officer to a retired school teacher.
In terms of practicallity, it's almost like saying a hammer is the best tool out there, and certainly better than anyone else's tool. Sure, as long as you encounter nails and things that need to be whacked in general and maybe pried apart with the back claw. But a hammer can't do what a saw or screwdriver can.
In terms of an art, well, such petty suppositions get even sillier. It's like saying Monet is better than Picasso. Better at what? They paint in different ways and set out to accomplish different things—but both wonderful and beautiful, and both changed the way the world looked at art.
Wednesday, November 11, 2009
I apologize if I lured you into this post expecting some super secret trick to developing great ukemi skills. Alas, there is none, not that I know of, anyway.
I write this because some of the shodans in the morning class have commented on how their air falls are not what they'd like them to be, and compliment me ad naseum on my falling. This fall in particular, , the one where you do a flip with your wrist twisted up, seems beyond their grasp (at the 1:10 mark):
It's a tough one, for sure. That, and the fall from sumi otoshi, are some of the scariest (a flippy fall from o soto gari, where you start going backwards, is pretty hairy, too).
They mentioned how they admire many other great ukemi artists in the school, such Nick Lowry, Kyle Sloan, Greg Ables, Christian Lamson, Cameron Seimans and Damon Kornele (and many more).
While they all have wonderful ukemi, I don't know what their secrets are. I only know how I got to where I am.
1) While I'm now 35, I started aikido—and learning ukemi—just as I turned 20. I learned recently from a show on the Discovery channel that the adolescent mind doesn't finish "re-wiring" until a person's mid-twenties. And the last part to be re-wired? The part responsible for "higher reasoning".
We're young, we're fearless, we don't really know any better. Which is why, I understand, we would send a bunch of 19 year olds to storm the beach at Normandy. They just did what they were told. Ask a bunch of 30 something soldiers, and they'd probably say, "Screw you, I ain't goin'!"
I honestly think guys who start when they're younger develop great ukemi a lot easier than guys who start when their older (there's probably exceptions, but generally, I think it's true).
2) I did a lot of it. I mean a lot. No, seriosly, a LOT. For example, during the course of a normal class, while everyone else was doing rolls across the mat, getting two or three in, and then circling back to the side where they started, stopping to chat a little, then doing a couple of more rolls when the way was clear, yours truly got out the big blue crash pad. I started on one side and rolled. I stood up immediately on the other side, and rolled back the other way. Again, and again, and again, without pause, stopping only when everyone went on to do the walking kata. By that point, my legs had turned to jello; they were so weak, I could barely stand on them.
During class, while working on techniques, I took the fall. A lot. I stood in as uke for demonstrations whenever I could, and fell, a lot. I notice that many people these days don't fall much when practicing. But that, to me, is where the difference lies. There's a subtle but significant difference between falling (and feeling comfortable about it) when you choose to and falling because you have to, before you even recognize it's happening.
My guys in the morning class fall beautifully when we line up and practice falls on the blue crach pad. But when we get out on the mat, and a fall surprises them, they crumple like beginners. I don't think they're hopeless, though. They're in their 30s, but they're still fit, coordinated and athletic. We just have to get them past the fear, to get it so ingrained in their subconscious that it becomes less like talking or singing and more like just breathing.
So many things I'd like to write about, so many things rattling around in my head, but not enough hours in the day. This morning, for instance, Prentis Glover stopped by morning glass (he had Veteran's Day off of work, it seems), and was kind enough to take us through a lovely arm bar series. I'd seen the first chunk of it, but either hadn't seen or completely forgotten the latter half.
It starts with tori holding kesa gatame (let's say on uke's right side, for the sake of example). Uke's arm gets free and we get a number of straight arm bars:
1) The first is the easiest. My left hand yolks uke's wrist and holds his arm out straight, with the elbow joint on my right thigh. Straight arm bar.
2) I can use my left (rear) leg to step over his wrist, pinching uke's wrist in the back of my knee. My knee goes toward the mat, my foot slides back towards uke's foot (his elbow still on my right thigh). Any time you get the leg involved, it's a scary deal, because a leg muscle is going to be stronger than most anyone's arm muscles. Go slow!
3) Hara gatame lives here, also, which I should've known. I just use my generous mid section as the brace on his elbow and pull back on his wrist.
4) His arm coils a little and I slip my right (front) leg over his wrist from the top. Also a bit dangerous!
Now let's say he really starts curling his arm towards himself because, well, he just doesn't want a straight arm bar. Fortunately, the human arm can do only two things, straighten and curl. Of course, I'm going to let him curl it, but I'm going to make him work at it for a second. Then, I'm going to suddenly release the tension and push his hand straight into my other hand (the one under his head).
5) Now uke's arm is bent and next to his own head. My right hand is pinning his wrist to the mat, his hand most likely bent against the ground. My left hand can now push his elbow toward his face while. It's a strange little coil that I hadn't seen before, but it felt bad enough!
6) I can also reach through his coiled arm with my left hand, hooking on his wrist and pulling his wrist away from his head (while his elbow stays put; my left hand is not involved).
7) I can slip my right arm out from under his head, bring my elbow on the near side, by his ear (bracing his head away) and snag a basic figure four arm bar.
8) A compression arm bar, with my forearm right in his elbow joint, lives there, too. His elbow to my chest, I squeeze like his arm is a nutcracker and my forearm is the nut.
Always something to learn when Prentis stops by!
Sunday, November 8, 2009
Saturday, November 7, 2009
One of the folks I've been interested lately is the late French aikido instructor André Nocquet. There's a series of ten or more videos on YouTube from one of his last clinics. This particular video which features, among other things, some lovely technique against bokken and using a jo which he then extends into empty hand techniques (we don't spend much time with weapons in aikido, which may or may not be a good thing). There's also some interesting, non-shindo muso ryu jodo versus bokken work that I'd never seen.
Friday, November 6, 2009
You probably thought I was talking about time, I suppose. No, attacking someone 24/7 is just far too tiring. I've got laundry to do, bills to pay....
Wednesday, November 4, 2009
How much do I need to know or do to be a "real" or "serious" martial artist?
How much history do I need to read? How many Japanese words do I need to memorize? There are so many...
How many kata do I need to be proficient in? What about all the variations? Or "old" kata? How much time do I need to spend in the dojo or how many special trips and clinics and play-days do I need to attend? How many years will it take and what rank will I have to earn? Does it matter that I've never been in a street fight or participated in any tournaments?
What about all the etiquette? How much of it do I need to know, or to follow? How much of the clothing do I need to wear, and what is the absolute correct way to wear it? Does my dojo have to look like a "real" Japanese dojo? Do I need a hanko stamp or own a set of long and short samurai swords?
Are all the arts that aren't mine "bad" arts, or not as effective as my art, especially if they wear a lot of gaudy patches and logos on their gi, or fight in a cage?
My health is lousy: I slouch (poor shisei, I'm sure), I don't eat right, I have little to no stamina (which makes grappling an embarrassingly short-lived endeavor), I'm overweight, I don't train specific parts of my body to perform tasks specific to budo, I don't meditate, I don't have a kimono or an obi, I've never been to Japan, I don't drink tea from Asia, I don't read lots of books and essays about budo (although I've read a couple), I certainly have never published any books or essays about budo, and I couldn't tell you what on earth "ki" truly is to save my life (and I still don't understand when people try to explain it to me).
Budo is supposed to be love (so I've been told), but I still get angry, I still judge, I'm still impatient, I'm still proud, I'm still afraid. Do I need to study Buddhism, or Taoism? Do I need to be "enlightened" (whatever that is)? Do I need to be able to answer a student's question with something simple and profound, like a monk on a mountain top?
Am I doomed to be a mere hobbiest, one of millions who have taken some sort of class and hold some sort of belt color in some sort of art?
I don't ask these things to be flippant or to mock anyone or anything. I'm actually genuinely curious. How far do I go, how far do I push myself, dedicate myself?
How much do I need to know or do to be a "real" or "serious" martial artist?
The next step in this whole experiment was to think about a second follow-up throw, building this into more than a series of foot sweep drills, per se, but combination drills. I got a chance to play around with some ideas this morning, and came across some interesting ideas.
Tuesday, November 3, 2009
Before the birth of my first child, a friend recommended a book to me that proved to be invaluable during the first 8 months to year of my son's life. It taught parents 5 simple steps to help calm a colicky baby (those who cry for reasons other than the usual, such as hunger, the need for sleep, a dirty diaper, etc.)
The problem was, in order to make a full book—and in order to make the money a full book makes—the author (and editors, probably) packed it full of fluff. What I could give to another person in the span of a ten minute conversation was inflated into a 300 page door stop.
I seem to be encountering a lot of that lately. I started reading a book tonight on the subject of aikido and quickly became both lost and bored. Philosophy can be like that, too. Religion, how-to books, self-improvement, etc. Volumes of words that do nothing but confuse me more.
I ask questions (both relating to budo and otherwise) of those who would know, and get paragraphs of what is, to my mind, gibberish. Not that what they're saying isn't correct or valuable, but I can't focus on it, I can't retain it.
Where is the simplicity? Why all the words? Are some things just that difficult to explain?
I don't need things made complicated. If anything, life is already too complicated. I need something simpler.
Of course, I also realize that, when asked a question myself by someone, how I need to simplify things as much as possible as well. It is an art, just like any other.
I'm reminded of the story where Hemingway, who was known for his short, terse prose, was challenged to write a story in six words. His repsonse? "For sale: baby shoes. Never worn."
Beautifully simple, yet endlessly expressive. That is how I hope my mind and my art to be, too.