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Showing posts from November, 2009

No need to rush it

I've been enjoying many videos of Seishiro Endo Shihan at various seminars this morning. In particular, I like the soft, tension redirection drill he covers in this one:



I think I'm going to experiment with it in class tomorrow. I also like the idea he talks about here of moving without hurrying or rushing. His movements at the end with a couple of attackers is beautiful in it's simplicity and lightness:



Congratulations, you're a brown belt

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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 t…

Unusual ukemi

I've been really intrigued by these arialbackfalls. 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. G…

Seichiro Endo sensei

Lovely, soft work from Seichiro Endo Sensei. (I also like the judo-esque tai otoshi in the middle there...)

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The benefits of a crash pad

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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, …

The cycle of ego

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I've noticed several benefits of training in the martial arts over the years, many of which I never anticipated on the outset (I suspect few of us do). One such benefit involves tempering of my ego.
When I say "ego" I'm referring to the definition that reflects one's self-esteem, self-image or sense of self-worth, for better or worse. When I first started as a white belt, I was, needless to say, the least experienced person in the entire school. That feeling is pretty humbling, naturally. Fortunately, the feelings of inadequacy were often tempered by the kindness and patience of my teachers.
As I progressed and learned I acquired some skills and a certain amount of proficiency. At the same time, newer students who were less experienced than I came along, which meant I was no longer the least experienced or "worst" aikidoka.
Once I got to the position of being the higher ranking, more experienced person in a pair, even as a brown belt, my ego (or self-image…

Judo kuzushi: Push/Pull

I've known about this little kazushi trick for a while now, and it's proven very useful over the years.


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).
Using both hands, it seems, you get a fairly even reaction, and as Nick says, you can jump in there for any number of throws. With the method I just described, uke's reaction tends to be somewhat lopsided. I "tick" him to his back left corner, then "tock" him to his right front corner. Mostly, it's a nice set-up for harai tsurikomi ashi, just a little more diagonal. The elbow or the wrist do basically the same thing, I thi…

Nage komi video

A lovely bit of nage komi with Nick Lowry sensei and Greg Ables sensei.

Aikido brought to life

"Instructors can impart only a fraction of the teaching. It is through your own devoted practice that the mysteries of Aikido are brought to life."

—Morihei Ueshiba

Standing on the shoulders of giants

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In a post the other day, I talked about how trying to decide which art is best is kind of silly, especially when thinking about what we do as an "art". Then Sensei Strange talked about the evolution of an art as compared to the koryu schools, who would like to keep things pretty much as they had been done for centuries. Both of us even mentioned Picasso, and it reminded me of something.
In college, where I studied graphic design, there would always be students who wanted to push the envelope with their work, like with typography, for example. They'd seen the likes of designer David Carson, who got all crazy with type, grunged it up, used numbers for letters, and completely turned it on it's head in ways that had never been seen before, and wanted to do take the same kind of creative leaps. The professors, meanwhile, had a bit of a challenge on their hands.

On one hand, they didn't want to stifle a young student's creative urges. They didn't want to say, No,…

Which art is best?

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 …

How to develop great ukemi

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 l…

Arm bar series

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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…

Blind Aikido practitioner

Short Observational Documentary about Edgar, a blind guy who practices Aikido (courtesy of Funky Buddha).

French aikido instructor Andre Nocquet

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.

Give up being right

"All a person has to do is give up being right; step aside, be empty, be selfless—or at least try to approach that state. As soon as the resistance is gone, both persons are free to grow and mature. Instead, we're constantly struggling, hanging onto our own positions and ideas, preventing not only ourselves from growing, but others as well."
Genpo Roshi

Video tour of Windsong

Here's a little tour of the dojo where I train, Windsong Dojo in Oklahoma City.

Attacking around the clock

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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....
Actually, what I'm thinking of is a way of thinking about the first five techniques of randori no kata, or the 17, which are grouped together as "atemi waza" or striking techniques. Now, in aikido we don't really "strike" in the same sense as, say, karate, but this is as close as we get. The best way I know (so far) to describe it is as three things:
1) A focused, efficient delivery of power. As in, same hand, same foot, bridging from the back leg, etc.; you can push a stalled car like this, which means that's a heckuva lot of power.
2) Usually at a specific moment during uke's movement, or during kazushi. Although, really, it can be delivered quite effectively even if uke is just standing there minding his own business, but this increases the chances he has to counter.
3) The energy or the power i…

How much is enough?

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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 l…

Simple, complex, then simple again

As a follow-up to what I wrote yesterday...
When I look at not only budo, but the process of learning to be an artist, or a graphic designer, it seems to follow a common path: You start with simple things (basics), then the whole system seems to get vast and complex, then after years and years, it all seems simple again!
I've lost track of all the red-and-white belts who talk about a technique in terms of "well, all you have to do is this..." as if it were the simplest thing in the world, even though it confounds the student. I had an art teacher in college do the same thing. I find myself, as a designer, saying something similar to kids fresh out of college.
And I don't mind going through the complex system. It's just that I think the complex system should still be presented in a simple way, without lots and lots of explanation, history, yada yada.
Using mnemonic devises, for example. Or the whole "3 feet on a line" concept from judo works wonderfully for…

Foot sweep drill, part 6

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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.
Foot Sweep Series 1: Uke retreating
As a brief reminder, this is the section where we sweep and catch uke's foot, hold it for a brief moment, until he pulls his own foot free and pulls it into a backward step. These, then, were the throws we did after this first step:
First Follow Up Throw
The main 3: 1) (foot pointed forward) O soto gari/guruma 2) (foot pointed at uke) Sasae tsurikomi ashi 3) (foot pointed away) O goshi
Additional possibilities: 4) (taking a shortened step, elbow up) Harai tsurikomi ashi 5) (foot in between uke's, turned in) Ko uchi gari 6) (from a right footed sweep, step in between uke's, kick feet out) Uchi mata 7) (from a right footed sweep, step in between uke's, let him cycle a little mo…

Simplify, simplify

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, gibb…

Big boy judo: tani otoshi counter

I can't get enough of Arkadiy Aronov, a sizable chap from Uzbekistan who coaches at the Spartak Sports Club in New York. It can be a little tough deciphering the accent, but I get a lot just by watching him.
One of the videos I've been enjoying is this rather simple counter to tai otoshi (one of my favorite throws at the moment). Our school has always emphasized the idea of "dancing" out of a throw to counter, which comes quite naturally to those judoka who also happen to do aikido. I also like keeping it simple.