Monday, November 30, 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:

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Congratulations, you're a brown belt

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

Unusual ukemi

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

Seichiro Endo sensei

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

Friday, November 20, 2009

The benefits of a crash pad

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.

The cycle of ego

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 or self=worth) inflated based solely on an admittedly superficial premise: I'm better at aikido than you. Look I can do the techniques and you can't.

I don't think I ever actually thought those exact words (and I hope I never said them), but I would feel it; not on a conscious level, maybe not quite so directly or succinctly, but still. I felt proud of myself, and I think most anyone would and does.

Then, what may be the very next class period, I would work with someone higher ranking than me, and naturally, their skills would far exceed my own. I think I felt that sort of disparity a bit more sharply in judo than aikido, as I would (as many of us phrased it) "get my ass handed to me." From there, my self-image would plummet, and the self-abuse would begin: I suck, I'm terrible, I'll never get this.

So for several years, my ego moved in a cycle much like the one depicted below, with wide, sweeping arcs, at times skyrocketing to the heights of confidence, and at other times diving to the depths of humility and abasement.

Interestingly enough, however, I've noticed that over time, whenever I found myself on one extreme or another, my thinking changed. When successful, or when I spent time as the higher authority, I would remember in the back of my mind how easily I could fall, either by the hands of someone more skilled than I, or simply by my own errors. And when I spent time on the bottom, and reminded of how much I have yet to learn, I would remember those students who looked to me for guidance and knowledge.

In effect, remembrance of one extreme tempered the other. I wouldn't get quite so full of my own importance, but I wouldn't beat myself up quite so badly, either. The cycle, then, began to look something more like this:

Finally, at some point, I realized that none of it really mattered. No matter how much I trained, or how much I knew, someone would always, always be better than me, someone out there could still "hand my ass to me." Not only that, but even if I were the best, baddest aikidoka or judoka in the entire world, some poor soul with no training whatsoever could come along and shoot me dead from 10 feet away, before I had a chance to do anything.

If someone is always better, and someone is always worse, then I myself am always better and always worse. Which is essentially a wash, and puts me... in the middle of nowhere. I simply... am.

I become less concerned with being right, and more interested in remaining open and receptive, knowing that learning opportunities and revelations can come from both red belts and white belts, from the old and the young, from the wise and the unlearned.

And at that point, I realized that thinking of what I was doing in terms of "better or worse than someone else" is a flawed paradigm. We all do it, of course. Perhaps it stems from some prehistoric, Darwinian foundation: we had to think about whether I was better or worse than someone because our very survival as an animal depended on it. The line of those ancestors who didn't are no longer with us.

But when you realize that death will always get us, that it can come at any time and at the hands of any person or thing, you (hopefully) let go of the fear and stop comparing yourself. The cycle then begins to look more flat (with some fluctuation, as we are all still human):

And in that flatness, there is, true, the absence of exuberance that we derive from success, as well as the absence of suffering that we derive from failure. But there is peace. Stillness. Wonder. Harmony. Love. Compassion.

While all this is a wonderful, priceless benefit of studying the martial arts, I don't know that one could ever communicate that to the potential student, like a sales point in a brochure. It would be a bit like trying to describe sight to someone who has been blind their whole life!

I'm glad I have trusted in the process and in my teachers, who most assuredly knew. Here's to many more "eye-opening" experiences.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

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 think, but going one side then the other creates some interesting vectors no matter which way you step (stepping around for a double foot sweep, etc.)

And along with it, I've been playing with changing up my stepping pattern. At the same moment I lift the elbow, I also take a slightly truncated, shorter step than what I had been doing, which exaggerates the forward pitch. This sudden change in the length of my stride has always been a fascination to me lately, but shorter AND longer.

Anyway, if you have a chance to explore the rest of these videos, DO. They will revolutionize your judo. Beautiful.

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

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Standing on the shoulders of giants

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, stop thinking outside the box and conform to the way designers have been laying out type for centuries.

On the other hand, while getting crazy with your typography may look cool, if you've failed to communication a specific message to your audience (because they can't read the dumb thing, for instance), then ultimately, the whole design has failed. In other words, the Rules, the ones that have been around for centuries, where developed for a reason. Typographers learned from centuries of practice what will communicate effectively, and what won't.

In short, what the professors always told us was this: Learn the rules, master the rules, then learn how and when to break them.

Pascal Krieger described this process in his book "Jodo: The Way of the Stick" as Shu-Ha-Ri, the natural progression of apprenticeship, practice and mastery (not just in martial arts, but in any craft). In the first stage, shu, the student does exactly what his sensei tells him to do, over and over, sometimes without explanation. In the ha stage, the student breaks free, teaching on his own, learning new things and meeting people who have a different approach to the craft, although his style is still heavily influenced by his teacher. In the last stage, ri, the craftsman can return to his master and perhaps succeed him eventually, or more likely, he will want to do his own thing, to create a personal style based on his own ideas.

Let's take a look at Picasso again. Here are a few examples of his work as a young student:

Not what we typically think of when we think of Picasso, right? Who knew he could actually draw that well? (He was actually much better than his classmates and his own artist father even as a child.) But this is where he started, where all of us start—learning the Rules, the traditions, the way it's been done for centuries, because, well, there's a good reason why they do it that way.

It was only after "learning the rules" that he could find ways to break them. And what he did shook up the art world; no one had never seen anything quite like it before.

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!"

But could you? I mean, really, could you? I always want to shove a paint brush and a canvas into the hands of those people and tell them simply: "Okay, show me. Go ahead."

I seriously doubt they could. What looks so deceptively simple, so new and fresh, is really the result of a long, intensive study and mastery of the old, which then gives birth to the inevitable personal expression. That's what I think of when I watch Ueshiba. That's what I think of when I see Picasso. And artists from both worlds have continued to build on what they did, to experiment, to push it further each one generation to the next.

The art world would suffer and stagnate if everyone simply learned to paint like Picasso did, right? If we learned anything from him, it's not how to paint, but how to learn to paint.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

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 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

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 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. 

Arm bar series

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

Blind Aikido practitioner

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

Saturday, November 7, 2009

French aikido instructor Andre Nocquet

One of the folks I've been interested lately is the late French aikido instructor AndrĂ© 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

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."

Video tour of Windsong

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

Attacking around the clock

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 is directed at uke's center line.

What was interesting to me, is when I realized that the "attacks" of the first five techniques of the 17 were all doing the same basic job, just from different angles. I like to think about those different angles in terms of the face of a clock.

Shomne ate typically comes from around 5 o'clock, give or take (these are all loose approximations, of course), somewhere on a line perpendicular to uke's.

Aigamae ate tends to come from 6 o'clock, straight on.

Gyakugamae ate, however, Boldcan vary a little. In san kata we see some fairly direct 6 o'clock versions (inside uke's attacking arm), but once you get on the far side of uke's arm, it starts to look more like 7 or 8 o'clock.

Gedan ate come in at 9 o'clock, with my body now starting to turn and face more the same direction as uke's.

Ushiro ate is, naturally, not really a push like the other, but you're still directly connected to uke's center line and deliver power. At first, and for a long time, I thought of it as being done at strickly 12 o'clock, directly behind uke. But then I started to see slight variations where a more angular version was done, more around 11 or 1 o'clock, catching uke more on one heel or the other.

So what about 2, 3, 4 o'clock and all that area? Looks pretty empty, doesn't it? I imagine that's in part because we're in danger of running into uke's other arm over there, so we tend to stay away from that. But in a way, I think of mae otoshi as being a kind of attack from around 2 o'clock (and thankfully, we're behind his arm and away from his free arm.

At any right, none of this is gospel, mind you. I could be way off base, or missing something crucial. It was just an interesting way of looking at the atemi waza as essentially one technique, one fundamental principle, rather than 5 individual and distinct techniques. It seems like the longer I study, the simpler it all becomes, and the more a whole litany of techniques seems to boil down to a handful of principles.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

How much is enough?

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?

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 me. 4 words that echo eternally in my mind and lead to a hundred possibilities. From there, you can put your foot "on, across or down" the line. 3 more words that lead to another hundred roads.

Simple, memorable!

Foot sweep drill, part 6

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 more) Harai goshi

Now we move on to trying yet another throw if that doesn't work:

Second Follow Up Throw

The main 3:
1) O soto gari/guruma fails, put R foot down, keep going back, use L for Ko soto gari
2) Sasae tsurikomi ashi fails, place R foot pre-turned, prop uke with L for Sasae tsurikomi ashi on the other side (This may sound banal, but as I've learned from Greg Ables sensei, both this and hiza guruma can be just devastating when thrown one right after the other on opposite sides!)
3) O goshi fails, use the R foot to slip between uke's legs and throw him backward with Ko uchi gari

Additional possibilities:
4) Harai tsurikomi ashi fails, let uke come back forward (towards me), put my R foot down turned inward, slip my R arm under his for Ippon Seoi Nage, almost right back where he came from. This whole scenario creates a lovely "wave" motion that becomes one heckuva ride.
5) Ko uchi gari fails, use L foot for O uchi gari (pretty common combination there).
6) Uchi mata fails, use the R foot to catch Ko uchi gari on uke's support leg.
7) Harai goshi fails, put the R foot down and use it to push yourself directly sideways. It's almost like you disappear right out from under him. You get a Tai otoshi that tends to surprise uke, because the fulcrum you tried first was at his hip level (he braced against it) and then suddenly that fulcrum drops to around his lower thigh or knee level. I'm not convinced this is the best option, but so far it's worked.

. . . . . . . . . . .

As I've mentioned before, none of this is carved in stone, or guaranteed 100%. But so far, it seems to work pretty nicely.

Also, I don't know that I've mentioned it, but by doing all of this, I'm trying to explore a handful of idea here:

1) Flow from one throw to the next, without getting fixed one one throw.

2) If a throw fails, learn to place my foot in the most advantageous place possible for the next throw (pre-turning it, etc.) rather than going back to stable before trying the next throw.

3) Explore the idea of moving from one line of off balance to another. For example, I try to throw uke to his right front corner with a hip throw; that doesn't work, I'll try a ko uchi gari to his back corner, tick-tocking back and forth until he falls down.

More follow up throws from the second set to come!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

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, 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.

Monday, November 2, 2009

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.