Showing posts from 2010

Hard to fight what you've never seen

One of the greatest potential weaknesses of any martial art is the fact that it's hard to fight what you've never seen before. The Gracie family proved that quite effectively when they took every kind of fighter who signed up for the UFC and took them to the ground. Virtually no other style ever spent time on the ground, so the jiu-jitsu folks had a field day once they got down there.

Aikido is like that. No ground game whatsoever. Our particular school or ryu or whatever has a supplementary system of very basic, self-defense ideas for aikidoka because our organization historically has also been involved with judo as well. It works pretty well against people without much training should things degrade to a ground fight. Against a trained grappler, however, you're more or less toast.

But even in judo, which of course has a grappling component, has left out certain aspect of the ground game, namely in the interest of sport. There's no wrist locks, for instance, no ankle …

Looking back, looking forward

Well, it's that time of year, isn't it? Time to look back at and reflect on the previous 12 months, and then to look forward to the next 12. I've been doing as much in my overall personal life, but I thought I might share a few thoughts as they pertain to my budo Path.

Looking back at 2010

♦ I missed quite of training this year, but fortunately not due to injury or illness. My wife, on the other hand, had the misfortune of undergoing 3, count 'em 3, operations: a C-section, a hernia and a tonsillectomy (which is a much more difficult recovery than one would think).

Which meant I spent a lot of time off from working staying home and taking care of the kids and missing some budo. It's a tough thing to go without training, but I tried to at least keep my mind in the game as I thought and pondered and watched videos. And since I used all my time off, I never got a chance to participate in either the shochugeiko or kangeiko intensives.

♦ I feel like I might several strid…


A lovely demonstration of sensitivity, touch, and a bit of the ol' "on/off" principle.

Breaking balance with shiho nage

I've discovered that, after all these years, I was never really getting the balance break for shiho nage quite right. The same goes for mae otoshi, or any other technique that begins the same way.

I think it comes from starting our training looking at a technique from the stand-point of choreography: step here with this foot, put your right hand here, step there, turn, etc. etc. I think that's the way we need to start, working on ourselves first. But after a while, we find that, though we have the movements down (kind of), the technique still isn't quite working right, or maybe only works some of the time.

That's the point I think we all make a transition from thinking about what I'm doing, to thinking about what's happening to uke. We move from an inward focus to an outward one. We think less about how to do something, and more about why we do it.

Shiho nage, for me, is one of those techniques about which I'm starting to make a number of realizations. (Not…

The oft neglected mae ukemi

I have noticed recently that there is one element of ukemi at our school that I frankly think is somewhat neglected, or at least skimmed over too much.

Different people refer to it by different names, but it is essentially mae ukemi or "front falling". In some circles, this term refers to the forward rolls so common in aikido, but I think the terms mae kaiten ukemi ("front rolling fall") or zenpo kaiten ukemi ("forward rolling fall") are more descriptive and therefor clearer. Here's what the fall looks like:

For the most part, we have practiced only one piece of mae ukemi, as part of our opening warm-up, which is taking the fall from our knees. Unlike this video, however, we don't do the "worm" sort of movement, just reach out and slap the mat with our forearms, pulling ourselves a little forward, chin up. I'm not sure why, but while we would practice all the other falls from both a low, close-to-the-ground position as well as from a…

Tying loose ends

For whatever reason, my frequency of posting has dropped off considerably of late, sorry. Not that I don't have a lot to think about, a lot that I'm learning, a lot that intrigues me. I definitely have a nice list of things to address for the coming year, if I ever get around to it all.

I also have a list of topics I've started but never finished, and hope to in 2011:

The chin is magic
This concept has been fairly pervasive in my aikido and is starting to creep into judo as well. I've only gone so far as to look at the first technique of aikido's randori no kata, shomen ate, but there's soooo much more. I tried making a video that glazed over many of the applications I've been thinking of, but I left some things out and it's too quick. Maybe next time I try, I'll bring a check list.

Practicing budo while killing time
I have a need to isolate and organize and categorize that borders on OCD. One of the things I really enjoy doing to creating drills. I …

More stuff

On the subject of minimalism, George Carlin's classic bit on "stuff". Which is, in my opinion, good... stuff.

Are you REALLY moving from your center?

We say it all the time—move from the center—but, truth be told, a great deal of the time, when something isn't working, guess what the culprit is?

And I don't necessarily mean "moving" in the sense of your center traveling over a certain distance, but just about every action (aside from some ikioi ideas) needs to have the hips engaged and zeroed in on the target.

We've been focusing somewhat on that concept in both judo and aikido in the mornings, and I thought I'd share a few drills/exercises I've pulled out of my bum to help illustrate it. The first set is...

Have everyone pair up, and give each pair an extra obi. There are two experiments each pair can do.

#1 The Truck Pull
Have tori stand stationary facing one end of the dojo. Have uke stand behind him, facing the same direction but several paces back. Wrap the belt around tori's waist so that uke is holding either end in each hand, and there's no slack.

The object here is for tori…

Getting better as you advance, not worse

I've noticed an unfortunate tendency creeping into my training the longer I do all this budo stuff. It's most noticeable when I'm the one leading class on a regular basis.

Basically, I stop doing things correctly.

Which seems odd, doesn't it? You'd think that the more advanced you get, the more correct your technique would be, right? Well, yes, it should, darn it.

But the truth is, when I'm the most senior rank, I have a bad habit of getting lazy. Why, I ask myself.

For one, I can get away with it with lower ranks. Because they're not as skilled, I only need to get most of the pieces in place to make a technique happen, and they typically don't know enough to take advantage of it to counter it.

And frankly, deep down, sometimes I'm showing off a little. Look how easily I did that technique, aren't I smooth? Check it out, I'm not even looking at the guy...

Sigh. Not good.

Even then, I'll botch something on occasion, and frankly, that jus…

Not just the throwing leg—the support leg, too

There's always lots of little things to think about on any given throw or technique, and this is a nice one. In this video, Yamashita Sensei talks about o soto gari. He starts off emphasizing the idea of pointing the toe, which is a pretty common pointer, but it's one of the things I see people get lazy about far too often.

The other interesting thing I think is worth noting starts around the 3:35 mark, where he talks about what the support foot is doing. It's true for a number of throw entries and worth the reminder.

Another hiza guruma tip

Funny how I never stop finding things to talk about when it comes to hiza guruma. Today's piece of advice? Take notes, kids. Here it comes.

Your job is NOT to STOP uke's leg or knee with your foot.

But that's exactly what everyone tries to do, and that's where we get two guys kicking each other and beat-up shins and all kinds of frustration. Think about it: if his leg is coming forward and I'm trying to STOP it, that's force against force! And that, my friends, definitely ain't judo, is it?

Look at this picture:

Where is tori's his foot? In FRONT of uke's knee? Nope, it's curved and cupping the FAR SIDE of uke's knee.

After years of having people throw me by trying to stop or impede my forward step in uchi komi or a very acquiescent session of nage komi, I noticed my fall was a typical tobi ukemi—which is more of an otoshi type of fall. Where was the guruma, the turning?

Try this: instead of stopping uke's knee, reach out with your sneaky…

The "speed and power" monster

There's nothing like an occasional class of randori to bring certain issues to light that would be good to work on.

We did a little light randori in judo this morning, mostly just trading throws, rotating partners with every bell (which I believe lasts about 3 minutes). When we were done, I asked everybody what their thoughts were, what went well, what didn't go so well, etc.

A handful of issues came up, which is natural, and it should prove amble fodder for future classes. One thing that I thought might be worth mentioning here was the problem of controlling escalating frustrations. We've all been there, where something isn't working, the guy's not going down, so we get stronger, faster and more desperate.

So how can you deal with that in your practice? The temptation is usually to stop, to quit, to just go sit down until you cool off. Like you're punishing yourself. "How could I loose control like that? I know better than that!" are the kinds of th…

Isolating a thing

Sometimes I like to take one singular aspect of a technique and think of a way to isolate it as a way of helping others (and myself) learn a concept, or at least broaden their view of it.

This morning, while going over ushiro ate, I felt something very interesting. So here's what I had everyone do.

Have a person just stand there, feet even, in balance, in good posture. Have a second person stand right behind them (you might refer to him as the tori in this situation, I suppose). Have tori simply place his hands on uke's shoulders. Not hard, but not necessarily light either. Just the weight of gravity.

Chances are, uke won't notice much.

Then have tori remove their hands, and put them back down on uke, but this time, with the palms further forward, so the heel of his palms sits just below uke's clavicle bone (palms and finger covering more chest surface area). Again, not hard, not pulling, just the weight of gravity.

It was interesting to feel, as uke, how your weight i…

The impact of waves

While working on various sections of the koryu no kata, and I couldn't help but notice that there are on occasion certain techniques that involve entering right as uke has started to commit his energy forward. The effect feels somewhat jarring, and comes as close as I've ever felt aikido come to any kind of force-against-force situation.

And since aikido largely eschews the force-against-force approach, these occasions puzzled me somewhat. I had always thought of the movements of aikido in terms of poetic devices like water, flowing around, over, behind, never struggling or fighting but blending with its environment.

But then I thought of a wave as it smacks against a rock. If you've ever had the opportunity to stand before a sizable wave as it comes crashing into you, you'd know that it hits with considerable force! But the interesting thing to me is, immediately afterward, it dissolves, it flows around, over and behind again, slipping past as smooth as ever.

Those te…

The "L" shape

The "L" shape
One of the principles or concepts I've heard about from time to time over the years is the "L" shape. Specifically, we're talking about making a movement starts in one direction, and then at a certain point, changes direction, usually 90 degrees or perpendicular to the first line.

It's a wonderful principle, really, and while the reasoning behind it is simple enough, it still feels like magic when someone applies it to you. Uke feels energy going in a certain direction. Typically, he reacts by resisting, even just a little. A moment of tension is established. He can deal with that singular line of force or energy pretty well, his body structured is set to withstand it.

But when that line suddenly changes at a right angle, uke isn't prepared or his structure isn't set to deal with that line so he's very weak. A simple concept, but hard to internalize!

Kata gatame
The first place I remember learning about had to do with a particula…

Past the point of comfort

There's a point in many techniques (heck, maybe all of them if I thought about it more, but I'm thinking of some specific recent examples here) when uke reaches the end of his range of motion. We talked somewhat about this with kote gaeshi, when a handful of people were struggling to make it "work".

They had the hand position, they kept their centers moving as we're so often told, they maintained ma'ai, all of that. Uke was slightly off balance, or at least his posture was a little bent, but didn't fall. He just continued to stumble along.

If that sounds familiar, try taking your partner and just stand there, not moving around, but facing each other. Take his hand in a kote gaeshi grip, and without moving around, just arms, go from the starting point  moving your arms in an arc until you get to the "end", the kote gaeshi. If you're tori, you should be able to feel all of the slack is taken out of uke's arm, everything's tight, and h…

Yin & Yang with Jo Nage

Ever since I heard Henry Kono Sensei talk about understanding "yin and yang" in aikido, I've been searching for it. Below is an interesting little piece of yin and yang with jo nage (techniques that involve tori holding the jo staff).

Lightening the load

Leo Babauta of Zen Habits:

"Minimalism is lightening your load so you can soar, & land lightly if you should falter."


I've been fascinated lately by two aspects of "space" in aikido.

There's the sort of movement that creates space, or in other words a vacuum, when uke finds himself drawn into this emptiness.

Then there's the sort of movement where you occupy space that uke either used to occupy (displacement) or wanted to occupy but couldn't (interrupting).

For example, the first technique in this video demonstrates to me the idea of creating a vacuum, while the second and third technique involve occupying uke's space and displacing him.

The chin in magic

One of the phrases folks in the morning class have been hearing from me more and more lately, in both aikido and judo, is this: "the chin is magic."
There's another phrase they're probably tired of hearing that falls along the same lines: "the elbow is magic."
I'd like to film some video on my thoughts relating to both of those statements, but for now, I'll share this bit about the chin as it relates to aikido (then judo in a future post, and hopeful both and in a little more detail in video). 
While I've always sort of known that displacing uke's chin (or in general, his head) can have a potent effect on the rest of uke's body, I'm only recently beginning to see how wide spread the application is. Or rather, could be. Or perhaps should be.
Of course, like anything else I post here, the things I talk about are probably old news to you and your school or system, but it's not necessarily the way I was "brought up" in the art,…

Do you need the hands? Yes and no.

One of the things that has fascinated me of late is the use of hands in aikido. By way of example, I'll talk about kote gaeshi.

Last Saturday, I attended part of a godogeiko, or dojo "play day" (a sort of informal gathering of various schools and styles of aikido getting together to play and experiment without any real formal teaching). One of the things we played with was performing kote gaeshi without ever getting what you might think of as the "classical" grip or twisting uke's wrist. Instead, uke clasped both of his hands together, outstretched in front of him. As tori evaded in a tenkan, turning, fashion, he simply laid his hand on uke's. When it came time to change directions and apply the throw, tori simply put his other hand on uke's forearm.

I've also seen many other very subtle, high ranking folks throw it as they separate from uke, with little more than a pinky and ring finger lightly hooked on the base of uke's thumb. Not a lot …

Caught in the undercurrent

I've thought about the concept of a wave in relation to aikido or judo before, but in the past I only ever considered the crest of it. The crest of a wave is the top part, the part that comes crashing down on you (or in this case, uke).

But that "crashing down" is only the end of the whole cycle. I'd been missing the other aspects of what makes a wave happen. Now, I'm no physicist, so my science is going to be pretty sketchy here. Spend a minute watching this nifty animated GIF I swiped from Wikipedia. Watch the red dots and watch their path.

Notice how, after riding one wave, they actually start drifting backwards for a bit. If you've ever spent any time on a beach, you might notice that the water retreats back into the ocean before the next wave comes crashing down on the beach. You've probably also felt how surprisingly strong that undertow can be.

It's the undertow that I think I've been neglecting. Just walking up to uke and trying to "c…

Real freedom - Seishiro Endo Shihan

Seishiro Endo, 8th dan Aikikai
"There is no such thing as a freedom just like that. It is an aim to become free. Freedom is often referred to as being free of something. But that kind of freedom, to be free, for example, of a duty or a person, is not real freedom.

"So what is? That is an important question. It certainly is nothing you get just like that. There is no easy-going freedom. I think in order to become free you must restrict yourself at first to a very unfree form. By practicing within that form you will learn to be free, step by step. You practice within a restriction.

"But in the course of the repetitions, within that restriction, it may happen that the restriction rids you off itself. And then the whole practice suddenly becomes egoless, light—and free. Practicing a form thoroughly will, at some point, rid you of the form. To reach that state in a practice means to have acquired freedom."

Back in the saddle again

Holy smokes, it's been a while since I've posted anything! My latest excuse has to do with the lack of a car. We sold one, and until we bought another I had to bum rides to work, which meant that I couldn't get to morning classes for a while. And if I don't make it to class, I guess I don't have much to think about regarding budo.

Now, we have another car finally, and I've been back to class for a couple of days. But even from those couple of days, a couple of things have popped in my head.

1) Everyone  has something to teach you.
I've probably said it before, and you've probably heard it before, but never, ever, ever let your rank, whatever it is, make you think for one split second that you don't have something to learn from every person you meet.

On Wednesday, my first day back in a while, I worked with a brown belt (the only other person to show up) who had once trained under a very, very accomplished judoka. I let him do most of the talking, an…

The key to the dojo

I don't know how it works at your dojo, but at Windsong Dojo, there has always been a policy that everyone ranked shodan or above (or yudansha) is given a key to the dojo.

You see, there are no teachers assigned to teach given classes. Here, whichever person attending class that day has the highest rank by default leads that class. In many cases, that's usually the same person, but not always. And many times, the regular class leader won't be able to make it, which means someone else will have to run the show. And as long as a black belt is present, class can be held.

So, rather than have a bunch of students standing around outside waiting for one or two people to show up, each black belt has a key to let everyone in. It's an amazing display of trust on the part of the dojo cho that, as far as I know, has yet to be broken or abused.

The other week, we promoted a student to shodon in our morning aikido class. He now has a key, and being an early riser, no longer has to…

Lessons from junior high

On the radio this morning, a DJ was asking listeners to call in and share some valuable life lessons they learned in school growing up, since today is, for most kids, the first day of the new school year. I didn't call in, but I started thinking, what did I learn from a teacher?

I don't know that I remember a whole lot of what I actually studied. Even the experiences that the DJ himself recalled had nothing to do with classwork; just solid advice from a teacher to a student. But one piece of advice I got actually had to do with the class, but it has definitely applied to much more than that since.

When I was in junior high, I played the saxophone in the symphonic band. We were working on a particularly challenging piece of music, but there was one short refrain that the whole saxophone section was having trouble with.

Our teacher, Mr. King, told us to go home and practice just those couple of measures. When doing so, he wanted us to do three things:

1) Play them very, very sl…

Been missing my budo

My wife had her tonsils removed last week (third surgery this year, after a c-section and a hernia!), so I've spent my mornings getting the kids ready and taking them to various friends who have been kind enough to watch them while Amy recuperates. Which means, of course, I haven't done any budo, and boy am I missing it.

I've sure been thinking about it, though. What have I been thinking about? Lots of stuff, really...

In aikido:

Aikido hand change drillsNot just the "wave" but the "undercurrent"The shiho nage / mae otoshi entryFinally demonstrating the sections of san kata & yon kata I've been working on with Scott

In judo:

No-gi nage komi / ne wazaCertain throws no one seems to know very wellMore about the "undercurrent"Forms of morote gariLots of ground work

The only problem is, deciding what to play with first when I get back!

Promotions galore

It's been a busy couple of days in the morning class. We had a shodan demonstration yesterday in aikido and then in judo today, we handed out a yonkyu and a sankyu. This morning's judo class in particular was a pretty fast-paced affair =) Let's just say I like to run the boys through the ringer when it comes time for judo promotions [cackles evilly]. (Okay, truth be told, I never turned up the volume quite as much as I might normally, but we still got a lot done).

Rank demonstrations in both arts are always interesting and for a variety of reasons.

Everyone's different
For example, with the aikido shodan demo, the uke was over 40 and the ikkyu demonstrating was over 50. Yet, while neither are exactly spring chickens, I'm always surprised at what someone can accomplish at any stage in life. I was proud of both of them for their skill and commitment.

The two judo advancements, meanwhile, came from a couple of young fellows. I'm amazed at how quickly the younger s…

Kosoto gari from a failed hiza guruma

I finally got a few moments to record the kosoto gari follow-up to a failed hiza guruma that I mentioned previously. From the same "foot inward" set-up, you can also catch a nice harai goshi.

More aikido koshi nage

One of these days I'm going to start introducing more of this into aikido class. We have a lot of folks who do judo, too, so I wouldn't think it would be that much of a stretch.

Doing what doesn't come natural

Like most Americans, I took my son to watch fireworks this last 4th of July. He's four, and it was his first time to see fireworks live and in person. Outside of the mugginess and the residual heat, we had a pretty good time.

Until it came time to leave.

As you might expect, or as you might have experienced yourself, when the show was over, everyone wanted to leave at the exact same time. Which makes for quite a traffic jam. In my case, the fireworks were held on the north side of town, which meant that everyone also wanted to head south.

We sat in the parking lot without moving an inch for about 20 minutes. That's an eternity to a tired 4 year old. Even when things did start to crawl, it still would've taken another hour to get anywhere.

Finally, I decided to try something. Instead of pushing relentless down the two main streets that everyone else was going down, I decided to drive north. No one was headed that way, so I had the roads to myself. I drove up a block, went east …