Showing posts from March, 2010

Stuck in a rut: Should I stay or should I go?

The other morning in aikido, we continued to build on our randori drills, gradually adding in chaos drop by drop. At a couple of points, I stopped everyone and asked if anyone had noticed anything unique, unusual, troublesome, wonderful. (A good practice to do, I've learned, by the way. People have a way of coming up with some great things that I never would have learned otherwise).
One yudansha seemed little discouraged with himself because he kept coming out of what was supposed to be a random drill with the same technique, tenkai kote hineri. I suppose he must have thought to himself, Geeze, I'm a black belt, shouldn't I be able to do more than that?
What my friend noticed about his training is not at all uncommon. It happens in judo, too, and I would imagine other martial arts as well. And guess what? It happens with other arts as well. As a graphic designer, I get "stuck in ruts", too: a tendency to favor a certain color palette, to prefer a minimal look, or e…

New hakama

My new new hakama arrived in the mail today. Huzzah!
My previous one was a bit too long. I ordered based on my height, but based on where my waist is, I would need to be another 4" taller.
For anyone interested, I ordered them from, and while I got the basic model (read: cheapest), I like it quite a bit. Can't wait to get home and try it on with my gi to make sure it all fits.
Now, if could only find a white uwagi that would cover my belly a bit better, I'd be happy.

Hear it, see it, do it

I once heard that the ideal model for learning something should follow a basic "hear it, see it, do it" format. In other words, hear a verbal explanation, watch it being done (probably several times) and then do it yourself (definitely several times).
In my own experience teaching, I've spent a lot of time thinking about the first step. Here's a few things I've come to realize about this stage over the years, both from my own experience, and also by observing the many wonderful teachers I've had the opportunity to learn from.
1) Keep it short. I'm constantly trying to find the best way to describe to people what's going on in the most succinct way possible, while at the same time trying to avoid getting too verbose and veering off onto tangents. The less time I talk, the more time we all have to practice, and that's the important thing. Again, I'm of the Elvis mindset: "A little less conversation, a lot more action".
2) Repeat it three …

April is Ne Waza Month!

Well, it will be for those of us in the morning class. It's not really part of any grand movement anywhere, although feel free to participate and clue me in on what you do.
Mostly, I've just come to the decision that I need to do something to improve in that area, not only for me, but for the benefit of the morning class in general.
An hour class just doesn't seem to be enough to get in as much material and practice time as you need for judo, although it seems to suit aikido just fine. Most of the time, we talk about nage komi (standing throwing) for a little longer than planned, which little or even no time for ne waza. We may get in a drill or two, but we never seem to get around to doing some good ol' randori.
And to be honest, grappling is not my absolute favorite part of budo. And if I were to be even more honest, I'm not in that great of shape, and ne waza seems to make that fact more painfully obvious than other aspects of my martial training. ("Martial tr…

Engaging the wrist... or not

After going through a series of randori drills based on releases recently, I asked if anyone discovered or noticed anything interesting. One shodan commented on how amazing the effect engaging the wrist had on uke as he grabs, whether cocking it up, or curling it toward you.
Yes, indeed! It is amazing how it can disturb his whole frame, his direction, etc.
But here's an interesting experiment you might try (per, as always, Lowry Sensei). Try leaving your wrist absolutely relaxed, without engaging it. Until, that is the very end—then engage it. I think you'll find it has an interesting effect as well!

Too busy (and tired) to think

For the rest of March in aikido, we'll be working on crossing over from kata to randori, from one end of the spectrum, kata, where everything is known and predetermined to randori, where nothing is known or predetermined. It's quite a gap, really, and for a long time, folks had a hard time making that transition.
The introduction of renraku waza years back has done a lot to help that. But in addition to that, there are other exercises we can do to help gradually add bits of randomness into the equation, something Lowry Sensei refers to as "incremental chaos."
To start, we broke into two groups of four (I wanted groups of three, but alas, there were 8 of us). We each took turns in our group for 1 minute each doing a release with 3 attackers. The first round, we focused on the 1st release, the second round on #2, then 3 and finally 4.
After everyone had a turn, we restricted tori to one hand, first a round with the right and then the left. The 3 uke's, however, could …

Big, strong, fast, light

I've been aware of the existence of different "levels" shall we say, for lack of a better word, to our training, or at least some of them, for a while now. For example, I knew that we started learning "big" and then progressed to... well, something else, lightness being part of it. But it was this video from Lowry Sensei that clued me in on the whole framework and how they start to relate to each other.

The concept applies, of course, not just to jodo, but to aikido and judo, too (as well as other arts, I suppose). Having contemplated it for a little bit now, I'm beginning to recognize how it relates to an issue I've noticed in our practice over the years (to varying degrees, and myself included).
We all started out big. No problems there. Doing things big helps teach us the choreography, help us to practice principles, etc., etc. Often that means slow, as well. A lot of skills are taught that way. For me, art and music were taught similarly, big and slow…

Take responsibility for your own development

I get regular emails from a BJJ site called Beginning Brazillian Jiu-Jitsu written by a dude name Stephan Kesting. A recent one happened to jump out at me and I thought it makes a good enough point to pass it along (obviously, he refers to techniques specific to BJJ here, but the idea can be applied, I think, universally):
Having a good instructor is a huge advantage when it comes to learning BJJ, but you also need to take responsibility for your own BJJ development. You might have the best instructor in the world, but ultimately you can't solely rely on any one person to always tell you what you need to work on.

For one thing it can be difficult for your instructor to cater to every single person's needs in a class. For example, 'Joe' might need to work on his armbar defense, 'Sally' might need to drill that basic guard pass, and 'Fred' should work on his leg and hip mobility in the open guard. How can one instructor spoon-feed everybody the exact inf…

Philosophical discussions and when to have them

There a handful of subjects that have popped up lately, not only with me, but also pertaining to the dojo, that don't exactly fall within the normal realm of class discussion. They relate to budo, to be sure, but not necessarily the techniques themselves (I talked about the balance of philosophical and technical approach to the techniques themselves here).
Rather these topics pertain to the more... I don't know, "peripheral" aspects of budo. Actually, now that I think of it, it probably pertains to "reishiki" or etiquette, at least in part. But by etiquette, I mean more than just referring to your teacher as "sensei" or bowing at the right time and place (although that kind of thing is part of it).
It extends to how you treat the dojo itself, the art itself, other martial artists, other schools, your gi and obi, your weapons, the people around you even when you're not working directly with them.
Consider that last one: if I work with you one-on-o…

A piece of the shiho nage puzzle

Over the last couple of weeks, I've been going over junana hon kata (or randori no kata) with the morning class a section at a time. The focus throughout was on how each of the sections approach the idea of disturbing uke's posture and balance (kuzushi).
In the first section, ateme waza. we're going after uke's center line pretty directly. To most of us, beginner or otherwise, that much is fairly evident. But it took me a long time to figure out what the next two sections, hiji waza and tekubi waza, the elbow and wrist techniques, were really all about. Because I was messing with the guy's wrist or his elbow, that's where my focus lay.
But in time I came to realize that kote gaeshi, for example, is not about cranking on a guy's wrist. Hiki taoshi is not about locking a guy's arm.
I always thought, I cause kuzushi, and then do something nasty to his wrist or elbow. Rather, I cause kuzushi, and then I cause a greater kuzushi, kuzushi with more control, kuz…

Aikido versus kicks

Some veeeeery interesting technique combined with some hellacious ukemi.

The Sphere of Influence

Blame it on me being a visual person, but I've always liked using concrete ideas and expressions to illustrate a concept or point, both to myself and to students I may be working with. One of those analogies has really intrigued me for a while now, especially how it relates to both judo and aikido.
The question comes up, from time to time, among those who practice both arts, when would you use one as opposed to the other? My answer (for the time being, as always) is that it depends on my relationship to uke's "sphere of influence."
First of all, let me define what I mean by "sphere of influence." I imagine it as a giant bubble that surrounds each of us, and it represents a section of air or space where my hands (primarily, although it includes feet, too) have the greatest ability to affect something or someone else. The outer edge of that sphere, then, would be the furthest extent of my reach. If I hold my hand out at arm's length and I can touch it, it&#…

Scooping under

This is one of those things that probably should have been apparent to me early on. The action involved with most, if not all, judo throws seemed on the outset to function something like this:

Uke's center was the fulcrum and I was essentially bracing the bottom half while trying to wrench uke's top half over that point. Often, there would be a slight lifting element needed to get it to work. Which means that, even if you start out moving around, you eventually stop to execute the technique, which in turn stopped and planted uke. This comes out most obviously with hip throws, but I noticed it happening with other students and things like the gari throws: they weren't reaping so much as planting their foot and trying to push uke over their leg. Same thing with hiza guruma: stop his knee and pull him over it.

After a while, as my throws got more polished, I finally figured out what I was really doing most of the time—scooping under uke:

And one of the most important parts of do…

What is "misogi"?

I mentioned the idea of "misogi" in a previous post, and it got me thinking.
First of all, I probably know what you're thinking. Most people, upon hearing the term, think of this:

While this form of "misogi" definitely has it's benefits, it's not exactly what I had in mind. (Although, being Scandinavian, I feel compelled to mention the fact that the Nordic people have a similar tradition of going back and forth from jumping into ice cold rivers and lakes during the winter and then running to a nearby sauna, where they heat themselves up into a sweat. I personally don't have access to that sort of thing, although it's kind of a dream of mine, but on occasion I have used my shower to similar effect, alternating between really cold water and steaming hot. Very therapeutic.)
But I digress...
There are, from I understand, other forms of misogi, which don't involve water at all.
Ueshiba defined it as "a washing away of all defilements, a remova…

Misogi ideas

I've been thinking lately about introducing a little bit of misogi training into our morning classes. Nothing extraordinary, mind you. Ten minutes, maybe, max, and then back to regular class. The question became, then, how?
Here's a few thoughts I've had so far:
Uchi komi This is about the best idea I've had for doing a misogi practice when it comes to judo. I would say, take a basic throw, probably osoto gari and get into pairs. The first guy loads it up about 19 times and throws on the 20th. Then it's the other guy's turn. Repeat ad nauseam. For this, I would involve some counting, probably in Japanese. I don't know if I would have one person doing it, or everyone, or maybe just the tori?
Tegatana no kata The walking kata is probably the most obvious choice for aikido. It's already done as a group and involves counting. We could just keep doing it over and over, 5 or 6 or more times. Maybe have everyone count instead of just one person?
Rolling breakfalls Si…

Ude gaeshi with the volume turned up

It's funny, because our concept and practice of the seventh technique from junana hon kata, or randori no kata (or "the 17"), ude gaeshi, has always been fairly light and easy. Uke basically does a backfall and sits down nicely. There is, however, an alternative version that's a little more... thrilling.Here's another:
You don't have to do it with a big air fall, but it's the basic turning action, rather than going straight back behind uke that intrigues me...

Super amazing ukemi! Step 5

If you've stuck with me this far, you're probably wondering what on Earth could possibly be left to talk about. You've done a bazillion reps, you've got a pretty good handle on all the weird variations. What else is there?
Step 5 Take the "decision" out of it.
You might think you've done so many repetitions, you could do your ukemi in your sleep. True, but there's one thing I still see present in most students who have come this far that gets in their way: they've made the "how" automatic, but not necessarily the "when."
Doing ukemi while training for ukemi is one thing; falling when you don't expect it, or intend it is quite another. So take your falls during class. I'm not saying fall down for everything anyone does to you; the technique has got to be there. But I see far, far too many people in class resisting the fall altogether. They're choosing whether or not to fall, and that will get them hurt, believe it or not…

Godo geiko this weekend

Planet Dojo
Another budo "play day" is upon us this weekend, but unfortunately, it looks as if I won't be going. At least, I don't think I will. The more young kids you have, the more time you're needed at home.
On the other hand, my wife is going out of town in a couple of weeks to visit sisters (although she's taking the baby with her), so maybe I can "trade" some time? Maybe a little aikido tomorrow morning?
If not, I hope everyone has fun and learns a lot!

Super amazing ukemi! Step 4

After surviving through the first three steps, you've done the bulk of the work. Hang in there, champ, you're almost there. Pretty soon, you'll have some of the best ukemi in the dojo, and you know what that means?
Exactly—everyone will want you to be their uke when they demo for rank advancement. From what I understand, in Japan, those guys are pretty valuable commodities. If you want that promotion, you need to look your best, and the guy taking the spectacular falls is the one to do it. Most of the time, these uke's are repaid for their efforts with beer and dinner.
And do you know what else it means? Guess who gets to be sensei's favorite uke for demonstrating technique to the class? Yes, my fine, falling friend—you. Which means you get to feel what any given technique feels like coming from very, very skilled hands, and not everyone gets that opportunity. And by feeling it from uke's perspective, you have a very good chance of being able to eventually recrea…

Super amazing ukemi! Step 3

So, what more advice could I give the aspiring ukemi artist?
Step 3 Do a lot of it (I mean a LOT)
I know I've said it before, but the main obstacle standing in the way of great ukemi is good ol' fashioned fear. Our Subconscious Mind is afraid of hitting the ground because it thinks it will get hurt. The only way to change it's opinion on the matter is to convince it—through bazillions of repetitions—that it's okay to fall.
I've also gone into the benefits of a crash pad, but as far as I'm concerned, I can't emphasize it enough. As a brown belt, I would spend the ukemi time during class alone with a crash pad. I would start on one side, roll, get up, and roll back the other way, over and over, until it was time for the class to move on. By then, my legs were so rubbery, I could barely stand. 15 years later, I still use the crash pad.
Get the basic, fundamental rolling breakfall thoroughly ingrained. All the other versions—the flippy air falls, guruma falls, sumi…

Super amazing ukemi! Step 2

Granted, I've talked about some of this before, but I've also thought about it even more since then. Hopefully, there's some new information here for all those dedicated readers out there.
Whether or not you've followed my supremely valuable advice in step 1 and started while you were young and fearless, you can still develop super human falling skills by moving on to...
Step 2 Take your time, and start low
Okay, that's actually two pieces of advice, but in a way the two go hand in hand. One of the drawbacks of starting young is getting in too big of a hurry to get to the big, hairy falls. It's great that they're willing (or perhaps dumb enough) to do them, but you need to build a solid foundation of basics first.
Most folks I've talked to over 30, however, are more than willing to take their time, which is good. That evolutionary tendency to resist falling takes nothing short of time and repetition to overcome. There's no shortcut, folks, sorry. So you …

Yes, you too can have amazing ukemi! Step 1

I get asked fairly frequently about ukemi, or rather, more specifically, for advice about it. I suppose I fall well enough. People say I do, anyway, but I'm certainly not the only one; there are plenty of budoka in our dojo and organization that have been falling prettier and longer than I.
Regardless, the question does get asked of me. In one form another, it all basically comes down to this: How can I fall like you? And it gets me thinking. What should I tell them? How did I get where I am today?
Now, I'm still relatively young, both in age and in budo experience, but this is what I've discovered so far about ukemi (and this may change as I get further along the path). Ready? Here's how you, too, can have amazing ukemi, absolutely free of charge!
Step 1 Start young.
Not that you have a whole lot of choice in the matter. You may have only discovered aikido or judo after turning 45, and that's where you have to start. All is not lost; you can still fall well with time…

Trying out some tai otoshi drills

This week in judo, the two throws from the gokyu no waza that we're looking at are okuri ashi harai and tai otoshi. Okuri ashi harai has, for whatever reason, seen a lot of time and attention in our school and most folks are pretty well acquainted with it already, so we just worked on the stepping around/drawing action today, and devoted the rest of the time to tai otoshi.
This is a throw that I've spent a lot of time investigating and exploring over the past couple of years, and I'm always finding something new about it.
First off, we tried a simple little drill to emphasize the basic body relationship. We had uke stand still, feet square. Tori just stepped forward, letting his right arm collapse (hand to shoulder and his elbow in uke's armpit). By the time tori is turned, facing the same way as uke, he's radically pitched forward. For this, we didn't even have a grip with the left elbow. All the action came from the center stepping to uke's side, and the t…

Consider ying and yang

I mentioned an 11 part series of videos featuring Henry Kono Sensei in a post the other day. In one of the videos, he mentions something that O Sensei told him years ago, which was, simply, that he (Kono) didn't understand "yin and yang."Kono subsequently spent years, decades even, contemplating the meaning of that statement. Presumably, he figured a few things out in that time, but if he explained any of it in the video, it has since slipped my mind (it's a long video and he can be kind of tough to listen to).Still, it's got me thinking about yin and yang myself (in and yo, I guess, in Japanese). Of course, while I have studied aikido, judo and jodo for a few years, my knowledge of Japanese culture, history, and philosophy is rather scant. (Not by choice or omission, mind you; I just don't have enough hours in the day to do everything!) I'll admit right off the bat that I'm no expert on the subject. All I know about yin and yang is what I can discern…

Technical vs philosophical

Over the years, one of the main differences I saw between our aikido dojo and other examples I saw here and there (mostly online) was the method of conveying information, or teaching the technique.
We always seemed to approach things from a strictly technical viewpoint. We described what was happening in very concrete terms: put your foot here, turn it like this, put your hand there, move in this direction, and do it all to with this timing, etc.
Other aikido schools (Ueshiba styles, at least) tended to demonstrate a given technique several times, over and over, while the class watched. If there was any discussion (there tended to be more during special clinics with high ranking sensei than there was during regular class), it tended to veer toward the more abstract, philosophical, esoteric sort of description: get in harmony with the energy flow, yin and yang, extend your ki, etc. Then you paired up and tried to replicate what you just saw.
Frankly, I just never understood the poetic, ab…