The devil and hiza guruma

In both judo and aikido, techniques can often prove elusive.

In some instances, just when we think we have a grasp of how something works, it suddenly stops working. It feels awkward for some reason, like trying to write with your left hand (if your right handed), although everyone else, regardless of rank, can get you with it just fine. It's maddening, frustrating. You're on the verge of going down to the crossroad to make a deal with the devil just to make it work again.

In other instances, you may think you've got a pretty good handle on something, but then a red-and-white belt descends like and angel from on high and shows you a slightly different way of approaching it. Your eyes widen, you slap your forehead and think, Oooooh, yeah, why have I not been doing it like this all along?

Hiza guruma is one such technique for many people I know, not just myself. But it's also a technique that frustrates students more than any other, for some reason. In fact, many students will complain that they never felt like they had a grasp of it, however tenuous.

I can empathize. I, myself, have been fortune enough to have experienced a number of revelatory moments with hiza guruma:

Kyle Sloan sensei helped me understand that, 1) when stepping three feet on a line, don't step so deep (as everyone is wont to do), and 2) extend uke out, get his shoulders out in front of his hips. If uke's posture is upright, you can be doing everything else right to the letter, but he won't go over.

Clif Norgaard sensei helped me focus on putting uke's right shoulder over his left foot (if I'm throwing with my right leg). It's a guruma, after all, not an otoshi (shoulder over the foot on the same side). Secondly, he pointed out that my right foot can not just stop his knee, but could actually hook a little around to the far side, and sort of pull his knee inward.

Bob Rea sensei mentioned once after a clinic while playing around with Kyle Sloan (I just happened to be watching), that he liked to pull his right hand down to his navel. I wondered about that, since "pulling down" seemed to just make uke more stable. But, I realized, once he's properly extended (shoulders over past his feet), then you can start going down. Tthink of it as starting with the elbow up, look at your watch, and as uke's natural arc starts to turn him, your hand naturally goes to your navel; you left hand, remember, is also going up with uke's elbow, so the whole thing looks like you're turning him like a big steering wheel.

And, most recently, Greg Ables sensei introduced me to a little drill that really made hiza work well for me. I wish I had a video of it (if there is one, I couldn't find, so let me know), because it's kind of hard to describe. Basically, I walk forward with my right foot (loading a little weight into uke's back foot). Then, I cock or pre-turn my left foot, which is still trailing behind me, rock back and load with my right foot on uke's knee. I then let uke off the hook, step once with my right, then step forward again with my left and load a little weight in uke's other back foot. I cock or pre-turn my trailing right foot, rock back and prop uke' with my left leg. Over and over...

The foot movement is something you can even do on your own, just standing around, which I admit, I will do from time to time. There's a number of budo related things I do while standing around, actually. I'm at an age where I don't care what folks think, I guess.

At any rate, this drill has made a huge difference for me. Fortunately, I'm at a high point right now with hiza, and it's clicking. It has excited me to the point that I want to share with the folks in class, but for some strange reason, it's proving more difficult for people to get the hang of than I thought.

Of course, the flame of that excitement may abruptly get snuffed sooner or later. But the nice thing is—and I don't think we can always see this—that every time something falls apart and we feel like we just don't get it, it comes back (and it will come back, if you keep at it) stronger, smoother, more refined. It may feel like you're taking one step back and one step forward just to break even, but believe me, it's more like one step back two or three steps forward.

You don't need to make any deals with the devil to make progress. The answer is simple, and pretty much the same for almost every hurdle there is to overcome:

Just keep coming to class.