Thursday, January 21, 2010

Limp, noodley arms

Oh, so many things I've been thinking about. Lately, with aikido, it's the limp, noodley arm.

A lot of what we do involves an extension of uke on a horizontal plane, extending him out over his toes, both in aikido and judo, for that matter. Wonderful, brilliant, great. But there are movements (and they appear in Tegatana no kata, the walking kata) that involve a more "up and down" action.

Not a forceful one, though. And I think it tends to happen after the horizontal extension, at it certainly doesn't involve strength, or trying to push someone down. Here are a few video that got me thinking and exploring it.

I think of it as starting a #2 or #4 release and instead of stepping all the way behind him as we normally do, get to his side (perpendicular) and do the thing in the walk where you lift your hand up and then let it fall down. That's one most folks have no idea where it applies. Well, he's doing it here. He lets uke swing through, raises his arm, and once uke's feet get ahead of his head, the arm GENTLY (like a limp noodle, maybe even lighter than what this guy is doing) comes back down. We played with this in class the other day and it was wonderful.

Then there's the first part of this video:

And these are only two examples of the suddenly limp, noodley arm I've been playing with, and the "downward" collapse (with movement) of everything, especially uke.

Love this stuff.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Escaping mune gatame, #5.2-C

Mune gatame

One of the things I've always been rather curious about was whether or not one could establish any kind of regular (or semi-regular) curriculum in judo. Our aikido always seem to follow a weekly theme well enough (we work on one section of a kata or exercise for one week, then the section the next week, etc.) but judo was always harder to pin down.

It may not be possible, or even wise, to completely pin it down, but through the experiments I've tried so far, I like having a little structure, at least as a starting point. I'm fulling will to be flexible, though.

Anyway, one of the things I'm trying is to spend the first portion of the grappling half of class on one of the major hold downs, usually by pairing up and doing a number of escapes. One week would be kesa gatame, then the next week kata gatame, etc. until we work our way through them (plus the kazure or broken versions) and the repeat.

One of problems with that, as you may have guessed, is that there's more than one way to skin the proverbial cat. Take mune gatame (chest hold), for example, which is what we've been working on for a few weeks now. There's a sort of "main" or "major" escape idea for each one, but really, there's a lot of things you can do, all depending upon what uke does. So escape #1 leads to #2 and #3 if uke does this or that. Then in the midst of practice, one pair realizes something is wonky about version #2 because that uke did something slightly different, and so you veer off into v 2.1 and so on and so forth.

All of which could be said about, well, just about everything we do. Which can be exciting at times; we feel like an archeologist, of sorts, constantly digging up news things that give us new insight, even after years of study. It can also be frustrating at times, not just from a learning point of view, where it all seems too massive to wrap our heads around ("I'll never learn this!") but also from a teaching perspective.

We've already gone a couple of weeks looking at mune gatame, and we could probably go longer. But, if you take an artist for example, you can't just focus your brush on one little corner of a painting day after day; you have to start in big, broad strokes, filling in large areas with base colors first, establish shading and tonal values, then gradually add mid-level details here and there, and refine the overall painting as a whole.

That's really the nice thing about play days, clinics, or even classes where only a couple of people show up and you just don't feel like following the class structure. Those are wonderful times to delve into details and explore endless variations.

Regardless, we've been having a nice turn out lately, and really getting some good work done. Even though I noticed issues with o soto gari and sutegeiko on Monday, I'm not frustrated or unhappy about it. I'm ecstatic that we have people on the mat and working! Working through all these issues are good "problems" to have!

Monday, January 18, 2010

Exposing problems in your technique

Firs of all, I'm a little confused by some terminology at the moment, and I now realize that I'm going to need to figure that out. All these years, in our school and overall organization (I believe), the term "sute geiko" referred to a form of practice that is different from how the rest of the judo world defines it (although I can't find a lot of references to it so far).

For the rest of the judo world, it seems to mean "alternate throwing practice without resistance." Which is odd, because for me, "growing up" in judo, sute geiko was a more unique form of practice where one person is allowed one throw (say, o soto gari) and one throw only. It's his job to try and throw it. The other person's job is not to be defensive, per se, but to maintain proper posture at all times and walk effectively. If tori doesn't have all the pieces, doesn't have kazushi, etc. the uke doesn't just fall down for him, he walks out of it.

Meanwhile, the idea of just trading throw without resistance was always referred to as "hop randori." Now, I'm no expert on the Japanese language, but I was always pretty sure "hop" wasn't a Japanese word, but I just went with it. I think now, the term "nage komi" might be used a little more in other classes, a term which as far as I can see means simply "throwing techniques" and refers to doing the whole, completed throw (as opposed to uchi komi, say, where you're working on kazushi and fitting in but not pulling the trigger).

At any rate, I don't know (yet) if the judo world at large has a word for the kind of training that we refer to as sute geiko, but now I have some homework for when I get home tonight.

At any rate, it's a nice form of practice to throw in the mix once in while, I think, because it really brings the pieces of a player's technique into sharper focus. In other, if they don't have everything pretty close to perfect, it won't go. You'll find out fairly quickly if you've been somewhat lazy in some respect when all you've been doing is trading throws, and certainly if you have any bad habits.

The down side of it is, we ultimately would like to train ourselves to be able to flow from one throw to the next; if he hit him in one corner and that fails, we hit another corner, then another, until he eventually can't stand up anymore. It's funny, actually, how frustrated a player will get with sute geiko, unable to get the given throw to work, they's instinctively pop another throw immediately after. A good habit in general, but it doesn't solve the problem that the original throw's technique was flawed and needs help.

So I thought I'd give it a go with my morning class with o soto gari. The results? Well, not what I was hoping for.

Mainly, I don't think they understood the purpose of the drill. For the most part, they ended up trading throws fairly easily, even though I could see from the outside that they were relying on some bad, lazy habits that, if tried on someone who was really playing with solid posture and good foot work, wouldn't work (much less on someone who was actively defending themselves in randori or shiai!)

The main issue I saw was with the reaping leg. Most didn't point the toes, didn't actually "reap" and many just put their foot on the ground and let uke fall over it. Not only is that kind of dangerous for their own leg (should someone fall ON it, instead of over), if they do that to me (or any one of the fine higher level judoka we have in other classes) we're just gonna dance right out of it, even if they did have kazushi.

I'd like to work on it more on Wednesday and see what I can get out of them. I'm wondering if I might have to be uke for each one of them in order to give them a better idea of how to play the role? Or maybe just once or twice with everyone watching would be enough?

Then again, maybe today sutegeiko practice did what I needed it to do: expose areas that need working on. I think I'll address those on Wednesday, and save more sutegeiko for another throw.

The journey never ends. Alway more polishing that can be done, smoothing more rough corners.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

When eyes are opened

I'm constantly amazed at what pops out of my mouth sometimes while I'm teaching and working with someone. Evidently, there are lessons learned rattling around in my noggin that I wasn't totally aware of.

Typically, they come to light when someone asks a question. Forced to answer it, you open your mouth, start jabbering, and voila, an answer (or two) spring forth. Inwardly, I'm as surprised as if a parrot has just flown out of my mouth. Outwardly, of course, I try to maintain my poker face and act as if I've known the answer for years; that's a crucial element in maintaining the aura of the wise martial arts master. I'm still working on catching flies with chopsticks, however.

I'm also surprised to think about where that knowledge actually came from. Sometimes, it's untraceable, but other times I can trace it back to the source, which vary widely. And it's not always my teachers, oddly enough. Sometimes, I watched someone else do it; sometimes I'm really recalling one principle (or application of a principle) and thinking, Hey, if it worked under those circumstances, maybe it will work here as well. Huh! Sure enough...

I've actually been absorbing quite a bit from YouTube, believe it or not. Bare in mind, though, that I'm not taking it all at face value, without careful scrutiny. I spend every bit as much time mulling over what I've watched as I do watching them. The principles I've learned from face to face interaction with some very fine, experienced teachers always serves as my measuring stick. Some things I don't agree with, sure, but many things actually look familiar. What I see rarely changes what I'm doing on the mat, but adds to it in subtle ways, or allows me to see something a new light.

For example, it's only been in the last year or two that I've come to realize that the way we've practiced the #1 release (as well as 2, 3 and 4) is not the ONLY way to do it. We've experimented and practiced a number of various methods of doing it, and it's shaken up my understanding of the release quite a bit. It's no longer defined by a long, specific set of rules (as in, it must look like THIS). It's just that we have to learn and internalize the main form (the kihon), the middle of the spectrum, and then we can start to see the wide, vast ends of that spectrum. For some, I've found, that learning this lesson is sometimes unsettling! "What? But I was always shown that you have to do it like this...."

It's an exciting time in my training, I have to say.

So now, when I watch someone who comes from a Ueshiba background (or even other Tomiki systems) do something that seems on the face of it to be alien, a light bulb goes off in my head, my eyes are suddenly "opened", and I see something like the #1 release, just applied in a way I hadn't thought of before. It's lovely, it's flowing, and in complete harmony. It doesn't conflict with what I've been taught at all!

It's like going to a foreign country, hearing someone speak and realizing that I understand their language. That realization that I comprehend what they're doing or saying is exciting and feels "like home". (I'm actually hoping to play with some of it in tomorrow's class >: )

And I have a sneaking suspicion that more such epiphanies are still in store over the years. Wonderful. Hopefully, now I can at least expect my world to be turned upside down, and embrace it when it does. I always learn something new, and my view of the universe is always expanded. And it is beautiful to behold!

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Uchi komi - moving & static

For as long as I've studied judo, we always practiced uchi komi from a moving paradigm, albeit a small movement. Usually, once tori and uke hook up for, say, o soto gari, and then uke moves his right foot back and forth, while tori moves his left back and forth. When uke steps forward, we step on the line and fit in.

I couldn't help but notice over the years, that from what I could see of the rest of the judo world (which isn't necessarily a lot), everyone else practiced uchi komi with uke remaining absolutely stationary. As I understood it, the main reason for practicing uchi komi with uke stepping was simply because, when we're actually doing randori, we're both moving. It would seem logical that we learn to time our movements to that step.

So why did the rest of the world practice it static? (And did they all completely avoid moving uchi komi?) I don't really know. Is there any benefit to practicing it static as well as on the move?

Lately, I've noticed that there are times when I'm by myself, perhaps outside keeping an eye on my son as he plays, or any other moment where I'm standing around waiting, that I'll be thinking about judo and will practice a particular set-up alone. I'll practice pre-turning my foot, making sure my hands or elbow are doing what they should, etc.

I realized that I'm more or less doing a static uchi komi, just without a partner (or a tree trunk, as in some examples I've seen). The only thing that troubles me from watching videos like the one above, is how tori, once he does the fitting in, will then often return not to an upright posture, but bent forward with one leg thrown back as if to gain momentum for the next entry.

I'm no judo expert by any means, but to me, bending forward and throwing your leg back seems kind of like a bad habit to practice. I would think that tori ought to return to a more upright posture, with both feet under his butt.

I think I'll throw this question on the forum and see what response I get.