Saturday, February 27, 2010

Lining up the 4 gari throws, part 3

When it comes to this whole "lining up" idea, the real light bulb moment for me came with kouchi and ouchi gari. First, let's talk about the way I was taught kouchi gari.

As my right foot goes back, I move it a little to the side and turn it inward (toes pointed at uke). I bring my left foot next to it, heels more or less touching, toes pointed out so my feet look like a "V". As uke's right foot comes forward, my left shoots out and catches the heel just as it's about to touch. I push the foot further forward than uke intended, and he falls.

Very little, if anything, was ever mentioned about what the hands are doing. Which is probably fine, when teaching it to new students. The foot work is tricky enough to figure out, just because tori has to do 2 motions in the time it takes uke to do 1.

Now, bare in mind this approach works pretty darn well. I've used it for a long time, and have had great success with it, and many folks have used it on me successfully, too. But since I don't have uke's hips and shoulders lined up with his feet, however, I occasionally found that he had an easier time countering my kouchi with hiza guruma if I was even just a little bit off.

Clif Norgaard Sensei once instructed me to get in closer, let the bodies connect, and sort of "bump" uke's center with mine, essentially displacing it. Over time, I played with that idea, and eventually it led me to a slightly different entry.

I still pre-turned by right foot as I stepped back, but not off to the side as before. Now, it's more straight back. As uke's right foot becomes airborne, and as I quickly slip my left foot behind my right, heel to heel, I do the elbow draw I mentioned in earlier posts. This puts his hips and shoulders are in line with his feet, we have close contact, his shoulders are a bit back over his heels, and I'm throwing him perpendicular to the line of his feet:

Even if I botch the timing, because my center is now occupying the same space that his center wanted to occupy, and because he's on his heels, he can't remain standing up anymore anyway (and a hiza counter, at least, is virtually impossible).

Although, the real fun came when I realized that this helped me do kouchi gari advancing. For some reason, no one has ever talked much about doing many judo throws advancing, at least not in my experience, so I've had to figure it out mostly on my own.

For this, I simply turn my right foot, toes inward, as I step forward. Immediately, I bring my left foot up to meet it, heel to heel, doing the elbow draw with my left hand. Here, the elbow draw not only turns uke's hips and shoulder in line with his feet, but it also tends to stall his right foot and keep it from traveling backward. Now I'm square to him, perpendicular to his line, and he's on his heels (our bodies connected). From here, I can shoot in for not only kouchi gari, but ouchi gari as well.

A little more on how all this relates to ouchi gari (then kosoto gari) coming up next.

Lining up the 4 gari throws, part 1
Lining up the 4 gari throws, part 2

Friday, February 26, 2010

Lining up the 4 gari throws, part 2

Continuing with my thoughts from last time, the first place where this idea of "squaring up" with uke (attacking perpendicular to the line of uke's feet, as well as getting his shoulders and hips lined up with his feet again) came to light in my mind was osoto gari.

As I've said before, there's really nothing new here that I haven't always been taught; I've only just recently realized what was happening. When I was taught the basic osoto entry, I stepped with my left foot slightly over and onto the line of uke's feet (just as uke's right foot was coming forward). For a long time, I thought I was supposed to throw uke "back where he came from", meaning I didn't turn my center at all, and the angle of my attack would have been about 35 degrees to the angle of uke's feet.

Now, there's at least one set up for osoto that I'm pretty fond of doing on occasion (I believe it comes from Lowry Sensei) where I can get away with that, but that's another post for another time. Finally, folks pointed out to me that I want to turn a little and direct my center more at 90 degrees to uke's line:

If that's all I did, you'll notice that uke's hips and shoulders are not in line with his feet. Can I still make the throw happen? Maybe, but it may be more work. We want maximum efficiency, right? This is where a little issue known as tsukuri, or fitting in, comes into play.

What I noticed was, when I pull my left hand—the one holding uke's right elbow—to my navel, uke's hips and shoulders turn as well, and line up with the feet. My right hand is also involved, of course (I think of just collapsing it, sucking the elbow in to my side and bringing my right hand to my right shoulder), but what I'm finding is that the left hand that draws uke's elbow to my navel is an almost magic maneuver for a lot of throws, especially when done at just the right time.

With this entry to osoto gari, I usually wait to step across his line until just after his foot touches the mat (if I do it at the same time, a skilled player tends to float with me by elongating his step and kills my set-up; doing it just after his foot touches keeps him from doing that). The "elbow draw", then, tends to happen at the same time as I lift my right leg to fit behind uke's leg. His hips and shoulders spin as his back foot becomes weightless.

There are other ways to set up osoto, of course. I like doing an advancing form (not sure where it came from, maybe Greg Ables, maybe Chuck Caldwell...?) where I step forward with my left foot, but turn it so my toes are pointing outward. I keep my hips and shoulders forward. As uke lifts his left leg, and I lift my right, I allow my upper body to turn left. Doing the elbow draw along with that motion will turn uke as well until all his feet, hips and shoulders line up.

There's another version, which works particularly well against stiff-armed players who are holding their right foot back to keep it from getting swept. I "step away from what I want" by moving my right foot over onto uke's foot line (his left foot will be forward). This turning motion will force uke to turn as well, and when their right foot hits, another elbow draw spins them. I step forward with my left, onto his line, and reap with my right. Again, all three of his lines end up parallel.

Okay, so big whoop, nothing new. But this little insight helped me make more sense out of the other gari throws as well, which we'll get to next time.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Teachings of O Sensei

“In Aikido we control the opponent’s mind before we face him. That is how we draw him into ourselves. We go forward in life with this attraction of our spirit, and attempt to command a whole view of the world. We ceaselessly pray that fights do not occur. For this reason we strictly prohibit matches in Aikido. Aikido’s spirit is that of loving attack and that of peaceful reconciliation. In this aim we bing and unite the opponents with the will power of love. By love we are able to purify others.”

Lining up the 4 gari throws, part 1

I mentioned trying to get some video of something I was talking about here the other day, but once again, I've fallen short.

For one thing, I hate to interrupt the flow of class by taking one or two people and doing something different than everybody else. But then, I also just forget altogether, because I get caught up in what's going on in class. And let's face it, the class (and it's students) is the important thing, not making little movies for my own amusement. And since it's an early class, most everyone else has to get to work afterwards. Oh, and I've also been sick the last few weeks....

Excuses, excuses...

Ah, well. Maybe I'll try and explain what I'm thinking in words, but probably not all in one post.

The first thing that occurred to me about all the gari family—osoto gari, kosoto gari, ouchi gari and kouchi gari—was 1) how I want uke to be positioned when I "pull the trigger", and 2) how I want to be positioned relative to that. Like I said, this really isn't anything we haven't been doing all along, but it's just recently clicked in my mind, and my mind likes to categorize and organize.

You might take a brief look at this film again (just the beginning).

This is a pretty typical approach, from what I can tell, about how most of the judo world approaches the gari family: with uke standing square, his feet side by side and his hips and shoulder in line with his feet. And that's really what I'm shooting for in the end. I'd like to throw him perpendicular to the line of his feet (over his heels) with his hips and shoulders in line with his feet but slightly behind (his posture bent back a little):

Then when it comes to throwing it, my base is in between uke's feet (on his line) for the inside reaps, and outside his feet (on his line) for the outside reaps. I would also like body contact, chest to chest, which forces his shoulders/posture back a little. This also makes it harder for uke to remain standing because my center actually ends up replacing his (think of it maybe as my center bumping his out of the way). And that idea, I owe to Dr. Clif Norgaard Sensei.

The problem with all this is that uke is very rarely standing square to me; he's walking, which means one foot ahead of the other. That makes the line of his feet diagonal to me, about 45 degrees to the line of his hips and shoulders as well as to the direction my center is pointing:

All of the set-ups we do, I realized, are about getting from this diagonal relationship to one where uke's square to me (the line of his feet perpendicular or 90 degrees to the line of my center) and his hips and shoulders line up with his feet.

That will have to suffice for now. The next post, I'll get into some other specifics and examples, plus how this idea caused me to tweak a few things.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

A new piece of the gari family

Today, while thinking about and researching the advancing form of oushi gari, something dawned on me. Of course, it's probably something that isn't new to most folks, but it's new to me.

The interesting thing is, it has to do with all the gari family: osoto gari, ouchi gari, kouchi gari, and kosoto gari. It's an understanding of my body's relationship to uke's, as well as the lines of his feet (and how they, in turn, relate to his hips and shoulders), and also how I get there, that I'd never noticed, and is common in all four.

And in this new light, I can figure out quite easily how to approach any of the four, advancing or retreating, etc. Which is exactly the kind of understanding I'm looking for in just about anything!

At first, I think we all have to look at techniques individually when starting out. We just have to memorize the choreography, all the while ingraining the principles (movement, etc.). Eventually, what started out as "different" techniques blur into variations of one general idea.

The problem is, I'm not sure I can describe it adequately in words. I think I may have to film myself talking about it in class. I have a camera, a tripod even, but I don't know how good the quality is (especially the audio). I'll have to test it tonight at home, and maybe bring it to class tomorrow.

Friday, February 19, 2010

The elusive sumi otoshi

For years, I never understood sumi otoshi. In some ways, I still don't. It's one of those things that sometimes I get, sometimes I don't. I'll go through periods thinking, Oh, I get it. Here's how you do it. Those periods are usually followed by periods where I'm completely baffled by it.

Recently, I've been watching a whole series of videos taken from a clinic with Henry Kono (You can find the 11 part series here. Just type in "Kono" in the search field on this channel's uploads). I'm in awe of his sumi otoshi timing (among other things, of course). I force it too much, I know, and I hope to someday achieve such exquisite lightness. He actually does it several times during the seminar, but this is just one instance.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

The power of the chin

I've been fascinated lately with chins. Mostly uke's. But perhaps saying "the power of the chin" is misleading, because the chin itself doesn't have a whole lot of power (you can use it in little subtle ways in grappling, but that's another story). What I mean is that you and I, as tori, can have a powerful effect on uke (and his posture) simply by what you do with his chin.

Take gyakugamae ate, for instance. For many years, as I was just starting out, most of the folks I trained with treated this technique as an "eye threat", meaning I (as uke) am supposed be startled when I see your hand coming toward my face and I should just jump out of my own boxers and land on my head.

Don't get me wrong, an eye threat is definitely possible there. I've certainly had it done to me enough times for real to know that when it works, it works quite well. The problem for me was, it didn't always work, and not just because of inexperience. Sometimes, you get an uke who is built like a fire hydrant and they just don't have that keen of a jump reflex; or, despite years of training, you simply botch the timing. Then what do you do? Wave at they guy?

That's when I noticed someone doing it a little differently. I would randori with Lowry Sensei as a brown belt and let me tell you something, there was no standing up with that gyakugamae ate. No sir, he pealed my head back like a Pez dispenser; I thought little candies were going to shoot out of my neck.

At first I thought, Oh, you may just have to push on the guy's head to get him to go down (if the eye threat doesn't work out). But eventually, I started to see, both in aikido and judo, and in a whole host of techniques, what was really happening: tori was simply lifting my chin.

In fact, you can do a little static experiment. Have uke stand perfectly still and straight. His job is to be strong and not to let you push him down. Then try pushing on his face, from the front or from the side, like shomen ate or gyakugamae ate; try aiki nage/irimi nage, or sayunage. He's a statue, solid as a rock! He may stumble a few steps, but he probably won't be falling down any time soon.

Now try lifting his chin up and then stepping through him. It's an interesting difference. Changing that one element breaks his entire posture!

I know, I know, if you catch the guy while he's moving with, say, a shomen ate, and you stop his head while his feet keep moving, he'll fall. I'm not saying it isn't possible to knock the guy down with the right timing, etc. regardless of the chin, but lifting the chin seems to crumple his posture like nothing else. What used to be made of brick suddenly crumbles like sand.

Now, there is a caveat. The neck muscles are pretty weak compared to other large muscle groups. When you think about it, you can push a stalled car with an "unbendable arm, bridging from the back leg" type of structure. That's a lot of power! Unleash that on a poor guy's neck and, well, you'll send him flying (I've seen it done!) and he'll have a sore neck for days (I know, because I've had one). So we have to be careful, and light. But we need to know it's there, if and when we really need it.

But it also occurred to me that moving the chin to one side or another helps in judo ne waza, too, say when holding kami shiho gatame (it limits his power to only one side) or when choking a guy (push his chin to one side to expose his neck), or when holding yoko shiho gatame or mune gatame, when our arm under his head makes it crook over to one side. The initial balance break from aiki nage/irimi nage does the same thing. Oh, and ushiro kudi gatame....

Basically, just getting the guy's head out of alignment with his body really messes the guy up.

Of course, this is probably old news to most folks who read this, but it's been eye-opening for me to see just exactly how often it pops up. Especially with this action, which I've really enjoyed finding all sorts of opportunities for (the sort of palm up, sideways entry idea):

Monday, February 15, 2010

Speaking of iPhone apps

I also downloaded a PDF reader for my app which allows me to download PDFs to my iPhone so I can read them wherever. The nice thing about this is that I've been making notes for years of various things on my computer (being a designer, I use Adobe InDesign). Now I can easily generate PDFs and put them on my iPhone, so I have them in class in case I need to refresh my memory.

For example, in aikido, the dojo as a whole is going to be working on various series of chained techniques (renraku waza) based on the #2 release for a while. Now, there's a lot of these chains, and there's no way I could remember them all off the top of my head, so it will be nice come tomorrow morning to have a handy-dandy reference. I love technology...

Grappling app for my iPhone

Boy, I've been wishing for a decent judo or aikido related app for iPhones from the moment I laid my hands on one, but for the most part I've been sorely disappointed. There's both judo and aikido glossary apps available, which I may download, but I can't find anything related to the demonstration of techniques.

Except for these two apps from (which is a site for BJJ players).

I bought the first one, and so far, it's kind of nice. All the videos are included in the download, so you don't have to stream them from the net somewhere. It covers the basic BJJ techniques, nothing fancy, but that's fine by me. My grappling game is pretty weak, so I could use all the help I can get.

You also get a short PDF book for free, but I haven't investigated that, yet.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

It's been a while

As some folks may already know, I've been a bit too preoccupied of late to write in this blog due to both the death of my father and the birth of my second child, each within a couple weeks of each other.

I'm hoping to get back into the swing of things again, here and in life in general, soon, but for now, here's a little video or two. 

This one is Keith Owen talking to a class of BJJ students about the importance of keeping things fun.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Look, ma, no hands!

I haven't written here in a while, mostly because my father recently passed away, and, well, blogging hasn't exactly been at the top of my list of priorities. And I can't say how often I'll post in the near future, because my second kid is about ready to be born, and most of us know how that kind of thing can wreak havoc on a schedule.

For now, though, I thought I'd mention a little bit about some interesting things I found in judo class this morning.

As a normal part of practice in all the classes at Windsong, we start with a foot sweep drill: as tori, I sweep uke's foot with my left foot, I set it down, then immediately sweep with my right foot, set it down and so one, walking this way across the mat; then it's the other man's turn (see the image above; I think there's a video of this drill somewhere, but I can't find it just now).

Now, a student mentioned to me the other day that when they tried to sweep someone's foot, they simply missed. That's a normal hurdle we have to jump going from a drill to actual nage komi or randori.

The first thing people tend to do in order to make it work is speed up. Which is, of course, no good. For uke's it's really easy to feel the change in speed through tori's arms (which are attached) like feelers, like the whiskers on a cat. Rather than change our speed, we have to change the distance.

So I had everyone pair up. Uke grabbed tori, one hand on each lapel, and tori had no grips whatsoever. Our hands can help a throw, such as a footsweep, but too often when learning, our arms try to do all the work and make things worse. We have to learn to do it with our centers first.

Once we had that no-hand relationship, we moved around the mat. At some point, tori takes a deeper than normal step with his support leg, and then does a sweep with the follow-up leg. We weren't concerned about throwing, just trying to 1) maintain the same speed (no accelerating), 2) move through the man with our centers, and 3) catch the foot in the natural rhythm. Uke should really feel nothing until it's too late.

The interesting thing was, we tried it with a step-around double foot-sweep (harai tsurikomi ashi) entry. We immediately ran into some issues.

When we have a grip on uke, it's far easier (automatic, really) to keep our centers pointed at the man because we're attached at two points (left lapel and right elbow). When not attached, it was much easier for our centers to wander, or in other words, for the knot out our belts to point out in space instead of staying pointed right at uke's knot. We ended up trying to do the double foot sweep before uke had a chance to come around, and our centers were pointed out in space ahead of him, and our sweeping foot was way behind us (no power).

With no hands, we really had to put our heads back in our center, to really think about where it was pointed, which made sure we did the technique from there, not just the foot. With our hands, we can draw uke around, which lines him up nicely with us. But without hands, uke's following along like I'm a boat, his arms are a rope, and uke's a water skier. So, we had to wait a step or two until uke caught up. But once he did, and our centers lined up, the sweep was right there waiting.

I'm actually really interested in exploring more throws practiced without hands, so we may do that for a while. I've done it before to a certain extent, years ago, but my memory is hazy, and I suspect there's more gold to mine there.

We'll see if I actually have the time to post about it.