Friday, April 30, 2010

Start with your closet

Since mentioning my interest in pursuing the art of minimalism, I have to admit, I haven't accomplished much. Okay, anything.

The funny thing is, the first thing I want to do is simple. I remember a couple of times as a teenager, wishing to loose some of my embarrassing flab and get fit, I went nuts lifting weights and just about killed myself. Needless to say, the habit didn't stick. I was in too big of a hurry, biting off more than I could chew.

I look at this, as well as just about anything new, with the same mindset. The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step, as the saying goes.

So I decided to start with the smallest space in my house, the closet. Actually, now that I think about it, I should probably start smaller, with the dresser. Every weekend, I swear I'm going to dive in and weed out all the stuff I don't wear anymore.

Part of the problem for me is, I've been fit and overweight both several times in my life. I'm not attached to many of my clothes for any reason other than "I might loose weight again someday and I'll need this!"

Well, if you have a relatively healthy salary, you can always buy new clothes, so go ahead and get rid of what you have that doesn't fit. If you're like me, however, and money is tight, you may not have the money to buy a whole new wardrobe every time you drop a few pounds.

But rather than have it sit in your closet, cluttering things up, I think it's worth it to invest in a few large tupperware designed for clothes. Pack it up, store it in the attic and out of the way.

Still, I think there's a lot of stuff that I've been hanging on to that I can give to charity, plus old belts and socks that I never, ever wear. Plus, there's the indoor soccer gear I hang onto in case I ever decide to embarrass myself in public again (that's a hard one, because good indoor shoes are expensive!).

Mostly, I enjoy the feeling of being free of even the smallest amount of unnecessary "baggage." I find it interesting, by the way, that a term like "baggage" or "luggage" is often used to describe unwanted, burdensome emotional attachments. It's strange how closely unnecessary "stuff" is related to unnecessary emotional ties. Let go of physical things is strangely close to letting go of mental things, both of which have a way of weighing us down.

I may not throw out the whole suitcase this weekend, but at least it will feel a little lighter.

Super amazing ukemi! Video!

Alright, I made another video detailing all the variations of the rolling/flying break-fall with the help of Todd Lannert (and Benjamin Hanby who held the camera). The first one I did just had the side version, largely because I'm an idiot who didn't have my memory card inserted correctly into the digital camera so that was all I could record. This time, I have all three variations that I talked about here.

The video/sound quality is crappy because I'm using a digital (photo) camera to take the video; I don't have a nice video camera, sorry.

The one thing I didn't cover in the video that I mentioned in the post was flipping yourself. Partly because I forgot, but also, I'm not sure I have all my thoughts together on that topic.

The ukemi series:

Thursday, April 29, 2010

The tall and the short of it, part 3

Continuing my thoughts on approaching aikido and judo as a tall person and as a short person, let's look at the next chunk of junana hon kata, the hiji waza (elbow techniques):

6) Oshi taoshi
Tall: The good ol' fashioned "elbow through the ear" version works well for me, being tall. It goes along with the idea I mentioned of "looming" over uke, or going over the top, and when extending along the side axis of off-balance, being behind uke (whereas shorter folks extend from in front).

Short: For shorter player, trying to do the straight "elbow through the ear" version can be tricky, especially since it usually means tori has to let their hands drift above shoulder level. Not that you can't ever do that, but I like to reserve it for moment when I absolutely have to and the risk is lower. Plus, going "over" uke isn't really a shorter person's strong suit.

Now, starting with a backward balance break to drop uke into a hole, and then doing oshi taoshi helps solve that. But outside of that, they also seem to do well with the tenkan, or turning behind, version, which brings uke down to their level.

7) Ude gaeshi
Tall: Taking uke's arm straight back, their hand behind their head works great, again because we're toppling uke backwards.

Short: For shorter players, however, getting to that position has the same trouble as oshi taoshi. Once again, a backwards break can help that, but also consider taking that arm-coil to the side, by turning, which keeps it more at tori's level. Know, though, that this puts uke's arm in much the same structure as "thread the needle" (tenkai kote gaeshi) which often makes uke take a flip, so go easy.

8) Hiki taoshi
Tall: As far as I can tell, this one seems to work well regardless of height.

Short: It definitely works for shorter people largely because it follows the idea of breaking uke forward and extending him, so it can be quite useful. You'll definitely want to remember, though, that it will help you topple larger ukes by using your free hand to roll uke's tricep forward, which helps break his shoulders forward. Works like magic.

9) Ude hineri
Tall: This one really fits in the tall guys wheelhouse, compressing smaller guys and extending outward from behind.

Short: The hard part about this one for shorter people, it seems, is getting the free hand over uke's shoulder. I would almost rather they do something more along the lines of kaiten nage, with their hand on uke's neck. I don't know; I want to experiment more with this one.

10) Waki gatame
Tall: The standard, straight ahead version works well for tall guys who can use that elbow-to-elbow action to knock uke off balance.

Short: For shorter people, though, getting your inside elbow up over uke's upper arm can be problematic. I like the version where tori steps to the inside, using the opposing hand (tori's right hand on uke's right wrist), then doing the "figure 8" version. This creates a nice up and down, roller coaster motion in uke that brings him down to tori's level nicely.

Okay, next time I'll go over both the tekubi waza (wrist techniques) and the uki waza (floating techniques). Then, on to some judo.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The tall and the short of it, part 2

Time to continue what I started thinking about last time regarding different approaches to aikido and judo for taller and smaller players.

For starters, I realized that I could add another basic dimension to what I've already mentioned. I talked about breaking uke back for taller people, and breaking uke forward for shorter people and then mentioned compressing shorter people and extending taller people. I'm noticing that the overall height of your hands (at least in aikido) seems to have some effect as well.

If you're tall, like I am, and you hold your arms at chest level, this will naturally put a shorter uke's hand at his own shoulder level, or ideally, higher, where they're weaker. However, if a shorter tori hold their hands at chest level, it only brings a taller uke's hand to his navel level. He can still function relatively well there. But, if a shorter tori holds their hands at navel level, it tends to bring a taller uke's hand below his waist, which means he has to bend over a little. So basically...

Taller people—keep your hands at chest level and force a shorter uke to work too high.

Shorter people—keep your hands at navel level and force a taller uke to work too low.

As always, there are exceptions to the rule, but it's an interesting common aspect I've notice with different practitioners that seems to work well.

Okay, so now let's look at junana hon kata from aikido, or at least we'll start with the first section, ateme waza:

1) Shomen ate
Tall: The traditional step to the inside and push at 45 degrees or so to the attacking angle seems to work well enough.

Short: The main problem with shomen ate for shorter people (indeed much of atemi waza) is that you have to reach up to get at uke's chin, often putting your hand above shoulder level. Now, you can do shomen ate to the chest, and it works, but it's rough on uke and even dangerous. Rather, I've noticed that if a shorter tori does the long, turning version, which spins uke 180 degrees, uke's head actually slowly lowers until it's about tori's shoulder height.

2) Aigamae ate
Tall: Again, the traditional straight balance break, turn and push works great.

Short: And again, we have the problem of a shorter tori having to reach up to get at uke's chin. So, for many of the 17 (if not all, really) doing a backwards balance break seems to work really well. It accentuates a taller uke's natural tendency to have to "reach down" for tori, and puts him in a hole. As he rises, his head is right at tori's shoulder level.

3) Gyakugamae ate
Tall: Traditional straight balance break. When it comes to the hand in the face part, however, I've noticed that, being tall means my arms are also usually longer, and I tend to slip rather deep, with my whole arm across uke's top half (lifting the chin palm up, or pushing across palm out). Shorter tori's are better off, it seems, sticking with hand only on the chin.

Short: A backward balance break works marvelous here once more to get uke's chin down to their level. I think it's important to make note to shorter students that the laissez faire "eye threat" method of doing number 3 that so many people are fond of has a much lower percentage of working when a small person tries it on a big person. I make sure to teach them to not be shy, that seriously lifting uke's chin is the key to break his posture backward (which, as I mentioned, is not going to be a short tori's strong suit, but we're making it work for them).

4) Gedan ate
Tall: Straight balance break. Now, when it comes to the fit in, I've noticed that I tend to be rather high, and break uke's balance back. Technically, it's not really a gedan "low" strike but pretty much the same as gyakugamae ate except that I'm under uke's arm.

Short: For shorter tori's, however, breaking uke's posture low at the hips works quite well.

5) Ushiro ate
Tall: The usual.

Short: The backwards balance break works well, of course, but you could also step to the outside and get uke spinning like you're going to enter irimi nage/aiki nage. This also bring uke down low so his shoulders are within reach. Either way, just remember you don't want to reach up to get at uke's shoulders. By the way, you can also hook each hand around uke's waist from behind, and collapse him that way. Unconventional, but it's dropped me more than a few times.

Next, we'll look at more of the 17...

Previous entries:

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The tall and the short of it, part 1

For some reason, we've never had that many female students in our dojo. Which is odd, because our school tends to eschew the sometimes over-the-top, testosterone-fueled, machismo that predominates many other fighting art schools, an attitude that I would suspect turns off a lot of women. On the contrary, although mainly men, we're such a nice, easy-going bunch of guys (heck, our old dojo cho used to, on rare occasions, dress in a pink gi with a black sash around his waist and demonstrate as "the Aikido Fairy"), you'd think women would feel more at home.

I think it's a shame, really, because I think as far as defending yourself goes, aikido and even judo are ideally suited to situations where bigger and stronger are pitted against smaller and—well, I hate to say "weaker", but perhaps "more delicate".

Recently, though, we've had a new student start attending aikido and judo classes who happens to be a girl, and a relatively small one at that. It's been interesting to observe. I also worked with a nidan (male) the other week who is a good foot shorter than me (older, too, with some metal parts implanted in his hips and legs that even further limit what he can do), and half the time, he kept explaining that this is the way he did it because he was shorter and it worked better for him.

That brought up an interesting few days of contemplation on my part, followed by a discussion in class this morning. While aikido (and judo) should theoretically "work" regardless of your size or build, there are different ways to "approach" them that can take advantage of one's size compared to our partner.

At it's core, it has to do with which axis of off balance works best for you. By axis of off-balance, I mean that uke can either bend backwards (shoulders behind hips/feet) or bend forward (shoulders in front of hips/feet) or to bend to either side (one shoulder off to the side of one foot). With that in mind,...

If you're tall, break uke backwards.
For example, take me. I'm six foot two, which is taller than the majority of the people I work with. I find that, for the most part, I tend to use that height to my advantage and get my uke's bent backwards in spine lock, sort of "looming" over them.

If you're short, break uke forward.
If you're short, the singular advantage you have is that uke has to come down to get at you. He's already directing his energy somewhat downward, so you might as well keep it there. Let him come to you.

Whether you're tall or short, break uke to the side.
To the side, or if you think about it in terms of catching uke while walking, down the line of his feet seems to be fairly universal. However, I've noticed that short people tend to do well extending uke down the line from in front (again, letting uke come down to you) whereas taller people, such as myself, do well knocking uke down the line of his feet from behind. I hesitate to put it in terms of "pull" and "push" lest anyone think I'm advocate exerting any kind of undue force, but it at least describes the basic action and direction tori should be thinking in.

I've also noticed that there's also a difference in how taller and shorter players either compress or extend uke's structure. You see, everyone, regardless of size, is relatively strongest when their arms are at about mid-distance from their core. Imagine trying to lift a fairly heavy dumbbell. If you hold it out all the way at arms length, it's pretty tough to lift or curl it. If you pulled your hands all the way to your chest and tried to manipulate the weight, it would be pretty tough, too. But if your hands are out in front only slightly, elbows near your sides, you can affect that weight in a lot of ways. So,...

If you're taller, compress uke.
In general, you compress smaller people, well, even smaller. Wad them up into little balls. More on that later.

If you're shorter, stretch uke out.
Take that length and stretch it out.

I'll elaborate and clarify on all of those ideas in upcoming posts: first with aikido; then, with judo nage waza (throwing techniques); and then, with judo ne waza (grappling techniques).

Now, are there exceptions to all this? Probably. They're not rules, after all. Just some thoughts to consider.

I also plan on grabbing the new girl and experimenting a little, and I'll let you know what we find. Meanwhile, stay tuned for the next installment, where I'll go through junana hon kata and talk about a few variations you might try based on whether your taller or shorter.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Push vs pull teaching

The Gracie family has a series of videos called Gracie Bullyproof that's designed to teach young kids ju-jitsu. As a father of two young kids who are fast approaching school age, I'm seriously getting a hold of these.

The video below is a sample from the introduction that teaches the parents how to teach their little kids. Frankly, I think this little segment alone is really, really good advice on teaching anyone, young or old.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The elusive sukui nage

As I work my way through the gokyu no waza, I occasionally come across throws that I don't really know all that well. Getting toward the end of the list, I run into sukui nage, "scooping throw".

Now, the main version (well, the only version) I've done is one where tori steps behind uke and places his arm in front, and then sits down along with uke. It makes for a nice, easy way to learn the throw for sure (although it starts to resemble tani otoshi).

For reference, the sempai in this one does it the way we usually do it:

Still, I wanted to learn a little more about it, so I started to do a little research.

It turns out that there about as many ways to do sukui nage as there are ways to top a pizza. The first knot I had to untangle is that there is actually two different throws often passing by the name sukui nage. There are versions of it that are also referred to as te guruma ("hand wheel") which, to me, are really a subtly different idea that I would prefer to keep distinct. Additionally, I don't like how te guruma variations seem to involve a good bit of lifting, which is fine if your opponent weighs the same or less than you, and you're young and buff enough to do it.

Consequently, I've decided to isolate for now just the versions which deal with stepping behind uke and scooping him backwards.

The video below demonstrates a lot of the variations you might encounter as te guruma. The latter half, incidentally, contains a nice section on variations of morote gari (which turn into techniques involving one hand, even though "morote" means "double hand"). I kind of like many of these because they don't involve lifting the guy. I'd like to look at them in class, eventually, but another day.

Anyway, back to sukui nage. Perhaps one of the biggest reasons we haven't spent much time on this particular throw (the classic version anyway) is the fall. For one thing, the mat at our dojo, while it has a little bounce to it, it's not quite as soft as the typical, pukey green rectangle mats most dojos use. So, if you grab uke's knees and dump him straight back, he'll end up landing square on his back and at the very least it will knock the wind out of him; at most, his head snapping back can definitely ring his bell.

Then I noticed some ukes taking a slightly different fall where they rotate a little and land on their side, more like a standard flipping fall (tobi ukemi). That eases my concerns about uke getting seriously hurt somewhat, but many of the students I work with aren't ready to take that fall, either.

This version, which looks suspiciously like aikido's gedan ate (the arm higher up, etc.), appears to be a little easier for uke to take, as only one leg is really scooped.

This version is another sutemi variation (where tori falls with uke), and looks a little gentler, similar to the sit-down version we typically do, but with a turning action. Uke still drops over the knee, but it seems less drastic (of course, they do have the softer mats).

[On a total side note, while I like many of the videos from this group, I can't for the life of me figure out why the chose blood red mats with crayon yellow walls, trimmed with black and red stripes. It literally makes my eyes hurt looking at it. It would drive me insane working out in that space!]

Ultimately, I'd like to flesh out a version that's both "safe to practice" as well as "effective and likely to find".

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Alternate attack for junana hon kata

The other week I mentioned a little randori experiment we undertook in aikido that involved evading multiple attacks of either yokomen uchi or shomen uchi. I talked a little bit about how the novelty of the kind of attack seemed to take everyone a little off guard, as if they didn't know quite how to handle it, even though their aikido would work just fine regardless.

So, just for the heck of it, I thought, why not spend a few classes doing junana hon kata, the 17, with either a yokomen uchi, shomen uchi or in some cases a tsuki (thrust, like a punch to the stomach) attack. Certain techniques seem to be better suited for one attack or the other, I noticed. Not much changes, really, in terms of how the technique itself is performed; the only real difference is how you start off. This list by no means comprises all the variations you could do, but perhaps it may serve as a starting point.

Atemi waza
1) Shomen ate — uke attacks with yokomen uchi
2) Aigamae ate — uke attacks with shomen uchi (Step to the side, outside uke's arm. As he recovers his balance, lifting his arm as if to strike again, follow it up, one hand on his elbow, the other on his chin)
3) Gyakugamae ate — shomen uchi (Step to the side, outside uke's arm. As uke raises, the left hand goes to the face.)
4) Gedan ate — shomen uchi (Same as above, but as you step to the side, your left hand is caught under uke's arm. Numbers 3 and 4 are a lot like the Merritt Steven's system, incidentally.)
5) Ushiro ate — yokomen uchi (Take a turning step to the inside. "Chop" with the right hand to the inside of uke's elbow. This has a way of spinning him around. As he does, reach up with your left and grab his far shoulder.)

Hiji waza
6) Oshi taoshi — shomen uchi (Just go straight to it, like the initial technique of san kata or the Ueshiba style ikkyo.)
7) Ude gaeshi — shomen uchi (Start oshi taoshi as above, then when uke rises, slip in ude gaeshi. You also go right to ude gaeshi after you step to the outside of the attack without oshi taoshi.)
8) Hiki taoshi — shomen uchi (Step to the outside, get your butterfly grip and proceed as usual.)
9) Ude hineri — shomen uchi (Start as above, then proceed into ude hineri.)
10) Waki gatame — yokomen uchi (Step to the inside, right hand on uke's wrist. Lift his arm up and across his face until you're in the waki gatame position. This is a version students of KG's "23" kata will recognize.)

Tekubi waza
11) Kote hineri — shomen uchi (Go straight to it, like ikkyo.)
12) Kote gaeshi — tsuki (Step to the outside, and either continue in a turning "tenken" action until uke comes around, or allow uke to pull his hand back as in san kata or the Merritt Steven system.)
13) Tenkai kote hineri — shomen uchi (Step to the outside, get your grip and turn under uke's arm as he turns toward you.)
14) Shiho nage — yokomen uchi (Not a long to do different really. This technique comes pretty natural to this attack.)

Uki waza
15) Mae otoshi — yokomen uchi (Same as above. Seems pretty natural.)
16) Sumi otoshi — yokomen uchi or shomen uchi (You can do a long, drawn out version from a yokomen attack, or do a shomen attack, step to the outside and do a very quick sumi otoshi, Old School Tomiki style.)
17) Hiki otoshi — shomen uchi (Just connect and step back, Old School Tomiki style)

Monday, April 19, 2010

The empty cup

My friend and teacher, Nick Ushin Lowry Sensei, offered the following sentiment on Facebook the other day: "The one who bows an the one who is bowed to are both fundamentally empty, which is what allows for true clear communication."

Another friend responded (in jest): " usually what in between my ears, sensei... absolutely nothing, nada, zilt..."

To which, Lowry Sensei replied, "Good for you—just don't get stuck on it."

. . . . . . . . . . .

Bare in mind here that I am not a serious student of any particular eastern philosophy or religion aside from reading the "Tao Te Ching" a couple of times, along with whatever odds and ends I pick up by virtue of studying a Asian martial art and hanging around a few folks who are more devoted students.

The concept of "the empty cup" is one of those that has come up a number of times. For the most part, I think I understand the idea behind it. Although I might embarrass myself by trying to describe it, I can only say that this is what it has meant to me, at least.

To me, it has meant getting rid of any preconceived notions when approaching something, be it an aikido or judo class, or working on a design at work, or just life in general. It means not making any assumptions ahead of time, so that when things start to turn out differently, I don't bang my head against the wall trying to make things fit my view of how it should be.

It means remaining open to new insight, new ways of doing a given thing (or thinking a given way), no matter how experienced or accomplished I may be at it. It means remaining teachable, even when it comes from those who are beginners or even my "enemy". It means letting go, receiving all. The cup doesn't try to control the water, it allows it to pour in and fill it completely.

Etc, etc, so on and so forth, blah blah blah. You get the picture.

That's how I try to live my life, on the whole; and on the whole, it seems to work pretty well. But I was disarmed by Lowry Sensei's response: "Good for you—just don't get stuck on it." I've been thinking about it a little lately, and something occurred to me.

Now, this may not be what he had in mind in the slightest, but like I said before, this is the meaning it had for me. What occurred to me was this: Be as empty as a cup, except when it is time to be full.

I know, I know: what the crap does that mean? Well, I'll try and describe it as best as I can, and use aikido or judo class as an example. Let's say I'm working with a partner. For sure, my less experienced partner's cup is empty; he knows less than me, he needs guidance, needs direction, right? In those cases, I find that my cup is actually full. So full, that the "water" I have naturally overflows, and I "pour" it into the student's empty cup.

Heck, sometimes, I don't pay attention, get carried away with my own excitement for the subject (or perhaps my own eagerness to show off what I know), and I pour a little too much. We must always be mindful of what our student needs and can handle in that very moment in time, and pour no more, no less than what he needs or has room for. In time, he will, in turn, pour what he has learned into someone else's cup, and so on.

In other words, a cup that is always empty, that stays empty, is useless. It's a hunk of glazed clay that collects dust. To function, to be of any use, the cup is always filled, poured and emptied, again and again.

So, to me, being "stuck" on the concept of remaining empty does you no more good than if you walked around being constantly "full." By and large, I'm a believer in keeping my mouth shut and my ears open; the temptation to open my trap and demonstrate how much I know about a subject is always looming. As long as I'm busy yapping, I'm not able to hear anything new that will benefit me. Or, as long as I'm always pouring, I'm never prepared to "receive" new water.

But there comes a time, during training and in life, when it's perfectly natural to share what we have. What's the old expression, "Nature abhors a vacuum?" Meaning that if there's an "empty" space, something will naturally flow into it, be it air, water or whatever. I think that harmony flourishes whenever there's an empty cup and there's a full one pouring into it; and where there's a full cup, there's an empty cup to receive it. (Could this be another way to consider yin and yang, in and yo?)

Here's the trick: the nature of this relationship—who's full and who's empty—can turn on a dime. In fact, it is often in constant flux.

Take this morning, for instance. I was demonstrating a method of passing the guard in judo. I was pouring the knowledge I had into empty, eagerly awaiting cups. The young man with whom I was demonstrating, a brown belt in judo, mentioned the placement of my foot at one point in the pass, and wondered if it was vulnerable where I had put it. Sure enough, I had to concede that he was right, and I amended my approach.

In a flash, I had a choice. I could refuse to admit that a "lower rank" has just pointed out a flaw in my technique and BS'ed my way out of it. I would have kept my cup full and any new water that could have come in would have just spilled off to the side, lost forever. Or, I could empty my cup and abandon my pride, my preconceived notions, all that, and be open to learn and to grow. Luckily for me, I chose the latter.

In these circumstances, when I'm truly empty and am filled with water, I bow inwardly and say, "Thank you very much," no matter who does the pouring. But also, when I teach and pour what I know into an eager empty cup, I am also grateful for the opportunity and find I must bow and say, "Thank you very much."

The trick it seems is not about staying full or empty, but knowing, feeling when to be one or the other. Nature, the universe will tell you if you listen.

Of course, if all else fails, I would err on the empty side.

Friday, April 16, 2010

The forward "splat!" fall

Maybe someone out there with a little experience and/or a more in-depth knowledge of Japanese can help me straighten out some names. I'm having a hard time pinning down one term.

The basic, rolling breakfall we do is most often called "zempo kaiten ukemi". Which makes sense, since from what I can tell "zempo" is "front or forward" and "kaiten" is basically "rotation" or rolling.

What I'm trying to nail down is the fall you do to the front, but there's no rolling. You basically kick your legs out from under you (backwards), land first on your forearms, then chest, then legs, sort of doing a breakdancing type or "worm" movement until you're laying face down, flat on the ground. This is one of the few images I could find of it:

A few rare instances, I find it called "mae ukemi" which makes sense, as "mae" seems to mean "front or fore", but the confusing thing is a LOT of sites use this term to refer to the basic forward roll instead of zempo kaiten ukemi. To me, it seems you could use "zempo" or "mae" to describe either fall, but you would need the term "kaiten" included to distinguish it as a rolling type of fall; without "kaiten", I would infer you're talking about the fall pictured above.

Anyone have any different insight?

Side version of zempo kaiten ukemi

In a previous post, I talked about practicing a few variations on the basic rolling breakfall, or zempo kaiten ukemi. I described them as best as I could (as I do with everything I talk about here), but many times, it's hard to picture a visual thing when reading about it.

And I've been wanting to start recording video of various things I've been tinkering with, but have never gotten around to it. Today, however, I finally gave it a shot. I had intended to record all of the drills I described in that post, but my dumb camera kept flaking out on me. I've never used it to record video before, so I'm not sure what the problem is. (I have no other media on it and it has a 2 gig card in it, but it would keep stopping in the middle of recording to say "Busy, please wait," and then when a picture came back on the view finder, it wasn't recording anymore.)

So, either I'm going to find out from friends what the deal is, or I'll try my wife's camera next time and hopefully get some more posted. The one thing we did catch on film in it's entirety was the side version of the rolling breakfall. So, we'll just start there. Hopefully, more will follow!

I suppose that, if you want to be technical, since we're going to the side, it would no longer be called "zempo (forward) kaiten ukemi", but more of a "yoko kaiten ukemi". Not the normal "yoko ukemi", mind you, where you bring one leg across your body and lower yourself to the ground onto your side. I think including the term "kaiten" (rotation) makes a suitable distinction.

Now, once your ukemi becomes more of an "air fall", it's called a "tobi (flying) ukemi". I suppose the term "tobi (flying)" is pretty generic and could refer to a lot of things, but I would imagine you could say "zempo kaiten ukemi" for a forward roll, and "zempo tobi ukemi" for a forward flip? Then, you could say "yoko kaiten ukemi" for a side roll, and "yoko tobi ukemi" for a side flip?

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Techniques against a jo

Interesting video of Morihiro Saito sensei performing a series of techniques against a jo. Some of these are included in koryu dai san kata, but some are new to me.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Quite a workout

Roll, rolls, and more rolls

Phew. I'm still sweating, even after the drive to work from the dojo.

Needless to say, aikido class today was quite a workout. Due to the odd number of students, I worked in with a pair of yudansha, and the three of us managed to knock out the hanasu no kata and the entire junana hon kata (which means, of course, you end up doing each technique twice and taking ukemi for each technique twice). With yudansha, there wasn't much need for discussion, so we were able to keep a pretty brisk pace.

On top of that, once class was over, Scott and I continued to work on the last half of yon kata, plus the jo-no-tsukai-kata (jo against hand) and the tachi-tai-tachi (sword against sword) section of san kata. Well, to be precise, I attacked him for all of it for the purpose of his rank demonstration.

On one hand, I can't help but feel many of my technique were pretty sloppy. I'm afraid that I end up "odd man out" and standing around more than I'd like. I'm still relatively young in this art, so I'd like to stay in the game and get my practice for many more years to come before I do the teacherly, stand around giving pointers thing.

With aikido, I find you can work in threes fairly well, but in judo, it's a little tougher (and I need much more practice in judo!) Yesterday, for example, there were five of us, so guess who stood around for the most part?

But you know, maybe it's not as difficult as I think it is. I've just got to make the effort and put a little thought into it. Hmm.

At any rate, moved a lot, it feels good (kind of a rambling, "dear diary" kind of post today). How was your practice today?

Monday, April 12, 2010


In response to my post that was mentioned on Aikido Journal regarding what I call the "sphere of influence", Nev Sagiba pointed out that when inside the sphere (where I would start introducing judo) koshinage ("hip throw") would be the likely aikido response.

The interesting thing to me is, as far as I know, koshinage doesn't really ever appear anywhere in Tomiki Ryu Aikido except for in koryu dai roku, the last of the advanced katas (unless someone can point me to one I'm forgetting?) Which is odder still, since Tomiki came from a judo background. Perhaps he thought everyone should train in both and therefor let judo take care of hip techniques?

I, myself, am interested in learning more about aikido's perspective of hip techniques. I have, of course, a long laundry list of things I'd like to explore, but this is one of them. Fortunately, I have a number of morning classmates who study both judo and aikido, which ought to make it a little easier.

In the spirit of the subject, here's a lovely video of Stefan Stenudd Sensei performing a few koshi waza for your viewing enjoyment!

Sunday, April 11, 2010

An article in Aikido Journal ?!?

I'm not sure how it happened, but one of my blog entries was featured on Aikido Journal's web site. I certainly never submitted anything, and I certainly never would have dreamt of it. I mean, a lot of the people who contribute articles have faaaaaar more experience in aikido than me

I'm kind of humbled, kind of embarrassed, really. I may lead some classes, but that's really because not very many people are insane/desperate enough to get up that early in the morning! I don't really consider myself a "teacher" by any means, and I certainly would never attribute the "s" word to my name.

I'm really just a student like anyone else, trying to wrap my mind around what so many great minds have put before me. That's all this blog is, really. I just find that the attempt to describe a thing, to put it into words, has a way of "processing" what I'm learning, of retaining things that may have otherwise just gone in one ear and slipped out of the other ear.

An interesting pitstop along The Road. 

Friday, April 9, 2010

A little mokuso never hurt anybody

I've been struggling to try and squeeze a little sitting meditation into my life, and haven't been very successful. My life is fairly jam-packed, as it happens (I'm sure that's most people's excuse). I have too many interests and hobbies, it seems.

In the past, I had entertained the idea of adding it to the routine of our morning classes, but feared I would be the only one truly interested in it (although the others would probably be too polite to say they weren't interested in it).

And then, lo and behold, someone else actually suggested it! My friend and fellow budoka, Scott, happens to have had a little experience with it and he wanted to know if we could do a little seated meditation in aikido. Well, sure, I said!

Now, most traditional budo classes start right off the bat with a little mokuso (meditation), but he suggested doing it after the ukemi practice and just before the Walking kata (tegatana no kata). Since some have described the Walk as a form of "moving meditation", he thought it might be nice to be able to carry the feeling directly over into it. Which makes a certain amount of sense when you consider how ukemi practice tends to go: black belts have a habit of hanging around and chatting about this and that while everyone else rolls, which would kind of ruin that nice meditative state we worked so hard to achieve

I'm not sure if anyone else likes it or not. They may be into it, or they could very well just be too polite to object.

As for me, I studied shotokan karate years ago as a teenager, and I always enjoyed the practice of starting (and ending, as is the tradition with many schools, I understand) the practice with a bit of meditation. If anything, it has a way of helping you shift gears, an opportunity to put aside all the cares and worries of the outside world much the same way we take off our shoes in the genkan and put them aside as we enter the dojo.

Frankly, since we've broached the subject, I'd like to work in a little more structure to the beginning of class altogether, too. You see, when I started coming, the class never had a specific "bow in" moment. People just sort of rolled in whenever, stretched out on their own, and we didn't really do any ukemi as a class. Eventually, someone would get things going by starting up the Walk. On the average, we waste about 5 to 10 minutes per class. And if you do the math, that comes to about 80 minutes a month (almost and hour and a half) of wasted class time per class per month. That's a whole class or so worth of training!

I don't think anyone would be opposed to having a more structured start, but old habits die hard I suppose, and I'm not one who likes to rock the proverbial boat. Still...

Anyway, where was I? Oh, yeah, meditation. I'm glad we're dabbling in it, and I hope we keep it up.

How about you? Do you meditate in your classes at your dojo? If so, how is it run or included?

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Aware, or just paranoid?

It would seem that, even though we study a martial art, an attack that we don't expect or see coming would still put us at a distinct disadvantage.

But what is the line between being more "aware" of your surroundings, or in other words, being prepared for a possible attack, and being paranoid?

How can you "be prepared" for an attack without becoming distrustful of mankind, of other people's intentions?

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Off to a pathetic start

Well, I have to admit that "April as ne waza month" is off to a rather pathetic start. On both Monday and Wednesday, we only had three or four people, and once again, we ended up spending a bunch of time on throwing (all of time on Monday), and little on grappling.

Sigh. I think the combination of small numbers and the fact that everyone there were all long time buddies (as opposed to new blood we don't know very well) naturally lent itself to a casual atmosphere. That kind of lame excuse, combined with my own inherent like/hate relationship with grappling are not going to get me very far.

I'm never going to get better at this stuff...

Fighting a blind man

Learned another interesting term, courtesy of fellow budoka/blogger Pat Parker (the definition comes from a handful of sources):

Shikaku: Literally, the "dead angle" or dead corner, or the vulnerable angle. Position relative to one's partner where it is difficult for them to continue to attack, and from which it is relatively easy to control one's partner's balance and movement. The first phase of an aikido technique is often to establish shikaku.

Pat, then, takes the term a bit further to refer to those place where uke can't quite see what tori is up to, such as with shomen ate. Well, just read how he explains it.

It's interesting to me how it might relate to judo as well. I haven't given it a lot of thought, so while I can't think of a specific example other than the fact that, when grappling with guys who know what they're doing, you very rarely see the choke or the arm bar coming. Hmmm....

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Well being

I brought up the idea of "minimalism" in a recent post as a potential subject of future posts, but after further thought, I realized that I'm ultimately interested a little bit broader of a topic. The best phrase I can think of to describe it (so far) would be "well being."

That may encompass a number of things, really: mental health, being organized, physical fitness, food and diet, humanitarianism, minimizing, etc. Again, not that I'm an expert on any of it, just the things I discover as I go. What do these subjects have to do with aikido or judo? Well, as I try to look for ways budo can influence my whole life, not just the practical, "self defense" aspects of it, these are some of the areas it takes me.

One web site that I've discovered lately is Zen Habits. While I am by no means an expert on the subject of zen, I have found the posts on this particular useful to a very broad audience, ideas that would benefit anyone. One particular post that caught my interest lately had to do with the subject of resting one day a week:

"Ask any physician and they will tell you that rest is essential for physical health. When the body is deprived of sleep, it is unable to rebuild and recharge itself adequately. Your body requires rest....
"Ask most religious leaders and they will tell you that rest is essential for the soul. Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Baha’i, and Wiccan (among others) teach the importance of setting aside a period of time for rest. Your soul requires rest."

Throughout most of my life, Sunday was the customary "day of rest", as it was, naturally, the "sabbath." I had a hard time with that, and in fact, I still do. When I consider how pressed for time I am during the week, and how often I fail to get done what I need, I naturally want to spend any free time trying to catch up.

Having read the article, though, has caused me to look at things a little differently. Now, I think I'm going to "try harder" at doing nothing (or next to nothing), and get the rest.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Love gives birth to harmony...

Morihei Ueshiba, founder of Aikido

"Love gives birth to harmony. Harmony brings forth joy. Joy is the greatest treasure."

Light bulb moments

Hiroshi Kato Sensei

Doesn't everyone who went to college have at least one professor who stood out from the rest? Someone you really identified with, who inspired you, challenged you, and at the time, you even wanted to be like them someday?

Well, maybe not everyone. I did, though. In the graphic design department at the University of Central Oklahoma, it was Dr. Jim Watson. The guy is crazy, but wonderfully so. You either hated him, or you idolized him (there were more of the latter than the former, but the former shouldn't have been in the program anyway, which I believe was the point). I could write post for months about him.

Anyway, he always used to describe the point at which the "idea" for a design becomes clear as a "light bulb moment". Now, obviously, he's not the first one to coin the term, but he was the first one to give it meaning. I always thought it meant you got an idea or something simple like that. In fact, it means much more than that. It's an awakening, the light coming on and now everything is visible. You struggle with a design and work to find the best solution. At some point, sometimes early on, sometimes after a lot of work, something magical happens. The answer reveals itself, the planets align, the universe sings, etc, etc.

That happens, it seems, a lot in life, in various practices and arts. Sometimes, I've noticed it takes being exposed to the same truth a couple of times before "the clouds part and the light is shed upon my understanding."

So what's my latest epiphany, you wonder? I'm coming to realize just how personal our training is, or should be.

The other day, I posted an email letter from a BJJ instructor whose newsletter I subscribe to about taking responsibility for your own training. Oddly enough, it didn't talk about anything that I wasn't already doing myself, but I always thought I was just, I don't know, overly obsessed with budo, or something.

But then there's this quote I came across this morning from Hiroshi Kato Sensei: "Aikido is not something to learn from others, but to learn by oneself. Ideally, the practice should be for oneself, and it should be rigorous and sternly self-disciplined, by one’s own choice."

Yes, you need a qualified instructor to show you the way, and in many instances (though not all) you need a partner with him to train (hard to learn to throw a guy with a guy to throw), but ultimately, no one can put the knowledge or skill inside your hand and in your hands. It's all you, baby. You get out of it what you put into it, you reap what you sow, the greater the investment the greater the return, and so on.

What amazes me still more is how many people I see haven't taken their training that far. They show up to class, do what they're told, and then leave. I'm not sure how much they think about budo outside of the dojo walls. It's as if they hope that just by showing up, they'll absorb it all like a sponge and be able to do what the masters do someday.

Now, I also realize that there can be and are various degrees of interest in budo, and that's okay. If it's only a "nice way to spend an evening" kind of casual hobby, great, good for you. My only concern is what people expect from that kind of training. Do you think making a few hours of class a week is going to make you some sort of invulnerable bad-ass "on the street"? I spend a lot of time on this stuff, and I still don't think I'm anything close to a bad-ass yet!

But even if you're looking for something else outside of self-defense, what are you getting out of it from just showing up? Is it the health aspect? The philosophical aspect? Sorry, but benefitting in those areas takes some homework and study hall time, too.

More on Kato Sensei: "In his early years, he often used to practice weapons by himself through the night, greet sunrise the next morning, and then go to work again. Before every class, Kato Sensei has the practice of coming early to the dojo to meditate. Since he was young, he visits mountain shrines and stays up all night practicing weapons and meditating."

Of course, I don't expect anyone to go those extremes exactly. Heck, even I don't go that far. But at the same time, I'm also feeling the need to do more. Much more. To push myself further, to intensify things, to increase my "investment".

Meaning while, I look at my peers and wonder why they don't follow along. I see a young man you has promise, good ukemi. But he seems to prefer sitting when it comes time for lessons, or groaning when it's his turn to take a fall. It's kind of sad to think where he could be.

In the end, I can't worry about anyone, either. Just me.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Troubles with yokomen uchi

This morning in aikido, we took another step or two in our progressions toward "chaos" (or randori). Grouped in threes, each person took turns being attacked by the others with a basic shomen ate attack. The drill was to simple practice evasion with a slight touch (no technique). 

Not many problems there.

Then, we moved on to arced attacks, such as yokomen uchi (or a straight overhead "hammer" strike, or "upper cut" kind of strike). That's when things started to get a little messy.

The odd thing is, there's really not a lot (if anything) that you ought to do differently as tori from what you would do in any of the other kata that typically use a shomen ate attack. So why did things fall apart?

Well, I have one theory (so far). I suspect that, when people are attacked with something that's different from the norm (the same could be said of an uke with a weapon), their brains simply freeze. It's "unfamiliar" to the Conscious Mind, even though the Subconscious Mind could handle it just fine the same way it handles "normal" attack.

From what I understand, we in the Tomiki world tend to attack with shomen ate as uke so that, when we spend half a class as "uke" we can at least be doing something that's inherently, principally aikido (as opposed to a yokomen strike, which tori wouldn't apparently ever do). The Ueshiba world, from what I can tell, practice it routinely, as in this video:

Conversely, they hardly ever seem to use a shomen ate type of technique at all, as tori or uke.

As it happens, there are a handful of techniques performed from a yokomen attack in the higher katas. The problem there is, at least in our school, we hardly ever, if ever, get a chance to go over higher kata. So I'm left to wonder, would it be worthwhile to spend a class or two working on techniques just from a yokomen attack, even if the techniques are already fairly familiar (shiho nage, etc) just to acclimate the brain to an "abnormal" attack?

I think I might, just for the heck of it, schedule permitting, of course.

Learned a new term today: Shidoin

This from Wikipedia:

Shidoin (指導員:しどういん) is a Japanese title, often used in budo. The word means instructor and is usually used to designate an official intermediate level instructor within an organization. A senior instructor would have the title Shihan.

Various budo arts and organizations have different requirements for the usage of the title, but in general it corresponds to 4th or 5th Dan. Some organizations also have the more junior title Fuku Shidoin which corresponds to assistant instructor. These titles are often separate from the dan rankings and are much more specific than the more general sensei.

The titles Fuku Shidoin, Shidoin and Shihan roughly correspond to the titles Renshi, Kyoshi and Hanshi, respectively, used by other martial arts organizations.

The Aikikai adopted this instructor designation system in the 1970s, around the time of the creation of the International Aikido Federation.


I think I'm going to add another dimension to the subjects about which I ruminate on this blog. In short, "minimalism".

Allow me to explain. What, you may wonder, does "minimalism" have to do with budo, which is, after all, the focus of this blog? Maybe nothing. But then, maybe it does, if even in a broad, general sense.

For starters, let me clarify: when I talk about "minimalism", I'm not talking about living like this guy:

Not that there's anything wrong with that, if that's what you're into. Personally, I find this sort of thing a little extreme. My idea of the ideal home would look a little more like a Pottery Barn catalogue or something out of a Martha Stewart magazine (with a few hints of Japanese aesthetic sprinkled in).

What I mean by "minimalism" is an approach to life, rather than a decorating style. One way I like to think about it is in a phrase an old graphic design professor, Dr. Jim Watson, used to drill into our heads when it came to our chosen discipline: "Find what works, enhance it, and minimize the rest."

In other words, get rid of what you don't need. And you don't need much. And what you do need, keep it organized.

So how does that relate to budo? Well, like I said, maybe it's a loose connection, but I think it relates in a couple of ways. On the surface (the omote, or obvious, outward appearances), there's the obvious minimalism in the Japanese sense of aesthetic, which is found in many dojos and in what we wear. Most dojos are pretty bare: a mat, plain walls, maybe some weapons and a simple display on the shomen or main wall (kamidana, for those inclined toward shinto practices). The outfit is simply white, devoid of patches and logos, and the hamaka navy or black (or white on certain occasions).

Beneath the surface (the ura, the less obvious or "hidden" aspects), I find there is a similar inclination toward minimalism. Consider the oft-quoted phrase from judo, "Seiryoku zen'you", commonly translated as "Maximum energy, minimum effort" or perhaps more directly as "efficient energy." Sounds an awful lot like, "Find what works, enhance it, and minimize the rest," eh?

Let me clarify something else, as well: I don't write about this as any kind of expert, but a sort of diary of my travels down the path.

So there you go. We'll see how it goes. Who knows, I may give up on this after a while (after all, adding yet another topic is hardly minimalizing ;-)