Friday, July 30, 2010

Kosoto gari from a failed hiza guruma

I finally got a few moments to record the kosoto gari follow-up to a failed hiza guruma that I mentioned previously. From the same "foot inward" set-up, you can also catch a nice harai goshi.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

More aikido koshi nage

One of these days I'm going to start introducing more of this into aikido class. We have a lot of folks who do judo, too, so I wouldn't think it would be that much of a stretch.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Doing what doesn't come natural

Like most Americans, I took my son to watch fireworks this last 4th of July. He's four, and it was his first time to see fireworks live and in person. Outside of the mugginess and the residual heat, we had a pretty good time.

Until it came time to leave.

As you might expect, or as you might have experienced yourself, when the show was over, everyone wanted to leave at the exact same time. Which makes for quite a traffic jam. In my case, the fireworks were held on the north side of town, which meant that everyone also wanted to head south.

We sat in the parking lot without moving an inch for about 20 minutes. That's an eternity to a tired 4 year old. Even when things did start to crawl, it still would've taken another hour to get anywhere.

Finally, I decided to try something. Instead of pushing relentless down the two main streets that everyone else was going down, I decided to drive north. No one was headed that way, so I had the roads to myself. I drove up a block, went east for a bit, then went south again on a parallel road that was largely empty. In the end, I probably got home a lot faster than everyone who insisted on driving south because that's where they wanted to go.

Along the same line, I'm also somewhat puzzled by parents at the playground who don't allow their children to climb up a slide. On the face of it, I can understand their concern: if your kid is climbing up, and another child starts sliding down, then there's a chance your kid could get hurt. As is true in much of polite society, the "rules are there for your protection."

But at the same time, I want my son to be able to think creatively. So many people get stuck in ruts, in a singular line of thinking, that even when safety isn't even an issue (such as with the 4th of July example), they simply can't think of a new way to approach a problem. By golly, that square peg will fit into that blasted round hole!

As for the slide, I tell my son that he can climb up, but he has to keep an eye out for any kids who want to come down. If there is, then he has to turn around and slide back down. Most of the time, the playground just isn't that crowded anyway. I also remember, when I was a kid, the point where I discovered I could climb onto the jungle gym on the outside, rather than take the steps built into it. Sure, it's not as safe, but I have a strong suspicion that our collective fear of getting sued has made us too afraid to try anything. But that's another post for another time.

So how in the world does that relate to budo? Plenty. Have you ever tried to snag on osoto gari in judo, but the other guy won't let you in? Try stepping away from what you want. Uke has to take a step. When he does, turn him a little and throw your osoto gari.

A good chunk of aikido is based on doing things that don't come naturally. When someone grabs you, the natural reaction is to try and pull your hand free. A struggle ensues. But when someone grabs and you go with it? They eat their own energy and fall down. Most of us aren't born reacting like that.

Any time you get stuck in a paradigm, be it in budo or life, you not only become limited but often stuck. Learning techniques and principles are just the beginning; the best players I know come up with weird movements and strange combinations all the time, often on the fly, stuff that shouldn't work, but does. Students' eye grow wide and they ask, "What was that? Can you teach me that?" But the instructor has no idea what happened.

And just because you study under one teacher or in one school, that doesn't mean you can't learn anything from another. Just because you study one art also doesn't mean there's nothing to be gained from another. Frankly, the applications are endless.

So, tomorrow, try driving a different way to work. Watch a TV show or movie you'd normally never watch. Attend the services of a completely different religion. Travel to a country on the other side of the world. Eat something you've never tried before (especially something from the other side of the world). Make friends with someone you have little in common with. Climb up a slide.

If you see everyone going one way—especially if they're not making progress—go the other way. See what happens.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Playing judo like an old man

In general, I've always disliked a lot of lecture and stories during class, and much prefer to keep things moving. We have an hour or an hour and a half, two maybe three times a week to do this. That's not a lot. Let's make the most of our time and be productive. (I have a very influential college professor to thank for that, I think.)

But once in a great while, the course of a class will turn more to discussion than the practice of technique. And periodically, I think that's a good thing. In fact, I'm beginning to wonder if I've prevented myself from doing it too much. There are some things we need to learn that have more to do what what and how we're thinking in MA than what and how we're doing something, and that needs to be addressed sometimes.

Today, for example, in judo, we talked about a certain high ranking judoka (and aikidoka, but we were talking specifically about ne waza) who, despite pushing 60, proved to be more than a handful for a young, fit 30 something brown belt. Many of the elements we addressed had to do with his approach, his strategy. 

For beginners, your emphasis should probably be on ingraining basic movement. But as you advance, start thinking about how you're working. Here's a few things we noticed about the "old" man in question:

He worked slow
We teach our escapes in fairly big, powerful movements. And you need to get that down, because there will always come a time when you need to bring out the big guns. But once proficient with those, advanced ranks will get very, very smart about conserving their energy. They move in small, incremental movements.

The other benefit of this is that big, sudden movements tend to put uke immediately on the defensive. With small, incremental changes, however, he's more likely to not notice he's lost control until it's too late.

He wasn't afraid of being on the bottom
This comes simply from doing an ungodly number of escapes. We like to approach things from the gutter. If you can get out of the worst possible position, you can handle ever thing else. That knowledge allows you to relax, which allows you to conserve energy, and to work smarter, not desperately.

He talked while he grappled

Granted, in a real life self-defense situation, you're probably not likely to chat with your attacker while you defend yourself. But in everyday practice, it actually has it's benefits. When I first encountered that sort of thing, I thought it was psychological warfare, pure and simple. Years ago, I remember grappling with Nick Lowry Sensei and being completely thrown off by the fact that he was whistling the whole time. The aforementioned "old man" often talks about the fact that he's "old and feeble" and how his partner is "so strong, oh no!" 

That sort of thing has a way of getting into your head. Pro athletes do that sort of thing, too, talking smack to the other team, and that sort of thing. The New Zealand national rugby team will perform a tribal war dance called the "haka" before games as way of psyching themselves up and scaring the willies out of their opponents.

The better I got, I noticed myself whistling while worker with lower ranks. But I discovered that it had other benefits as well. Talking or whistling keeps your breath slow and measured, which keeps you calm and prevents you from burning all you gas.

He never got married to making a technique work
He simply flowed from one thing to another. If he started to get his hand in place for a choke and his younger partner started to block it, he went with it and worked on an arm bar. And then to a hold, then to another choke, and so on. 

Sometimes, we can spend a tremendous amount of valuable energy simple trying to make one thing work. Our "old man" didn't care. If it worked, great, if not, he wasn't going to just give up either. He waited for his partner to do something about it, and road that reaction to the next technique.

He worked his own speed
The best judo players, young or old, you'll find will work at their own pace, and play their own game, not someone else's. Of course, the older you get, the less your body can do, certainly, but many of the best young players also worked slow. While we've talked about the benefits of slowing down already, it's important not to get sucked into the other person's game and play their speed.

Part of that comes with simply getting comfortable with being on the ground, which only comes with time spent on the ground. But it also takes conscious thought, just as any of these ideas do. And that's the flip side of the training coin, working on the mental aspects as well as the physical. And there's more, for sure, but I'll stop here for now.

I often think of Helio Gracie, who, as a very old man himself, often told young, fit ju-jitsu players, "I bet you can't beat me!" He never said, "I can beat you," but that you couldn't get him. And no one could.

You might say it pays to fight like an old man.

Monday, July 19, 2010

A little more patience, please

"Patience. I need more of it—and fast!"

So the old line goes. And as another old line goes, "It's funny because it's true."

In fact, it reminds me of the old "Tae Kwon Leap" skit. And when most of us in the martial arts world think about struggling with patience, we think of Ed Gruberman: the impatient beginner, the guy who wants to know how to trash some bozos now.

It sounds almost cliché, but it's odd, and even a little sad, how often I actually run into students in the dojo struggling with patience. They may not be as much of a jerk as Ed, mind you. Sometimes, they're nice, well-meaning people.

It's just that they're in way too much of a hurry. They always want to move on to the next technique, they want to do what their higher rank peers are doing before they're ready. Or they immediately question what you're trying to teach them. You know, "Well, so-and-so said you do it this way..." or question whether or not something will even work, as in "But what if a guy does this...?" or, once you show them something, they immediately want to know the counter, how to get out of it.

Right. If you've ever taught a MA class, you know what I'm talking about.

The ironic thing is, in those situations, patience isn't solely the problem of the student. As the teacher, it can become very tough very quickly to deal with such a student without wanting to just dump them on their head. Indeed, I've known a few fine teachers who have done just that (myself included). I know a current rokudan who started out a little strong-willed and had the pleasure of getting put through the ringer once or twice by our shared sensei's. Fortunately, he got the hint, and quickly became one of our dojos many great assets.

Unfortunately, I think that kind of result is fairly rare. Many never get the hint, and end up leaving. Do we then justify it? "They didn't have the right attitude anyway."

When it happens to me, I wonder about my own patience. How can I demand more patience of a student if I myself don't have enough patience to tolerate his behavior?

It is, I think, a matter of levels. Much like weight training, you start with a certain degree of weight, and you struggle with it. Over time, your muscles build and it becomes easier. At that point, you gradually increase the weight, and the struggle begins anew. I suppose I made it past the first round or so of "patience training" as it were. I'd have to ask my teachers if I ever asked the same dumb questions I just got finished making fun of, but I think I did what I was told for the most part, trusted my teachers and kept plugging away.

But patience, I find, is not a singular thing to be gained; it's not a literal Holy Grail, an object that, once found and possessed, means the quest is over. Like a muscle, it requires continual exercise to prevent it from succumbing to atrophy, and also requires increased resistance in order to strengthen. And it could always be stronger.

So how do you deal with those students? Surely, patience doesn't mean you simply sit back and tolerate their behavior, allowing it to go on unchecked? Perhaps it means finding a delicate, diplomatic way of explaining to them how their behavior may actually be hindering their progress?

I wish I knew the answer. By all means, if anyone has any thoughts or experience they could share, I'd be more than grateful to hear it.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Ura waza experiments: kote gaeshi

Here's the last little video I have at the moment. This one talks a bit about kote gaeshi and some of the countering ideas we've come up with, including a nice one at the end from buddy Christian Lamson. He ended up doing this on a hapless, visiting aikido practitioner who wouldn't quit cranking on his wrist, despite the fact that Christian repeatedly tried to explain why it was a bad idea. Pretty sweet =)

One thing I've noticed, though, about these videos is that I only sort of gloss over each technique as I talk about them, and I wish I had demonstrated them (without yapping) several times to give the viewer a better perspective.

Guess I'm still a little self-conscious about putting myself out there into cyberspace.

On one hand, I suppose I've been doing this long enough to have something unique to say, but I also can't help but remember how small my body of knowledge is compared to one of those 25+ years guys.

Just bare that in mind when watching this stuff, and take it with a proverbial grain of salt!

Friday, July 16, 2010

Ura waza experiments: shiho nage, sumi otoshi

Skipping around a bit, these are a few ideas we fiddled around with regarding shiho nage and sumi otoshi.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Ura waza experiments: ude gaeshi, ude hineri

Lo, and behold, I've finally put together some of the videos I've thrown together regarding aikido ura waza, or countering techniques.

Bare in mind, that if tori honestly has the technique, then he's got it. But if he rushes it, tries to make it happen, then these ideas may have a chance. This particular video covers ude gaeshi and ude hineri.

Monday, July 5, 2010

How I love to watch the masters

What I love about watching highly skilled old men practicing their art, be it aikido, judo or whatever, is not just to watch them perform their technique with amazing fluidity and simplicity. After a while, one almost takes it for granted. Oh, he's just doing shiho nage...

It's also fun to watch younger, less experienced practitioners (who may be fairly skilled compared to many others) try to work a technique on the old man, and fail.

Not that I enjoy watching people fail, mind you. It simply serves as a reminder that what looks so simple and so fluid is really the result of mastery, of uncountable hours and years immersed in a thing. Then, when we go from watching the failure back to the smooth, seemingly effortless technique of the master, we are reminded of the true beauty we have been fortunate enough to behold.

Take, for example, this video of Tamura Nobuyoshi Shihan. Enjoy.

[I'm still busy dealing with my wife's recovery, not just from hernia surgery, but an additional infection plus strep throat on top of that! She's doing better now, finally, so I'll get back into the swing of things shortly.)