Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Another hiza guruma tip

Funny how I never stop finding things to talk about when it comes to hiza guruma. Today's piece of advice? Take notes, kids. Here it comes.

Your job is NOT to STOP uke's leg or knee with your foot.

But that's exactly what everyone tries to do, and that's where we get two guys kicking each other and beat-up shins and all kinds of frustration. Think about it: if his leg is coming forward and I'm trying to STOP it, that's force against force! And that, my friends, definitely ain't judo, is it?

Look at this picture:

Where is tori's his foot? In FRONT of uke's knee? Nope, it's curved and cupping the FAR SIDE of uke's knee.

After years of having people throw me by trying to stop or impede my forward step in uchi komi or a very acquiescent session of nage komi, I noticed my fall was a typical tobi ukemi—which is more of an otoshi type of fall. Where was the guruma, the turning?

Try this: instead of stopping uke's knee, reach out with your sneaky little monkey foot, cup the far side, and re-direct it's forward motion by adding a sideways vector, tucking it closer to his other knee (while doing all the other appropriate stuff, of course). I think you'll find the fall, as uke, is a little different; there's more of a roll to it, and the ground comes up to greet you a lot faster. I think you'll also find you do a lot less kicking and smacking.

And remember, it's gotta be the knee, not just below the knee and certainly not the calf or shin. The knee.

What used to be one of my most frustrating throws has become on of my favorite, if only for the sheer fact that I'm always learning something new about it. Many deep, humble thank you's to all the sensei I have had the pleasure and privilege of working with, for sure.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The "speed and power" monster

There's nothing like an occasional class of randori to bring certain issues to light that would be good to work on.

We did a little light randori in judo this morning, mostly just trading throws, rotating partners with every bell (which I believe lasts about 3 minutes). When we were done, I asked everybody what their thoughts were, what went well, what didn't go so well, etc.

A handful of issues came up, which is natural, and it should prove amble fodder for future classes. One thing that I thought might be worth mentioning here was the problem of controlling escalating frustrations. We've all been there, where something isn't working, the guy's not going down, so we get stronger, faster and more desperate.

So how can you deal with that in your practice? The temptation is usually to stop, to quit, to just go sit down until you cool off. Like you're punishing yourself. "How could I loose control like that? I know better than that!" are the kinds of things that echo loudest in our head, while thoughts of "I'm a bad judo player, I suck," are often the less noticeable, though utterly damaging, undertones.

That's a downward spiral, a negative creating a negative. (This goes back to the yin and yang principle I mentioned a while ago). The balance, the yin to the yang, is to learn how to take a negative situation, negative energy and turn it into something positive.

Well, I've come across a few ways, but I welcome comments from anyone who's has other ideas.

Let yourself get thrown.
Sounds silly to suddenly turn into a doormat, almost as bad as giving up. But you haven't given up, you're still in there. Notice I didn't say jump for the other guy; keep your balance, your posture, and don't fall if he doesn't get it (I'm not saying resist, but keep moving). Take plenty of falls from good throws. For one thing, you're learning those throws from the inside out, learning what works and what doesn't, and for another thing, it will give you a chance to calm down while still being in the game.

Start shooting.
I think of those old cowboy movies where the bad guy points his gun at someone's feet, says, "Dance!" and starts shooting, making the other person jump up and down to avoid getting hit. Sometimes the "strength and speed" monster rears it's ugly head when we get fixated one one single throw. So just start shooting, try one throw after the other after another, bang bang bang. You don't care if they don't work, you're moving on to the next one.

Yes, you may very well get thrown in the process. But you may also get a throw after about 3 or 4 or 5 shots (it's hard for uke to keep up). We need to be good at flowing from one thing to another anyway, this is just an extreme form of it to shake you out of the power game.

Open up your palms.
Many times, having a grip on the other guy's gi can make using strength very tempting. Try opening your palm, fingers and thumb all tucked together like a sloth and use them like hooks: behind elbows, necks, lats, etc. Shift your hands around. This is more or less how you'd have to operate if you faced someone without a gi anyway, so it's not a bad thing to practice anyway. For me, releasing the grip goes a long way to relaxing the rest of me.

Slow way down.
Pretend you're in one of those movie scenes where the camera has slowed way down while the hero does something dramatic. Be that guy. Move ridiculously slow, but keep moving. Funny thing is, this has a way of fooling the other guy into lowering his defenses. When he doesn't feel speed and power, he doesn't suspect anything dangerous is happening and you can walk right into a throw. It will also make sure you're getting all the pieces.

Focus on just the kuzushi.
Don't even worry about throwing. Don't even worry about fitting in. Just play with different ways to cause off balance and that's it. Maybe after a while, add the tsukuri, but leave the gake or throw out of it. If they fall down, fine, but if you just get their balance, hurray!

. . . . . . .

The important thing is learning to turn your frustration into something positive and beneficial, without giving into it and without beating ourselves up about it.

What about you? What helps you control the "speed and power" monster?

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Isolating a thing

Sometimes I like to take one singular aspect of a technique and think of a way to isolate it as a way of helping others (and myself) learn a concept, or at least broaden their view of it.

This morning, while going over ushiro ate, I felt something very interesting. So here's what I had everyone do.

Have a person just stand there, feet even, in balance, in good posture. Have a second person stand right behind them (you might refer to him as the tori in this situation, I suppose). Have tori simply place his hands on uke's shoulders. Not hard, but not necessarily light either. Just the weight of gravity.

Chances are, uke won't notice much.

Then have tori remove their hands, and put them back down on uke, but this time, with the palms further forward, so the heel of his palms sits just below uke's clavicle bone (palms and finger covering more chest surface area). Again, not hard, not pulling, just the weight of gravity.

It was interesting to feel, as uke, how your weight instantly shifts to your heels, your shoulders dip ever so slightly, and your hips jut forward just a tad—without either of you ever taking a single step.

I always knew how I should place my hands but for some reason, isolating a thing like this really opened my eyes!

Saturday, November 6, 2010

The impact of waves

While working on various sections of the koryu no kata, and I couldn't help but notice that there are on occasion certain techniques that involve entering right as uke has started to commit his energy forward. The effect feels somewhat jarring, and comes as close as I've ever felt aikido come to any kind of force-against-force situation.

And since aikido largely eschews the force-against-force approach, these occasions puzzled me somewhat. I had always thought of the movements of aikido in terms of poetic devices like water, flowing around, over, behind, never struggling or fighting but blending with its environment.

But then I thought of a wave as it smacks against a rock. If you've ever had the opportunity to stand before a sizable wave as it comes crashing into you, you'd know that it hits with considerable force! But the interesting thing to me is, immediately afterward, it dissolves, it flows around, over and behind again, slipping past as smooth as ever.

Those techniques I mentioned feel the same way: a momentary impact—sudden, jolting, disorienting—followed by tori immediately "disappearing" around, over or behind uke. A smacking against a rock—then nothing.