Showing posts from 2011

Other meanings of "balance"

It occurred to me a little while ago that the term "balance" as I have always applied it to budo might have another meaning. My definition fell along the lines of "a state of equilibrium or equipoise; equal distribution of weight." Standing up without falling down.

So when it came to "breaking use's balance," I assumed my job was to make my uke physically unstable, tipped over in one direction or another, on the verge of gravity pulling him down to the ground.

But then I started thinking about other dictionary definitions of "balance" I realized those could apply as well.

Balance between objects
Balance also means "to arrange, adjust, or the proportion of parts symmetrically." In other words, when two otherwise separate objects equal each other in some way, be it weight (as on a scale) or size or position, etc.

When we begin in budo, tori and uke face each other. Both have all their proverbial weapons (arms, legs, center, etc.) poin…

The power of a pre-turned foot

There's a section of our "walking kata" or tegatana no kata in aikido that I find very, very useful in judo. After stepping forward and back diagonally, the side to side, there's the part where you turn 90° by pre-turning your foot. It looks a little something like this:

You step to your right first, then return to the start, then repeat the same action on your left side. Be sure, of course, to step with your hip still over your lead foot. In other words, don't put your foot over there, then move your hip over it. The two should move together.

Here's how it applies to nage waza. First, I do the pre-turned step to my right (for example; you could start on either side). Uke will find that he's no longer facing me, so he'll turn as well in order to square back up again. As he's doing so, or just as he finishes, I make the same pre-turned step to my left.

Doing just that creates such a wonderful kuzushi with all kinds of possibilities. This morning we…

Variations on the "envelope drill"

Friend and fellow judoka (and aikidoka) Scott Weaver had a pretty good idea a while back to try and use the old "envelope drill" in judo similar to the way we use the "walking kata" (tegatana no kata) in aikido. It could just be something we do as a part of our everyday class at the beginning of the ne waza half of the hour. If you're not familiar with it, take a moment and watch this:

Our problem was, our little morning class didn't know the envelope drill. Soooo, we've been breaking it down into bite-size chunks and practicing those. It's actually opened a few doors to other little "sub drills" if you will that I think are kind of fun. Here's one we worked on this morning:

Part 1

1) Begin as you would with the regular envelope drill: uke lying on his back and tori in kuzure kesa gatame.

2) Uke rolls toward tori, who then transitions into mune gatame.

3) Uke rolls away from tori, and tori transitions back to his own side, this time fac…

A day to think

This has been an odd day. Not because I did anything odd, per se, but mostly because I did very little at all.

I ate, I did a load of dishes, took the trash out. But out of an entire Saturday to myself, that's about as productive as I've been (outside of this blog post). All that nothing left me with a lot of time to think.

 Mostly, I thought about my health and well-being. You see, while it might seem surprising for someone who does aikido and judo, I'm just a tad overweight by at least 50 pounds. I know it's not good. I know how bad it is for my health (mental and physical). I want to change, and not just so I can look better. I'm not so much concerned about sporting 6 pack abs as I am avoiding heart disease. Yes, I'd like to be able tuck my shirt into my pants again, but I'd also like to have the energy to keep up with my kids.

I've done it all before—twice, in fact—so I know it's possible to eat right, exercise and loose the weight. So why am I …

Lessons from cooking a roast

I heard a story once about a woman—let's call her Jill—who was preparing to cook a roast as her little girl watched. Noticing that Jill cut off the end of the roast before placing it in the pan, the little girl asked why.

Jill paused. "Actually," she admitted, "I don't know why. That's just they way my mom always did it."

She had assumed it had something to do with how the meat needed to be prepared, but now that she thought about it, she couldn't figure out what purpose it served.

Out of curiosity, Jill later called her own mother to ask why she always cut the end off of the roast before cooking it. Oddly enough, Jill's mom also admitted she didn't know the reason, either. It was just something her mother had always done.

Now even more curious than before, Jill called her grandmother, a very old, frail, but happy lady. "Grandma," Jill began, "mom and I were just wondering—why did you cut the end off of a roast before cooking…

Danger Check! or, Managing Fear

One of the most difficult things to deal with in grappling has nothing to do with pins or chokes or hold downs, oddly enough. It's panic.

Grappling—unlike standing judo or other standing arts—has a nasty tendency to trigger some very real, very powerful feelings of fear and panic when someone else is baring down on top of us. We're trapped, the ground is behind us, preventing us from having the option to just turn around and run like hell.

That panic doubles when our ability to breathe effectively becomes compromised, whether it's because we're being choked, or because a 250 + pound gorilla is lying on our chest, or we're used up all our gas fighting fruitlessly and now we just have to collapse.

It's a problem I still deal with, for sure, even after all this time. But there are things you can do to help.

In general terms, we need to get comfortable with being down there. The more principles and techniques we learn, the more "tools in our toolbox" we h…

Sometimes the simplest answer is the best answer

There's kind of a kind of funny paradox in grappling.

It starts with a very basic, straight-forward technique. Let's say for example that uke is on his back and you're baring down on him. A relatively new or unskilled grappler will almost always try to push you off, to "bench press" your weight, right?

When he does that, he's presenting you with a straight arm. Naturally, you secure it and step right into juju gatame, end of story.

Consequently, most students learn or are taught very quickly, "Don't straighten your arms." Which now means you're rarely presented with the opportunity to use that juji gatame entry anymore. Which is great, right, because when your uke upgrades, you're forced to upgrade, and you both make each other better.

But then you realize no one's teaching that original, basic juju gatame entry anymore.

Or let's take the guard position. There's lots of fun things to do to your uke when you get him in your gu…

What I've learned about "kuzushi" (so far)

First of all, I'm learning not to spell it "kazushi." I suspect my pronunciation of Japanese words is, regrettably, somewhat tainted by the accent native to this particular geographic area.

Outside of that, one of the first things I learned is that kuzushi refers to "unbalancing your opponent." This is, by far, the most common definition of the concept I've heard over the years.

The next thing I learned is that there's more to it than that.

The word itself, according to Wikipedia anyway, "comes from the intransitive verb, kuzusu, meaning to level, pull down, or demolish. As such, it is refers to not just an unbalancing, but the process of getting an opponent into a position where his stability, and hence ability to regain uncompromised balance, is destroyed."

Well, that's certainly a good reason to think of kuzushi in such terms. But based on the myriad of things taught to and shared with me over the years by budokas far more advanced than…

Defend by attacking

Not too long ago, friend and teacher Kyle Sloan dropped by one of our early morning judo classes. There was one thing he mentioned to me that has stuck with me, something that I think I was beginning to understand on some level, but when he said it out loud, a lot of things—in both judo and aikido—snapped into focus.

We were speaking specifically about grappling, and how, when you're being held down, or your partner is attempting to choke or arm bar you, one really shouldn't simply defend. Rather, defend by attacking back.

When we're first taught, say, kesa gatame, we're taught certain "escapes"—how to break the hold. But that's just the beginning, I realized. Don't just break the hold, but seek to get myself into a position from which I can choke or arm bar him, or at the very least, put him in a hold down.

It seems like a small difference, but really internalizing it has made a big difference.

The thing is, I think most judo players will eventually …

A little "street judo"

I've been pondering for some time the idea of how to approach many of the judo throws from the standpoint of a sudden, unexpected attack. You know, like "on the street."

Okay, honestly, by now, I hate using that phrase, but for lack of a better one, there you go. I've always been somewhat troubled by one aspect of judo nage waza: the grips. Or to be more specific, the idea of walking around with your hands holding on to your partner and his hands holding on to before either of you attempts to throw.

What about the a-hole who's just trying to punch, kick and otherwise beat the living snot out of me? Can I launch a throw right at the moment he attacks? Or at least avoid the initial attack (get off the line) and then pull the trigger? I don't want to dance with the guy, and he damn sure doesn't wanna dance with me, frankly. The whole "grip fighting" concept seems to me, then, to really only apply to competition judo, and has little or no relevance …


It's really strange how often I find new ways of doing old things. Like hiki taoshi from junana no kata.

It's really difficult to describe in words what I'm been experiencing lately, but in essence, there's a circular movement in there that's so light and sweet, but incredibly effective. In fact I've notice the same thing about tenkai kote hineri. Even big, stout, clunky, muscly guys seem to bobble like rag dolls.

The funny thing is, there's nothing about that flies in the face of any principle I've ever been taught. Since my background happens to be in art and design, I wonder if this is akin to the idea of the principles of painting being universal, but the style of each individual painter is as unique as fingerprints?

Where is you mind?

It wasn't long ago that a critical aspect of different sections of junana hon kata, or randori no kata, finally dawned on me. I realized that, with the second section, or hiji waza, I was focusing on what I was doing to the arm or elbow, and with the third section, tekubi waza, I was focusing on what I was doing to the wrist.

Which would seem natural since that's what their names mean: "elbow techniques" and "wrist techniques". The epiphany, however, came when I finally realized that I'm not doing something to the arm or the wrist, but rather I'm using the arm and wrist as a means of affecting uke's center line. The first section, or atemi waza, deals with going after the center line directly. From there, we move outward to using the arm to affect the center line, and then move even further out to using the wrist the same way.

This realization has, in turn, affected my perspective of the rest of not only aikido, but judo as well. Now, I'm mu…

Building a Better Uke: Grips

Over the years, I've seen countless students, both senior and junior, become frustrated with a technique failing to work. The vast majority of the time, the problem lies with uke.

Most of the time, uke is not truly committed and is just walking through the motions, in which case, tori rarely gets the off balance or throw he's looking for—which in turn lead tori to think he's not doing something, and uke (particularly new students) think, "Well, this stuff doesn't work."

Not to be hard on uke—it's a tough job.

I first talked about "commitment" in an earlier post. But commitment is, admittedly, a fairly broad topic. So I started with a simple drill to help students practice the initial shomen ate attack with genuine commitment to the point where we actually knock the other guy down.

That is, of course, only one way of attacking. Uke can also begin his attack with a grip.

I tend to see two basic sources of frustration when it comes to grips. The f…

Building a Better Uke: Commitment

More often than not, if a technique isn't working quite right, the first place you should check is not necessarily yourself—but rather your uke.

Why? Well, with much of what we do, particularly aikido, the efficacy of a given technique often depends on an uke who is doing his job properly. Which begs the question: what is uke's job, exactly?

To just attack? To simply take the fall for tori?

Yes. No. Sort of. It's a broad subject, really. One I hope to explore over the next few posts.

There are a number of factors that make a good, effective uke. And the first, and perhaps the most obvious, is "commitment."

True, honest commitment is probably the most common fault on uke's part, even among senior practitioners. For one thing, within the confines of the dojo, we're really only pretending to attack; we don't really want to inflict any harm on our partner, not like the proverbial thug "on the street." We're friends, we're just practicing…

Grappling with the Swiss Ball

Wow, it's been a while since I've posted, eh? Sorry about that. I know I say this a lot, but life's been really, really crazy. Hopefully, I'll be back into the swing of things now.

One of the things I'd love to make a video about (or, more likely, a series) has to do with doing judo grappling drills with one of those big Swiss Balls.

Yeah, one of those things. Now, I'm not the one who started the whole idea. I believe friend and teacher, Greg Ables, was the one who started all this. He does, incidentally, have a video on the Kaze Uta Budo Kai YouTube channel, which is pretty mesmerizing to watch.

Over the years, I've taken much of what I've learned and, in an effort to teach other judo students, especially lower ranking ones, have spent a lot of time breaking it down into bite size pieces.

Ultimately, the working on the Swiss Ball has amazing effects on a judoka's grappling game. For starters, it helps train your body what any other exercise on the …
Have you ever watched a magician perform tricks right in front of you? Not the David Copperfield type of magician, standing hundreds of feet away on a huge stage filled with smoke and pulsing lights and scantily clad assistants, the kind who make cars disappear or miraculously escape cages filled with tigers.
No, I mean the simple kind of magic, the kind done right in front of you, with you standing within touching range of the magician, the kind where the simple, yes, but nonetheless the impossible happens before your very eyes.

How does he DO that? you think to yourself.

The answer being, as you may know, something called "sleight of hand."

But what does that mean, exactly? Well, one way you might think about it is, the magician gets you to focus on one thing, to think about what he wants you to think about, while he does something else at the same time without you being aware of it.

Now let me ask you this: have you ever watched a really high ranking budoka, be it judo or …

The (chemical) bond between budoka

Once again, I've let this blog get quite lonely over the past several months, sorry. Life has been tumultuous, to say the least. And in the face of all that turmoil, I couldn't help but notice that the people who were the most natural for me to reach out to, the people who in turn genuinely cared the most, were those friends I had made through the dojo.

I've always thought it was interesting how I was always able to make such a close bond with "dojo folk", a bond that I've never really made with coworkers, fellow church members, or even my own family!

I've had a couple of theories over the years, but here's one link I had never considered. I read a few articles recently dealing with "oxytocin", a mammalian hormone that also acts as a neurotransmitter in the brain. Now, I know, you're thinking, "Isn't that the so-called 'love hormone'? The one they give women to speed up the birthing process?" Yeah, yeah, but wait. T…

On and Off (and On Again)

A couple of weekends ago, Patrick Parker Sensei form Mokuren Dojo in Mississippi held a clinic at our dojo focusing on Koryu Dai Ichi Kata. For various reason I won't even attempt to go into here, our school (and our former organization) largely ignored the first and second koryu katas, so this was all fairly new to me.

One of the prominent themes in that kata, it seems, is the idea of encountering (or even creating) pressure or resistance, then releasing the pressure (disappearing basically) and then turning the pressure on again. Which may not be the best way to describe it, really.

Pat described it as your arm(s) going from being like a stick, to being like a rope, to being like a stick again, which is a good way to think of it. I've also heard it referred to as "on, off and on again." Now, while that basic concept is not entire new to me, my eyes are slowly opening to all the places in can and does occur, both in aikido and judo.

So while I've been going ove…

Judo kaeshi waza & renraku waza

I'd like to work a little over the next several months on some kaeshi waza in judo. There's a series of 5 videos from Mike Swain that highlight a number of nice ones, plus several combination ideas. Below is the first:

Back in the swing of things

Boy, I haven't been very good at posting lately, have I? For one thing, a relentless case of bronchitis has kept me a bit out of it, but now that that's cleared up mostly, I'm able get back in the dojo.

Hopefully, now that I'm back into the swing of things, I can film some more of the junk that's rattling around in my head. I start to write about a lot of them, but I find words and even a few photos just don't capture it.

Let me leave you for now with this video of a bit of judo randori from 1922. There's actually a series of 5, and I would recommend heading over to YouTube to watch the rest of them. I think it's interesting how the purple belts below throw each other pretty well, but the higher in rank you get the harder it is for the judoka to get each other.

How "Angry Birds" is a bit like budo (No, seriously)

I've never, ever been the kind of kid who liked to play video games. Still don't care for them, frankly. But somehow, some way, I've become absolutely hooked on a game called "Angry Birds" on my iPad.

After a while, I began to pick up on certain common... I don't know, themes or approaches to the game. If you're not familiar with the premise, it's basically about flinging little birds through the air in an attempt to destroy all the little pigs. The challenge is, there are a lot of objects that stand in your way. You have a set number of birds to kill all the pigs on each level, so you have to use them very strategically.

I know, what in the world does this have to do with budo (particularly aikido or judo), right? First of all, if you're not familiar with the game, take a look at this short how-to video to get a better idea:

Right. Now—here's a few points on how to succeed at the game.

Don't aim for the pigs, aim for making the structure f…

A twist on Ude Garami (Americana)

Very interesting twist (pun sort of intended) to this classic Ude Garami arm lock from kesa gatame. I kinda like the leverage, but I wonder if it's possible to get the switch when adrenaline is running high.

kuchiki daoshi

I really want to look more at and practice a throw (and all its variations) called kuchiki daoshi. It's not one we've ever looked at much in our school, although I think in randori it can pop out spontaneously even without training! It starts around the 5:20 mark.

Space and entering with judo

Again, sorry it's been a while since I've posted. Lots of things on my mind, naturally. Here's a few:

To my recollection, it seems like I've always been told in aikido (I wonder if any of my teachers would say, What? I never told you that!) to maintain ma'ai, to maintain a certain distance at all times. I've tried to follow that over the years, and really, it's worked pretty well.

But lately, I've been thinking more and more about changing the distance. Specifically, about creating space, or creating a kind of vacuum that sort of sucks uke in, and about entering, or closing in. This goes hand in hand with my earlier thoughts on likening our movements to a wave: not just the crashing down part, but the drawing in, undercurrent part as well. That concept has, of course, overflowed into my judo work as well.

I also noticed an interesting secondary throw to hiza guruma this morning. (Here's a lovely competition example of hiza for your own enjoyment =)

Things to think about

Sorry I haven't posted in a while. I was out of town for several weeks taking some time off, and have been super busy since then. Not that I haven't been thinking about budo, 'cause I have—I just need to find more hours in the day to write them all down!

There's been a number of things I've been thinking about and that we've been focusing on more and more in morning class. First off...

Where is your "other" hand?
While many, if not all, of the techniques in aikido involve both hands, there's usually one dominant hand, one hand that's doing the main thing, executing the throw or performing the lock. Spend some time thinking about the other hand and what it's doing, what it's job is. Sometimes it's helping or supplementing the first hand. Sometimes it's just in uke's face to keep him off you. Sometimes it simply lies in wait.

But always ready, alert, involved; never limp, casual, neglected.

Think about it with these in particu…