Monday, November 28, 2011

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 facing uke's feet in ushiro kesa gatame.

4) Now, uke rolls toward tori again, but instead of moving on to the next part of the "envelope drill" (which would be kuzure kame shiho gatame) he transitions back into mune gatame.

5) Uke rolls away from tori, and tori transitions back to kuzure kesa gatame.

So, basically, we're taking the first three positions of the "envelope drill" and having each partner repeating them back and forth several times, both sides.

Part 2

1) Proceed through the first three steps from above, moving from kuzure kesa gatame to mune gatame to ushiro gatame.

2) This time, when uke rolls toward tori, tori reaches to the far side of uke's knees (so if tori is working on uke's right side, tori will reach over to uke's left knee) and pulls uke's knees towards himself. Tori can then step over with his right leg into tate shiho gatame.

3) Now, it's uke's turn to drive the bus. His job is to do the standard escape, which in turn allows him to roll his partner over and for him to hold tate shiho gatame.

4) From there, uke (who, I guess, is actually tori at this point, but I don't want to confuse you...) "swims" one arm over so that both of his arms are on the same side of his partner's head, moving clockwise (it would be counter-clockwise, of course, if you started on uke's left side). Uke swings his right foot over and back until he's sitting in ushiro kesa gatame.

5) From there, the roles continue to be reversed, so tori is now on his back and rolling toward uke, who then transitions to mune gatame.

6) Tori rolls away and uke transitions to kuzure kesa gatame, and guess what? We're back to the beginning of the drill—but you've switched roles, so just keep going! Be sure to work both sides, though.

Part 3

1) Start as you have in the previous drills, with tori in kuzure kesa gatame.

2) In this version, uke should be keeping his elbows in, his hands close to face in the classic defensive position (if he hasn't been doing this already). When he rolls toward tori, tori will switch to his stomach as he would normally do for mune gatame, but—presuming tori started on his right side—uses his left hand to catch uke's left wrist. This will create an immediate torque on uke's elbow and shoulder that will make him really, really want to roll to his back again.

3) As he does, tori remains flat (stomach down) and proceeds to snag an ude-garami, or coil arm bar, or "Americana."

There's probably more one could do in this area, but hey, class only lasts so long! I have a few other drills for the other sections of the envelope drill, and hopefully I'll get around to posting them.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

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 having such a hard time getting going this time around? I also want to include more meditation and relaxation into the mix.

The odd thing is, I understand more than ever how much a person's psychological well-being can impact every other aspect of their life. I feel like I've learned a lot over the past year about hidden, unhealed childhood wounds and all of the ways we mentally sabotage ourselves, leaving us constantly mired in depression. I'm happier now than I ever have been.

At the same time, something is keeping me from progressing, from becoming my best self. My mind is getting straightened out, but my body is still stuck. And that's a problem. I think many of us move through life like "walking heads" with this insufferable body attached. Mental health is great, but it can only do so much without physical, spiritual and emotional health.

That's it, really. I don't have any answers at this point. I just felt the need to put it out there.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

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 it?"

The old woman chuckled to herself as she reflected on some long ago memory. "Well, dear, when I was a young newlywed, we didn't have much money, so I couldn't afford to buy a bigger pan. I had to cut the end off so the roast would fit!"

. . . . .

I love that story. Over the years, I've found it applicable to so many areas of my life. Budo is one of them.

Much like Jill, we start out in a martial art learning to simply do what we're shown or told. We spend years focusing on and learning what to do. Put your foot here, hold you hands like this. We memorize the choreography, the steps in a complex dance.

Many folks become very accomplished "dancers" in their art: they look very graceful and polished doing it. I'll admit, I've been mesmerized by that kind of performer before. It just looks so COOL!

At some point, however, we come to a crossroads. A point where we discover our technique doesn't always work. It's disconcerting, because it usually happens at a time when we've been involved with the art for some time, and have come to believe we should know how to do this stuff by now.

When I reached that point, I think I did what a lot of people do: I assumed my uke wasn't doing something right. He wasn't committed in his attack; or, if he did react, it was the wrong reaction for the particular technique we were practicing.

I suspect a lot of schools, and the teachers who run them, fall into that mindset and never climb out. "This is how it's done, how it's always been done for generations!"

A little further down the road, however, I learned a very important lesson outside the walls of the dojo that has in turn profoundly impacted my approach to aikido and judo. The lesson was this: "I have absolutely no control over other people or what they do and say, nor do I have any control over most of what happens in my life. What I do have control over, is me. I have control over how I think or react."

In other words, I had to stop blaming everyone but me. I couldn't blame other people or situations for my own frustration and unhappiness. Likewise, I felt I could no longer blame my uke if something didn't work quite right.

Which brings me back to the story of the roast. It was at this point that I began to ask myself why am I doing what I'm doing? Why am I placing my foot here, why am I doing this with my hands? Why doesn't uke fall down when I do it? I can't blame the roast for being the wrong size! The roast is what it is. My concern is what do I need to do in order to cook that thing.

Don't get me wrong, I think we all need to start out only having to worry about the choreography. But at some point, in order to really transcend, we need to begin to understand the why.

The funny thing is, we discover that there are actually lots of pans we could use, lots of ways to prepare and cook a roast. We talk to other grandmothers and discover each one has her own recipe. It's when a cook moves beyond following recipes and understands the food itself and how cooking actually works that he becomes a chef. He creates his own recipes, he works with whatever's in season or available at the market that morning and creates something unique and wonderful.

To think, Jill was cutting off and throwing away a perfectly good piece of meat simply because she did what she was taught and never stopped to think about why.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

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.

For all the Hitchhiker's Guide fans out there...

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 have, so to speak. And part of the fear comes from simply not knowing what the heck to do when someone jumps on top of us, which most beginners don't. So knowledge helps us relax a little; we're not totally defenseless.

Another big part of feeling more comfortable on the ground is learning your escapes. I mean, really learn them, inside and out, over and over. Not from arm bars or chokes, necessarily, but from pins. Remember, loosing your ability to breath is a big factor in generating fear, but if you're fairly confident you can escape most holds, you won't panic much when you find yourself in them. Learn to escape from the gutter, the worst possible places first. After that, the rest is gravy.

This last point, however, is not one I understood for a long time. And I'm beginning to think it's worth turning it into a sort of drill to help younger students internalize it. I refer to it simply as a routine "Danger Check."

Think of it like chess. Now, bare in mind, I know extremely little about chess, but enough, I think, to illustrate the point. Let's say, for example, you're this knight piece:

In grappling, at any point, you have options of what to do or where to move, just like this knight. But a good chess player will think about the possibilities before he moves. For instance, if he decides to capture the white pawn on E5...

... he ends up in a dangerous position because the white pawn at D4 can capture him. However, if the knight moves to D4...

... he not only captures a pawn, but puts himself in a place with relatively fewer dangers. But here's the thing: why should you move the knight? You see, another critical aspect of strategy is to also be constantly aware of whether or not any given piece is in immediate danger and needs to move. The knight in this case was not in any immediate danger, so you have the luxury of leaving him there and moving another piece.

So what do I want you to take away from this? Grapple like a chess player and get in the habit of making constant DANGER CHECKS:

Am I in danger right now, where I'm at?
Just because you're on the ground and in the middle of a "fight," it doesn't necessarily mean you're always in danger. Take a moment —literally ask you partner to stop and freeze where they are—and evaluate your position. 

Can he arm bar you? No. Can he choke you, even though he may have one hand in your collar? No, he really doesn't have the leverage he'd need. Are you pinned? I'm not pinned, but I am entangled in his legs...

So if he can't arm bar or choke you, and even though you're entangled, you're not pinned, then guess what? You can breath. You can slow down, breathe deep and take your time. In other words, don't panic.

If anything, get in the habit of doing that much—always do a Danger Check to make sure you're not in any immediate danger, which means you can relax. Then...

Foresee the consequences.
Even if you're relatively safe, think about your next move. If I move to my right, I'll put myself in a position that will give my partner the necessary leverage to finish the choke. What about the left? Well, my leg is trapped, and if I try, he could possibly sweep me. Sounds like you need to worry about getting out of the legs first...

Just like the chess player, we have to develop the ability to quickly foresee the consequences of our moves. We need to develop the instinct to know when we're in danger, and how not to move into danger.

And that, my friend, tales time. A lot of time. So spend some practice sessions playing the "Freeze—Danger Check!" game. Both of you pause every few moves right where you are and talk to each other about what's happening, what you're options are. If you don't know what will happen if you do something, try it. If it works, great. If not, go back to where you were and try something else. 

Either way, you just learned something new.