Showing posts from 2012

Jigotai: Slaying the Beast!

Occasionally, in judo, I get asked a question about a common problem. Essentially, a student it trying to throw their partner but can't get in. Maybe he feels like his partner is just too tall, or too big and strong.

Fair enough. The same thing happens, actually, in aikido randori. Things are great when practicing a throw and we have a compliant uke, but when it comes to an uke who doesn't want to be thrown, he hit a wall. What happened?

First of all, let me remove the aspect of sport or tournament judo from this discussion. Nothing against judo as a sport or those who participate in it, mind you; I love watching tournament judo, it's exciting stuff. It's just not why I myself study judo (and most of my peers, as well).

In a match, I'm trying to score points, to win; the other guy is also trying to score points and win. I'm trying to keep from being thrown so I don't lose; so is the other guy.

That defensive, resistant posture—jigotai—can be very difficult …

Eyes up here, buddy

One of the things I was taught from day one, and have heard over and over since then, is "maintain eye contact."

The reasons why one should maintain eye contact usually came from a strategic standpoint. If I'm looking at uke's eyes, I can see what rest of him is doing out my visual periphery. So if I'm looking at uke's hand because I'm trying, for example, to do kote gaeshi, I'm vulnerable to his other hand smacking me upside the head.

But when it came to judo, we find that if I'm looking at uke's eyes, I can see what his upper body is up to, but his feet tend to fall out my field of vision. Therefor we were often told to look about chest level, and huzzah! Now I can see all of him, the sneaky bastard!

Then I ran across this quote from O-Sensei, Morihei Ueshiba:
Do not stare into the eyes of your opponent: he may mesmerize you. Do not fix your gaze on his sword: he may intimidate you. Do not focus on your opponent at all: he may absorb your en…

A hammer for all occasions

For most of my aikido life, I've been taught to always, always, always maintain an "unbendable arm." Palm outward, fingers up, elbow slightly bent but with tension in the muscles. The hand should stay, for the most part, in line with my body's center line, and rarely stray outside of the torso "box" (the area defined by my two shoulders and two hips. It looked something like this:

Which is fine, great. The problem I'm coming to find is that was ALL we focused on. We looked something like robots moving around out there, stiff and inflexible, as if someone had simply nailed a 2x4 to the side of our chest. It worked great when it met the needs of the situation, but overall it has quickly become—to me at least—a problem of having only a hammer and all of my problems look like nails.

In the Walking Kata, tegatana no kata, however, we practice a handful of other arm positions that I found I rarely, if ever used. Why? Why were they in the Walk if I rarely used…

"Be like water, my friend"

Imagine a small rivulet of water, flowing gently downhill. Now, let's say a rock appears directly in front of this little stream. What happens?

Does the water stop and push against the rock, trying to shove it out of the way? Of course not.

Does it try to pull the rock off to the side to make more room? Nope.

Does it simply turn around and go back where it came from? Huh-uh.

The water simply flows where it can. Let me repeat that: The water flows where it can.

Water does not, conversely, flow where it cannot. I know, I know. All that sounds painfully obvious, but it's a rather basic principle that nature seems to understand quite well, without having to "think" about it. But people? Well, there's both a blessing and a curse that comes with the ability to think.

The ability to reason has it's benefits; I don't think many would disagree with that. It's through the process of thoughtful analysis, or careful study, and detailed experimentation that we di…

Aiki is becoming clearer

I've been getting so much out of watching this guy. This is a nice example of just pure "aiki": no focus on any specific technique, no competition, not randori just yet, but what's often referred to as jiyu waza, just.... aiki. (It clocks in at almost 20 minutes, but for me, worth it.)

"How Aikido Works"

I really enjoyed this explanation and demonstration of "how aikido works."


I've had a blast in recent years exploring various aspects of the arts I study. Like what, you may ask. Well...

Slipping judo nage waza into aikido
I say "slipping" because I don't really think I intend to add judo into aikido, or combine them in anyway. Though they do go nicely together, they're slightly different animals, and prefer to regard them as such. That being said, there are occasions when a little leg or hip action can augment a technique nicely.

I also say "slipping" judo in because I'm not really interested in trying to teach students who only study aikido how to do proper judo throws. Learning judo throws is a complex best reserved for, as you may have guessed, judo class. Rather, I want to a wee bit of judo principles to their aikido; just enough to augment what they already know, but not so much that it confuses them or complicates things.

Bringing more renraku waza into judo throwing
One of the things that really made my aikido (and t…

Getting the fit

Funny how our ideas and our approach to a given thing change and evolve over time. "Truth" seems to be more and more elusive: what I accepted as gospel one day, I can't help but doubt the next. Okay, maybe it's more like years than days, but still.

If there's anything I've learned from budo that is absolutely permanent and unmovable is that nothing is really permanent and immovable. Just when I think I "understand" a thing, I find a new perspective (typically through the eyes of someone else). I almost want to go back to students I've taught and say, "Hey, remember that thing I taught you? Well, here's another way of thinking about it..."

This time, I happen to be thinking of the concept of the stage of a throw in judo. I'm sure you've heard it:

First, kuzushi—off-balance
Then, tsukuri—fitting in
Finally, gake—the throw

For a while now, I've been thinking of it in terms of a sort of math problem: 1 + 2 = 3

In other word…


Yes—budo, at it's heart, is very simple. It's just not intuitive. That is why we train.


Very nice series of demonstrations on centering from Doug Wedell Sensei—understanding where you're center is and where the center of the "system" is:

The magic of switching your hips

Here's an interesting little variation you might try in your aikido practice, just for funzies. Take junana hon kata / randori no kata as well as the eight release movements and try doing them by starting at least with only a "hip switch."

Not the full, 180° turn we do in the Walking Kata, but more of a 30 to 45° shift to one side or the other on the balls of your feet.

Be sure to do it right at the point of contact. The hands would do mostly the same thing, and after the first switch or two you can either move normally, or I dunno, see what happens!

Renraku waza - technique combinations

One of the most profound additions to my aikido practice, in my humble opinion, has been the development in our system of what we commonly refer to as "chained series" or renraku waza. The concept isn't new, of course, but I don't know that many people practice it in aikido (help me out if I'm mistaken, I'd love to take a look at what others are doing).

Basically, you would start off with uke either attacking or grabbing a wrist. Tori performs technique A, uke falls down (or submits). Then you do it again, but this time uke attempts to escape or counter technique A, so tori moves on to B, so on and so forth.

Many of these chained series can get rather long, upwards of 9 or 10 even. When it comes right down to it, there are probably an infinite number of ways you can combine them, but the main idea is to practice flowing from one thing to another, to follow uke, to keep from getting attached to making a single technique work, by golly, blah, blah, blah.


Slow if fast, fast is slow

I've heard the expression "slow is fast, fast is slow" for many years as I've trained. Frankly, I always thought I understood what it meant. And I did—do—but I guess my understanding of it has broadened.

Sorry, but I don't have time to go into all of it right now (I know you were just dying to know), but I thought I would share an interesting visual example of this particular maxim, one you can try for yourself and even demonstrate to a class.

All you need is a piece of scrap paper and a pen or pencil. Your task is to draw as straight a line as you can over and over, 10 times. First, do it as fast as you can. Then do it again, but go as slow as you can. Below is the result of my attempt:

Quite a difference, huh? The first bunch of lines is fairly scattered and broad, while the second batch is not only pretty consistent with smaller variability, it's also darker, or more intense. Bare in mind, that I'm a graphic designer and illustrator by trade; I've …

Another glimpse of uchi mata

Uchi mata, for me, has been an elusive throw to wrap my mind around. In my school, which has never been all that keen on competitive judo, never seemed all that interested in it (at least around me). But with the rest of the judo world, it seems to be quite a favorite.

But with this, or any other technique, regardless of art, I'm not one to summarily disregard something without at least attempting to understand it better first.

Which is one of the many reason why I love YouTube. I often get perplexed with a technique, be it aikido, judo or jodo—or rather, I suddenly realize I don't understand it as well as I thought I did!

One of the first things I do is hit YouTube. I watch a lot of videos featuring that one thing. I try to simply observe, withholding any judgement. I don't really even try to analyze what's going on. In fact, I try to keep my mind as quiet as possible and just watch.

Eventually, almost every time, somebody will do something that jumps out at me. It…

Throwing line vs Throwing rows

Over the years, I've seen a number of various methods for breaking up the monotony of training. Many work just fine, although probably only as a once in a while practice just to shake things up. Some, well, I've always thought could use some fine tuning.

I had a professor in college who always pressed us to make the best use of our time rather than just waiting around and then complaining when we ended up feeling rushed in the end. That attitude has carried over into many aspects of my life, and budo classes are no exception.

I'm not very fond of doing a lot of standing around and chatting (except when I'm tired, then I'll kill time with the best of them!) We only have an hour to an hour and a half, I feel we ought to make the most of it, right?

One method I've always had reservations about is the throwing line. Essentially, you have one person at a time doing a technique over and over to a line of uke's, one after the other. When you've thrown them all…

Get away! Okay, come here! No, get away...

I couldn't help but notice an odd sort of paradox in my aikido and judo training. It seems to me that, in aikido, we spend our time trying to keep the guy off of us. He's trying to come at us, towards us, and we're looking to either maintain an arms-length distance, or get behind his arm so even though we're in close proximity, he's not facing me.

Then we get into judo and now I'm trying as hard as I can to get close to him, to connect our centers so I can throw him, and he's trying to keep me out (while trying to do the same to me).

In other words, it seems like my budo practice is either a game of  "get away get away get away" or "come here come here come here."

And I can't help but wonder, why am I trying so hard to do the opposite of what the situation is giving me?

If uke's trying to get to me, why am I trying so hard to keep him at a distance? 

And when uke's trying to keep his distance, why am I trying so hard to get cl…

Thoughts on space

My thoughts lately are on the subject of space. I'm still working out the best wording to describe it, though.

I want to say "controlling the space," but for some reason, using the word "control" feels a tad unsettling. It sounds as if I'm trying to make something go, trying to force something that I want to happen, as opposed to remaining open to the flow of things.

But they are intentional, and they do serve a purpose. When do I do one thing over another? I suppose that's the flowing part.

At any rate, there are moments when I want to occupy some of uke's space. Uke is like a stream, flowing down his predetermined path. I am a large stone placed in that path. I'm not trying to stop the stream, like a dam, but interrupt it, send it veering off on a path it never intended to follow.

At other times, as uke flows like a stream and I dig a narrow trench in the dirt. Again, his path is diverted, this time drawn into my space.

Sometimes I rise up, l…