We had a great cross training seminar yesterday, with aikido, three different styles of karate, and kali. We did some self defense techniques from chokes, knife attacks and defenses, throws, and dealing with grabs. After training we went to Valentino’s for pizza and beer.
Yesterday, we worked a lot on connection. In aikido, just as in real life, it is sometimes hard to make and keep a connection. When we move, very often we will lose the connection to uke and the technique becomes difficult to do. Generally, uke needs a reason to maintain a connection. If he feels threatened, he will work to mitigate the threat, maintaining the connection. If he thinks he can make nage do something uke wants, he will maintain the connection. If there is no connection, uke can just stand there and do nothing, or is free to attack again.
Of course, uke is supposed to give you energy so that you can do aikido. He can give you energy by striking or grabbing with intent. We have all worked with an uke who puts no energy into their attack. It is very difficult to do technique on such people unless you can make them do their part at connecting. So how do you make a lackidasical uke put some energy into his attack? One way is to threaten him. If you press towards his face or other vulnerable part he will use enough connection to prevent you reaching it. Given an uke and nage who are merely pressing against each other, nothing much will happen. But you can manipulate that connection. If you angle the connection to the left or right, uke will tend to move that way. If you move in or out, he will respond to that also.
Take katatori. Uke grabs the shoulder of your gi. You strike at their face. They either block and prevent you striking your face, at least strongly enough to protect their face. If their block is not too forceful, you can drive their arm back towards them (at an angle) and do technique. If their block is forceful, they may press your arm away from their face. As long as they keep pushing, you can lead them around into a technique. But what happens if they are content to merely block your strike, and don’t let you in to do technique, nor push you away so that you can lead them around into a technique? You often see this happen, and then usually nage grabs their arm and forces them into a technique. All well and good if nage is strong enough to do this, but it doesn’t take a lot of effort on uke’s part to stop nage cold.
If, however, nage angles his arm while uke is pushing, uke will start to move around. Now if nage gets loose from uke’s connection, he can strike uke, either in the head or the body, particularly in the groin. So it is in uke’s interest to prevent this, so he must not allow a gap to open up between his arm and nage’s arm. Nage can make this point by actually striking uke (lightly, in the dojo)) if uke gives him the chance. Now nage can manipulate uke as much as he cares to. The resulting technique feels very different from what you get if you don’t engage uke’s attention and make him extend his energy but just try to muscle him around.
Now if uke figures out what nage is doing and doesn’t feel like taking ukemi, he can mess things up in a variety of ways. He can just stand there like a rock, rigid, unmoving. He can just let his arm fall away from nage’s arm, not moving his body. So there is a smallish window of oportunity, between nage using the connection, and uke figuring it out and messing it up. This does not mean nage has to be particularly fast. Just that he has to stay ahead of uke, continuously changing the situation so that uke never quite catches up. The military has a name for this situation – the OODA loop. OODA stands for observe, orient, decide, and act, and is the sequence of events in a combat situation. If you change things fast enough, the opponent can’t respond fast enough to respond effectively, and fast enough can be on the order of a second in aikido.
Kata tori men uchi has a different feeling, because uke is attempting to strike as well as hold. However, the principles are quite similar, and uke is attempting to make the connection so it is easier in a way.
Another way of practicing connection is if two aikido practitioners extend an arm and make contact at the wrist, with the same hand and foot forward. They are then pretty safe from each other. To strike or grab, one must get closer to the other. If the other person moves to maintain this alignment, he stays safe. They can have a designated nage, in which case one person just tries to get in to attack, or they can both try to do this. Initially, it is better to have a desgnated uke and nage, but both parties trying to throw the other is more like a combat situation.
As soon as one person has his position or posture messed up, he is vulnerable. If he lets his arm get too much to one side or the other of his body, he is vulnerable. The key, especially with a strong attacker, is to stay relaxed, with an unbendable arm, and move the body to accommodate whatever the attacker does. If he moves in, you move back. If he pulls in, you enter (so as to maintain a degree of control over uke’s next move), while keeping your posture. If he moves your arm to one side or the other, you move your body with it. As soon as you try to resist, it becomes a game of who has more energy, either because they are bigger, stronger, or have more momentum.
Now if you vary the angle and timing of your response, you can take his kuzushi, and apply technique.
There are usually considered to be three parts to an aikido technique: connection, kuzushi, and execution. If you do all three half way decently, you will get a pretty good technique. Of course, when working on one part, in this case how connection is used to get kuzushi, there is a tendency to forget about other parts. Thus, it is easy to mess up the actual application when your mind is on other parts of the technique. It is still important to apply the technique correctly.
Of course, writing about aikido is not doing aikido. It is hard to put some of these ideas into words, and different readers may interpret the words differently. But maybe if you read about aikido you will get ideas you can then practice on the mat.
Well another year is drawing to a close. The pig roast was a great success, though I could cook it better with the experience. Our membership is dwindling, so new people feel free to come. You get 3 free lessons and I really frown on anybody not treating beginners well. Existing people, drag somebody new to class. They may like it, and will not if they don’t try.
Doug will be putting out an email shortly about the schedule for the next few weeks. Saturday is the last class for aikido and karate for this year. Yoga, the last class was yesterday.
I plan to go to the Sand Drift New Year celebration. Hope to see some of you there, and experience Dart’s cannon. BOOM!
In the New Year, aikido and karate will start back up on Saturday Jan 5th. Yoga will restart the following Wednesday, 9th.
So a Merry Xmas and a Happy New Year to everybody. Hope to see you all next year determined to practice even harder.
Well I think we can declare the pig roast a success. The one and only Enmei Pig Roast. I don’t think I will spit roast a pig again. A couple of times I thought the weather would wash us out, and a couple of times the pig caught on fire, but in the end everything worked well. We had a good time and ate a lot of pig and drank a lot of beer. Life is good.
After a couple of classes where nobody showed up, we’ve had a couple of good practices in the last week. Not a lot of people, but good practices.
Some stuff was pretty basic – like how to make shihonage work on a resisting uke (at Doug’s request). (The simple answer, as usual, is extension and leverage. The trick is in the details.) Like how to make yonkyo work (at Glenn’s request). It sounds rather banal, but most times techniques fail to work as hoped because we forget the basics: escape the attack, take kuzushi, and then throwing. When we get hurried or excited, we tend to forget kuzushi, in particular. If we don’t get kuzushi, actually applying the technique can get quite difficult even if we do that part correctly.
Some stuff was less basic: practicing how to deal with multiple attacks, how to execute multiple attacks (which of course is critical for uke to give decent attacks), how to use suki to encourage uke to attack the way you want them to. How to take a little bit of control and turn it into greater and greater control.
Another thing we did was to find ways to get people to think about aikido from a fresh perspective. For example, you can do the boken suburi with one hand, then with the other hand, then go back to normal two handed technique. Another approach is to do a technique in a different way. We tend to get in a rut when we do the same techniques the same way. If we do the same technique in a different way, it makes us think about the technique from a different angle. This can be confusing, especially if the technique is being done in a way we have never seen before (and yes, even after 40 or 50 years I can still come up with different approaches). However, if we are fairly good at doing, say, ikkyo, one way, and then practice a different way, we end up having a more effective and more generally applicable ikkyo. At first, the different approach conflicts with the old way, but if we practice enough, we end up with a new way of doing ikkyo which subsumes both ways.
Sometimes, we just need a change of pace. We tend to get rather lackadaisical about ukemi, but changing the pace, either doing ukemi really slowly, or faster than usual will point up to where we need to improve.
On a final note, now that the weather is getting cooler, we are thinking of having a party. Usually, we have parties after a workout, but I’m thinking of having a pig roast, and as I have not done one before, I’ll have enough to do just cooking the pig. So probably just a party. Time and date TBD.
Oh well. That was too good to last. The first class will now be on July 14th. My eldest daughter and grandkids will be in town on July 7th. So. 9 – 10 am, July 14th!
We have decided on a starting date, so come along and try it. Most folks will be beginners.
Classes will be on Saturday mornings , 9 – 10. The first class will be the Saturday after the July 4th holiday – July 7th. We will do them as long as there is interest, and if enough people are interested, we will look to add more classes.
There is no charge initially. Eventually, we will probably ask people for $30 a month, or $20 extra if they are already doing another class. However, for now the most important thing is to get a critical mass. So for now, free karate lessons. Tell all your friends.
There will be no sparring initially. We need to get insurance coverage for that, which is probably not included in our current coverage. Plus, people will need to get gear, like mouthpieces, gloves, and so on.
I have wanted to teach a karate class at the dojo for a while, and it looks like we have a quorum, so we are going to try it. At present, it looks like the class will be Saturday mornings, 9 – 10 am. If there is enough demand, we will expand that.
The first class will be soon, but the date has not been decided yet.
What are kumi tachi and kumi jo and why do we practice them? On the surface, they are just kata, exercises in memorization we can test students on. They also teach weapons use, train students’ bodies in movement applicable to aikido, and teach distance and timing.
At a deeper level, there is an internal logic to each one that is more meaningful. Look at kumi tachi number 2, for example. You start standing tip to tip, sword points barely crossing, where both parties are as close as they can safely be. Neither provides an opening. Then one person takes the initiative. In this case, by taking his sword off line. This makes him more vulnerable, so he steps back at the same time. So, the attacker has an opening, a suki. But to exploit it the attacker has to move forwards. If he does this slowly, the other person can move back just as slowly, maintaining ma ai. So the attacker has to leap forwards too fast for his opponent to move backwards. However, the defender has time to respond, because of the distance, and he can respond in a number of ways.
He can return to the status quo ante by stepping back and cutting shomen to reconnect to the attacker’s sword. He can do this so strongly that he overcommits, attacking the attacker back, providing another suki which the attacker can exploit (KT 1). He can step in and to the side, avoiding the blow and stealing the energy to use it to strike at the attacker’s neck (KT 2). He can step back and deflect the attacker’s sword with an upward block (KT 3). He can counterstrike early enough that he takes the initiative back (KT 4). Or he can do something totally different (other KT, variations, etc).
To make this believable, the two partners need to each play their part, but if they are doing things correctly, this isn’t difficult. Each partner should make his partner’s next move feel inevitable. I want beginners to move a lot, to practice safely. More advanced students can work closer together. This increases the realism and benefit, but is more dangerous. These are, after all, lethal weapons we are using.
In the initial position, both partners should imagine a duel in medieval Japan, two samurai trying to kill each other, both intent, looking for the slightest loss of focus to exploit to kill the other guy. One guy provides an opening. It has to be realistic enough that the other guy sees it as a credible chance to kill the other. Too obvious, and the bait won’t be taken. When the bait is taken, the defender must move in just the right way at just the right time. Too soon, and the attacker can adjust. Too late, and the attacker wins.
The attacker must give a credible attack. Not difficult working with a beginner, of course, but the attack has to be better for a more advanced student. Of course, we don’t really want to kill each other, and want to keep a reserve in case our partner totally messes up, but there has to be a credible threat to make the kata work, rather than us just going through the motions (which is perfectly fine while learning the moves but is eventually limiting). Aikido is the “way of harmony and spirit”, after all. There has to be spirit (ki) to harmonise with. And we have to harmonise with it, or there is no aikido.
There are some things common in all the kumi tachi. In particular, as I have been illustrating, controlling the initiative (sente) through suki, position and distance. There are different “messages” in each of the different kumi tachi. These are the main ones I see: KT 1 – don’t over-commit. KT 2 – timing. KT 3 – don’t repeat anything three times in a row. KT 4 – again, timing, and in particular early timing (sen sen no sen) to crush the attacker. KT 5 – don’t let your attacker encroach.
So next time you practice kumi tachi, think on these points.
Wow. Major problem. I almost finished, and my post disappeared. It would have been amazing ;-), but you’ll have to make do with what I remember. It said it was saving, but if it did I can’t find it. So here goes.
First of all, Merry Xmas and a Happy New Year.
It has been an eventful year. We started off with a big dojo and going deeper and deeper into the red. We are ending up with a smaller dojo but almost breaking even. If we had a couple more full memberships, we’d be actually breaking even. So tell your friends. Drag them along. Three free lessons! If they don’t try it, they won’t know if they like it.
Thanks to everybody that helped with the new dojo and transporting the excess mats to the barn. Now that we have all the legalities sorted out, I can actually surplus the mats and free up the barn. For a while, I thought I was going to have to build a new dojo in the barn.
With the smaller space, we could not fit in a seminar, so we rented the Sanddrift Aikikai space. We had a good spring seminar. In the fall, we didn’t have a full seminar, but had a cookout/cross training at the farm. That was fun too, and it is important not to only practice in one environment.
So another year has come to an end. In the new year, we should think about the last year, how things went, and what we want to work on in the next. The syllabus was developed to ensure that each student was taught all aspects of aikido. The early kyu ranks are pretty easy tests. The middle kyu ranks have a lot of techniques. The high kyu ranks are about putting it all together. So by shodan a student should pretty much know all the techniques from all the attacks in aikido.
After shodan, students need to work on applying techniques, how to make them work in any situation, on any attacker. After that, they need to work on transcending the techniques. Techniques are necessary for teaching and learning. They make sense out of chaos. But what was Musashi’s book 5? The Book of the Void.
While the syllabus covers pretty much everything, each of us has things we need to work on, things that are particularly challenging. Some of us are strong, but because of injury or old age, we lose strength, and need to work on technique for when we lose strength, or when it isn’t enough. Some of us don’t extend enough. Some of us need to pay more attention to foot position. Some of us need to work on staying centered, physically, mentally, and emotionally. All of us have things we can improve that are outside of the syllabus.
But most of all, we need to practice. I tell students that their first priority should be family, then work, than aikido. Because if your family is not happy they will put all sorts of obstacles in the way of your practice. If you don’t have a job, you probably can’t come to class – you won’t have transportation to get there. We do get students that just pick it up naturally, and do well, then they disappear. Sometimes they repeat this, but usually when they find that the people who were not doing so well but kept practicing are now better than them, and they don’t like that. So do come to class, and do so regularly.