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Update

Richard did a nice 6th kyu test. Congratulations Richard.

We also had a visitor from the past: Bobby Truitt. He was a student back when we were at TBJC, and got his 6th kyu in 09. He is now living in Denver, and is a first kyu.

randori

In many ways, randori is the epitome of aikido.  We started some new guys on it yesterday, and there are some points that we all need to remember.

First of all, keep moving.  When you stop, everybody is right on you.   Keep moving, keep away from corners, keep away from walls.

Keep turning.  You always need to keep checking who is behind you, and you are harder to hold when you are turning.

Maintain extension.  That way you have time to deal with an uke.

Blend, blend, blend.  When you come into conflict with somebody, you will stop moving and they will all jump on you.

Deal with one uke at a time.  Move so that only one uke is close at a time,

Do good technique.  Take your time and do technique correctly, and it will usually work.  But don’t waste time either.

Have a plan B, and a plan C, for when something goes wrong.  (Or have no plan, and just improvise really well.)

Extension and flow

We worked today on getting and maintaining uke’s extension, while maintaining good flow during the technique.

Getting uke to extend seems pretty easy and simple, especially from a grab.  However, angles are important.  Generally, you want to extend uke towards his triangle point, typically the front triangle point.  To do that, position of your feet is important.  Generally, you want to extend uke by extending your own arm, and to do that, you need your feet aligned roughly along the line of force.  Getting uke to move from there, however, is less obvious.  Generally, you want to press down on the end of uke’s arm.  Pulling on his arm just makes uke want to pull back and resist, but pressing down moves uke’s balance forwards, and he naturally feels a need to step to recover his balance, thereby moving in the direction you want him to go.  You do want to move your arm as uke moves, but to keep him off balance rather than to physically move him by muscular efffort.

Once you get uke moving like this, you can keep him moving with little effort as long as you don’t lose connection or let uke catch up.  Typically, this happens with, for example katate tori kote gaeshi when you change direction, and that is where flow comes in.

Our brains seem to work in chunks.  The first chunk may be to get uke moving, but once we go to throw uke, another set of instructions seem to kick in.  Both chunks might work well on their own, but the transition between the two is often where there is a problem.  We often simplify techniques by saying there are three parts to a technique (or five if we are a bit more advanced), but in fact, a technique has to flow nicely from one part to another.

The first thing to do is to make sure that you make all changes in direction smooth and gradual.  In the case of kote gaeshi, you will want an arc of one to two feet in radius rather than a sharp change in direction.

You also need to maintain your extension on uke’s arm.  Your first extension should get uke’s shoulder away from being right over his hip.  As you progress through the technique you need to keep it away from his hip all the way into the ukemi.

Don’t hurry.  Uke needs time to respond to changes in direction or velocity.  If you go too slowly, you will lose contact.  If you go too fast the flow will be lost and, often, your grip will slip and you’ll complain about sweaty arms.

Finally, the tempo of the technique needs to be even, and accelerating slightly as the technique progresses.

If you can do all this, the technique will need a lot less effort and work a lot better, whether you are uke or nage.

Normal schedule from now on

The dojo is officially open again. No surprise, that there was no damage, as Dorian turned out to be a damp squib, fortunately for us. So I will be teaching karate Saturday at 9, aikido at 10, and normal schedule for aikido and yoga thereafter. Hope to see you all there.

On power, and other interesting things in life

One of my students said: “If you ever been attacked or in a situation where someone is trying to do you harm, your adrenaline goes through the roof and it difficult to think straight and getting hit adds to this difficulty and you need power to stop an attack. Just like Mike Tyson says, everyone has a plan until they get hit… I do believe you can deflect, if you’re lucky or quick enough, then move to execute a technique. Just an experience observation.”

This is an interesting and relevant point of view. And he backed it up with this video:
https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=qmeW9MQIsfM which pushes the view that power is more important than speed.

The guy in the video is right, and he’s wrong.

Power is important, but misused power can be as ineffective as no power, worse, it can work against you. This is what the unbendable arm is about – about not fighting yourself. (And everybody does fight themselves to an extent.) Still, if you have less power than the other guy in a given situation, you will lose in a head to head confrontation.

Power is not a simple thing, either. If you think of an arm wrestling contest, it is mostly about simple strength. (Yes, there are ways to use your strength more effectively there too, but it is mostly strength of certain muscles and position.) Martial arts is like cheating at arm wrestling. You know what a fair fight is? An oxymoron. A story I like is one I heard at a party when I was a kid. This gate crasher was wanting to come in to a private party. The guy on the door said if he didn’t leave in three seconds, he was going to hit him. He counted: one….two… and he hit him. Fight over.

You can be the weaker of the two, overall, and still have the greater power where it matters. In kote gaeshi, for example, to break uke’s balance it is the power at the end of uke’s arm that matters. So you can be much smaller, and still be able to do technique.

We train a lot. And that is important, because you eventually find you are reacting without thinking – what the Japanese call mushin. Tyson is right in that plans go by the board when you get hit. Training, however, does not necessarily. Good training does not. Bad training (e.g. inappropriate training, unrealistic training) does. A plan is a good thing when training. It is often counter-productive when fighting. Randori is all about training under stress, in unpredictable situations. It is about as good as it gets in the dojo, and can be very good indeed. But on the street there are no referees, and the adrenaline will be pumping more.  It is hard to replicate that amount of stress in the dojo.

Speed and power are not unrelated. In fact, energy equals mv2. So the best way to increase power is often to increase speed. Double mass, and double energy. Double speed, and quadruple energy. Big muscles can increase power, but fast muscles are also important. There is another aspect to speed. If you want to kick or punch somebody, you want all the energy to appear in the last inch or two. Energy elsewhere is irrelevant. If you want to throw somebody, you want the energy to be spread out over maybe as much as two or three feet. And it isn’t the simple integral. There are certain times in any technique where energy is more important than others. So the relevant power differs according to the technique and art. And almost all power comes from gravity. (Think about fighting in weightlessness.)

People working to bulk up often fail to work at flexibility enough, so they are tense, stiff, and their speed falls.

The things that are important for martial effectiveness include the following, not necessarily in order of importance: attitude, technique (including leverage, position, timing, etc), power, and stamina.

Where power fails is when it is overmatched, but that applies to all of the above. Combat is the weighing of the different attributes of the two sides, which lets you see which is the more useful of the two mixes in a given situation. In the dojo, you are pretty much on your own for strength, stamina, etc. All I teach is technique. Coming to class, you will get some attitude, stamina, strength, flexibility, but the focus is on technique.

Class closures for Hurricane Dorian

Karate, yoga, and my aikido classes will be canceled until further notice because of the hurricane. If the dojo comes through undamaged and has power, I expect we will be reopening next Saturday, but I will put out a notice before we do reopen. Those who do the weekday noon classes and kali should check with the respective teachers.

Everybody be careful, play it safe, and good luck.

YouTube channel

The dojo now has a YouTube channel.  If you search for Enmei Dojo you will find short videos of the first five jo suburi – selected mostly because I had them when I went to set up the channel.  Interestingly, the search also picks up videos about the Enmei Ryu sword school – Musashi’s style, which this dojo is named after.

I will also upload videos of the 6th kyu test.

Great Cross Training Seminar

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.

Connection

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.

Merry Xmas and a Happy New Year

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.

Alan