Friday, July 31, 2009

Friday Night Videos

Okay, I'm not sure how funny these will be unless you live in southern Louisiana, or have otherwise had experience with cajun culture. This stuff is hilarious to me, because my wife's family.....shall we say "closely resembles" this guy in accent and expression (my wife is NOT anything like this though). I'm so glad my friend Byron turned me on to these vids.

And another one::::

Monday, July 27, 2009

Aikido, 7/25/09

For Aikido class we started with tegatana. I was trying to focus on "falling" into the steps, and found it made me feel really heavy. This bears some further experimentation. Pat said he felt heavy too, so it may have been the tides or something, haha.

We practiced releases a little next. Pat emphasized moving away from uke on the second step, and we looked at how to do that without jerking the guy around.

Next we worked on the beginning of Chain 2. Once again, the chain was feeling a little better to me than it has in the past. I'm encouraged by the small growth I feel regarding chains.

We ended the class by looking at wakigatame from a shomenate entry.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Judo, 7/25/09

Today we worked on a combination/cycle of throws that goes deashi barai, kouchigari, ogoshi, and ouchigari, each one coming from the previous one failing.

We also drilled a few escapes from mount, kesa, mune, and north-south. Spin-out give me maybe the most trouble. I also really need to work on shrimp escapes instead of constantly playing with the ones I'm most comfortable with. Oh, we went over some concepts for my uphill escapes which also suck at this point.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Aikido, 7/18/09

For tegatana no kata yesterday morning, the emphasis was on falling into the step instead of shifting weight and lunging. I've heard I-don't-know-how-many-times that I'm supposed to just turn off one leg and fall that direction, instead of first shifting my weight left to move to the right. One of the reasons is to take out extra motion. The trouble I've had is that it's pretty ingrained in me to compensate with one leg when the weight comes off the other one. I get the concept, but couldn't make myself do it. Pat directed my attention to my center when doing the lunging step, and sure enough, it moved one way before moving the other way. By thinking about my center, and not letting it move in that opposite direction before taking the step, I was finally able to get the feel for the "falling" step. I think I had been thinking of the means (falling step) as the end (eliminating wasteful motion), and it just wasn't working for me.

We played with releases 1 - 4. We talked about being in synch (timing tori's footfalls with uke's) and being in phase (tori's footfall is on the same side as tori's...their footfalls "match"). In releases 1 & 2, tori tends to end up both in synch (assuming good timing) and in phase. In releases 3 & 4, tori tends to end up in synch, but out of phase. A pretty neat thing happened: Coming off a release #1, my feet ended up in synch, but out of phase with Pat's. It was a really awkward feeling, but I didn't know why at first. Pat explained that through a ton of reps of release 1, my brain knows how it's supposed to feel. So when something went wrong with it, it was as if my subconscious said "Whoa, something's not right - I'd better not attack right now...let me flow with him and see what happens." It was my brain was making a withdrawal on stuff we've been depositing in my subconscious all along. I knew something was wrong before I noticed we were out of phase. Pat talked about the concept of "Not knowing what you know". That's deep.

We moved on to Chain 1, and I probably felt better about this chain than I ever have. We talked about the concept of the chain being divided into certain sections, but also the existence of "wormholes" where you could skip from one place in the chain to a later section without passing through the sections in between. Pretty neat stuff.

We ended this lesson with a technique called gokyu gyakugamaeate (or kokyunage). It was a slick shomen ate / brush off to uke's face without shomen ate's normal off-balance.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Judo 7/18/09

Judo was tough this morning! My wife and I went to eat last night at Texas de Brazil, a fantastic all-you-can-eat Brazilian Steakhouse. It was our first time there, so of course I had to try a little of everything. I was stuffed (still am, 24 hours later). Anyway, it made judo an "iffy" proposition. I commented after the lesson that I felt "green". Pat asked whether I meant I felt like a green belt, or green as in "not ripe" (noob). I meant I felt like I was green the way I would feel if I went bungee jumping after eating way too much sushi.

Anyway, we started with the footsweep drill, and tweaked my foot position a little more.

We worked on seoinage for a while. I need to remember that in addition to getting my hips low, I need to take out the space between our bodies...really clamp him to me. If my hips are good and low, but he's not clamped to me, they slide up during the throw. We talked about using that inside arm to take up some of that slack as you pull him around.

For groundwork, we played with the ground mobility cycle, inserting escapes and armbars as appropriate in a very light, "turn-based" randori. We talked about not fighting too hard to hang on to a screwed up position I've gotten myself into. I need to let myself lose and experience the consequence of my mistake so I can learn from it (at least in randori).

We ended the lesson with standing randori, which we usually don't do very much of. I still feel more lost during standing randori than ground randori. Pat tweaked lots of things on lots of throws during this time, and my mere four hours of sleep last night is keeping me from remembering all the points we talked about at the moment.

I glad I nutted it up and went to class this morning, but I'm glad to be on the couch this evening!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Thursday Thoughts, 7/16/09

I found myself with some free time over the weekend, and I was flipping through television channels. I came across a show called "Spectacles" on the Sundance channel. Basically, Elvis Costello interviews folks, and they talk about music, life, etc. Seemed like a cool show.

His guest for that night was Bill Clinton, but they were going to be talking about music, so I didn't change the channel. In case you're unaware, Clinton is a pretty good saxophone player. I'll leave any cheap shots regarding "hot air" and the like unsaid. Maybe I'm feeling generous - I didn't care for President Clinton while he was in office, but I think he was mostly harmless compared to what we have now. But I digress...

They were talking about why Clinton didn't pursue a career playing music instead of politics. His answer was something like "I looked at myself in the mirror one day, and realized that even being a great sax player, I would never be the greatest...I would never be on the level of John Coltrane or Stan Getz...and if I couldn't be among the very best, I didn't want to pursue it."

That made me think about my martial arts practice, and my expectations for how I'll progress. I don't expect I'll be the next Mike Swain, Karl Geis, or [pick any] Gracie. I don't think I'm naturally gifted "raw talent" at this stuff. I don't think I have the potential to become a household name in judo or aikido, but I still consider it a worthwhile pursuit. So I've been thinking about what I do expect from myself as I continue my training - what I want to get out of it (or give back to it, in some cases). I bet most martial artists go through a similar process at some point, and I'm sure if you asked 15 people, you'd get 13 different answers, so the answers may vary for each individual. My personal list may change with time or experience, but here's what I've come up with for myself, in no particular order:
  • I want to be better able to defend myself and my family from physical attack should the need arise.
  • I want to accomplish something...stick with something. As I glance back down the trail of my experience I see so many projects and goals that lay abandoned...begun with great enthusiasm, but never accomplished. I don't have a particular dan rank in mind, and I'm not under the impression that my training will ever be complete - I think I'll just know one day "Hey - I stuck with this!"
  • I'd like to have influence. Not necessarily over a multitude of people, but at some point in the far future, I'd like to be able to begin teaching martial arts, and I hope that I can provide positive influence to those I teach. Not in a "guru-ish", have-all-the-answers, run-their-life kind of way though. I'd like to be a part of helping people enrich or improve their lives. I think in its proper place, martial arts can contribute to that.
  • Speaking of which - I always want to keep martial arts in their proper place in my life. There can be a tendency, I think, to elevate the things we place more affection on them than they are due, even above things that matter much more. I'm not talking about feeling guilty for taking enjoyment in hobbies. But when martial arts occupy more of my thoughts than God or my family, for instance, something's probably out of whack.
  • Speaking of which (again), I try not to divide the "sacred" and "secular" in my life. To me, it's all sacred. By that, I mean, whether I eat or drink, or work, or play, or grapple, or throw - I want everything to be full of and pointing to Jesus Christ (I Cor 10:31). I want to practice martial arts (and everything else...indeed the way I live) in such a way that Christ's work in my life and my love for Him is evident. This is my highest pursuit. Does that mean I want to preach to my opponents while I'm grappling, or wear obnoxious bumper stickers on my gi? Nah. I just want to let my light shine, so people see something in me that causes them to honor God (Matthew 5:16).
  • I want to move toward a more healthy lifestyle. Drop weight, gain endurance, build muscle, and improve my diet. Maybe martial arts can help motivate me to do that.
  • I want to represent traditional martial arts in such a way that promotes a respect for them (culturally, practically, and artistically).
  • Unfortunately, some in Christian circles have ideas about the martial arts that are way off base (some automatically associate martial arts with demons, humanism, new age philosophy, etc). In the same way some people equate all Christians to a few isolated examples of nuts, some Christians equate all martial artists to a few examples of weirdos (you can read one example of this here). I'd like to be one of the many Christian martial artists whose very lives and training refute these ignorant ideas.
So it's not important to me that I become known as the best aikido/judo player around. My indicators of success or failure will come mostly from how closely I'm moving toward the things on my list.
Anyone care to share a list of their own?

Monday, July 13, 2009

Judo, 7/13/09

Monday night was rank-requirement-mania! We covered everything that will be on the upcoming green belt demo.

First we covered kouchigari. Of the four throws required for green, I think I'm most comfortable with this one.

Ouchigari was next. We looked at 2 different entries. A "normal" one (to my thinking) and a "stepping-around-the-corner" version. We explored it a little in terms of it being an otoshi motion or a guruma motion, depending on the timing. When I was being thrown with ouchi, there was a feeling of my step continuing and evolving seamlessly into the throw. We played with how to throw with that feeling as tori. We also talked about it not being a hand technique. I threw a couple of good feeling reps with virtually no hand involvement. It was a neat feeling. During our ouchi work, we also talked about the center of balance of the "two-person structure" made up of tori and uke, and looked at how "Arbitrary steps" can affect that center and cause off-balance.

Next we worked on ogoshi. I really need to work on getting my hips lower and feet closer together, as I've said before. I just feel so darned unstable when I try to! We talked about trying to get a combination of correct form (low hips, close feet, etc), timing, and getting uke to step the right way. Enough to occupy my judo education for years to come, I'm sure.
The last throw we worked on was seoinage. This time we did it as sort of the same throw as ogoshi, but using your bicep as the fulcrum rather than your hip.

We worked on lots of groundwork stuff too. We reviewed hadakajime (Rear Naked Choke) and talked about a few variations in hand placement and the scooping motion Stephan Kesting talks about in his instruction about it. We reviewed the meat grinder entry to the choke as well.

We looked at the "envelope" exercise focusing on kesagatame and munegatame, and the wakigatame and udegarami combo sequence. We played a little with the kimura (from guard) and how setting up a kimura also sets up a hip-bump sweep if he resists the kimura too much. That's a fun combo.

Lastly, we went through several reps of the hold-down cycle. I think I'm finally beginning to internalize the order of things for this cycle. I feel like I'm improving here. Pat mentioned that I'm a lot heavier then I was 3 months ago. He didn't mean I seem to have gained weight, but that my ability to apply pressure on bottom-guy is improving. He said I'm not holding myself off of him as much as I used to. That probably comes not only from practice, but getting more comfortable with grappling in general.

It was a really great lesson. I had lots of fun, felt a bit of improvement in some areas, and got to work sequentially through the material. What more could I ask for?

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Aikido, 7/11/09

We did aikido outside today...that provided a new set of challenges for me. Sloping concrete is different from flat mats! Wearing shoes made things different too.

We started with tegatana. I almost completely lost my balance once, just adjusting to the different conditions. It wasn't even on a tricky step! It was a good reminder that "real life" (i.e. a real self defense scenario) will not happen or feel like what we practice in the dojo. We tried it again, this time while holding a knife. This served to demonstrate a couple of things: 1) either hand might be the "doing" or "active" hand in the kata, and 2) we shouldn't be lazy or unaware during the kata - the knife made me pay attention so I didn't cut myself (conceptually, anyway - it was a rubber knife).

Releases 1-8 were next. I think I'm improving on these. I feel like I am, anyway. This week I was looking at Nick Lowry's Aikido book again in regard to releases. Quoth he: "...power comes from the movement of center, not the action of the arm or upper body". Pat's been saying that all along, and I've read Nick's book several times over the past couple of years, and it was like that part just clicked to me. I even had it highlighted in the book, but it just wasn't sticking before!

Next we worked on Chain 1. Chains are still a little confounding to me (not the concept - the execution). We started with an emphasis on a "touch-follow, touch-follow..." idea...sort of testing uke during each footfall to see what might be there (an opportunity for a technique). The "touch-follow" is a very short thing....near testing a stove to see if it's hot (you don't put your hand there and leave it, you touch it, then stop touching it quickly). Pat talked about how during chains, both tori and uke are learning how to flow and deal with unexpected or weird situations.

Jodo, 7/11/09

Today the mats were being cleaned at the dojo, so we had class outside. Since we couldn't do judo very well on concrete, we did a jodo class and an aikido class (which was essentially 2 aikido lessons, but more on that in a minute).

This was only my second jodo lesson. We went through kihon for a while (solo and paired) and then a couple of the beginning kata. Unfortunately I can't remember the names of the techniques or kata - as infrequently as we practice jodo, I'm going to need to sit down and document this stuff carefully in order to retain it (not to mention practicing kihon more on my own). Again I was wishing I could find more time to devote to jodo study, but aikido and judo are much bigger priorities for me at the moment.

We talked about the formality of the kata and its roots in "not screwing around with weapons".

We also played with forgetting about the stick in our hands and concentrating on the motions of our hands, feet, etc. From that point on, the relationship between jodo and aikido was way more evident to me, particularly in the "twisting stick thrust" strike (can't remember the name) and some of the hand motions in the turns in tegatana.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Picking One Thing

I read a quote from my teacher today (who was paraphrasing one of his teachers) regarding aikido training:

" pick one thing to put into place and the rest of it goes to pot, but if you succeed in putting that one piece into place then you have succeeded at that repetition of the kata. Then you pick another aspect and your first thing goes to pieces but eventually working at it like this more than one aspect begins falling into place at a time."

I tend to go in cycles of being (somewhat) comfortable, then overwhelmed in my training. Lately, I've been going through the "overwhelmed" stage again. Not in a frustrating way...more of a sense of awe/wonder at what a deceptively complex art aikido is (that is, how freaking cool it all is!).

Anyway, it can be tough to remember and do more than a handful of things during a technique (example: don't bend your arm, don't force it, move your feet, point your center at your hand, relax, etc). I'm going to use this in my solo practice, whether with the walking kata, or practicing with my imaginary uke. I'll consider it a successful rep if I get that one thing right that I chose to focus on.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Judo, 7/4/09

We worked on an osotogari/hiza guruma combo. If you try for one of those, and uke resists it, he makes it very easy to throw him with the other one. Pat said it seemed like I was feeling more comfortable with both of those throws. I think that's true - especially for osoto, but I only noticed a big difference in that one shortly before he mentioned it! I think I had been doing my osotogaris more like a trip than a sweep. It is indeed feeling much better to me now. That's exciting to me. We ended up playing with osoto a lot more and exploring this epiphany.

Next we worked on seoinage. We played with it as a hip throw variation rather than a hand throw. We also looked at a drop knee seoiotoshi, both as a standalone throw and as a transition into groundwork. This was only the 2nd time we've looked at seoinage. A few weeks back when we first looked at it, I suspected seoi might become one of my favorite throws. I felt like I was getting it, and it seemed easy to do. But this time it was confusing me way more for some reason. Two things I was having a ton of trouble with, and need to get into my head: 1) keep my feet closer together, and 2) get my hips lower!

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Aikido, 7/4/09

After warming up, we went through Tegatana. Pat talked about staying centered, particularly during the turns. We talked about paying attention to how much slack is in our hips, and adjusting our center so that we move before all the slack is taken out. Pat also mentioned that I should watch out for my knee not pointing the same direction as my foot, especially when bearing weight on it.

Next we went through Releases 1-8. I really feel like I'm getting more comfortable with all 8 releases. I'm obviously no expert, but I feel like I'm progressing a little. I think a big part of helping them "click" to me is Pat's instruction a few weeks ago to worry less about what the release is "supposed" to look like and concentrate on pointing my center toward my hand. That helped a lot. This week he added that I should do the releases in such a way that I feel no tension in the muscles surrounding my shoulder. When I was able to do that, it felt like my releases were way more successful. We talked about release 2's "rising" component too.

We also played with a new (to me) concept regarding releases 6 and 8. Let's see if I can describe this: As tori/uke are moving/turning, their center (that is, the center of the "structure" created by the combination of tori and uke) is travelling. It's not staying at a fixed point. If I follow that moving center like I should, the release works great. If I try to make it happen without following that center (as I often do), it doesn't work well at all. As I was driving home considering that, I imagined it like a tiny, weak tornado. If I stay in the middle of the twister, I can turn easily (making the technique much more effortless). But if I let the tornado's center get too far from me, and I end up in the "wall" of the thing, it interferes with turning naturally. Might be a sophomoric analogy, but it may help me remember to follow that center.

Finally, we worked on Junana/Nijusan 1-5. Of those 5, I think #4 (gedan ate) is the one that's most awkward for me. Pat tweaked my off-balance for 2-5, and that felt a little better. I need to stop trying so hard for the downward motion in the kuzushi - if it happens, it happens. I also need to remember to move behind uke's arm on 2-5. We went over #6, and it's almost brand new to me. We covered it a little during my time at the previous dojo, but not enough for me to get accustomed to it. Hopefully I won't have as many bad habits with that one for that reason.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Rough and/or Tumble

Tonight my judo/BJJ plans fell through with my nephews, so we had a friend over for some 3rd-of-July burger grilling. I had my mats out in the living room so we decided to horse around. My buddy has never had any martial arts training - he just works out a couple times a day religiously. His "style" (if you'd call it that) is brawler/wrestler. A real Tank Abbott, but really lean and in shape.

Los is strong as an ox, and can really crush you with his mere 168 pounds. Feels more like 230 when he's crushing you. Early on, I had a successful Leg Hook Takedown (that I've been watching on the Gracie Combatives DVDs), right into mount and pretty quickly got an Americana on him. For the next 4 or 5 rounds, Los would end up giving up his back. I'd rear mount and go for RNC after RNC, but I think the muscles in his neck kept getting between me and his arteries. I did pretty well maintaining rear mount though, and I was able to conserve my energy while he spent all of his trying to get out.

As the night went on, I got less and less successful, and had to tap more and more. Los figured out that keeping control of my arms pretty much neutralizes me. I've noticed this trend with Cody and Trey as well - they're much stronger than me, so they can clamp down on my arms and keep me from moving or getting any leverage. I was thinking "Why is it I have so many freakishly strong friends?", then it dawned on me: I may just be freakishly weak.

In any case, I need (at some point), to learn how to deal with much stronger opponents, because so far, even if they're "unskilled", I'm not able to prevail.

What did I observe tonight?
1) I actually saw my opponent gas out while I calmly conserved my energy. That was pretty neat.
2) I eventually need to learn to deal with opponents who use unorthodox methods and strategies.
3) I need to develop a little more strength of my own (and a LOT more technique)
4) Practical proficiency in this stuff is going to take time.