Thursday, September 2, 2010

Karate, 8/30/10 (and Beyond)

Over the past few months I’ve been reevaluating my judo training. I’ve been training aikido and judo concurrently, and two things became apparent to me:

1) I enjoy aikido waaaay more than I enjoy judo
2) I think I’m much slower on the uptake in judo than aikido.

So I needed to decide if I wanted to work harder at something I don’t enjoy as much? Or do I spend more time doing what I enjoy more? Or replace judo with another art while continuing my aikido training? I’ve always been very interested in karate – even more so after getting an idea of Pat’s take on it. I’ve decided to continue weekly aikido lessons, and half the time, double the lesson length. The other half of the time (roughly) Pat and I will train karate. So basically I’ll do two karate sessions with Pat per month, give or take. In addition, I signed up for a 3 month membership at a local Shotokan club. I made that decision for a few reasons:

1) It’s local; I can go one or two nights per week by literally driving 10 minutes from where I work. Maybe less. So I can get some mid-week training/exercise. Pat’s dojo is an hour and 15 minutes from my home; even farther from work. It’s not feasible to go to a midweek class there.

2) I figure I can train in the Shotokan school, but my karate will be mainly informed by Pat, who I know has closer ideals in martial arts to my own. So while my body will be training Shotokan, my mind will train Pat-Ryu karate, haha. Not that the two are all that different. But application of kata etc, doesn’t seem to be taught there, at least until after shodan.

3) It’s a way to get some really good mid-week exercise doing something more interesting than running on the treadmill.

This past Monday was my first class at the Shotokan school. I’ll be keeping training logs for my time there as well. I’ll start by saying that the class was a lot more physically demanding than it looked when I observed a couple of times. Sure, I saw people sweating and breathing heavily, but for some reason, I didn’t figure it could be all that bad.

Class began with a light warmup, followed by some simple punching and blocking combos from horse stance and front stance. This is a whole new set of movements that I’m almost entirely unfamiliar with. Keeping up was a challenge, but I guess that will improve. I think the biggest obstacle for me is my legs. It takes mere minutes in a stance for my quadriceps to begin burning like crazy. I guess I’m especially weak there. No kidding, I simply couldn’t stay in the stances as long as I was supposed to. I had to either relax and stand up out of the stance or risk falling down. I’m certain strength will develop over time, and I really hope it does soon.

The next part of class, I and two other brand new students were taken to the side by three black belts to learn the very basics. This was encouraging; I’m glad they didn’t just throw us in the deep end and leave us to figure it out. On the other hand, while I’m grateful for the black belt that worked with me personally, he could have been a bit more understanding of my newness. Ah well … if they’re expecting an “old head on young shoulders” it will be an opportunity for them to learn patience. The guy also kept insisting I stay in that deep stance the entire time. I told him “I’ll get there, but I can’t maintain it the whole time just yet”. He said “You have to stay down in it – it will make you stronger.” Yeah, I get that. But I’m a grown man, and I (mostly) know my limits. And if I could refer him to the FAQ on the club’s website…

Do I need to be in good shape to start karate? No. The beginning classes focus on the basics and correct form. With effort, your fitness will improve as your expertise improves.

I’m not trying to whine. I understand it takes hard work, which I’m willing to commit to. It’s just going to take a little while to get in shape.

I’m trying to get my impressions down rather than go into detail about the techniques; they were just the very basics, which I’ll continue to work on.

Another observation: this club is pretty “traditional” in their training (in the misinformed Western sense of the word….sorry to be cynical). Anyway, I’m studying karate strictly for self defense value. I do enjoy the rich history and some of the culture, but don’t feel the need to “play Japanese” in order to accomplish my goals. I’ll just say this: Saying “OSS” (however it’s spelled) all the time has nothing to do with self defense. I’m sure there will be lots of ideological differences between me and the teachers in the club. But if the karate is good, and it appears to be, I can eat the melon and spit out the seeds. And it's good exercise if nothing else.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Aikido (and a bit of Karate), 8/28/2010

We started with tegatana. A little faster than usual again. I was thinking about the difference between “falling into a step” and “driving” a step with the “back” leg. It’s a tough thing to make my body to do that. I also noticed something about the “helicopter” step, the second turn; I’ve always done it trying to lift my arm during a body drop (while taking a step). I noticed Pat doing it differently, and I’ll be working on that for a while.

We went through releases, focusing on 2 and 6. We also looked at 4’s relationship to 8 and a lot of other things: release 1 into release 2, into a kotegaeshi or a release 6. Then a release 3 into release 4, into a release 8.

Next we played some randori with releases 1 and 3 as a loose “baseline”, and saw lots of other things show up.

Somehow this blended well into a bear hug escape/defense/counter, and defense against a double wrist grab from the rear. We took this into a sort of pseudo-karate class, ending with a couple kihon.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Aikido, 8-14-10

We did our walking kata twice. I tried moving from the center like I re-read recently in Nick’s Aikido book. Pat reminded me of the “keel” idea to help accomplish that. Without trying to sound too spooky new-age here, it’s crazy how different visualizations can make a difference in your movement. The second time through, we tried to imagine our “off” hand being the “doing” hand. That makes a big difference. We noted how that made the “hip switch” part of the kata feel like honasu #2 and #4 at the same time.

Next we worked on releases, focusing on #3 and being in inferior positions. This led to an introduction to “Ichi kata”, a more rarely practiced kata among our Tomiki brethren. Within the techniques in ichi kata, we explored a few concepts, like tori moving his body rather than trying to force uke to move his. This was mind blowing for me, and reeked of the essence of aiki. It was one of those huge revelations that I must have been told 50 times, but I’m just now seeing it. We also looked at the “90 degree principle”, and Pat reminded me that 90 degrees from any direction exists on multiple planes. In other words, if uke resists along the Y axis, he’s weak along the X axis…BUT he’s also weak along the Z axis! Wow.

We ended the lesson with a few minutes of Hubud drilling, and a discussion of the hammer fist (wrist release) bunkai from karate’s heian shodan kata, and bunkai from the punches in sanchin. The latter led to some verrrrrrrrry cool wrist locks and striking opportunities. The withdrawal of the punch uses the “off” hand to either scrape off a grab or lock up uke’s wrist from a wrist grab. I love this stuff.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Judo, 8-7-10

We started out with ukigoshi. I felt only the tiniest bit better about it than I used to. This throw always gives me fits.

Seoinage was next. This is also a tough one for me. So many things to remember! I need to get lower and closer to uke.

We looked at a trick to defeat someone’s stiff arm: slap the stiff arm for the seoinage, and if it doesn’t go, circle back the other way for a sode.

This led into a discussion about bunkai for the first couple of steps of heian shodan (karate kata), of all things! I won’t even try to explain how, but the two were pretty similar. We ended up playing with that bunkai for almost the rest of our time, and man it’s cool. For the last part of the lesson, we looked at the first few movements in sanchin kata and associated bunkai.

I’ll post more on this later, but karate is becoming more and more interesting to me these days, for a few reasons.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Aikido, 8-7-10

I’m behind on my training logs for this weekend because I temporarily misplaced my notes. Imagine the wealth of knowledge that would have been lost to history had these documents not been recovered.

That morning was one of those times I really felt like staying in bed. I’m so glad I went to train though, because it was a really fun lesson.

We started with a faster-than-normal tegatana. I noted it was tougher to keep my balance when going faster. Pat’s remedy: Be sure to get my feet and center under me as soon as possible. Like when you balance a broom on your hand. You don’t try to swing the top of the broom to a balanced position, you move the bottom under it.

Next we worked on releases, and we did those more quickly than usual as well. We looked at being wrong-footed (in synch, but out of “phase”) with uke, and how the problem could be solved by simply turning around. This is tough to explain without demonstrating it, but let me try: If you’re following (flowing/fitting with) uke and you’re stepping with your left foot while he’s stepping with his right foot, you could A) do a shuffle step to get in matching step with him (but that adds more chaos to the relationship) or you could B) change your relationship to him by turning to face him. You don’t miss a beat and it’s a very natural, aiki-like fix to the problem.

We moved on to reviewing Ju Nana 6 – 10. My oshi taoshi (#6) is feeling better than it ever has, I think (not that I’m an expert – it’s all relative), and I’m starting to see it show up a little more when I’m goofing off with friends and not looking for it.

We looked at how ude gaeshi (#7) can be sort of like kote gaeshi, depending on if you’re rotating around uke’s wrist or his elbow. I’ve been tending more toward the wrist lately, but will remind myself that #7 is an elbow thing and correct it.

Hiki taoshi (#8) didn’t feel as good as #6, but it did feel better than it has in the past. Of the rank material I'm working on now (#6 - 10), this is the one I feel least comfortable with (aside from just remembering enteries, etc). I think I just need more reps with this one.

Ude hineri (#9) was easy enough; we looked at it as sort of a get-out-of-the-way #8.

We looked at a couple of variations of waki gatame (#10). A “classic” evasion version vs. a “crash into the guy” version. We explored #10’s relationship to #8; In #8, both of tori’s hands are in “pushing” positions. In #10, one hand is in a pushing posture and the other is in a pulling position, so you extend uke along the arm (like thrusting a spear) rather than across it (like in #8). Really interesting. We also looked at the importance of continuous motion during #10 to keep uke from regaining a stable base or scooping your legs. Sort of a “walking gatame”, har-har!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Thursday Thoughts, 7/22/10

"Flexibility without strength is instability"

I heard some yoga teacher on television say this and it stuck. I'm naturally very flexible, but pretty out of shape. I need to correct that. I've been interested in doing some yoga anyway.

Sunday, July 18, 2010


Life is full of things that are simple, yet profound. I found one such dichotomy in the BLT I made for supper tonight. It increased my faith, it was that good. Nothing special; toasted bread, mayo, and the aforementioned B, L, and T. Oh, I did cook the tomatoes a little in the bacon grease, but only a little.

Nom nom nom.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Aikido Playday, 7-17-10

Today we had an all day aikido playday at the dojo. Lots of people were invited to share their magic with the rest of us. The only instructer that showed up besides Pat was a super nice guy named Tony, who's had experience in not only aikido, but wing chun, tai chi, and kali. I'll go ahead and admit right up front that we covered a wide variety of things today, so there's no way I can touch on everything; I'll just hit a couple of high points.

We started out with releases into ukemi to warm up. We pretty quickly moved into a (CMA flavored) variation of Pat's "cow catcher" as an entry to a one-handed shihonage. This was fun to play with, partly because we were working it as a defense against a traditional punch (as opposed to aikido's zombie arm attack), and with more speed. It was neat (encouraging) to see and feel the thing work against a more realistic attack. 

After we came back from lunch, we explored some kali stuff for fun. I noticed an odd similarity between the "Heaven 6" kali drill we learned and our movements for shomenate. We also looked at some stick disarms.

One other thing I noticed; one of the attendees was one of Pat's other judo students, who's had no experience with aikido. So during our first exercise, ukemi out of releases, I needed to show him release 1. While I'd love to pass on the art someday as a teacher, that brief experience (before Pat thankfully stepped in and did his thing) showed me how far I have to go; I was not explaining the thing successfully. At this point, I can barely do the stuff, much less teach someone else to do it. Maybe one day.

It was a fun time, and a really great day. Thanks for putting this together, Pat.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Thursday Thoughts, 7/15/10

"Your name, for better or worse, is associated with your dojo and not just for the technical teaching that goes on there. You do not get to choose who will make that association and how it will be done."

~Dave Lowry

The Karate Way; Discovering the Spirit of Practice

Monday, July 12, 2010

Aikido, 7/10/10

So I finally made the return trip to Pat's. The dojo was being painted, so we trained out in the driveway. We started out with tegatana no kata, and it's a whole different thing when you're doing it on sloped concrete, with shoes on. We did one rep, then turned 90 degrees and did it again. Changing the slope affected the kata as well. I told Pat a few months ago that I hated tegatana; now I feel like that was more of a temporary spat.  I'm not gonna say I'm in love with it, but I don't feel like I hate it any more.

We moved on to Releases, 1-8. I am very rusty, as I suspected. We focused on #2. We looked at how when you emphasize the "up" motion in that release (and #4 for that matter), it makes it much harder for uke to turn back around toward you.

Pat transitioned from Release 2 into Ju Nana #15, Maeotoshi. If you look at the brief "up moment" in maeotoshi as being at the top of a hill with uke, I kept trying to push him down off the hill. If I do that, uke has a chance to react or respond to what I'm doing, and compensate for it. However, if I just hang out with uke until he makes the move to get down, I can respond to that and take advantage of it to "send him on his way." This idea of letting him do what he wants to do rather than trying to force him into what I want him to do seems like the very essence of aiki to me. Incidentally, I found that tactile sensitivity was required to do this best. When I tried to guess when he was going to "come down" it didn't work so well - but when I felt when he was coming down through my connection to him, I got better results.

"Your eyes can deceive you... don't trust them"
~ Obi-Wan Kenobi

Next Pat previewed Ju Nana 16 and 17 for me, then backed up and we took a quick look at 11 through 14.

We ended our lesson with a discussion of karate, and had a brief look at Sanchin kata.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Back Again

Where do I start? My training has been very topsy-turvy the past few months. I'll try to summarize what's been happening.

Since I've been training at Pat's, I've been getting up at 5:30am most Saturdays, and driving almost an hour and a half to his dojo (one-way). That drive began to get really old. So four or five months ago, I made the difficult decision to stop training there, at least temporarily, but possibly for good. I was still training BJJ at the local Gracie Barra school at the time, and thought I would a) get out of BJJ what I loved about judo, and b) be able to just discontinue my aikido training.

I was wrong on both counts. Training at the GB school wasn't like training at Pat's. I've since stopped training there for two main reasons: First, on the nights I trained, I didn't see my lettle girl at all. I left for work before she was awake, and got home after she was asleep. That's okay for some people, but I didn't like it. I spend enough time away from my family during the day, for my taste. Secondly, I was tired of rolling with people who didn't wash their gis. It seemed like a third of the people I rolled with there smelled like sour milk.....or worse. I didn't want to learn the art that badly.

As far as thinking I'd be able to cope with not training aikido any more, that was just silly thinking. Aikido is what I consider my "main" discipline (even though I'm still pretty new), and by far my favorite.

I addition, I felt Pat's philosophy of martial arts in general lined up with my own, and that's not something that's easy to find, especially not around here.

So after much consideration, I decided it was indeed worth it to continue making the drive to Pat's every week. Maybe all I needed was a break to get a second wind. But once the decision was made to resume, for several weeks, things kept coming up that prevented me from returning. Talk about discouraging.

But the encouraging thing is I'm back. I made it back to the dojo yesterday for the first time in four or five months, and it was great. I'll return to posting regular training logs and other stuff on this new blog.

There are lots of exciting things coming up in terms of my training, our dojo, and our organization, that I'll touch on when the times are right. For now, stay tuned.

It's really good to be back.


Wednesday, February 24, 2010

BJJ, 2/23/10

I’ve never choked someone completely unconscious…until last night...

Last night I decided to go to our school’s “BJJ Fundamentals” class instead of the regular class. I really enjoyed it. The format was laid-back, and the Professor went over some very basic concepts. We worked on the basic collar choke, and looked at key details for making it work. These included the deepness of the grip, turning your thumbs toward the guy’s head, turning your knuckles toward you, how to grab his shoulder over the top if he’s blocking your second hand (hard to explain by typing), and “answering the phone” or ducking under to defend against the choke. We also worked on 2 butterfly guard passes, one as a response to bottom guy trying to choke you. I need to remember that if I’m in someone’s butterfly guard, I want to get them on their back, and not let them sit up (but careful not to push in a way that exposes my arms to attacks).

The fundamentals class doesn’t include rolling, just instruction, and drilling the basics. While we were drilling the standard choke, we did so from standing, just to work on the details. On one rep, I apparently accidentally got the choke correct right off the bat, because my partner evidently didn’t have time to tap. I was about to ask him “Do I not have the choke? Am I missing something?” when he crumbled to the floor, unconscious. He was an older guy, so I was worried about what might have happened – not a good feeling! Thankfully he was fine, if a bit confused. He got up looking like he didn’t know where he was. I kept apologizing to him, because this was his first class, and assured him I had no idea I had put it on him like that. He was gracious, and a good sport. I can laugh about it now, but I felt horrible about it last night.

I'm becoming more dangerous by the day, haha.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Judo, 2/6/10

Still behind on some posts, but catching up…

In our Judo lesson, we worked on our 3 entries to hip throws (mostly uchikomi). That’s what we ended up working on for most of the lesson. We did play with Osotogari a little, with the same three entries, then we looked at a combo for a little while: failed hip throw, to ouchi, to kouchi.

Lastly, we worked on something from goshin jutsu that’s sort of like a shomenate/osotogari hybrid that felt completely, incredibly bad@$$. Taking a fall from a normal osoto is bad enough, but at least you have tori’s gi to hold on to. Not so with this technique. It’s would be a bad fall to take full force, at least at my skill level of ukemi.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Aikido, 2/6/10

Okay, I'm really behind on posting lately, but I'll catch up this week. I have an additional aikido, and 2 judo posts to write. So here are my notes on our aikido lesson from February 6::::

We started with Tegatana. Pat said he was thinking about the need to get the following foot back under your center quickly. He gave some examples of how this shows up in karate as well. It’s funny how throughout the rest of the morning, this idea came up again and again, both in our Aikido lesson and Judo.

We went through releases 1-8, camping out on #4, which I seemed to be okay at that day. I was only thinking about timing it with uke’s footfall, and it seemed to make a big difference. We camped on 4 and 8 for quite a while. Numbers 6 and 8 usually give me trouble, so we looked at what was causing my feeling of “discontinuity” during those techniques. I think my steps have been going something like “Left, right, right” on those, instead of “left, right, left, right”. Once we dealt with that I started getting better results. It sort of went back to Pat’s “Happy Feet” idea.

Then we played with variations of #4, leading into Chain #4. We finished up class with some light randori.

You know how when you eat an incredibly rich dish, it’s really good, but so good you can barely eat it? That’s sort of how both our Aikido and Judo lessons were that morning – so chock full of savory richness I don’t think I retained most of it. Hopefully it will stick in my subconscious though. ;o)

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

BJJ, 1/26/10

Last night I debated on whether or not to go to class. Right before class I got a splitting headache, but since I missed last week, I forced myself to go. In retrospect, it may have been better to skip – I don’t think I’m 100% bounced back from some sinus/cold crud I’ve been fighting nearly all of January. Consequently the intense physicality of the BJJ class seemed to wear me out more quickly and more thoroughly last night than usual. But, I persevered almost until the end. I sat out the last 2 rounds of rolling because my headache was getting worse, and I just didn’t have any more energy.

One of the blue belts was working with a couple other noobs before class on sweeps, and I joined them. He had us drilling the Elevator sweep, and the Scissor sweep. They do the Scissor sweep a little differently here than what I’m used to. We started class with a more-vigorous-than-usual warmup, and our normal armbar drills from guard and mount. Then we worked on a Single-leg / Fireman’s carry takedown. I was doing it wrong, in that the guy kept ending up behind me. When the instructor did it, he was ending up almost in kesagatame with the guy. I may have started to improve a little with later reps. It’s going to take more drilling to develop the feel for that thing. Next we worked on how to transition from that setup into a double-leg takedown, in the event your opponent resists the single-leg.

We moved on to groundwork next. We worked on a basic Butterfly sweep, then a drill for passing the Butterfly guard. Butterfly guard is brand new territory for me, so it was pretty awkward.

I rolled with a couple of blue belts at the end of class, and feel like I fared better than I have been, although obviously, they’re not going 100% on me. They’re still trying to teach me, which I appreciate. In particular, I feel I did a better job of not being flat on my back, (although sometimes there was nothing I could do about it). Also, Pat showed me something last week that helped me a bit when trying to shrimp to guard; I mentioned in another blog post about moving the top half of my body to get better angles and get my knee in. I saw some success with that last night that I’m sure will improve with practice. There were also some things I feel I did worse this time: namely remembering to relax and breathe, and to not trying to muscle my opponent so much (which gets me exhausted more quickly).

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Aikido, 1/23/10

Yesterday we did nothing but aikido, to balance last week's all-judo class. We did a quick review of Junana 1-10, then Pat previewed 11-17 for me (Actually, it was all of Nijusan, but I'm still a little unclear as to where the extra techniques are, so I still tend to think in terms of "junana").

I've seen 11-17 before, but never played with them much. I look forward to getting into those. After running through all 17, we went back and practiced 6-10 in more detail, since those are the ones I'll need to demo for 3rd brown belt.

I'm always amazed by how robust the system is. Pat and I talked about how you have all these techniques that live in different places, but there are many roads to get to each of them. Some roads are cruddy, muddy dirt roads (less likely), others are nice paved highways (more likely/common).

That discussion led into a brief practice of Chain 1, then lots of randori. Little by little, chains and randori are making more sense to me. Pat talked about how in chains, we explore the common things that happen - the probable. But in randori, we can explore anything that might happen - the possible. He talked about how I shouldn't worry about forcing myself stop making mistakes, but to let them happen so my mind can learn the consequences and teach itself.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Judo, 1/16/10

For this class we didn't both an aikido and judo lesson - we did all judo. We went through everything we've covered in the syllabus thus far, and wow: it's a lot of stuff (with way more to come)!

I won't burden you with the exhaustive list though. I seem to have lost the notes I took right after class, so I'll just touch on what sticks out in my mind.

For one thing, ukigoshi is still my least favorite throw - because it's the one I'm worst at. Pat commented that my brown belt throws are better than my green belt throws, which really shouldn't be, haha.

As far as ground work, I felt better about that stuff, and after reviewing everything, Pat helped me out with a tip for making my knee/elbow escape from the bottom easier. I gotta remember to move the top half of my body too! I've been neglecting that the whole time.

This class brought me to 50% of my class requirements for 3rd brown. Do I feel like I'm 50% ready to demo my current rank requirements? For some things, yes, for others no. I just use that as a rough guide anyway - Pat will have to be the judge of how ready I am at what time. In any case, it was a great class, as usual.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

More BJJ

Last night there were a ton of people in class. One of the teacher’s affiliate schools lost their facility recently, so that class joined ours. After our warmup, we drilled a handful of ways to break our opponent’s grip when he’s defending against an armbar.

At first we looked at where on his arm to put pressure when pulling. We also talked about timing; that is, waiting until he tries to re-establish his grip, when the situation calls for it (if you have time). We practiced pulling his far arm toward the arm we’re after, and that was pretty neat. We worked on a wristlock to “encourage” him to let go. We also worked on a variation of pushing his far bicep with your foot. It’s hard to explain, but you push with the top of your foot, not the sole – and it can set up a triangle or an armbar if he happens to escape. Verrrrrry cool, but I really need more practice drilling this. Lastly, we worked on something Pat’s shown me before – rolling or falling “north” with their arm to turn their resistance from a “bicep thing” to a weird “rotator cuff thing”. Really effective.

For the live rolling portion of the class, I rolled with a blue belt, who made me feel like I was sitting still, a 4-stripe white belt that was lively and challenging, a new white belt who had youth and speed on his side (but I fared okay), and a new white belt who, it turns out, has lots of no-gi experience. I was dominated in 3 of the 4 rounds. But all I’m concentrating on right now is defense. I’m just focusing on breathing, relaxing, and not getting submitted.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

First BJJ Class

Earlier this week, I was too sick to start at the BJJ school I just joined. I'm pretty much over my sickness, but I didn't want to go to Mokuren (Pat's) dojo and risk having a relapse due to the cold weather (it's almost the same temperature in Pat's dojo as it is outside, and it was freezing this morning).
I was pretty disappointed about missing, judo and aikido (again) with Pat, so I decided to go do BJJ. My buddy told me they were running the heater in there at the class I missed, so I figured I could stay out of the cold, and still get a little practice.

We started with a short warmup, that nearly finished me, haha. I'm still pretty out of shape. Following the warmup we did armbar drills from the mount and from guard. After that, Rafael taught 3 variations of the D'Arce choke, which we drilled repeatedly with partners. This was a brand new one for me, and pretty awkward. I worked with Jason, the owner of the gym and a blue belt under Rafael.

After drilling was over, it was time for live rolling. All of the guys knew I was new, so they didn't go 100% against me. Most of them didn't anyway. Rafael worked with me first to show some fundamentals. Next I rolled with my namesake, who's only been doing BJJ for a couple of months, but he's extremely athletic, and he doesn't get tired. He busted my lip (I think with his elbow), but I'm sure it was unintentional. That's a difference I'm seeing between judo and BJJ - in my judo lessons (and, from what I've read, in many other judo schools), we aren't always going at 100%. In fact sometimes, we roll as low as 25%, as an alternative way to learn. I find slowing things down helps. But these BJJ guys go all out. It's a "learn by doing" mentality, I think. Incidentally, the same teaching philosophy kept me from ever taking swimming lessons as a kid - I heard they just throw you in the deep end and let you figure it out. That's pretty much how these guys roll. Having said that, most of them did take it a little easier on me, knowing I was new.

For the third and fourth rounds, I rolled with a guy named Robbie, a 4-stripe white belt. I really like Robbie - he's been doing BJJ for about a year, but he practices all the time. He strikes me as a guy who's come a long way, and wants to help other new players along too. Humble, friendly, and helpful. Before rolling, Robbie urged me to worry about nothing besides keeping my elbows in, and my knees if I could, and to focus on breathing and relaxing. Robbie was surprisingly smooth for only having done this a year.

Lastly, I rolled with another white belt. He tried to teach me stuff as well, but he was also a little rough. Right off the bat, he slapped an armbar on me, and it was just about too fast for me to tap before it hurt. One thing I'm not willing to do in order to learn BJJ is risk injury. I think people should have a little more control, and a little more respect than to even get close to hurting their partner, but I suppose some players are more...."enthusiastic" (immature?) than others. Maybe I'm just kind of a wuss...maybe I just don't get what's going on...but I just hope when I advance, I'm more like Robbie to the noobs, and don't feel the need to show off my "powers".

When I got home, my wife looked at my busted lips, strawberry on my forehead, and various bruises and said "Did you get in a fight?". I just smiled and said it was fun.

I can definitely see how rolling with different people of different skill levels is going to help my ground game. All in all, it was a great time. Did I like it as much as my aikido and judo lessons? Not really, but I do look forward to the next class.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Judo, 1/2/10

We began with our footsweep control drill. We practiced controlling uke's foot on the verge of him losing control (and "spasming" in sort of a panic). This is tough to explain.

Next we played with okuri ashi harai from more of a deahi setup. We spent some time talking about the differences between deashi and okuri ashi. Okuri ashi is still like a big tangled mess in my mind...well, the throw itself isn't, but the principles we're looking for in it are still kind of new to me. You ever have a friend driving a car, and you're trying to get into it, but he keeps moving it just enough to keep you from it? That's how this stuff is for me lately (but Pat's not doing it to mess with me, haha). Down/up timing. Ugh. Feet moving together / moving apart timing. Ugh. Deashi form with okuri ashi timing. Ugh. Timing, timing, timing! It may take me a while to internalize this stuff, but it's vital that I do. Reminds me of a CS Lewis quote: "As long as you're counting the steps, you're not dancing - you're learning to dance". Here's a nice video by Nick Lowry and co. It's pretty much exactly what we worked on:

At the end of class, Pat introduced me to Judo's Goshin Jutsu. I love that stuff! I think he's going to try to work in more of it each week now. Today we worked on the first technique shown in the video below. Then Pat previewed what we'll look at next week (the 2nd technique in the video):

Aikido, 1/2/10

We started with a couple reps of tegatana no kata. Pat talked about how everything can be broken down into 3 parts: beginning, middle, and end, and how you can use this method to troubleshoot things that aren't working for you.

Next we did releases. Pat said mine were pretty good today. It's rare that they feel good to me, so it's nice when it happens. Number 6 and 8 work so much better when evasion is my initial response. Hey, I guess maybe sometimes I try to just "do a number 6", for example, and get screwed up. When I remember what's going on in the first part (see paragraph above), it helps with the rest of it!

Pat talked about how ma-ai is sort of an elastic thing. Our kata practice from ma-ai develops our sense of that distance, but attackers don't usually start from a static position exactly at ma-ai like when we practice. I need to be moving/evading by the time uke crosses ma-ai. People attack through ma-ai, not from ma-ai. Pat showed a couple of tricks attackers can use to "cheat" inside ma-ai a bit. One is moving off to an angle, and cheating in a little bit. At first it still looks to tori like uke is at ma-ai, but he's closer; think about the tori/uke relationship during shomenate. Lowering your posture can also help cheat ma-ai a good bit. Neat.

To play with this "dynamic ma-ai", we did releases again, but this time, tori continued his momentum, continuing to move around through each successive release. Kind of how we played with it a couple of weeks ago.

Next we used the Aiki Brush-Off to look at dynamic ma-ai. We worked on brushing off to just outside of ma-ai, which only took a couple of steps. By the time you brush-off to a couple of steps away, you know whether you can safely run away, or if you need to "do something" to the attacker. I was also reminded not to try to run away backwards. /blush

Oh, and this month, Pat's got us doing everything left-handed. Makes it interesting....

Friday, January 1, 2010

Happy and Humbled

I got a great feeling this week, and thought I'd post about it.

I've written about my buddy Josh, who I work with and train BJJ with. We've been friends since we were kids, and our families remain friends to this day. Josh has always been into martial arts. In fact, he was mostly responsible for me even giving grappling a second thought (I never really intended to train in judo until the last year or two). Way back in the day, Josh trained judo at the dojo at which I would eventually come to begin training in aikido. His only exposure to aikido was what he saw on the mats while warming up for judo classes.

For as long as I can remember, Josh has had a familiar mantra: "BJJ is superior to all other martial arts. Period." For the past couple of years as I've practiced aikido, Josh has always sort of made fun of it, "attacking" me with his "zombie arm" out in front of him, walking like Frankenstein. I never really try to convince people otherwise - I can understand what aikido looks like from the outside. I can see how it's so often misunderstood.

A couple of months ago, I got a job with the company Josh works for. In fact, my cubicle is right next to his. During occasional down times, we'll goof around and pretend to fight; everything from "Jim Carey stiff-arm knife attacks" to old-school karate kata and one-steps we remember from childhood. Just goofing off. Inevitably, Josh attacks me "aikido-style", and I usually do something from 1-9 of junana hon kata (such as I can). We just mess around and have fun.

This past couple of weeks, being so near the holidays, have been really slow at work. Wednesday afternoon, we ended up playing around again. I kept doing shomenate, and to my great surprise, Josh asked me to show him what I was doing. I explained that ideally, my reaction to an attacker getting a "certain distance" from me, would be to step off the line and get my hands up. Then I could do whatever the attacker "wanted" me to (once I'm proficient, that is) - get away, knock him down, lock him up, etc.

So while I gave a "lesson" on shomenate (and tried to give a little lesson on aiki in general), I quoted Pat: "In this situation, you might be able to do something to me, but you're going to have to do it while you're flying backwards."

Josh, being practically-minded, wanted to test the validity of what we were doing. So once we did a few reps, he started trying to figure out what he, as an attacker, could do to counter or nullify what I was doing to him. It turns out the harder he tried to press the attack, the worse his condition became, and he could tell that if we were doing this at a "realistic" speed, he would be knocked down easily (even though he's much stronger than I am, and very athletic).

I was happy he showed some interest in aikido. I always like the chance to talk about it. We left it at that. After we left work, I got a text from him: "Man, you've got me interested in aikido now". I texted back: "It really is extremely neat/interesting. And way more practical than it looks on the surface." Josh: "Yeah, I just realized how practical. Changed my whole view just now." Me: "Now you're just teasing me." Josh: "No. I'm being serious. I saw some things when we were practicing."

We had lunch together the next day. I asked him to elaborate on what he saw in our aikido practice. Josh is the kind of guy that was pretty... "adventurous" when he was younger. By that I mean he was in a ton of fights. Bar room brawls, road rage fights, etc (he's much more mature now, and less of a hot-head). He explained how just from shomenate, he could remember so many situations where he could have defended himself more successfully if he'd known aikido. He also said he could see how his wife would be able to use it to defend herself, even though she's just a slip of a girl. I told him the story of how my petite wife was able to drop another one of my friends with aikido when we were both training together (he asked her for a "lesson", haha). He said he could see how aikido might be the most practical art for real self defense.

It really does seem like his attitude toward aikido has turned around 180 degrees. It's pretty thrilling to me - and humbling that my aikido...which is no more than a couple years old, could make such a drastic difference in someone's opinion about the art. It's encouraging.