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.