Little House In Ise

Pushing Physical Limits
July 28, 2008, 11:34
Filed under: Aikido, Expat, Japan | Tags: , , , , , ,

Training with an athletic and skilled partner is one of the great pleasures of Aikido. Finding someone with whom you can establish a physical rapport and then push each other bit by bit to the edge of control is not for the weak hearted. Another thing that the weak of heart may want to avoid is training in the moist heat of Tokyo summer. It may well push your body to altogether different, less pleasant, limits.

Tokyo summer is still heating up and the humidity is far more than what I grew up with in the the American West (Wyoming is a large, dry, rectangle in the US part of the Rocky Mountains). Though morning is relatively cool, the humid air of the third floor dojo clings. Doing a stretch or two makes even the most robust members of the class dripping wet. My running joke has been that we could save electricity by not cooking our rice anymore. Just leaving a pot out in the dojo over night would be enough to steam it.

Today I partnered with a strong yudansha who, in the past, has enjoyed “kicking it up a notch”. Today, the thick air and the heat had us moving slowly from the start and by the time we got to jiyu waza I was not moving at all. I have experienced many instances of physical exhaustion bringing out out my best Aikido — muscle is not an option and breath alone makes it all happen. This was _not_ the case today. I was so sapped of will that doing a proper tenkan became a challenge. My partner did a much better job of holding his form but even his stoicism cracked a bit when my hands kept (unintentionally) slipping out of nikyo because we were slippery with sweat.

This is a valid form of training that does push physical limits but I’m damned if I can recommend it. Knowing how ones body reacts under certain forms of physical duress is useful information. That said I’m not sure how much it improves Aikido (my Aikido anyway). Perhaps summer is the time to focus an slower more controlled movement while cooler times are for training in higher gear.

Happy Rolling!


The Yonkyo Pin : 四教押さえ
July 24, 2008, 13:51
Filed under: Aikido, Japan | Tags: , , , , , , , ,

There is an ura (浦) and an omote (表) to most techniques. In some cases there are ura and omote variations of the associated pins as well (nikyou comes to mind). Some however, aren’t so obvious. For example, until very recently I had no idea that there are ura and omote variations for the yonkyo pin.

It turns out that for omote, the meaty part inside the forearm is the preferred place to apply the pin. For the ura variation, the pin is set along the radial bone.

My partner, one of the old guys (a 5th dan), is a bit of a joker so I was worried that he might be telling the blind man that his socks were on the wrong feet. However, during the jiyuwaza portion of class, my uke’s teacher (a 7th dan) grabbed me for a few throws and demonstrated the difference between the feeling of yonkyo both ways.

When performing the omote variation, if your grip is firm and your “sword cut” cut is performed as a relaxed shomen strike, the pin will be applied by the cut alone. There is no extra effort needed — just the cut. With uke pined down you should notice that the index finger applying the pin is right in the meaty part of the forearm. Similarly for ura, a relaxed kesa giri (袈裟切り : diagonal cut) to the outside will cause your index finger to apply pressure along uke’s radial bone.

As with almost all Aikido, the key in both cases seems, again, to be relaxed movement with good posture. Now, if it’s so damned simple, how can it be so hard?

30th Annual All Japan Youth Budo Demonstration
July 21, 2008, 21:43
Filed under: Aikido, Family, Japan | Tags: , , , , ,

Ray and I were on the train at 9:00 Saturday morning and met the Honbu Dojo youth group at the regular spot beside the Budokan. After waiting outside for a while and then waiting inside for a while longer it was time to dress and have lunch. Bento and tea were provided and the kids went a little stir crazy waiting for the program to kick off.

After standing for Kimigayo (the Japanese national anthem), there were several speeches by local, national and organizational dignitaries. I didn’t think this opening ceremony lasted as long as others that I’ve been through but then again, I wasn’t sitting in seiza packed shoulder to shoulder with a zillion others — Ray might have something different to say about the length of the speeches. After the ceremonial opening of the event the younger Suzuki sensei lead the whole mass of kids in slightly abridged set of traditional Aikido warm-up exercises.

The fourth grade through junior high age kids were then shooed off the mat and first through third grade students had a full class including ukemi, shiko and a handful of basic techniques. There were two other similar classes with Wakasensei teaching the fourth through sixth graders (Ray’s group) and Kanazawa sensei teaching the junior high school kids. Energy level and sophistication increased with each age level.

After the classes ended the enbu began. Students came from all over Japan to demonstrate how their schools do Aikido. There were demonstrations with one student and one teacher and others with large numbers of kids executing kata in sync. It was quite impressive and I was please with the overall level, especially that of the older junior high school kids. They did a great job!

I also found the kids-will-be-kids atmosphere in the stands fun. At one point I noticed a group of about ten kids huddled looking as though they were doing some serious plotting and planning. On closer inspection it turned out that one of the kids had brought a DS Lite and everyone was giving him advice on how to play. So much for observing the demos 🙂 At the end of the kids section Fujimaki Shihan, Sugawara Shihan and Doshu all gave demonstrations. The pictures below should tell the story better than I can describe it…

Fujimaki Shihan says its time to start the next demo!

Wakasensei shows the kids how Ikyo Ura is performed at Honbu.

Fujimaki Shihan controls the centerline…

A dynamic entry into Nikyo ura (ouch!)

Sugawara Shihan demonstrates iriminage.

Staying inside…

Doshu’s kotegaeshi

Doshu setting up kotegaeshi

This one is always a crowd pleaser –especially when the ccrowd is mostly kids!

The Home-Made Gi
July 17, 2008, 17:26
Filed under: Aikido | Tags: , , , , , ,

Dave over at Aikithoughts is making a hakama. Though, I find the fact that he even considered it impressive and that he is following through just this side of incredible, I am not inspired to imitate him and take up the needle. This isn’t about machismo — I think he’s doing something cool. The problem is, as a child, I had a traumatic experience with home-made martial arts clothing. I’m never going there again.

As a young couch potato, I watched every episode of Kung Fu the TV series. David Carradine was one of my heroes (before I knew that Bruce Lee should have had the job). At any rate, I was very much a martial artist wannabe. So, when the captain of the guard at the local prison opened up a Tae Kwon Do class at the National Guard armory, I waddled over and signed up.

Details vary between my version of this story and my parents’ but on one key point we are in agreement: my parents did not want to shill out for the clothes. After a few weeks in the class the instructor made it clear that I needed to start wearing a gi instead of sweats and teeshirt. In response, my mother made one for me (Yay!).

Students at that school wore very cool looking black karate style gi. Mine was custom tailored and, aside from lacking “snap” when I punched, it was beautiful. I was terribly excited to wear it to class.

I lined up with the rest of the class and we did the regular stretches and warm up exercises. After the mundane push-ups, sit-ups and such came the good stuff: punching and kicking practice! Punches seemed just fine though there still wasn’t any snap in the sleeves. Low kicks were fine too. Then on my first high kick of the evening, the crotch of my pants split.

This was not a little tear. It was a stem-to-stern, tweenager’s nightmare riiip heard by everyone from one end of the class to the other. To make this horror of horrors all the worse, there were girls from my school present. The rest of what happened that evening is a blur though I know I sat out the rest of class. The horror of that moment lasts on in my psyche…

OK… Maybe it was only slightly worse than a bad zit on the first day of high school but I’m still not even going to think about wearing a home-made hakama! Hell, with my luck, it would probably spontaneously combust during a test!

Anyway, good luck Dave! (and keep a fire extinguisher handy …)

Tests at Honbu
July 8, 2008, 18:44
Filed under: Aikido, Japan | Tags: , , , , , ,

On Monday, the last of the summer rank tests were completed [ed: turns out they were not the last for the summer]. Doshu called an end to class at what would normally have been the halfway point. We bowed out and Doshu left. Seki, Kobayashi and Irie Shihan came in and the doors were closed. Irie Sensei called the names of those taking tests. They lined up on the mat from lowest rank on the far right to highest on the far left. The rest of us stayed off the mat.

Seki sensei, sat to the left of the Shomen and Kobayashi and Irie sensei sat to the right. When each group of students testing were called up, they sat to the right of and perpendicular to shomen, facing Seki sensei. Uke lined up on the left side of shomen. There were three people testing for 4th kyu, two testing for 2nd kyu, one testing for shodan (初段), two testing for nidan (弐段) and one testing for sandan (三段). One of the sensei to the right called, “Shomen rei” (正面礼 : bow to the front), “otagai rei” (お互い礼: bow to each other) and the tests began.

The shodan test was very basic. Standard techniques (ikyou to yonkyou, shihonage, kotegaeshi, kaetennage, tenchinage, etc) and attacks were called and most were standing variations with only a little hanmi handachi (半身半立ち) thrown in. Three tanto tori variations were requested and jiyuwaza was called for katate-tori and shomen uchi. There was no randori for the shodan and no koshinage required.

The student testing for shodan was the second foreigner that day and he seemed to understand the Japanese that was being spoken around him. For people who do not speak Japanese but are still interested in testing at Honbu, the sensei were calling techniques using terminology that is familiar to anyone who has been studying Aikido long enough to be interested in testing at Honbu. 😉

For the nidan tests, two uke were called (I volunteered). One uke ran through the same paces as the shodan student though with a lot more hanmi handachi and longer jiyu-waza sections. When the uke were breathing hard the seconds were called in and we attacked with knives. The tanto-tori portion was also pretty short with only three variations requested. At that point, we switched to two-person randori starting with the both uke holding the the nidan candidate’s arms in _firm_ morote tori. It was fun!

This was the sandan candidate’s second attempt at this test. For his test, three uke were called and the presiding teachers called every standard technique in the book — all from hanmi handachi. The guy looked as though he was about 40 and was quite stout as well. He was blowing hard by the time the first uke was discarded as being worn-out. The second was told to strike and whole lot of jiyu-waza followed. The third uke was finally called in for sword and staff take-away (standing). They then did randori starting with two uke holding his arms and the third in a light choke (collar grab really) from behind. The main comment that the teachers made was that breath is such an essential part of the martial arts that even when exhausted and blowing wind, the tester should try to hide it.

Tech Note:
This may be standard and I have just been missing it. Hanmi handachi katatetori shihonage (半身半立ち片手取り四方投げ) was performed on the knees at all times but hanmi handachi ryotetori shihonage (半身半立ち両手取り四方投げ) ended with nage in a standing position.

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