Little House In Ise


Sankyo Technote
January 26, 2010, 15:16
Filed under: Aikido | Tags: , , ,

The other day I was training with a very energetic Sempai from New York. He introduced me to an interesting “test” for sankyo (3教: third teaching).

Once a student of Aikido learns how to adjust their own position and the angle of uke’s arm such that uke’s balance is taken, then the technique becomes quite easy when it is applied via uke’s finger tips. Since Yoda has spent a lot of time working my fingers I am well aware of that option and have studiously incorporated it into my own Aikido toolbox. The premise of Senpai’s test was that, on a certain level, using uke’s fingertips can become a “cheat” and an element of aiki may be lost.

Since the bio-mechanically un-favorable (for uke) leverage available through their bent fingers gives nage a great advantage, sempai suggested that applying sankyo to uke’s wrist, at about the same point as one might apply yonkyo, was a better test. Applying it above the hand and fingers “forces” nage to relax in order to allow the technique to work. It becomes more clear when nage tries to muscle the technique than when it’s applied to one’s hand. Relaxed movement takes the fight out of the technique.

This is just a test of balance and relaxation, the correct form is whatever sensei says it is but, when doing free practice, give this a try. I found it much easier to feel where I was muscling my way through.

Happy Rolling!



Bullshit Artistry
January 17, 2010, 14:06
Filed under: Expat, Japan | Tags:

I just read a story about how Mark Spitz convinced Russian Olympic swimming coaches that his mustache gave him a fluid-dynamic advantage over bare faced swimmers. He then claimed that the following year all of the Russian swimmers competed with mustaches. True or not, this is a beautiful piece of bullshit artistry. Respect! It got me thinking of my personal favorite moment of well-timed story telling.

I was riding a bus home from work on a sunny Seattle day when the young man standing next to me started chatting up a pair of Japanese exchange students. Normally, this wouldn’t have registered but we were standing next to each other and he was making a his move in Japanese. I couldn’t help but eavesdrop a bit. After much giggling and such his stop arrived and he got off the bus. The girls continued to laugh about about how the pick-up artist had hit on them. Just as my own stop was approaching one of them said she was shocked that an American could speak Japanese so well. That was my trigger…

I turned to the two of them and, in my best hick Japanese dialect, told them that ALL Americans can speak Japanese, we just pretend not to. And I got off the bus. Their expressions were worth it.

For bullshit to rise to an art form, opportunities given must be accepted.



Koshi Toshi Keiko and other New Year’s Festities
January 11, 2010, 00:35
Filed under: Aikido, Expat, Japan | Tags: , , ,

The crowd for Honbu Dojo’s New Years Eve training was huge. I counted nine rows of people wall-to-wall and may have missed some. The normal for morning class is only about five rows and that can be pretty crowded. The mat was packed! With Doshu leading class we started promptly at 11:30. Warm ups were quick. We did rowing exercise on the left then tama furui undo (玉不利運動: lit. shaking the ball exercise), then on the right. Class then followed Doshu’s regular pattern though we did change partners each technique.

The crowd was so thick that ukemi was often impossible. Most techniques ended at kuzushi but some we did take to the floor — especially those where we started on our knees. For some reason, I had been expecting a more casual atmosphere without a lot of serious work but there were so many visitors from around the country who wanted to train hard that it was a quite a good class even without being able to do much ukemi. The fellow with whom I partnered for sankyo was especially interesting to work with. His blend into sankyo wasn’t a big deal (he kind of reached out, grabbed and twisted) but once sankyo was on he started playing with my balance in interesting ways. I took that as granting permission for me to do the same thing and we did some pretty good experimentation with very close-quarters kuzushi. It was an excellent practice. I looked up at some point and noticed that the new year had begun without comment.

After class there was a quick clean up and distribution of low tables. Bottles of sake, juice and snacks were laid out and those of us gathered at the back were herded into seats. I sat with a group of other foreigners front row center. We were literally right in front of Doshu and Waka Sensei. After the Kanpai I took advantage of my position and turned and wished them both happy New Year. I figured a line would form soon and I didn’t want to be in it. Sure enough, minutes later a queue had formed with visitors stopping by to give their good wishes for the new year and offering to pour sake for sensei.

The conversation was fun and I mingled a bit with friends and strangers. Afterward we were reminded repeatedly that the dojo is in a residential neighborhood so we needed to be quiet. With so many people coming and going at 2AM the reminder had to be made many times. I went on to a party at the home of some friends and, after shooing everyone out, the Honbu staff had their party. I hope they had fun — they had worked so hard to make everything just right for the rest of us.

After several more Aikido-free days it was finally time for the opening class of the new year, Keiko Hajime, on the sixth. Almost the whole teaching staff of Honbu made an appearance and trained in Doshu’s class. The class itself started with Waka Sensei leading the Honbu Shihan to the shomen where, as one, they made their New Years greeting. They then returned to the back of the dojo and stayed for class. Though I did not train with any of them, it was amazing seeing them all together and being surrounded by shihan on the mat.

And then on the following Sunday was Kagami Biraki. Aside from the staggeringly massive crowd on the third floor, the most striking thing to me was that the pile of sake barrels beside the shomen had grown huge. Since New Years eve there had been three barrels, two massive ones from organizations in Japan and a “small” one from France decorating the dojo. Today however the pile had grown significantly. Which of course left me the mini mystery of when does the dojo open the barrels and drink the sake?

The ceremony itself was relatively short and if it weren’t for greetings from politicians it could have gone quickly. Doshu gave a quick enbu in the very crowded space in front of the shomen. It was his normal smooth, controlled Aikido but it seemed to me that he probably wanted more room to “open up” and really throw his uke. Perhaps I read more into his expression than was there but the space was very tight. After his enbu, promotion announcements were made and Doshu presented certificates to representatives for each rank. After the last certificate, seventh dan, was distributed a list of names and ranks of everyone promoted was unveiled on the back wall. A friend, Shanon (tall, strong, talented New Zealander) was promoted to 3 dan — too cool!

After the ceremony came the festivities. Tables were brought in and guests were squeezed out to the fourth floor and kids to the second floor. More bottles of sake, bowls of shiroko (sweet bean soup with a lump of mochi freshly pounded that morning by all the uchi deshi and staff) were distributed and a lot of merry-making ensued. In the process I found out what happens to the barrels of sake. They will be stored until the next occasion when sake is needed and then tapped and siphoned into bottles. The sake bottles spread out all over the dojo were filled from sake barrels received last year. A neat system.

Once again, Happy New Year!




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