Little House In Ise


Yet More Shihonage Technotes
December 10, 2010, 17:46
Filed under: Aikido | Tags: , , ,

Here are a list of shihonage (四方投げ) concepts that have helped me a lot. Please note that I am not claiming that any are the One True Way. Rather, this is my understanding at this moment. My understanding is subject to regular, painful (to me), evolution. As such, when next I write about Shihonage I may hold the belief that it can only be performed under the influence of grass hula-skirts and coconut shells.

I remember being taught shihonage by a sempai who insisted that nage has to be shoulder-to-shoulder with uke when executing the technique. That’s fine and dandy but it is possible to gain significant mechanical advantage for nage if they enter deeply enough to place their shoulder slightly behind that of uke. This will allow nage to use their own shoulder as a fulcrum. Really, this is cool, try it.

There is a saying among jujutsuka: “Attack pain”. Cranking on uke’s elbow can work but it may also telegraph an intention thus providing uke with a focal point to resist and attack their pain. I believe that the goal of this technique should be for uke to not feel as though anything is wrong until it is catastrophically too late.

With that in mind, extending Uke’s arm is what I see as key to the core of shihonage. Cranking up uke’s elbow can work and there is some serious martial validity in doing something that makes uke feel as though their arm is about to break but they will know that something is going on that is bad for them. If nage forms their arms into a broad circle with uke’s arm resting on top nage’s they can then lower their center and smoothly rotate from their hips. At all times through this rotation, nage’s hands should be directly in front of their own body with feeling of forward extension.

At the ultimate point of rotation and extension, nage should end up facing uke’s back or at worst their ear. If you nage does not rotate that far and winds up trying to throw against the direction uke is facing then uke is in a much stronger position to escape or counter.

One ugly counter from this position is for uke to simply reach around with their free hand and grab the back of nage’s gi. If uke can maintain their grip, nage’s throw will take both down with momentum in uke’s favor.

Finally, to cut down or cut out? Both work and I think both should be practiced. Lately, I have preferred to cut down to my foot as that keeps me in position to hold uke by putting my weight on their elbow while holding it across their face.

When executed properly, even shihonage can leave uke with that irritating “Why am I on the ground?” feeling.

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Other Epiphanies
December 2, 2010, 08:51
Filed under: Aikido | Tags: ,

The other day I partnered with one of the uchi-deshi and got half of a great practice. Unfortunately for me, he had to leave midway to help with the 7:00AM beginner class. When he left I went looking for a pair to join.

The first were two young women, both about a head shorter than me who looked as though they were having a lot of fun together. Cutting in seemed rude so I went on to the next pair — an odd couple. One was a very tall, French, fifth dan and the other a Nepalese mudansha about my height. They were having a serious exchange in which the big guy was pounding the crap out of the mudansha (in a loving and caring sort of way). My playful side called out and they offered to let me play too.

The mudansha is a physically strong and flexible fellow who also studies karate and judo. Altogether that made working with him interesting. He fought every technique so I very carefully splattered him to a degree that he seemed to find satisfying and occasionally broke out of his pins to show that I really was paying attention.

The tall French sempai was altogether a different story. In terms of proficiency, the difference between us was not quite as great as that between me and the mudansha — I really want to believe that but it may just be hubris. He made me earn every throw and pin while calmly and casually reversing every opening.

Kobayashi sensei was substituting for Doshu that morning and he came by a few times and watched us. I’m not sure why but once he sort of shook his head, smiled and wandered away. It wasn’t that we were intentionally ignoring what he had demonstrated but rather there were such vast differences in size, strength, skill and intent that exactly replicating what he demonstrated was difficult. Watching the mudansha trying to perform morote tori kokyu nage (諸手取り呼吸投げ: two handed breath throw) on a guy thirty centimeters taller and five black belt ranks above him was not so much a study of how to do the technique as it was a study of how to teach someone how to do it.

In the end, that was my biggest take-away from the class. Too frequently, morotedori techniques are executed in ways that, at least to me, seem ineffectual. Sempai provided understandable instruction on how to turn the elbow in, align his posture and extend while rooting through his trailing foot. Somewhere along the way the mudansha’s techniques became more effective. He will not run out and take his black belt test tomorrow based on what he learned in that class but between start and
finish it was pretty clear that he had experienced an “Aha!” of some sort. I carefully stored that away with the hope that someday I will be able to provide someone with a similar epiphany.



A Meeting on a Bridge
November 26, 2010, 14:43
Filed under: Aikido, Japan | Tags: , , , , ,

I was walking across a bridge one day, and I saw a man standing on the edge, about to jump off. So I ran over and said, “Stop! Don’t do it!”
“Why shouldn’t I?” he asked.
I said, “Well, there’s so much to live for!”
He said, “Like what?”
I said, “Well… are you religious or atheist?”
He said, “Religious.”
I said, “Me too! Are you Christian or Buddhist?”
He said, “Christian.”
I said, “Me too! Are you Catholic or Protestant?”
He said, “Protestant.”
I said, “Me too! Are you Episcopalian or Baptist?”
He said, “Baptist!”
I said, “Wow! Me too!
Are you Baptist Church of God or Baptist Church of the Lord?”
He said, “Baptist church of God!”
I said, “Me too! Are you original baptist church of God, or are you
reformed baptist church of God?”
He said, “Reformed baptist church of God!”
I said, “Me too! Are you reformed baptist church of God, reformation of
1879, or reformed baptist church of God, reformation of 1915?”
He said, “Reformed baptist church of God, reformation of 1915!”
I said, “Die, heretic scum”, and pushed him off.

— Emo Phillips
(NOTE: I first read this as an Isaac Asimov joke but the only internet reference I could find was for Philips.)

The more similar two groups are, the more their tiny differences seem to matter. That said, I recently met a man who has managed to put aside some extreme similarity between groups. In the process, he has also had to lay his ego aside in a way that I found even more impressive.

In order to preserve this fellow’s anonymity I won’t go into too much detail. Suffice it to say that while browsing through an Aikido blog I bumped into some videos that contained a familiar face. In the videos the familiar face was a black belt of the Yoshinkan and the person who I was aware of had an Aikikai white belt. This was almost enough to make me believe that the similarity was pure chance but when I saw him I asked. Sure enough, he admitted that he was the guy in the video.

My curiosity kicked into high-gear and I quizzed him all the way to the bicycle rack where we parted. Though I am also interested in the circumstances that caused him to switch to Aikikai, they are his and not the business of this blog. My interest is technical. It has been years since I have had a chance to study with a student of Shioda Sensei’s lineage and I am fascinated by the prospect of his perspective.

Even given my belief that everyone we train with has something to offer, I almost missed this opportunity because of the guy’s white belt. I don’t avoid white belts, I just tend to seek out sempai to train with. Please read this as a sign of selfishness rather than petty elitism. Because of that, I have been missing out on chances to work with someone with significant and different Aikido experience just because of the silly white belt and my perceptions! I hate it when trip over my ego!

It is this man’s defeat of ego that has most impressed me. It turns out that the guy not only had a black belt but he was a fourth dan. He chose to go from fourth dan to white belt… in the same art. Though pursuit of rank is not my reason for being, rank progression does have its importance. Ranks are useful for setting goals, can be handy for guesstimating energy level at which you can safely work with a new partner and are a fine way to honor effort and accomplishment. To be honest, I don’t know whether I could put down my own rank and start over from zero in another branch of Aikido. This guy did exactly that.

Pushing heretics off bridges is getting harder every day.



Weapons Training at Honbu: The Kinjo Meiwaku Theory
November 24, 2010, 12:27
Filed under: Aikido, Japan | Tags: , , , , , , ,

In some parts of the Aikikai discussion of weapons training in can sometimes cause almost religious levels of dispute. I have heard very serious Aikidoka tell me that O Sensei “gave” weapons to Iwama but not to Honbu and that, in some way, proves the superiority of Iwama flavored Aikido. Without getting into the “what is better” or even “what is closer to tradition” arguments. I would like to propose a theory as to why weapons are not typically taught at Honbu.

Aikido Honbu Dojo (its official name) was built in Ushigome Wakamatsu-cho (later just Wakamatsu-cho). Despite the name (牛込:”ushi gome” means “crowded with cows”) the area was residential even when the original dojo was built. Now the neighborhood is packed with single-family residences, multi-story condominiums (called “mansions” in Japanese) and apartment buildings.

The residential Tokyo feel of Honbu contrasts strongly with the Iwama dojo which is nestled in a farming area slowly evolving towards being more residential. The neighborhood has many large vegetable patches, flower and traditional gardens as well as the occasional rice paddy and working farm. The area is also relatively thick with trees and the nearest neighbors are more than a stones-throw away.

Compared to Tokyo, Iwama is spacious and open. So much so that outdoor weapons training is not uncommon. The high ceilings and light fixtures at Honbu show that when it was rebuilt in 1967 someone had been thinking about swinging weapons. Even so, there is no space outside for students to do similar outdoor practice. If anyone were to do so the neighbors would be irritated and uchikomi (striking) with bundles of bound sticks or car-tires would certainly draw protests.

At the start of normal classes, which may be the loudest portion, the windows are closed to minimize disturbance to the neighbors. Also, in most flavors of Honbu Aikido there is very little use of kiai or other yelling. In fact, people who grunt or make “Ha” sounds are discouraged from doing so. Quite the opposite is true in Iwama where shouts of “Hap!” and “Ho!” are the norm especially during weapons work!

It is my contention that it was merely a matter of being a good neighbor that caused Honbu to go down a path of not teaching weapons extensively. Later, courtesy likely became custom then finally policy. There are still weapons requirements for testing at Honbu and one can occasionally see Doshu practicing suburi privately, so, it is possible to say that weapons are still an element of Honbu Aikido though certainly much less than in Iwama.

Based on this reasoning, there are clearly elements of modern Aikikai Aikido that are more closely linked with environment than with the philosophy or martial spirit of the founder. This then raises the question, what else? What other aspects of Aikido technique, teaching or logic may have been changed to suit differing environments?



Ray
October 18, 2010, 22:02
Filed under: Aikido, Family | Tags: , ,

Last week I had one of the most wonderful experiences of my career in Aikido. I attended another weapons training camp in Iwama but that wasn’t it. I met, trained with and swapped gossip with a famous American teacher but that wasn’t it either. The wonderful experience was that my son attended his first adult class, Doshu’s ichiban geiko, and trained with me.

The previous week I had watched Doshu vigorously throwing Waka-Sensei around and when it was over Doshu tossed in some gentle fatherly ribbing. It looked like great fun and when Doshu saw my smile he asked what was up with that. I told him that I wished that I could do that with my son too. When Doshu found out that Ray was eleven, he told me to bring him in on a school holiday. That was it, official sanction for something that I’d been wanting to do for quite awhile.

The following Monday was a national holiday and on most national holidays Honbu Dojo is closed. However this was “Sports Day” and the Dojo stayed open for some classes. With school closed Ray didn’t have an excuse to NOT go to morning class. On his own he is an early riser so I didn’t feel too guilty booting him out of bed and tossing him his dogi. After much complaining he gave in to the inevitable and we biked over.

As we entered the dojo, Ray handed over his member card and formally announced to the people at the desk that he would be attending today’s class. I was surprised, the uchi-deshi behind the desk amused and Doshu seemed totally confused until he saw me smiling and pointing. Doshu smiled and nodded and so we went in — first hurdle cleared with extra-style points awarded for Ray’s little announcement.

In the third floor changing room I put on my hakama and Ray worriedly looked around at the crowd. The place can get pretty packed and there were several tour groups in that day from Russia, France (of course) and Scotland. It was crowded.

I mentioned to Ray that the warm-up was different than he was used to so he could just follow along. He did and had no problems. I picked a spot near the “Silver corner” where the crazy old men work out. Ray said that wanted to meet Yoda and then asked about another of my favorite old-guys. Sadly, Yoda was out that day but he did say hello to quite a few of the codgers.

This was our first time to take a class together and train as partners. Ray went out of his way to throw me as hard as he could and for a pre-2nd kyu, his kotegaeshi and shihonage are pretty hard-core. This was his first ever adult class and as icing on the cake, Doshu came around twice to throw him. Afterward, Ray said it was physically really hard but he wanted to come and do it again. Appropriate superlatives to describe how that made me feel just sound silly — I was, and am, ridiculously proud of my son.



48th All Japan Aikido Demonstration

Day by day for the last two weeks the mats at Aikikai Honbu dojo have grown crowded as Aikidoka from all over the world trickled into Tokyo. They have come to view and participate in the 48th All Japan Aikido Demonstration at the Nippon Budokan.

Unlike previous years, this time I attended only as a proud papa and spectator. My main goals were to watch my daughter perform (my son had a science fair) and meet Ueda Shihan from Ise. Since I went with my daughter we arrived about three hours after the event started and then spent the better part of an hour trying to find her again (I lost the whole group right away) I didn’t actually watch much of the demonstration at all. Once the kids were sorted out, I received a phone call from Sensei and met him in front.

Having seen fewer demonstrations this year than at any event previously, I wasn’t able to take as many pictures as I would have liked. The few that I did take I’ve posted below.

After the demonstration, I met Ueda Sensei and the Mie-ken Aikidokai group at the Tokyo Prince Hotel — the one below the Tokyo Tower. After a bit of wandering we found a nice izakaya there in Akasaka. Over dinner, Sensei’s perspective and wisdom flowed with the beer. As usual, when spending time with him I felt as though I should have been taking notes. His ideas about Aikido, life and education are fascinating.

Two younger men sat with us at dinner and sensei quizzed them about the demonstrations. He asked the younger of the two, a new shodan, what he had been watching at the demonstration. The young man replied that he had been watching and trying to learn waza. Sensei responded that that he was crazy to try. Rather than waza, he said, manners and behavior of the uke were paramount. He said to watch how they bow. Remember how the give and receive weapons. He was especially adamant that just observing how the more senior teachers sat and stood should be food for thought.

Later on, when discussing education, sensei mentioned that he was now of an age that no one scolded him anymore and he missed it. His point was that when a teacher or parent scolds their child they are showing that they care. They are providing life lessons and, sadly, once a person reachers a certain age, the mentors in our lives seem to disappear. Becoming an adult capable of self direction and self correction is what growing up is all about but, even so, a friendly slap on the back followed by a “WHAT were you thinking when you did that?” is something that one eventually learns to miss. He told me that he hoped Doshu would scold me more.

The next day we stopped at Tully’s while his students attended Doshu geiko. He very kindly said that though we only meet once a year, it feels far more frequent than that. I agreed but do wish that I could speak with him more often. As always, I appreciated the time sensei gave me and I take his words to heart. I will endeavor to incorporate his wisdom in my life.



Evening Class
May 15, 2010, 18:07
Filed under: Aikido | Tags: , ,

I had the opportunity to enjoy an evening class recently (ed. it was March). This usually just means a new set of students with whom to train but in this case it also meant a new Honbu Shihan. I had never trained under this sensei but had heard a bit of grousing about his teaching style, mind you, the harshest complaint I had heard was that he talks too much in class. For an Aikido sensei, he did talk more than I am used to but it certainly didn’t slow the class down. I actually enjoyed the slightly different flavor.

Early in the class sensei approached a student who arrived late. The student apologized for being tardy but sensei brushed that off and replied, “In the old days, teachers would get angry when students arrived late. Now we are just happy that you come at all. Thank you for coming to my class”. Hearing that sort of attitude expressed by a senior (in rank and years) sensei was refreshing.

My partner that evening was an Iranian with a particularly martial flair to his movements. Every entry and most turns had some sort of nasty little atemi. Every time I threw an atemi into him he blocked appropriately. As class progressed, we also progressively increased our intensity. Space was limited so we neither threw too high nor too hard but we did move and strike quickly. Despite the speed our Aikido itself was pretty calm and smooth (my body just moves better in the evening). Every-so-often we tried reverses but even then avoided brute force. Even so, Sensei noticed us and made a point of stopping us for a moment. He said that when we go back to our countries to teach we couldn’t just teach the “hard stuff” we also had to demonstrate soft Aikido as well.

Thoughts of home have been coming to me more frequently lately and this reminder of it in an Aikido context was oddly disconcerting. One moment I was keeping a very serious martial artist from punching my throat and the next I was thinking of family, friends and life at home — very distracting. It was flattering that he seems to expect us both to teach.

All in all, it was a good evening and my partner was brilliant. I had not trained with an Iranian before and can only believe that when he does return to his home country he will have a wealth of Aikido to teach.




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