Category Archives: Aikido

Congratulations

Well done to Simon, Ian and John in passing their grading last night.

As you can see they are not proudly wearing their yellow belts indicating their promotion to 5th kyu.

It is always difficult to keep up a reasonable level of training during the summer months. People take holidays and there is often a lack of continuity. These guys have made a consistent effort to turn up and it shows in their development.

Tony was also there last night to ratify their grading and was generally pleased with the level. This is also a relief to me as in many ways the development of these guys is a direct reflection on my teaching and Tony is putting a lot of trust in me to keep people who train on a Tuesday night in line with the club as a whole. Of course it is not too problematic because I think all these guys have attended at least some other classes with Tony.

Interestingly, Simon commented that he really enjoyed the session, that it was a good hard work out. This was despite my concern that I did not do much teaching and we did not freeplay at all. I suppose it goes to show that while demonstration and discussion is important giving people time to actually practice and work things through for themselves is crucial. I will consider this in future sessions.

Next week we begin a new beginners’ course. This will mean bringing the pace down a little for a few weeks to get the new guys and girls into the groove but will hopefully provide our new yellow belts with an opportunity to appreciate the progress they have made and while working with the new beginners they may be able to bring themselves back into the “beginner’s mind” way of thinking about their own technique.

Attack!

Tony wrote recently on the forums at http://www.londonaikido.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=155 on atemi or the practice of striking.

This is a huge topic and often completely overlooked in many aikido circles. So much so that some people would argue that aikido does not include striking. This is not so, although the focus on knockout blows that you might see in karate or some Chinese arts is fairly minimal.

Apart from the use of strikes in defending oneself (I think I have written on this before) there is obvious area of the initial attack. What are we defending ourselves from in aikido? Someone is trying to injure us or make us do something we don’t want to do like hand over our worldly goods. In most of these cases there is some form of physical attack in the way of flying fists, and in more unusual cases flying feet, knees, elbows or even head.

How can we defend ourselves from such ballistic attacks if we cannot reproduce them in training. It is therefore necessary to study, at least in part, punches and kicks and so on in order that we can then study how to deal with them. Many of the early aikido students (O Sensei’s students) were already black belts (or at least well versed) in a range of external arts such as sumo, judo, karate, jujitsu or forms of kung fu. O Sensei’s focus in training therefore was in teaching these already competent fighters how to relax, blend, control and use their “ki” to be even more effective. This has been misconstrued in some peoples minds as aikido not really doing hitting.

I believe O Sensei himself, or at least one of his top students, stated that aikido is 90% atemi!

Any way back to our training. In the past I have had difficulty getting a technique to work. I haven’t been able to off balance uke or they have managed to recover their balance and block my technique. It is important to train so that you can deal with such situation, as they will inevitably occur in real life. But I believe that in many cases the fault has been, at least partly, in a poor or uncommitted attack.

If you are supposed to be attacking someone and don’t really try to connect, either by stopping short or second guessing the technique and redirecting your attack or just not following through, then it is almost impossible to get many of the most wonderful kokyu nage throws of aikido to work. You start struggling to get the technique on, uke gets solid and nervous because you are trying to force it and what you end up with is a non-technique, either uke looks at you and nothing happens or they are kind to you and roll off without being thrown. This is not just poor aikido it is detrimental to your training and drilling into you bad practice that is really hard to remove later on.

From day one all attacks should be fully committed, honest and true. This means picking the point of attack, aiming correctly at it and following through correctly. This then gives tori every opportunity to actually practice good aikido and uke the opportunity to experience good aikido and learn more about their ukemi.

One important point: A committed attack does not necessarily mean a full force attack.

Look at the level of the person you are working with. If they are a young, strong, 5th dan who trains daily, then you should be looking to knock their head off – if that is what you have agreed! Otherwise you should be looking to temper the power of you attack accordingly.

This means going SLOWLY! Slow attacks can still be committed and provide so much more opportunity for learning that crappy uncommitted fast attacks. When things happen quickly your brain just does not have the time to process what is going on and instinctive reactions kick in. There is no learning going on. Your body is just doing what it would normally do. Research has shown that your conscious thought and control processes are about 1 to 2 seconds behind what is going on.

If your attack takes less than a second then there is little chance you are learning anything.

Think about that next time you are training. Attack slowly but with commitment. Be a good uke and allow things to progress as though you had attack fast; if you would have been off balanced if you attacked quickly then allow yourself to be so when attacking slowly, rather than cheating and using the lack of speed to allow you recover your balance. Build up the speed as tori become more comfortable with the movement; this indicates that they are transferring the technique into their unconscious control mechanisms and out of their conscious brain.

If you need any evidence of this in action, just watch any free play in class. There are some techniques that people have internalized and they appear to do these quite well at any pace – in fact they often revert to doing it over and over again. There are other times when tori just seems to freeze up and go blank – this happens at all levels. That is the time where the technique is not learnt well enough and the conscious brain is having to try to catch up with what is happening. When you see this happening, go slower …

… and train more!

Rupert leaves

Sadly Rupert informed me this week that he had to return to South Africa to sort out passport issues. It may be that his departure will be eclipsed by that of Yves but I feel it is important to note that Rupert has trained well over the last couple of years. He has always been a willing uke and open to learning. I am sure he will be missed. I only hope that he is able to find a club that he is comfortable with back home and if he returns to the UK he remembers to come back and train with us.

When you just don’t feel like coming…

Some days you are tired, unfocused, busy and you just don’t feel like going to aikido. Sometimes this hides an underlying difficulty you are having with you own aikido development. Sometimes it doesn’t.

Acknowledge to yourself that you have these feelings. They are natural. Don’t berate yourself.

Accept them and let them go. Then go to class any way.

More often than not you end up feeling a hell of a lot better for having made the effort and sometimes you find that these sessions are those when you have an epiphany or moment of clarity that you have been struggling with recently.

Of course if you end up not coming, don’t get upset either. Put that in the past and resolve to go next time you feel this way.

Nit-picking

The tube strike appears to have had an impact on numbers this week. Tuesday night stalwart Simon turned up as usual. His continued attendance and commitment is displayed in his growing aikido ability.

We mainly focused on the second section of the randori no kata for Simon’s sake but it actually was a useful session for all of us. Points that I picked on during the session included:

1) Ensure that the pins that complete the technique control the shoulder of uke. If this does not happen it is fairly easy for uke to get up even if you are applying quite a lot of pain.
2) Techniques 7 (ude gaeshi) and 9 (ude garame) are setup in this kata by uke trying to prevent the previous technique, 6 (oshi taoshi) and 8 (hiki taoshi) respectively. In order to train for these techniques correctly it is important that uke actually reacts correctly. In the case of ude gaeshi, uke must try to come back into good posture. It is no good doing this half heartedly, knowing that tori will apply ude gaeshi anyway. Tori must really try to do oshi taoshi and uke must really try to stop tori. To emphasize this we first got uke to reverse tori’s oshi taoshi with an oshi taoshi of their own. This has the helpful feature of getting uke to block the initial technique in exactly the way that leads to ude gaeshi. Once this was being done effectively, tori was then able to transition into ude gaeshi. This gave much better feel for both parties and resulted in better technique all round. The same ideas are true for 8 and 9.
3) All the controls at the end of techniques, whether pins on the floor or standing locks should not require any muscle strength to maintain. Otherwise how are you going to keep someone controlled for a long period of time, may be until the police or help arrives? If you are getting pumped and tense when controlling people then you are doing it wrong. Try to find comfortable positions to stand in where the control is primarily provided by the skeleton and body weight.
4) Finally as always, it is vitally important that uke’s balance is broken. A compliant uke will go down with any old dross but a resisting one will just stand there and look at you unless you break their balance. Breaking balance is so fundamental it should be considered for every technique in every class. You can only control someone larger and stronger than you if their balance is broken. This was demonstrated rather badly by all of us in our little session of aiki sumo at the end of the class.

Ura Waza

We had a fairly uneventful session on Tuesday. We covered a handful of the techniques from the counters kata (randori-no-kata-no-ura-waza). In this kata one person attacks (shomen), the second attempts one of the randori-no-kata 17 techniques and the original attacker counters the technique with a further technique. Due to the similarities of the entrance to a number of techniques in the randori-no-kata there are only 10 counter techniques in the ura-waza. We managed to get through about 5 of them; not bad going since the majority (all except Jun and Leonard) were yellow belt or below.

I got a few shots on the camera and will intersperse the text here with a few of the more interesting ones.

The counter techniques in this kata are all about timing, blending and taking control of the situation. If any of these three principles are missing then the counter will not work.


If you mistime when to counter a technique you either are too late and get thrown or you are too early (not sure if this is possible in reality…) and the attacker realises what you are doing and stops you.

If you do not blend with the attacker then you will end up fighting against their technique and the person with the most power will win. This point is tightly linked with timing. You can only blend if the timing is right and if you do not blend then that often means that you mistimed or you simple don’t understand the direction and goals of the counter.


Finally you must then take over the technique. It is all well and good blending into a technique with perfect timing but then not controlling the centre, having bad posture and ultimately giving the technique back. Part of the beauty of good counters is that the other person really thinks that they are going to throw you and suddenly the tables are turned and they find themselves on the floor. Wonderful stuff when you pull it off.

Of course everything that I have just said is also true for all aikido techniques, whether techniques from simple attacks or from counters. The nice thing about counter techniques is that they force you to consider these things more closely. It also provides the basis for more free flowing aikido. For instance, once you can string a few counters together it is possible to practice a form of freeplay sparring where neither partner is the attacker or thrower but both more through a series of attempted techniques, trying to control their partners balance and movement. This takes a long time to achieve and often ends up in battles of strength for those who don’t have the skill not to resist and don’t understand the point of the training.

Finally a note about the word(s) ura-waza. I am not quite sure why this kata uses these words to distinguish it from the randori-no-kata. In most aikido schools ura-waza refers to techniques that are effected from behind uke, usually through a turning motion. This is compared to omote, where the technique is done across and infront of uke. An online dictionary that I used gives the this definition for ura : “reverse side, wrong side, back, undersurface”. This makes sense in the traditional sense of aikido technique. (Omote is defined as “surface, front, right side, face, exterior”).


Interestingly the single word urawaza was defined as “underhanded trick”. Now this kind of makes sense. I can imagine a poor student is being attacked by their sensei and thinks they are about to pop a nice technique on when wallop the cheating sensei sends them flying with an underhanded trick, er, I mean, counter technique.

My own take on all of this is that ura refers to a change of direction (going the reverse (wrong) side rather than the front (right) side. In this sense a counter technique is a change of direction (both physical and metaphorical) so that (s)he who was controlling and throwing now becomes the controlled and thrown.

There is also the issue of the shichi-hon-no-ura-waza. In this case the 7 kuzushi (balance breaking) techniques of the shichi-hon are turned into slightly more effective throws, primarily through a change of direction. Considering the more traditional usage of ura and omote, there is a lot of confusion here. Arguably the first two of the ura waza are actually omote while the next four are mostly ura. I am not entirely sure where I stand on the last one probably more tenkai than ura or omote but what do I know?

What fun can be had when you get into the semantics of foreign words in technical context?

Looking forward to seeing everyone back in classes in September, fresh from their holidays and ready for some hard training in the run up to John Waite’s visit and on toward Christmas.

Freeplay

It is a long running debate in martial arts circles as to the efficacy or realism of training. It is easy to argue that in kata the point of the training is to learn the movements of the technique and so the level of “realism” can be minimal. Similar to slip catching practice in cricket, the batsman purposefully edges the ball to allow the fielders to practice catching – one could say that you would never get such easy catches in reality, the batsman wouldn’t be edging it so nicely and might be trying to smash the ball, and so on. But the point is that you need to set up a situation that allows development of the technique.

Freeplay on the other hand always gets a bad rap. People look at it and claim that the attacker is not really trying; that in reality they would never leave their arm out that long; they would follow up with another attack; and so on. This is all valid but also misses the point. Freeplay is not a fight nor a competition to see who can knock the other person down. Freeplay is yet another opportunity for developing your technique. As such the attacker should be attacking in a way that pushes the defender to their limit but no more. If this means single slow telegraphed attacks, then so be it. The interesting thing to focus on in freeplay is starting to work under a bit of pressure and allowing techniques to come more freely than in kata. If the attacks are too strong or fast then more often than not the defender loses it, freezes or reverts to some subconscious response – perhaps a previous style of martial art or something more primeval learnt in the playground! In both these cases the benefit of training is lost – at least in terms of developing your aikido.

When doing freeplay: Don’t worry about the realism until you can easily handle what is coming at you; Don’t be afraid to ask the attacker to slow down; and most of all concentrate on what you are trying to get out of the practice – sloppy physical techniques are not good aikido and you are teaching you body bad habits.

See you in a couple of weeks.

Sticks out

As very few people (three) turned up I thought we would have a play with the sticks or jo to be more precise. Fortunately Tony popped his head in so we were able to unlock the weapons box and have one each.

Here we have Manny practicing a straight jo strike, tsuki. Most of the Tomiki kata that include jo use this strike to initiate the movement. One can imagine having a pointy bit or even a blade on the end of the jo and you are trying to impale your opponent on it.

Of course there are lots of ways of doing damage with a jo as well as poking people with it including swinging it.

The real benefit of using a jo for me is that it is an extension of your own body. In this respect it emphasizes aikido movement that is more subtle in open handed techniques. Also the longer reach of the jo means that you can upset uke’s balance more obviously. Here we were practising projecting uke as they try to grab the end of the jo. You can see how much more you can off balance uke without over reaching yourself.

We played around with a few techniques. One of my favourites being a mae otoshi on uke who is trying to tsuki you in the stomach. Here we are looking at the hand positioning. This is great as you can really get a lot of leverage on the arm to help lift and project uke. We also did a technique that you can use if uke tries to block the mae otoshi. I had real trouble getting this to work with John, he seemed to be unbendable at the waist, which shows good posture. This was very interesting for me and I am going to have to work on the positioning, angle of movement and my posture to see if I can sort that one out. Thanks for the lesson, John.

Finally a note of caution to myself. The day before class I had been shown some jo against jo techniques. This was great fun and I thought we could have a go at them in class. I don’t think it went very well, mostly because I didn’t have a good enough grasp of the movement to teach it effectively.

“Make sure you know what you are teaching.” Or at least don’t pretend to know and make sure people realise that this bit is experimental, I think they quite enjoy that.

On entering

Many (if not all) of the randori no kata are irimi (entering) techniques. I think I mentioned that in an earlier blog. The key to entering into someone’s space is to ensure that they lose their posture and you keep yours. It is no good moving in close to your attacker if you are bent over accommodating their position and they are all over you.

A classic technique where this happens a lot is gedan ate. Since we need to get low and under the uke’s arms to target the hips for a throw, it is common for people to lean forward and fit their bodies into the shape provided by uke. It is really easy then for uke to lean their body weight forward and down on you to block your technique. It is important that you enter into the position with a straight vertical back, head up. It is most likely you need to get low and below uke’s arms and in line with the hips but this must be done by lowering the knees. The feeling is that as you begin to make contact, with the lower arm and elbow into uke’s stomach area, you are sliding into their position and they are being off balanced. The off balance has to occur throughout from the moment (or before if possible) contact is made. In that way when you get to the point of throwing uke is already going down and the throw is academic; just a matter of turning the hips and maintaining your own posture and balance.

All other irimi techniques require this kind of attention to posture when entering. You can think about aigamae ate, wake gatame and shiho nage in the same way. If at any point during the technique you give back the posture to uke then you have lost the technique. Other techniques such as oshi taoshi and ude garame have a different moment of entering, slightly later after some earlier movement, but the principle still applies. When you are entering you must take control of uke’s space and posture and keep control until they are thrown.