Sunday, December 27, 2009

Shomenuchi Ikkyo omote. Adapting to reality

Basic shomenuchi ikkyo omote
Initial hand placement
Basic Shomenuchi Ikkyo Omote initial hand placement
Shomenuchi ikkyo omote is the first control technique used by Tori to defend against an overhead attack by Uke. Uke's action is the empty hand equivalent of an overhead sword cut or kiri-oroshi. In this technique Tori intercepts and redirect Uke's forwards and downwards slash upwards and backwards towards the attacker by cupping the Uke's elbow with his left hand and slicing Uke's right forearm with his own right arm. This way of applying the technique is fine if the two partners are about the same size and weight. Have you wonder how to apply ikkyo omote to a fully committed attacking partner who is one head taller, has longer limbs and weighs more than you? Imagine trying to stop or to redirect a runaway freight train coming your way.

Intercepting Uke's upper arm
A humbling lesson from a beginner
Many years ago when I first started teaching Aikido in INTi, I asked a beginner student to attack me with shomenuchi. That person was one head taller than me had long arms and legs and easily weighed 90 kg. In comparison I was a midget as my height was up to his shoulder level only and weighed 56 kg.

When I asked the big guy to attack in a
Close up of Tori's initial
hand placement
committed way he did exactly as he was told. When I tried to redirect Uke's cut in the convention way that I was taught the impact sent my two hands collapsing towards my face. If  I had not retreated two steps backwards and stiffen my spine to brace against the attack Uke's forearm would have flatten my nose and smashed my teeth. That evening I went home with a sore forearm and a sprained back, and of course a very bruised ego.
Another view of Tori's
initial hand placement

Adaptive use of the initial shomenuchi hand placement
The problem is that if the attacker is taller than you and with longer hands it is difficult to reach for his arm and forearm on the Uke's upswing hand. By the time you intercept Uke's attacking hand it is on the downswing, almost mid-way to getting hit on the face. In this position your two outstretched hands, instead of deflecting the attacking force upwards become a focus of support for Uke's downwards cut. Thus unless Uke stops or slows his attack momentary for Tori to play catch-up Uke's attacking hand can slice through Tori's weak defence to slam on your face.

After some analytical thinking and experimentation I found out that by extending both hands together to meet Uke's upper arm instead of cupping Uke's elbow with one hand and trying to reach for his forearm with the other it is possible to catch Uke on his upswing yet preserving your own center without over-extending your body and take Uke down at his most vulnerable position. Thus by a slight adaptation of the initial hand placement I could take down guys taller and heavier than me and still preserve the essence of O Sensei's teachings. I would like to share this little piece of discovery with the reader. Imagine you are Tori and Uke attacks shomenuchi with his right hand.

1. Stand on right hanmi guard. Uke is standing on left hanmi guard
2. Watch Uke's body language especially his shoulders. When Uke raise his right hand over head to cut he has to rotate his shoulder first.
3. At the slightest rotation of his right shoulder you step in, your torso as plumb as possible and your two hands extended forward forming a wedge shape, slightly bent at the elbows and in a state of relaxed extension. You may have to bend your knees slightly in order to keep a straight back while in motion.
Final takedown

5. Use your legs to move into Uke's space while he is raising his hands over his head and not bend your body forwards at the waist.
6. You must time your movement in such a way that your right and left hands make contact with his attacking upper arm at the same instant, just below his shoulder at the end of the upward swing of his right hand. Your right hand should make contact with Uke's upper arm along the edge while the left hand slightly trailing the right cup the Uke's arm lightly with the palm. At the same time you must angle your body slightly offline from Uke's line of attack.
7. As the uke steps forward with his right leg and tries to swing his right hand downwards to cut, your two extended hands will hinder uke from initiating the downwards cut at the same time breaking Uke's body structure.
8. Once Uke's boy structure is broken, you slide your right hand from uke's right upper hand downwards towards the direction of his wrist at the same time controlling Uke's arm with your left hand. By this time uke would be bending backwards due to loss of structure. You then twist Uke's hands with your right hand at Uke's wrist and your left hand at Uke's shoulder. From this point onwards you advance forward and take Uke down in the conventional manner.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Systema roll vs the Aikido roll.

Appearance can be deceptive
Outwardly the Systema roll looks different from the Aikido roll. That is only as far as the appearance goes. The principle governing
the two are essential the same though the form and shape between them may be different. Let us look at how the Systema and the Aikido practitioners do the forward rolls.

The Systema roll
The practitioner aligns his torso square with the direction that he is going to roll. He lowers his body vertically downwards to a squatting position and gather his two palms in front of his chest, similar to the movement of a swimmer at the start of the breast stroke. As he bends forward and downwards he sweeps his hand outwards in a big arch again like the shape of the end
Systema Roll
Aikido Roll
of the swimmer's breast stroke. With the right palm pressing against the floor, the left hand and palm rotating outwards to face the ceiling and his head turned towards the right side he eases his body forwards and downwards towards the floor. Using his left shoulder and the hand as a temporary support he swings his legs over his head to complete the forward roll. The path of the roll is diagonal starting with the left shoulder down the left hand across the spine as he comes out of the forward roll on the right side.

The Aikido roll
The Aikido practitioner aligns his body sideways (hanmi stance) parallel to the direction of the forward roll. He bends his body forwards from the waist at the same time gradually bends his knees. He extends his right and left hands forward at the hip level, the right hand in front and the left hand trailing slightly behind the right hand. With the right hand pointing towards the torso and the left hand pointing forwards, both palms facing the floor the two hands act as an elastic bridge in the shape of a arch. As he projects his body forwards and downwards he maintains the bridge-hand form until the time when he is about to make contact with the floor. Just before the body slam the Aikidoka swings his right hand forwards and downwards to touch the floor ahead of the rest of the body. The right hand acts as feelers and sensors to guide the roll along the right shoulder down the right hand, cross the spine to the left side of his body. To soften the impact of the body hitting the floor he slams his left hand on the floor as he rolls out on his left side. Similar to the Systema practitioner, the path of the roll is diagonal starting with the right shoulder, down the right hand across the spine he comes out of the forward roll on the left side.

The shared rolling principle
In Systema rolling the path of the roll is diagonal starting from the shoulder on one side of the body down the same side hand, then across the spine on the torso and exit on the opposite side of the body. The Aikido practitioner also executes the forward roll along a diagonal pathway crossing from one side of the body to the opposite side.

What is different between the two are the forms. The Systema practitioner approaches the roll with his torso square with the direction of the roll. He initiates the forward roll by lowering his body vertically by bending his knees, then as his shoulder make contact with the floor he gradually eases his hips and legs over his head.

The Aikido practitioner likes to stand sideways parallel to the direction of the roll. He initiates the roll by lowering his knees slightly and bends his body forward and downwards at the waist. The as he goes air-born with his body he projects his entire body forward and downwards.

Essentially the Systema practitioner executes his roll by first "sitting down" and then dips his upper body forwards to exit from the roll. The Aikidoka's roll is more of a rotational movement in the vertical plane starting from the standup position without a interim movement such as "sitting down" of Systema.

My take on the two ways of rolling
Personally I prefer the Systema roll more than the Aikido roll. I find that the Systema roll tends to be softer and easier on the body as the interim vertical "sitting down" movement resolves about 80% of the impact before the body makes contact with the floor. Thus by the time you hit the floor you only need to take care of the last 20% impact force. On the other hand as the Aikido roll is essentially a rotation in the vertical plane without any interim movement you have to resolve 100% of the impact force by means of dynamic body rotation. Sometimes the overturning force is so great that body rotation is not enough to resolve the impact and that you have to slap the floor forcefully with your hands to dampen the impact of the body slam and also to check the body from spinning out of control.

Rolling on a hard surface
In my opinion if you practice in a dojo that has mats there is little difference in how you want to roll as the mats are an additional mechanism beside your own ukemi skills for damping the impact force. On the other hand if you practice on a hard concrete floor without the protection of mats the Systema style of rolling is kinder to the body than the typical Aikido roll. Likewise if you have to take a breakfall any where outside the safety and comfort zone of the dojo eg on concrete, timber, tarmac, earth, sand, rock, etc it is safer and less damaging to your health and body to roll in the Systema style.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Principles vs Techniques

Stepping aside
Imagine somebody angrily swinging an iron pipe full speed at your head. What would you do? That depends on what kind of martial art that you have been taught. If you are a student of the traditional technique-based striking style martial art through repeated conditioning you would probably block the attack with your hand and counter-attack with the other hand or legs. This type of learned reaction will probably get you killed. The sensible thing to do is to step aside, not much but enough to let the weapon graze you, and counter attack with whatever is appropriate at the point in time. By not learning techniques and relying on your natural survival instinct your mind is free to invent it’s next move on the fly, because your brain has learned body mechanics through training, not martial forms cast in stone.

Relaxation response in a fight will enable you to take and survive hard blows. For example drunk drivers seldom get killed in the accidents they cause, because due to being drunk they are loose and relaxed. Even under extreme combat stress a free-style martial artist knows how to relax different parts of the body independently from each other and to use selective tension and relaxation to confuse or hurt an attacker. Contrast this with technique-centric martial art styles that condition the practitioner to tense his body by holding the breath as he meets the attack forcefully head on during sparring.

Redirecting the knife
Natural and relaxed movements based on reflexive response
Natural and relaxed movements that are circular and curved will keep you out of harms way in an assualt situation better than the linear movements of the form based martial arts styles. Natural movements by their nature are not static but ever changing and dynamic evolving and responding to threats in the moment and each moment is different from the previous. Let's look at how a forms based martial art practitioner would react when a fist flies at his face. The natural reflex is to bend backwards while raising his hands to block the attack, leaving his feet right where they were. The problem whith this approach is that you're still in the line of attack, and a slight push will make you topple over, not to mention that you could trip on something behind you. Once you can reasonably move in a relaxed manner, a flurry of opportunities "magically" appear for you to take advantage of. Your brain, free of unreasonable fear, has learned to recognize those opportunities and make your body move as to steal your opponent’s movement and make it yours, to his demise.

Knife evasion
Breathing in through the nose and out through the mouth naturally and freely is essential to absorb blows, combat stress and also inflict damage to your attacker in a fight. Everyone breathes, we have been since the day of our birth. Breathing naturally and freely might sound simple enough yet in some traditional martial art tournaments that I see the practitioners tend to hold their breath at some point in time or restrict their breaths in response to combat stress and tension. Our strength comes not only from the food that we eat but also oxygen in the atmosphere. Forget to breathe for a few seconds, due to oxygen depletion in your lungs and you will run into a world of trouble fifteen or twenty seconds later, even after resuming it. For not breathing and regulating the oxygen intake some competitors even find 2-minute full contact rounds too exhausting to continue beyond.

Mass attack
Good posture
You require a good posture in order to move around freely, naturally and in a relaxed manner. Good posture does not imply a myriad of complicated body forms that mimic certain animal postures that you see in some traditional martial art styles. Simply stated, good posture should be as simple and practical as keeping your back straight as much as possible all the time. If you need to go down, bend your knees, not your back. If you need to move forward, backward, sideways or turning move your legs but always keeping your back plumb.

Trapping the leg
Stepping aside, relaxation, movement, breathing and good posture are not specific techniques but general martial principles derived from your natural and instinctive response that will ensure your survival in a confrontation. By not forcing learned techniques to deal with ever changing modes of attack and relying on the 5 principles you will gain the freedom to use all parts of your body (shoulder, knee, leg, forearm, head, finger, elbow, etc) to strike. For example with freedom from the limitations of conforming to techniques your blows will tend to be loose and heavy, like hitting with a sledge hammer on a string. Your response to attacks will not only be multi-dimensional but also multi-directional, and used to maximum effect to negate your attack's form and balance.

Take down
Traditional budo training still relevant
This is not to deny that the traditional technique based martial arts training in the dojo that you receive from your sensei has no role to play. Training in the traditional styles in the dojo can be used as a basis for developing strong martial fundamentals eg posture, centering, grounding, concentration, power, speed, combat distance, agility, discipline, different types of attack and defence forms, weapons, break falls, etc mastery of all of these fundamental skills will surely enhance your attack and defence capability in the development of formless martial art. For many people it is difficult to learn any thing without some sort of structure and free fighting has no structure. Thus practicing traditional technique style martial art with its focus on rigid structures can be seen as a necessary prerequisite, a sort of DNA for further progress to the next level of no form martial development.

Head lock
Be realistic
Just be aware that in case when you are forced to resolve a showdown outside the comfort zone of the dojo environment eg in the streets, you may have to adapt the basic skills and fundamentals that you learn in the dojo to survive the attack as the technique-based and structured traditional style martial art training that you receive may not get you out of serious trouble.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

National Kyu Grading of 13/12/09 Review

Sun 13/12/09 MAA HQ Dojo

10.00am. Dojo already packed full of people apart from the 50 candidates. There were a couple of visitors, family members and spouses of the candidates and some parents accompanied their children to the dojo.

Grading in progress
Looking at the grading list all the kyu applications from 5th kyu to 1st kyu were represented. The biggest group was from the 5th kyu candidates numbering about 20 people. MMU Melaka candidates constituted the bulk of the candidates from the 5th kyu group. From my group only IH from Semenyih Dojo was entered for the 5th kyu test.

Low Sensei asked me to conduct the 5th kyu tests while waiting for Dr Leong Sensei and Tony Sensei to come by. About mid-way through the grading Dr Leong Sensei walked into the dojo followed by Tony sensei a little later.

By the time the 1st kyu test concluded it was already half past one in the afternoon. After the grading review by Low Sensei all of us bowed out and the students then started to leave the premises in batches.

All the candidates did well under their respective categories except the 3rd kyu and the 1st kyu groups. But after close consultations among the 4 senseis a unanimous decision was taken to pass them with the condition that they would have to attend corrective classes to be conducted by the senseis in their home dojos.

While the students were busy walking down the staircase the 4 senseis were busy huddled inside the cage to conduct the last business of the day: NTTC meeting and planning for next year's MAA activities.A lot of time I think MAA matters are similar to house keeping work. Ask any full time homemaker and he/she will tell you that house keeping work is an endless task and never get done. Fortunately the 4 senseis were able plan next year's seminars and wrap up the last business of the day within 15 minutes.

After collecting the kyu certificates on behalf of INTi for the previous grading from Low Sensei I too made my departure from the dojo.

I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate all the successful candidates who had passed their tests.

After all is said and done I just wonder if anybody noticed a large group of about 20 youngsters who were from another state outside the Klang Valley attending the grading.

This particular group of outstation candidates showed their true mettle, fighting spirit and commitment to the art and their sensei by traveling all the way from Melaka to grade. This group comprised of students from MMU Melaka and they told me that in order to make the trip to KL they had to get up at 5am in their campus to catch the 6am bus in Melaka. On arrival in KL they had to transit by other buses and LRT to get to the dojo. After the grading they had to make the long and tiring return trip back to their Melaka campus by the reverse process. Congratulation to this group. All their efforts are not in vain as all of them had passed their tests in their respective categories.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Similarities between Karate and Aikido?

On the surface Karate and Aikido look like two contrasting styles at the opposite ends of the spectrum. However on closer examination my personal observation is that the processes by which Karate and Aikido practitioners evolve in their respective styles are remarkably similar.

Karateka on-guard stance
The Karate beginner executes a basic punch with solely muscular strength. As the Karateka tightens his muscles all the way the muscle contracts and work against each other. After training for some time he learns to relax through the punch and tense only at the end. At the next level, he does not even tense at the end of the punch, but aligns and connects his body as the technique is completed. The final level finds the student executing the technique totally relaxed physically, yet connected to his body all the way through the technique and possessing great internal spirit.

Aikidoka on-guard stance
This process of evolution is similar in Aikido development. The majority of Aikido techniques can be represented by geometrical shapes of a square, triangle or circle. In the begining the Aikido trainee performs his techniques based on the square concept. A square is a stable and strong shape. Lacking in movement,it is completely grounded and it plays mainly from physical strength.

After a period of sustained practice, he  will graduate to the triangle. A triangle can be seen as having two angles at the bottom and one at the point, the two lower angles can be imagined as a stable platform and the angle at the point as the atemi. It can be compared to entering techniques (irimi) giving the impression of direct movement. At this stage the Aikidoka has learned to soften and relax his movements somewhat from his previous square development stage.

At the next level all the techniques assume the circle concept, where the circle evolves to a spontaneously flowing, and continuous spiral. Circles are not stable but as they are constantly moving they never fall (can a ball be made to fall over?). If all the possible circular and semicircular movements around the centre of an Aikidoka are combined into one image, the result is a dynamic sphere whereby the mental attitude of the Aikidoka is centralized and the energy required to carry out a technique is extended outward from the centre.

Advanced level of Karate and Aikido
So, while the first few years of Karate and Aikido are interpreted differently, the evolution of the techniques is quite similar. The end result is that each style graduates from a more structured, hard and rigid state to a more relaxed, dynamic, efficient and economic state. When both styles execute their movements in a relaxed, dynamic and efficient state at the advanced level perhaps the one aspect that differentiates between the two is that the Karateka's movements tend to be linear while the Aikidoka's is more circular

Payment of fees for kyu grading.... have become so forgetful...

Paying the grading fees on behalf of the students can be a chore. Maybank would not accept online payment via Maybank2u because the MAA account is a business current account that has more than one signatory.

Forgetful person
Maybank2U only allows current account transaction if the current account belongs to an individual. There is no such restriction in Public Bank online. Don't understand what is the logic behind such a practice. So each time when I want to deposit money to MAA I have to do it in person over the counter in the bank, usually during lunch time. Luckily for me there is a Maybank branch within walking distance from my office.

Forgotten something?
Today after lunch I had thought about going to the bank to pay in the grading fees in cash  the counter. As usual I searched my Nokia handset for the stored MAA account number. To my surprise I couldn't locate the account number. Puzzled I tried to recall where the account number is stored in the hand set. After a while I realised that since the day I changed my hand phone to the current model I had not remembered to save the MAA account in the phone. ....Oh dear! ...How forgetful I have become of late....

Saturday, December 5, 2009

The Body Language of Fear and Tension

It is said that the bodily manifestations are the mirror of our deepest and innermost state of mind and mental wellbeing. If you are fearful of being injured then your body will act in ways to reflect that fear. You may be able to willfully mask and hide your true state of mind behind an inscrutable facade when you are still conscious of your mental faculty but once that is lost your body language will reveal to the observer your true mental, spiritual and emotional state of mind.

The flinch response of a fearful practitioner being projected air-bond into the air is typified by recognizable natural body reactions such as shutting his eyes tightly, squeezing his facial features by grimacing, holding his breath, flapping limbs wildly in an uncoordinated fashion, awkward pose due to stiffening his body, etc.

To avoid unnecessary injury during training it is important that the trainee should be relaxed at all times. This can be achieved by synchronising his breathing with his body actions. Instead of holding the breath the trainee should learn to breathe naturally and freely. Breathing naturally and freely means to inhale and exhale at the rate that is in harmony with his bodily actions. Inhaling represents tension and exhalation represents relaxation. Thus just before the body slam the uke should have completed his exhalation and by which time his body will have released the stored tension and soften sufficiently to receive the impact without suffering bodily distress.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Teaching the beginner knife evasion drills

For the beginner trainee confronting a knife attack can be a scary experience, even it is a drill, the attacker is wielding a dummy knife, and the attacks are executed in a slow walking pace.

In last night's SySSDA training the students were given fruit peelers as knives for the knife evasion drills. The fruit peeler does resemble a knife, only that the blade edges are blunt. Even then it can be quite intimidating to the beginner.

WL, who joined the class last night was extremely nervous when handling the dummy knife whether playing the role of the attacker or defender. It took some coaxing to persuade him to join in the knife evasion drill. Instead of moving away from the knife calmly WL was jumping excitedly off the line of attack. When playing the attacker's role he had no concept of how to strike. Instead of lunging forward with the dummy knife he stood in his place and just pointed the knife in the direction of his partner.On the other hand his partner IH who have been practicing with me for about 3 months seemed to be an old hand and at ease with the drill.

This type of response is the norm for people who has little or no martial art background in particular weapons work. They have no concept of how to move in attack and defence. Most often they don't know how to move but just wave their hands standing in a fixed position.

WL had told me on the phone that one day he had to meekly hand over his car to a group of parang wielding threatening his life. As a result of the unpleasant experience he decided to sign up hoping to learn some reality-based self defence application. That was why I decided to do a knife evasion drill involving two guys attacking one to find out his response. At the end of the Aikido and SySSDA training he seemed genuinely pleased with the experience. Well, I will have to wait until next Fri to find out for sure if he wants to commit to the training.