Tuesday, July 27, 2010

KTKM Beranang. Tue 7/27/10 Aikido class notes.

Taught the students two techniques instead of three as originally planned. Tonight the students seemed more at ease with the movements compared with last week. The fact that IM was around helped me to speed up the teaching a bit.

I observed that some of the students were unable to focus on the training. Sometimes their attention will wonder away from the task in hand. Others were chasing each other around in the background even when the class was in progress.

The students are planning to print T-shirts for Aikido class. I heard them talking about what suitable design to use for the t-shirts.

There is also talk that the college is interested in forming a Aikido club that is separate from the Aikido curriculum. That is good news. Will have to wait for the college management to work things out.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Irimi Uchi Tenkan Entry To Initiate Shomenuchi Sankyo Ura

Irimi soto tenkan
INTi Dojo Mon 21/6/10 class

The conventional and standard way of entering Uke's sphere to perform this technique is by stepping to the outside of Uke's cutting hand using irimi soto tenkan (outside turn from irimi entry) foot step. The picture on the right captures the irimi soto tenkan movement of Tori as he swings Uke's cutting hand in a downwards and rearward spiral for the finishing takedown onto the mat.

Tonight I taught the students a variation of the sankyo technique using a irimi uchi tenkan (inside turn from irimi entry) foot step to clinch with Uke as he steps forward cutting shomenuchi with his leading sword hand.

In this variation Tori slips under and pass through Uke's arm-pit to position himself to Uke's rear before executing the finishing takedown. Upon successfully positioning himself to Uke's rear the rest of Tori's movement is the same as the standard version as depicted in the picture above.

Sankyo lock
However in order to slip pass the small space under Uke's srm-pit, Tori must feint an atemi (strike) to Uke's head. My preference is to feint a strike with age ura zuki (rising inverted punch: uppercut) to Uke's chin though any other types of hand strikes are also applicable. As a deception and distraction tactic the objective of the atemi is to force Uke to lean his head and torso backwards and also to block the blow with his other free hand in the attempt to evade the strike. Uke's leaning his head and torso backwards will cause him to stand on his toes thus floating his whole body mass and centre of gravity upwards, resulting not only in Uke loosing his balance but also in creating a void under Uke's arm-pit for Tori to slip through to the rear side of his partner. Without this atemi Tori will have to bow his head downwards and forcefully lift Uke's hand upwards to create a passageway. This kind of forceful application will betray Tori's intent resulting in a counter attack by his partner before Tori can even initiate his action.

This version of shomenuchi sankyo wasn't even planned as part of the night's lesson. It just happened spontaneously in response to a late counter to a shomenuchi strike. I wanted to do the standard version but because I was stressed out and tired with a tension headache from my office work I was too late to respond when the Uke strike shomenuchi. Thus too slow to intercept Uke's cut when his hand was still overhead, I was forced to step offline when Uke's striking hand reached the end of its trajectory at gedan (low) level. Then without conscious of what I was doing at the point when Uke's chopping hand was already at gedan level I grabbed his wrist with two hands, and under cover of the age ura zuki strike, managed to go under Uke's arm-pit to successfully execute a sankyo lock and complete the takedown. Energised and delighted by the discovery of an alternative way of doing shomenuchi sankyo ura I gradually recovered my low energy level and then proceeded to other immobilisation and projections techniques.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Looking Deeply Under The Hood of The Katas of Aikido Training

Reading about the definition of karate by Morales-Santo Domingo as the study of katas got me thinking about the learning of Aikido techniques in the dojo.

"Kata is the manifestation of the art of karate. It unfolds its meaning through time. Most of a kata remains untold, undecipherable at first glance, most times at the hundredth glance. It is a ritual of epiphanies and within them the fleeting secrets lie," Jorge Morales-Santo Domingo

Is learning Aikido the same as learning katas? Well, it all depends on whom you ask and how you define what is kata.

20 years ago during the early formative years of my Aikido career when you ask me this question I would not hesitate to declare that learning Aikido techniques is not the same as learning katas because I was simply verbalising what my instructors had told me. Fast forwards 20 years later to the present time when I have become a teacher and am teaching the art to students I encounter the same question raised by inquisitive students.

If you define kata narrowly as a arrangement of fixed sets of idealised martial movements and forms practiced solo by the individual then Aikido training is not the same as practicing katas. Because in the typical Aikido training format where you need two partners to practice, one acting as the attacker and the other the defender as the study of Aikido is not a solo practice then obviously the learning of Aikido can not be equated to the study of katas.

On the other hand if you define kata generally as the study of a prearranged set of idealised martial movements with a known input and a known outcome then Aikido training is the same as learning katas. In the typical Aikido training format the attacker attacks in a prescribed way and likewise the defender counters and neutralize the attack also in a prescribed way. In this respect as far as the pair is concerned there is a known and predictable element of input (the method of attack) and also a known and predictable element of outcome (the method of defence). Thus even before the start of the exercise both partners are already aware of their respective roles and how to engage each other to produce the desired outcome because every movement is already prearranged and predefined before hand.

Nowadays whenever such a question arise I will tell the student that I am teaching him the katas of the art. Inevitably the next question will be whether the katas of the idealised martial movements will work in a real life situation.

My answer will be something along these lines:

"Just as no boxer fights like he spars, does the bag or skips rope I don't expect the Aikidoka to fight in self defence as he does the katas. Although the kata is a static mold, an ideal, a form, a map from here to there it teaches you essential martial principles such as timing, centering, relaxation, anticipation, extension, evasion, movements, breathing, postures, combat distance, exploitation of openings, deceptions, etc that would get you out of harm's way in a fight. While the forms may not represent realistic combat movements the underlying martial principles that these simple forms teach you are valid for self defence applications in all situations. By looking deeply below the hood to understand the intents behind the forms you are in fact learning a valid and practical combat science."

To further drive home the point I would show the student the myriad of practical applications hidden in the simple movements of the katas and adaptive transformation and use of the simple forms in different types of combat situation. I try to help the student understand that in the end there are really no static techniques or forms to master but just movements arising naturally and spontaneously in conflict resolution. However to get to the stage where you can freely use your movements to define the techniques you have to start the journey by learning the katas.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Wed class 2/6/10 in INTi. Movements define form.

Instead of focusing rigidly on form and technical precision I asked the new girl member to imitate my movements intuitively in slow motion and also to capture with her mind and heart intent the functions embedded in the movements.

To allow the natural and intuitive process of learning to take place freely I broke down the technique into several parts and in each part breakdown further into Tori's and Uke's movements, all done in a slow, relaxed, rhythmic, continuous and dance-like motion.

After grasping the individual parts I then asked her to combine all the separate parts into one continuous movement. In my mind I was borrowing the concept from the slow, rhythmic, delicate yet graceful hand and body movements of the traditional Balinese court dancer to teach this new student how to execute a Aikido technique with effortless grace.

Lo and behold! At the end of the class this new girl who has never done Aikido before was able to execute the shomenuchi iriminage technique by recalling the movements rather than the precise forms.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Natural pecking order

INTi dojo Mon 24/5/2010 class. Natural pecking order

Max's absence of two months from practice didn't make any difference to the members. I noticed that during bowing in at the start of the class when modest Max tried to sit on the extreme left side of the row the guys shooed and ushered him to go sit on to the right side.

By protocol senior students get to sit on the right side and the juniors on the left. The guys still acknowledge 3rd kyu Max as their sempai even though I didn't intervene as I am not so particular about protocol. Then as if on cue 5th kyu WTJ who had rejoined the class after a year's break quietly sat on the left side of the row and nobody shooed him away. This shows that after training together and bonding for some time your mates will acknowledge,accept and respect you for who you are even though you may have dropped out from the training for quite a while.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

31-count Aiki Jo kata presentation

Rehearsal before demo
Rehearsal before demo
Entering the arena
Aiki Jo demo in progress
Saturday 15/5/10 National Youth Day Rakan Muda Wajadiri public demonstration of the Aiki Jo at Putrajaya

Together with INTi students we joined Low Sensei's group in the presentation of Aikido's 31 count Aiki jo kata to the public. Altogether there were 21 participants from the various dojos in the group.

The event organisers allocated only a total of 5 minute for Aikido presentation. Out of the allocated 5 minutes, 1 minute was utilised for the Aiki Jo stick work while the remaining 4 minutes were utilised for the separate bokken (sword), tanto (dagger) and empty hand presentations. Although we had 1 minute for the Aiki Jo, in reality less the time taken for bowing in and bowing out of the arena we had at the most about 30 seconds to perform the stick work.

Although the presentation took only 1 minute of time the behind-the-scene preparatory and training for INTi/Semenyih group took about one week. One week before the event from Mon to Fri after work I had to rush to INTi and Semenyih to give a crash course on the 31-count Aiki Jo kata to the students because I had never taught them this Jo kata before.

Even on the day of the demo despite the intensive training I wasn't sure if my group of students could pull together with students from other dojos to put up a credible show. Knowing all the steps and movements is one aspect but in a mass drill you must be able to work harmoniously together with others as a team. Fortunately after doing a few combined rehearsals before the show all the participants from the different dojos managed to click together as a team.

Friday, March 5, 2010

The significance of Tori's thumb-up position of the captured hand in Katatedori Ikkyo Omote.

Katatedori Ikkyo Omote
Tory on the left thumbs of
captured hand facing up
Semenyih Dojo. Fri class 5/3/10

"Why tori must keep his thumb up as in palm facing sideway and not to the side as in palm facing down in the beginning of Katatedori Ikkyo Omote ?"

One puzzled student asked me this question during katatedori ikkyo omote exercise on Fri 5/3/10 during the training.

With reference to the Tori on the left hand side of the accompanying photo....

During the execution of the technique beside stepping back with his lead foot Tori has to rotate his captured hand clockwise so that the thumb finally ends pointing downwards towards the floor and the fingers naturally curved backwards. In stepping back his lead foot Tori breaks Uke's body alignment by translation forcing Uke to step forward with his lead foot to compensate for his body tilting forwards. In spinning the captured hand clockwise Tori further breaks Uke's body structure through rotation forcing Uke's body to tilt and rotate side ways. This effect is similar to earthquake where due to the shaking of the ground horizontally buildings tilt sideways and collapse to the ground. Thus in stepping backwards and rotating his captured hand Tori destroys Uke's balance and stability in two directions ie forwards through translation and sideways through rotation.

By keeping the palm facing downwards and the thumb facing the side at the beginning of the exercise Tori can only spin his captured hand a quarter of a circle. By keeping the palm facing sideway and the thumb pointing upwards to the sky like imitating a hand shake form, Tori can spin his hand by half a circle. Thus it is not difficult to see that the thumb-up position induces a bigger range of rotation than the thumb-sideway position which is extremely limiting in scope. The bigger the range of rotation the more Uke's body tilt to the side and the more effort Uke has to exert to restore his instability. In his anxiety to forcefully recover Uke creates tension and stiffness in his body leading to further breakdown of his body alignment

To be effective and almost effortless Aikido techniques have to be executed in a multi-dimensional way and not just limiting to only one. I notice many students rely exclusively on stepping backwards with their lead feet and issue atemis to their partners' faces with their free hands to break Ukes' stability. Thus unaware of the effect of rotating the captured hands they are unable to see the significance of which way the palms are facing at the beginning of the exercise.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Body structure and alignment exercise

Utilising the body structure and alignment

Walking on your feet and fists like a cat forces you to utilise your body structure to overcome fatigue in order to move in the most efficient way. Biologically unlike some animals humans are not made to walk on all fours and if we try to do that without sufficient body conditioning we tire fast. Similarly if you walk hunched or without rhythm with your breath you also tires fast.

On all fours regulate each step with your breath. Walking softly make as little noise as possible. Change direction, walking forwards, backwards and in a circle. Challenge yourself by walking over obstacles eg staircase and furniture. If you are tired stop and rest in this position and this will motivate you. While you are moving about observe if you are moving with your trunk aligned. Mentally note if you are navigating with either your hips or shoulders or both. Can you change course using both? This is a great drill to spread the tension all over your body using your breath and body structure alignment as a support.

The principle of work-in-progress

The principle of work-in-progress or non-completion.

Not completing an action may seem the antithesis of a good survival and self-defence strategy but it is a realistic option and does have its place in your capability to survive a vicious street attack. Being free from an obligation to finish a movement makes your counter-response unpredictable to your attacker. You are able to change according to what is happening and see threats as they are rather than forcing yourself to complete something that is inappropriate for the moment.

For example when your first intention is to kick someone on the knee, and instead you miss your intended target and kick the air you can continue in another direction and throw a left hook at his jaw or decide on something else that further your chance of escape and survival. Keep breathing and moving freely. Relax your face and eyes and at the same time pay attention to where both of you are going.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Surveillance work

Take a walk in a crowded place eg a market. Start a conversation with a stranger. While engaging the stranger survey the surroundings and note how you can move naturally to view everything all around you without appearing like you are doing surveillance work. Make a mental note of all the objects that you can see in your surroundings such as reflecting surfaces, door ways, high fences, staircases, side lanes, pedestrian bridges and escalators, police station, bus and taxi stops, street lights and sign boards, hand railings, manholes, roadside drains and gutters, etc, etc. Repeat the drill in another crowded spot eg a shopping mall, minding all the surrounding details.

This is a solo street survival drill and survival is about not being where it is dangerous. The odds of escaping and surviving an unprovoked assault in the street are better that way and you don't have to be the meanest martial art fighter or the hardest puncher to live another day.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Developing good body alignment

Throwing and catching objects while on the move

Throw and catch things any which way as you walk eg common objects such as tennis balls, basketball, bottles, paper boxes, bags, sticks, etc. Throw the objects in font of you, to the sides, from back to the front, front to the back, one side to the next, from under the legs to the head, and so on. Pay the most attention to the breath and your posture and the least to catching the objects.

Although this is a solo exercise it can also be executed with a partner. With a partner just throw things, catch, and return throw to each other while both of you are on the move.

The main purpose of this drill is not to catch the objects but to keep good body structure, awareness and alignment while you are moving about. This drill is also about preserving your awareness while multi-tasking eg, while evading a group attack you have to look for openings in your attackers from which you can launch counter strikes or any other options that you decide to do.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Natural movements in the preservation of self and the human spirit

...striking helps us clean ourselves of self-pity and fear...

For the sake of self survival from harm and the preservation of the human spirit striking helps us control the structure and focus of attackers in combat...striking helps us clean ourselves of self-pity and fear...as striking can be executed with almost all the body parts it is important to think of striking as movements, not as techniques or katas because when we attach a name or label to something with a specific description we stop to grow and evolve our combat survival and response capabilities...

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Surviving a mob attack

A mob attack in a pub
Imagine you are cornered and surrounded by a group of menacing thugs who is about to lynch you. In this scary situation many a victim, paralyzed by sheer terror, would either lash out violently at the attackers or freeze on the spot thereby triggering the signal for the mob to attack him. Usually before the lynching there would be the initial process of harassment characterised by pushing, shoving and shouting of obscenities to frighten the victim into total submission and surrender. If the victim can keep the lid on his panic and keep his calm and cool before the harassment escalates to a full scale bloody lynching there is still the chance of making an escape. Traditional martial arts training in the comfort zone of the dojo may not equip the practitioner with the necessary skills and experience to handle a mob attack in the street. In the event of a mob attack the priority of the victim is not to fight back but to exit from the scene as soon as possible.

A mass attack drill
One person in the centre is surrounded by a group of people in a circle. The attackers in the circle start to push and shove the defender all around using hands, fists and legs. As the defender is being pushed around he lets the movement pass through him without attaching to it and also maintain the upright body alignment as much as he can in order to move freely and remains unharmed.
Turkish parlimentarians

By letting go of the ego and tension the defender decides the direction to move freely in such a manner that the pushes and strikes of his attackers cancel out each other and in the process allows himself himself to stay out. As the defender is being pushed around he keeps track of his surrounding using breathing as a tool for maintaining conscious relaxation and awareness under stress.

While being pushed around and without telegraphing his true intention to the angry mob the primary objective of the defender then is to spot openings in the ring of attackers to break out from the circle, escape and ultimately ensure his survival.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Walking freely

Walking with
bended knees
Walking with the lower body independent of the upper body

Start by lowering your torso while keeping it upright by bending the legs at the knees. Walking slowly and adopting a low posture step forward with your advancing leg toward the direction that you intend to advance no matter where the body is headed. Be mindful not to twist and turn the upper body going the way you intend. As you move breathe freely in a relaxed way. After doing this exercise for a while your legs will gradually become strengthened.