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February 2011

January 2011

96. Fundamentals; It's Always About Fundamentals

Last couple of Saturdays we've spent the class covering multiple attack(s) training.  The Tomiki Ryu has a greater focus on individual (toshu or hand) randori but when the mood strikes we'll bunch up and go after it; or as an old S. Texas saying goes, "All you big guys line up and all you little guys bunch up; it's time to dance."

Multiple attacks (in my view) provide a window into the Aikido players' head in that some uke attack with full vigor, others with less vigor and others holding back as if they are concerned about the ukemi; their not knowing with certainty the exact type, configuration or force the fall (they are getting set to take) will contain.

So with that said; some of the worst Aikido players I have ever had the misfortune to lay my tired eyes on are those who, afraid to take a fully dynamic fall, never really and truly commit to an attack whether that be in kihon & kata training or in randori.  Since they are afraid of the ukemi, they never really do a fully commited attack and conversely, since they know not how to attack they never "feel" what happens when they attack and loose control after tore snaps that kuzushi on them.  If they are afraid of the ukemi then it's likely that their uke also has a certain fear level and will also not fully commit.  Bottom line; you cannot understand the tore unless you understand the uke, and vice versa.

So now the issue takes on multiple layers of problem;

  • they never fully attack (always slightly holding back ever so subtly) so they do not know what it feels like to totally lose control as the attacker, so they have no visceral "feel" for what an attacker will undergo when attacking,
  • they are unaware of "holding back" and thus do not have full "awareness" of the interaction of forces onging in the uke/tore relationship,
  • since they have no visceral "feel" for what uke will have to live thru' then they have no appreciation for the waza they are applying and never develop a complete understanding of it nor will they be able to make "on-the-fly" adjustments based on uke's reaction at any given moment (since they have never gone thru' it themselves),
  • since their uke will also likely have "lesser" ukemi skills, then they will not have the opportunity to really, truly bear down and throw it with full gusto,
  • since they can't throw with full gusto then they will never comprehend the full dynamic range of the waza and will not be able to throw against a fully resisting uke.


Ukemi ..... ukemi again ..... lots and lots of ukemi ..... lots and lots of QUALITY ukemi. 

What is that .......... that "quality" ukemi?

They only way to fully develop ability in ukemi is to be thrown multiple times (tens' of thousands actually) in every possible configuration of a throw.  Kote-gaeshi, ushiro kote-gaeshi, sumi-otoshi, uke-otoshi, projection rolls forward, backward & sideways, koshi-nage, aiki-nage, shoman-ate, sacrifice throws, even be throw in judo throws such as o-goshi, ippon seo-nage, kata-guruma, foot sweeps, uchi-mata, be throw in all type and manner of Aikido and Judo throws ........ even be body slammed a few times just to get that one in also (crash mat highly rec0mmended for that one).

The idea here is two-fold; first,be thrown in any and every possible configuration a throw can possibly take and second, be thrown in each configuration a sufficient number of times in order to allow your subconscious mind to be able to take control the moment a throw begins and at full speed-full tilt boogie & high velocity, automatically recognize the configuration and by turning in mid-air, orient your body such that a safe "landing" becomes easy(ier) and safer.  And, to be able to do so even if the throw is a complete suprise and totally unexpected.  And, to be able to do so whether being thrown fast or slow or anywhere in between.

Ukemi is a hyper-critical element of training in MA and the ability to take any throw is the mark of a high-level player since it results long-term in being able to fully commit to an attack, viscerally understand the gyrations ukes undergoes as the planet rises to meet and greet them, and be able to adjust on-the-fly to the dynamics of a throw; any throw both as tore and as uke.

Players who train in dojo with a poor falling surface or too-small area are unfortunate as they simply do not have the physical plant and equipment to fully experience dynamic waza from the aspects of both uke and tore.  But, an adjustment can be made by having some extra crash mats so that they can be thrown with gusto (safely) or, the Sensei can have the class take turns working in a small group such that the available falling space can be maximized even if it means the class lines up and only one or two people are being thrown at any given moment.

The adjustment must be made so that the experience can be garnered and maximized.  Good ukemi skills are simply too critical for fully developing the Bushi to not pay heed to the need.

L.F. Wilkinson Sensei

Aikibudo Kancho, Aikibudokan, Houston, TX

January 2011


95. Advice for New Teachers

Part of running a doj0 consists, or should consist, of allowing your senior black belts to teach on a regular/semi-regular basis.  This is due to many factors including both the obvious and the non-obvious.

  • Sensei may want to take a vacation and needs a substitute,
  • Sensei could be sick for a while,
  • The dojo may want to expand classes and may actually need additional teachers to cover more Aikido, weapons or grappling sessions,
  • Perpetuation of the system (aka Sensei died last week or Sensei retired last week so who takes over now?),
  • Maybe the senior Yudansha have some good ideas that could benefit everyone (including Sensei) that haven't been heard yet (because Sensei teaches everything),
  • and lastly, how can a dojo develop really good players who understand and who can communicate the principles and the ryu to beginners unless they actually acquire some experience by doing so?

If you've never taught before and you walk into class one night and Sensei looks over and says, "OK, it's your turn in barrel", then here are a couple of ideas that might  help.

  • Pick a topic you know.
  • Pick a topic that you know people have questions about and may not understand.
  • Think about that topic before starting the lesson.
  • Instead of trying to teach every single thing you know about that waza or principle, pick 1, no more than 2 facets of the topic and focus on those.  Trying to cover everything confuses the lesson and no one will be able to remember all that "stuff" anyway.
  • As you teach the lesson, don't look out and see a large group of people staring back at you and not smiling; instead, see only one person and direct your lesson at them and then teach until they smile or nod or look like they understand.  Then go to someone else; in short, in order to avoid being intimidated by a large group, shrink your target to something that you can emotionally manage.
  • As you teach the lesson, hone in on that one item (or two) and attack it from more than one angle .... "stand here and do this, or change your position slightly and then do this".  Remember that people learn in different manners so if you teach only with one method or idea then only a small percentage will understand so teach the topic from angle #1 to get it across to 10% of the audience, then change your approach to angle #2 and the next 10% will get it, then change it again.
  • Don't change your approach to the topic more than about 2x to 3x elsewise you'll start to sound redundant and repetitive and bore folks.  Depending on the topic and the experience of the group you'll never get 100% understanding so go for part understanding and part "I kinda get it".
  • For those who don't fully understand intellectually don't worry .... that's what lots of practice is for.  The body can do before the brain catches up.
  • Keep the lesson as short as you can until you gain more seasoning as a teacher/group leader and can start to teach more consisely.  Too much discussion bores and takes away from the practice.
  • Remember that teaching is not that difficult IF you cover a topic that you know.

If you don't know a topic that well then remember; practice is the best way to develop both abiltiy and understanding so grasshopper, the answer is obvious .... go to class.


L.F. Wilkinson Sensei

Aikibudo Kancho

Aikibudokan, Houston, TX


Slowly upgrading the blog to start for the first to include blogs by other folks. Trying to avoid some of what I see on the blog-o-sphere of massive lists of every blog in the galaxy. Know I'll likely miss some good ones but hopefully over time I'll be able to find some that provide a good mix of theory, philosophy, MA politics and just generally entertaining BS.

One of many resolutions this year include trying to stay active in this and put out some good ideas. I have some deshi pushing me in this area so I'll have to move forward and be creative.

93. Feeling Thin Today

My family has more than a little Irish blood mixed in with all the rest so anything Irish has always held interest (esp. green beer on St. Paddy's Day).  But with that said, no .... we don't paint ourselves blue or wear kilts but the rest of it, the Celtic part of it that's out there in the mix, remains.

Some of the most spiritual music I've ever heard anywhere is Celtic.  I consider it more spiritual than Buddhists beating their board and doing chants, or a vocal group at High Latin Mass, or even drunken Trappist Monks chanting in Latin.  None of it beats a Celtic woman singing like a siren drawing the ships in.  It just sounds ethereal like it would be the only music playing over the iPod earbuds stuck in Keanu Reeves ears when he steps out of the sphere in "The Day the Earth Stood Still" ....... that kind of ethereal.

The Celts speak of a concept that I've heard of in only one other place.  The concept is known to the Celts as "Thin Places.  The only other culture I've heard that in was in reference to Mexican Shamens and Curanderos that describes "Veiled or Thin Places"; so either Mexican Shamens are really Celts who took a wrong turn at Stonehenge on the way to the solstice or the concept has gotten around a bit in those cultures that are closer to true mysticism (and by true I mean true and not that watered down New Agey-ism Gaia tripe). 

A Thin Place is somewhere; a room, a building or cave, a structure (it can basically be just about anything/place) where the barrier (the veil) between the normal and the supranormal, the mundane and the magical is so thin that under the right set of circumstances the two "sides" of the barrier cross and the veil lifts and for a brief moment the mundane and the magical are one and the same giving you the viewer a glimpse of something beyond, something better, something more meaningful, a mystical moment as it were.

Metaphorically speaking, it could be considered a place where, by leaving our normal daily routines outside the threshold or door to the "Thin Place", our minds can relax enough for us to "hear" the voices inside, "feel" the emotions, "sense" the environment, and for that brief moment, transcend the normal 9 to 5/pay the bills/drive in traffic world and reach for somewhere higher .... a place that we normally cannot even see or imagine due to the clutter that we more normally carry with us and that burdens us and numbs our senses.  A place where Ueshiba described could be such a place or where the elves took Bilbo and Frodo after the ring sage ended ........... where do you want it to be? ....... and what description would you use?

The ability to reach for that place is what transforms us in the long term since once having had that glimmer of just where it is, we cannot drop the idea nor forget the moment and keep finding ways to go back again and again to the "Thin Place" in an effort to recreate the moment.  That effort at "recreation" is what, over time, transforms us and allows us to grow and stretch and become a Shamen or a Celtic singer in our own right.

Such is the dojo.  This is the reason that we leave our shoes in the rack and leave our ego in our shoes and bow to the Shinza as we enter. We want to make a distinct "break" with the outside so that we can begin that transition into the "Thin Place" and mazimize our chance at being able to cross over, even if only for a moment.

For me in the dojo, it's that place where every waza flows and my mind is so calm but alive and focused that it actually saddens me to have to put street clothes back on to make the drive home.  Sometimes I teach class and don't even know that I've been there (on the other side of the veil in the "Thin Place") until class is over and someone walks up to ask me how I levitated my uke during the lesson while not breaking the stream of verbal lessons, like I was one person with a fully bifurcated mind (two people in one body) with one focused only on talking and one only on throwing, and each of the two perfectly focused into the moment (of communication and of waza).

The dojo is a "Thin Place".  The next time you cross the threshold honor that; and if you get that glimmer, then come back and honor it again.

I think I'll have to refocus my drive this new year and spend some time on the other side.  Even tho' I'm Celt somewhere back there I'd never really thought of the dojo in this light.  I guess that this Christmas/New Year's season was better than I realized.  I guess I actually had the chance to truly relax and realize that "Thin Places" aren't just myth.

L.F. Wilkinson Sensei

Aikibudokan, Houston, TX

January 2011