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February 2011

101. Coherent? - Yes or No

aka Strangle Me Now or Strangle Me Later But Lets Be Coherent About It ... ......................

The idea of synchronicity is that the conceptual relationship of minds, defined as the relationship between ideas, is intricately structured in its own logical way and gives rise to relationships that are not causal in nature. These relationships can manifest themselves as simultaneous occurrences that are meaningfully related.

Wiki on Jung's syncronicity.             http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Synchronicity

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I follow a lot of blogs and discussion groups.   Some I contribute to actively, some once-in-a-great-while and others I just lurk on like a ninja watching the passers-by.

Watching and lurking on a regular basis allows me to pick up on patterns of activity in the MA.  One such pattern (of syncronicity) I've observed over the last 2 years (almost 3 now) is increasing interest in the Aiki-verse in the offensive use of strangulations (to submit the opponent) and in what can only be considered offensive knife work (with defensive counters). 

We'll speak to strangulations now; tanto work later.

This interest seems to have occured on it's own, almost from a universal mind, as most of the dojo and Sensei involved in this interest very rarely communicate as they can be from different styles, organizations, and groups that have never had a relationship to each other.

For  the record;

*a strangulation is most correctly identified as the application of a neck lock (affecting the cervical vertibrae) and that causes unconsciousness by lowering the blood pressure in the brain thru' stimulation/massage of either the carotid baroreceptor or the nerve sheathing surrounding the branch point (of the carotid), done correctly total submission can occur in less than 8 seconds.

*a choke is using the hands to cut off the flow of air to the lungs by compressing the trachea, a neck lock is generally not involved with a choke.

Of the two; a strangulation is most effective and safest while a choke is unsafe (due to a possible crushing of and collapse of either or both the trachea/larynx) and not effective (due to a possible/approx. 1 to 2 minutes of oxygen remaining combined in the blood and the lungs).  In the real world of self-defense even 30 seconds of consciousness in the opponent can prove extremely problematic.

The exploration of strangulations is only slightly problematic.  In my mind the single largest issue is that probably 95% of all styles of Aikido do not train in ne-waza and yet most strangulations they teach are either on the ground in a grappling condition or they are highly modified for use in a standing condition.  Not to say that strangulations taught thusly (ne-waza strangulations modified for standing) won't work if applied correctly but the entry to the neck lock becomes an issue.

If you are going to teach strangulations in ne-waza then you'll need more (ne-waza) than just strangulations since you'll essentially be fighting a ne-waza specialist with both hand tied behind your back.  Your opportunity for the strangulation will, therefore, never open.

Many Aikido players appear to be of the opinion (based on observation of videos and on-line discussions) that if they simply "end up behind uke" then the strangulation will be easy to position for and once tore is positioned, easy to apply and submit uke.  Such is simply not the case.  Just because tore can find himself behind uke (say in an ushiro-ate entry point) does NOT mean that the entry to the neck lock will be successful. 

Entering and positioning for a presumed successful neck lock/strangulation doesn't mean that uke can be controlled and then submitted before uke applies a kaeshi-waza or at the very least blocks the proper hand positioning thus negating any attempt at neck lock and submission.

So in essence, the failure of Aikido players to focus on correct entry to the neck lock means that  they have failed to account for a coherence in their understanding of the concept.  They have failed to account for the most critical part of the entire waza; a successful entry which IMHO is about 80% of the effort, the remaining 20% being the correct hand positioning over the sweet spot.

This teaching and training of ne-waza configured strangulations applied in a standing condition is a lack of coherence; that is, the failure to apply a standing principle to a standing waza (and in this same fashion as applying a ne-waza principle to a ne-waza condition).  Standing conditions and ne-waza conditions make use of many of the same fundamental principles but overall, they're just not the same and knowing one does not necessarily or easily translate to the other.

We have over the last 2 years begun to teach standing strangulations that were originally designed for use while in armor and to be applied only standing.  All entries therefore are designed to break uke's posture upon the initial entry and then force them to turn their head to expose the throat, this allowing an easy(ier) entry for the hands to position before taking the strangulation and then the neck lock.

We also teach blocks of ne-waza in which the strangulations taught utilize a ne-waza approach and entry but are done within the boundaries and conditions of ne-waza and the rotation of opportunity (pin, strangulation, joint-lock ..... repeat .....).  This coherence in principle (as the waza utilizes it) makes the waza more productive in its' efficacy and the control and submission of uke.

The point here is to understand that we should not simply take something from somewhere else because you think Aikido lacks the idea or has a "hole" in its effectiveness, but instead to consistently apply the principle of your MA ryu/style. 

Mixing different ideas from different MA without considering the underlying principle that makes it work is not wise when expanding your study.  Just because something works in karate or judo doesn't necessarily mean it will be fully functional principle-wise in Aikido; and vice versa.  Fundamentals and firm adherence to the underlying principle of your art form (and their application to the newly inserted material) is always, always, always the only way in which to train.

L.F. Wilkinson Sensei

Aikibudo Kancho

Aikibudokan, Houston, TX

February 2011


100. The Window

Windows are used for many things.  These can include airing out the house, throwing out the cat, emptying the chamber pot, letting mosquitoes inside, yelling at the neighbors (or your kids) and letting in sunshine.

On a metaphorical basis however; the term "window" has come to mean "window of opportunity" or, taking advantage of an opportunity offered to you which is limited (e.g., "limited time offer") before that window closes and you can no longer throw something out it, or walk through it.

When I was a young up & comer in Aikido I had the great fortune to land in a pile of roses totally by serendipity.  I began with a couple of folks who had coached a university judo team and thru' them met a man who had trained in Japan and who had personal relationships with not only Tomiki and all of his senior people but also with Judo guys at the Kodokan who people today would drool and sell their souls to train with (Iikuda, Daigo, Kotani, Owaza, et.al.) and also Jodo people who had been personal students of Shimizu.

Figuring out fairly quickly what I had a hold of I went to every seminar he put on in Houston and made double-double sure to attend if someone from Japan was teaching.  I did this even tho' I was already training in Houston and had 7-day a week access to him and his dojo.  Living here meant I was totally immersed in a way unlike anyone from out-of-town; a truth that many of his local students appreciated but even with that, they would never attend any seminars or clinics. 

I could never understand that.  Just 'cause you live here why not go to every clinic since you never know when he might divulge that "secret bomb shell" that changes your Aikido world; you know, the "secret teaching" that occurs just because he's in a good mood and just starts rattling off all kinds of really interesting things in front of his audience.

I even went so far as to train every day of the week (that I wasn't traveling on business) including any open mat practice on Sunday morning or Sunday evening and any other special session put on by any senior player because I wanted to train certainly but ...... there was always the chance that Sensei would stroll out, sit to watch and just off-the-cuff jump out of his chair and start teaching a whole 1 or 2 hour class that amounted to free private lessons given by him to me and two or three of us who all thought alike (if we go maybe he'll show up and give us some super-secret-sauce recipes that no-one else will get but us).

We may think that taking advantage of every little offer of extra mat time or a one-day seminar or a seminar at another dojo or buying and reviewing a DVD that Sensei may recommend (whether it's his or someone else's) may take too much time, effort, money or focus to do right now & in this moment, but over time it adds up and pays big, big dividends.  Every little kernel of knowledge, every seemingly insignificant idea or drill or movement, every overheard dojo conversation where senior ranks are discussing some idea or kata or waza, finds its way into our subconscious mind and is stored somewhere back in there.  Over time, like a drip from the faucet filling the bucket, it finally hits a critical mass and then explodes in a frenzy of ideas that can threaten to overwhelm you. 

"Where do I start?  What do I do first?  I want to do this .... no this ... no this one and then this!  OMG!  I never realized that before!  How wonderful!  I need to try it.  Oh, now I know what Sensei meant." 

You suddenly realize that you don't have enough time in the day to explore everything, and the universe of Aiki-potential now seems vast and infinite.  Now you have to re-organize your training methodology.  You also realize (or should) that you didn't have to actually live in the dojo or spend every moment training to get to your moment of inspiration.  You simply took advantage of every small opportunity and over a long period of time, much like a kid building a mansion one Lego at a time, it just accumulated inside your mind and added up to a whole that was suddenly much, much larger than each piece (or individual Lego).  And it happened gradually as you just showed up here, went to class there, did some extra training over there, etc., etc.  It was easy and very osmotic.

An example of this I am now seeing in my dojo.  I have a small (but growing) group of players who have been with me since I opened the doors back in 98' at a YMCA where we had to share facilities with the rock climbing goomba's and the kids gymnastics' class.  How exciting it was to have 200 pound adults throwing massive gurumas and sumi-otoshi's and to look up as a group of 6 to 8 year old hobbits run across the mat between the falling bodies to reach the rock wall.  The parents are totally oblivious while I'm having a heart attack and screaming matte at the top of my lungs to prevent the literal death of a 3 foot tall child who could be crushed by a 200 pound Aikido player smashing them into the mat at 3 feet per second per second.     ..............   but I digress .....

These players are now the core of the dojo and they have spent as much time as possible (and as their lives, families and careers allow) in training at every opportunity offered.  That training and that extra effort, which I know they have on occasion thought to be wasted time, has now paid off ............... 10 years later.  I am now getting to teach everything that my original Sensei taught me including atari, sabaki, tsukai, musubi, kokyu breath control, and projection of ki ......... things that until recently I despaired of ever getting to discuss, much less practice, ever again.  You know, the "secret sauce" that Sensei revealed years, maybe decades ago, that it's taken until now to fully comprehend and make functional and intuitive.

So you see .......... taking advantage of the opportunities offered by the open window is, in the long term, extremely important to the developing martial artist.  Walking through that window, before Sensei is run over by the cosmic concrete truck, is too old to teach, to fat to fit into his hakama, to decrepit to take ukemi any longer, too excentric to tolerate, retires, or just gives up on life is important; that importance not being fully realized until years or decades later when the positives (or the negatives from not training) manifest themselves in how you teach and train and explore. 

Having that knowledge gifted directly to you from Sensei or any well known, well regarded and respected Aikido player or teacher (like a direct student of Ueshiba or Tomiki for example and there are still a handful around) means that you get the undiluted message from them, as opposed to the diluted downstream message from a second or third or fourth generation descendent who quite possibly did NOT go to class as often as they should (or who spent too much time doing kuchi waza) and then suddenly found themselves in charge and unable to competently relate what their seniors and teachers wanted them to learn and pass down; thus forever fatally flawing their students and prevent their ever reaching the levels possible (as shown by Ueshiba, Shioda, Saito, Endo, et.al.).

I guess what I'm trying to really get across here is the idea that when opportunity presents itself, jump on it as fast as you can.  Go to every seminar offered, every godo-geiko (open training) scheduled, every class scheduled and every ryu offered at your dojo (as long as job & family don't take precedent as we still have to live and be realistic with our lives).

Happy hour at the bar will always be there as will Monday Night Football and the All-You-Can-Eat Buffet at Sammies' Sushi Emporium and Sake Massage Parlor.  Training opportunities in the MA however (and the sempai and sensei who make it possible) someday may not be.  Spend the rest of your life being proud of what you know and can share, instead of kicking yourself in the rump for what you don't know or can't remember.

L.F. Wilkinson Sensei

Aikibudo Kancho

Aikibudokan, Houston, TX

February 2011


99. A Loud Shirt with Flowers, A Camera and a Look of Astonishment

If I were Ed MacMahon and Johnny Carson were still alive I'd be standing off to one side repeating that phrase while I chortled (I like that word "chortle", has ring to it) while Johnny wore his turban and opened the envelope to say .......... "What do Hawaiian tourists, dojo tourists and gym tourists all have in common?"

I was at the gym this morning having fully commited to getting back into shape afer the last 2 to 3 years of being inconsistent; remembering that I've had years prior in living at the gym and having a BMI way above what is supposed to be normal for a 5 foot 8 guy (I have little to no body fat and my chest measurement is 15 inches more than my waist ......... try buying a suit sometime).

I've lived in weight rooms, gyms, dojos and athletic field houses since the 4th grade and by spending my whole life working out I've been described as a fire plug who looks 10 years younger than my calendar age.  This works out pretty well but the downside is that as each decade passes I have to stay more focused and more consistent since staying in shape is more difficult now than when I was 20 or 30.  Not a biggie as the results are well worth the effort. 

I'm not the only one at the doj' who benefits from this as I have a Yudansha who is 70, looks and acts like he's still in his late 50's and who, based on his stories, walks into board meetings with guys younger than he who can barely lift their coffee cup, much less walk onto a mat and take a few hard breakfalls while teaching waza to someone who is literally in high school and 50 years his junior.  His co-executives look at him like he walks on water.

The long and the short is that for he and I and others like us, staying is shape takes focus, discipline, commitment and all three of those take a lifetime to understand, develop and to stay with.  Yes .... I've had periods when I was down or too busy at work or a little sick or consumed with personal or job issues but ........... I've always, always, always gotten back to the gym and to the dojo and now at age 60 can still run circles around guys less than half my age (don't tell anyone but I do need some additional aerobics work to get fully back up to speed so I'm revised my workout sheets today for my 4 day split).

What sets me, Mr. G, and all the others like us at my dojo and at your dojo is that we go to class or the gym and we wear pretty simple clothing, stay focused and don't take our cell phones or cameras with us.

This morning, for example, I remembered just why I intensely dislike January and February of each year and have for as long as I can remember.  I have my sheets for my 4 day split routine of anerobic and aerobic exercises, I'm puttering along feeling pretty good and starting to get back to lifting heavy again having just found a new, really good NO2 booster that's chock full'o BCAA's and I look up and find two bimbo's I've never seen before with their cute exercise books and technicolor uniforms and their cell phones and their hats (on backwards of course). 

They have between them every free weight dumb-bell off the racks ranging from 5 to 25 pounds and in between and they're guarding them lest someone ask for one to use since they weren't (I'm honestly not exagerating here people, not one iota) making biceps at each other and taking their cell phones and photo'ing each others tatoo's and muscles they're going, "Ooo, I like that one.  Have you done your arms yet?  I'm done with my arms and moving on to my butt next.  OH that's a cute pink outfit you have.   Where did you buy it?"

I said nothing but mentally I palmed my face and thought to myself, "Oh God, please let the New Year Resolution crowd go home and quit using up oxygen."  These two young women appeared more interested in trolling for trouser trout than in working out.  The only saving grace is that they'll be gone from the gym likely by mid-March or so because it's too difficult and other things are more fun at 7 AM.

This was the gym but also I've seen it (the tourist phenomena) in dojo's my entire MA career.  Folks who come in with good intent but essentially fall off the weight bench (or tatami) and who, unable to develop the focus and personal commitment, eventually quit and go home.  It's too bad actually because so many dojo or gym tourists could greatly benefit and would do well with enough focus and c0mmitment.

I consider myself really, truly fortunate to NOT have any people like this in my dojo and to have a great group of dedicated players, both male and female and ranging from high school students to guys older than me.  They're all commited and they're all focused and none of them are tourists, none are wearing loud Hawaiian shirts and they all left their camera's at home.

Only, ONLY by commitment, focus, dedication, personal discipline and only by doing all of those consistently over our entire lives can we move forward and develop those skills that others do not have.  Only by consistency can we progress and learn.

Leave the Hawaiian flower shirt at home along with the camera.

L.F. Wilkinson Sensei

Aikibudo Kancho

Aikibudokan, Houston, TX

February 2011

 


98. What's In A Name?

WARNING:  FREE FLOW BRAIN ACTIVITY STIMULATED BY COFFEE.    

Names are inportant parts of life and can have great impact on us.

Ever thought about why someone would name their only daughter Ima Hogg?  (the patriarch of the oil rich Hogg family here in Houston did.)

Ever find it funny that one of the leading proctologists in the Houston Medical Center is named Dr. Butts?  (he exists, go look it up)

Why would your father name you Harry Baals?  (say it out loud fast 3X and figure it out)

And then for the irony of the day; Harry Dick's wife is named Anita Dick (say it out loud fast 3X) ........ go figure.

These names really exist; or so say the radio gods down here (Walton & Johnson who have a pretty good early morning show which starts at 5 AM).

So names do matter in how we perceive things.

When one of my Sensei's Sensei came over to the US on tour, my wife and I were tasked with escorting her from seminar to seminar while my wife acted as uke for her teachings; a great honor I might add.  It gave us some behind the scenes on how high level Japanese Sensei view some things.

We walked into a dojo while on the tour and on the wall the dojo proprietor, concerned about the proper Japanese names, had cobbled together Japanese names and had done poster boards with the names of The Walking (and every movement in it) and the 8 Releases (and every movement in that also).  Sensei read the boards, turned away towards Lynn and I so no one could see and used her hand to hide her laughter before she said, "Walking and releases have no name.  Not kata.  Just walking and just exercise."  She appreciated the sincere efforts but she said that Tomiki had never thought the exercises important enough for formal names; their not being formal kata per se.

So this I now look back on and consider that the Japanese themselves for the most part place little stock in memorizing vast pages of names for everything.  I also gathered that the reason that each waza has a Japanese name is that they speak  ........ Japanese!!!!  Surprise!  So if this stuff had been invented by a Texas boy who grew up herding cattle then the names would likely be something like; "Twist'R Wrist Off" and "Cow-Punch'M Fore' Bending His Arm" or "Throw Him Down and Ride Him Like  A Broke D___k Mule Fore' Chokin Him". 

The rule here is that you invent it, you get to name it.  We do learn some Japanese though for two prime reasons IMHO;  first, it gives us a little sense of where it all came from and second, if you keep the nomenclature simple (kote-wrist & gaeshi-turn .... Kote-gaeshi or wrist turn) then it helps to understand some of what's going on.

Had a question recently at the doj' concerning the nomenclatura of the ryu; i. e., why things are named the way they are and whether or not it was a good (or bad) idea to learn by heart the Japanese names (and the English translations) of the entire system. For what we do (Tomiki Ryu with Jodo, Judo and grappling thrown in) that's likely nigh-on 500 plus names and the translation to learn and then to mentally attach to each specific waza. 

The question also reminded me of Iaido tests I've seen and films of Jodo demo's done in the US and Europe.  Funny to watch.  The victim (er, ah, demo guy) and his partner walk out in front of the judges and bow and then the head judge screams at the top of his lungs, "Bwaha-kate-romotee-hopeee-juju-bena-mumble-mumble, HAJIME!" which, ignoring the veins popping out on the judge's forehead, leaves me confused as to WTF the guy just said. 

And I already know all the names for all the Jodo kata and the Omote set of Iaido. 

Somehow tho' the demo guy's manage to do something that makes the judge happy before the judge screams something else only semi-intelligible and the demo guy's bow-off before heading to the restroom to change-out their fundoichi after all the rushing about.

When I was about a Nidan my Sensei, seeing that I was just a little crazy about becoming a real Aikido guy, walked up and gave me a handfull of those little rings with a bunch of tabs strung on it; you know, the kind you buy at an office supply.  I was instructed to take one ring full of tabs per kata and per practice set and write down the Japanese name and the English translation in order and then by going thru' each ring of tabs on a daily basis, learn the names for every waza in the system.  I can't begin to remember the names today, some 30 years later but at one time I could have stood out there as Sensei screamed the random names of waza and gotten them all correctly.

Do I think that this is necessary?  No; maybe back then when I was more than anal about a lot of things but not today.  What do I think is necessary today tho'?

Some Aikido systems name things in dual-fashion; the first half is what uke does and the second half is what tore does.  If it works for you fine and it honestly is not a bad idea at all esp. if the naming is designed to tell you what the technique is as Sensei sits to one side and randomly calls them out for a test.

For my part tho' I really prefer the naming that Tomiki Sensei came up with, esp for the kihon sections.  Shomen-ate (frontal head strike) .......... I mean, how simple is that and how direct is that?  I think that is has a very simple elegance to it.

Do I think that all waza should be memorized like I had to do all those years ago?  No but I do think that everyone should learn the names of all the kihon and the most important waza out of the koryu sets since they are done most often.

Just some random thoughts for a sub-freezing morning as I sit here contemplating my navel and wishing it was Spring.  I hate cold weather.  If God had intended for us to live in cold climates then we'd all have hair; lots of it.  And ice is supposed to go in the Gin and Tonic and not on my car in the morning.

Enjoy your coffee and remember two things;

...... if the student can't remember all the names he can still likely throw you down and strangle you so it's not a large deal and second,

........... before naming your kids sit down with the spouse, write out all the possibles that you like and then go thru' each one and think of every bad insult or joke or permutation the other kids can come up with so that someday your kid doesn't have to walk across the stage at high school graduation and you hear the snickers behind you as the principal calls .... "Mr. Harry Baals ... please step forward for your diploma."

L.F. Wilkinson Sensei

Aikibudo Kancho

Aikibudokan, Houston, TX

February 2011

 

 


97. But Coach; 1,000 rep's Just To Warm Up?

Yep!  Drop and gimme a 1,000 private (er, ah Aikido-ka).

Pedagogy refers to strategies of instruction or methods (of instruction).  It is a concept most important when teaching new skills to the student as the specific methodology can help or hinder the speed or depth of learning.

Overlearning is such a pedagogical concept, one that specifies that an newly acquired skill should be practiced well beyond the initial point of grasping that skill and should, by definition, be practiced beyond the the point at which that skill is mastered.

Once a skill is "mastered" then we must consider how and under what conditions that skill will be utilized.  If the skill is one designed for a "relaxed" situation (table etiquette would be a simplistic example) then "simple mastery" is an acceptable level of mastery and expertise.

We train in martial arts however; an activity in which, by definition, the skill sets we learn have to be better than just good, better than mere mastery.  In a potential life and death situation (or at the very least one in which we could be seriously injured) mastery is simply insufficient.  Over-mastery is therefore required.

Over-mastery is accomplished by over-learning in which the newly acquired skills (and skill sets) are practiced way-way-way beyond the intial point of understanding, functionality or mastery, and in which the regular practice of those skill sets continues, essentially forever.  This over-mastery leads to automaticity which wikipedia defines as "the ability to do things without occupying the mind with the low-level details required, allowing it to become an automatic response pattern or habit.  It is the result of learning, repitition and practice".

An example of automaticity would be the ability to walk and talk simultaneously and not trip over a little red wagon or a word.  (There are some people however for whom this level of skill is difficult; e.g. LBJ once described a fellow politician as a man so uncoordinated as to be unable to " ... fart and chew gum at the same time ... ".)

In the Tomiki Ryu there are certain kihon and kata sets that should be practiced each keiko without fail including; ukemi, walking, tegatana, 17 attack movements and some degree of either toshu or tanto randori that is designed to teach principles (and not rough randori or shiai).  Since these are the fundamental sets as designed by Tomiki and since they are the foundational corner stones for all that comes after, the continual over-practice of these fundamentals leads to over-mastery. 

In addition to their being the fundamental illustrations of fundamental principles AND their being the foundations of randori (much like Nage no Kata from Kodokan Judo) then the continual over-practice and over-mastery of these ensures that they can be effectively utilized in stressful situations in which adrenalin takes control and fine motor skills (and emotional control) go out the window and in which automaticity becomes a critical survival skill (such as in a self-defense situation).

As the old saw goes, "Practice makes perfect".

Don't be a slacker.  When you go to train then train. Don't engage in koochi-waza.  Don't train in a scatter-shot method of doing the fundamentals just every once in a while.  Rep's, rep's and more rep's.

The sake comes apres' keiko.

L.F. Wilkinson Sensei

Aikibudo Kancho

Aikibudokan, Houston, TX

Frbruary 2011