Sunday, February 23, 2020

Steven Seagal teaches

Whatever you think of Steven Seagal as an actor, I believe you have to respect his abilities as an Aikidoka, and a teacher.

Here's a great video of him teaching some of his most signature techniques.  It's long.  I've marked a few spots that appeal to me personally.
  • 13:15 - Sensei teaches his Uke to move his hips to follow the technique. When we teach Kote-gaeshi at the Kai, it's almost always with a back fall, not a front (break) fall. I feel, however, that it's important to move with the technique as Sensei is teaching in this video, in order for both Uke and Nage to experience the full power of the technique, at speed.
  • 16:00 - control, in Kosa-tori Nikko. Anybody every seen this before?  :-)
  • 19:00 - Sensei talks about alignment of hips. Sound familiar? Notice that, at 19:30, he again speaks of Uke aligning his hips as well -- for his own protection. This means turning to keep the technique in front of him (Uke). When you're ready, learn to take that beautiful break fall -- it's not just for the aesthetics.
  • 21:15 - Sensei unveils his signature Irimi-Nage.  I couldn't help noticing that, the first time he shows it, he shows it only ONCE. Pay attention!  
  • 22:30 - "There's no pushing in Aikido.  It's a cut." (I love this)
  • 25:50 - a variation of what we know at the Kai as "AK's Kokyu-ho".  However, this one puts Uke's wrist and elbow at risk, so it must be done with care, and Uke must be willing to move.
  • 27:45 - Sensei talks about "practice" techniques versus street techniques, and how to practice in the dojo -- how to be a good Uke, essentially. A great lesson for Ukes who are trying to be more "realistic" in their attacks. Be sincere, not realistic (a realistic attack is almost never sincere).
  • 36:30 - Sensei take requests, and lands on Sankyo. What he shows is not what we usually do, but it should all be familiar.
  • 38:20 - Shihonage. Notice that Sensei teaches the takedown exactly in the direction we practice it at the Kai -- straight to the shoulder blades, where it's safe for Uke.  Although I think Sensei does emphasize the hips even here more than we generally do.
  • 39:20 - a rather rare view of Segal doing a Koshi-Nage!

Friday, September 13, 2019

Irimi and the Handshake Induction

I recently watched an podcast in which Joe Rogan interviews Derren Brown, a very well-know hypnotist and mentalist.  It’s a long and interesting interview.  But skip ahead to the 13:30 mark and listen to a few minutes of Derren’s explanation of what a “handshake induction” is.

Some background (FYI, many years ago, I was actually a certified hypnotherapist. No kidding. LOL.). An induction is when a hypnotist or hypnotherapist puts a subject into a hypnotic “trance.”  There are many methods.  Some of the them are classic “you are getting very sleepy...”.  Some, like the handshake induction, are instantaneous, and rely on interrupting the normal flow.  (Ummm... Irimi). 

Derren goes on, in this little clip, to explain how he has used this technique in a martial arts situation.  It’s pretty interesting.

This reminds me of a story...  A good friend of mine (let's call him Tim) is a long-time school principal.  He often had to make a showing at school events and help with security and such.  At one such event, a football game, he noticed one of the school's well-known misfits, sitting along by himself, away from the game.  The kid (let's call him Charlie) was known to be a little weird, but harmless.

Tim notices that a small group of tough-looking guys is walking towards Charlie, and he can tell they're talking about him, and are thinking of having some fun with him.  Tim stealthily edged within earshot to monitor the situation.

As they approach, one of the big bullies steps forward to confront Charlie.  However, before the bully can get a word out, Charlie hops off his perch, takes a step toward the bully, and says "have you ever held a monkey?"

"Huh?"  The bully is taken by surprise, and tries to shake it off in front of his friends.

Charlie persists. "Have you ever held a money, man?  I've never done it, and it's on my bucket list. What about you?"

And the confrontation was over, as the bullies backed away and moved off.

Irimi is a powerful thing.

Friday, August 2, 2019


Aikido isn't generally the kind of practice in which you get big "aha" moments very often.  Usually enlightenment comes in little flashes that are gone as quickly as they come, sometimes without even being noticed.  We depend on (hope for, live for) those flashes coming more frequently over time, and at deepening levels.

But sometimes we get a big epiphany.  I believe I had such a thing last night.

I love doing Ukemi.  I love being Uke.  I believe, and I have often said, that it's because when I am Uke I don't think.  I just react.  I just blend.

I have long known that this is where my brain and being should be when I'm Nage, as well.  I call it "being in my Uke brain" (even when I'm Nage).  I'm not there yet.

But, last night, Tonya said something while teaching that turned on a light.  

She was saying that, as Nage, we take advantage of the fact that Uke is focused on the attack -- say, the grabbing of the wrist.  Since they're focused on that, we use it.  For instance, as in last night, Uke is focused on that initial Kose-dori grip when coming around for Ushiro Ryote-dori, and we use that to go to "heaven" with the other hand as we execute Ryote-dori Tenchi Nage (she called it Kokyu-ho -- same idea).

She said that, as Nage, our world is open to possibilities.  Wide open.  Lots of options. As opposed to Uke, who is more or less constrained to the contact point of the attack.

That's when the light went on.  

It is that very focus, when I'm Uke, that allows me to just blend.  When my mind has this "mantra" to focus on, I can relax and just blend.   As Nage, the very idea of being unconstrained is what makes it difficult for me to just relax and blend.  I have too many options.  My mind wants to see them all; evaluate them all; pick one. Since I'm generally a "big picture" kind of thinker, this is overwhelming.  I have the same dilemma in other parts of my life -- while I'm good at seeing the big picture and all sides of any argument, I do tend to process things and make decisions slowly.

I've experienced the same sort of thing as a songwriter.  If someone says "write me a song," it's really hard.  If, instead, they say "write me a song with 'can't get there from here' as the title, in a gypsy style, in the key of A-minor -- well, that's actually easier.  Fewer options.  I'm off and running much quicker.

Ever been in a group of friends and someone says "where do you want to go for lunch?"  If it's wide open, the conversation takes longer.  If you're constrained to one hour and there's a vegetarian in the group, things get a lot "simpler," from the perspective of having to make a decision.


What I realized was that I need to have a mantra, as Nage.  Something as specific and tactile as the attack when I'm Uke.  Something I can keep laser-focused on, so that the rest of my mind and body can relax and just do what it does fairly naturally by now.

Perhaps it's just my "center."  Or, as Ki Society folks say "Weight Under Center."  Right now, that doesn't seem specific enough -- though it's getting easier the more Taiji I do.

Anyway, I don't have the solution yet.  But now I have a much better idea of what the problem is.  In order to "get into my Uke brain" as Nage, I need a mantra.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019


Ikkyo, Nikkyo, Sanyko, Yonko, etc...  We all know them as "First technique, Second technique, etc".   Or perhaps "First teaching, Second teaching..."   But I recently watched a YouTube video in which they were referred to as "First principle, Second principle... etc."

This was an "aha" moment for me.  There are a number of common principles in Aikido.  Each school would have a different set of them -- each teacher, each person, even.  I'm talking about things like centering, breathing, blending, "live blade," self-control, balance, extending Ki, weight under center, movement.   There are so many.

I think that each technique we show, and even each variation we show, or attitude with which we show it, can focus on certain Aikido principles.  Some techniques lend themselves better to certain principles over others.

I find myself, when I'm teaching, looking around the room and watching people train, noticing different things. Perhaps I'm seeing errors in simple mechanics.Those are easy.  But I'm also looking, consciously or unconsciously, for certain principles.

For example, in our dojo we make a distinction between irimi-nage and kokyu-ho (or is it kokyu-nage?-- after 20 years I'm still not sure of the difference).  Even though some of the mechanics of certain variations can be very similar, by focusing on a particular principle we can see some differences.  Irimi is "entering," so we focus on entering, and the technique can become a bit more assertive, even aggressive.  Kokyu is "breath," and so the technique can be more "opening" -- more "flowy."   The basics of the variation can be very similar (say, from Ryote-dori or Katate--dori).  Both techniques can be very effective.  Each involves principles of the other.  The emphasis might depend on the teacher, the Uke, the Nage, the particular attack, etc...

If we're Kose-dori doing Nikkyo, I might focus on finding a direct line to Uke's center (or even my own).  If we're doing Yokomen-uchi Shihonage, however, all that motion might lend itself more to a focus on movement, or of maintaining center connection. 

All principles apply all the time, probably, but some techniques lend themselves better to demonstrating certain principles more than others.

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Panda Sensei

I want to thank brother Spence for dubbing me "Panda Sensei."  Not quite as intimidating as some of the other more terrifying nicknames we've given our fellow mat mates, but I'll take it.  Big, fluffy, round, generally in a good mood...  I like it.

Saturday, December 8, 2018

Thanks to Saturday Class

In my last post, I spoke about the Saturday class that I'll be leaving behind for a while, after having taught it for two and a half years.  Here's a picture of that class, to whom I own a great deal of thanks.  As I said at the end of class: "thank you for sharing your Saturday with me."

I want to point out a few things about this picture, to give you an idea of the quality of the people I train with.

  • All the way on the left, that's Michael.  We call him "Dragon."  We used to call him "bearded Mike," but, well there are three bearded Mikes in the dojo (I'm one of them).  Dragon is an ex-marine, an accomplished power lifter, and a counselor.  He's one of the most physically gifted Aikidoka I've every worked with.  Tell him something once, he makes a correction, and it seems to stick.  Dragon already at a skill level far beyond his rank, and is gonna be a monster some day.   Dragon also has the distinct honor of teaching me a very valuable lesson in humility when I tried to reverse his Sankyo one day.  My wrist has only recently recovered.
  • With his hand on Dragon's shoulder, hiding in the back, that's David.  He's an accomplished Taekwondo instructor in his other life, and I learn a lot from him about practical applications and strikes.
  • Next to David, hand on my shoulder, is Torrey.  Torrey was visiting from Atlanta, where he trains at another unaffiliated dojo that hails originally from Nihon Goshin lineage, now more in a Takahara tradition.  Torrey trained with us on Monday, and then again this Saturday.  He wore a white belt to class out of respect, but it quickly became obvious that this was a ruse.  Torrey is training for Shodan, and I look forward to him visiting again after he makes rank.  I've never seen anyone more relaxed in a Jiyu-Waza.  His inside blends are powerful. and I learned a great variation on Irimi-nage today.  Come back any time, Torrey.
  • AK is standing behind me in the picture (Brielle Sensei).  You can't see it, but he's wearing a hakama, and is the third most senior active member of the dojo, after Gaston Sensei and our new Shidoin, Eric Goodbar Sensei.  AK has been in training for Nidan for a number of months. AK has been a regular on Saturdays, with the exception of when they conflicted with Va Tech games.  He's always got a smile on his face, is always open to new ideas, and, for a guy who's physically strong enough to not need Aikido to defend himself, is actually one of the most mobile, fluid practitioners on our mat.  Thanks for your help over the years, AK, and I wish you well on your Nidan journey.
  • Next to AK, in the back, is Jack.  Jack is one of the most diligent students at the Kai, and always goes the extra mile to put down or take down mats, lead mat cleaning, comes to extra practices, whatever.  We joke about Jack "the rock," and "Jersey Aikido."  But Jack has come a LONG way in finding more fluidity in his movements, and not resorting to his Jersey attitude and his other martial arts background (Karate? Taekwondo?).  The best thing about Jack may be the bits of wisdom that he lays on us at some point in most classes.  Once, to encourage students to breathe while the did Ukemi, I asked for a poem that we could recite while we rolled.  You'll have to ask Jack what he came up with.
  • In front of Jack, just to my left, is Dr. Tom.  He wears a provisional black belt (a white belt with a black stripe down the center).  He doesn't test for rank, but he's been doing Aikido for a loooonnng time.   He's also an accomplished Judoka, and is prone to sweeping your leg if you let him.  I don't know exactly how old Tom is, but I hope I'm moving as well when I'm his current age as he is now.  Tom also happens to be an ER surgeon, so if we ever have an injury during class, we're in good hands.  And how old are we now, Doc?
  • Finally, on the far right of the picture, that's Robert.  Robert is also a doctor.  Robert trains with such passion! We often have to get him to dial it down a notch, his safety and that of everyone else.  Robert thinks about Aikido a lot, off the mat -- something I can relate to.  Robert also brought me a bottle of wine as a parting gift today -- how very nice.  Thanks, Robert.

Journey to Nidan Begins

Hello, all.

A few weeks ago, I requested permission to officially embark on a path to test for the rank of Nidan, which Gaston Sensei approved.

Requirements for the rank are as follows:

  1. Mastery of core techniques -- both as Uke and as Nage.  The only "new" technique is Koshinage.
  2. Must express desire to test at least two years from attaining Shodan
  3. After formal request, at least one year, with documentd 150 hours of training.  Hours teaching do not count.
I want to talk about that first requirement (the other two are pretty straightforward).  "Mastery" -- that's a big word.  I think that, in order to consider myself having "mastered" the core techniques to a level sufficient to be worthy of the rank of Nidan, I will be expected by my Sempai to show the following:
  • I must show precision and control -- this is a hallmark of what we teach at the Kai.
  • The techniques must come naturally.  I shouldn't have to "look for" them in any but the most unusual of situations, and even then I should be able to navigate to them if needed.
  • I must know the technique deeply enough to teach them consistently to a wide variety of students at all levels.  This means knowing the typical pitfalls and knowing how to help students work their way through them.
  • No matter what I'm doing, I must show a level of poise and confidence appropriate to the rank.  
In addition to what I think others will be expecting of me, I think there are some things I'll be aspiring to for my own satisfaction.  I suppose these are also things I would expect of other students reaching the rank of Nidan, but that's not my place yet.

  • Variation: I need to be able to show variations of the technique in different styles. This includes different "dialects" within our own Kai, as well as variations from other styles of Aikido.  To accomplish this, I am committed to increasing my attendance at Seminars, and try to visit other dojos when I travel. I think it's important to show other styles because not everybody is the same.  Different body types, mind sets, Ukes, athletic ability, strength levels, situations -- one style simply can't work best in all of them.
  • Randori: This, in my mind, is the true test of Shodan, and even moreso for Nidan.  I have a long way to go before I feel I'm proficient at this.
Well, so be it.  Thanks to all my training partners over the years -- especially those students who attended my Saturday class for the last 2.5 years.  I will be leaving that class behind for a while, to focus on Nidan training, and to do some other things on Saturdays for a while.