Saturday, September 28, 2013

Jiyu Waza

Kyu testing is coming up, and of course my own Shodan test is only a month away.   So I spent several hours today watching YouTube videos of various Randori and Jiyu Waza demonstrations and training sessions.   (BTW, those terms are often used incorrectly.  In general I'm talking about multiple attackers, free attack, free response).

Steven Seagal (Take Sensei) continues to have some of the best Randori on YouTube,

... But I just stumbled across this one, in which my worst fears were discussed quite clearly.   I freeze. I get caught, and then I seem to forget everything I'd like to think I "know" about Aikido.

And what are the standards to which I hold myself?
1) Never stop moving
2) Be aware of the whole mat
3) Don't get stuck on a single Uke (in our training, we're taught to "finish, and then move on", but it's still bad form, at least at higher ranks, to dwell).  Deal with the attack and move on..
4) Be calm.  Even if I screw up (which I most certainly will). If you exude tension and fear, so will everyone else.
5) Never, ever, stop moving.  (AK's words: "Keep movin' and you'll get somewhere you know")

Some more advanced pointers that I hope to emulate occasionally:
1) line up Ukes so that I'm always the least exposed (shikaku)
2) make THEM look for ME

Monday, September 16, 2013

Ukeme YES!

Chris Lee (fellow aikidoka and webmaster extraordinaire) sent out an email today.  And I quote:

"Today I came in to work to find everyone scrambling a bit, one of my colleagues it out and we are working to cover her courses, office hours, and such. 
The reason she is out may help you (as it did me) to put your troubles in perspective. 
This weekend doing yardwork she fell and broke both arms.  Multiple fractures in each, full cast on one, removable cast on the other.  This sucks.  But, there is more - she is young and has a 9 month old daughter, her first child. 
Our support network is great at the college and she'll be swamped with offers to help, but that will not make everything easier. 
So, PRACTICE YOUR UKEMI !!!  I can't tell you how many times I've told new aikidoka that the best life skill they may get out of class is learning to fall without getting badly hurt. 
Today I was reminded of that.
See you all on the mats!! 

I wanted to respond to this, as it hit close to home.

The biggest injuries of my life have been:
  1. Bicycle accident when I was about nine.  Flew over the handlebars and destroyed most of the skin on my chest, side, and some of one arm.  Out of school for months as I recovered.
  2. Broke my wrist by falling off a skateboard, shortly before starting high school. (It was in a department store, but that's irrelevant).
  3. Hip injury (subluxated sacroiliac) after doing a bicycle kick in a soccer game in college.  I was in excruciating pain for two weeks, and had one leg 2 inches "longer" than the other.  "Fixed" after my first-ever visit to a chiropractor.
  4. Badly dislocated shoulder during an ultimate frisbee match.  I was 25 or so.  Got worse in subsequent years, ultimately resolved with surgery.
Each of these injuries would almost certainly have been avoided and/or minimized, had I known how to fall.   I didn't learn that until years later.

Since learning to fall in Aikido, I've taken at least a couple of falls (that I can remember) that would have disabled my younger self, but that instead left me laughing:
  1. BIG back-fall on the street in front of a big crowd of neighbors while on roller blades. Neighbors still talk about it.  I got up and bowed for the applause.
  2. Stupid stationary fall off a bicycle when I couldn't get out of the clips.  I distinctly remember laughing on the way down.  Even had enough presence to save my bike from getting scratched.
Ukeme matters, folks. Chris is right.  It's possibly the most useful everyday skill you can take with you. Practice it.  The mat is your friend.


Friday, September 13, 2013

Kinder and gentler

Gaston Sensei has been teaching for the past two Thursdays, and I've been wondering what to write about it. There's a lot to say, most of which I'm still digesting.  But here's something from last night.

Sensei stated last night that his Aikido is "not your 'kinder, gentler' Aikido."  Anyone would agree, I'm sure -- certainly anyone who's taken ukeme for him. His style is less about elegance and grace, and more about efficiency and effectiveness.

This style is not necessarily my personal preference.  But last night, Sensei put it in perspective for me in a way that sunk in.  He said that Aikido is unique as a martial art in that you could use the same techniques to handle a drunken uncle at a party as you do to handle an attacker in an alley with a knife.  He believes that if you train for the drunken uncle, you'll never be able to handle the knife-wielding attacker.  So he trains for the knife, knowing that it's easier to "dial it back" for the drunken uncle.   It's that whole "Shin Ken" (live blade) thing, I guess.

Sensei, Domo Arigato Gosaimasu

Wednesday, September 11, 2013


On September 11, 2001, My alarm went off at 5:30 am, to get me out of bed in plenty of time to make it to 7:30 Aikido class at Suginami Aikikai in San Francisco.  It was a clock radio, so I woke up to the surreal announcements of "an airplane has crashed into the world Trade Center."   After realizing I wasn't dreaming (I probably hit the snooze button), I jumped out of bed to go to the TV.  Shortly thereafter, I saw, with millions of others around the world, the second plane crash into the second tower.

I watched for some time.  Finally, I made my way to the dojo, feeling numb and confused.  We set up a TV that we could see while we trained.  We trained slowly, in stunned silence, wiping the mats with our tears rather than our sweat.  I remember thinking "this is exactly why we train -- to learn to resolve conflicts peacefully."