Monday, January 13, 2014


My Taiji teacher, Matthew Komelski, said something this weekend that stuck with me.  He was talking about how we "scan" our bodies to find various mis-alignments, sticking points, and other weaknesses during a movement or posture.

In Aikido, we do this too, of course.  Perhaps we don't usually do it as "internally" as is typical in Taiji and Qigong, but we do it nonetheless.

Matthew was pointing out that sometimes our instinct when we find these sticking points is to treat them negatively -- as something to be eradicated.  In a sense that's true, perhaps.  But that mind set isn't usually helpful.

Instead, Matthew suggests treating them like the little gold flecks you would find whilst panning for gold. Panning for gold is a somewhat of delicate process.  You need to stay calm, and aware, so that as you wash the mud and silt and sand out of the pan, you don't throw away the flecks of gold at the same time.  You have to wash the sand repeatedly, calmly, rhythmically, to give the gold time to settle, so that you can see it and differentiate it from everything else.

How?  By slowing down and being mindful.  Matthew says that 70-80% of your training should be slow and smooth (Gee -- never heard that before).

Thursday, January 9, 2014

On "BIG" Ukeme

Everybody that trains with me knows that I love Ukeme.  I love to watch it, I love to train with great Ukes, and I strive to be a great Uke.   As it happens, I have a lot of opinions on the subject, and I'd like to share one that might be somewhat controversial.

Question:   Are "big," flashy high falls necessary, or not?
Answer: Well, no.

The reason big high falls are not necessary in the Dojo is because we trust Nage to always train within Uke's limits.  We all know that if you attack hard, you risk falling hard.  But the fact is that if you attack with great vigor, and your skill as an Uke isn't up to that fall, Nage should back off and bring the confrontation to closure without hurting you!  The greater Nage's skill and experience, the more the technique will work no matter how gently it's done (often more so).  This is good training for Nage too.

But it does change the training.  If we always depend on Nage to "train down" to Uke in this sense, then Nage never gets to practice or experience doing technique at full speed and power.   In some ways, Uke's ability limits Nage's training.

...and let's not forget Uke's training! If Uke limits his own training to only slow, soft, and gentle, then Uke then never gets to experience the technique at full speed and power. I believe I learn 80%  of what (little) I know by being on the receiving end of it.  So this is important to me.  I once had a teacher say that one of the (many) goals of a good Uke is to be able to operate on "Nage time."  That is, be able to attack at full speed, and accept whatever Nage returns on Nage's terms.

My opinion on this subject is even stronger in my current Dojo, where our Dojo-Cho tends, by his own assessment, to favor O'Sensei's earlier Aikido, which is harder and more direct than the softer, rounder style he shows in his later years.  O'Sensei's pre-war Aikido is much closer to his Aikijutsu roots.

Gaston Sensei has also stated that it's better to "train for the mugger in the alley, because you can always back off your technique to use it on the drunken uncle at the party."

With a teacher like that, I feel that it's even more important to be able to take that fall on Sensei's terms.  How else will you ever come close to feeling the full effect of it?   I've lately had a lot of opportunity to take falls for Gaston Sensei (where you're either flyin' or cryin'), and I've learned a lot from it.

So.  The first priority is always to be able to train the next day. So if you're not yet capable of taking a fall, don't!  Nage will respect that.

And, while taking "gratuitous" break falls can be fun and even instructive, that's not the point of them.

But... if you are avoiding break falls just because you think they're showy, then I think you're the one with "showoff" issues <smile>, and you're limiting yourself and others.  They're not the most important part of being a "good Uke," but they are a piece of the package.

Ultimately, I think that if the break fall is there, you should take it if you're able.  It's just another part of the art, the learning, the fun.

There.  I said it.