Sunday, February 11, 2018

A Good Day of Training.

Yesterday (Saturday), I had a very satisfying day of training. A friend of mine from Auckland had come down Friday night. He joined us at the Hamilton dojo for the morning session. Then after lunch we drove back out to my place for a further two hours of training.

As usual McMahon sensei was on form and we worked through five idori hand releases. I always enjoy these exercises as they focus on very precise movement and sensitivity.

After the idori we moved to standing techniques from a cross-hand grab. We worked on flow and intensity while trying to keep to good form. By the time we worked through all of those, the session was near its end. I certainly felt wrung out and my body felt loose and strong.

The training at my own dojo was slower and steady. We went back over the five idori from the morning session to reinforce the key ideas then moved to five idori kata that require a more aggressive mindset.

Predatory gaze of Samurai Jack.

The mindset of a TSYR practitioner should be that of a predator. Patiently hunting the opponent, pressing for an advantage, waiting for a mistake to occur. When an opening presents itself move in without hesitation and finish quickly. Many of the kata we were working on involves the uchitachi initiating AND finishing the kata. The initial movement must not alert the uchitachi of the attacker's intentions and then, once started, the job must be finished quickly and precisely with certainty.

We worked on getting intent into the movements, not just going through the motions. It was very much a session of study and critique. Very enjoyable but a different pace from the morning.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Chokes and Throws.

It is very hot in New Zealand at the moment with temperatures reaching up to 30 degrees Celsius. There is something about training in the extremes of temperature that I enjoy. Stepping off the mats with skin wet with sweat is invigorating. My body feels loose and supple and I have the warm buzz of exercise flowing through my veins. 

This morning's training at the Hamilton Dojo was great. We don't officially start classes for another week so we have been working on a collection of waza from the Chuden syllabus. Today we started with chokes. We worked through ten different ways to wrap our arms around someones neck. By themselves, these chokes are just a list of possible options. But when combined with certain kata we practice, things start to make sense. One of the chokes is in fact the attack uchitachi initiates in one of the idori kata. So learning how to do this choke correctly aids shitachi in performing the correct response to escape and counter. Another one of the chokes is used part way through a different kata. Understanding what the choke is attempting to do helps shitachi perfrom it correctly. 

After swinging on each others' necks for awhile we moved to some of the chuden idori. Now, these are fun!  I can still remember when Robbie Smith sensei introduced us to these techniques. They are quite...memorable. The first technique starts in a similar way to a shoden level kata but ends, wait for it, with a choke. Being on the receiving end of this kata is not very nice. Threadgill sensei has some stories about people losing bowel control with this one as they can be choked out very quickly. The second idori kata we practiced involves someone coming up from behind to choke you but you counter and throw them. It is quite dramatic.

After idori kata we went to standing throws. The throws we were shown today work off concepts we are taught in the shoden syllabus. It was satisfying seeing the progression of techniques from the "basic" five throws we learn morphing into other variants or versions of the same concept. We are told often that the shoden mokuroku holds some of the key principles and concepts of the school and it is obvious in moments like these how true it is. An understanding of the Shoden syllabus really does make learning the Chuden stuff easier as the waza are often an extrapolation of an idea or movement learned previously. 

All in all it was a great session today. 

Saturday, January 13, 2018

A surprise training session.

So a couple of days ago I was asked by the mother of the girl I am training aikido if I would run a session through the holidays. We decided upon a Thursday morning at 9am before the day got too hot. My daughter joined me and we had our first aikido class for 2018. After giving the mats a good clean we finished up for the day. Or so I thought.

That afternoon I am enjoying some family time when there is a knock at the door. In walks my friend from Auckland, Jules. With him is another TSYR member from Auckland and Marco Pinto from Portugal!

Now, I knew Marco was in the country as Jules had invited him over for a seminar this weekend. I was not able to make the seminar and although Jules and I discussed Marco coming to my dojo I assumed that it was not going to happen. I was wrong.

So it goes without saying that I jumped up and grabbed my training gear and headed for the dojo.
We trained for two hours going over the idori kata. It was humid, stinking hot and fun. I always enjoy Marco's instruction, he moves precisely, totally dominates the mat and has a friendly banter.

There were four of us on the mats and I could see we could perhaps have up to six people total at a push.

After training they were going to go into Hamilton to run a karate session so my wife and I invited them in for an early dinner to fuel them up for the next stage of their journey.

My daughters enjoyed the visitors as well. Board games were played while dinner was being prepared.

All in all it was a great day of training for both aikido and TSYR.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Into a New Year!

So here we are, 2018. 

I sit here typing this post at 7:40 in the morning as the sun streams through my window. It is summer here in New Zealand and I am on holiday. 

Were am I in my training? Well, I started 2018 by getting up in the morning of the 1st of January and went to my private dojo to train. My daughter came with me. I have been giving private lessons of aikido to my daughter and a neighbour's daughter who is a similar age. So it made sense to me that my daughter could follow a tradition I have done for years; either train into the New Year or (in this case) train on the first day of the New Year as soon as possible. 

I do this for a few reasons. Firstly it is a way of making sure I start in a way I mean to carry on for the year. If I get out and train as soon as possible I feel I have started well. Secondly, its important from a Japanese perspective. I train in budo with Japanese roots. The New Year is important to the Japanese so I am respecting the roots of my two arts. 

After warming up on the mats I decided I would do 18 cuts for each of the TSYR battojutsu techniques to represent 2018. My daughter followed along with a bokken doing aiki-ken cuts of her own. As I mentioned, it is summer and it didn't take long for the sweat to appear on our skin. There was only the sound of bird song and the fabric of our keikogi rustling as we went through our cuts. It was a time where I could bond with my daughter without saying much except the occasional technical reminder. It was a time I enjoyed immensely. To be able to share my joy for the martial arts with one of my children is exciting and I feel privileged.

My daughter and I in the dojo.
I continue to work on the dojo. I have been painting the entrance just inside the door. A coat of paint is making a big difference to the original wooden shelves and wall there. I am enjoying the time I have to tick along with projects like this. 

I formally get back to the Hamilton dojo to train tonight (the 3rd) it will be good to see the others and iron out some kinks after being away for a break. 

To my readers who are martial artists, all the best for your training in 2018. May you grow stronger and wiser (whatever that means to you) and keep safe.


Sunday, July 23, 2017

Training in July (winter)

Well, it has been a very wet week here in the hills above Cambridge, NZ. The South Island has suffered severe flooding and a state of emergency has been declared in certain areas. However, training continues here.

My instructor, Chris has been overseas and left me to run the classes in his absence. The reality is that only a few of us are left to train while both Chris and Nat are gone so during the week we trained at the Hamilton Dojo and on the Saturdays we trained at the Te Miro Dojo.

I have been thinking about the way we train when Chris is away. We are left to work through our training problems and must rely on our own muscle memory and notes to do the techniques correctly. We have video footage of Threadgill sensei and notes of senior students to look at as well.

One tool we use are the key principles of the Ryu. If what we are doing is not working we return to principles. The more we train, the more we see the principles emerging in different techniques. It is empowering to solve a problem and push through our training on our own. Many times Threadgill sensei has mentioned one point or another and we think we are doing it but we are not. Then we have an epiphany during our training and realise he had been telling us that all along.

We watch our posture and structure a lot. We check the position of our shoulders compared to our hips and elbows. If our shoulders are ahead of our hips, we are often using too much arm force and not letting the lower body provide power. We watch the spine and check to see if we twisting or bending our spine in unhelpful ways. Things like this help us stay true to the training.

I have also enjoyed training over intense cold days (well as intense as it gets in our temperate climate) and very wet ones. There is something invigorating about trudging out to the cold dojo and forcing my limbs to get moving to warm up. Then afterwards feeling the warm glow that only post-training brings. Staying active in the colder months is important for health in my opinion.

The last couple of weeks has been satisfying and affirming of where we are in our training while our teacher is away.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Is your Koryu training alive?

Welcome to my 100th post!

One of the exciting aspects I like about training in TSYR, is that there is so much to learn. The knowledge we gain is built upon layer upon layer.

At higher levels of training, TSYR students undergo force-on-force freestyle application of the waza. This ramped-up style of training requires some safety measures. The students fit themselves out in various types of armour to protect the face, hands and body. Most wear versions of kendo armour, but Lacrosse gloves, naginata kote and other protective hand wear can be used. A fukuro shinai is used (bamboo wrapped in leather) instead of the bokken. 

Takamura sensei believed that the art's core principles must be constantly challenged within the context and the assumptions the art was founded on. Freestyle training is one way to do this.   

Chris training in Colorado (courtesy of Threadgill sensei)

My teacher, Chris, has recently returned from an instructor's seminar in Colorado, USA. While there he underwent instruction in techniques wearing armour. While formal kata were taught he also experienced freestyle practice and has bruises to prove it. He had the opportunity to try some of the first kata learned in the school but with the knowledge that his opponent would come at him with more speed and power than normal. 

Chris noticed two things. First of all the ma-ai (combat distance) changed. With no hesitation to hit fast, people closed the distance quickly. However, to hesitate could get you hit even if you were the attacker. So both opponents worked closer to the 'edge'. The old samurai saying that one third of the time you would win in an encounter comes to mind. You can hit the other guy first and win. You and the other guy hit each other at the same time (mutual kill), or the other guy gets you. So you only have a 1 in 3 chance of winning. That is not great odds.

The second thing Chris noticed was that the kata as they were performed in the basic level change slightly. They smooth out (or the movements become smaller) and the timing of the movements may change. It is this change that explains why the omote versions are taught the way they are. They are teaching key principles and body movement. At speed, those principles and body habits still hold true. Chris could spot many of the omote kata in the more advanced kata he was taught.

The freestyle practice really took it up a notch. People could vary the timing of their attack, circle each other, yell, attack fast, attack tentatively, feint, whatever worked. The key to this training was keeping it within a few parameters to ensure the principles were kept intact. Otherwise it would just turn into a brawl.

It was great to see Chris so animated about his training and his enthusiasm was contagious. I'm sure he has had some insight into our Shoden kumitachi and that will be apparent in the next few weeks of training. 

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Atemi: The Thunder and Lightning of Aikido - Book Review

This book is written by Walther G. Von Krenner with Ken Jeremiah. Walther has been studying Aikido since the 1960s and runs a dojo in Montana, USA. According to his bio found here he is Hachi-dan in aikido and has studied with Morihei Ueshiba, Kisshomaru Ueshiba and Kochei Tohei.

I will review the book based on the sections it is split into so you can decide if it is something you may read for yourself. I bought the ebook version from Kindle.

The book is split into three parts; Shodan (basic), Chudan (intermediate) and Jodan (advanced). Each part is a section with its own chapters.

Section 1 focuses on striking both from the uke's (attacker) and nage's (defender) viewpoint. The author writes about striking well and with intent. For uke's role he looks at the three stylised attacks often found in aikido dojo; shomen uchi, yokomen uchi and tsuki. He also talks about the grabbing attacks and initiative. For nage's benefit he looks at the first four pinning techniques often practised; Ikkyo, Nikkyo, Sankyo and Yonkyo. He discusses where and why atemi (strikes) are used at the beginning, during or the end of a technique. Chapter Three of this section looks at striking during aikido throws. Kaiten-nage, Shihonage and Sumi-Otoshi are discussed. The final part of section 1 looks at "Putting it all together." The author gives examples of how strikes can be applied to specific examples of attack and defence using pictures. Throughout this section the author references the founder of Aikido, Morihei Ueshiba and attempts to relate sword arts to empty hand strikes. Although the whole section is really about striking correctly as an attacker and knowing when and where to strike during a pinning or throwing technique as a defender, the author offers more than this. He speaks about principles of movement. Such phrases as "The shoulders should never rise while striking.", "Always feel as though you are extending energy from the finger tips and even the elbow joint." and "The basics of stability and correct body movements are the key to performing more advanced techniques." are gems hidden within the text.

Section 2 assumes the Aikidoka has a good understanding of basic striking and moving. The principle of irimi is discussed and defined according to the author. He calls upon principles of Ona-ha Itto Ryu to help describe his concept of irimi. Of course it is only logical that a discussion of irimi leads into a discussion about irimi-nage and that is exactly what happens in this book. Irimi is discussed as a way to dominate an opponent. Keeping this in mind, the author explores aiki and kiai. I'll leave you to read the book to see what is discussed here.

Section 3 delves into the esoteric power of Aikido. Of course there are endless stories of Morihei Ueshiba's power and strength. What the author tries to do is to break down the illusion of mysticism around the founder of Aikido and suggests that there is a definite method of learning and improving this skill. Here the book explores the power of Takeda of Daito-Ryu Aikijujutsu fame and one of his best students, Sagawa Yukiyoshi. Aiki is described as a skill that develops immovability and unstoppable force and not simply "the flow of ki". Tohei's four basic principles are introduced here as a method to develop aiki. Each of the four principles are explained in detail: Keep one point, Relax completely, Keep weight underside, and Extend ki. O-sensei's solo training exercises are also mentioned, especially funakogi-undo and ikkyo-undo. The author stresses the importance of these two exercises in the development of aiki. He takes the point further by adding that having people push on you while doing these exercises will improve your skill substantially. He ends this section with the quote, "The true source of power in Aikido is not within the varied techniques, but rather in the internal training exercises that have been overlooked by many practitioners." 

Conclusion. Finally, the author gives a short conclusion summarizing his main points throughout the book. It is a very good synopsis of what is written and I would actually recommend reading this first and go to the appropriate chapter to read further if key points interest you. 

So my thoughts overall?  I found the book really interesting to read. Having a background in Aikido and what I believe to be some understanding of internal training I liked what I read. However, I am a naturally skeptical man and I have heard some of these terms thrown about (excuse the pun) by Aikido instructors before. Those same instructors didn't really demonstrate any of these principles on the mat (not at least to the level we are talking about here). The author didn't give me enough to be fully convinced he had cracked the internal power thing. I had a search of him on YouTube and there are videos. As is often the case with this stuff it is hard to really know what is going on from just watching someone perform techniques. His martial application of aikido strikes and concepts surrounding this, I agree with. Putting section 3 aside for a moment, the other two sections give plenty for an Aikidoka to work with to ensure they are practising a martially viable version of the art.  
If you are serious about your Aikido then I would recommend this book. At the very least it will give you another perspective from which to view the art.