Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Questions to Parker Sensei

In my continuing effort to have other people fill my blog full of useful information, Patrick Parker from Mokuren dojo and blog was kind enough to respond to my initial batch of questions. If you are at all familiar with the martial arts blog-o-sphere that undoubtedly you have encountered his work. He is a prolific author, thinker and is high ranked in both judo and aikido. I know he also has studied karate for a long time so it would not surprise me if he was high ranked in that as well. I have had the pleasure to work out with him and throw back a few drinks. He is a great guy and a good friend.

Why did you start training?

I started training in taekwando initially. A high-school buddy invited me to his class and I had no clue what TKD was or that martial arts even existed. When he told me that it was like what Bruce Lee did I didn't know who that was. He had to explain ot me that it was like boxing but you kick people. THAT excited me, and i've been hooked since my first exposure to the dojo.

Why do you continue to?

When I went to college there was no TKD in town (believe it or not). So I got into a karate class that emphasized self-defense application. I swallowed their self-defense propaganda hook, line, and sinker, and it wasnt till much later that I started figuring out that dojo self defense and street self defense were different animals. Anyway, even after I got into aikido and judo I have tried to maintain a street-practical self-defense perspective. So, to answer your question, I got into it for the social aspect, continued in it because of the self-defense propaganda they sold me, and even now that I don't feel particularly threatened in my life, I continue to try to focus on the self-defense aspect because I feel that is just about the only somewhat objective criteria to judge martial arts by. Even if you do the art for art's sake, there is no way to judge your progress unless you use competition or street applicability as a sort of criteria.

Do you have a phrase(s) that sum up your ideal of martial arts practice?

Ideal aikido and judo has to be automatic and reliable.

What do you like to see in a practice?

Moderate speed, high repetition, constant motion, and lots of falling down.

What do you not like to see in a practice?

People doing 2-3 reps and chatting for the rest of class. Teachers taking up the entire class lecturing or grandstanding. Ukes resisting to the point of preventing tori from learning. People worshiping pictures of old, dead aikidoka.

How do you define aiki?

My definition changes with time. right now I tend to think aiki means ending a conflict as quickly as possible in the most appropriate manner possible.

What adjective would you say your technique 'feels' like?


When does a practice become not-aiki?

when you start emphasizing strategy or tactics that require tori to be stronger or faster or more prepared than the opponent - that is, when you are practing things that are not capable of being made automatic and reliable.

Do you have a favored technique right now?

Lately I get a lot of maeotoshi in randori but it's not really my most favored techinique - just something that crops up a lot. I do have anti-tokuiwaza though. I especially suck at gedanate and hikiotoshi. Funny thing is I have a student whose absolute best techniques are gedanate and hikiotoshi.

What is your favorite practice related book?

Nick Lowry's book is probably the best one out there. I also refer to Lee Ah Loi's kata book a lot.

What is rank? What does rank reflect?

Rank is mostly just a measure of time in training, sort of like seniority in a union. If the instructor is ethical in their ranking practices then rank sort of indirectly indicates skill level, but mostly just seniority.

What principle have you been focusing on in your practice lately?

I've been mostly preparing a shodan candidate for a test in April, so we've been working on otoshi and guruma timing and on trying to find the float and the drop in all the kihon - not just the ukiwaza.

What is your relationship to kata?

Kata is indispensable and inescapable. You might prefer randori, but it's not possible to teach an art through randori only. As soon as you start saying, "Try this. Do it this way, and you should get a result like this..." then you have kata. As soon as you start drilling something, you have form. If everything is random, nothing is ever repeated in similar form, then there is no learning.

What is your relationship to a competitive feeling in training?

I think Tomiki had the right idea - you have to be able to pressure test your technique and strategy. Your system has to be testable and falsifiable. Now, I don't especially like the tanto randori system that they ended up with, but I think they had the right idea. Just like kata is inescapable, so is randori or shiai (at least one or the other).

How has your vision of practice changed as you have gotten older?

I think it has diversified. Nothing in the system is necessarily set in stone. There are many plausible variations that we can work on. Many ways to get to the top of the mountain. I still like to see lots of falling in practice but i realise that the falling beats up some students worse than others so that guideline is flexible. Suwari is still part of the art, but there are a lot of folks with bum knees, so that guideline is flexible.

Do you have another hobby or art form that you think about in martial arts terms and ideas?

I think martial arts share a lot of their methodology with organized religion, and often I see aspects of Church liturgy that remind me of kata or kihon.

Do you see any problems with the way aikido is practiced in the world at large, and do you have any recommendations for change?

I've said before, and been chastized for it, I don't like hippie aikido. I suppose it has a large enough following of folks that do, so more power to them, but I rather view aikido as a practical, pragmatic thing. In fact, lately I have noticed many similarities between old WWII combatives and our aikido. I think a lot of aikidoka would learn a thing or two studying the old WWII combatives stuff.

What martial art besides the one you practice do you think is interesting?

Baguazhang and Kichuando

What inspires you?

My students - particularly when I see that dawning of recognition where they not only understand what i'm saying but they are able to bridge the gap to make that idea theirs.

Do you have any aspirations for your art, dojo or organization for the future?

Yes. Too many to list right here and now.

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