Thursday, June 30, 2011

Budo in the Matrix

Face it friends, things are changing out there. YouTube, FaceBook, online communities, cell phones, the blog-o-sphere are all now major tools in pushing forward martial arts in ways never imagined by the masters of old. Information is out there and easy to get at for the person willing to do some genuine searching and networking. People are coming together from styles around the globe that at one time had been fractured divisions. A new dawn of budo is here friends.

YouTube in and of itself is absolutely amazing. Artists from all over the world are posting lessons, demonstrations, form, tournaments, and lectures. I had been training for 6 years in Aikido before I ever saw a film of Ueshiba Sensei in action. I never saw his major students. Then, comes YouTube and it's all there and more.

In the Kaze Uta Budo Kai we are often filming entire seminars and posting them up. Our entire organization, and anyone curious to see what we are up to can keep updated with the latest trends.

Now much of this flies in the face of the old feudal system of budo. Secret clubs, all information coming from the master. People could be purposely not shown things, and secrets were kept. I know plenty of people who still train that way, but I am choosing to ride the information wave.

Social media like FaceBook is connecting people with budo interests from around the world. I know and communicate with the heads of systems and high ranked teachers from all over the world on my feed. We post videos, comment on each others works and write our inspirational and political thoughts to share. It is happening all the time. Many budoka are really plugged in to whats is going on with each other.

Online communities are continuously cropping up. Invariably you can find the biggest names in budo and martial academia on the big boards. You can correspond with people in China and Japan and get technical advice and translation work done.

The blog-o-sphere is another of the heavy hitting fronts in the new study of budo. Artists, newbies, thinkers, historians and dabblers are all out there publishing about niche arts and budo minutia around the clock. Bloggers to serve as net workers. Bloggers are a extended community anyhow that cross the martial arts boundaries. We are all watching each others arts and contributing to each others growth. I strongly feel my blog has brought me many of the important connections and relationships that now define my budo practice.

That ancient piece of technology the cell phone is now a cornerstone in my training regime. Nowadays there are no long distance charges, so I burn several hours a week talking in depth with teachers, students and fellow friends in budo. Though we are across the country, talking with top sensei is now a casual part of the day.

Like I said, times are rapidly changing friends. I think the next decades will bring an even greater wealth of budo knowledge to the fingertips of the students who genuinely want to learn. I feel we stand a shot, as long as we are still willing to put in the sweat work on making higher quality and more knowledgeable artists than have ever been before. There are no more secrets. LET THERE BE INFORMATION!

After analyzing youtube for hours, sometimes I return to the world feeling like Neo in the movie The Matrix after he was implanted with martial arts programs. I look up from the monitor and proclaim "I know kung fu."

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Water Boxing Push Hands

I really like soft, slow, balance break push hands like this. I hope to be practicing like this a lot, later on in my career.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Wave

Here is a painting I finally finished. It is probably 3 feet by 4 feet, and heavily textured. In person the thick paint leaps out of the canvas. Photography often cannot paintings well. I choose the wave, because I have always enjoyed Harakusai's painting. Waves are a pure expression of energy and motion. In fact my dojo symbol, the swirling spiral, is conceived after the wave. Of course there is a painful side to this too, now with the recent history of tragedy in Japan. All in all, the wave is an mandala for any student of aiki to lose themselves in.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Beyond the physical - Systema

Lowry Sensei has recommended this video to me several times. I finally found it.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Ethics and Fatherhood

Normally I would not use my martial arts blog to pontificate on my view of ethics, but on second thought, why would I not? The study of the martial path is really heavily layered in issues of honor, respect, morality and ethics. Budo, the martial way, is really the study of conflict and resolution and how to maintain harmony through our behavior and actions. In budo shouldn't we discuss the ideal roles we should play in life and follow the good examples of the wise people around us?

I came to learn yesterday that an casual acquaintance of mine has fathered a child. From what I have heard he has had nothing to do with the child since birth, and has not even taken the time to see the young one. I guess I had not really thought deeply on this topic before, as I have not been in proximity to this kind of behavior. I find today strong thoughts and feelings keep bubbling up about this.

What kind of human would casually dismiss a lover and not see an infant he sired? What sort of person would simply turn their back and ignore people like that?

The greatest person I know and love, was similarly dismissed by her father before her birth. We were just discussing it. She has never had the urge to go find him or see what he is like. I understand. What kind of person would abandon a lover expecting a child? What kind of person would dismiss the needs of an infant they are responsible for? Why would you want to meet a person like that, who deep down is so selfish the world is only about themselves? Why would you want to meet your first betrayer who refused to acknowledge your very existence?

So I draw a line. If a man could do that to a woman he shares a bed with and a helpless infant, what would a man do to a mere friend of casual acquaintance? If a man is willing to commit such an ethical crime to his lover and child, what vile act would he do to someone he doesn't know, or to someone he doesn't like?

So this goes to any man or woman that would abandon a child. If you are so selfish to an infant who needs help, I have to see you as a threat to my personal well being and the lives of the people I love. I want nothing to do with you.

In the martial arts we call this establishing maai - distance. Keep people at the appropriate distance so you can see them coming and have time to react. My maai, or distance, for the people unburdened by ethics is a wide wide circle. If you are the sort to dismiss responsibility for a child, please stay the hell out of my maai. I don't care about your story, your opinions or your beliefs while there is a child to be taken care of. Get your priorities straight.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Wrist Flow

I have noticed most students are terrible at changing from one wrist connection to the next, so I put together this little flow sequence. Sadly I did it too fast to see all the techniques clearly, but there are 10. I now see techniques as connections and balance breaks, not these big cranky things. There is no pain in these techniques. Of course we work every technique to a throw or tap as well, but here is the whole sequence. If you want to see it slower let me know.

One of the things I really like about this sequence is that each technique builds from the failure of the previous technique. When it is done correctly your opponent almost throws himself into the next connection.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Martin Wheeler Systema Video

After taking my first systema class I have been poking around youtube to get a deeper feel of some of the artists out there. I found this film and it is downright nifty.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Systema class through Aikido eyes

More and more high level aikido people that I know are being influenced or dabbling in the Russian martial art called Systema. If you see it being performed it has a feel of aikido, and I feel it very much is an excellent art to stretch a aikidokas skill and understanding of body mechanics and motion. Mind you I am no real authority on this system, I only have observations from a 2 hour training session.

A film in case you have never seen it.

The teacher was relaxed and thoughtful. He had that look in his eyes like so many people I know in budo, someone in search for the next level. I could tell he is a hard trainer with a diverse background, but has chosen systema as his muse. I believe he is pretty serious about the Chinese internal work too.

When I began to move he looked at my personal guide/trainer and said, "He knows the combative stuff, work on softening him up and breathing." Indeed these are the two most important observations I made about systema today, softness and the breath.

We did not work on a single technique as the Japanese based martial artist would think about it. Everything was movement drills, relaxation drills, and moving what was free drills. Nothing about grips, nothing about turn the wrist. Everything that was talked about was in terms of structure. This mirrors my interests and thinking in my own practice, as I have been steadily moving in this direction. Indeed many of the drills reminded me a Hussey Sensei's innovative drills.

Relaxing is the key. I am usually a soft and relaxed artist, but there always tension that creeps into the equation. They literally massage the muscles with standard massage, muscle compressions, standing on the muscles and eventually striking the muscles. They literally beat the tension out of the system.

Striking seems to be a big key to the practice. It is one of their ukemi (energy receiving) practices. I have done loads of styles of martial arts in my day, and I can assure you they have a different system of striking going on. It was fascinating really. First we started standing. Our partner would come around and use the strike as a massage, targeting muscle groups. Again this seemed to reinforce the relaxation. Then the strikes got harder. If you remained relaxed they felt like massage. If you had any tension the strikes became unpleasant. It was a very fast negative reinforcement of tension. Relaxation was awarded, tension punished.

The strikes became very hard, targeted on the muscles. Eventually you were forced to take a fall or take the hit. It did not take me long to realize ukemi was the immediate answer. Fall man, fall. Literally beating resistance out of the system. It was not painful per say - but it was intense for sure. Another thing is that even though they were laying into each other, they were choosing appropriate targets and energy as to not really cause damage. Although I got wailed on for two hours I only have one sore muscle in my arm from the strikes.

One thing to note, the strikes were designed to alter your posture - true atemi waza. The instructor invited me up because I was not striking with adequate force. He had me wail away on his torso over and over - displeased with my poor showing. He literally relaxed and shrugged off every strike.

The next part was breathing. I did not get the direct lesson, but I saw the good technicians constantly going through breathing drills. Presumably this is part of the relaxation and sensitivity training. The teacher after class told me that he felt in aikido kokyu (breathing) was often just a theoretical term, and rarely is it practiced. I accept that criticism. While I am sure there are some aikido teachers out there focusing on it, in my 16 years of aikido I have never had an instructor really intensely focus on it.

Relaxation, atemi and breathing - three big lessons.

Another thing I discovered that I really liked was there intense knowledge of anatomy and nervous system terms. Some of the guys were serious about the study of the human body.

As a wind up of the class, we had to give a massage to our partner, again reinforcing relaxation and anatomical knowledge. It was fairly intense deep tissue work. Again my partner was labeling all my anatomical areas of pain and pointing out where I am storing tension. I have been wanting to incorporate massage into my own aikido practice, and this reinforced the wisdom of it for me.

Standard massage has never really worked for me. I have heard people talk about feeling released and wanting to cry after getting a intense massage. I will be honest with you I feel exhausted, like a beaten rug. All evening I have been getting waves like I want to cry, exactly the feeling people talk about when something gets released. Weird.

I really liked it. I liked the teacher, and I liked the students. The art I do not feel is for everyone. It is intense. Intense yet absolutely focused on relaxed and free movement. I myself have decided to return, to add yet another flavor to my practice.

Austin Systema website

Friday, June 10, 2011

Daito Ryu's dangerous irimi

I have been turning my eye back to my Daito Ryu training to closely examine what I like and what I don't think is efficient enough for me to keep in my arsenal. Today I would like to take a critical look at the direct entering motion of one of Daito Ryu's signature movements, ippon dori. (effectively this is also called ikkyo or oshi taioshi in other systems) Here we see the attacker coming in and is received by the Daito Ryu irimi (entry). The Daito Ryu tori in one lunging linear step captures the elbow from a downward chop. He extends outward and causes the attacker's spine to bend and all the weight of the attacker is loaded onto his back foot.

Honestly I think this is a dangerous gambit. Let's take a look at the base or foundation that has been created here. The feet are way extended out from underneath the hips. While this gives a powerful drive at one singular point, he now finds himself at the edge of his power. His next step has to be an adjusting recovery step. Indeed what he does next while performing the technique is to withdraw the left foot 6 inches, so he can even move his right foot. He simply has put himself in a position where he cannot move without getting his posture and stance back first. It's all or nothing here.

Next we see the line where he has grounded himself. Rather than generating power through weight, or body drop, he is using a long muscular push. His back leg is grounded and he is strongly pushing down the line. His posture breaks due to over extension and muscular stretch. And despite this deep entry he only has connection at the very edge (possible past) his effective range. Only his palms connect here. Reach far out across a table for a quarter that is just at the edge of where you can reach. How effective are you at this range? The more I stand in this position testing out the stance the more I am convinced that he is setting himself up for a projection throw if uke counters.

What I see is dangerous over extension. All bipeds have a weak line running perpendicular between their legs. Feet that remain under the hips typically recover from any distortion in posture with ease. Feet out this wide make any balance break down the weak line virtually unrecoverable and catastrophic for stability.

So when I look at this entering strategy I see a system of martial arts that lacks a randori (free play)system to act as a check to a dangerous entering motion. You see, since the weight of the attacker has been pressed on his back foot, he should have the freedom to move his front foot. If the uke would step back he would move far past the Tori's effective range. If the uke were to move his foot to the right down the weak line he would cause a back step balance break in the man performing the technique, and maybe a corner drop technique. If uke would move his foot in front of tori he would likely throw him as well.

I would like some participation here. Get in this deep stance and tell me what you feel? I vote it is too deep a stance. I think he would get countered by anyone sensitive enough to move almost in any direction.

Oh by the way, the model in the photo here is a true master of budo. I met him twice in Japan, and he is a lovely fellow. While I am critical of this entry, by no means am I attacking him, the art form or anything really. This stuff is a science, and we all benefit from critical yet friendly discourse.

Interestingly in the description of the video he writes

"When you see them you will understand. Take, for example, the combative stance (kamae). In Daito-ryu there is in fact no kamae: it is rather a “kamae without kamae.” To be truly effective one must maintain a natural posture (shizentai) rather than assuming special right or left combative stances.

A natural posture is a form of kamae, but once you extend one arm in front of you, you become unable to use techniques. The techniques can be freely performed from the natural, most unfettered posture. In a real martial situation it would be foolish to offer your arm for someone to grab."

As a contrast here is a photo of Kono Sensei, who practices aikido, at about the same point in his version of the technique.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

The Death of a Dojo

Sad news friends. The temple dojo once known as KyuRyu Aikibudo Dojo in South Austin has passed on. On Sunday we were forced to strip it of the mats and artifacts that made it our home for so many years.

Our group started in fall of 2005. I had not found a dojo that I wanted to train at since I had returned from Japan. I was very poor, and could not afford the large membership fees other groups in town demanded. In my search I even considered doing a different art form. Eventually I decided to start a group. I knew I was not ready or worthy to start one, but I had no choice, I needed to train. My one car garage was set up nicely and we began training. A few people came and we were off. I had a dojo, God help us.

Eventually my old friend Glenn dropped in for a training session. He was quickly hooked. As the fates would have it he was in the middle of a break up and the pottery studio behind his house was being vacated by his ex. Although I am sure the lady was not to happy with me, within days of her moving out I had replaced the ceiling with reed mats, repaired and painted the walls and began hanging art. Thus the room was born.

Building a proper mat is a tremendous undertaking. We probably built 6 versions over the years. The first version was a simple carpet unrolled on some carpet padding. It was a humble beginning but we had a room, something to fall on, a few students and a half ass teacher.

I was proud of the little group that was coming together. I had the authority to do some kyu grading in Daito Ryu, so it was a start. I decided to get plugged back into the larger martial arts community so I could get the higher level teachers in to play. I wrote several martial arts teachers. Only one responded. It was my first aikido teacher, Russell Waddell, who was in retirement at that time. With a bit of begging I got him to come down and do a few gradings for us and to help us solve a few problems. I am eternally grateful that he accepted, and he is largely to blame for the Austin Tomiki group taking root. I brought him out of retirement, he expanded our horizons.

By 2006 we were rolling. We quickly hit our peak membership of 14 people at this time. That is a lot of people for a little space. Waddell Sensei donated some canvas that had covered his mats in Lewisville Texas. We raided the local carpet shop dumpsters and neatly stacked the carpet pieces in three layers and stretched the canvas over them. This gave us some decent mats for a time, but they slowly shifted giving us little peaks and valleys. I loved that crappy mat.

By the end of 2006 the dojo had become the center of my creative life. A crew of us dojo guys went out to Burning Man and built an art piece together under the leadership of Garreth. On October 28th 2006 I was married in front of the dojo.

For the wedding I had a very special guest. One of my best friends from my time in Japan came in for the wedding. We arrived to Japan together, we wrote our first kanji together at a JET program orientation. While in Japan I pursued the martial arts, he chose the path of the brush. We spent many nights up late drinking beer, wielding the brush, meditating to the rhythms of English dance music and contemplating the process of Zen. I love that man.

The calligraphy society that he eventually joined was called KyuRyu - which means to study the dragon. When he came to visit, I told him I wanted to name the dojo in honor of the time we trained together. I called our little room KyuRyu AikiBudo Dojo.

The next couple years ran eventfully. Waddell Sensei continued to run seminars and train. Parker Sensei joined us too. A few dynamic personalities bounced in and out of our dojo lives in this time. A few members of the online FA community joined us, and a few members of the Burn community did as well. Some stuck around, some went on their merry ways and we were all the richer for the time spent together.

Probably the most important connection we made at this time was with the American Tomiki Aikido Association. Jeff and Cleghorn Sensei were happy to recruit us. We are happy and love our growing aikido extended family.

2009 was a major transition year for us. I had made a New Years resolution to find some more teachers to play with. I had read that Nick Lowry had gone independent, and I wrote him asking about some aikido and judo stuff. We became quick friends, and he told me to look up Matl Sensei who is in the area. Matl Sensei sent me to Hussey Sensei - so eventually that one connection led me to three new teachers and great friends. Waddell Sensei told me everything was about to change in my practice, and he was right.

In 2009 we hosted Nick Lowry for the first time. I graduated my first two shodans that year, Scooter and Michael. They continue to be the backbone of my practice and my best friends. Nick brought his crew. The great men Greg Ables and Kyle Sloan entered our lives.

2010 was dominated by rethinking our practice, and a whole lot of filming. Hussey Sensei and Matl Sensei redefined the practice with us and they highlighted problems that we had to solve. Our dojos grew closer. I began studying judo at deeper levels that I had before. Waddell and Lowry continued to be a presence.

But alas 2011 brings the death toll for our little room. First we learned that it was no longer permissible to share names with our shodo brothers. Then our energies split into two groups and the numbers dwindled. Scooter took the reigns since February. Finally on Sunday, we went in to train and there was a bed in the middle of the dojo. Someone was living in the dojo. Apparently the landlord is not a communicator and rented out the room without informing us. Its cool, time to play in another playground.

The spirit was dead in there. The dragons had all left.

We tore up the mats, grabbed our art and headed out. It was a good run. Good times and good friends. Alas the room is just a vessel not the contents. Already the practice is growing at the new dojo. New fresh faces are pouring in and the same ole' ugly ones too. I was pretty gutted for the past few days. But like a phoenix from the ashes...hmm maybe a new dojo name is in there somewhere.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Aikido Versus Chair

From the Vasser College club. I think playing with the art in different ways always has some measure of value.