Sunday, September 17, 2006

Should Ukemi be a Technique?

With all the time off lately I've had time to think about alot of things. I'll have to stay off the mat for at least the next two weeks...grrr. But I've spent the last several days thinking about why I got hurt and like I layed out in my last post I attribute it to faulty ukemi on my part. So that gives me hints about how to improve my ukemi technique and what kind of things to add to my repertoire. Like I said last time I need to focus on keeping my hands close to my body, which I already knew but clearly did not put into action. My thoughts have also spawned a few conversations as well as hashed up a few old ones. One in particular comes to mind.

Let me just say quickly that ukemi literally means to "receive" where uke is "the one who receives." In the role of uke, one is the initial attacker and the one who will ultimately be thrown or pinned. Nage is the one who performs the actual technique.

A good friend of mine here at the dojo was playing devil's advocate with the argument that ukemi should not be a technique. I've heard this arguement several times, usually in reference to the "soft" style of ukemi which just so happens to be the type of ukemi I've picked up on. I'm not entirely sure of the origins of this kind of ukemi but I the first person I saw using and teaching this kind of ukemi was Donovan Waite Shihan. You don't see it in the older videos. Granted this type of ukemi takes some of the thunder out of a hard throw but it takes the shock and impact out of the falls and has saved most of the major joints in my body from significant injury. However there is opposition to this style of ukemi.

The other side of the spectrum argues that by not "slapping out" and dispersing the energy of the throw, one is actually absorbing the energy which may have some negative effects. I have yet to experience these negative effects...hmm. In all truth Toshi, one of the most impressive uke's I know, ruptured or slipped a disk in his lower back last year (this may or may not have anything to do with his ukemi). Toshi looks like a snake falling out of a tree with barely an audible thump or the hiss of his gi against the mat to indicate that he's landed. He's injured nonetheless which is something I cannot ignore. I've also heard that ukemi should be more spontanious and natural. That an uke shoud "receive" the attack and fall as anyone out on the street would, slams, smacks, and all. I'm not saying that anyone has told me that I should be sloppy with my ukemi but that I shouldn't have set ukemi techniques let alone a repertoire. Several people I know are quite fond of a style more similar to judo which incorporate more slapping breakfalls (implactful) than the rolling falls I've learned here.

My main rebutle to these arguements lies within my ideas and philosophies about aikido. Aikido is by nature a defensive martial art. The techniques are designed and practiced to defend one's self from an attacker. I do not believe that these ideas should be confined solely to role of nage. As uke you are lending your body to nage for the purpose of practicing a martial technique. As much as I love aikido, nage may not always have your best interests in mind and so it is up to uke to know how to protect (or defend) him/herself. I view uke's position and the application of ukemi to be equally important in the scheme of self defense as nage's role. Once uke has committed to an attack and nage takes that energy to begin the technique (in my humble opinion) it is now up to uke to take control. Aikido techniques involve two people (at least) and the responsibility of the technique belongs to everyone involved 50-50, maybe 60-40 in favor of nage but uke certainly has a part to play aside from simply allowing the technique to happen. It is part of uke's responsibility to ensure that the technique goes smoothly and, most importantly, that uke is safe. In this respect I view ukemi as a valid defensive technique that is a large part of aikido training as a whole.

I believe that aikido is a martial art that is still growing and evolving. It is a fairly new martial art and, if I understand correctly, O Sensei encouraged each of his students to develop their own aikido. There are several different styles of aikido and ukemi and I strongly believe that the ukemi aspect of aikido should evolve as well. And I hope to help that a bit!

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Welcome Back!

So after two months of off-the-mat time I have finally returned to the uchi deshi program to a warm welcome. And when I say warm I mean that deep burning sensation that one gets when a muscle and tendon group in the rotator cuff (namely the right one) tears and the shoulder joint begins to fill with fluid...mmmm fluid. I was doing my damnedest to ease myself back into the torrent that is New York Aikikai but I seemed to have failed mightily at this task. The trick was that everyone I used to train with on a rather aggressive level was so excited to see me that things got a little out of hand, hehehe.

When it comes down to it, it really was a fault of mine. Granted the throw in question was quite rough, I was not prepared for it when I should have been and I lost control of myself in mid air and landed, basically, on my armpit. I landed on my right side with my right arm up against my head which put my ear in a perfect position to hear the crackle of what I assume was the tendon pulling away from my shoulder.

For those of you who haven't heard my schpiel about that particular part of ukemi, here we go. For ANY kind of ukemi you must must must keep your free arm close to your body. This is the arm that usually reaches the mat first, the arm that is not being used to throw you. Your arms should certainly never be raised more than 90 degrees and I prefer to keep them under 45 degrees if possible. I know I should practice what I preach but this just reaffirms what I've been saying for a while now. KEEP YOUR ARMS CLOSE TO YOUR BODY!

Long story short, I went to a doctor (thank god I set myself up with health insurance a few months ago) took some x-rays, poked around and have been directed to go to physical therapy for 3-4 weeks. The Therapist says that this type of injury will esentially be a permanent injury unless I deal with it right away. Usual day to day recovery time is 6-8 weeks but for the aikido fanatic he said that with patience and therapy I can be on the mat in 3-4 weeks.

Just frustrating, I take lots of time off to let my body heal and this is the first thing that happens my first week back. Shit. Be careful out there, it doesn't take much and it happens quick.

Friday, July 28, 2006

So I'm taking a break from the Uchi Deshi thing in NY as most of you know and I've been spending the last several weeks in small-town-America, I've been advised to keep my exact location confidential lest I should aquire a stalker... or at least someone that wants to ask too many questions and happens to be one of those people who stands too close. At any rate I've been going a bit stir crazy with the lack of training. I've been exercising in other various ways so that I won't be a lump of jelly when I get back. It is a proven point that once you are a deshi for an extended period of time and your metabolism gets set to a ridiculously high level and you take more than a month off you begin to show symptoms of becoming a fat slob...I'm trying not to let that happen. In any event, I tracked down some of the local dojos before I left NY.

One of these dojos is part of the Ki Society... just a weeeeee bit different from the way I am used to training in NY. Aikikai aikido tends to be a little more forceful and dare I say full contact. While we're not standing across from eachother punching I can say that I've had my fair share of bloody lips and noses...and torn fingernails, and black eyes...hmm. Ki Society on the other hand prefer not to umm touch each other so much. I'm not saying that in a bad way but they don't tend to apply atemi (strikes) or throw with the force that other types of aikido use. One of my fellow deshi said he'd give me one class before I got kicked out of the dojo for being too rough, I mildly disagreed. I'd like to think that I'd have the wherewithal to adapt and use the appropriate amount of force for each individual partner but I'm not sure if I'd stick around for another class if that was the case. The other dojo is a small group run out of a yoga and meditation center. This group practices Iwama style that is a style much more in accordance with what I'm used to. Originating in Iwama Japan (surprise) with the late Morihiro Saito as the head of this particular sect. Saito Sensei was a master with the bokken (wooden sword) and the jo (wooden short staff) and so Iwama aikido has a strong emphasis on weapons (another surprise) as well as incorporating crescendoingly staccato iiieeeEEEPP as they attack and throw.
So last night I decided to go and see how the Iwama group was. Once I arrived it brought the class to a whopping and uneven group of five. A bit of a change from the average of 25 to 30 I'm used to in NY. After I got past the initial awkwardness of the difference of etiquette and class got underway it wasn't as scary as I thought. Of course there was also the difference in basic style and movement but that's not terribly difficult to overcome. And there was at least one other person there who was interested in training with a bit of vigor. The main Sensei for the dojo wasn't there last night so I may go back on Sunday afternoon to see how his classes are. While the class last night was good I can't help but notice the incredible emphasis on technical precision and teaching clearity that I've come to expect from the teaching staff at the New York Aikikai. I'm glad to have this time to rest and recoup but I am looking forward to returning to NY to resume my training!

And before I forget I'm about to get a parking ticket so I've got to run!

Monday, July 17, 2006

I'm starting to notice that only after a few weeks away from training the callouses on my feet are starting to soften up. One might think that this isn't such a big deal and that they will start to rebuild themselves as soon as I return. A few months after I arrived at the dojo I began to appreciate the importance of the callous. On the surface (no pun intended) it's quite obvious that callouses are good simply to keep the feet tough, true indeed. But upon further introspection into the deeper nature of the callous in relation to martial arts training I was able to determine exactly why I appreciate the callous sooo much.
In some of my earliest blogs I wrote about my feet cracking, splitting and concequently bleeding. An annoyingly painful situation made worse only by the realization that it wouldn't go away because I was training so much. All of the more experienced deshi told me to just grimace and stick it out and that my body would get used to it. Of course this is their general response to any painful or uncomfortable ailment, a blanket statemet that is the equivalent to a doctor suggesting Advil for a slipped disc.
So back to the prodding question of WHY the callous is so important. The callouses on my big toe, heel and ball of the foot makes those spots hard which in turn allows them to slide on the mat just a bit. I've started to really depend on this slide for lots of little things which are going to be particularly hard to put into words but the single most important thing is the slide. If the feet can slide then they can't stick. Soft, ie. sticky, feet... well... stick to the mat. You might think that sticking to the mat is a good thing and it is in the sense of gaining traction. But if the toes stick then the equally soft skin between and underneath the toes tears and cracks. The callouses allow just enough slide between mat and foot so that the skin isn't stretched to the point of failure. Once the callouses on my feet reached a certain level the cracking stopped. That's not to say that you can't ignore the callouses once they've gotten there. You need to take care of the callous. Appreciate the callous, love the callous. Callouses themselves can get too dry and leathery leading to cracking so remember to moisturize every now and again.
If you are interested in training on a full time basis or just on a higher level you need to build up the callouses on your feet. Try going barefoot for a bit and stick to sandals or flip-flops. Wearing shoes and socks tended to keep my feet soft and prevent the growth of callouses and I suspect has been the main reason for the break-down of the ones I've got. If your feet have started to crack already or if they do then there are a few things to do so that you can continue training. First off for a quick fix make sure that the cracks/tears are clean and the bleeding has stopped, then dump a fair amount of superglue in the crack. Stings like hell but it definitely works, don't bother with the liquid bandaid stuff, it stings just as much and doesn't to the job. Use Neosporin and bandaids at night when you're sleeping and your toes aren't moving around so much, again don't bother trying this during the day.
This is just my two cents for getting your feet ready for what's to come if you're interested in this level of martial arts training. Appetizing I know but this stuff will come in handy! Enjoy!

Saturday, July 15, 2006

So besides my own personal increase in training the entire attitude around the dojo has intensified. The four shihans affiliated with New York AIkikai have been teaching on a more regular basis. Both Yamada Sensei and Sugano Sensei have quite busy schedules when it comes to traveling to seminars all over the world. This is probably the busiest times of the year for the shihans but leading up to this summer they were both in NYC for about two months. Every day for the last two months we've had the rare pleasure of at least two classes a day with one of the shihans.

Sunday: If Sugano Sensei is feeling up to teaching on the weekends then he will usually teach the two classes in the morning as well as a half hour weapons class. If Sugano Sensei isn't teaching on Sunday then Donovan Waite Sensei will take the classes and he will teach an hour long weapons class. For those of you who are not familiar with Donovan Sensei, his classes are especially martial and usually end up being more technically advanced than most. As a side note he had been using me almost exlusively for ukemi during his class demonstration, while this is quite an honor and great practice for ukemi it is also one HELL of a workout and it also means that I don't get a chance to rest during class. Sugano Sensei on the other hand is much less concerned wtih the technical specifics he wants to see you MOVE. Just keep moving no matter what! This in turn makes his classes EXTREMELY aerobic. You may not be utterly whaling on your partner but you certainly spend the entire hour running, falling, getting up and running again... needless to say it wears you out! As far as the weapons go Donovan again focuses on alot of the jo kata (9 step, 13 step, and 31) and bokken kata while Sugano likes to look more at paired weapons practice focusing on ma ai (spacing) and reacting to your partner rather than running through a set of prearranged movements.

Monday: The majority of the day goes by like all of the rest with the usual line-up of amazing teachers but then at the end of the day either Donovan or Sugano take the last two classes, one hell of a way to end the day.

Tuesday: The Big Day! Tuesday is the day with six classes. If we're lucky Jane Ozeki will come in to teach the morning class but it is rare. Jane is a sixth degree black belt and has one of the most viscious sankyos I've ever felt and she seems to have taken a liking to using me for that technique... yippy. Noon is when it starts to get really fun... Sugano Sensei usually teaches the noon class and then he'll teach a second noon class at 1:15 sometimes incorporating weapons. If Sugano Sensei isn't in town then Mike McNally will teach the noon class and Harvey Konigsburg Sensei will come down from his dojo in Woodstock for the hour long randori class. Again VERY aerobic, no sitting down and no stopping for the entire hour. There is a short break between the end of the 2nd noon class at 2:15 and the begining of the evening three classes at 4:15. Yamada Sensei teaches the 4:15. His usual class schedule is to pick just a few techniques and stick to them... for a while. Usually only four maybe five techniques per class. a good 15 minutes for each which can wear you out! Harvey Konigsburg again teaches the 5:30. Harvey's classes are like mental tongue twisters and usually have at least half the class wondering how to recreate that incredible force while looking as relaxed as Obi-Wan Kenobi sipping tea. The day is rounded off by Luke, one of the head deshi that has impeccable technique that resembles Donovan Sensei. Again Luke uses only other deshi for demo which means that I don't get a rest. Once that day is out of the way it's all coasting for the rest of the week... kinda.

Wednesday: Sugano Sensei starts us off at 6:45am at one heck of a fast pase and this usually sets the mood for the day, at least for me it does. Yamada Sensei teaches the noon class and carries that fast pased mood. Ruth takes the 4:15 followed by Yamada Sensei again at 5:30 and Toshi at 6:45.

Thursday: This morning is Yamada Sensei at 6:45. Noon is ususally either Luke or Luis. Thursday afternoon is kinda free form depending on how much Sugano Sensei decides to teach but sometimes he'll take both 4:15 and 5:30, and the day is usually ended with Luis taking the 6:45

Friday: Nothing out of the ordinary here, everything is taught by our normal grouping of great teachers but if Yamada Sensei is in town he will teach some of the final classes of the day. Again these are totally at the whim of Sensei. If he's not down for teaching that afternoon then Doug Firestone comes down from Whiteplains NY to teach the final two classes of the day. Doug is a sixth dan and was Head Deshi at the dojo quite a while ago but runs his own dojo up in Whiteplains.

Saturday: Saturday is usually Ruth for the first class and the Mike Abrams, seventh dan and President of the United States Aikido Federation. Again Yamada Sensei will usually take the first (or second depending on what he wants to do) class and leave the rest for us to figure out.

Having this much exposure to some of the greates names and techniques in aikido has been an amazing learning experience to put it lightly. I feel privileged and incredibly lucky to have been given this opportunity and I can only hope that some day I'll be able to put this knowledge to good use.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

First and foremost I must apologize to anyone and everyone who happens to read my chicken scratch I call a blog. My training regiment has increased noticeably since the last time I wrote and it has made it that much more difficult to find time to write. Over the last year I've gotten so used to the feeling of utter and complete exhaustion on a daily basis. Now that my body is FINALLY acclimatizing to this kind schedule the five to six classes a day have been getting, dare I say, easier. For any normal person this would be a godsend. Unfortunately enough for me I am afflicted with a rare form of mental stupidity that I have yet to find a name for. This particular affliction has caused me to involuntarily increase the intensity of my training so that the lovely feeling of wobbly kneed exhaustion can be sustained...yay. This in turn has caused me to require as much food as I can possibly consume within a day and as much sleep as I can find in any time period of fifteen minutes or greater. Hense my lack of blog entries over the recent weeks. But that's basically a long winded way of saying that I'm lazy. Much has happened and I have much to write about so allow me to gather my thoughts and see if I can lump them together in a coherent way so that I can convey them to those that read this page... if there are still people who read this page...

I have weaseled a summer break out of the head Deshi at the dojo so I am currently taking a month and a half off to give my body a rest before I head back for another year of training, so I should have some time to give everyone a recap of what has happened. I know I've said it before but this time I mean it... more is coming so stay tuned!

Saturday, May 06, 2006

So Few Deshi, So Many Visitors


Wow, the last few weeks have been riddled with visitors from all over the world! Tim, a visitor from Germany, is planning to leave here at the end of this month but he's done pretty well staying here for the last two months. It's interesting to watch new people come to the dojo for a long stay, it's a bit of a glimpse at what I must have gone through during the first months I was here. The first week Tim was fairly shocked at the amount of classes he was expected to take and didn't want to take five classes a day. Once Tim got up to speed with the work load he got sick as a dog for almost a week, I'm pretty sure I did the same thing. This past month Tim has done very well and has started asking for extra help outside of class on ukemi and other techniques.

Michael, a visitor from Australia was here for only three weeks and left yesterday. He was a funny one that's for sure. I'm not sure if it was his age (roughly 50) or his Ausie-ness that made him a bit...off. His aikido was quite nice but significantly more passive than the aikido regularly practiced here and that created slight problems when he worked with some of the more aggressive people here. All in all he had a good stay and left after giving us a scrub brush, a bottle of saki, and mumbling somthing about bats...hmmmm

Alejandro and Giovani from the Dominican Republic certainly kept things livley while there were here for a month. Alejandro who spoke MAYBE half-a-dozen words of english relied on Giovani (Gio for short) as his interpretor and on a vast knowledge of sherade-like gestures when Gio was not around...this worked exceedingly well! This guy was like a radio personality on steriods...that you couldn't understand, he was great. Alejandro made the trip up to NYC to spend a month here and to test for his Nidan (Second degree black belt). He owns and opperates a dojo back in the Dominican Republic and was eager to get back and if I'm not mistaken he extended an invitation to myself and other deshi to come visit with Yamada Sensei when he travels there for a seminar next year.

Javier was a fellow that showed up from Spain for the first time maybe six months ago. I remember this distinclty becuase I was in the laundry room (or as I prefer to call it, my Lair), surprizingly enough, folding stuff and listening to music. I turned around while singing (poorly) to myself and saw Javier staring at me with his head tilted slightly like a puppy. Since I had already been caught in the act of making a fool out of myself I thought "why stop now?". After my song ended I took off my headphones to greet this new visitor only to find out that he didn't speak any english at all. After twiddling our thumbs for the better half of a minute Luis showed up to help the situation with his fluency in spanish. Anyway...Javier came back for another month and seemed to remember me :)

Last week Edwin showed up from Belgium and will be staying here for three months. Edwin also has a much softer style of aikido which has clashed with a few of the people here but is adapting very well. He's a nice guy and one of the most talkative visitors that we've had (with proper english that is)...laughs ALOT...

With all of these visitors it seems that the Deshi are actually in the minority! There are five of us and only two that train full time, Sanji and myself. This coupled with the fact that both Yamada Sensei and Sugano Sensei have been teaching a full schedule, at least once to twice a day makes our work load noticably more difficult! It's been wonderful to have them around all of the time but it's difficult to keep up! I'll keep everyone posted about the happenings here but it's alot of the same, a tough regiment of aikido (ALOT of it) and as much eating and sleeping as I can afford!

Hope all is well in other parts of the world!