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Yesterday I took the opportunity to train at Itten Dojo, which is near my home, and has hosted two seminars with Ellis Amdur that I've attended. As always, the folks there were very welcoming and the level of training was intense.
I could only attend the open mat session but I hope to come back and take a regular class from time to time.
In any event, Budd and John led me through a number of judo drills with an eye toward the similarities in priciples with aikido. We worked on single leg takedowns and a counter, a hip throw and a counter to that, and a method for reversing one's position while on the ground. I enjoyed myself immensly and hopefully learned a little bit in the process.
So now my total training time in judo is about an hour -- hardly enough time to even begin to appreciate what seems to be a vast and rich art. However, one point that Ellis has made recently makes a bit more sense to me now: He stated that when he saw footage of Donn Draeger doing aikido, Draeger always had three points of contact with uke -- a concept taken from Judo.
I noticed that when I performed a reasonably kihon version of iriminage with John or Budd, it had a koshi-nage feel to it in that I had contact with them at my arm, opposite hand and my hip. I think this is the result of the closer context of judo compared to aikido, but I'm not sure.
It has been a while since my last entry. The final weeks of my first year of grad school and impending fatherhood made things pretty complicated for a little while. In addition to everything else, I've been diagnosed with type II diabetes, so I've been working hard to change my diet and deal with that issue.
I continued to train, however, and the past couple weeks have been really good. Two Saturdays ago only Micah, Robert, and I were in class. We decided to experiment a bit with two-man randori with swords! We used bokken, so we moved more slowly than we would normally and stopped ourselves when we felt that we were speeding up.
Of about a dozen turns as uketachi (the same role as nage when we do it empty handed), I had one turn where I felt pretty good about my performance. I cut my two opponents, but more importantly, I did so by blending with their attacks and by not getting cut at the same time. :-) Otherwise, I noticed that I was overcommitting on my attacks when acting as uchitachi.
This past Saturday, Glen Matsuda sensei -- the AAA Eastern Region director -- came down from the New York area to teach us. We worked on some techniques from ushirotekubitori. His major point was to show us ways to move so that uke is continuously moving and off-balance.
We took a break after about an hour and got some answers to the questions that we had regarding Sato sensei's leaving the AAA and the future directions of the organization. Generally speaking, it sounds as t
I taught part of last Saturday's class and it went very well. I showed some reverses by first showing the proper way to do the technique, and then having nage make a deliberate, but small, error for uke to use as the basis for the reverse. The way we practice ukemi leads pretty quickly to performing reverses, but a dedicated practice on the topic now and again reinforces what we consider to be good ukemi.
And on that note, I got some very good criticism on my ukemi and nage waza last night in class. We were working on tanto dori. There has been some debate from time to time on whether tanto dori is a realistic exercise or just martial mastrubation.
My opinion is that the tanto adds intensity to practice. I know I was responding to it. We perform our empty-hand technique with the thought that our attacker is actually armed, so tanto dori should not be very different from the empty-hand work. But I was responding as though it was. The criticism I received was that I was rushing through the tai sabaki to get to the technique.
I was also cautioned that at my level now, it is very easy to stop a technique, and much harder to give a good committed attack without foreknowledge.
As a result, I spent a lot of time focusing on the things like moving smoothly from the opening movements to the throw, and giving good ukemi. I found the effect to be a blessed tonic to my otherwise currently befuddled state.
Why befuddled? Because I found out last Fridayy (Good Friday)
Class on Saturday went pretty well, except for a freak fall that tourqued my left elbow a bit. My elbow is feeling better now, so I guess the fall wasn't that bad.
Right at the beginning, during our warm-up ukemi, my instructor commented on my forward rolls. I was quickly able to make the correction that he pointed out, but I guess I get sloppy at times.
The empty hand work went well, and the weapons stuff was interesting. My instructor's first instructor taught some techniques with hanbo (3' stick). We worked with a couple of them, utilizing aikido movements. We ended the first one in a choke, and the second was a shihonage. In both cases, uke had a tanto.
More on stick techniques can be found in a book by Masaaki Hatsumi and Quintin Chambers. Meik Skoss calles it "an excellent work on tanjojutsu, based on techniques of the Kukishin-ryu." It's titled Stick Fighting: Techniques of Self-Defense. I'm tempted to pick up that book. But then again, I'm tempted to pick up a lot of books.
Last night (Thursday 3/3/05) was my first class back at my home dojo after Ellis's seminar. I was gratified to see opportunities for some of the strikes that we worked on in our taisabaki.
I especially saw the nikkokyu (2nd vector) in our taisabaki where we go to the outside against a yokomenuchi strike. Nage's arm rolls around uke's strike and I saw the elbow strike we practiced at the seminar in that movement. I was able to use use that movement pretty well -- without the strike, but the strike was there if I wanted it.
The seminar at Itten Dojo with Ellis Amdur is over, and boy, am I sore!
Unlike the last seminar of his I attended, Ellis focused almost exclusively on atemi (with only a very brief mention of ukemi). That was just fine with me as I've struggled a bit to implement Ellis's suggestions for really integrating atemi practice with my regular aikido practice.
(If you'd like to read more about Ellis's approach to atemi, get his book, Dueling with O Sensei. I can't recommend it more highly.)
There was some new material that Ellis presented that complements his overall teachings on aikido. He's working on classifying aikido movements according to their particular vectors, of which there are five. Those vectors closely match the movements of the five pinning techniques, but also encompass the other aikido body movements (like tenkan) and atemi.
Ellis showed how to use uke's structure to guide and even give energy to strikes. He also consistently emphasized that there can be no technique without irimi. In fact, irimi and atemi are closely linked.
Ellis's overall approach to aikido technique was very positive and direct. He stated that each of us should have the attitude that our own bodies are perfect, and everyone who is shaped differently is a little deformed. By that he means that we should make our partners conform to our own body's strengths. If you're short and uke is tall, bring him down to your level.
I think I've captured the bulk of what I learned, but t
I'll be attending another seminar with Ellis Amdur, hosted at Itten Dojo in Enola, at the end of February.
I got a heck of a lot out of the last of Ellis's seminars at that location that I attended a few years ago. I learned a bit about ukemi, and a lot about atemi. The biggest thing that I learned, however, was that my size can be an advantage. Ellis helped me see that there are advantages to my size, which until then, I had considered *only* a disadvantage.
Ironically, the fact that I started to accept my weight made it much easier for me to lose it over time.
In any event, I've got a bit more experience under my belt since the last time I saw Ellis. From the brochure on the seminar, it looks like this seminar will be similar to the last one. This will give me a chance to approach his particular views on ukemi (which struck me as very similar to our own at my dojo) with a more informed and open mind than the last time.
Last night, 7 February 2005, our dojo held a series of kyu rank tests. All the regular attendies, except our most senior student were tested. Micah, who has been at first kyu for a while, is getting ready for his shodan test hopefully sometime this year. Our instructor cannot test us for Shodan; those tests must be done at a seminar or camp in front of the AAA teaching committee.
Anyway, we had two guys test for 7th and 6th kyu; one guy for 6th kyu only; one guy for 4th kyu, and two of us for 1st kyu -- six of us total. Everyone who tested did a very good job on their tests.
I had a mild level of anxiety about the test all day yesterday. I've felt pretty good about the techniques I was supposed to know, but I still had the basic anxiety about testing, demonstrating, what I know. With Richard (the other guy testing for 1st kyu) and I being the last to test, we got the chance to take some ukemi for the other guys, which provided a nice warm-up and a chance to get rid of some of the anxiety. By the time our tests started I was pretty well settled down. Richard and I tested simulaneously, often taking ukemi for one another.
The first thing we did was the tai sabaki for sword, for shomenuchi and yokomenuchi. We also knew them for tsuki, but we weren't tested on them. After that were a number of 0pen hand techniques: sumiotoshi, sudori (which I messed up once), kotegaeshi, ikkyo, and jiujinage -- not much different than previous tests except in the attacks used. The othe
Classes have been going well. We're gearing up for a test next month, but I'm not sure exactly when. I'll be testng for 1st kyu.
Last night, only the senior students showed up for some reason, but we had a very good class. We worked on a few test techniques, and finally got to do some full-speed randori!
When it's just the more experienced students, the class has a more relaxed and more productive feel. That's not to say that I dislike working with beginners! I enjoy both experiences, but it's nice to work with experienced ukes only, from time to time.
We did randori in hamni handachi against two uke toward the end of class. I felt pretty good about how I did. The first time I went, I quickly got caught up with my attackers, but still managed to keep going in spite of that. The second time, I did a much better job of moving and did not get caught up as quickly.
Lastly, Ellis Amdur is coming to my neck of the woods again, and I think I'll go to his seminar!
The new year seems to be starting out pretty well. I think we'll be testing again soon -- maybe in February. I think I'll be testing for 1st kyu.
My graduate school schedule leaves aikido class nights open this semester. I can't guarantee that I'll make each class, but I'm pretty sure I can commit to Thursday and Saturday classes.
I found out last night that there's been something of a shake-up in our parent organization. I really don't know very much at all about what happened, and I doubt very much that it will affect us at our dojo, but it would be nice to know what's going on, and what is going to happen next.