Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The benifits of no-throws Aikido

12/30/09 w [3s, 13v] A Good class. We were able to do more advanced work from ai homni, going to a nikiyo wrist pin and a shoulder lock pin. Given the no-mat, small area, I think not having to worry about throws helps. Nage can concentrate on their own movement and uke does not have to worry about getting set for a fall. I think it could be beneficial to occasionally do no-throw technique in a dojo, especially in a class with a preponderance of beginners and intermediate students. I did get the staff to split up and work with vets and. as it wasn’t a very big group, was able to bring everyone into one area.. Again, most folks do the move a couple of times and then slack off. The next class should have a lot more new people. This can be an opportunity to “tighten things up”, at least a bit.

Monday, December 28, 2009

12/28/09 NOTE: Up to now, classes have just been held in the ward’s day room. There has been no formal class structure even remotely approaching a dojo. Would it help or hinder if, for the period of the class, I established a more dojo-like atmosphere? My regular dojo is somewhat informal compared to the very strict rites, rituals and routines found in many dojos. But there is a structure, an etiquette, a discipline that helps the learning process and assures a measure of safety. In Keganin No Senshi Aikido, as we don’t do throws and falls, safety mostly involves being sensitive to uke and “tapping out” on time. However, current class structure and behavior are loose beyond just being informal.

The physical set up of the ward 8 day room is somewhat to blame, as the location of fixed furniture causes people to be a bit scattered and facing several different directions. We always have several chair warriors sitting around.. Also, sometimes a side meeting is going on at the front desk, and people often walk through on various tasks. There is also a tendency to sit down, or stop practicing a technique after one or two tries.

Many of these issues can be distractions and are endemic to where we are working out. I can probable get the “outlying” people [usually staff, usually female] to join the main group, at least after warm ups. Unless, for some reason, it is inappropriate. I think this would be good for them, and the group, on several levels. The chair warriors do seem to be paying attention to the class, often going through the motions of a technique to the degree they are able. They really participate, and seem to enjoy it when we do chair techniques.

Some of this is a result of my own resistance to arbitrarily imposed rigid or formal rites, rituals, structures. At the same time, I have learned, often the hard way, that structure, rites and rituals are important in any human endeavor, when they are relevant to the purpose, the situation and the people involved. So the questions are; should I structure the class a bit more like a dojo, or leave it loose and casual, and if so, what kind of structure would best suit these guys, and this situation?

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Vulnerability & Power Shift

12/23/09 w [1s, 14v] A 8 guys were chair warriors today. Joint problems seem to be the main issue. I don’t know if this happens very often but I noticed it once or twice before. I think I will do chair Aikido for a bit every Friday.

In line with my discussions with staff and vets last week, and your comments, I am trying to place more emphasis on vulnerability, and how it is an important factor in initiating good Aikido technique. I explained that for a technique to even be initiated, Uke [teacher] had to attack. This meant that Nage had to at least appear vulnerable enough so Uke would attack, but, this meant that they were in control of their vulnerability and therefore in control of a situation where they were “under attack”. To physically practice this, I had them do enter-and-turn [irimi nage] a little differently. When Uke grasped Nage’s wrist I had Uke push, and I had Nage push back for just a second before breathing-to-center, then entering off line, and pivoting, using their hips rather than their shoulders and upper body. When they did this, they were able to observe and feel the shift in control from Uke to Nage. One vet described it as a “power break”, another agreed and called it a “shift in who was in control” . I had them maintain this resist and power shift through a succession of gyaku homni moves. In every technique, they were able to feel the exact point when the “power shift” happened. But, it only happened when they offered vulnerability and then did the technique properly. It can be an excellent way to self-evaluate whether or not the technique is being done right.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

12/19/09 I just received the following comment from Michael Werth Sensei, founder and Dojo Cho with Main Street Martial Arts, in Providence RI. I think it is an excellent way for presenting vulnerability as potentially positive, and another way in which Aikido can find strength in “weakness”.

“I also teach about vulnerability in Aikido, and how it's actually a "strategy" to be vulnerable "on purpose", in some small way to lead people to that opening. People can be attracted to vulnerability. Some will love those who are vulnerable and some will attack those who are vulnerable. It's presenting our vulnerabilities to others in ways that WE CONTROL that leads to trust and confidence in ourselves and an ever-expanding circle of influence and relationship with others.”

Friday, December 18, 2009


12/18/09 f [5s, 18v] I Good group. Several new people. I mentioned the issue of vulnerability and how to respond with centering. We did technique from mirror grasp [ai homni]. Started with basic enter & turn [irimi tenkan] and progressed to an elbow lock and to a shoulder lock [shiho nage]. A number of people are beginning to take a breath and relax to center with out my prompting. Finished with a basic wrist lock and had standing people work with chair bound. Again, great response from people who felt extremely vulnerable because of their physical limitations.

Had my son with me today. He has practiced 16 years, since he was 5. This gave me a chance to begin to show people how to take proper ukemi. After class I asked for his critique. He suggested I work more on how to take ukemi. How a good, firm grasp, flexibility and staying in contact with nage is a way to remain safe and maintain some level of control. I’ll have to try to work on this at least once a week.

NOTE: Met with the program staff after class. I talked about how what and how I am teaching has changed since I first started. I am working more on breathing, relaxing to center and maintaining that relaxation through out a technique. I also mentioned the issue of vulnerability that came out on Wednesday. They thought that this was a major point to work on. The way they described it; with most people 95% of social interactions do not make them feel vulnerable, they may feel vulnerable in 1%, with people with PTSD they may feel vulnerable 95% of the time. Most of what the ward 8 program and the staff does is working with the vets in recognizing and dealing with these feeling of vulnerability.

The emphasis is that feelings of vulnerability may be valid, but that what are needed are ways, techniques for dealing with the situation constructively, not internalizing it, or kneejerking into a habitual, but not necessarily effective response.

Suggestions from the staff were: that I discuss the philosophy, the assertive but non-aggressive nature of Aikido, that I ask them what their feelings are when they are grabbed at the start of a technique and how do those feelings change as they breath/relax/center, and how they feel when they successfully complete a technique, i.e. gain and retain control of a situation in which they were vulnerable.

I explained how some of those things were learned kinesthetically, a very powerful learning process which has a definite, if covert impact on emotional as well as intellectual processes. I agreed, that given the short time vets were in the program, it could be beneficial to reinforce the kinesthetic learning with a bit more verbal explanation. I pointed out that staff could also refer to the basics of Aikido in helping someone to better understand the emotional/intellectual work done in other parts of the program. For example; “If you take a breath and relax to your center, how might it make you feel in this situation of vulnerability?” or “ How could you do an enter and turn to better deal with this?”

I am really glad that so many staff participate in my classes. I think it helps in their relationship with the guys, and wilol hopefully give them usefull tools in working with them in other milieus. I am going to try to get more staff to work directly with the guys, especially the women staff. Their Aikido is getting quite good.

I am beginning to feel like I'm giving the vets something more than a fun bit of exercise. The meeting with the staff, while not a formal evaluation, reenforced this.

Thursday, December 17, 2009


12/16/09 w [4s, 8v] I Moderate size class, no new people. Noticed an “evaporation” of vets between the time their morning meeting ends [usually late] and my class begins. An issue for when I meet with staff this Friday.

Worked on cross hand grasp [gyaku homni]. I was emphasizing breath, relaxing and welcoming the “attacker”,[uke]. One of the vets said he was having a lot of trouble doing that. We talked about that a little, and a couple of vets said when uke “came at them” they felt vulnerable and couldn’t relax, and in fact, usually tensed up and would go into an attack mode.. So their tensing up their shoulders and upper body can be more complicated than the typical male tendency to use upper body strength and to try to “muscle through” an attack. I think I will include this feeling of vulnerability and the way to respond in my emphasizing welcoming, breathing, and relaxing to center. This would also be one of the evaluative criteria if I ever get a regularized evaluation process going.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

12/15/09 m [5v] B Small class, 3 of the 5 are new. I never know what to expect on Mondays. It does give me a chance to do more one-on-one. I am placing greater emphasis on relaxing-to-center and proper breathing. Not that I am all that great on breath control my self!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

NOTE: In a dojo, there is usually a minimum of explanation and discussion. It is assumed that what I call the 5 points, will be learned, not intellectually, through explanation and discussion, but kinesthetically, through constant practice of technique. In working with the folks at the VA, I have them, at the most, for 6 weeks, 18 classes. Although I don’t expect them to learn precise technique, I do want them to grasp the power of breath/relaxation/centering. My experiments so far indicate a combination of explanation/discussion/group demonstration, backed up by practicing technique and one-to-one demonstration could be the best approach. Last Friday I had them try to work out some techniques for chair aikido using the five points and they reinvented a couple of excellent techniques, modified for chair gyaku hanmi. Several guys remarked on how relaxing and bringing uke to their center worked so well.

Questions for anyone out there. Would this intellectualization and improvisation help or hinder the internalization of the basic principles of Aikido? Should I stick to doing it just during chair work, or using it during regular standing techniques? Would giving a “homework” assignment help or hinder?
I thank you for any suggestions.

ps I apologize for my constant screwing up of the proper Japanese terminology in this journal. One of the reasons I didn't test for over 40 years is my total disability to learn foreign languages. I would be extremely embarrassed when Sensei would give me a technique to do, and I would have no idea which one he wanted. I would like to thank my Sensei, and everyone in my dojo for their patients in working through this. Please, don’t hesitate to correct me.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

12/9/09 w [3s, 18v] B There was no class Monday. Everyone was playing bingo, which the guys from here don’t usually do, except there were some cash prizes. There will be no class Friday as everyone will be helping set up for the Xmas party for all the alumni of the program. They say about 300.

There were a few new people today, so, because we started late, I did an abbreviated intro. Both the warm-ups and irimi practice went well. People seemed to pick-up the basics a bit faster. It could be I am improving how I talking and walking them through. Did irimi tenkan to a shoulder lock and finished with a simple wrist lock. I am finding these are good techniques to use with first timers. They are fairly simple, most folks pock them up quickly, they can feel the difference when they breath, relax and center, and shows even the biggest doubter how effective Aikido can be.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Chair Aikido

12/4/09 f [2s, 18n] I Class size increasing, couple of new people. I’d promised people we would do some chair aikido, so we did chair aikido. Generally people like doing these moves, although there are always 2 - 3 who still don’t participate. We started off with ikyo and nikyo from “Gyaku Hanmi”, i.e., same side grab. I asked people if it made any difference if they took a centering breath on beginning the move and if bringing uke’s hand fully into their center helped. The response was, and this is a direct, multiple quote, “Oh, wow, much better.”

One of the guys asked what technique would I use with a cross handed grab, “Ai Hanmi". I said I didn’t know, as I was sort of inventing chair aikido as we went. But if we relied on the 5 aspects, we would undoubtably figure something out. I then told them to work with their partner and try and discover techniques. Of course, they came up with a number of techniques, several of which were quite good. If I have a good group, I might do this again, i.e., have them try to develop variations of basic techniques.

NOTE: I have to see if it might be possible to video some classes. Given confidentiality issues it might not be allowed.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

KEGANIN NO SENSHI AIKIDO, Wounded Warrior Aikido.

12/2/09 w [4s, 12v] B good size class. Mostly new people. The usual doubting Thomases, but some fairly noticeable changes in attitude by the classes end. Did the standard basic program. I have been emphasizing taking a deep breath and relaxing to center at the very beginning of every technique. Again, when people do it, they immediately experience an improvement in their movement, and how much better the technique works. 5 chair warriors this time, so we will probably do some chair work this Friday.
The way the room is arranged is problematic [among the many other problems]. It is long, not very wide and has a pool table down at one end. This means we have people sort of strung out, with a couple trying to work beside or behind the table. It means the class is a bit chaotic and it is a bit difficult to get around to work with everyone. Again, not something we can do anything about, just another situation where the answer is to keep on keepin’ on.
NOTE: Someone said I should have a name to identify the special kind of Aikido I am doing. Since I can’t put myself under the umbrella of my own dojo, at this point I am also excluded from our federation. So I will call what I am trying to develop KEGANIN NO SENSHI AIKIDO, Wounded Warrior Aikido.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

11/30/09 m [0s, 5v] B
Real small class, didn’t start until 2:45, a number of people left early today and several new people are only processing. Plus, several people who were supposed to be here were in a class/session that ran way over. They were just getting out when our class was getting over. Did have one guy show up who is no longer in the Ward 8 program, but is still in another program at the facility. He wants to come whenever he can. I told him I would be real glad to have him. Mondays seem to consistently be chaotic. I don’t know if anything can be done, but I will try to bring it up to the staff. Also, the schedule and attendance may be all over the map with the holidays coming up.
Gave my goals tostaff. He said he has checked with a couple of people, and there is no way to get volunteers funded through the VA. He will check with the president of the local DAV. Maybe we could create the Injured Warrior Aikido as a DBA of Crystal Farm and get funding through that 501(c)3.
One of the new guys is a real “tester”, always wants to know “what if”. This is actually good, because I can show him the response to his “what if”, and it is obvious he is impressed. I use him frequently now as uke because everyone believes him when he says, and clearly shows, it works.