Friday, January 29, 2010

1/29/10 f [2s, 8v] I Small group practicing. More people sitting around watching but, [except for one guy] refusing to participate, even when I offered chair work. Several new people so I did the intro, solo and partner ireme tenkan, two basic moves from gyaku homni, and the two simple wrist locks from Gyaku that everyone seems to like. The one chair warrior who participated has lost his sense of balance from a head injury. He wanted to, but couldn’t do any technique involving using movement. He was able to stand and do the wrist locks. He said, “Well I can do something any how.” Said with a big grin!

After class, I talked briefly with a couple of staff to try to get some feed back on wether or not there are any signs of this activity having any benefits beyond some exercise. Comments were;
“Guys who take the class seem to be more open to dealing with the issue of vulnerability.”
“When I sense someone tensing up, telling them to breath, center and relax often seems to prevent a real lock up. This happens even with people who I just see sitting around and watching during class.”
“One guy said he tried picturing a problem grabbing his wrist. He was able to relax and move aside, and ‘kind of saw a way through it’.”

Not real hard, scientific evaluation, but an indication something positive may be happening.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

1/22/10 f [1s, 14v includes 6 chair warriors] A Pretty much the same group, 1 new vet. I’ve got to be careful, doing mostly the same basic techniques every week because there is usually a considerable number of new people, can get old for me. Not necessarily boring, but sometimes a bit tiresome. I don’t want to get sloppy or push people to fast just to satisfy my own needs. I do try to use different variations to cover the same basics. Having a group who can move into slightly more sophisticated techniques really gives me a break. Its like a breath of fresh air and does wonders for my moral. I am very pleased with both the commitment these guys show, and how quickly they grasp the essentials of what we are doing. Their technique may not be great, they are struggling with a whole new way to move and use their bodies and minds, but when they see they are not doing something right, and ask for help, that is a sign of real progress.
I should tell them this!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

1/20/10 w [3s, 12v] A Good class. It makes a real difference when I have basically the same group for 3 or 4 sessions. We were able to work in shoulder grabs, single and double. I was asked if I had ever used aikido in real life. I told them the story of my son and the Brazilian Jujitsu master, and talked some about the best possible Aikido technique, i.e., you avoid actual confrontation, physical or whatever. I asked what was the strongest weapon a bouncer in a bar has to use. I got silence, until someone said “his mouth”. I think people are beginning to get an idea of a different way to deal with aggression/stress/vulnerability.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010


1/19/10 NOTE: When I studied with Kanai Sensei in Cambridge, Mass, someone in the dojo told me “All aikido techniques are forward. There is no backing up.” This sounded right, and seemed to work most of the time in my own technique. But over the years I have noticed many advanced Aikidoka clearly moving backwards, taking a step back, sometimes several. They obviously had excellent technique and maintained full control of uke, but moved backwards. When I moved backwards, I often lost contact with uke. I was missing something, and it never seemed to be covered in class or at seminars.

The other day, I was doing the wood floors at the back of the dojo with one of those thirty inch janitors dust mops with a pivot where the handle held the mop head, and it hit me: The mop never went backwards. If it did, it dropped the dirt. I [nage to the mops uke] could walk backwards, turn in any direction, go in circles, but, by pivoting the mop head, I could keep the mop moving forward. All dust mop techniques were forward. There was no backing up.

Try it, even if you have to borrow a mop or offer to do someone’s floors. Feel how you have to keep the mop flowing forward, the rhythm of flexing and turning, always pushing, never pulling. Then take that same rhythm and flow on to the mat and picture uke as the dust mop. Keep uke moving forward, left, right, up, down, around and around, through two, three, even four dimensions, in whatever technique or combination of techniques you choose, but always forward. Try to do it as long as possible before either loosing contact, or finishing with a throw. It is like dancing with a partner. Have fun with it. It really helped me relax, loosened my technique up and enabled me to maintain contact and control
[see the previous comments on 10/13 & 18].

Monday, January 18, 2010

Evaluation To Date

When I started back in September, I set some initial goals for what I wanted to accomplish with this class, and how I intended to go about accomplishing that. After five months, the start of a new year, and a great class, I think it is a good time to review those goals and the trail I have taken to get where we are now.

In September, I set the following, although they weren’t structured quite this way:
A. Class will be an enjoyable break from the regular schedule,
B. Give people something positive they can use outside of class, in their regular life, dealing with their real life issues.
C. The physical activity should have an effect on their mental/emotional activity [kinesthetic learning].
It doesn’t really matter if they are consciously aware of this. Covert often works better than overt.
D. Based on discussions with the staff and given the time and location realities:
1. Stress the collaborative nature of aikido practice, Nage as teacher, Uke is student.
2. All techniques will end with a standing pin, occasionally a take down. No throws or falls.
3. Concentrate on basic moves and techniques; 1 & 2 hand grabs, shoulder grabs, chop to neck [shomenuchi]. No punching [tsuki] as it could be a bit too risky with this group.
E. Drill on the 5 points of technique
1. welcoming “attack” and relaxing [breathing] to center
2. getting “off the line” and entering
3. blending attacker’s [Uke] “center” with defender’s [Nage]
4. Nage utilizes technique to move their own body, maintaining relaxed and centered movement,
not focusing on Uke
5. coming to a place where the attacker is secure and both participants are safe [especially Nage]

II. EVALUATION: To evaluate progress/success on these I’ve come up with the following set of goals;
A. That guys will enjoy the class and keep coming.
There is always a core group that comes regularly. This group changes as the population of the ward changes every 6 weeks or so. Some people try it once, and don’t come back, but very few. The guys who don’t come regularly, don’t usually try it even once. Since this is a voluntary activity, the number who stick is fairly high. This also includes the chair warriors who come and watch regularly and practice when we do chair work.
B. That there will be a good interaction among the various “demographics” of the group and a sense of group will develop.
This seems to be going well. People partner-up pretty freely with each other. I havn’t noticed any cliques.
C. Guys will learn and demonstrate an ability to consciously relax and center when “attacked”/stressed.
Most people understand the relaxing to center and will use it during a technique when I cue them. Some guys use it without cueing. One issue that came up during a staff meeting, and working with a couple of the vets is the feeling of vulnerability, and the kneejerk reaction to either withdraw, or respond inappropriately [attack]. I have started to bring up breathing to center and relaxing specifically around the feeling of vulnerability. I’m modifying this question to; when “attacked”/stressed or feeling vulnerable.
D. Staff will have some commonly held language they can use to help Vets in certain situations, i.e. relax, center, breath down.
E. All of these will carry over outside of class.
Evaluating D & E depend on getting feed-back and evaluation from staff. This may take awhile to get established and I’m not exactly sure to get it to happen on a regular basis. I will bring it up to the 3 or 4 staff who regularly attend class.

I also wrote the following, “I should make it clear, I don’t necessarily see Aikido as therapy for PTSD. I do believe, and it has been my experience, that Aikido can be therapeutic.”
Both my own sense of what I am accomplishing, and the fact that the staff really want this to continue indicate some significant theraputic value. As to how much, or in what ways will require a more structured clinical assessment. It would be nice to get such a study funded.
NOTE: 1/18/10
Sent: Saturday, January 16, 2010 1:41 PM
Subject: Dojo Versus Reality? Blog of 1/13/10
From: Edward
This is definitely something that I've been thinking about as well. One part of it is that we don't usually talk about what happens when contact breaks down. What I have been looking at is at any given point in a technique, if uke loses contact, is nage still in a strong position. In a lot of situations I've found that you are. The thing about that is once contact is broken it seems to me that the philosophical principals of Aikido break down as well. Nage is still in a strong position, but in a lot of situations the strength seems to come from the ability to strike uke. If someone grabs your wrist and you move in for a basic backstretch throw and they let go, you can just continue the movement and drive your elbow into their face, but is that still Aikido?
That definitely does not hold for all techniques, in a lot of cases you can transition to another technique. The problem is that it is nearly impossible to demonstrate to someone who can't take good ukemi unless you are willing to really hurt them. Like I have lost contact with Todd, and had him move in and transition to an arm bar take down and pin, but if I didn't know what to do or refused to move, and he went for it, it would just dislocate my shoulder.
I hope this has some coherence, I sort of thought it out as I was writing it,

Thanks for the comments. I think it is an issue we all face at one time or another
What I am experimenting with at the dojo, and finding works, is the working on the fourth point of technique, focusing on moving myself properly, and being aware of, but not focusing on what is happening with uke. This means staying centered, balanced and grounded, even while moving, and maintaining firm contact with, and sensitivity to, uke. It is almost a contradiction in terms, not focus on uke while being sensitive to where their center is. Actually, I find if I am too focused on uke, I loose that sense of where they are and where they are going. But if you watch Todd Martin Sensei, that is exactly what he does. He doesn't have to look at you to tell you are "out of line". He feels it on some level, and since he is still "in his own body", he can flow into a more appropriate response.

I think that is one of the reasons it is easier to work with a more advanced uke. You have a level of confidence in their ability to take ukemi. With a beginning student, I tend to remain very focused on what they are doing, or not doing in their ukemi. What I am trying to do, is increase my sensitivity/awareness of their movement while staying focused in my own technique.
I wish we did more reversals at the dojo. To do them well requires this paradoxical approach.
I also hope this has some coherence. It is difficult to think about, difficult to put into words, and even more difficult to apply.

Friday, January 15, 2010

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

1/15/10 f [2s, 18v] A Excellent, excellent class. About half the vets were chair warriors. When I saw how many of them did what they could of the warm ups, and paid such close attention to the techniques I was teaching [several were going through the motions] that I finished every technique by having the standees partner with a Chair Warrior. It was excellent! Not only did the CWs do the techniques, several of the mobile vets sat down to try it from that position. It was clear that doing this helped everyone, mobile and chair bound, get a better grasp of the essential core of each technique. It is akin to doing technique from suwari waza [kneeling], it enables you to focus on moving from the center.

It was great, how enthusiastic people were today, making real effort to get the particulars of each technique, starting with that deep, centering breath, asking questions when they weren’t sure of their technique, helping each other. A very good group. It helps me feel like what I’m trying to do is not only working, it has some value to these guys. The last week or so I haven’t been too sure, what with small, constantly shifting groups and the confusion around scheduling. I guess one of my expectations better be that there will be ups and down to this. But why not? Everything worth doing has those downs, but if it is worth doing the ups will come, and they make it all worthwhile.

Damn! I suppose I should apologize for sounding so smug, but today was-----------excellent!

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Dojo Versus Reality?

1/13/10 w [2s, 8v] A Good class, A couple of the guys are grasping both technique and the concept of breathing and relaxing, at the start, and through out a technique. The biggest issue now, is ukemi. Unlike in the dojo, people do not know how to follow in a technique and they often end up in a potentially dangerous position. There are two issues here;
I have to help/teach people to “go with the flow”, to protect themselves by giving up their balance in a controlled way.
I have to improve my own technique so that uke is more apt to move where I want them to go. While uke should be able to move “protectively’, it is nage’s responsibility to insure uke does not move inappropriately, that both nage and uke end up in a safe and secure place. I can’t teach this when I am unable to do so outside of the dojo, with a partner who does not know the safest way to move as uke.
Given the time limitations I am working with I will probably not get people to the point where they can take good, safe ukemi, but I can teach it more often and emphasize it throughout classes.

NOTE: With some techniques, even when I use fairly good form that works in the dojo, it doesn’t work well when applying it “real world’, i.e., with someone who doesn’t know how to take ukemi. I’ve noticed the same phenomenon when working with a new student in the dojo. Is this a problem inherent with the technique? Or due to the fact that I am not doing it properly? How can dojo practice be more realistic? It is important to learn and practice good ukemi, but does this lead to enabling weak or improper technique.

I practice Aikido as a form of physical meditation, not necessarily for its self-defense, martial aspects. But it is a martial art, and I should feel confident in my ability to use it as such. I’m finding that confidence a bit shaken.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

More Notes on Methods of Instruction

“First figure out why you want the students to learn the subject and what you want them to know, and the method will result more or less by common sense.” Richard Feynman, 1982

The secret of aikido is embodied in the vacuum cleaner.
What enables it to work is not
what is there,
what is not there.
It creates a space for things to move into,
bundles them up in its center,
and moves them away.

You can’t get a dog [or a person] to go where you want by forcing it. Their instinct is to pull against a force. You have to create a reason why it wants to go where you want. You have to lead.
All things gravitate toward a vacuum.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Methods of Instruction

NOTE; I am finding it important to view, and conduct the entire class, as a continuum. Given the time limitation I can’t teach as with a standard dojo class, where the assumption is, over time, everything will be covered and that students will eventually internalize basic principles. In order to best meet the specific objectives I have set for this class, and given the time constraints, I need to included everything, breathing, centering, posture, moving in balance, remaining relaxed, from the first breathing exercise and warm-up through every technique, to the final relaxation/breath down at the end of class. “You can’t start out where you want them to be, you have to start out where they are at.”

Also, I have to be constantly aware of, and sensitive to, the delicate, balanced approach needed in teaching these guys. In some ways they are much stronger and tougher than the average dojo student, yet in some ways much more fragile and vulnerable. My approach of joking and kidding around often really helps, and being a former combat vet, I can get away with a lot. But there is a fine line where this sort of thing can be perceived as belittling or insulting. Pride can easily be bruised, and that line varies with each guy.

Friday, January 8, 2010

1/6/10 & 1/8/10 w&f [2s 7v] B Same people both days, but mostly new people. Interesting as there is one vet who was a boxer and a bouncer for a rock group, and another vet who was an MP and did security after he got out of the service. Monday they both did the “well what if I did this” routine and the “but I am so used to doing it this way” routines. I explained how the 5 points of technique are much more effective in dealing with attack/stress than the ways they were used to. I had the ex-boxer throw a jab at me, I stepped off the line, “extended” his center [his fist] and continued the momentum of the punch to the point where he over balanced to where I was all that was holding him up and in control. Very nice “a ha” moment. He agreed that, like me, he was getting a bit old to be using muscle and strength like he might have when he was young.

Several people agreed that they “felt better” when using proper technique as opposed to how they used to feel when attacked. When I asked them to explain what they thought the difference might be I got;
“I feel more relaxed.”
“I feet more in control of myself and the attacker.”
“Once, it worked so good, I actually wanted to laugh.”
“I don’t feel bad, or angry at my self or the other guy.”

Most of these guys try to use upper body strength, hunching over, dropping a shoulder, etc. Working with the MP and the boxer specifically on these two issues also helped others see how much more effective they can be using the 5 points.

I find myself using less ethereal, more mechanical language. I don’t talk about the center being a spiritual foci for ki, but as the physical center of the human body and therefore a center of their strength. I emphasize how taking that deep breath enables them to relax [I start doing this during warm-ups] and that being relaxed allows them flexibility and ease of movement. I explained how a particular part of a technique gives leverage, enables continuation of momentum, allows capture and control of uke’s balance. These are, by and large, very pragmatic people. They can understand and see the advantages of Aikido technique in very usable terms. Talking about some of the more spiritual, philosophical concepts of Aikido would be apt to turn them off.

Of course, I truly believe that they are absorbing those concepts, albeit covertly, and if they manage to continue with Aikido, they will come to see how practical and pragmatic those esoteric concepts are.

Monday, January 4, 2010


1/4/10 m [0s,0v] ? Once again, no one showed up for a Monday class. Too many other things going on. Talked to the head of staff and he put it on their agenda for tomorrow. He couldn’t remember why they changed it from am to pm on Monday. I knew there would be administrative/scheduling issues and problems, but it is hard to stay motivated when no one shows up week after week. Well, onward into the fog!!