Quick Recap of the Kaze Uta Budokai Summer Intensive

Fundamentals, fundamentals, fundamentals...

Instead of heading to the North Carolina camp this year (which is consistently awesome, and one of my students was able to go), Jacob and I decided to head out to Oklahoma City.  "Why?" you may ask.  Perfectly reasonable question.  I love tornadoes and excessively flat terrain.  And the Kaze Uta Budokai Summer Intensive!  Basically, it's a 3 day training camp that looks at the various martial arts practiced there, including Judo, Aikido, and Jodo (the way of the medium-length staff, roughly translated).  It, too, was awesome.  All of the instructors were phenomenal, I was exposed to some cool arts in which I had limited or no exposure, and HOLY GOD, the mats were the best I have ever experienced.  Everyone seemed to focus on fundamentals and bring in lessons that were good for the novice as well as the expert.  This was nice, as I was definitely a novice at most stuff.

Nick Lowry and Brent Zurbriggen taught the Judo.  Honestly, it was mostly an Aikido crowd, which turned out to be a bit of a downer because there tended to be a mass exodus from the mats during the Judo sessions and the classes got put at odd hours.  Redheaded stepchild or no, the Judo was awesome.  We'll be working the drills I got over the next several classes, but they can be summed up as "One Entry, Many Exits."  Effectively, you key off of the synchronization you get when your Deashi doesn't work, and learn to attack whatever Uke's next move is.  We did that a lot, and got drills that can give us the foundation for the light, flowing sort of Ashiwaza Randori-esque thing that you see here:  

Brent also went over the same concept from a Newaza perspective:  Basically, start with a decent shrimp, and then learn to attack the various responses to that, from various positions.  Cool stuff.  I all of it, we spent a decent amount of time making sure to get the fundamentals right, which I greatly appreciated (especially since they do a very different style of Deashi than I am used to).

The Tomiki-style Aikido (I've got my yellow belt, so come at me, bro) was taught by L. F. Wilkinson.  He looked at a set of techniques familiar to anyone who has been to a few classes, and focused on how to practice them to ensure that you were getting the most from your practice and not letting bad habits creep in.

George Ledyard taught "Traditional Aiki."  I didn't really know what that meant, coming in, but it definitely wasn't what I expected.  The best way I could describe his lessons was that they focused on using subtle movements in your core to create off balance.  It was... weird.  Not like anything I had been exposed to.  And difficult.  But doable.  Mind you, it would take me 30 seconds of standing there trying to break their balance ("Push my elbows down and in... don't use my biceps... Ack!  Stop using the biceps!), never mind completing the rest of the technique.  George, however, could do the techniques quickly and effectively.  He was a good teacher, and luckily for me, a patient teacher.  Keeping with the theme of the seminar, though he taught for several hours over the course of the thing, he didn't try to teach a million things.  He focused on the core idea, and gave us a number of variations on the theme to practice.  Good stuff.

Howard Popkin was brought in to teach Daito Ryu.  I didn't know what that was, either.  From what I experienced, it seemed conceptually similar to what Sensei Ledyard was teaching... except he almost never moved his feet.  I think Jacob summed it up best: "If I just saw this on Youtube, I'd think it was bullshit."  Honestly, the stuff looks like the Ukes are acting.  It looks like a dude is standing there, while another dude craps himself for no reason.  But he's not acting... there's a reason behind the self-crapping.  Howie Sensei is able to create awesome Kuzushi and manipulate his Uke with *very* subtle movements.  I wasn't very good at this, but again, he focused on reinforcing a couple of core concepts, and so now Jacob and I have something we can practice until he teaches his next seminar in DC. 

So, this is starting to get long... I'll look to write another post on some of this...


Book Review: The Art of Learning by Josh Waizkin

Half autobiography, half one badass's take on learning theory, this is a good read for coaches and students.  Three stars (out of four)
Buy it here.

If you've seen or read "Searching for Bobby Fisher," the author is the subject of that film/book.  The short version is that he was a chess phenom.  He played world-class chess from an early age, and then his dad wrote a book about him, which then turned into a movie, which then made him more famous than was helpful for his chess career.  He got to a place where he wasn't loving chess like he once did, and then discovered Tai Chi, which then led to his introduction into push hands.  And after a few years of practicing push hands, he became world champion at that.  World-class chess player, world-champion martial artist.  Thus, badass.  He said that at one point he realized that his gift wasn't that he was good at chess, and it wasn't that he was good at martial arts... he was good at learning, so he decided to write a book about it.

As I stated above, it is half autobiography... he gets a lot into his chess career and development, and into his martial arts career.  These stories serve to build credibility, provide illustration for some of his points, and it's just pretty interesting to learn about his experiences.  The learning theory bit is good stuff.  Nothing revolutionary, but I think that his stories really help illustrate his point.  The basic idea of his theory (condensed to my take) is:

  • Deconstruct the thing you are trying to learn (e.g., if you are trying to learn Judo, you may think of it consisting of skills such as gripping, using footwork to neutralize Kuzushi, disrupting the advancing foot, etc)
  • Focus down on one thing at a time, building from the ground up, and perfect and internalize that thing (e.g., spend time practicing Tsugiashi movement, then practice Tsugiashi while connected to a moving partner... then connected to an attacking partner, finding and fixing gaps and mistakes, until you are unconsciously maintaining a solid, mobile base wherever circumstances lead you)
  • As you internalize more and more of the base skills, time will "slow down" as your conscious mind can focus on less and less, and you can "specialize" the skills which you are seeking to learn
  • During this process, you will need to "invest in loss" - in part, that means not being afraid to lose as you are working on a new skill; in part, it means that you should seek out those who can beat you so that you can find new areas to develop in your game
  • There is also quite a bit on psychology... both how to "get in your opponent's head" as well as how to trigger optimum performance states in your own mind

Last I looked, this thing was $9 on Amazon...  It's a fairly quick read, it has pretty cool stories, and may well help you improve how you learn and how you teach.  It is already influencing me, and I'll post more about that in the near future.


Nage no Kata Attacks - Uke Gets ... No Smarter?: The Sumo Shuffle

... Umm... I got nothing.  And I don't like it.

As I mentioned in this post, I have a hypothesis that there was some reason for Tori to select the throw she does... some reason more meaningful than "Tori really wanted to do Uki Goshi."  So, in these posts, I explored the subtle differences in Uke's actions which trigger specific throws, and I am pretty satisfied with the answers.

As I was performing the Kata the other day, however, I couldn't discern any difference between what Uke was supposed to be doing during the "Jigotai Shuffles" in Sumi Gaeshi vs. Uki Waza.  So I started reading.  I have a few books by people who know a lot more about Kata than I do, and thus far, I have been really happy that these books have been able to answer the questions I have had.  Not so here.  In Formal Techniques, Draeger mentions no difference.  In fact, he says a few times that Uke and Tori are repeating themselves in Uki Waza.  Same thing in Leggett's book.  Same in Kawaishi's.

So... is my hypothesis wrong?  (I already know your answer, LEO!) Or, is there some difference that these clowns didn't pick up on?  What do you think?  Do any of you guys do anything differently to induce Uki Waza instead of another Sumi Gaeshi?


The Gokyo - Kodokan vs. Mifune

Mifune was a wizard, and evidently a rebel.  He was the Harry Potter of Judo?

Did you guys know that Mifune had his own Gokyo (well... you would if you had read my review of his Canon of Judo).  Some interesting differences...  I don't have a ton of insight here just yet, but figured I would post this for those who are interested.  At some point I will post my color-coded Excel file which makes comparison between the two a bit easier.

# Kodokan Mifune
1-1 Deashi Barai Deashi Barai
1-2 Hiza Guruma Hiza Guruma
1-3 Sasae Tsurikomi Ashi Uki Goshi
1-4 Uki Goshi Sasae Tsurikomi Ashi
1-5 Ogoshi Osoto Gari
1-6 Osoto Gari Tsuri Goshi
1-7 Ouchi Gari Tai Otoshi
1-8 Seoi Nage Tsurikomi Goshi
2-1 Kosoto Gari Kouchi Gari
2-2 Kouchi Gari Koshi Guruma
2-3 Koshi Guruma Kosoto Gari
2-4 Tsurikomi Goshi Ogoshi
2-5 Okuriashi Barai Seoi Nage
2-6 Tai Otoshi Ouchi Gari
2-7 Harai Goshi Kosoto Gake
2-8 Uchi Mata Harai Goshi
3-1 Kosoto Gake Uchi Mata
3-2 Tsuri Goshi Hane Goshi
3-3 Yoko Otoshi Hane Makikomi
3-4 Ashi Guruma Harai Tsurikomi Ashi
3-5 Hane Goshi Tomoe Nage
3-6 Harai Tsurikomi Ashi Sukui Nage
3-7 Tomoe Nage Ashi Guruma
3-8 Kata Guruma Ushiro Goshi
4-1 Sumi Gaeshi Yoko Guruma
4-2 Tani Otoshi Osoto Guruma
4-3 Hane Makikomi Uki Otoshi
4-4 Sukui Nage Utsuri Goshi
4-5 Utsuri Goshi Uki Waza
4-6 O Guruma Tani Otoshi
4-7 Soto Makikomi Yoko Otoshi
4-8 Uki Otoshi Yoko Gake
5-1 Osoto Guruma Ura Nage
5-2 Uki Waza Sumi Otoshi
5-3 Yoko Wakare Yoko Wakare
5-4 Yoko Guruma O Guruma
5-5 Ushiro Goshi Okuriashi Barai
5-6 Ura Nage Sumi Gaeshi
5-7 Sumi Otoshi Kata Guruma
5-8 Yoko Gake Soto Makikomi


Book Review: Judo Formal Techniques by Tadao Otaki and Donn Draeger

It's not exactly light summer reading, but but if you want to learn Nage no Kata or Katame no Kata, this is your book.  Three stars (out of four)
Buy it here.

The Upshot:
Everything you ever wanted to know about the Randori no Kata (Nage no Kata and Katame no Kata).  It gives you the details for Uke and Tori in an easy-to-follow manner.  And when I say that it gives you the details, it even covers how to sit up after you are thrown.  450 pages, over 1,000 illustrations...  lots of detail.  Not one that you will want to read cover-to-cover (God help you), but if you want to investigate a particular technique, you'll almost assuredly find what you need in here.

What's In It, and How It's Organized:

  • Historical Background
  • Outline of Judo Kata - A very brief overview of the official Kodokan Kata as well as a mention of the unofficial Kata
  • Understanding Kata - Making the case for studying Kata
  • Famous Japanese Judoists on Kata - Other people making the case for studying Kata
  • Kata Fundamentals - Notes about things like mindset, breathing, and adjusting the gi... general aspects that don't apply specifically to one Kata or the other
  • Technical Aspects of Nage no Kata - Think of this as general tips specific to Nage no Kata
  • Technical Aspects of Katame no Kata
  • Nage no Kata - The nitty-gritty
  • Katame no Kata
  • The Study and Practice of Kata - How to make the most of Kata training
The Good:
As I mentioned, if you are studying Nage no Kata or Katame no Kata, this has what you need.  The photos and illustrations are all very helpful (showing both the right ways of doing things as well as common mistakes).  More than that, the non-technical sections are great, as well, particularly the last chapter.  I have grown to appreciate this book more and more over the years, and this last chapter is one of the big reasons why... it gives great advice on how to make Kata a useful part of your practice, rather than just that mandatory thing that you have to do in preparation for rank tests.

Could Have Been Better:
One thing I would have liked to have seen is more on the historical development of these Kata - how they changed and evolved over the years, what different variants were popular, etc.  Otaki and Draeger definitely present this as "the one true way" with little tolerance for variation, which seems stifling to me... That said, they do advocate variation in some of the non-technical chapters. The layout of the chapters was a bit odd (e.g., why not put "Technical Aspects of Nage no Kata" next to the "Nage no Kata" chapter), but given that this is more of a reference book than one you would read front-to-back, that doesn't detract too much.

One Thing I Learned:
Nage no Kata. But seriously, folks...  I already wrote about it here, but the most important thing I learned recently was the differences between the various incarnations of the 3-push attacks.  The 3-pushes never made sense to me before, because I couldn't figure out why Tori was doing Kata Guruma instead of another Uki Otoshi. The explanations in "Formal Techniques" (largely contained in one brief section where he reviews the differences) helped the 3-push attacks fit in with my conception of what Kata was supposed to be.

If you are just learning the Kata, you probably don't need this book.  If you think Kata is a complete waste of time, and nobody can persuade you otherwise, you can do without this book.  If you just need to be able to make it look good enough for rank examinations, skip it.  But if you are curious about Kata in general or Nage/Katame no Kata in specific, if you want to figure out how to make Kata a useful tool in your training repertoire, or you are in a serious study of Nage no Kata, you should get the book.  There is not - and has not been - any book in English that even comes close (I don't know about other languages).


A Note for Akari Judo Students re: Nage no Kata: I've Been Doing it Wrong

Umm... It takes a big man to admit when he's wrong?  Well, I think Nage no Kata will give me plenty of chances to demonstrate my bigness.  

So... quick note here for anyone who has learned Nage no Kata from me:  I have been teaching (and executing) both the 3-push and head bash attacks wrong, for the most part.

For the 3-push, the main culprit, as I mentioned in my discussion of the variations in the 3-push attack, is that I only recently put together the fact that there are actually supposed to be any differences in this attack.  So when I taught it before, all 6 of my 3-pushes were the same - and it was just on Tori to choose a different attack.  This was wrong.  Oh, and in addition to the differences that I mentioned, Uke isn't really supposed to nail the heel/toe foot spacing.  I think he tries, but Tori's actions screw him up, such that the trailing foot is sometimes further back.

For the head bash, my second step has been too big on all but the Yoko Guruma attack...  Uke is supposed to strike with his feet almost at heel/toe, rather than at the end of a giant stride.  The first step is still big, but the second step is usually smaller.  This, of course, means that you must set up closer to Tori than you are used to (provided that you are used to doing it the way I do it).  I've known about the differences in this attack, but I didn't realize that my foot spacing had been wrong.  I think this adjustment will make the first 3 muuuch easier.

I realized this as I went through my source materials to research these posts...  Looking at the pictures, better understanding Uke's adjustments and mindset...  yeah... I've been doing it wrong.  Whoops.

So here's what I need from you, Akari Judoka:  Help me.  I will forget.  I will go back to the way I have trained it for the last 20 years.  Keep an eye on me, and call me out when I do it my old, wrong way.  Then we can all get better!



Nage no Kata Attacks - Uke Gets Smarter #2: The Head Bash

Uke gets smarter... but he never quite gets smart enough to realize that tennis-serving someone's head is not the most effective assault.

Continuing from my last post, in which I discuss subtle variations in the 6 incarnations of the 3-push, I'll now turn my attention to the next most frequent attack:  The "Head Bash."  You know, that great big silly-looking overhead smash of Uke's head...  Just like in the 3-push, each manifestation of the head bash will be different than the one before it, based on what Uke learned in his previous encounter.

  • Ippon Seoi Nage: Similar to the first 3-push, this is a totally reckless attack, where Uke is trying to knock Tori's head into her torso, and has no regard for his balance, extension, and general vulerability.  He puts his whole body into the attack.
  • Uki Goshi: Now, Uke realizes that he was overcommitted to the attack, and holds back.  He better balances his weight on each foot, and straightens up some (as opposed to bending during the prior attack) to stifle any incoming Seoi Nage.  He also posts his left hand to check Tori's hips, should she try to blast him with Seoi again.  All of this sets up Uki Goshi quite nicely.
  • Ura Nage: Now Uke has modified his prior thinking.  He still doesn't want to destroy his balance (as in Seoi), but stiffening up wasn't a good idea (as in Uki Goshi).  Now, he sinks his weight a bit, and adds his heavy follow through back in.  And gets blasted with Ura Nage.
  • Yoko Guruma: To thwart the Ura Nage, as well as the Seoi and Uki Goshi, Uke now lengthens his base (basically taking a larger second step towards Tori). Tori, in one of his most oblivious moments of the whole Kata, doesn't pick up on the change and attempts another Ura Nage. Uke then responds to the Ura by headlocking Tori and shoving her head down at ~90 degrees to the original attack.  This gives Tori the perfect setup for the Yoko Guruma.