AIKIDO – make the most of your leaders

October 2, 2010

A very nice piece by George Ledyard.

I just heard the news that Sugano Sensei had passed away. Another direct student of the Aikido Founder whose lifetime of experience is no longer available to us. Here in the United States we have lost A. Tohei, Toyoda, Kanai, and now Sugano Sensei. That leaves Yamada, Chiba, Saotome, and Imaizumi Senseis from that generation of post war uchi deshi who trained directly under the Founder.

The depth of experience these teachers possess is truly irreplaceable, they are an “endangered species”. As these giants pass away, one bu one, I can’t help but raise the question once again of who takes over when these men are gone?

I don’t mean who runs the various organizations presides over testing, etc. That’s just administration. I mean who takes on the responsibility for the “transmission” to the next generation? Who is even capable of taking on this mantle? Did any one of these teachers manage to pass on what he knew? Can you look at the succession and say that any of these teachers created any students who were as good as they were / are? And if not, why not?

In my opinion, many of us senior students, direct students of these giants who trained with the Founder and then pioneered Aikido’s growth overseas, have failed our teachers and failed our art. We squandered the time we had with these people, always acting as if there would be another class, another seminar, another chance to master what they knew. And now, increasingly there will be no more chances. And who amongst us has measured up?

There has been a lot of discussion about the failure both the Founder and many of his most talented students to develop a systematic teaching methodology for transmitting the art. I agree that this was the case. But once realizing this, whose responsibility was it to fix the issue? Once I realized that my own teacher was doing Aikido on a level that he could not break down and explain, whose job was it to figure it out?

If we can honestly and dispassionately look at what our generation to teachers has achieved in 35 to 45 years of practice and find that we are forced to admit that none of us is as good as our teacher, then I think we have to really look at the hard fact that we failed to do our jobs. We can blame our teachers for not doing a better job, we can content ourselves with excuses based on some “special” capacity or experience on the part of our teachers, which we could never measure up to…

We got in the habit of ceding control over our own Aikido destinies to the senior teachers. We waited for them to create training events, do seminars, tell us what they wanted us to know… If they looked satisfied, then we ere satisfied. Just as long as Sensei was happy. But did any of us feel like we had really mastered what our teachers were doing? If we actually did feel that way, did we move on and find the next teacher who could take us to the next level? Did we simply content ourselves with knowing more of what our teachers were doing than the general membership within our organization and give up on trying to be as good or better than our teachers?

I think that the passing of our teachers, one by one, is a wake up call for the community of senior teachers. As tragic as it is to have our teachers passing on, retiring, etc. the one positive is that its our turn now. We can’t blame any failngs on anyone else. If Aikido fails to measure up, it’s our fault. We can’t blame our teachers, blame Hombu, blame Kisshomaru, or O-Sensei. It is our art now and our responsibility. If we don’t feel like we have measured up to our own teachers, well, what is stopping us? The sources for taking our Aikido to the next level are out there. There are very high level teachers who are in the process of entirely retooling their Aikido, even after 40 plus years of training.

It is time for us to start acting like the leaders we will need to be to assure the transmission. I do not think we should any longer be waiting for our Shihan to create events, teach seminars, determine the direction of our training. I think we should be doing so. I think we should basically dispense with all this “style” or organizational nonsense and begin to support each other as senior American teachers. Collectively we have a vast experience which, if we shared, would benefit each other. We have connections to teachers from outside the art who offer some of the “missing pieces” that could take us all up to or even past our teachers. If we network with each other and share these connections, rather than horde them as giving us some advantage over the others, we could get our own training on the right track and model a far superior modus operandi for the next generation.

I look at Ikeda Sensei traveling all over setting up cross style and organizational “Bridge” Seminars and I ask myself, “why do we need to wait for someone like him to do this?” We should be doing this! We simply do not need to wait for someone senior to initiate positive change. It is our job to do so, starting right away.

When one of the giants like Sugano Sensei passes away, if people have to cast about ion their minds for who could fill those shoes, then we have not done our jobs. I do not mean whether the general membership has accepted someone as a future leader… I mean do we as those future leaders feel we ourselves could train another student to fill those shoes? If we do not feel we could do so, then the transmission is broken.

Most of us are getting to be around sixty now. We have perhaps 20 years, if we are lucky, to pass on what we know. If, in our questioning of ourselves we decide that we are not what we could or should have been, then we have only that twenty years to both take ourselves up to that level AND pass it on to another generation. We need to step up to the plate and become the leaders we have been trained to be. If we start now, perhaps we will actually be ready when there are no more uchi deshi left to fall back on and it is entirely up to us.

Every time we lose another treasure like Sugano Sensei, a greater burden of responsibility falls on us. We need to make sure we measure up and we need to make sure we are in position to pass it on. If we are not, then we need to do something about it, right now, not later. Later is too late.



September 11, 2010

A great artcile by Nev Sagiba.
Perhaps there is more to HARA than “Oriental superstition.”

Did you know? There are almost as many neurons firing in the gut region as the brain?

I would venture a guess that they are not there just waiting for the next bus, but serve a vital purpose. Deemed to be “controversial” cutting edge research, also suggests that peptide cocktails formed in the gut region are responsible for moods and contribute to the chemistry involved in effector/receptor functions and immediate physical responses.

Really? I thought they were just hanging about ‘cos they had nothing better to do. Controversial? Why? Because they don’t fit in a conceptual box made by some sedentary theorist in a lab coat? Guesswork and rigidly calcified preconceived notions do not win survival situations, contribute to discovery, evolution or achieve any constructive value! Facts do.

Predictable strategic flexibility that can be tested and based on observation and experience over aeons may have some merit after all. Combat, as with so-called meditation, indeed all skills, are sciences as much as they are arts. What works, works because it does. Not because of an opinion. After testing and trialing and the R&D of many centuries, certain predispositions emerge as indisputable, despite the theories and ideas of myopic pseudo-intellectuals.

Perhaps there is more to HARA than “Oriental superstition” after all.

The HARA, a point of reference in the body which can be used as the seat of “mind-flow,” may be more than just an anchor for the mind or a point of focus in the present time moment for engaging in physical activity. Indeed, it does come into play when the physical body is in action mode interacting with the varied aspects of gravity. But it may also contribute to the processes which enable life, mobility, sentience and consciousness as well.

The focal point of HARA is said to be situated at what was thought to be an undetermined point midway between the navel and the top of the pubis (pubic bone), in the centre of the body but can encompass the whole solar-plexus region. This was largely considered hypothetical, notwithstanding the fact that skeletal charts denote the region where the centerline intersects at a point parallel to the Lumbar Vertebrae 4 and 5, as being “the centre of balance for the human body.” (I suspect that there is an inner ear, balance factor or some form of mental or internal biofeedback or meridian connection as well, but this remains to be further researched.)

The solar plexus region, among other things, also incorporates a rather unique network of nerves including the celiac plexus which is an organised infrastructure of nerve ganglia arranged to function as a centre of influence, energy storage, distribution and activity of bioelectricity as it interacts with biomagnetism through fluids and lymphatics to produce the feeding of signals throughout the body in conjunction with the adrenals, kidneys and other glandular secretions, interactions and mechanisms relevant to instant reactions, survival and life.

Natural people are very good at noticing the obvious. I think we call it “insight,” and then we talk a lot, label everything in sight and get lost in a clutter our minds make with often unnecessary and irrelevant complexity, much of it invented by the irrationality of “rationalization,” such as nature does not care about. I too often hear men in ill fitting suits attempt to smother valid debate using inane catch-phrases such as: “complex,” “no evidence” (based on a strictured definition of the word evidence) or “anecdotal” and other gobbledigoop to obfuscate valid discussion and smother research. This egotistical attitude adds nothing of value. In principle, perhaps things are not as complex as some would like to manufacture, or lack the mental capability to grasp. Details and side effects can always be analysed later. And, “no evidence” equals exactly that, nothing to crow about. Nature deals in existing factualities, not ideas. The sun “rises” and “sets” DESPITE OUR OPINIONS. As do all the other processes which hold the universe together. Nature can manage quite well without “experts.” My suggestion is get rid of that tie. It has been proven to restrict blood flow to the brain.

Why did ancient oriental warriors and monks (with comfortably loose clothing, good circulation and lucid thinking) choose this region of the body as a centre of mental focus for meditation? I do not think they arbitrarily invented it because they were bored on a Sunday. It would be self evident to make a reasonable assumption that THEY NOTICED SOMETHING OF VALUE.

If you’ve been a competitive athlete you will have noticed the pre-event tension, jitters, nerves and so called “adrenal rush” as well as the post-event release, highs etc., all evince a “gut response” and this is no different in public speaking, acting or other required or chosen social tasks which test us and put demands on us, such as exams, etc. not to mention a real assault.

We interpret this as “pressure” or “stress” but it is a natural function. Pointedly, all such challenges stimulate this mechanism automatically and involuntarily via the sympathetic nervous system and triggers muscles, glands etc. especially those connecting the cervical, thoracic, lumbar and sacral regions of the spinal chord also including those of the brain, in particular the limbic system and brainstem as it concerns the basic emotions i.e. survival fight/flight etc.

In Aikido training, we consciously and positively activate this dynamic in simple ways that not only effect a positive response but also puts you in charge, clearly and perceptively instead of stressed, as you learn to become more calm and centered despite external influences. For example, we free up the breath (most people hold their breath when “under stress”) and sometimes also through the use of imaging we may picture the arms and legs beginning at the hara as we move mind and body united and coordinated in harmonious interrelationship with energetic flows and dynamics.

Since mind and body are inseparable in the true sense, such visualisation may help activate the natural, pre-existing processes. Almost immediately a difference is noticed in the way we move and feel. Hara immediately integrates breath and balance at each moment in a functionally integrated way related to survival. The mind, body and emotions function in symphony as on under the direction of the superconscious mind active in accordance to the need of the moment when you need to act spontaneously. This immediacy expresses faster than the thought processes and is usually above and beyond the conceptual, analytical intellect.

Therefore, in the midst of action, you do not need to try to consciously catalogue and remember each and every attribute. Rather, as the much criticised by the unqualified; Tohei Sensei coined the phrase…. “KEEP ONE POINT,”… which means to ‘remind’ the one point or hara by momentarily focussing on it, relaxing and getting “connected.” “WEIGHT UNDERSIDE, EXTEND KI…” etc. And then perhaps we better notice other necessary attributes such as zanshin or maai or just staying present with what is, using the mind as a mirror. The rest will follow naturally, timelessly and immediately to your advantage as it instantly computes and causes you to act appropriately for that time and circumstance in accordance to the harmony of the universe, as it is, in that split millisecond.

Each centre of function has its respective purposes and functions. The head centre is more suited for calculation, computing, cataloguing and conceptualising and as we have evolved it is rather well developed, albeit not too well balanced through the rigidifying attrition of the school system. Although I hear they are now starting to treat kids as human beings instead of machines. If that’s the case, it is a good thing. About time. The heart centre is, among other things, the balancer between thought and action, the source of harmony and responsibility and that essence which reconciles opposites. For the main part, all our internal centres are beyond our conscious manipulation. Yet by becoming more conscious of them and their function through exercises designed to unfold and awaken our awareness of ourselves, we become more alive, happy, balanced and functionally dynamic. The three main centres always act in synchronicity and concert during each moment of life. Depending on circumstance one will predominate or take the dominant role and the others assist. E.g. Whilst sitting studying, reading etc. the head centre will predominate. Whilst physically active in sport, work, self defence, combat, emergency etc. the hara will predominate especially if skill is required or there is urgency or danger. If we are still here in the next million years, the heart centre on this planet will eventually dominate all our activities but is now prevalent in more humane and compassionate persons yet momentarily comes alive even for wild animals during moments of warmth, intimacy, closeness and sharing with those which are deemed close, such as the pack, herd, tribe or family.

Breathing, balance, relaxing and a conscious awareness of HARA are vital. I have a feeling that the “juices” our bodies make, those which naturally make us high, low, happy, sad and all betwixt, which enable consciousness, feeling, action, sleep, thought, instant responses and so much more, are akin to a complex vibratory (Kotadama) mechanism (comprising the Hito Jinja), a veritable receiving and transmitting instrument for the whole universe and the endless dimensions it contains.

By discovering yourself and vivifying all your attributes through regular personally motivated discipline, you reclaim yourself. RECLAIMING YOURSELF EMPOWERS YOU and immunises you from external manipulation.

On this basis we can all say, “I am the universe!” But more so when we ongoingly and properly care for the awakening of our united body-mind, clarifying and distilling the value of our existence through the misogi and shugyo of regularly training on a Way or Do.

Angular Attacks – An Aikido perspective

May 3, 2010

A really well thought out piece by Todd Jones.

Angular attack theory is a conceptual framework that is taught in many martial traditions in one form or another. A fundamental comprehension of attack theory is essential to successfully effectuating defensive strategy and tactics. Ignorance of the construction, tactics, and strategy of attacking guarantees defeat. That said it is a difficult task to convey these concepts in writing, but here goes…

This treatise provides a glimpse into our approach to its study but is by no means a comprehensive treatment of the topic. Angular attack theory serves as a bridge to understanding and communicating strategic and tactical concepts in various martial traditions. An understanding of angular attack theory will help to ensure that applied aikido techniques possess martial integrity and are truly effective.

Before we delve into the intricacies and details of angular attack theory, it is imperative that certain contextual and definitional issues be addressed first: please bear with…

Perception colors perspective. Perspective affects philosophy. What a person believes is a function of their intelligence, experience, education, and circumstance. Disagreement is usually a matter of insufficient commonality. When one or more parties to a disagreement are sufficiently lacking in experience (i.e. maturity and/or patience), we frequently observe physical altercations.

Physical altercation, controlled or uncontrolled, is nonetheless a form of communication that reveals much about an individual’s psychological makeup. As such, karate kumite, aikido randori, and kendo or judo shiai, represent nothing more than physical “conversations.” If you watch closely, regardless of the art being practiced, you will learn much about any participant’s personal style of, or approach to conflict resolution. This ability to observe a personal style of interaction is not limited to activities in the dojo; the way a person walks, the way a person holds posture, the way they speak, are all telltale signs to be observed and chronicled.

In modern budo, we train for many reasons, but all martial arts eventually require some degree of physical interaction. Whether you train for self-defense, general health and conditioning, sportive competition, artistic pursuit, or some combination of the aforementioned; intimate contact with another human will become necessary at some point. And despite that every human body is essentially constrained to a limited set of biomechanical capabilities and therefore limitations; depending on your chosen martial path that contact will be more or less damaging to your body. Every endeavor has a learning curve and every person learns at a slightly different pace. So, no two experiences are, or can ever be the same. Therefore, how we come together is the essential distillate on many different levels.

Human beings are competitive by nature. And although “winning and losing” is a topic worthy of an article, or book, of its own, it is not the central theme of this article. From a competitive perspective, winning or losing is merely the outcome of a game. From the standpoint of discussing self-defense, it is a matter of life or death. Individuals practicing an artistic pursuit may not even recognize the concept as having any validity whatsoever. Perspective can dictate philosophy. Part of learning to be successful and happy in life is learning to understand the perspectives, and agendas, of others whom we encounter and have to deal with. Knowing where they are coming from and what they really want are critical to finding commonality and seeking agreement… ending conflict. Aikido.

The cornerstones of physical interactive success are skill, conditioning, and experience. All things being equal, a shortcoming in any of these three categories virtually insures defeat. A budoka with superior skill, who is in top shape, and is experienced at physical interaction, should never fail. A budoka with superior skill, who is in top shape but lacking interactive experience may fail, but may get lucky if the conversation drags out long enough. Likewise, a budoka with superior skill and experience, who is not in top shape, will prevail over another who is in top shape but lacking in experience. Thus explains the old adage, “youth and exuberance are no match for age and experience!” Of course, even a skilled budoka who is out of shape and lacking interactive experience is doomed to fail.

Before this discussion can go much further it is imperative that certain concepts and terms are clearly understood. Most disagreements stem from misunderstandings…

The Line is simply understood as a ray extending through each partner’s center, regardless of where they move. Angular attack theory advocates that although the shortest distance between two points may be a straight line, it is not necessarily the path of least grief.

The Gap is the space between the two partners. “Bridging the Gap” is a dangerous exercise worthy of much study, and angular attack theory is central to success. Boxing, judo, karate, kendo, and most other competitive arts focus in this area. It is arguably the Achilles heel of most aikido practitioners and the reason many other martial artists criticize aikido training methods.

Zones: there are several types to discuss. Spatial Zones vary, based on person-specific physical and psychological factors. Spatially, the outermost is the Zone of Influence; this is the point at which an advancing individual causes a physical reaction in their opponent. For example, a step backwards, or a raising of the hands, is an indication that the aggressor has entered their opponent’s Zone of Influence, because they have influenced that person’s behavior.

The next closest zone is referred to as the Effective Striking Range; it is the area between the maximum range of a person’s back leg kick, and the maximum range of a lead hand strike in karate. Many aikido and kendo techniques are executed in this range, because it is the range that karate and kendo practitioners are most comfortable at. Finally, the Throwing Zone is the area inside the Effective Striking Range; this is the zone that judo and jujutsu practitioners prefer, for obvious reasons.

Physical Zones include High, Middle, and Low body areas. Most agree that the High zone is above the nipple line, the Middle zone is between the nipples and the groin, and the Low zone extends from the groin to the feet.

Maai is the Japanese term that refers to space-time/rhythm and distance relationships related to “Bridging the Gap.” How one gets from here to there is the real problem in effectively addressing conflict, physical or otherwise. Functions of maai that must be intimately understood include distance, angle (X, Y, and Z axis), rhythm, and speed.

The Compass and the Clockface are virtually identical concepts that relate the two-dimensional spatial relationship between the two opponents or partners. You should imagine that you stand in the center of a giant compass or clockface; your partner is standing at north or twelve o’clock. These concepts are especially useful in multiple-attacker training.

Defensive Footwork delineates three categories of responsive movement and each reflects a particular psychological persuasion. Jamming is any responsive footwork that moves you toward the attacker between the NE and NW compass points. Jamming is irimi. Jamming is endemic to bold, self-assured, or impatient individuals. Blocking is any responsive footwork that tends to hold ground including movement between the NE and SE or NW and SW compass points. Humans are territorial by nature; otherwise we would need national boundaries. Eighty percent of karate practitioners fall into the blocker category of defensive footwork. Running, or Moving, is any responsive footwork that moves you away from the attacker between the SE and SW compass points. Runners are typically high-strung, frail, and cautious people. Responsive footwork is more important to note than attack style; it is the clue to understanding your opponent or partner. Knowing how they are likely to react is key to successfully bridging the gap.

Initial orientation and stance considerations have four components:

1. Posture, attitude, kokoro. In Japanese, the word kokoro translates as both physical and psychological attitude; how adept! What is the initial placement/orientation of the hands (e.g. boxer’s guard)? Is there torso inclination? What is the stance width and depth? Does the particular stance favor power generation or mobility?

2. The initial angle of the feet. Is the person in riding, triangular, or natural stance?

3. Orientation: The relationship of one partner’s feet to the other person’s. Are you in an open-open (gyaku hanmi) or open-closed (ai hanmi) orientation?

4. Vector: What initial stepping movement occurs and at what clockface angle? Essentially, there are only a few different steps to learn. The pivot step is referred to as tenkai in aikido terminology. An avoidance step is called tenkan. The J step is tenshin-ashi, and shuffle stepping (tsugi-ashi) can be done several ways: lunging, shuffling, slide up, or skipping. Alternating or running step (e.g. normal walking or sprinting) is another, sometimes called ayumi-ashi. Spinning step is sometimes called furi-ashi, and also there is circle stepping where one moves along a perimeter.

5. Consideration must also be given to the vertical or Z axis. In aikido we practice hanmi handachi, in judo it’s a little different, in karate and kendo we target high, middle, and lower body targets. A spinning sickle sweep requires a different defense than a flying, spinning horse kick.

Observation: After years of teaching, it has become apparent that it is just as important to teach proper observation of the demonstration because it facilitates rapid understanding. Students should first observe the demonstrators’ initial orientation (i.e. open-open or open-closed relationship). The next point to note should be the stepping employed by each partner. After understanding those elements, the initiator’s (e.g. aite or uke) first action (e.g. grab or strike) should be observed. Finally, the respondent’s (e.g. shite or nage) redress should be noted.

The Risk-Benefit Ratio is a measure of an attack’s relative risk/benefit. A boxer’s jab, for instance, is a low risk, low benefit technique if executed by itself. You will not incapacitate your opponent with a jab, but you will not be very exposed to counterattack either. On the other hand, a jumping, spinning hook kick has a high risk, high benefit ratio. If the kick lands, such a technique can easily disable an opponent; but usually it doesn’t land. A flying, spinning backhand strike, is a good example of a high risk, low benefit technique. Chancing such a feeble attack puts one more at risk than anything else.

Angular Attack
So, finally, we are at a point where we can address the thesis of this article. There are five categories of Angular Attack for bridging the gap.

Now that we have established functional definitions for basic communication, it is possible to address more technical matters. Martial art techniques are like tools in a toolbox; the more you have, the more you can do. Depending on the tool selected, one can build or destroy. That said the process of learning angular attack theory may require a temporary abeyance of ethical considerations in training in order to permit an exploration of the available opportunities. Technical response and target selection in basic angular attack theory training may not present the highest possible ethical ideals only because the emphasis is on technical simplicity and communicating theoretical concepts. Once the concepts are understood, the user will gradually be able to adjust target and technical selection befitting their personal comfort in any given application. The higher the skill differential, the more benevolently one may respond.

Each of the five major approaches to angular attack can be executed on any of the 360 degrees available, but for simplicity’s sake, we generally restrict introduction to the commonly understood major angles of the compass and clockface. The most efficacious way to practice is via controlled one-steps (i.e. one attack, one defense (if any)). Start with attacking only and have the receiver simply maintain maai, if possible. Later, a defensive response can be introduced.

Direct Approach: This is the simplest form of a complete attack; a single strike. Examples include a boxer’s jab, a single kick, or a shomenuchi.

Regardless of the initial orientation, a single hand strike, thrusting technique, or kick can be applied quite effectively if properly executed on any angle if the opponent/partner has been properly set up. Being direct is rarely successful, but this is all most aikido practitioners are taught to defend against. The reason is that more complicated attacks present less predictability, therefore more dangerous encounters not easily controlled.

Shomenuchi or yokomenuchi, executed off the forward or back side, are classic examples of direct attacks. Tsuki, executed stepping through off the back side is suicidal; but every aikido master this author has ever seen teaches it. None teach defense against the jab, yet a host of aikido techniques are directly applicable. In the West, the jab and the haymaker (yokomenuchi) are the most common striking assaults in self-defense situations. And yet, these are the simplest assaults to defend against. While it is imperative to address theoretical concerns at the kyu level, practical applications can be relatively safely introduced to dan grade adherents.

There are any number of effective direct attacks that can be explored. Jab, various lead leg kicks, running reverse punch, and retreat side kick (none of which most readers will properly interpret) are all examples of effective direct attacks. Exploration of effective application requires the utilization of partner drills and compass angles for both open-open and open-closed orientations.

Indirect Approach: This is simply a direct attack that includes a feint. A feint is defined as anything that elicits a physical response in one’s partner; if they don’t move, it’s NOT a feint… it’s a waste of energy. Worse, it could present an opportunity for your partner. An initial feint is intended to create an opening to be exploited, that’s why boxers throw so many jabs. Jabs are typically followed up by a reverse punch or a same-side kick; react to, or focus on the jab and you will suffer from its partner. Traditional aikido ignores this approach.

Imagine if you will, two opponents of approximately the same size, both in hanmi posture, in an open-closed orientation, standing just outside one another’s effective striking range with their right legs forward. Assume one executes a right jab to the other’s face, and left reverse punch targeting the solar plexus, propelled by a sliding shuffle step in a northwest direction. The jab may be a feint, merely intended to draw the eye and create a distraction and an opening for the body punch; however if the attacker’s legwork is capable, the jab may be intended as an opening salvo… one of at least two. If well trained, in application the attacker will not have committed his attack until having tested the waters to observe the defender’s reactions first, but this is just a training drill… an exploration. In most cases, the attacker will not know with certainty if this initial bridging of the gap is successful until he is committed to the assault and actually makes contact. Then the challenge will be to prevent the defender’s reestablishment of the gap, before he can be scored upon, subdued, disabled, or killed. In application, the actual target selection and ultimate objective will of course vary depending upon the venue.

This drill can and should be modified for angle of attack (the compass and/or clock face) and selection of technique. It is important to explore each of the eight primary angles of the compass, if not all twelve of the clock face. For example, a reverse punch generally has insufficient reach if the angle of attack is east (three o’clock) or west (nine o’clock). And be especially careful never to allow your chest to become perpendicular to the line of attack inside the effective striking zone. In addition, it is just as important to explore using the feet to set up a hand assault as it is to use the hands to set up for a kicking assault. It’s no more or less embarrassing to get swept and punched on the ground, than it is to get kicked in the head. A thorough understanding of the nature and complexities of attacking will ensure a more successful defense.

So, there are two sides to these drills: the attack and the defense. When just beginning to study angular attack theory, it is imperative to focus on the attacks. Later, one can integrate defensive responses with martial integrity due to an ability to validate the response. Bear in mind that the defensive response is an attack of its own; the response can be a technique from aikido, judo, jujutsu, or karate. In reality, there is no difference between attack and defense; those terms are just a way to explain who started the conversation.

One very practical defensive response to the jab, reverse punch attack is an ikkyo applied against the initial jab assault. Applied correctly, it takes no more time than the jab and has an equivalent risk/benefit ratio.

Immobilization Approach: This category includes trapping moves and check kicks; any technique that cripples your partner’s ability to block, deflect, or strike back. Better than a feint is the ability to physically preclude an opponent’s ability to respond. Preventing a defensive kick with a check kick or trapping the forward arm while bridging the gap is superior to drawing a reaction because the opponent’s mobility is compromised. O-Sensei’s text, Budo, clearly communicates this approach in his demonstration of ikkyo. It is nage who first raises his forward hand to shomenuchi, as a means of drawing a defensive response from uke, before applying the ikkyo. This is a classic example of benevolence in action. O-Sensei had a choice to either care for his “attacker” by employing ikkyo, or he could have struck with the shomenuchi. It is the choice made in these moments that defines a warrior’s true spirit and character.

Much of traditional aikido training employs this approach to bridging the gap, but from a defensive mindset. We move at different angles on the clock face, blend with the attack, and execute a neutralizing response. Most of us do not spend nearly enough time studying this approach offensively; the techniques work just as well, and with less risk.

Broken Rhythm Approach: This category addresses timing and rhythmic delivery of an attack while bridging the gap. A metronomic attack is predictable and therefore presents opportunity for your partner to counter.

Bobbing, weaving, ducking, and dodging are not exclusively defensive tactics, nor are shuffling, bouncing, skipping, or circling stepping movements. Employing a Morse code kind of code to describe the timing of delivery is extremely effective in mastering the deceptive delivery of any attack. Broken rhythm is unarguably the most difficult of the five approaches to master, but it is likewise the most effective way to bridge the gap. Most students learning to attack develop natural rhythms; most are metronomic, very consistent tempos. Consistent tempos provide the opponent a wonderful opportunity to find the half beats; that can become extremely annoying. Once one learns to become unpredictable, all kinds of openings and opportunities present themselves. This is the equivalent to being in Aikido’s shikaku for a sport karate player. Traditional aikido ignores this approach because it is the antithesis of the connectedness sought in blending. Further discussion is beyond the scope of this article.

Combination Approach: This category is any combination of the preceding approaches.

All said and done, nothing is quite so gratifying, or effective, from an attacker’s perspective, as to overwhelm and dominate one’s opponent. That includes successfully projecting or immobilizing one’s uke; remember, there is no difference between attack and defense! Any combination of the preceding approaches, in combination, represents the pool of opportunity encompassed by the Combination Approach. Traditional aikido ignores this approach except for the “collar grab with a strike” attacks and the kumi-jo, kumi-ken, and ken-tai-jo exercises. The reason is that without close supervision, exceptional control, and exceptional ukemi, the likelihood of injury is very great. That said it is not impossible, just dangerous. It is best to start slowly, as we do with basic weapons training. Practice free form one-steps at a slow enough speed and the chance of injury decreases dramatically. Gradually, the intensity of training can be increased, but be wary of accelerating too quickly. As with weapons training, mistakes are painful.

This has merely been a cursory explanation of angular attack theory with some very limited suggestions regarding training methodologies. Regardless of the martial discipline being analyzed, it has been this author’s experience that the theory facilitates comprehension and accelerates learning.

Stickers & Bird Droppings

April 19, 2010

A nice little article by my young friend Sensei Nick Engelen.

During Friday night class I was partnered up with Jimmy. We worked on our technique but it seemed something was wrong with Jimmy. I stopped for a moment and asked if he was ill, he told me that he was fine, just tired. We went on with the training but Jimmykept struggling with things.

Sensei who had been watching us walked over to us, took us apart in the corridor and asked; ‘What’s up Jimmy you look very absent today.’ Jimmy had a sad look in his eye and replied: “Sorry sensei, I have a problem which I can’t put out of my mind. It distracts me.”

Sensei thought for a minute and said: ‘I don’t know what your problem is and you don’t need to tell me but it helps to put it into perspective in relation to the whole picture.’ Jimmy first looked at me then back at sensei. “Can you be a bit more specific sensei?”

replied: “Let me show you after I have everyone lined up.” Jimmy protested: ‘But my issue has no relevance to what we do here sensei.’

Sensei smiled: ‘It has relevance to what we do Jimmy’. Sensei stopped class and had everyone lined up. After he picked a sheet with round shaped stickers out of his bag he walked over to the window.

Sensei said: “In the old days the martial arts had a lot of relevance in the daily lives of the practitioners. People were living with the constant threat of dying an instant violent death. These days we call ourselves civilized and live a more peaceful life. Some argue that martial arts lost their relevance to today. However there are many good life lessons if you want to see and learn.”

Sensei pointed to Rob: “Rob can I borrow you for a second?” Rob walked over to Sensei. Sensei pasted one of the stickers on the window saying ‘the window cleaner will hate me for this, Ok, Rob what do you see?” Rob said “A yellow sticker.”

“What else do you see?” Asked Sensei, to which Jimmy replied, “A window, a glass pane in a wooden frame.”
Ok sensei said, “Jimmy what happened?” Jimmy said: “Rob’s attention is caught by the sticker sensei.”

“Exactly. Rob’s attention is caught by the sticker which disables him to look trough the window to see the whole picture. It’s similar to when you drive and a bird drops his waste right onto your windscreen. Although your window’s surface is many times bigger than the surface of the droppings your attention goes to guess what? It is distracting and it seems you are looking at the surface of the window instead of looking trough. Same thing happens with mirrors. When accidentally spatter some toothpaste on the mirror when you brush your teeth you start looking at the mirror instead of into the mirror.

Life is very similar. At the moment you have a problem your mind is occupied by it until you solve it or put it into perspective in relation to the whole picture. Just like the small sticker on the big window and the bird droppings on the windscreen.”

“In the martial arts we often face problems which we solve in order to protect ourselves. Some arts say to keep doing what you are doing regardless of what the opponent is doing. It doesn’t mean that you keep launching headshots at a person that has already covered up his head. It means that you need to keep an eye on the whole picture and have to put everything that happens into perspective related to that picture.”

“Also being grabbed by the wrist makes many people concentrate on the wrist like Bob concentrated on the sticker. They feel limited and will start trying to free their wrist. The limits are imposed by your own mind. At work I have a colleague who knows about my training, he is quite big and strong and he asked me what will you do when I grab your wrist? I told him that I would whack him in the head on which he replied: how can you punch me if I got hold of your wrist? On which I answered that I have two hands.”

Everybody started laughing.

Sensei waited for a moment till the dojo went quiet again.

So remember that whether it’s a restriction during training, bad words by your boss at work or shit on your windscreen always put things into perspective of the big picture… However, in case of the sticker on the window it’s easier to remove it.

FIGHT SCIENCE: Moving into attacks by Chad Zoghby

March 19, 2010

I was watching a show on National Geographic last night by the name of Fight Science. It’s basically a show which analyses various martial arts to find how they work, their efficiency and also their pros and cons. In the one I saw, they brought in a Kung Fu master to demonstrate the use of chi. It was truely phenominal, as he was able to stick a spear to his throat and lean on it without being punctared. The part that I was more interested in, though, was what he did next. The master proceeded to get hit with a baseball bat in his stomach and not be severely injured.

It was also impressive, but one thing I noticed was that he moved into the baseball bat. The scientist on-board mentioned that this would make it worse for the Kung Fu master, as more force would be impacting, and I would have to disagree with that. I find that if you move into an attack, it doesn’t have as much power as it could have had if it was followed through.

Now, I’m not a scientist but I do think about this from a logical and experience point of view.

The scientist states that when doing any action, such a punch, swing, etc, the energy is generated all the way from your foot and is brought up through your body. I have to disagree with this as well. Talking from a chi point of view, your life force or chi is generally situated right below your belly button. Now, when throwing a punch, it is my impression that the power is generated from there, by moving your hips (or the center of your body), moves down to your feet to connect to the earth, then comes ‘back’ up through your body and exits through your fist. For those of you that are thinking “what the hell”, I would like you to get up, just for a moment, and throw a powerful punch with some weight behind it.

Think for a second, did the power generate from you lifting you back heal up or did it generate from your center, by moving your hips. A lot of boxers will find that their punches have a lag effect to the movement of their torso, this is because the hips moved first and the arm was simply carrying the energy further through the body and the fist finally delivering that energy. That’s actually quite a lot of power, if you can do it right, getting your weight behind your punch.

In Aikido, everything is generated from the hips, to get the center moving. Our limbs moving around that are either an effect (bi-product) or an additive to fine tune the technique to actually make something of the movement. It’s very rare that your arms and legs play a part of power in Aikido, because that’s what your body does, and if your center is pointing to where you’re going, and your limbs are connected to your center you’ve already got the power of your entire body, which is why Aikido doesn’t need strength to make it work. If you are using your limbs, alone, then strength plays a large part.

Anyway, back to Chi. With the idea in mind that power is generated at a particular part of the body, regardless of where it is, and carried through until it reaches the exit, now think about what happens when you stop that energy before it reaches it’s destination. A good example of this would be against a high, round house kick. Many martial artists will tell you to move into a kick, because there is no power. Why is there no power, though? It’s because the energy generated is at a part of the body which was before it’s destination — such as the thigh or knee. If the energy is not at a certain point at a certain time in the body, then your body-weight is not behind it fully, as well as the muscles which are used on impact are not tensed or in use.

Many martial artists believe in the pull-back effect being the most effective method of power distribution — basically once you are at your point of contact, you pull back your limb to give a whiplash effect. This is excellent for delivering a blow with a lot of power and energy but not giving yourself away. If you can time your kick or punch in such a manner that you know where the point of contact will be, you can pull back allowing yourself to avoid over-extending and possibly losing your point of balance. Another interesting point as well, is that once you pull back from an attack your muscles in that part of your body react by tensing to create that movement, and as such release an explosion of energy onto the receiver.

From an Aikido point of view, we use menuchi-waza (strike) to train with, and one of the commonly known is the Shomenuchi-waza, which is basically a strike straight from the center of your head, down with your teketana (blade of your hand). A very powerful movement, generated from your hips and what follows is the hand. [Looking at the way shomenuchi and yokemuchi work, it’s easy to see how the foot moves first and lands first, followed by a hip movement and then the torse, and then the arm. This would make it a safe bet to assume that energy comes from the foot and moves up the body, however the initialisation of the the foot movement is generated from the center, as a movement from the hip.] If you stop this strike while it’s just starting, the energy is too far back for the correct muscle fibres to be activated, and as such there is no power behind the attack — as well as if you catch it early enough there will be another part of the body moving and therefore no body-weight will be behind the attack. Once the arm has moved past a certain point, the energy is too far along, the body has moved too much and you literally have power behind your attack due to the time it’s taken to get there.

If you stop the attack early, the muscle fibers which are used to make that attack work aren’t activated yet, and there is also no body weight behind it.

Final Words: Once you have discovered and practiced this enough, you can time your interception at such a point that the energy will not be far enough to impact you, but will still be moving through your opponent’s body to give him or her the momentum required for doing the attack.

Shioda sensei – "The man they called God!"

March 12, 2010

An odd lttle video clip I came across… Not a huge fan of “martial arts” legends (dodging bulets is one that springs to mind..) but in intersting bit of viewing nevertheless. Interested as always to hear your comments, especially thos of you who follwo Shioda sensei’s path…

The Teachings of O Sensei

February 25, 2010

With thanks to the Los Angeles Aiki Kai website.

O-Sensei’s Teachings

“Aikido is a manifestation of a way to reorder the world of humanity as though everyone were of one family. Its purpose is to build a paradise right here on earth.”

“Aikido is nothing but an expression of the spirit of Love for all living things.”

“It is important not to be concerned with thoughts of victory and defeat. Rather, you should let the ki of your thoughts and feelings blend with the Universal.”

“Aikido is not an art to fight with enemies and defeat them. It is a way to lead all human beings to live in harmony with each other as though everyone were one family. The secret of aikido is to make yourself become one with the universe and to go along with its natural movements. One who has attained this secret holds the universe in him/herself and can say, ‘I am the universe.’”

“If anyone tries to fight me, it means that s/he is going to break harmony with the universe, because I am the universe. At the instant when s/he conceives the desire to fight with me, s/he is defeated.”

“Nonresistance is one of the principles of aikido. Because there is no resistance, you have won before even starting. People whose minds are evil or who enjoy fighting are defeated without a fight.”

“The secret of aikido is to cultivate a spirit of loving protection for all things.”

“I do not think badly of others when they treat me unkindly. Rather, I feel gratitude towards them for giving me the opportunity to train myself to handle adversity.”

“You should realize what the universe is and what you are yourself. To know yourself is to know the universe.”


“As ai (harmony) is common with ai (love), I decided to name my unique budo Aikido, although the word ‘aiki’ is an old one. The word which was used by the warriors in the past is fundamentally different from that of mine.”

“Aiki is not a technique to fight with or defeat the enemy. It is the way to reconcile to world and make human beings one family.”

“The secret of Aikido is to harmonize ourselves with the movement of the universe and bring ourselves into accord with the universe itself. He who has gained the secret of Aikido has the universe in himself and can say, ‘I am the universe.’ I am never defeated, however fast the enemy may attack. It is not because my technique is faster than that of the enemy. It is not a question of speed. The fight is finished before it is begun.”

“When an enemy tries to fight with me, the universe itself, he has to break the harmony of the universe. Hence at the moment he has the mind to fight with me, he is already defeated. There exists no measure of time — fast or slow.”

“Aikido is non-resistance. As it is non-resistant, it is always victorious.”

“Those who have a warped mind, a mind of discord, have been defeated from the beginning.”

“Then, how can you straighten your warped mind, purify your heart, and be harmonized with the activities of all things in Nature? You should first make the kami’s heart yours. It is a Great love, Omnipresent in all quarters and in all times of the universe.”

“There is no discord in love. There is no enemy of love. A mind of discord, thinking of the existence of an enemy is no more consistent with the will of the kami.”

“Those who do not agree with this cannot be in harmony with the universe. Their budo is that of destruction. It is not constructive budo.”

“Therefore to compete in techniques, winning and losing, is not true budo. True budo knows no defeat. ‘Never defeated’ means ‘never fighting.’”

“Winning means winning over the mind of discord in yourself. It is to accomplish your bestowed mission.”

“This is not mere theory. You practice it. Then you will accept the great power of oneness with Nature.”

“Don’t look at the opponent’s eyes, or your mind will be drawn into his eyes. Don’t look at his sword, or you will be slain with his sword. Don’t look at him, or your spirit will be distracted. True budo is the cultivation of attraction with which to draw the whole opponent to you. All I have to do is keep standing this way.”

“Even standing with my back toward the opponent is enough. When he attacks, hitting, he will injure himself with his own intention to hit. I am one with the universe and I am nothing else. When I stand, he will be drawn to me. There is no time and space before Ueshiba of Aikido — only the universe as it is.”

“There is no enemy for Ueshiba of Aikido. You are mistaken if you think that budo means to have opponents and enemies and to be strong and fell them. There are neither opponents nor enemies for true budo. True budo is to be one with the universe; that is to be united with the Center of the universe.”

“A mind to serve for the peace of all human beings in the world is needed in Aikido, and not the mind of one who wishes to be strong or who practices only to fell an opponent.”

“When anybody asks is my Aiki budo principles are taken from religion, I say ‘No.’ My true budo principles enlighten religions and lead them to completion.”

“I am calm however and whenever I am attacked. I have no attachment to life or death. I leave everything as it is to the kami. Be apart from attachment to life and death and have a mind which leaves everything to Him, not only when you are being attacked but also in your daily lives.”

“True budo is a work of love. It is a work of giving life to all beings, and not killing or struggling with each other. Love is the guardian deity of everything. Nothing can exist without it. Aikido is the realization of love.”

“I do not make a companion of men. Whom, then, do I make a companion of? The kami. This world is not going well because people make companions of each other, saying and doing foolish things. Good and evil beings are all one united family in the world. Aikido leaves out any attachment. Aikido does not call relative affairs good or evil. Aikido keeps all beings in constant growth and development and serves for the completion of the universe.”

“In Aikido we control the opponent’s mind before we face him. That is how we draw him into ourselves. We go forward in life with this attraction of our spirit, and attempt to command a whole view of the world. We ceaselessly pray that fights do not occur. For this reason we strictly prohibit matches in Aikido. Aikido’s spirit is that of loving attack and that of peaceful reconciliation. In this aim we bing and unite the opponents with the will power of love. By love we are able to purify others.”

“Understand Aikido first as budo and then as the way of service to construct the World Family. Aikido is not for a single country or anyone in particular. Its only purpose is to perform the work of the kami.”

“True budo is the loving protection of all beings with a spirit of reconciliation. Reconciliation means to allow the completion of everyone’s mission.”

“The ‘Way’ means to be one with the will of the kami and practice it. If we are even slightly apart from it, it is no longer the Way.”

“We can say that Aikido is a way to sweep away devils with the sincerity of our breath instead of a sword. That is to say, to turn the devil-minded world into the World of Spirit. This is the mission of Aikido.”

“The devil-mind will go down in defeat and the Spirit rise up in victory. Then Aikido will bear fruit in this world.”

“Without budo a nation goes to ruin, because budo is the life of loving protection and is the source of the activities of science.”

“Those who seek to study Aikido should open their minds, listen to the sincerity of the kami through Aikido, and practice it. You should understand the great ablution of Aiki, practice it and improve without hinderance. Willingly begin the cultivation of your spirit.”

“I want considerate people to listen to the voice of Aikido. It is not for correcting others; it is for correcting your own mind. This is Aikido. This is the mission of Aikido and should be your mission.”