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The Art of Falling Down
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Ukemido; The Art of Falling Down
Date: 2007-09-26 08:27
Subject: Two days later and I'm still feeling it
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Kat Sensei’s teaching style is different when it is more ‘advanced’ students. It was just Sempai C, Nert and myself last night, so instead of the traditional demonstrate/practice type of class, Sensei would call two of us up, call out a technique and we had to show him both omote and ura versions. He would let us go for a while and only stop us to offer some suggestions.


We started with yokomen, looking at various responses, including the surprisingly difficult yokomomenuchi ikkyo. Yokomenuchi Ikkyo Ura, which is a very irimi motion for Nage, turned into looking at tsuki. We spent a good portion of the night looking at how to move into a tsuki, both from a punch and a kick. Poor Sempai C, having the TKD experience, was elected to be uke for pretty much all of the kicking practice and he worked up one hell of a sweat. It was a dangerous game for us as Nage, because as C said, he has total control over his punches, but he doesn’t have the same control over his kicks (partially because of the blown knee), so he was kicking slowly, but certainly not softly.


We went on from punches, to kicks and then finally at the last ten minutes of class, Sensei has us get a jo. I was uke for his demon and on the very first time I lunged at his stomach, he moved in, his arm came up and his forearm smashed me across the bridge of the nose*. I was completely stunned. Then, as I was just fighting off that first wave of shock, the bleeding started in earnest.


Then, as I was in the washroom cleaning up Sempai C comes in with a bleeding knuckle; Nert had grazed him with the jo. By the time we bowed out, there wasn’t a single one of us whose gi was not bloodstained. 

Now that, is good class!


*Not the textbook version of how to do that technique, but certainly an effective variation.

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Ukemido; The Art of Falling Down
Date: 2007-09-21 10:34
Subject: An Unexpected Gift
Security: Public

Been trying to easy myself back into a more regular practice schedule (and into keeping this more up to date). The problem is that there are too many nights I’d like to go, but not enough days of the week to squeeze in all the practices between necessary things like getting groceries, working … sleeping.


I’m trying to come up with a schedule I’m comfortable with and can stick too, while still maintaining some sort of regular life. I think I may start alternating Tuesdays and Wednesdays so I keep attending both yoga and one evening Iaido class, at least every couple of weeks.


Speaking of which, I did Iaido for the first time in a month (!) on Wednesday night, and was totally, and completely lost on the Unnamed Series. Sensei has video of Sensei B from Montreal demonstrating it, and is looking to put them on computer or DVD, so I’m hoping to be able to get them in a format I can study at home to get caught up. Confused as I was, it still felt good to have my sword in my hand again.


It is seminar season, which means the budget is being stretched between that, one last scuba dive for the season, and hopefully a late-Oct trip to Halifax … oh yeah, and get the kittens spayed. Xmus is cancelled this year kiddies!


It is a busy time for everyone, Sensei has seminars almost every weekend this month, and Sempai C has been very busy at work ... which has actually put me in front of the class a couple of times … which was most unnerving given my spotty attendance in Aug. But I muddled through, with a lot of help from the Sempai that were in the classes. I TRIED to turn it over to them, but they all refused, saying Sensei asked me to lead the class, not them. My counter was I just happened to be the one there when Sensei was looking for someone, but they remained adamant.


As always, I had the most fun running the Kids’ class. We’re trying to get some of them ready for testing so that means paying close attention to the Testing Requirments, which means not having to worry about what to show them. I was showing them the proper way to do tsuki, and took about ten shots to the gut as I tried to show them to punch straight and aim to hit dead on: not pull, track or hit at an angle. I had a very enthusiastic uke for this demo. Once he realized that I was actually going to let him sock me in the gut, he really began to warm up to the exercise … until it started to hurt and on the next one I finished with the kotegaeshi. The kids are so much fun because they are so easy to impress.


My gi is over two years old now and has been patched and sewn up a dozen times. Lately, the armpits have started to go, wearing out to the point that they can’t be easily repaired. I keep meaning to get a new one, but the one MA supply store in this city is something of a haul to get to, and either I don’t have the money or they don’t have any descent judo quality ones. Wednesday night, Sensei surprised me with a new one for my help the past few weeks. I could only stammer out a thank you. 

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Ukemido; The Art of Falling Down
Date: 2007-08-21 10:28
Subject: How I Spent My Summer Vacation
Security: Public

The main reason I’ve been so tired this month is that I had signed up for scuba lessons. There is a dive-shop on the way to the dojo and I’d always pass it on my way to practice.  Scuba is something I’ve always wanted to try and one day a couple of months ago I finally decided that I was going to go in give it go.


Every Tuesday night for the last month and a half, I’ve been doing about two hours of class work then spending another two hours in the pool. Add in travel times, plus pick up and return of the equipment, and I’d be running from about 5:30 to midnight. Scuba, while not a tiring activity, is very taxing on the system and on Wednesdays I’d be a zombie.


Last weekend I had my first Open Water dives and am I pleased to say that I am now a certified diver. The first time I the river when I looked down and saw a line of divers serenely passing ten feet below me, I knew I was going to love this. But what really struck me, being the aikido geek that I am, were the similarities between aikido and scuba diving.


What I like best is that neither activity is competitive, and indeed both require a cooperative partner to work properly.


The single most important part of both activities is breathing. In scuba, the effects of breath control are obvious; it regulates your air, prevents overexertion, controls your buoyancy and plays a crucial role in preventing injuries such as nitrogen narcosis, decompression sickness and the bends. You even learn to move up and down over small obstacles in the water simply by holding, or letting out your breath.


In aikido, breath control doesn’t have such obvious effects. Nevertheless, it controls your movement and that of your partner’s. Try holding your breath as you throw someone and you’ll feel hard and locked up. Hold it too much, and your ‘buoyancy’ will be so high that uke can use it to unbalance you and reverse the technique. Lower it into your hara while breathing out and you’ll be as stable as a rock. Breathing is also important in preventing injuries during ukemi. When you’re diving, you have to keep your airway open at all times (never hold your breath is the NUMBER ONE RULE in diving), especially while rising to prevent your lungs from over expanding, even if the instinct at first is to hold your breath for as long as possible. The same thing happens to aikido beginners, as they want to hold their breath when being thrown because of surprise or anxiety. But a fall while holding your breath can result in getting the wind knocked out of you or even a cracked rib.


Along with breathing comes posture. In scuba, you want to be as horizontal as possible. In aikido, you want to be as vertical as you can and not bend over. Both are to facilitate smooth movement and to avoid unbalancing yourself.


The biggest surprise to me personally, was the similarity of zen mind needed in both activities. Sensei always talks about ‘conservation of movement’ and ‘no-mind’; moving continuously but smoothly through the techniques without exhorting yourself. Panic, overthink or freeze, and it is guaranteed you’ll blow the technique. Do it during an ukemi, and you’ll get hurt.


In scuba, overexertion or panic while you’re underwater can quite literally kill you. Start breathing hard and you will deplete your air that much faster. Or you’ll start sucking down harder than your regulator can compensate for, and you’ll feel air starved. Most problems underwater are easily dealt with, if you deal with them calmly. That is what all the training is for after all. Forget the training, loose your cool and you won’t just blow the technique, you’ll blow your lungs and end up in serious, potentially deadly trouble. 


As a result, the few divers I’ve met tend to be very calm, mellow and generally very friendly people. Not unlike those I’ve met through Aikido. 

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Ukemido; The Art of Falling Down
Date: 2007-08-21 10:25
Subject: Now back to our regularly scheduled program ... I hope.
Security: Public

August has been such a rush that I turned around and realized that somewhere in there, I missed my second anniversary on the matt. After a rough spring, I decided that I was going to have a little fun this summer and so far, I’m pleased to note, it has been working our pretty good (some more on this later). But, during August especially, it has meant that I haven’t had the time nor energy to practice much.


During the August Long Weekend, I taught the Monday night class, but only Ky and her brother-in-law showed up. He had trained in jujitsu, but hadn’t practiced in a year or so. He kept up for about a half-an-hour before he couldn’t take it anymore. To be fair, Ky and I hadn’t seen each other in a while and we kept trying to out-throw each other until we where bouncing each other off the floor.


Ky has had some trouble lately with her confidence and her, always miniscule, attention span. It has come to the point where Sensei has nearly banned her from adult practices until she gets her act back together, so on that Monday I’d tried my best to address some of that. After her brother bowed out, we started with bokken practice. I tried to engage her in some light sparring drills, but she kept collapsing. So I told her to put her bokken away and we moved onto throws. She managed the throws fine, but kept breaking zanshin the moment I hit the mat, without disarming or pinning me.


I told her once, warned her the second time, came back on my feet the third time with the bokken at the ready. The fourth time, I rolled when I hit the matt, came back up on my feet, put the point of the bokken right into her hara, and pushed her back until she slammed into the wall. 


With some students that might have even worked, but it was a move born out of frustration (I understand how Sensei feels now, and he’s been putting up with this for two years), and unfortunately, it is not a teaching technique that Ky responds to. She had no confidence left after that and any attempt at working on techniques went completely out the window. So we worked on our ukemi for a while, including koshinage falls (judo-type), which is the one fall Ky balks at. At the end of class, just for fun we put two jo on the mat, about half a tatami apart and had to do dive-rolls over them, spreading them further and further apart. My current record is (with a running start) a full tatami and a half doing a no-hands dive-roll. Quite proud of that, actually.


Since then I’ve only managed two practices total, and I’m starting to feel very aikido deprived. I’m planning on going a couple of times this week, but next week I’m out of town again, so it doesn’t look like I’ll get back into a regular schedule until September.


Before we left, I made Ky sign the dent she put in the wall. Written right in the middle of the crater of crushed drywall, it reads, ‘Ky was here’.
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Ukemido; The Art of Falling Down
Date: 2007-07-23 14:16
Subject: Taken out by the smallest kid in class.
Security: Public

We were doing Ushiro Katatori techniques with the kids on Saturday, and I picked the smallest, youngest boy in the class to work with. At maybe ten-years old and 80lbs-soaking wet, I was easily able to lift him right up off the ground. As nage, he was to feint a kick at my groin, drop his weight down and backwards into my knees forcing me to bend over, then he would drop into seiza, bow and roll me over his shoulder. Worked like a charm, until I got my foot caught under his body during one roll and torqued a back muscle. It felt odd, but I was able to keep practicing and didn’t think much else about it, until later in the adult class, I was doing a simple sankyo pin on Sensei, when the muscle completely blew out. Spent the weekend smelling of A535 and hopped up on muscle relaxants.


Chose to miss Sunday’s class, and now I’m wondering if I should go tonight or not. The muscle is stiff, but not sore. I’m torn between the desire to practice and stretch it out a little, and the worry that by going I might make it worse. As much as I think I’m gonna have to err on the side of caution. Tomorrow I’m going swimming anyway, which ought to help immensely.
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Ukemido; The Art of Falling Down
Date: 2007-07-05 14:55
Subject: Real Life Gets in the Way
Security: Public

Ended up working over the long weekend, including a 15hour stint on Canada day. That day was very long, very dull and was capped by something that shouldn’t have bothered me, but did. By the end of the day I remember feeling that I really wanted to inflict genuine violence on somebody.


It is not often I get that wound up, and as I seethed my way home there was still a part of me that was able to detach and look at myself rationally. From that point of view it was an interesting sensation; the nauseating knot that sits in your stomach, the heaviness of your limbs and shoulders, the senses that are vibrating on all the wrong frequencies … the sheer amount of effort needed to maintain that state. An interesting contrast to what we are (apparently) trying to achieve with Aikido.


Anyway, I had to miss practice on Monday and Tuesday for personal reasons, and the kittens have not been letting me sleep well; by Wednesday I was exhausted. Still, I hadn’t been to Aikido since the Thursday before and Iaido a while before that, so when I got home from work, I curled up for a fifteen minute (interrupted by kitten every five minutes) nap before forcing myself to get up and go.


This new series in Iaido (apparently unnamed, so hereby referred to U-series), continues to elude me, and combined with the lingering grogginess I only barely managed to yawn my way through the class.


Almost everyone left after that, which left just left myself, Sensei and R Sensei (Sensei’s Sensei) for Aikido. R Sensei led the class, usually using me as uke, and Sensei and I practiced the techniques together. Sensei likes to ramp things up a little as we go, and it wasn’t long before he was expecting me to attack him full on and unless I was totally flubbing the technique, he would do the same. I’d like to say that I gave as good as I got, but that would be a lie. I can say that I think held my own… depending on how much Sensei was pulling his punches.


Between being the demo uke, and getting slammed around my Sensei, I didn’t stop moving for an hour and a half. My lips dried out, my stomach cramped up, my chest was heaving and my gi was soaked through … but it was the best I’ve felt in two weeks.


Sometimes, I think you just need to clear the vents a little.
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Ukemido; The Art of Falling Down
Date: 2007-06-21 10:05
Subject: An Odd Aikido Happening
Security: Public

A friend of mine got roaringly drunk last night, and unfortunately, not a little violent. She was kicking and punching wildly at all of us and shortly after we finally got her home, she, for whatever reason, got upset at me. She started punching and clawing at my chest, which isn’t that funny with French nails. I tried hugging her, but that only made her angrier. Then suddenly, I realized I had a sankyo and loosely applied it. She didn’t like that much, and continued to lunge at me which of course, only made her pain worse. I did nothing, except hold her hand and talk calmly until she’d managed to drive herself down to the carpet.  I know, it sounds like I’m congratulating myself on wristlocking a drunken, 120lbs woman; not exactly taking on a busload of ninja terrorists here. That wasn’t my point.


My point is what I noticed was as I laid her down on the floor; her fight was gone. She wasn’t trying to hurt anyone anymore and seemed to be rapidly slipping into the ‘sleepy’ stage. Ten seconds from a drunken rage, to lying calmly on the ground. How many other martial arts can you gently kiss your opponent on the forehead after you’ve taken them down?

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Ukemido; The Art of Falling Down
Date: 2007-06-21 10:01
Subject: I am such an Aikido Geek.
Security: Public
On Tuesday I missed practice because my sister took me to the humane society. I’ve been talking about getting a cat for months now, but wasn’t exactly going out of my way to find one. Both having the day off, she finally dragged me in, and despite my original plan to get a single, slightly older cat … I ended up with two, very, very active 3monthold sisters.  So why post about them here? Because being the geek that I am, they are named ‘Nage’(black) and ‘Uke’ (grey and white). 

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Ukemido; The Art of Falling Down
Date: 2007-06-21 09:42
Subject: Ikkyo from the Ground Up, Again.
Security: Public

Last week was supposed to be getting-back-to-normal after the playoffs. But it is always when you are most trying to relax that the trouble really starts. It was so bad by Friday that I called in DEAD on Monday and Tuesday.


Sensei also seems to be having a hectic time of things. He told us last week that he was taking the weekend off and that Sempai S, C and I could divide up the classes as we saw fit. I was supposed to teach Thursday, but Sensei pleasantly surprised me by showing up. He ran a very nice, light, Ki practice with me and a couple of the kids; which is what we both needed I think.


C handled both Saturday and Sunday, which lead to some fun experimentation; especially on Sunday when it was Sempai S, C, Nert and myself. It was a very informal practice with us running through different techniques, experimenting with different variations while freely swapping ideas and working on our individual flaws.


We also spent some time discussing what we didn’t understand/like from the seminar. Personally, I had issues with the irimi and kaitennage. For the irimi, we decided that ‘fishhooking’ uke’s jaw to make him stand after you have shoved him facefirst into the mat was, while a perfectly acceptable move, it wasn’t exactly Aikido. Nor was it entirely wise, as C demonstrated by sweeping my legs when I tried pushing him down. If Uke is already all the way down, leave him down until he tries to stand, and be ready to jump on top of him if he goes for the legs.


A long time stumper for me has been the Montreal kaitennage. When I am uke, I always seem to become far to ‘aware of myself’ as nage steps back before moving through for the throw. I’m bent over with one arm stuck up in the air, but that doesn’t mean I don’t see nage coming and couldn’t grab for the incoming leg if I wanted to be difficult. It wasn’t until the weekend, while working with C and the others, that we found the solution (when moving Uke’s arm down, also cut forward, which seems to deflect uke’s attention forward). It is so weird comparing the little differences in style that emerge from dojo to dojo.


I did teach C’s usual class on Monday, sort of. I only had two newbie students and they wanted to work on rolling, so that is exactly what we did for an hour. Both those students went home and left me alone with K Sensei for the last half.


We worked primarily on rebuilding my ikkyo, quite literally, from the ground up. I did it about six different ways for almost an hour and quite honestly, that is the most excited I’ve been about Ikkyo since the first time I ever saw it. I just hope I remember all the tweaks the next time I see it in class.


The highlight of my week however was the last half hour when K Sensei said we would work with bokken. We didn’t look at any particular technique, just showed each other some different movements he knew and some of the stuff I’d learned through iaido. Then we FREE SPARRED for a while! Sword fighting with a genuine Japanese BlackBelt (yondan)?! The little wannabe-samurai inside of me was just vibrating with joy.
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Ukemido; The Art of Falling Down
Date: 2007-06-08 12:28
Subject: Seminar Photos 3
Security: Public

I get to go over the hard way.
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