Saturday, March 29, 2008


Sensei taught on Saturday morning. I am liking his classes more and more as time goes by.

He seems to have a way of teaching that no one else has. He seems to survey the entire mat at once. When he wants to say something to a student, he gets in quick at the exact moment, says a few words and moves on before anyone has a chance to say thank you. Forget about bowing, he's long gone. Like a bolt of lightning. Sometimes he stops and demonstrates, of course, but not as often as you might think.

He's been at this teaching aikido thing for 45 years. It shows.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Pink pulp

Alberto, Alberto, Alberto. The man just doesn't let up. Push-ups and sit-ups in the beginning and end of class. Pushing exercises. Lots of vigorous techniques and partner changes. Forcing, not just committed attacks, but hard, fast and vigorous ones. Groups of three only...

After all that, I was a pink pulp lying on the mat.

Can't wait 'til next week.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Dull day

According to the new schedule, Yamada-sensei taught the 6:45 p.m. class. I was a little late, but he seemed to start the class very early. It ended early, too.

A normal 6:45 class usually has 20 or 25 people, but whenever sensei teaches, it really fills up. At least 50, I'd say.

My sempai and friend Chris was also late, so we entered and partnered together. He's a great partner. Very helpful, without saying much -- the best kind.

We came in on shomenuchi kotegaeshi. Strangely, it has been a long time since I've done that one. It took me a few sets to get in stride, but I finally got it to a reasonable state.

I say "reasonable" but I felt kind of dull and tight all class. I just couldn't relax.Some days are just like that, I guess.

We switched to groups and did a "reverse kotegaeshi." I don't think I ever did this one exactly like this. It starts off just like ikkyo omote, then instead of putting uke down, nage reverses and throws sort of like a kotegaeshi movement, though not exactly. Not much wrist in it, just the arm shape. We did a few more, but I can't recall. Told ya I was a bit dull.

Ernie was in our group. The guy is strong. At one point, when I attacked, he stopped and backed up with his hands in the air. "What?" I said, "Did I use the wrong hand or something?"

"You were anticipating. I'm not going to throw you into the ground!"

"Well, you throw pretty hard, man," I said. I was trying to make light of it, but he seemed a bit annoyed. Just doin' the best I can, bro.

Actually, Ernie's a good guy and a very good teacher. His style is not to let any sort of poor attack by uke or poor technique by nage go by. In fact, I appreciate that.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Easter aikido

Another Easter, another aikido class.

Yep, that's right. The dojo was open on Easter Sunday. Yamada-sensei seemed to change his mind at the last minute and made an announcement Saturday afternoon. I almost got lazy and stayed in bed, but I figured, if the dojo can be open, I can show up. There were about eight students in the first class, six in the second and I think four for the final weapons class. I attended the middle class and contemplated staying for the weapons (both taught by Keith), but I didn't.

Keith started out with katatetori. Nage brings his arm around and up and can then either uchi, go under and tenkan or, soto, go around the outside and tenkan (
uchi or soto mawari) We did several techniques with this, including kaitenage, and then did the same techniques with the jo, which was cool. Then we switched to yokomenuchi shihonage to show that the uchi movment is the same as the omote movement in the shiho.

With only six people, everyone partnered with everyone, and it was a fun, fast moving class.

Sunday, March 23, 2008


Yesterday was a special day at the dojo. My son, Sam, returned to practice after a long hiatus.

Sam's 15. He started aikido with me in 2006 and was a very quick study. Toshi, a former deshi, took him under his wing and he blossomed quickly. All was going well until about a year ago, when, as will happen, Sam discovered girls. The time he was taking off turned from days to weeks to months. I didn't want to make too big a deal about it. I knew he would come back.

We partnered in Yamada-sensei's class. It started off with sensei's trademark technique. I have no idea what to call it. A kind of kokyu, I guess. From katatetori, nage leads uke's arm so that the hand winds up behind uke's head, arching uke backward. This time, sensei did something different, however, and the throw ended with nage putting his head down, like a bow. Honestly, I didn't really get that part, but leading up to the throw was pretty standard.

We did lots of techniques from katatetori, including koshinage. We did the version I can actually do to some degree, moving in perpendicular. It was particularly easy to do this with a smaller partner, so I was pretty set. Sam did OK for someone who's been out for a year.

We also did yonkyo, which is not one of my strong points, but it is slowly getting better. A few times I had it, as I could tell from the funny noises Sam was making. At one point, sensei walked by and laughed at them, too. Sam got me good a few times.

At the end of class, sensei joked with us about yonkyo. "If it hurts, you are normal. If it doesn't, then something's wrong."

Sensei also said that, contrary to prior postings, the dojo will be open on Easter Sunday. I was happy to hear that and I think I can make class. :) I had posted before about my pet peeve of so many dojo closings, but I never imagined Easter would be one to change. Do you think sensei is reading this blog?

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Straight man

Sometimes, I enjoy playing the straight man, especially for Douglas Firestone's routine. I think he knows I do it, at least on some level, and seeks to capitalize on it -- with interesting results.

We were doing yokomenuchi kokyunage and Doug stopped the pair next to me to demonstrate. During his demonstration to some new guys, he stressed that they should put their feet behind uke at the throw. If he would have just showed that, or said it was an option, I wouldn't have thought much of it, but he made it sound like the correct thing to do every time.

Though many instructors and sempai do this on a regular basis, I never got the impression it was "standard practice," but just a slightly more advanced and perhaps more martial option. Usually, I don't do it, but I fool around with it sometimes when I have an experienced uke.

So, I questioned him on it. "Should I put my leg behind uke all the time?"

"Yes," he said, "otherwise it's just a punch in the face." I could see his point. I said OK, thank you, bowed, and turned back to my partner.

What's the aikido equivalent to a sucker punch? A sucker throw? Maybe a sucker slam. Yeah, I like that.

As I turned my attention to my uke, Doug moved in, put his leg behind both my feet and threw me hard! Of course, this fast action, combined with me being completely unprepared for it, resulted in quite a SLAM. These days, I've gotten better at taking that ukemi over the leg. But I guess not yet with surprise and at speed. I literally didn't know what hit me! "See," he said, "just like that." Still stunned, I managed to get out a single "hai."

As I was getting up, I saw a replay of the event in my mind's eye. During the throw, I really had no thought at all. Not even any time for an "oh, shit." But after it was over, I saw the look I had on my face when he moved in. It was one of complete shock. Too bad there is no photo or video. It would have been a good one.

Don't think I'm complaining. I should have known better. That is 100 percent Doug. Serves me right for letting him break the maiai. I believe he spent a lot of time with Chiba-sensei and this sort of thing is very Chiba-esque. Chiba-sensei is notorious for exploiting openings and lack of attention by his students. Certainly after a few of those, one is likely to learn his lesson.

I happened to be partnered with a visiting yudansha. I don't know where he is from. The look on his face was priceless. It was like, "Is that what you people do around here?" Haha.

A while later, we were doing kotagaeshi and Doug noticed I was futsing with uke's arm during the pin. "Don't do that," he said. "Just one motion." He demonstrated cleanly on my uke.

Never one to know when to keep his mouth shut, I persisted, "but what if uke doesn't cooperate? Don't I have to get his arm in the proper shape before the pin?"

"No. Watch." He proceeded to put me in the pin. "Don't cooperate," he said. I tried not to let him get my arm, particularly my wrist angle, in the proper shape. Of course, he was able to get me in the proper pin in a millisecond.

"Did that work?" he asked.

Playing the straight man again, I made it appear I was distressed and confused. "Yeah, that was pretty good." I cracked up everyone around us. In truth, I was careful to tap out in time and I was fine. ;)

Actually, this is something that still needs work. How he can get the arm into position so simply and quickly is still beyond me. But at least now I'm aware of it.

Here's a short example of Chiba-sensei showing his uke he came in at a poor angle:

Friday, March 21, 2008


Hydration is important.

I relearned this lesson last night when I didn't go through my usual routine of drinking about 30 oz. of water in the 2 hours before class. I bought a sports drink on the way and did not realize until it was too late that it was frozen solid. So the whole way in, I was trying to suck and melt the hand-sized block of ice.

I tried to make up for it when I got to the dojo by drinking a glass of water, but I only made it about 30 minutes before I started to feel very queezy. I had no choice but to bow out. I couldn't believe it as I wasn't even working hard, but what can you do?

Before then, I was having a pretty good time in Luis' class with katatori menuchi, which is a pretty cool attack. Uke grabs the shoulder, then nage goes to strike uke in the face. Uke's "block" of that strike provides the attack that nage then deals with. Often, uke doesn't understand that his second action is supposed to be a response to something that nage does and attacks the shoulder and head at the same time. This is not the right idea.

Until I crapped out, I felt pretty good at leading uke. The best I've done with that attack so far, I think. :) I could actually feel myself blending with the forward motion to a much greater degree than ever before with this one. So I was happy. Hopefully, the next chance I get I'll have enough water first.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Back falls

I went back to the evening class this week. I may change back to the afternoon tomorrow, we'll see.

Junya taught his usual class. It was very good as always. Junya's technique is very strong and clean. And he teaches in a clear manner.

Class was pretty straight forward. Mostly yokomenuchi, which I always enjoy.

I got a few interesting ideas form kotegaeshi. One was that the throw should really be a cut straight down, not to the side like I had been doing. The other was the cut for the opening. That should not cut straight to uke's center, like I had been doing, but a bit off to his side so as to unbalance him. I have to work with this more, but it seems very valuable.

At the end of class, we did a bunch of backfalls rolling back up into a standing position. Ugh. That's tough. I had no idea how many we did, but I found out.

After class, Junya asked me, tounge in cheek, "Did you do them all?"

"Sure," I said, with a laugh. Both of us knowing full well I certainly did not do them all. "In fact, I did 2 more than you!"

"Oh, so you did 52 then?"

"Yup." We were both smiling by this point.

Actually, that would be a good goal to work up to. Fifty per day. Back falls are not stupid like push ups, I think. Not only does it provide a physical workout, but I imagine it would help to make me more centered. I'll have to try them more often.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

"Relax and get lower"

This is a post on the class I didn't take.

Claire Keller teaches the 12:15 class on Mondays. Due to my schedule, I've been having a hard time getting to the dojo at that time, but I always regret it. Claire is a great teacher and aikidoka. Her technique is flawless and beautiful. It sometimes seems soft, but that belies the power just under the surface.

When Claire comes to correct something, she always has some cogent point that goes far beyond the particular technique at hand. I think I've mentioned on this blog before my aikido rallying cry: Relax and get lower. That came from Claire.

I think I was partnered with her in a class when she had been giving me lots of little pointers. Finally, she just stopped and said, "You know, your aikido would get so much better if you just would relax and get lower."

Well, I've tried to take that to heart and tell myself that often, several times every class. It's almost become my aikido mantra. :)

I realized I have over 50 posts this year, but not yet one on my favorite teacher. I figure if I put it out there, it will motivate me to get to class next Monday!

Monday, March 17, 2008


Another Sunday. Another class taught by Chuck. I like Chuck a lot. Despite the fact that he may weigh 120 lbs. soaking wet, his aikido is very strong. Since he doesn't have much weight or muscle, he must always use very good, strong aikido technique. I learn a lot by watching him.

I had the good fortune of working with Michael McNally (chief instructor at Hoboken Aikikai). He's such a good partner. He teaches in a very calm and patient way and doesn't tire of it until the person gets it. :) He helped me relax while leading a morotetori attack, which is not easy for me to do -- especially in the shoulders. Surprise, surprise.

We did a few projection throws in groups, concluding with koshinage. I've gotten to the point where I can do the 90 degree one pretty well, but the diagonal one still gives me problems. That's the one we practiced. After one false start, it started to go a bit better.

Speaking of good partners, Jenny partnered up with Tina Shepard. Tina teaches a great class at 4:15 on Fridays, unfortunately a time I can almost never make. Jenny was in a threesome at the beginning of class when Tina walked up to her and said, "I don't have a partner, would you partner with me?" Which is sort of like like Jesus asking his disciples if they'd like to grab a bite to eat. As is always the case, those who are really great are also very humble about it.

Saturday, March 15, 2008


Friday nights are always fun, especially when Doug Firestone teaches. He has a sort of running commentary that sounds just like a Jay Leno monologue. His disarming manner can surprise one, however, if he things Doug is not serious. He throws hard.

I learned this a long time ago, so I wasn't surprised when he demonstrated on me and threw me into a breakfall that I felt in my toes. I smashed my lower back the other day and I certainly felt it at that moment. But I got through it.

We concentrated on yokomenuchi, one of my favorite attacks. I always feel I can blend more easily with this attack than any other. That probably shows my faults more than any strength, I'm sure.

Regardless, I enjoyed the class. Most of it was fairly straight forward, (irimi nage, kotegaeshi -- did we do shihonage? I don't remember!) but there was one confusing technique. It was a kind of sumi otoshi with a twist, or lack thereof.

From a yokomenuchi attack, one technique is to blend with the strike, irimi tenkan, and throw in a kind of circular way while dropping one's center and inner knee. However, Doug had us do this with out the circular twist of the hips, which required the dropping of the opposite knee. Uke is thrown at a 90 degree angle from his line of attack, if that helps to visualize it.

The first few rounds our group practiced this, we all did the more common way and didn't realize we were doing it wrong until Doug came over and corrected us. This turned out to be too late fore me to practice it. Oh well, next time.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Jerry Zimmerman

Jerry Zimmerman teaches at the dojo every other week. I always look forward to his classes. His demonstrations and explanations are very clear, and I always feel I learn much from him. He's a heck of a nice guy, too. I wish he came around more often, but I guess Jerry is busy with his own dojo, Aikido of North Jersey. I keep meaning to plan a trip to his dojo, maybe some upcoming Saturday morning.

The class focused an attack I need more work with, katatori. Although I should know better, I often don't get my center involved enough in the opening kusushi. Jerry came over and demonstrated and almost bowled me over! His center is very strong. Strong and soft at the same time if you know what I mean. Also, his posture and form are pretty much perfect.

We did lots of different variations. We even did nikkyo tachi and suwari waza. I just had to do that suwari waza for my test on Sunday, but I felt I learned a lot more about it yesterday. I wish I had that class before the test! Anyway, that one still needs a lot of work.

We did a sumi otoshi variation as well. That really needs good timing and a committed attack to be effective, otherwise it's just going through the motions. I almost felt like I grabbed a center here and there. ;)

Finally we did kokyu ho, but morotetori, not the usual ryotedori. At first, I was completely flummoxed. I mean, don't move the water dish like that! But as I started to get into it, I got more of an idea of what it should be like. It's really not at all different from ryotedori. The same idea and movement.

After class, I asked Jerry a bit more about how I should approach morotetori kokyu ho and he talked about making the connection, center to center and relaxation, of course. I want to keep fooling with this, it's a valuable practice.

The kind of relaxation I'm trying to develop is what the Chinese call "song" or "jing" which has more to do with lack of tension, subtleness and responsiveness than it does to the traditional Western idea of "relaxing." Anyway, I find it very hard to do this, especially in my shoulders. If I'm not consciously thinking about taking the tension out of my shoulders, they just keep rising and rising, but I've mentioned this before...

Here's a video clip of Jerry teaching at the aikikai:

Wednesday, March 12, 2008


Well, I'm getting back into daily practice. I still have a trace of bronchitis, but it's manageable again. Feeling better each day.

Mike McNally taught class yesterday afternoon. We concentraited on ushiro tekubitori (one of his favorites) so it was a nice, active class. I always enjoy Mike's classes. He has a calm, understated way about him that makes the students feel relaxed, I think.

We did most of the class in groups, and I was in a pretty good one. All were sempai.

Everything was going very well until about 10 minutes before class was over. Somehow, I took a bad roll or something, I'm not really sure what happened. I think I might have gotten myself caught in between a front roll and a break fall. But what ever happened, I just smashed into the mat.

I thought I was past the point of "stupid" injuries, meaning injuries without a definite cause like a slip or an accident, but I guess not. I can't recall there being any problem or anything unusual about the situation, just suddenly I slammed all my weight into a very small area of my lower left side. My back didn't even hit the mat flush!

I felt it immediately. After class, I was walking around like a very old man. It hurt to lift my left leg! I kind of shuffled home...

Even so, I could tell it wasn't very serious and sure enough, I woke up this morning feeling pretty normal. Lucky this time. Unlike the poor fellow in the photo above. I hope he made it.

It just goes to show, even these moves that I feel have been internalized aren't yet perfect with a lack of mental effort. In short, let's be careful out there.

Monday, March 10, 2008

4th-kyu test

Well, I finally was able to take my fourth-kyu test. I missed the last two or three tests for various reasons, and it was really starting to get on my nerves. I know rank doesn't matter, and I consoled myself with that, but on the other hand, being a fifth kyu with almost 200 hours is just silly.

So on the one hand I felt very well prepared. On the other, especially since I was out sick for a whole week, I felt like I really could have used just one more day to prepare and nail things down. You know, I figured I had a whole week left to work out my exact strategy, details, etc. I didn't get that, so I was a little apprehensive. But missing yet another test was out of the question, so I just went for it. As usual, Sugano-sensei and Mike Abrams sat at the big desk.

After the 5th kyus, all of us testing for fourth were called up by name. That's when we can figure out who will be our partner, as we don't get to choose. I had a fellow student from the dojo, though I don't know him well. He was a big, nice guy, bigger than me, in fact. Not too many of those around. This was going to be interesting.

We started off with shomenuchi nikkyo. I went for omote first. I was taken slightly out of rhythm when my uke went down too early. If you think about it, there is no logical reason to go for the nikkyo if uke is already on the ground, but I did what I had to do. I don't remember any problems with ura. It's vague.

Next was yokomenuchi shihonage. I can't recall any major problems. I guess it was OK.

Tsuki iriminage was interesting, too. The testing requirements don't specify omote and ura for this technique, but I was told it was a good idea to do both anyway. I know most other people working on the test did so. I went right in for omote and I could sense my partner's surprise. (Sure enough, when it was his turn, he didn't do omote.) But we seemed to get through it all right.

Ushiro tekubitori sankyo was the worst moment for me. For the omote, I was in the habit of repositioning uke with the sankyo before the throw. Don't forget, he's a big fellow and I guess simple pain avoidance wasn't going to do the trick for him. He just stood there while I was trying to move him. So... I had to just hunker down and be sure my center was involved in it, and I finally got him to move. I assumed the other side would go more smoothly since now he had the idea. But you know about assumptions, right? So on the left side I again expected uke to follow the repositioning. No action. I really didn't get it. But there was certainly no time for a discussion, so again I just settled myself and tried not to muscle him as I finally got him to move.In my mind, that was a horrible moment! But I am sure I'm over blowing it. Ura went better. (Note to self: Investigate sankyo more. Obviously, it can be improved.)

Next came, ushiro ryokatatori kotegaeshi, which I think went well. I can't remember much about it, so I'm assuming that's a good thing. ;) Again, I did omote and ura even though the requirements don't state them. One good point about having such a big partner was I didn't really have to worry about taking it easy on him. His wrists weren't going to injure too easily. At least in my mind, this was the best part of the test.

Then it was time for suwari waza. Have I mentioned on this blog that I hate suwari waza? (Then again, does anyone really like suwari waza? Come on, be honest.) Shomenuchi ikkyo and katatori nikkyo went OK, I think. Again, no specific memory. Katatori sankyo was also on the list, but Sugano-sensei didn't ask for it. I was very surprised. When we switched and it was my turn to be uke, we did all three suwari waza techniques. Go figure.

At the end of the test, when Mike Abrams announced all the fourth kyus passed (yeah!), Sugano-sensei talked about paying attention to detail and he mentioned staying connected during katatori nikkyo. For some reason that rang a bell with me and I was sure he was talking about my performance, but since he didn't go into specifics about what he was talking about, I'm not sure. If I see him soon, I'll ask him more about that comment.

Part of me feels my test wasn't too bad, but the other part thinks I should have done much better, but isn't that always how it is?

All the tests I observed were pretty good. Especially the lone first kyu test and the second kyus. They were great. First kyu guy rocked.

So, all's well that ends well. It's 100 hours till third kyu, which I'm looking forward to! That test looked a bit more detailed.

I saw a few video cameras. If anyone posts a vid, I'll be sure to post the link (if it's not too bad, that is...)

Back in action

I was able to return to the mat this weekend. :) As normally happens, this second infection hasn't been responding to antibiotics nearly as quickly the first. Two weeks ago, I was feeling fine about three days after starting the medicine. This week has been slow going.

Since Western medicine's best efforts were not really getting the job done, yesterday I went to a traditional Chinese doctor to get some herbs. I figure it couldn't hurt. We'll try acupuncture next. ;)

Rick Stickles, of Aikido Schools on New Jersey, teaches at the New York Aikikai once a month. This was his weekend.

Over the past couple of years, I've attended lots of his classes, yet I am somewhat at a loss to describe his style. I suppose changeable, is one way to express it. Some days, he'll appear very philosophic and just when I think I've gotten him all figured out, he'll switch gears, though generally he doesn't stress technique all that much. I've suspect that since he only teaches in NY once a month, he may conduct the class more like a seminar than a daily class. In other words, he tries to get a lot of ideas all crammed into one hour. I've haven't yet attended one of his classes in his own dojo yet, so that is just a guess.

So we started off with some tai no henko and then branched into some katatedori that stressed connection.

Sugano-sensei taught the next class, but I sat out because I was saving myself for...

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Home sick again!


It looks like the bronchitis has come back. After the course of antibiotics last week I felt great, but this week I've slowly ground down again. I really can't stand it.

So, that's why there has been a dearth of aikido news this week. I'll see the doctor tomorrow and hopefully be back in action soon.

One thing I know for sure, if I can walk, I'm testing on Sunday. I'm long overdue.

Sunday, March 02, 2008


There's a new teaching schedule at the NY Aikikai this month and there have been some interesting changes.

I'm not exactly sure of the full reasoning behind some of the moves, but a lot of them seem to reflect an intention to get the two shihan into contact with more members -- a very good thing.

The most immediate effect was that on Sunday, Yamada-sensei teaches the first class and Sugano-sensei teacher the second and the weapons class to follow. Since Sunday is a very popular day for training, I'm sure more people will see both teachers.

Another change is both senseis will each take a 6:45 p.m. class during the week. This is very significant. That last class of the day is sort of like the bastard step-child of the dojo. It's sparsely populated, mostly by beginners and others of kyu rank. A lot of us can't make any other classes during the day, so we will have more exposure to the shihan on a regular basis.

But by necessity, the schedule for other classes had to be reworked and you can't please all of the people all of the time. One yudansha was upset that Donovan Waite's classes had been scaled back. "I'll just have to go to Center City (Donovan's dojo in Philadelphia) on Saturdays."

I, myself, was sorry to see Harvey Konigsberg's Tuesday afternoon randori class eliminated. I certainly couldn't make that class on a regular basis, but it was great to go anytime I could. This change, however, seems unrelated to the rest of the schedule change, as no one is taking that class over, it is just out. What a pity.

Anyway, on the whole the changes do improve the schedule and I'm sure everyone will benefit. Personally, I'm happy I'll have more chances to see the senseis as well as all the other great instructors.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Thinking too much

Keith substituted for Douglas Firestone Friday night. Among other skills, Keith is finishing his degree in physical therapy and has been working like a madman to get his internship finished. He's finally at the end of the tunnel and he has been able to train more regularly.

We did mostly kokyu type throws, ryōte-dori which is not my strong point. Good to get more practice in. ;)

At about half way through the class, however, we switched to a not-quite randori. Two uke each for nage, who should use some of the techniques just practiced. I guess that would really be jiuwaza. Of course, practicing this way, the technical considerations become secondary to movement. And that's a very good thing to practice.

The funny thing, I noticed I performed those techniques much better in the jiyuwaza portion of the class. Left to my own devices, I do tend to over analyze, and in a more free-style environment, that just isn't possible. So it's true what people tell me, "Don't think too much, just move." Hehe.

Here's a clip of someone moving around a good bit in a freestyle setting: