Friday, September 26, 2008


The last few times I took Doug's class he's drawn my attention to my posture at the end of a throw.

This is something I've been working on, but I haven't been making much progress. I'm sure it's something that will either get better slowly, or else it will improve when I make some dramatic discovery. Either way is fine with me as long as I can improve it.

Posture is something that some people have naturally right. The rest of us just have to work at it. It would certainly take some pressure off my knees, which is also badly needed.

I particularly have a problem with keeping my feet aligned with my knees and keeping my weight on my back foot in the throw.

Oh, well. At least I'm aware of the problem. The first step, right?

Last year, my mantra was "relax and get lower." I think this year I'm going to modify that to "relax and get lower with good posture." I can see this lengthening more and more as the years go by...

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Eran Vardi

It was Eran Vardi's turn to teach the Wednesday class. Eran alternated with Jerry on Wednesdays at 12:15.

Eran classes are certainly different than the norm. In fact, the whole dojo takes on a different feel to it on the days that he teaches. Lots of his students come, so the class is usually made up of people I don't know. His different approach and the different people make a nice change of pace.

As is usual for Eran, we did lots of suwari waza. I'd say about half the class. It's still hard for me to keep that up for so long, but it's definitely getting better. I even felt a little centered and relaxed during a few techniques before fatigue set in.

When I do suwari waza for that length of time, I can gauge how well I'm doing by the state of my knees afterward. I used to skin them to shreds, making them a bloody pulp. Of course, this shows that I am not centered and putting too much weight on my knees, but this tends to happen when fatigue sets in. Have to just keep plugging away at it!

Yesterday, I just wound up with just one lightly skinned knee. Although that's still far from good, it's a definite improvement! :)

It's very hard to describe the techniques we do in Eran's classes. They are usually a combination of at least two. I used to hate that, but these days, I'm learning to appreciate the different ways to approach the same positions and techniques. I don't know if I'd ever use them myself, as they are complex, but learning to "get there from here" is valuable practice.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Taking your lumps

I managed to make the 12:15 class, which is often hard for me on Mondays. This is particularly good as Claire Keller, one of my favorite instructors, teaches that class.

I bumped into Claire on the street before class. I was coming from the gym. She surprised me very much with her opening comment: "What are you working out or something?"

"What. Can you tell?" I was kind of shocked.

Claire, never one to overindulge in complements, said, "I can see a little something."

Ha! I think that was the first time someone's noticed. It's been about six weeks, so maybe it's time, but that was a nice surprise all the same. It certainly made my day! :)

In class, we focused on shomenuchi attacks. Before long, we were doing ikkyo and my partner was unusually timid. I was trying to get him to attack and extend but he just didn't want to enter my space.

Claire came over and I thought she was going to address the situation. She had me attack her. Now, since I was just being a bit heavy with my partner to make the point, I did the same to her without thinking. I somehow misread the situation because she suddenly turned to me and said, "That's not helpful." I could see she wasn't too happy. I was actually aghast that she thought I was being unhelpful to my partner. I always try hard to help those newer folks and be a good uke to everyone (at least the best I can).

Then I tried to explain and dug myself in deeper. "Oh, no. I was just trying to get him to extend."

"Why don't you just worry about yourself and try to take good ukemi." Slam. That went down hard, let me tell you. Of course, there was nothing I could say to that, so I just said, "Hai."

Now I tend to over analyze and think too much at the best of times, so I really mulled this over. At first I was a bit upset about it, but I tried to take my ego out of it and look at it from an external viewpoint.

As soon as I did that, I realized that she was absolutely right. Yes, I may have had some other sempai do the same sorts of things to me to make a point, but is that the most constructive way of doing things? How about letting nage execute the technique and figuring it out? A lot of guys at the dojo are a bit pedantic and I don't particularly like it, either. Why emulate them?

Not only that, but I particularly admire Claire's aikido. She has a flowing style and grace that I hope to be able to do someday. So it's no surprise that she would be the one to tell me this. She didn't get that way by being heavy, that's for sure.

This was a very small and seemingly unimportant exchange on the mat. However, the more I think about it and its implications, the more I am realizing the right and wrong way to do things.

I think I have to try to be free of all preconceived ideas. It's all about opening oneself to the subtlety of the moment. I just realized how poorly I've been doing that up til now, so that's a new element to try to put into my practice. This was a valuable lesson.

One reason I like taking Claire's classes so much is that I know she'll never hesitate to tell me what she really thinks. Well, I got that today and I have to appreciate it -- even if I had to take some lumps at the same time. ;)

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Freaked out

Yamada-sensei taught the Saturday morning class.

I'm always amazed at his ability to so quickly and efficiently teach aikido. I had another new partner and I had to give her some advice. She was quick and getting it, but Sensei just walked over, grabbed her hand and said, "like this" and walked away, perfectly handling the situation.

He came over several more times and even demonstrated on me . It was the first time I took ukemi for him and I was pretty freaked out about it -- at least afterward. I didn't really have any time to think about it beforehand.

"I hope I followed well enough. Did I maintain the connection?" etc. It's really kind of silly because it was the quickest and most minor of ukemi possible. Not even the full technique. I have no doubt that he has no memory of it whatsoever.

Anyway, it was a great class, focusing similar openings with katatetori, omote, ura and different hand levels to allow for different techniques. Cool stuff.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Body mechanics

Friday's effort at the aikikai had all the typical elements of one of Doug's classes: Uchi/soto variations, partner changes, some projection throws and a liberal dash of aikido humor.

There was a new girl I practiced with in a group. I think I had seen a few times, but I never talked to her. When I grabbed her wrist, I felt quite a bit of kokyu power, so it was obvious she had some experience at another dojo. I figured at least a year or more, probably fifth or fourth kyu.

I got a chance to speak to her after class and asked her where she was from. She misunderstood my question and told me her hometown. When I made it clear I was asking which dojo she had trained at before she looked at me kind of blankly. "I just started two weeks ago here."

It was my turn to stare blankly. It always amazes me how some people can just pick up what most of us try so hard to get. Her form was a little on the inexperienced side, but still not bad at all. It was her relaxation and focus that was quite impressive.

As it turns out, she's an ex-dancer with expertise in body mechanics. I quickly asked to help me with all the problems I have with my posture in and out of aikido. She said she'll give me exercises to strengthen certain muscles, their weakness causing poor body alignment. :)

I also told her about my quest to become more flexible. I remember even 10 years ago, when I wanted to loosen up, even a few weeks of stretching had noticeable results. The past few years, however, all the stretching I do doesn't seem to have any effect at all. I told her this too, and she seemed unperturbed. She really sounds like she knows what she's doing, so I'm looking forward to that. It's just the thing I've been thinking about lately. In fact, I was looking at Pilates or Yoga as a possible solution and this is right in line with that idea.

Yet more evidence that really cool people find the dojo...

Friday, September 19, 2008

Welcome to New York

I haven't been to one of Alberto's aiki-aerobics classes in a while. It was good to push myself a bit.

As I've commented before on this blog, Alberto's classes tend to be vigorous, with lots of fast moving techniques and partner changes.

We started with katatetori kokyu ho, as usual. I do believe he starts every class with that one. One thing about kokyu ho, it helps a lot, perhaps too much, if uke really sticks to nage. My partner was leaving a lot of space, making the technique difficult, and I was frustrated with myself for not being able to compensate well enough. I knew I should draw her in with my hips, but I kept forgetting to do it. Sometimes good ukemi allows me to be lulled into complacency, I find.

For most of the rest of the class we switched to ai hanmi katatetori, with mostly normal techniques.

Oh! We did the "45-degree" koshinage again, but from this approach, I didn't have as much of a problem with it as last time. One weird thing was I got the ukemi mixed up on the first throw, holding on with the wrong hand! It hurt, but I was more embarrassed than anything. I didn't know how I could do that until I realized my mind was still expecting the throw from the other direction (like it would be for the "90-degree" version) and my mind didn't change gears fast enough. DOH!

We went to shomenuchi for the last few, with kotegaeshi and irimi nage (of course) followed by any attack. We finished off with the Alberto favorite: "Anybody attack anybody." Just in case you were not yet tired.

Finishing off with bunny hops, sit-ups and push-ups, it was a good mini-boot camp.

We had a visitor from somewhere in Europe. After class, he asked me, "Do you guys practice like this all the time?!?" I just smiled and said, "That's Alberto."

He was pretty spent, kind of regrouping his energies. He just looked down and replied, "I don't like it."

I resisted the temptation to answer, "Welcome to New York."

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The long and short of it

Jerry couldn't make his Wednesday, 12:15 class, so the ever-ready Mike Jones stepped up.

It was an interesting class. Mike alternated techniques between omote and ura, all with a shomenuchi attack. We did kokyu ho (kaiten), ikkyo omote, kotegaeshi ura, nikkyo omote and finally good ol' irimi nage.

Mike helped me with the kaiten, which didn't feel natural for some reason, and very good advice in the nikkyo on how and when to go for the grip. I was kinda doing it the hard way.

I was partnered with a fairly new aikidoka. I had to laugh at myself a few times. I still don't really feel competent to give anyone any advice, but I did find the opportunity to inject a few words. The interesting thing is, I only told him stuff I've heard a thousand times.

I can remember very well when all those words were meaningless and confusing to me. (Now they are only slightly less confusing...)

Extend? Um, OK (push).

Relax? Why, aren't I relaxed? (while not even breathing...)

Seems like only yesterday... Gee, I hope it really wasn't yesterday!

I finally resorted to telling my partner, "don't worry I won't hurt you. Just stay loose." The dirty secret I didn't tell him is that there are levels upon levels of relaxation and I've just scratched the surface. I heard Harvey Konegsburg-sensei say within the past year or so that he was becoming satisfied with the level of relaxation in his shoulders. How many decades has he been at it? My god. I didn't mention all this though and we got through it all right.;)

Oh! After class, another new aikidoka, who I hadn't yet had the pleasure to meet, came up to me and said, "I like your blog." I don't think she knows how surprised and happy I was. Even though I put this stuff up here for people to read, I am always surprised when I find they actually do it. :)

Saturday, September 13, 2008


We had fun with katatetori today. And I had a good partner, which makes a good class!

I had a hard time doing shihonage with him. I asked him why and I found a basic point I had been missing. The angle I'd been arriving at when I did the throw was off and it diminished the effectiveness of the throw. A small change made a big difference in the technique's effectiveness. Cool!

I have found that Saturday at 11 a.m. is becoming my favorite class. I think that's because of all the good sempai that show up.

Friday, September 12, 2008


Hal didn't teach on Friday, but we still had a good class taught by Sharon.

We focused on connection -- a very important point in aikido.

At first it may seem odd that a martial art requires the "good guy" and the "bad guy" to connect, but in fact, aikido teaches that there is no good or bad guy (resistive partners excluded). When viewed that way, it starts to make sense.

In theory, there is no winner and no loser in aikido (explaining why the art does not lend itself to competition), so uke and nage need not balk at connecting with each other. This is different from "cooperative" if by that is meant uke just gives it up. Uke is supposed to give a sincere attack. But if the connection is made, the experience is transformed to a more mutual and "healing" encounter. Not to sound to New-Agey or anything.

I had a hard time with this concept for a long time. I mean, it's a martial art, right? Don't I try to take the guy out? And doesn't he try to do something to me?

Well, yes and no. The "attacker" has to give a sincere attack. But nage is supposed to absorb, redirect and otherwise neutralize the force in such a way as to "respect uke's ki." Which means really not to try to block or go against it, but use it to resolve the conflict.

All this may sound a bit hokey. But there are levels within levels with this. I may have glimpsed the first few myself, and seen a few more in others, but I get the feeling there's a lot more to it than I can even imagine.

Thursday, September 11, 2008


I slept didn't make the 12:15 class yesterday, but I managed to get to the dojo for the 5:30. OK, it was 5:40.

Mike Jones taught the class and we focused on suki techniques. It was all fairly straight forward, but I had a hard time with some of it. The opening threw me a bit until I got the hang of it.

Things went OK until we got to koshinage. In my mind, koshinage falls into two broad categories. This is probably an artificial distinction, but in my mind it is there.

There's the 90-degree koshinage, where nage's feet wind up perpendicular to uke's before the throw. This is the nice, happy comfortable one for me. ;)

Then there's the 45-degree koshinage, which isn't really 45 degrees, but uke is behind nage and nage sticks his hip in front of uke and uke goes over. It's almost 45 degrees. This is the unhappy, uncomfortable one, for me. :(

Well, of course, we did the latter. I really need to take a sempai aside and work on this, because I'm just not doing it right. Uke winds up almost behind my shoulder and that makes the throw hard and dangerous. Fortunately, I didn't kill anyone.

One woman in our group was taken out, though. Another guy I hadn't seen threw her on her shoulder. Ouch. She was taken off the mat and iced up. I felt sorry for her, but honestly, I was also so glad I wasn't the one to have done that. She was a fairly inexperienced uke and my poor throw could have hurt her, too. I had already thrown her, and I was very careful, but It could have easily been me.

Above is a fairly close version of this technique. That nage is a little hesitant as well.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008


Michael McNally taught yesterday afternoon's class. In a surprise move, we did weapons. I can't recall Mike teaching much weapons, but he explained the reason after class: "Well, now that I teach in my own dojo, I have to keep sharp. So I might as well practice on you guys." Haha.

I enjoy weapons work, especially when taught in the fashion that shows how the taijutsu (empty hand techniques) emanate from weapons techniques.

Pretty much all of aikido comes from weapons in some way or other. Throws from sword cuts, pins from disarming techniques, etc. It is fascinating.

We worked only with the the jo, no boken. Which is fine by me. It's my favorite weapon... ;) In fact, one of my near term goals is to start learning some jo kata. Mostly so I have something cool to do before class starts... ;) And we worked with the jo as both uke and nage. Very cool stuff.

I also picked up my bike from the shop and tried to take Grimes Hill. Well, I found out that an 11 percent grade over a mile is just not doable by me. I'd like to meet someone who can climb that hill. It may be possible, but it's a rare athlete who can do it, I think.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

"I want to ride my bicycle..."

The next step in Operation Fitness is to ride to the dojo daily. It's about 5 miles on the road.

To that end, I brought the bike to a shop in Chelsea on Friday. These guys aren't cheap, but hopefully they'll get the bike in tip-top shape. I'm also adding some useful items like a drink holder and a rear bracket. And the most important one: A bell. People in Manhattan just ignore cyclists completely! They'll just step out in front of you. Where exactly do they expect me to go? I don't think they're thinking about it, though.

By coincidence, I was speaking to Michael McNally the other day and he recommended bike riding as good for aikido as "we use our legs a lot." Let's hope it works half as well for me as it did him.

Anyway, I'm enjoying this whole process, even the diet!

Monday, September 08, 2008

Weekend aikido

Well, it was a nice weekend. Doing what? Aikido, of course!

Saturday was brutally humid before Hurricane Hanna arrived. Certainly the most humid day of the year in New York, I think. What happened to the calm before the storm? Well, it was calm, but hot!

But it didn't rain in the morning, so Ruth's class was filled up. We did lots of morotetori, with tenkan -- lots of leading. It was just the right thing for a sultry Saturday morning.

Sunday was much cooler and less humid. The storm had done it's work and took away the heat. That might have been the last hot day of the year. We can only hope.

Chuck taught again. He had been away for a while. It's nice to have him back. The class was filled with usual Chuchness: Tenkan, ikkyo, koshinage, etc. All good fun.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Hal Lehrman

Friday afternoons at 12:15 at the Aikikai are usually taught by Hal Lehrman. Hal has his own dojo in Brooklyn, Aikido of Park Slope.

There's something very special about Hal's aikido, though I can't really describe how that is so...

He's extraordinarily relaxed, for one thing. When I watch him, I realize just how relaxed one can be.

He's also extremely powerful. Sometimes even dangerously so. He's demonstrated for me/on me a few times and I learned quickly that I'd better expect a hurricane, though to look at it, his movements seem utterly smooth and quick. Hardly anything at all, it seems.

He has a way of putting his center in the action without being overly obvious about it. Subtle, that's the word. It may be moving a quarter of an inch, but some how that motion generates a huge amount of power. I just don't know how he does that.

So, I keep going and hoping it'll rub off someday... Since his class is filled with yudansha, I guess I'm not the only one who feels so. A lot of heavy hitters don't miss it. Even Kjartan Clausen of the great Aikido FAQ fame practices with Hal in Brooklyn, so at least I'm in good company.

UPDATE: Kjartan read the above post and commented: "BTW, Hal is generating that immense power by not using any power when he throws. He just moves in a way that's natural for both him and you. Soft techniques can feel incredibly hard and powerful if done right."

Though I agree completely with the above statement (in fact, those were the words I was looking for), I still say he's very powerful. The natural moving stuff is more in the opening, I think, where Hal is a master.

We are told always to blend with the attack and to redirect an opponent's ki, etc. But how often do we try to force the issue, if only accidentally or unconsciously? Well, Hal's the master at blending. However, after that, when it comes to the actually throw, there's a ton of power. Like grabbing a moving train. I felt that, anyway.

The Return of the Aikipenguin

OK, I know I've been neglecting this blog lately. Very bad penguin.

Things have been going well in the dojo, I just had gotten out of the habit of blogging it.

I've been trying to become more fit lately. I just got tired of getting tired during class...

To that end, I joined a gym near the dojo so I could work out before or after class. I know what you are thinking: "Another guy joins a gym who will never use it..." Surprisingly, it hasn't been like that. I've been going diligently before class, almost every day. I have even surprised myself.

I've also been eating leaner and healthier, drinking lots of water and taking good supplements. I'm a couple of weeks into this program and I have to say, it's working.

My main motivation for starting all this was to increase my stamina at the dojo. I've noticed I don't get as tired as much or as quickly as I used to. I've still got a ways to go, but at least I can notice an improvement!

I'm also ridding my bicycle more. I'm planning to even try to commute to the dojo/gym on it! It's only 5 miles (not including the trip on the Staten Island Ferry), but I happen to live on one of the tallest points on the Eastern seaboard of the United States: Grimes Hill. I'm a bit nerve wracked at the idea of going down that 11 percent grade on the very busy Staten Island road. But I'm sure I'll give it a shot soon.

More aikido news tomorrow!