Thursday, August 28, 2008

P is for Plateau

C may be for Cookie but P is without a doubt for Plateau. Unlike a plateau in running or lifting weights, in martial arts it is largely if not entirely psychological. So it pays to identify one when as it happens and to know what it feels like. With that mindset you can turn a potentially frustrating moment into a very exciting one.

In the last month I've been very frustrated with my performance on the mat. Almost as if I thought that I was once better and am now worse. After every class I see very clearly where I went wrong. Consistently I feel as if my weight is not centered (almost as if I'm top heavy), my entries are not deep enough and I can never get low enough for a hip throw without having to muscle people around. As for the last one, that one may actually have gotten worse, because I was sure that I was getting low enough at some point.

Yet in spite of my self criticism, I've realized something important and my frustration has just washed away. All of the aforementioned problems are things that I feel. For the first time in my training, I can sense these things myself. This may not be the equivalent of progress but it's a huge leap forward for me.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

A personal Epiphany

Sometimes, while studying very linear concepts, we stumble upon universal truths. Today Sensei Ivan was teaching class and he was attempting to stress the importance of not grabbing onto the Uke during those techniques. His point of view was that if we don't grab on, we are free to decide what we want to do and we are not tied down to a single technique or set of techniques available from that grip. He said;
"Don't hold on, you want to be free. But sometimes in order to get freedom; you have to give up control." - Sensei Ivan
I can only imagine that at the moment his goal was to illustrate a concept which is the basis of his technique. But it doesn't take much to see that there are layers of truth in this.

Friday, August 01, 2008

I've found my hips!

It took me two years but I've found my hips! As it turns out they were just beneath my belly all along!

In this last month I've been told that its time to stop leaving my hips behind, so I've focused on bringing them forward. Actually the best time to work on this was during stretching exercises. As I would stretch my wrists I would bring my hips forward in an exaggerated fashion. After a few weeks I noticed that it was having an effect on my techniques as well. I am not used to that kind of posture and for the whole month, I've felt wobbly as if I was always on the brink of falling forward when I push my hips forward.

It's probably going to take me a long time to figure out where and when I want to angle my hips, but at least I know what I'm trying to do.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Following a lead

What exactly is a Lead?

Sadly, it's not a rhetorical question... I've been made aware that I am unable to follow or generate a lead. The more I think about why I can't follow a lead, the more I realize that I just don't feel it. When I ask myself why, I come up with two ideas.

One side of the argument is both linear and concrete. After someone explains to me where the lead would have taken me, I just don't see why I would want to move in that direction. It tends to feel as if I am putting myself in a compromising situation from which there is not any positive to be gained. If Torre is spinning in place, it does not make much sense to me to spin with them. I think that I would be safer by standing my ground or getting my distance. I will gladly cooperate (within the dojo anyway), and move wherever I am put. But I just don't understand what I'm supposed to be doing and more importantly why I'm supposed to do it.

Then there's the abstract side of the argument. Maybe, learning to follow a lead is a lot like following the rhythm in a song or finding your way when you are lost. Maybe it’s the culmination of all of the details which are subconsciously registered to form a pattern that we can't help but feel. It would stand to reason that this is correct or close to it. But if I'm right, then I have a bigger problem; I have a bad sense of rhythm and a sense of direction. To date, I study maps to get around and count beats if I want to follow a song.

After taking those things into consideration, the same questions reemerge. Why would I follow a lead? And how do I generate a lead if I can’t feel it?

Monday, June 30, 2008

Refining Ippon Seoi Nagi

This Sunday I had a chance to take a serious and detailed look at the most basic hip throw: ippon seoi nagi. I'm still struggling to keep my posture & balance as my hips get very low. But this time Sensei Coleman and I took a look into the minor details that could make my job a lot easier.

The Basics
While in Rondori, I tend to rest my arms on people until we've "started". This is a mistake because as soon as I begin to do ippon, I will remove my weight and it will be a telltale sign that I'm about to throw the Uke. Instead I will hook my fingers around their gi without clasping it. This will create a minor & constant tension which will eliminate the jerking sensation as I begin to pull. If I am not noticed, I wont' be opposed.

In addition, if I place weight on their body I am making them heavier and more grounded as I make myself lighter and easier to throw. In short, I'm inviting a counter attack.

The pull of Uke's loose hand must be upwards and outwards. I can't clench it to my chest or stomach since this will only further balance my oponent at the expense of my own balance.

I will clip the armpit/bicep with the crook of my elbow before I begin to turn and then I will turn with my shoulder to my knee rather than by extending my legs or placing my hips at an even height to both my shoulders.

Once Uke begins to fall, I will lift my shoulders up and place my body with my legs bent and my knee facing Uke's head to begin to lock them up.

My Task
To practice this repeatedly while keeping all of these details in mind. From experience I know that as soon as I fix several problems, one of the original corrections will unravel in an attempt to make the throw easier. My job is to fix, check and recheck these details across various ukes.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Sweet, humbling Ju Jitsu!

Today I managed to do a Katana nage which was clearly well beyond my usual reach. The footwork was smooth and in its place, I had good posture, my hands were soft and I was moving from my hips. Sensei Maria happened to be watching and congratulated me on my work. Shortly after I did Katana Nage again... If you're imagining the exact opposite, then you'd be right. My footwork was all over, I was tense, I hunched forward to get power and it was an overall unstructured and ugly maneuver.

I was embarrased until I realized the real mistake. I wasn't wrong to be happy about my success. I work as hard as anybody else, and if I don't let it bring me joy, then why would I even do it? My mistake was that I didn't understand that everything has a time and place and by focusing excessively on my success; I pretty much assured that I wouldn't have any further success to celebrate. Since I regularly praise Ju Jitsu for providing a platform to teach me life lessons on a foam mat; it's not hard to see why this blogpost means more to me than Katana Nage.

Bask in your success when you can and focus on your challenges when you must. It's simple advice that we can all easily understand and agree with. But only through many little moments like this does it become more than something I say and part of who I am.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008


I recently experienced something that embodies the way we articulate the idea of projection. I was out with my friends and as the night was winding down, we all said our goodbyes by the door. I happened to be standing by the door of the closet and there simply wasn't a way to get to the closet without me moving. As I'm partly distracted talking to a friend I feel a soft but powerful push from my left. When I look over to see who would push me over, I'm surprised to find that it's my friend's friend. She's about 5'5" and without a doubt, not over 110 Lbs. She isn't very strong; or at least I didn't think so until that moment.

If I didn't think in terms of projection, I might only have walked away with the life lesson that some people are exceptionally rude. Instead I asked myself repeatedly: How on earth did she push me over? Then the answer was clear; complete inconsideration. As far as she was concerned, it was her space and I was just standing in it. She's shorter, so its not hard for her to keep her center lower to the ground than mine. Her hand was firm but soft and near her center and she pushed with the whole weight of her body. In short, she did everything that we aim to do. If she'd only learn manners; it might even be worthwhile to invite her to the dojo!