Saturday, July 14, 2012

Off to See Santiago

From July 18th through August 28th, I will be hiking the Camino de Santiago as part of a personal and social challenge. AS a blind hiker, I am going to be asking people to help me walk from city to city each day along this 730KM journey. So the Iron Goat will truly be in his element.

If you are interested, please follow my hike at:

Which Way to Santiago

Thanks much and keep training


Saturday, June 30, 2012

3rd Law Brazilian Jiu Jitsu

I have been uncommonly lucky in the high level of teachers, sensei and training partners I have found throughout my travels both abroad and close to home. Of course, if I do not immediately have a good impression of a dojo or gym, I won’t stick around to get a bad one. After nearly ten years of training in the martial arts, you learn what to look for.

Throughout my time training in Judo and especially with the influence of Kashiwazaki Sensei at the Budo University, I have become much more comfortable with ground fighting. I think the blog entries dedicated to the Newaza Kenkyukai in Tokyo reflect my enjoyment of this physical game of chess. For that reason, I made finding a place to learn Brazilian Jiu Jitsu a top priority when I returned to the U.S.
Unlike Judo, where ninety-five percent of a match is faught standing with a single clean throw (or sometimes several less than clean throws) determining the victor, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is faught primarily on the ground. The clean throw that can win a Judo match only counts for a couple points in a BJJ match, although it does provide for great position and control over an opponent when transitioning to the ground.

I am very happy with the great group of guys (and a couple gals, not to be overlooked) that I have found here in Grand Rapids. Tim and Jody Bernhardt are the dedicated owners of--
3rd Law Brazilian Jiu Jitsu
5258 Plainfield Ave NE
Grand Rapids, Mi 49525

Head instructor, Ryan Hyde, is a brown belt under Professor Jorge Gurgel. Coach Hyde is a talented instructor who carefully plans out the longterm structure of his classes. Unlike any other BJJ dojo where I have trained, Coach Hyde very deliberately decides what the focus of each month’s training will be. He then builds upon basic body movements to more dynamic techniques during several classes. This is an intelligent approach to teaching which helps students remember the important fundamentals and not just isolated techniques.

I believe it is the influence of Tim and Jody Bernhart, however, that set the positive example for the 3rd Law BJJ. Their enthusiastic welcome and dedication to healthy training is evident. Tim always makes sure that students are comfortable and involved in training, speaking with each new person as they enter the gym. His great sense of humor quickly demonstrates the sort of close comunity they encourage. At the end of each class, students line up to shake hands with one another and, more often then not, pull eachother in for hugs. Both Coach Hyde and Mr. Bernhart emphasize the importance of taking care of one another in the gym.
Of the three Brazilian Jiu Jitsu clubs I have experienced, 3rd Law has by far been the most professional and well organized group. There is a solid base of white and blue belts with several higher ranked instructors. Classes are offered six days a week with both day and evening sessions.

In the past week I have posted three separate entries on three separate martial arts, which might lead one to question how much I am training. Well, I have learned that training is something that never stops… ever. In any given week, I will spend between sixteen and twenty hours at the dojo. Mondays,Wednesdays and Fridays are dedicated to Aikido and Aiki-Jyujitsu, while Tuesdays and Thursdays I train BJJ. On the weekends, I often put in several hours of one-on-one training with anyone who is interested in any art, be it Judo, Aikido or Jyujitsu.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Teaching Kid's Class

Over the course of the past couple months, I have been very involved in running a children’s Aikido class. This includes teaching whenever the sensei is busy or out of town. Class sizes can vary from three to nine students ranging in age from five to thirteen.

Teaching children an art such as Aikido can be very difficult. Unlike other martial arts where the sensei can line children up and instruct them all on a strike or kick, Aikido requires partner-based training and a lot of one-on-one work with each student. I have always enjoyed teaching children, though, for the special challenge it provides. This means you not only must be flexible in your approach to teaching, but creative in your explanations. For example: teaching kotegaishi (a basic wrist bending throw) can be confusing when a younger student has never practiced a martial art before. Words like, “Grab Uke’s left hand with your right and twist toward the floor,” will be met my blank looks. Most five year olds haven’t quite gotten the hang of your right and his left. Saying, “Put both your thumbs on the back of Uke’s hand and make a butterfly (sticking fingers out straight to either side); now wrap the butterfly’s wings together around Uke’s hand,” however, can help kids picture the throw a little differently. The idea is to find a way to express the techniques, keeping in mind that your audience has an attention span of about 10 seconds.

We are very lucky in our class for the diversity of students. Several students are of the Muslim faith and, therefore, have different customs and traditions they must uphold even when in the dojo. For starters—literally—it is against the Muslim faith to bow before anyone other than God. Bowing is an integral part of dojo culture, however, as it shows both respect and humility before the sensei and other students. Even more importantly, bowing is a form of self control and discipline that is especially important to teach.
After much thought and conversations with the parents, we decided upon a compromise that would not only show respect, but also fit in with Japanese customs. When other students bow at the beginning or end of class or when stepping on and off the tatami, the Muslim students put their hands together in “Gasshou”. This is similar to a “praying hands” gesture, but does not hold religious significance within the dojo setting. It is important to understand and transmit to our students that Gasshou, as well as bowing, are symbols of respect and not religion. We maintain these traditions within the dojo because they are a part of the culture of Japan and of the martial art. To lose such symbols would be to lose a part of the art.

When I was first asked to teach the children’s class, I had a couple obvious concerns. I am blind; how will I know what the kids are actually doing? Although adults are respectful enough to pay attention and do what I tell them, children are sometimes less agreeable to instructions. But rather than worry about the possibility of children running wild, I thought about the advantages of my particular situation.
1: This was an opportunity to give the older students some responsibility. I took the student who had been training longest aside before class and explained that I could really use his help; he was a good kid and now it was up to him to help the younger students. During class, I tried to partner newer students with some of the more veteran members of similar ages. It was a chance to not only teach Aikido, but teach members to look after one another.
2: Since I can’t “see” a student as they are learning how to roll or take ukemi (fall) this was a good chance to encourage the students to verbalize and work through their ukemi step by step. In one instance, I asked a student to “teach me” how to roll. This required the student to tell me, piece by piece, how the body should be positioned. This also gave me a chance to see if any important elements of the student’s roll were missing.
3: Finally, this was a good chance to encourage other adult members of the dojo to come in and help. Sure, I’ll play that card… “I could really use the help…” but truthfully, children’s’ classes are normally avoided by adults and this was an opportunity to get some people on the tatami and training.

I was always against having children in the dojo in Japan because they were mixed in with adult classes. This is not the right environment for a child to learn Aikido and can be dangerous besides. On one occasion, a child was on the mat during an Aikido class and not paying attention to anything around him. As my partner—who was likewise oblivious to his surroundings, apparently—through me, I realized just in time that I was headed straight for the kid. I had to take a very painful fall which injured my wrist quite badly. I was not only angry at my partner, but also at the stupidity of having children mixed into an adult class with no special attention.
After teaching and helping to teach over these past two months, I’ve come to see the important difference in how a “children’s’” class is run. It’s a great opportunity to teach kids an awareness of their environment that will hopefully carry over to adulthood. It is also a chance to teach respect, responsibility, and self control. The important difference between these classes in the U.S. and those classes I attended in Japan is that these are children’s’ classes with adults who participate and not adult classes with children who participate.

*editted for correct photo*

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Green Belt Testing for Hakko Denshin Ryu

It’s been a couple weeks since my last post; some side-projects have been taking up my writing time. I will go into more detail on these other projects in a later post. Nevertheless, training continues. I have been taking on teaching responsibilities for some adult and children’s aikido classes as well as continuing Hakko-Denshin Ryu and Brazilian Jujitsu. This past Monday, I took my green-belt test in Hakko-Denshin Ryu. This would be the equivalent of a 2nd-kyu, two steps from shodan.

Hakko-Denshin Ryu Aiki-Jyujitsu has very few techniques when compared to an art such as Aikido. The ways to apply these techniques are limitless, however, and the structure for testing in Aiki-Jyujitsu emphasizes a student’s understanding of the transition and application of the “waza” or basic techniques. The testing structure for Hakko-Denshin Ryu is very well thought out. The yellow belt test consists in simply demonstrating the 21 shodan waza. The green belt test, which I recently passed, takes this one step further. In addition to demonstrating the 21 basic techniques, one must also show “Henka” or variations. The henka consist in a more “real-world” demonstration of the basic waza. An attack is chosen and, by the application of various techniques, one must control their attacker and finish by pinning, throwing or otherwise demonstrating the desired principle.
In this post, I am going to go through the green belt test by showing both “waza” (technique) and the henka (variation) that demonstrates how the waza might be applied. The green belt test is especially difficult because the person testing must show five-seven henka for each basic, shodan principle… considering that there are seven principles, these ad up to 35-49 required henka. The person testing calls out an attack, telling his Uke how to grab or strike. In this manner, the person testing has some control over the set-up and execution of the techniques. In more advanced testing, this small control is removed and an attacker can decide to attack in any way. I would like to give a special thanks to my Uke—Mike—who was testing for his yellow belt at the same time. He put up with a lot of abuse and some painful pins. He is a good sport and never complains.

Principles, Waza and Henka

1-- Hakkodori (escape)
The first principle is escape, finding any way to get free of an attacker.
Waza: HakkoZema
Henka: Various ways to escape
Things to note: regarding the waza, important things to keep in mind with hakko-zema is to keep elbows low and in-line with hips. Driving through your legs, elbows and hands makes this a much stronger push than just trying to use the shoulders. The henka shows several basic escapes, the goal being to simply free one’s self from a choke or grab.

2-- Atemi (strikes)
Seated Waza: Atemi
Standing Waza: Tachi Ate
I have only posted the two waza variations here. A henka for atemi, striking, can be any variation that finishes with a strike to the head, neck or body. Important to note here: with the standing strike, we have our feet firmly planted and twist at the hips to free one hand. The strike then goes across the side of the neck, rolling across the thick nerve bundle (tankei) which runs down from the ear.

3-- Te Kagame (hand mirror)
Waza: Te-Kagame
Henka: Variation from a roundhouse (tataku) strike
Te kagame (hand mirror) has its name from the initial hand position seen in the waza. You bring your own hand up, palm to your face, as though you were looking in an imaginary mirror. Te-kagame techniques are any in which you hold your opponent’s hand with three fingers on the meat of their thumb. In the henka, I step into a roundhouse strike and then trap uke’s arm to my chest. The pin is simply squeezing uke’s hand toward my chest while twisting the hand, thus grinding the bones of the hand and wrist together painfully.

4-- Osae Dori (straight-arm pinning art)
Waza: Uchikomi Dori
Henka: Variations on a straight-arm pin
Osae dori is a basic, straight-arm pin in which you press uke’s hand toward the elbow. In the waza, you can see a very direct circular twisting of the attacking arm to the floor. The final, standing pin involves rolling the foot over uke’s hand between the thumb and fingers, twisting the hand to the floor. The strange pose is not my attempt to look cool, but rather a precaution for keeping the balance. The henka shows a couple ways to reach a straight arm pin.

5-- Nage (throwing)
Waza: Hiki-Nage
Henka: Variations on Nage
This waza shows hiki-nage, a pulling throw. The idea is to use the rotating of the hips and pulling of the front arm to unbalance Uke. Again, waza is a demonstration of an idea: in this case, how to take balance. The henka shows two variations on throwing an opponent.

6-- Niho Nage (two direction throw)
Waza: Hamani Handachi: Yoko Katate Osae Dori
Henka: Variations on Niho-Nage
Do not let the name confuse you: this waza (Yoko Katate Osae Dori) is in fact a niho-nage pin. Strictly speaking “Osae Dori” simply means pinning art; although earlier I refer to it as a straight-arm pin for clarity. Niho-nage is any pin or throw which twists uke’s hand to the shoulder or bends his fingers backward toward the elbow. The henka shows both variations. In the first, uke’s hand is twisted to the shoulder and I pull his hand away from the neck, putting pressure on the elbow. In later variations, I bend the fingers.

7-- Otoshi (drop)
Waza: Ushiro Zeme Otoshi
Henka: Body Fulcrum Otoshi
Henka: Two More Variations
The difference between otoshi and nage—both forms of throwing—is the use of a fulcrum. Otoshi is any throw that uses a fulcrum to take uke’s balance. For the waza, it is necessary to drops one’s hips below an attackers center of gravity. You “load” Uke onto your hips. In the first henka, as Uke comes in to choke, I secure his arms and drop to the floor, creating a fulcrum from my body. In the second video, it dawned on me that the Judo “ogoshi” (major hip throw) also qualifies.

Though I passed my green belt test, I discovered that I need some work on the henka. It’s tough to “think on your feet” and learning the smooth transitions from one pin to another is something that can only be learned through repeated practice. What is encredible about Hakko Denshin Ryu, however, is the fact that you *can* easily transition from any technique to any other. As I have often stated before, this blog is not necessarily intended to teach—though if something can be learned, that is great—but I hope this gives an idea of the way in which waza (a basic demonstration of technique) can be applied to more realistic applications.

AS we often say, “there is no oops in Hakko Denshin Ryu” there is never a wrong move… just keep ahold and make Uke suffer! (thanks Uke!)

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Shiatsu Basic Seminar

On April 28th and 29th, the North/South American director of Hakko Denshin-Ryu Aiki-jujutsu, Souke Michael Lamonica, came to the Grand Rapid’s Kyoseikan dojo to lead a Shiatsu basic qualification course. For practitioners of Hakko Denshin-Ryu, basic certification in Shiatsu is required at the shodan level. This course, however, was open to the general public and, indeed, attracted a variety of people who do not regularly practice a martial art. This reflects positively the growing interest in alternative forms of medicine and the healthy benefits of massage.

Shiatsu (指圧), literally “finger pressure” is a style of Japanese massage that focuses on using the fingers and thumbs to apply pressure along major lines of the body. These “lines” closely follow nerve bundles which run from head to toe. By applying pressure, the shiatsu practitioner seeks to improve circulation and relieve stress in his or her… for lack of a better word, patient. In a more traditional sense, we take in energy with each breath. The Shiatsu massage follows, in a sequential order, the natural flow of this energy throughout the pathways of the body. If a patient experiences pain or tenderness, this could indicate a blockage. Blockages can be caused by stress or, in some cases, a more serious injury. The Shiatsu practitioner attempts to remove such blockages by massaging both the affected area as well as the holistic system. As Souke Lamonica explained, extreme tenderness in the bladder line, for example, might indicate a more deeply-ceded problem, such as infection, or simply that a patient is drinking too much coffee and not enough water.

In the basic course, we studied twelve of the body’s major meridian lines. Like meridians on the globe, these lines run up and down along the length of the body. Below I have listed the twelve meridians with a brief description of their locations:

--Boko-Kei (Bladder-Line): The bladder line runs along the back approximately one to two inches on either side of the spine. This line continues down the backside-center of either leg.

--Tan-Kei (Gallbladder-Line): The gallbladder line runs down the extreme outsides of the body, starting underneath the ear and running down the neck, continuing under the armpit and down the side, finally following the outside center of either leg.

--Jin-Kei (Kidney-Line): The kidney line runs up the back of the leg toward the inside of the bladder line. AS a point of reference, you can think of the kidney line as beginning between the Achilles’ tendon and the ball of the ankle on the inside of either leg.

--I-Kei (Stomach-Line): For our basic shiatsu course, the stomach line runs down the top center of either thigh. Past the knee, the stomach line continues just to the outside of the shinbone.

--Kan-Kei (Liver-Line): The liver line runs up the inside of the leg, following close to the shin. Past the knee, the liver line runs up the inside middle of the leg.

--Hi-Kei (Spleen-Line): The spleen line runs up the inside middle of the lower leg (straight up from the ball of the ankle). Past the knee, however, it crosses the liver line and runs up the leg between the liver and stomach lines.

--Daicho-Kei (Large Intestinal-Line): The large intestine line runs up the top-inside of the arm. You can think of the daicho-kei as beginning between the thumb and first finger.

--Sancho-Kei (Groin-Line): The groin line runs up the top center of the arm. You can think of the groin line as beginning with the middle finger.

--Shochu-Kei (Small Intestinal-Line): The small intestine line runs up the top-outside of the arm. You can think of it beginning between the ring and little fingers.

--Shin-Kei (Heart-Line): The heart line runs down the bottom-outside of the arm. You can think of it terminating with the ring and little fingers.

--Shinpo-Kei (Heart Area-Line): The heart area line runs down the bottom center of the arm. You can think of it as terminating with the middle finger.

--Hai-Kei (Lung-Line): The lung line runs down the bottom-inside of the arm. You can think of it as terminating with the thumb and first finger.

There are two points of difficulty I would like to explain for greater clarity. On the inside of the thigh, somewhere above the knee, the liver and spleen lines cross. Where the liver line is closer to the shin on the lower leg, it now becomes lower down and closer to mid-thigh. The spleen line, however, begins in the middle of the inner calf on the lower leg and crosses the liver line to set higher-up on the inner-thigh. At this point of crossing sets a particularly sensitive nerve bundle. A strike to this spot can be excruciatingly painful. It is also somewhat difficult, when beginning, to follow the meridians of the arm above the elbow. When following lines up from the hand, it sometimes helps to turn the patients arm slightly toward their own center when passing the elbow. This helps to expose the meridian lines which might otherwise be hidden by the bicep. Due to the way we hold our arms, it might be thought that the bicep is on the top surface of the arm. Actually, when dealing with the meridian lines, those that cross the bicep actually run to the underside of the forearm.

When beginning a shiatsu massage, we first set the spine. Because our backs bend and vertebrae become out of alignment during our daily lives, the shiatsu practitioner’s first duty is to settle the backbone straight. The patient lies flat with the face turned to one direction. The shiatsu practitioner places him or herself on the opposite side of the body from where their patient has the head turned. Then, with thumbs or fists placed one inch to either side of the spine, direct pressure is applied downward as the patient exhales. This is repeated several times down the length of the backbone. The process is repeated once more with the patient’s head turned toward the opposite direction. Now, with the fingers of one hand spread across the spine, a fist is gently dropped several times on the back of the hand. This process is repeated three times, moving from the base of the spine upward. This final “tapping” is a smaller settling of the vertebrae after the somewhat larger process of setting the spine.
After setting the spine, the Shiatsu practitioner continues by applying pressure along the various meridians. I have noted above the direction which the practitioner should move. The bladder line, for example, runs downward along the spine. Likewise, the massage must move downward. The kidney line, however, moves upward from the foot. Similarly, the massage moves upward.

There is a great deal of debate as to the health benefits of Shiatsu. All I will say regarding this topic is that shiatsu helps to relieve stress. The negative effects of stress on the body have been well documented. It is also important to note the positive emotional benefits of massage. Apart from the physical release of stress, massage creates an intimate connection between two people. Humans naturally crave physical closeness from their earliest years. Even if shiatsu does no more than provide physical closeness and a release of stresses, this is a health benefit in itself.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Souke Michael Lamonica

On August fifth, 1997, the Kokodo-Renmei (an umbrella organization for jujitsu consisting in hakko-Ryu shihans from around the world). Appointed three directors to carry on the art of Jujitsu as taught by Souke Ryuho Okuyama (1901-1987. In a gesture of unity and respect for their teacher’s memory, the North/South American and European directors agreed to call their styles Hakko Denshin-Ryu or The Heart of the Eighth Light. This past weekend, the North/South American director, Souke Michael Lamonica, visited Grand Rapids to give a shiatsu basic qualification seminar. In my next post I will concentrate on a detailed description of basic shiatsu as well as how it applies to the practice of jujitsu. First, however, I would like to dedicate a post to the story of Souke Lamonica.

I honestly find myself lacking the words adequate to describe Souke Michael Lamonica. I have met some amazing sensei throughout my travels, in both the U.S. and Japan, and Souke Lamonica deserves recognition as being among the best. Humble, humorous and, above all, an expert in the art of aiki-jujitsu, Souke Lamonica has had a life well worthy of a biography. I strive here to share some small part of his character and active life in the martial arts.

Michael Lamonica began training in the martial arts while serving in the U.S. Marine Corps in the late 1950s. Beginning with Chinese Kempo and Judo, Lamonica soon met James Benko—the then head of U.S. Hakko-Ryu jujitsu—and quickly discovered the value of Jujitsu as a form of self defense. While working as a police officer in Akron Ohio, Lamonica was shot in the face. Because the gun had been knocked slightly askew at the moment of firing, the bullet entered his cheek, ricocheted off the bone, and exited through his temple. His assailant then put the gun to Lamonica’s forehead, intending that a second shot would not miss. Lamonica, however, used a variation of the jujitsu technique known as “Kanoha” to disarm and secure his attacker. Holding his attacker fast, Lamonica then marched his would-be murderer to a nearby phone where he could call for police backup.

Incredibly, Souke Lamonica returned to work after only two days of rest. As he told me jokingly, “What bothered me most was that my uniform was ruined—it was covered in blood. You see, at the time, we had to buy our own uniforms on the force.”

It was at this time that Lamonica dedicated his life to the study of Hakko-Ryu Jujitsu. It was jujitsu, after all, that saved his life. In 1975 Lamonica traveled for the first time to Japan, where he trained with the Tokyo riot police. The following year he returned and again the year after. It was in Japan where Lamonica became a trusted friend of the founder of Hakko-ryu, Shodai Ryuho Okuyama. Lamonica became the highest ranked non-oriental practitioner of Hakko-Ryu and eventually received menkyo-kaiden (literally: license and initiation, meaning a person has received the qualification of having been initiated into the deepest secrets of an art). Menkyo-kaiden is a very old, very traditional practice from before the time of “dan” rankings. The menkyo-kaiden comes in the form of hand scrolls that are passed from a master to his most trusted students.
Michael Lamonica served for twenty-one years on the Akron Police Force. He then served another fifteen years as chief of police nearer to his home in Fairlawn. Over the course of his career, Lamonica has trained with both the FBI and CIA as well as teaching an accredited personal defense course with his wife, Chris, at Akron University.

I have rarely met a Sensei who could so captivate his students. As we watched Souke casually disable our Sensei, Matt Pinard, it was encredible to see how little effort is needed when Jujitsu is practiced correctly. After the seminar, I asked Souke if I might film a short video with him. In this clip:
Souke Lamonica demonstrating seated Mune Osaidori

Pay attention to the short and small movements that create such powerful techniques. I asked Souke to demonstrate a seated technique because, especially when seated, the small movements become most readily apparent. This technique—Mune Osaidori—is part of the “shodan waza” or first degree techniques. Though this situation might not occur in a real-world situation, waza are designed to emphasize specific aspects of jujitsu. In the following clip, I am now performing the same seated waza to Souke. My apologies for the background noise—these videos were taken at the conclusion of our three-day shiatsu seminar—it is not so necessary to hear what is being said. At the end of this clip, Souke’s wife, Chris, assists me on the hand positioning for the pin. As with most techniques in Jujitsu, the pin is made stronger by a pushing and pulling movement. While I push against Souke’s knuckles—effectively bending his hand toward his own arm—I am also using my little finger on his palm to pull outward.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

The Three Wiseass Monkeys

Over the past few weeks, I have been writing blog entries primarily regarding my last couple months in Japan. Though I do have a few more of these tales yet to tell, I have not been idol in the meanwhile. I have continued my training here at home with renewed vigor. It is about this training, then, that I would like to devote the next three posts.

Several months ago I posted an entry about the Three Wise Monkeys. This is a famous symbol in Japan used during the Tokugawa Shogunate to represent the proper way to live: hear not, see not, and speak not. Some have given the ancient phrase a more modern interpretation: hear no evil, see no evil, and speak no evil. In 17th century Japan, however, these were maxims by which a samurai lived his life.

This age-old symbol was given a new meaning today as I was training with my father and our Sensei, Dave Mata, at the Grand Rapids Kyoseikan dojo. Due to the fact this was a day-class, when many people are working, it was just the three of us. My father, who began training in Aikido at the age of 67—who says you can’t teach an old dog knew tricks—is legally deaf. He usually doesn’t wear his hearing aids during class for fear of damaging them. Mata Sensei, on the other hand, claims to find verbally explaining techniques to be very difficult. As for me… well, I’m just blind.

So here you have a deaf monkey, a blind monkey, and a monkey who can’t explain what he’s doing; how do they work together? After spending several minutes trying to describe his movements while taking ukemi—safely falling—Mata Sensei suggested a very intuitive strategy for the three of us. While Sensei slowly moved through a fall, he asked my father to explain, in his own words, how it looked. Does this sound simple? Try to explain, in detail, the position of your body as you climb the stairs or even move from standing to sitting in a chair. Are your hips forward or back? How is your balance distributed over your feet; is your weight forward or back? These motions, which we take for granted, are very difficult to explain when moving slowly. Sensei, who has been “learning how to fall” for over fifteen years, does it without thinking. I myself have been training in Aikido for nine years and the falls have always been something I enjoyed. My father, though, has only been training for a year. These movements are not yet ingrained so deeply in his muscle memory.

Ukemi—falling—is not a simple, once you’ve learned it you’re finished, process. AS you age and your body accrues injuries and stiffness, ukemi is something you must develop and think about. The intent of this entry, however, is not to focus on a discussion of ukemi but rather on this interesting style of teaching. I believe Mata Sensei’s casual suggestion touches upon a very important piece of teaching methodology for the blind or visually impaired. I believe it can also serve equally well for sighted people both beginners and advanced, if for a slightly different reason.
Each person “sees” the world slightly differently. I realized this in particular when visiting an art museum with two friends in Japan. Each of my friends would describe the same painting, but using completely different words. While one friend spoke of the emotions she felt while looking at the image, the other friend talked in more detail about the specific techniques used to create the image. Though each person described the same picture, for me it was as though I had viewed two separate paintings: one a moving, emotional picture while the other was more detailed and graphic. Similarly, the same technique or, in this case, ukemi described by two separate people can touch upon details that one person alone might have missed. A concrete example from today’s class occurred when my father mention the way Sensei turned his hips to keep balance while falling forward into a front ukemi. While Mata Sensei had described to me how he kept weight back and lowered his knee as close to the ground as possible before shifting forward, turning his hips was something he had done without realizing. Again, I am not trying to teach ukemi with this post. I am only discussing a strategy for teaching.
Similarly, this same process of describing a technique can apply for sighted people as well, but the other way around. Especially when first learning, talking your way through an action may help you to more fully understand what it is you are doing. If anything, it may help you become a better teacher in the long run as it helps you to continuously think about your movements. Sometimes, talking yourself through may help you find the point you are missing. It really helps to bring a more conscious awareness to the activity you are performing.

The three little monkeys finally all fell successfully off the bed and landed safely on the tatami. Mata Sensei is, in the end, a very skilled instructor. I would not return to his dojo each time I am in G.R. if I did not feel I could learn from him. Sensei is constantly seeking to become a better teacher—a better “sensei—and this is more valuable than knowing how to describe each technique in detail. It is more important because, after all, each person learns differently. Mata Sensei seeks ways to adjust his instruction for his students.