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Friendship class at Aikido of Maine

by on August 10, 2016

Notes from Friday, August 5th Aikido of Maine Friendship seminar with Sensei Don Ellingsworth from Aikido Chuseikan in Tampa Florida.

(I try to write up a few notes from most of the seminars I attend, and I try to post notes that are interesting and at least semi-coherent to the blog.)

Big fall cycle

The first part of the workshop was devoted to big round Aikikai-type falls. It was one of the best progressions that I have seen.

Step one was rolling around on the ground in a big ball until it started to become an ab workout.

Step two was like the early sections of the Myanmar Aikido video to which Shane brought my attention. The two versions introduced first involved reaching across and back towards the knee and then extending the other hand (as in the Myanmar video) or extending the arm horizontally and touching the shoulder to the mat (as I have seen systema people do).

Things to focus on while doing these exercises were stretching out as big as possible and moving slowly. The goal was to not have the feet thud down, in fact, not to have any tipping points where the movement became inevitable. Those points that we did encounter we were encouraged to focus on. The next step of difficulty was to roll backwards along the same path.

As I got better at the first to movements sensei came over and showed me another way to start which was (and I forget exactly how he worked it) from lying chest down on the ground with arms extended.

The next set of exercises involved one person in a group getting down on their hands and knees and providing a horse to fall over.

The first exercise was to walk up to the “horse” with palms out and chest fully open. A wider stance made it easier (and appropriate height). Step one was to bend forward, and step two was to drape both upper body and lower body over the partner and very slowly maneuver to the ground with no tipping points. In this exercise we were fully square, not side-on. I failed to drape my legs the first time I did this and sensei pointed it out, so remember that the legs are not one stiff unit.

The next step returned to a more familiar big-ball angle by coming up with one of our arms held across our body. That arm having made contact we would then drape ourselves, reach for the mat with the other arm, and again control our descent.

The final stage of difficulty in this cycle was to walk up and slowly fall in one smooth motion.

The next set of drills involved taking a nastier-looking fall across tori’s body.

In the first in this cycle uke would put a hand on each of tori’s shoulders and walk forward. Tori would gently guide uke to one side and then take a knee. The knee up was the inside knee. Uke would walk almost past tori and lower slightly so that the forward (also inside knee) was getting towards horizontal with the ground then – this was important – place the outside hand fully hineri’ed on tori’s inside shoulder. Tori would then guide uke slowly to the ground. I believe the hineri’ed arm was the one that reached.

The next step was to do from a tenkan kotegaeshi from a punch. I remember being somewhat confused by the choreography because Aikikai and ASU folks seem to have set rules about which side is attacked depending on which exaggerated stance is taken, and I have never bothered to work this out. There also may have been a stance switch involved in the tenkan. At any rate you just bring uke around in at least three quarters of a big circle and have your inside knee up where uke’s orbital path crosses you. The exact same procedure should be used for the fall.

The final exercise in this cycle was shihonage, which we JAA lineage folks take backfalls out of 99% of the time except for a few who take the old fall on some older kata.

I had trouble working this one out because of my instinct to go immediately into a backbend where the opposite is actually required – you want to square up to tori as if you are trying to hold a frame as dance partners. The movement should be very similar to the previous techniques.

Tai no Tenkan cycle

It is very common for Aikikai and ASU seminars to begin with tai no tenkan and then a technique working from tai no tenkan. For Tomiki folks unfamiliar with tai no tenkan it is very similar to the mirror hand gedan kuzushi from the kuzushiwaza, with a little less emphasis on the gedan.

We worked on a series of techniques intended to illustrate the martial considerations of tai no tenkan.

Open for Punch: tori would perform tai no tenkan and then swing his arm a bit to the outside which created an opening for uke to punch. After working on this for a bit so that uke would learn the punch correctly, we then started mixing it up: uke would always try to punch, but tori try to keep the opening shut sometimes and not others.

Captured from shomenuchi: one person would do shomenuchi, the other person would block with the inside arm then feed it to the lower outside arm. The person being grabbed would then perform tai no tenkan.

Grab and throw kaiten nage: Uke would just offer an arm out front and tori would grab mirror hand and using a backfeed break them towards the forward triangle point, then, taking the neck with the free hand and swinging the arm around, throw with kaiten nage.

Once we hand become familiar with this throw  person being grabbed would then try to perform tai no tenkan to prevent the kaiten nage. We were advised to resist but not compete ; )

I find these days that, while I am attracted to some styles of aikido over others, I am most drawn towards instructors who have a more complete grasp of their particular style. Each style has it’s strengths and weaknesses, and each style must account for them. More than one equilibrium is possible.

There is a flavor of Aikikai/ASU that takes up enormous stances and allows them to make big, punishing-looking throws, which then necessitates an ukemi designed to absorb these (realistically low-chance but high-reward) falls.

Showmanship plays a role here, but in their bigness I do think the better practitioners gain some insight into connection and body-mechanics which are not always developed in other styles. I would like to develop my capacity for that bigness, because I think with that capacity comes other skills which are actually important.

Sensei Don Ellingsworth has a very well-developed skill set and it was a pleasure and privilege to be able to attend his class.

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