Weapons – Refining Technique, Forging Spirit

This is the twenty-third in this series of 26 posts, one for each letter of the alphabet, that I am writing during the Blogging from A to Z Challenge, April 2016. You can find all the posts, as they are published throughout the month, by following the A-to-Z April 2016 tag.   


W is for Weapons.

At most Aikido schools training with weapons is an integral part of the practice. Much of Aikido comes from working with weapons. We train with weapons to refine our technique, posture, connection, and attention.

In Aikido we use wooden weapons, often referred to simply as “sticks.” Commercially-available ones are usually made of oak or hickory. Some woodworkers offer them in other woods, too. Resilience is important, since we parry and block, making forceful contact with our partners’ sticks. A weapon made of brittle wood or one with flaws in the grain could be very dangerous in practice.

Kinds of weapons:

If you visit many dojo or travel to seminars you will see a lot of types of weapons, including long and short wooden swords, various lengths of staffs, practice knives, and other interesting things. The three most common ones you will see in an Aikido dojo are:

  • The bokken [BOH-ken], which is a striking or bludgeoning instrument, and also used as a stand-in for a sword, so that we may safely practice sword techniques. A bokken is about 40″ long with an oval cross-section, and a slight curve along its length. It has a handle end and a tip end, and also a front and back. In training we treat the front side as if it were a sharp edge of a blade, like a sword. This is so we can practice realistic techniques without getting into sloppy habits like grabbing the blade. That would be a problem with a real sword!
  • The jo [JOE] is a staff – a weapon in its own right – not a wooden version of anything else. It is used primarily for thrusting or striking. A jo is about 50″ long, and is simply a straight, slender, round stick. Basically a very high-quality broom handle.
  • The tanto [TAN-toe] is a wooden practice knife, about 12″ long. Like the bokken, a tanto has a handle end and a blade end, and a front (edge) and back. We also treat it as if it were a sharp, “live” blade.

What we do with weapons.

There are several kinds of practice that feature weapons.

  • Suburi [soo-BURR-ee] are individual techniques, like a single strike or thrust. I think of these as being analogous to words. We practice suburi with the bokken and jo. In the school of weapons we practice at our dojo there are 7 bokken suburi and 20 jo suburi.
  • Kata [KAH-tah] are set sequences of techniques that make up a choreographed solo demonstration. If suburi are like words, then doing a kata would be like reciting a sentence or two.
  • Dori [DOOR-ee] are take-aways. We do these with all three types of weapons. Your partner comes at you with their weapon, and you take it from them, throwing or pinning them in the process. In this context we use a different word for sword, so we say tachi-dori instead of bokken-dori. We also practice jo-dori, and tanto-dori.
  • Nage [NAH-gay] is the same word we saw earlier, under “N.” In this context it means to use your weapon to throw your partner. You have a weapon, your partner tries to take it, but you keep it, and throw them instead. These are called tachi-nage and jo nage.
  • There are also many partner practices where both people have weapons, either the same kind (jo vs. jo) or different (jo vs. bokken).

Training in most Aikido techniques requires a partner. But weapons suburi and kata are excellent for practicing solo, at home or anywhere else you have a safe, large space. This is great if you have a cold or can’t come to the dojo for some reason. At least you can get a little practice in.

Why practice with weapons?

It’s very unlikely the someone would ever attack you with a sword, or a staff. Maybe a knife, but that’s still a long shot. Unless we are just into doing Samurai period historical reenactments, why bother? Good question. Originally I had no interest in messing around with weapons, pretending to be a ninja, swinging fake swords. Blecch. But then a few months into training I got my days mixed up and accidentally found myself in an hour-long weapons class. It wasn’t anything like I’d expected.

Here are a few reasons to include weapons practice in your training:

  • Alignment is critical in all Aikido techniques. Weapons practice helps us work our alignment, both our own body’s posture and positioning, and our orientation relative to our partner.
  • We develop our senses and skills around spacing and timing in all Aikido techniques. For instance, we move in as soon as our partner shows an intention to attack. In weapons partner practices, the correctness of the spacing and timing becomes immediately clear, giving us useful feedback and helping us to continuously improve.
  • Many empty-hand techniques come from weapons techniques. Understanding their derivation can help us practice and refine the empty-hand techniques more effectively.
  • Weapons practice, even more so than regular training, can be a moving meditation. When we are working on our own we can go slowly and deliberately, feeling our way through. We can notice more – how our breath is in sync with the motion, how we settle into a stable stance at the end of a strike, how our energy and intention is forward, directed into our partner’s center, not shrinking back, recoiling. It’s not uncommon to repeat the same suburi (a single, solo technique) over, and over, and over, sometimes hundreds of times, being aware of every detail.
  • Training with weapons can be very challenging, and sometimes scary. Our partner is swinging a heavy stick at our head, and we have to get out of the way! It improves our ability to remain calm and respond appropriately, even when things get difficult.
  • It’s a lot of fun!

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

“Iron is full of impurities that weaken it; through the forging fire, it becomes steel and is transformed into a razor-sharp sword. Human beings develop in the same fashion.”
~ Morihei Ueshiba, O Sensei
The founder of Aikido

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Shinken

A sword with a live (sharp) blade is called a shinken. When we are handling one of these 3-foot long razor blades – which is essentially what they are – we need to be alert and totally present. This is not the time to be thinking about your presentation at work tomorrow, or glancing over to see who just walked into the dojo. Being distracted, inattentive, or careless could easily cost us a few fingers, or even get someone killed.

There is a special sense to the attitude we have when working with live blades, right down to a specific way of handing a sword to someone. We need to have our attention fully on what we are doing, always being aware of the blade, and also aware of things around us. This intense, serious focus is also called shinken, after the word for sword. This quality of presence is desirable in all our training, and is especially important when working with weapons, even wooden ones.

In Japan, the word shinken is used for the attitude we should have when dealing with any very serious issue, reflecting the life-or-death nature of the matter. Like so many things in Aikido, we can benefit in our daily life from the lessons from training with weapons. If we are able to stay calm and focused on the mat, we can take that skill out into other conflicts or challenges in our lives.


Linda Eskin is a writer, Aikido student, personal trainer, horse person (with a pet donkey), and former software/web industry professional (tech comm and UX). She is currently completing two books for students of Aikido, one for children and one for adult beginners. Linda trains with Dave Goldberg Sensei at Aikido of San Diego, in California, and holds the first black belt rank, sho-dan. Sho-dan literally means “beginning rank.”

An Intense Intensive

I have just returned from George Ledyard Sensei’s 4-Day Randori Intensive at Aikido Eastside in Bellevue, Washington, near Seattle.

Wow.

For my non-Aikido friends, randori is a multiple attacker scenario, usually one of you, three of them. It can be intimidating and exhausting training (and a lot of fun). Four days of it… Whoa.

I first heard of this seminar shortly after I started training in Aikido. At the time it had been offered for 20 years! It sounded amazing. Four full days of weapons and randori work. One of the intended audiences for the seminar is people preparing for dan (black belt) exams. The word “Intensive” isn’t just in the title to sound cool on the flyer.

Wouldn’t it be amazing to be able to go? A learning experience and rite of passage rolled into one. I always thought it would be fun to take the train up, too! 1,500 miles. See a whole lot of the country on the way.

For the first few years I didn’t have the required rank (or skill, obviously) to go. When I first met Ledyard Sensei in person I mentioned that to him – that I was looking forward to the time I would be able to participate in this seminar.

Then last year, when I did qualify to go, budget and timing interfered. Also, knowing more about weapons I became concerned about that aspect. My training is based on Saito Sensei’s weapons, and theirs comes from Saotome Sensei. I don’t know their forms at all – not even some of the terminology. I thought I would be lost and in the way. Underfoot, you know.

So with that combination of factors in the mix I didn’t go. I gave up the whole idea of going. I figured I’d do a different seminar with Ledyard Sensei one day, but none really called to me the way this one had.

Life went on… My teacher asked me to test for shodan (first black belt) this coming December (2014), so I’ve been training extra diligently. I’m not working regular hours now, as I lay the foundation for a major career change. Meanwhile, Michael and I undertook some home renovations, and I happened to put all the purchases on my formerly-unused Amtrak mileage credit card to keep them separate.

Then this spring I saw the event listing for the upcoming 2014 seminar: “4-Day Randori Intensive with George Ledyard at Aikido Eastside.” Wait, what? Randori only! No weapons! The 25th year it’s been offered. “The 2014 seminar will be specifically geared to ASU Yudanhsa Test preparation and is intended for teachers preparing students for testing and test candidates and ukes. However, it is open to students from any organization.”

Holy crap!

I had time. I had a free train trip. I had enough rank/experience. I had a yudansha exam coming up. OMG! It was perfect! How could I not go?

But being, ahem, “between careers” means money no longer grows on trees. Staying in a hotel and renting a car would have been a problem. I asked a friend who trains there if she knew of anyone who would let me crash on their couch, maybe in exchange for my paying their registration. Bless her heart (and her husband, too), she invited me to stay with them.

I registered for the seminar back in May, and made the train reservations (2 days each direction). Then I got my gis mended, ordered a shinai (more on that in a moment), and packed everything I might need for an adventure on rails and at the dojo. Finally I was really going to go! 

I was pretty nervous, I’ll admit. Being on unfamiliar turf is always challenging. I tried to keep an open mind, remembering to enjoy and learn from whatever we did, but my hopes were so high there was a lot of potential for disappointment.

I was not disappointed in any way.

I knew the group would be small. It’s limited for maximum personal attention. But you know how sometimes the first day of a weekend seminar is even smaller because people can’t get Friday off work? Yeah… For the first morning we had four participants on the mat. Me, three sandans (if I recall correctly), and Ledyard Sensei, a rokudan instructor with 25 years experience teaching this particular seminar (and way more than that, overall). That’s some serious hands-on personal attention. There was no hiding in the back row here! As the weekend went on, more people arrived, but there was still constant attention to each student, with immediate and specific feedback, corrections, and coaching.

We worked on (among other things, and in no particular order) strategies for starting randori, direct techniques (dropping people where you wanted to), managing the relative positions of the attackers, using one attacker against the others (throwing them at each other, and using them as barriers or shields), seeing the lines of attack, judging (and creating) spacing and timing, executing techniques quickly (so as not to get bogged down with any one person), and getting out of trouble. We also worked on good (useful) ukemi for randori and with shinai, and safety in training at speed in groups.

Something completely new to me, but it’s on their tests, was randori with shinai. Three attackers wielding padded bamboo sticks. The techniques are like our bokken work (sword-like), but with shinai you can actually aim to clobber someone and not do any damage if they fail to get out of the way. That means the attackers don’t need to hold back when they come after you. We did several exercises in dealing with attackers coming from different directions, and I got to see a few full-speed shinai randori with people who were preparing for their exams.

On Saturday afternoon one of the dojo members took her shodan exam, too. I was lucky to be there to see it. It was a very impressive test!

I meant to do daily blog posts after the seminar each evening, but I was too mentally and physically exhausted, plus we had to get dinner, and needed to be up early the next morning, so that didn’t work out.

On the train ride home I alternated staring out the window with writing notes from everything I’d learned. It’s actually kind of hard to write on a train – too many distractions and too much being jostled about. But I wrote a bunch anyway. Assuming I can read my handwriting later I have a big chunk of a hardbound journal filled with notes, sketches, and ideas to play with and refer back to in coming months and years.

——-

Something that has been particularly touching for me is everyone who made it possible for me to participate in this event. This was not just some random thing I thought it would be a hoot to do on a lark – it was a long time dream and goal to be there. I try to be a pretty independent, self-reliant person, but I simply could not have done this without a lot of support.

I’m so grateful to my friend and her husband for making it possible for me to be there. I’ve been on that side of hosting people during seminars, and while it can be fun it’s still a major disruption to deal with a house guest when you’re already quite busy enough as it is. They and their cats were awesome hosts, and I really enjoyed my time with them. I hope I can repay their gracious hospitality someday.

Much appreciation to my husband, Michael, for making it possible for me to be away from home. He took over care of feeding of our donkey, an assortment of cats, and a friendly raccoon who expects dinner each night, not to mention keeping our acre of thirsty trees happy during hot weather. Plus he did a bunch extra yard work while I was away! Oh, and got me to the train station at oh-dark-hundred, and then picked me up again in the wee hours when I came home.

I so appreciate everyone at the Intensive. Some folks had participated many times before, and are teachers in their own right. I was the newbie in the bunch, and the lowest-ranked, but they never let me feel like an outsider. They made me feel right at home at the dojo, and were generous and gracious in their coaching on the mat. But no taking it easy on the new kid – they were determined that I should do my best, and worked with me with warmth, compassion, and high expectations. And for that I humbly thank them. :-)

Most importantly, many thanks to George Ledyard Sensei for his attentive, demanding, thoughtful teaching, for leading such a great community of aikidoka. Oh, and for some pretty funny stories over lunches, too. I hope to have many more opportunities to train with him.

——-

Whether you have heard of this seminar for years and just haven’t gotten around to going, or are learning of it for the first time here, go. Put it on your 2015 calendar now, and just go. I cannot recommend it highly enough. Every aspect of the event exceeded my already high hopes. It was challenging, technical, fun, useful, supportive, demanding, friendly, detailed, clear, funny, and intense. It definitely lives up to its name.

Photos from the 2014 Randori Intensive on Facebook:

https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10153275674208484.1073741826.113852463483&type=1

Ideas for Seminar Organizers: Weapons

Having been to a good few seminars where weapons (wooden sticks, that is) were part of the training, I have some thoughts to share.

First, if you’re organizing a seminar, for heaven’s sake please be clear about whether participants should bring sticks or not. I have been left wondering many times, and either had to bring them just in case, or leave them home and hope they wouldn’t be needed. I’ve been wrong both ways.

Please give abundant notice. I’ve been part of a large group flying to a seminar where we were all scrambling two days before the event to buy and/or build airline-appropriate carrying tubes. Given that we were trying to get other things handled before traveling it would have been a lot easier to have dealt with the stick-transportation problem weeks ahead of time instead of at the last minute.

And after all that, we didn’t use them anyway. *headdesk*

Not everyone has their own weapons. Sometimes there are loaners available, sometimes not, and often not enough to go around. The first seminar I went to was actually a retreat, and was to be fairly weapons-centric. I rush-ordered an inexpensive set of weapons (and basically had to refinish them on arrival – the night before the event) to be sure I would be able to fully participate in the weekend’s training.

It’s great to have extras for participants to borrow. It’s a pretty iffy prospect for the participants, though. Maybe they’ll get one, maybe not. It seems there are always a few folks pantomiming what was shown, stick-less, during a seminar. It might be nice to specifically arrange loaners when people sign up. Another check box on the form: “Will you be [ ] bringing your own sticks, or [ ] need to borrow a set?” Dojo members or other local participants could help out by bringing any extras they have.

Also, as a participant, I bring whatever spares I can carry from my own small collection. Someone has always needed to use them. Encourage people to bring any they can share. Just be sure they are clearly marked. No one would deliberately run off with another student’s weapons (right?), but they could get them mixed up with the loaners or something. Make it easy for people to see who they belong to and return them.

Bringing sticks on planes can be expensive! On a recent trip my sticks tube, which counts as a checked bag, cost $25 each way. I split that with a friend (it holds two sets, plus one extra jo), but still… As an organizer be mindful of this when asking folks to bring their sticks along “just in case.”

There’s also the risk that they could be damaged or lost. I have a decent inexpensive set for “away” seminars. My good ones don’t go on planes. Good thing, too – on this last return trip my sticks took an extra day getting home, and for a while there the airline seemed to have no recollection of them at all.

Here are a couple of “out of the box” ideas for seminar organizers:

Provide a local address (the dojo, a member’s business…) where out of town participants could ship their sticks (or other heavy, big, or awkward things like sleeping bags, extra blankets, etc.) so they don’t have to schlep them on a plane.

If your dojo could use more sticks for general use in class or seminars, consider offering the option for participants to contribute to their purchase. For instance, buying this 10-pack of jo means they cost about $30 each. If a visiting seminar participant could “rent” a bokken and jo for $25 it could potentially save them (net) $25 in checked baggage fees, plus a lot of hassle in getting their own weapons to the seminar, and you’d have loaners for next time, and for your regular classes. After a few seminars they’d be fully paid off. Win-win!

At one big seminar locally, where lots of people travel to be there, they used only tanto. Easy to pack, no special luggage required. I thought that was a really thoughtful idea, and it was interesting to see how each of the instructors approached teaching with tanto.

I’d love to hear any other ideas for making it easier for people to get sticks to seminars, too!

Late at Night

I hope my neighbors are in their beds, dreaming their dreams, late at night.
I hope they are sound sleepers, sawing logs, not bothered by much.
I hope they are not nosy; not peering from their windows with the lights out.

It’s bad enough I feed the donkeys after class, and sometimes after dinner.
The braying at 10:30 could be trying if my neighbors were awake.
The clatter of cat food into dishes, and splashing of water into large bowls,
Might not be too bad. At least the kitties are well enough behaved.

I hope my neighbors are not fearful.

They would surely wonder what that crazy Eskin lady is doing now,
out there in the dark, swinging and swirling a rake handle overhead
while the donkeys munch their hay.

“Has she at last gone completely mad?”

How could they know that practicing the 20 jo suburi in the stillness
is the perfect way to settle down before settling into bed?

If they do see, I hope my neighbors don’t worry.

“Why on earth is she lying on the driveway, on her back, at 2 a.m.?”
Maybe they haven’t seen the observatory in the yard.
Maybe they didn’t read the news about the meteor shower.

“And why is that rake handle lying across across her chest?”
Perhaps they haven’t noticed the raccoons,
Who’ve come to eat the cat food.

Ten Tips for Your First Weapons Class

When I first started in Aikido weapons held no fascination for me at all. I never watched Samurai movies. I was not fascinated by Ninjas. OK, so yeah, I had a throwing star years ago, but that’s about as far as it went. I wasn’t planning on training with weapons at all, in fact. And then one time I had my days mixed up, and ended up in a weapons class by accident. And I loved it. Go figure.

Weapons training can help us understand open-hand techniques better, and helps develop better alignment and grounding. At our dojo we can start training in weapons right away. The classes are not reserved for advanced students. In fact one student recently did the weapons class as his very first-ever Aikido class, and he did fine.

Weapons work can seem mysterious There’s more confusing etiquette and tradition to figure out, and even more new words to learn. Plus there are people swinging sticks at you! It can be a little intimidating. So if you’re thinking about trying weapons classes, but are a little nervous about the whole thing, take heart, you will do just fine. Here are ten tips to help you jump in:

  1. In my experience at our dojo, just before class the instructor will announce which kind of weapon you will be using. The long straight ones are “jo” and the shorter curved ones are “bokken.” The little ones in the basket on the floor are “tanto.”
  2. Most dojo have some school weapons, that anyone may use. If you aren’t sure which are OK, ask. At Aikido of San Diego these are marked “ASD” on the end. The rest of the weapons belong to other students. At another local dojo there are separate racks for “public” and “private” weapons. In general, don’t mess with other people’s weapons. Another student will be happy to help you pick one out if you aren’t sure what to do.
  3. What I have seen people do most often is a standing bow toward the shomen, holding the weapon horizontally in front of them, when they step onto the mat, and when they step off the mat after class. At your dojo people may do seated bows. Keep your eyes open and follow the example of the senior students.
  4. Be very aware of what’s going on around you whenever anyone is training with weapons, and watch out behind you when you are training. It’s easy to hit the wall when you raise a weapon to strike. Watch out behind and around other people when you are on the mat! We aren’t used to people doing things behind themselves, or out to the side, but if you walk behind someone as they are coming around for a strike you could get clobbered.
  5. Notice where others place their weapons before and after bowing in (to their left or right), and how other students hand weapons back and forth with their partners (horizontally? vertically? with a bow?) and follow their example. I recently went to a weapons seminar where nearly everything was done the opposite of what I’m used to doing. When in Rome, and all that!
  6. Control your weapon during training. Don’t throw or drop it by accident! It should probably go without saying, but… No horseplay. Or Ninja/Samurai play, either. Be respectful and safe. These are real weapons and they can cause real damage.
  7. It’s OK to rest the end of your jo on the mat, but never use a jo or bokken to help you get up off the mat, and never lean on it for support. This puts permanent dents in the mat – especially with bokken that have a pointy end. Golfers won’t need to be told this. They know better than to use a club when getting up from the ground. Same idea, except in golf it’s the club that would be damaged. In Aikido it would be the mat.
  8. Never hit or touch someone with a weapon, even gently, when practicing. It’s rude. Always stop short of touching them.
  9. Stepping on or tripping over a weapon on the mat is an easy way to get injured. When we aren’t using our weapons for a few minutes during class (such as when only one partner needs to have a weapon), we put them down right up against the wall.
  10. Be alert to any local oddities, regardless of what you might have read or heard of as being “the correct way” of doing things. Some dojo have interesting little customs of their own. For instance, even though it’s not “normal weapons etiquette” to do this, when we are sitting and watching the instructor demonstrate a technique we often tuck our weapons around behind us, against the wall if there is in any danger that someone might step on them.

See? That’s not so bad. Pay attention, train safely, and have fun! 

These weapons are my 3rd kyu / 49th birthday gift to myself. They are from Kingfisher, where you have the option of having them inscribed with any of a zillion words or phrases. I can’t read them, but I hope the bokken, at the top, says spiritual forging, a primary focus in training. The tanto, at the bottom, says kindness, grace, or mercy, a reminder for dealing with attacks of all kinds. The jo, in the middle, says a dream that comes true, which is what Aikido is, for me.

p.s. The jo, the one in the middle, is upside down! Lucky for me Michael just gave me the book “Easy Kanji” for a birthday present. :-) 

Weapons Words – The Big Picture

Weapons work shares many words with open-hand training, but weapons also have a lot of words of their own. There are a bunch of numbered things, too, and those can be really confusing until you have a sort of framework for understanding them.

So here are some words about weapons stuff, starting with the basics. There will be another couple of posts going into jo words and bokken words. Often you’ll hear technique names with the numbers in Japanese. That will be another post, too.

I’m just going to cover the wooden weapons we use in regular training here. Maybe we’ll look at katana, shinai, iato, shinken, and other weapons words later.

The Sticks

Jo – The longer straight one that looks like a rake handle.

Bokken – The somewhat shorter one with a little curve to it, like a sword. Also sometimes referred to as just ken. You’ll also hear tachi in the names of bokken or sword exercises.

Tanto – The little one, about the size of a hunting knife.

The Kinds of Things We Do with Sticks

One of the most confusing things for me, when I was first trying to figure this stuff out, was sorting out the kinds of things we were doing. Not the specific instances, but the groupings. One exercise would be a suburi, another would be a kata, sometimes we practiced awase… I couldn’t figure out what was what.  It’s hard even to describe. Let’s just get right to it.

Suburi are discrete techniques, or very small groups of techniques, that you do by yourself. They are the very first things you learn.

They are like learning words or phrases in a language. You’ll put them together later to form more complex expressions and conversations.

You will see the suburi referred to in numbered groupings, like the “20 jo suburi” or “ken suburi 1-7” For some reason the jo suburi have names, and the bokken suburi are numbered. We’ll get into those in detail in a couple of other posts. 

Kata are sets of techniques, still done alone, strung together in a prescribed way, each flowing into the next.

If we stick with the “suburi are like words” concept, kata are like poems. You memorize them and recite them. Like reciting poetry, everyone will have their own subtle ways of expressing kata, but we don’t change the words.

You’ll hear numbers when talking about kata, too. The “31 jo kata” is everywhere – it’s a string of 31 movements. You’ll also see the 13 jo kata, which has 13 movements. No reason you couldn’t make up your own, either, but mostly we practice the set ones handed down to us. There are bokken kata, too.

This is where the numbered stuff starts to get weird. The jo kata are made up of the number of techniques in the name: 13 jo kata, 31 jo kata, etc. But the bokken kata are numbered: bokken kata 1, bokken kata 2, etc.

But back to the kinds of things we do…

Awase are prescribed sets of techniques that you do with a partner. One partner in an awase does a familiar suburi or kata, and the other partner does the appropriate techniques that complement it. These are basic exercises to learn timing and distance when working in relation to another. The suburi you have been learning will begin to make more sense in the context of practicing awase.

If suburi are words and phrases, and kata are poems, then awase are very simple conversations, the kind you learn when studying a new language. “Good morning.” “Good morning.” “Where is the library?” “Is there there, on the left.” “Thank you.” “You are welcome.” Very simple, perhaps a bit formal, and not quite how a real conversation might go, but a necessary step in becoming fluent. 

The two simplest are left awase, and right awase. Then there’s a little more number weirdness… You’ll hear the “5th awase” and “7th awase” mentioned. These are just partner practices incorporating the 5th and 7th suburi. (There are no 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, or 6th awase.)

Kumitachi and Kumijo are partner practices that more closely simulate an actual fight, using the bokken and jo, respectively.

The distinction between awase and kumitachi/kumijo seems fuzzy to me. There is a partner practice based on the 31 jo kata, for instance, that I see referred to both as the 31 jo awase and 31 kumijo.

A Last Comment on Numbers You’ll Hear

The numbers for suburi have nothing to do with the numbers in the names of kata.

When you see “20 jo suburi” or “ken suburi 1 through 7” those are just describing which ones we’re talking about. If you have to do the “bokken suburi 1-5” on a test that’s just the first five descrete bokken techniques. Saito Sensei created a set of 20 jo suburi for us to practice. They are 20 separate exercises.

The 31 jo kata, on the other hand, is a single flowing exercise incorporating 31 movements. Note that the 20 jo suburi are not the 1st 20 movements of the 31 jo kata. They are completely separate things.

Some Examples

If, like me, you need to see stuff to understand it, here are some of my favorite examples to get you started. Each link here will open a YouTube video in a new tab or window. Remember that each dojo will do things a little differently.

Lewis Bernaldo de Quiros of Takemusu Aikido Kyokai Nederland:

Jo suburi 1 through 20ken suburi 1, 2, and 3, and ken suburi 4, 5, 6, and 7 (solo)

The 6 jo kata13 jo kata, and 31 jo kata (solo)

Miles Kessler Sensei:

5th ken awase and 7th ken awase (paired, from 5th and 7th ken suburi)

31 jo kata (solo) and 31 kumi jo (paired)

Morihiro Saito Sensei:

31 jo kata (solo) and 31 kumi jo (paired)

Enjoying Weapons Classes

I’ve been doing more weapons classes, and really enjoying them. There’s something that feels more centered and focused about working with weapons. Well… most of the time, anyway.

We practiced tonight with the jo,
and some things were starting to flow.
But grace was not to be,
‘cause I fell like a tree
when I caught my foot on Nage’s toe.

I’m fine, thank you. ;) Just got my feet tangled up and fell plumb over sideways. Thud.

I demonstrated just a little bit more competence during the rest of the class, at least. I don’t know what it is about weapons that makes techniques involving them seem so much simpler – or at least more comprehensible. Maybe it’s just that introducing a single straight line into the equation adds a hint of order or a point of reference to the usual wiggly confusion of arms and wrists. In any case, I find weapons classes to be quite a lot of fun, and very rewarding.

I couldn’t resist adding this, which I’m also posting to the AikiWeb thread “Limerick Challenge”:

Though I love Thursday night’s weapons class,
my techniques with the jo barely pass
for aikido. It’s true,
and it makes me quite blue,
that I tripped up and fell on my side.

Haha… I crack myself up. :-)

Whew! (day 16 of 16)

This is a quick post about today’s classes. Tomorrow I’ll put down some thoughts about the whole 16 days.

There were 2 classes today: Weapons, and open hand.

In the weapons class we did the first 10 jo suburi. I think I’d done them all before, but at any rate none were a mystery, so I was able to focus on doing them correctly. I need to work on my timing. I was coming in ahead of the strike, which isn’t a terribly good idea. I’m feeling pretty good about most of the jo techniques I’ve learned. I’m sure they are very crude at this point, but I think I have the concepts down enough to practice a bit on my own, and recognize at least some of the things I might be doing wrong.

In the second class we worked mostly (entirely?) on preparing to do breakfalls. (Yay! Something I have done nearly none of before today.) Not exactly like this video shows, but that’s the idea. I was with a group doing really easy, low stuff (like early in that video), while most of the class did more advance practice (like later in that video). Even the “easy” stuff feels really awkward and scary at first! Like “no way, I’ll die.” LOL But by the end of class it was feeling much more natural.

It’s not that I’m in any hurry to be doing spectacular high falls, but I feel a little “at risk” not knowing the basics. Like driving a car without knowing where the brakes are. So I was really glad to start working on this a little.

More tomorrow about the whole experience of my 16-day “Personal Aikido Intensive” experiment.