On power, and other interesting things in life

One of my students said: “If you ever been attacked or in a situation where someone is trying to do you harm, your adrenaline goes through the roof and it difficult to think straight and getting hit adds to this difficulty and you need power to stop an attack. Just like Mike Tyson says, everyone has a plan until they get hit… I do believe you can deflect, if you’re lucky or quick enough, then move to execute a technique. Just an experience observation.”

This is an interesting and relevant point of view. And he backed it up with this video:
https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=qmeW9MQIsfM which pushes the view that power is more important than speed.

The guy in the video is right, and he’s wrong.

Power is important, but misused power can be as ineffective as no power, worse, it can work against you. This is what the unbendable arm is about – about not fighting yourself. (And everybody does fight themselves to an extent.) Still, if you have less power than the other guy in a given situation, you will lose in a head to head confrontation.

Power is not a simple thing, either. If you think of an arm wrestling contest, it is mostly about simple strength. (Yes, there are ways to use your strength more effectively there too, but it is mostly strength of certain muscles and position.) Martial arts is like cheating at arm wrestling. You know what a fair fight is? An oxymoron. A story I like is one I heard at a party when I was a kid. This gate crasher was wanting to come in to a private party. The guy on the door said if he didn’t leave in three seconds, he was going to hit him. He counted: one….two… and he hit him. Fight over.

You can be the weaker of the two, overall, and still have the greater power where it matters. In kote gaeshi, for example, to break uke’s balance it is the power at the end of uke’s arm that matters. So you can be much smaller, and still be able to do technique.

We train a lot. And that is important, because you eventually find you are reacting without thinking – what the Japanese call mushin. Tyson is right in that plans go by the board when you get hit. Training, however, does not necessarily. Good training does not. Bad training (e.g. inappropriate training, unrealistic training) does. A plan is a good thing when training. It is often counter-productive when fighting. Randori is all about training under stress, in unpredictable situations. It is about as good as it gets in the dojo, and can be very good indeed. But on the street there are no referees, and the adrenaline will be pumping more.  It is hard to replicate that amount of stress in the dojo.

Speed and power are not unrelated. In fact, energy equals mv2. So the best way to increase power is often to increase speed. Double mass, and double energy. Double speed, and quadruple energy. Big muscles can increase power, but fast muscles are also important. There is another aspect to speed. If you want to kick or punch somebody, you want all the energy to appear in the last inch or two. Energy elsewhere is irrelevant. If you want to throw somebody, you want the energy to be spread out over maybe as much as two or three feet. And it isn’t the simple integral. There are certain times in any technique where energy is more important than others. So the relevant power differs according to the technique and art. And almost all power comes from gravity. (Think about fighting in weightlessness.)

People working to bulk up often fail to work at flexibility enough, so they are tense, stiff, and their speed falls.

The things that are important for martial effectiveness include the following, not necessarily in order of importance: attitude, technique (including leverage, position, timing, etc), power, and stamina.

Where power fails is when it is overmatched, but that applies to all of the above. Combat is the weighing of the different attributes of the two sides, which lets you see which is the more useful of the two mixes in a given situation. In the dojo, you are pretty much on your own for strength, stamina, etc. All I teach is technique. Coming to class, you will get some attitude, stamina, strength, flexibility, but the focus is on technique.

Class closures for Hurricane Dorian

Karate, yoga, and my aikido classes will be canceled until further notice because of the hurricane. If the dojo comes through undamaged and has power, I expect we will be reopening next Saturday, but I will put out a notice before we do reopen. Those who do the weekday noon classes and kali should check with the respective teachers.

Everybody be careful, play it safe, and good luck.

YouTube channel

The dojo now has a YouTube channel.  If you search for Enmei Dojo you will find short videos of the first five jo suburi – selected mostly because I had them when I went to set up the channel.  Interestingly, the search also picks up videos about the Enmei Ryu sword school – Musashi’s style, which this dojo is named after.

I will also upload videos of the 6th kyu test.


Yesterday, we worked a lot on connection. In aikido, just as in real life, it is sometimes hard to make and keep a connection. When we move, very often we will lose the connection to uke and the technique becomes difficult to do. Generally, uke needs a reason to maintain a connection. If he feels threatened, he will work to mitigate the threat, maintaining the connection. If he thinks he can make nage do something uke wants, he will maintain the connection. If there is no connection, uke can just stand there and do nothing, or is free to attack again.

Of course, uke is supposed to give you energy so that you can do aikido. He can give you energy by striking or grabbing with intent. We have all worked with an uke who puts no energy into their attack. It is very difficult to do technique on such people unless you can make them do their part at connecting. So how do you make a lackidasical uke put some energy into his attack? One way is to threaten him. If you press towards his face or other vulnerable part he will use enough connection to prevent you reaching it. Given an uke and nage who are merely pressing against each other, nothing much will happen. But you can manipulate that connection. If you angle the connection to the left or right, uke will tend to move that way. If you move in or out, he will respond to that also.

Take katatori. Uke grabs the shoulder of your gi. You strike at their face. They either block and prevent you striking your face, at least strongly enough to protect their face. If their block is not too forceful, you can drive their arm back towards them (at an angle) and do technique. If their block is forceful, they may press your arm away from their face. As long as they keep pushing, you can lead them around into a technique. But what happens if they are content to merely block your strike, and don’t let you in to do technique, nor push you away so that you can lead them around into a technique? You often see this happen, and then usually nage grabs their arm and forces them into a technique. All well and good if nage is strong enough to do this, but it doesn’t take a lot of effort on uke’s part to stop nage cold.

If, however, nage angles his arm while uke is pushing, uke will start to move around. Now if nage gets loose from uke’s connection, he can strike uke, either in the head or the body, particularly in the groin. So it is in uke’s interest to prevent this, so he must not allow a gap to open up between his arm and nage’s arm. Nage can make this point by actually striking uke (lightly, in the dojo)) if uke gives him the chance. Now nage can manipulate uke as much as he cares to. The resulting technique feels very different from what you get if you don’t engage uke’s attention and make him extend his energy but just try to muscle him around.

Now if uke figures out what nage is doing and doesn’t feel like taking ukemi, he can mess things up in a variety of ways. He can just stand there like a rock, rigid, unmoving. He can just let his arm fall away from nage’s arm, not moving his body. So there is a smallish window of oportunity, between nage using the connection, and uke figuring it out and messing it up. This does not mean nage has to be particularly fast. Just that he has to stay ahead of uke, continuously changing the situation so that uke never quite catches up. The military has a name for this situation – the OODA loop. OODA stands for observe, orient, decide, and act, and is the sequence of events in a combat situation. If you change things fast enough, the opponent can’t respond fast enough to respond effectively, and fast enough can be on the order of a second in aikido.

Kata tori men uchi has a different feeling, because uke is attempting to strike as well as hold. However, the principles are quite similar, and uke is attempting to make the connection so it is easier in a way.

Another way of practicing connection is if two aikido practitioners extend an arm and make contact at the wrist, with the same hand and foot forward. They are then pretty safe from each other. To strike or grab, one must get closer to the other. If the other person moves to maintain this alignment, he stays safe. They can have a designated nage, in which case one person just tries to get in to attack, or they can both try to do this. Initially, it is better to have a desgnated uke and nage, but both parties trying to throw the other is more like a combat situation.

As soon as one person has his position or posture messed up, he is vulnerable. If he lets his arm get too much to one side or the other of his body, he is vulnerable. The key, especially with a strong attacker, is to stay relaxed, with an unbendable arm, and move the body to accommodate whatever the attacker does. If he moves in, you move back. If he pulls in, you enter (so as to maintain a degree of control over uke’s next move), while keeping your posture. If he moves your arm to one side or the other, you move your body with it. As soon as you try to resist, it becomes a game of who has more energy, either because they are bigger, stronger, or have more momentum.

Now if you vary the angle and timing of your response, you can take his kuzushi, and apply technique.

There are usually considered to be three parts to an aikido technique: connection, kuzushi, and execution. If you do all three half way decently, you will get a pretty good technique. Of course, when working on one part, in this case how connection is used to get kuzushi, there is a tendency to forget about other parts. Thus, it is easy to mess up the actual application when your mind is on other parts of the technique. It is still important to apply the technique correctly.

Of course, writing about aikido is not doing aikido. It is hard to put some of these ideas into words, and different readers may interpret the words differently. But maybe if you read about aikido you will get ideas you can then practice on the mat.

Merry Xmas and a Happy New Year

Well another year is drawing to a close.  The pig roast was a great success, though I could cook it better with the experience.  Our membership is dwindling, so new people feel free to come.  You get 3 free lessons and I really frown on anybody not treating beginners well.  Existing people, drag somebody new to class.  They may like it, and will not if they don’t try.

Doug will be putting out an email shortly about the schedule for the next few weeks.  Saturday is the last class for aikido and karate for this year.  Yoga, the last class was yesterday.

I plan to go to the Sand Drift New Year celebration.  Hope to see some of you there, and experience Dart’s cannon.  BOOM!

In the New Year, aikido and karate will start back up on Saturday Jan 5th.  Yoga will restart the following Wednesday, 9th.

So a Merry Xmas and a Happy New Year to everybody.  Hope to see you all next year determined to practice even harder.


pig roast

Well I think we can declare the pig roast a success.  The one and only Enmei Pig Roast.  I don’t think I will spit roast a pig again.  A couple of times I thought the weather would wash us out, and a couple of times the pig caught on fire, but in the end everything worked well.  We had a good time and ate a lot of pig and drank a lot of beer.  Life is good.

fun classes and a party

After a couple of classes where nobody showed up, we’ve had a couple of good practices in the last week. Not a lot of people, but good practices.

Some stuff was pretty basic – like how to make shihonage work on a resisting uke (at Doug’s request). (The simple answer, as usual, is extension and leverage. The trick is in the details.) Like how to make yonkyo work (at Glenn’s request). It sounds rather banal, but most times techniques fail to work as hoped because we forget the basics: escape the attack, take kuzushi, and then throwing. When we get hurried or excited, we tend to forget kuzushi, in particular. If we don’t get kuzushi, actually applying the technique can get quite difficult even if we do that part correctly.

Some stuff was less basic: practicing how to deal with multiple attacks, how to execute multiple attacks (which of course is critical for uke to give decent attacks), how to use suki to encourage uke to attack the way you want them to. How to take a little bit of control and turn it into greater and greater control.

Another thing we did was to find ways to get people to think about aikido from a fresh perspective. For example, you can do the boken suburi with one hand, then with the other hand, then go back to normal two handed technique. Another approach is to do a technique in a different way. We tend to get in a rut when we do the same techniques the same way. If we do the same technique in a different way, it makes us think about the technique from a different angle. This can be confusing, especially if the technique is being done in a way we have never seen before (and yes, even after 40 or 50 years I can still come up with different approaches). However, if we are fairly good at doing, say, ikkyo, one way, and then practice a different way, we end up having a more effective and more generally applicable ikkyo. At first, the different approach conflicts with the old way, but if we practice enough, we end up with a new way of doing ikkyo which subsumes both ways.

Sometimes, we just need a change of pace. We tend to get rather lackadaisical about ukemi, but changing the pace, either doing ukemi really slowly, or faster than usual will point up to where we need to improve.

On a final note, now that the weather is getting cooler, we are thinking of having a party. Usually, we have parties after a workout, but I’m thinking of having a pig roast, and as I have not done one before, I’ll have enough to do just cooking the pig. So probably just a party. Time and date TBD.


Karate classes definitely starting

We have decided on a starting date, so come along and try it.  Most folks will be beginners.

Classes will be on Saturday mornings , 9 – 10.  The first class will be the Saturday after the July 4th holiday – July 7th.  We will do them as long as there is interest, and if enough people are interested, we will look to add more classes.

There is no charge initially.  Eventually, we will probably ask people for $30 a month, or $20 extra if they are already doing another class.  However, for now the most important thing is to get a critical mass.  So for now, free karate lessons.  Tell all your friends.

There will be no sparring initially.  We need to get insurance coverage for that, which is probably not included in our current coverage.  Plus, people will need to get gear, like mouthpieces, gloves, and so on.