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!)