Lots of strength training going on. My workouts have changed from my last posting. The biggest change is that I have not worked out at the Wellness Center since May or so and have added rucking as a staple.
I haven’t posted about any martial arts in a while because I haven’t been been training with anyone or been to a seminar. The last seminar I attended was on September 30, 2017. That was a Dan Harden seminar. I never posted my notes from it either. Ouch! I guess I should do that at some point.
I started daily rucking in earnest around January 2019 when I was researching ways to maximize my morning walks with Bolt, my Irish Terrier. It’s been an awesome addition.
The initial equipment I used was an old Nike back pack and a 25lb weight I bough at Walmart. This set up didn’t last long because the weight rode down too far in the back pack and was throwing my back out.
Plus, the back pack was quickly falling apart. It was not made for that kind of weight or for this type of activity.
I bought a Rucker 20L with a 30lb ruck plate, from Go Ruck. It was a fantastic purchase. The Rucker is built to carry the plate securely and high on your back. It doesn’t hit against my lower vertebrae anymore causing sciatica.
The workout is fairly simple, but highly effective. I strap on the ruck and walk three miles or so with Bolt.
While praying my Rosary as we walk, between each decade of the Rosary, I alternate between 10 ass to grass squats and 10 nose to the ground push ups. For a total of 40 each. It doesn’t sound like a lot, but the extra 30lbs on my back makes an impact.
The effects have been a stretching out of my hip flexors and muscle gain in my shoulders, back, thighs and calves. I plan on adding to this a daily Weider Power Tower workout with the ruck on. I can’t wait to see what happens with this routine.
5 minutes on the Concept2 rowing machine (hitting 1000 meters)
I do two circuits and try to do it at 5 a.m. But that hasn’t been happening, so I have been flexible on the times I go.
The workout is substantially the same as what I have been doing. The only big change was adding in the rower. I used to do the rower on my down days. But no more.
They have a sauna but I have only used it once. Big room and doesn’t seem to get as hot as my garage sauna. They also have a steam room and whirlpool. I haven’t tried either yet but will be.
Shotokan Karate is on Tuesday and Thursday nights. I will be checking that out. It’s a move in the opposite direction from what I have been training because its such a hard style. But I will check it out anyway.
Randall Smith hosted a Dan Harden seminar for the weekend of May 12, 2017 through May 14, 2017, at his Boca Raton, FL dojo, Aikido of Palm Beach County. For those of you who don’t know Dan or his work, you can find it here at his site Body Work Seminars.
There were a couple new faces in attendance. Which is always great. Otherwise it was the same band of yahoos who are a great bunch of guys.
Once again, I am months late in posting my thoughts about a seminar. So, I am working of my notes. I like committing my experiences when the memories are fresh.
Anyway, Dan taught a bunch of great stuff as usual. Here’s a few of the nuggets that I wrote down in my notes and have been concentrating on.
20 Degrees More
The first thing is 20 degrees more. What Dan was saying about this was that once you reach that point, stretch/feel/go 20 degrees more.
The physical example we were working on while he said this was stretching your shoulders back while laying your scapulars flat across your back. While doing this, or any stretch, push yourself to get that little extra.
For me, when I do this, I feel more of a pull not just in the muscle, but also in the fascia. I feel a connection extending from my fingers and up through my shoulders. Besides feeling awesome, their is an increased awareness of my body’s interconnectedness.
The ultimate goal would be to get this feeling throughout my whole body, all at once, all the time.
The second concept I took note of was to go soft. This is my ever present martial arts prayer.
For me, this is the easiest concept to grasp but the hardest to implement. Application of this idea requires a rewiring of my automatic responses. Um…yeah…gonna take some work…
The idea is to be soft enough that you can feel your opponent. This is difficult. The automatic response is that your muscles tense up.
I have written about this concept previously. It’s the main concept in advanced martial arts.
You need to learn to be soft to be able to pull skin. But you can learn to be soft when learning to pull skin.
So when pulling skin you touch your opponent light enough to feel their skin moving as you move your fingers over the surface of their skin. When done properly you will witness your partner moving to your light touch.
I believe it gets your opponents fascia moving. This is also a central concept to Systema.
Good Danism I picked up from this seminar(paraphrased): Think of the jo extending to work on your awareness of the focal points of movement
I was going through my notes because I have not kept up with my seminar postings. I see that I missed posting this Dan Harden seminar at Randall Smith’s dojo, Aikido of Palm Beach County. Anyone who knows Dan knows his Ancient Traditions * Modern Combatives work located here.
So, this post is out of chronological order. And its going to bug me eternally that it is so.
I did not attend this seminar because I had other obligations that weekend. I did go up on Sunday morning before church to see what was going on. I saw Dan Harden for an hour and still picked up a few nuggets of great information.
I also don’t have pictures to post. Arrrgggghhhhh!!!!!!
While I was there standing in the door and interrupting the class, Dan was going over the iron mountain pose. This pose is where you drop your weight from the perineum and stretch your spine up, creating two opposing forces and a stable body structure.
One of my questions I asked Dan was about stretching your shoulders from the biceps as your doing the mountain pose. In classic Dan style, he said that is correct to do that but that was not what he was showing. I still pestered him for an answer. For those of you that know Dan you will understand. It’s all good.
Stretching from the biceps while in mountain pose is accomplished thusly: rotate your arms out by twisting your biceps out. This has the effect of dropping your shoulders down, flattening your scapulas on your back, widening your chest and stretching your chest muscles.
Most of us twist our arms out by merely twisting our palms out. This is no where near correct and does not produce the profound effect Dan teaches.
Dan further went on to say that stretching the muscles to the point of exhaustion is where you find the connection between yin and yang.
It is highly effective and feels awesome. I do this exercise on a regular basis and will continue to do so.
Dan Harden came into Boca to hold a one day intensive seminar at Randall Smith’s dojo on April 2, 2017. For those of you who don’t know Dan, you can check out his website here at Body Works Seminars. And for those of you who don’t know Randall you can check out his website here at Aikido of Palm Beach County. I must also mention the Peter Bernath 7th Dan Shihan from Florida Aikikai was there training. I really admire the fact that he is constantly seeking to up the ante. He has been my primary sensei since 1998.
I have trained under these gentlemen for a number of years now. I hold them in the highest esteem and feel blessed that I get to train with them on a fairly regular basis.
Dan went over a few things. He’s got a lot to give. But for the first two hours he went into breathing exercises. I found this particularly exciting and productive since I had recently started focusing my practice on breath and its effect on body control.
Dan stated that we are prisoners of our own breath. How true.
My own experience has been that I hold my breath when being hit or hitting. This increases tension in the body and makes my movements tighter than they already are.
Dan was teaching that to free yourself from the tension you have to connect your breath to your movement. Breath out and through the tension. Release it.
When I do that, I can feel layers being peeled away. I gain deeper access to my underlying structure. My shoulders and hips drop while the spine rises.
I believe this is the cornerstone of Dan’s philosophy. Breathe properly to gain maximum benefit and live.
Dan showed this exercise about breathing in and compressing the diaphragm down while pulling up the perineum. It has the effect of pulling down your upper body into your center and pulling your lower body into your center.
The upper and lower meet at the center. If you are breathing properly, you can feel the tension releasing from your extremities and building in your stomach.
Contrary to releasing all tension. But this was an exercise whose purpose was to show the power of proper breathing and its effect on the body.
When breathing, you are not to let your stomach go out when you breath in or out. This is not what we are used to.
By not letting the stomach go in and out when breathing, your lungs will fill and your upper body rises as your lower body goes down. It feels like an internal wave. And you can feel the build up and release.
Dan gave the analogy of being a French press. You are pushing in the grounds and the energy/breath goes out through your extremities.
You can feel it, all of it. Your muscles releasing. A connection to your center. Your spine straightening and activating.
It’s always great training with Dan Harden. I encourage you to visit his site and attend his seminars. They are fun and informative.
The seminar this year was excellent as usual. Lots of aikidoka from everywhere.
Yamada Sensei taught on Saturday at the first class. His classes are always informative. He has the real classic style of aikido with big sweeping movements and a focus on distance.
He did a few nikkyo variations. What I always get from his nikkyo is a sense of distance from your opponent. He keeps a lot of space between himself and his attacker with the concentration on manipulating the wrist.
Pimsler Sensei taught after Yamada Sensei. He continued with the nikkyo theme. His approach to nikkyo differed from Yamada Sensei’s.
Pimsler Sensei did a small circle nikkyo. He focused on applying pressure right into that spot in the wrist where the hand meets the forearm.
Pimsler Sensei demonstrated a nikkyo where he brought his uke’s hand up to his (sensei’s) collar bone and slightly bending forward into uke’s wrist, he concentrated his power and focus into that point. Result, uke going down in pain. I feel for ya. Been there. Done that.
Waite Sensei is always a treat. He moves like wind over a lake. The guy is just smooth.
His movements are effortless and full of intent. He doesn’t tense up make a move work. He lets it flow and the move happens. I always get the impression he is thinking two moves ahead.
Zimmerman Sensei had a calm approach to his aikido. It might be a personality trait, but what I mean is that he was unfazed by any attacks or his response. He appeared to be emotionless. Which I like.
If you don’t show emotion you are in control of yourself. Your tension is under control and you generally move the speed of your attacker. You blend.
This is what he was doing and showing. I also noticed that he used small circle movements when demonstrating nikkyo and kotegashi.
Bernath Sensei needs no words. The guy rocks. I have the pleasure to train under him constantly since I am a member of his dojo and have been since 1998.
But I will say something. What I always take away from him is harnessing that primal power. He has it and naturally accesses it.
I don’t have anyway of expressing how he does it. He’s a natural.
As an example, he was working from a wrist grab. He effortlessly sucked his attacker into his sphere and blasted him with a powerful response.
It appeared as though it was all in time with his breath. Breathing in when taking on the attacker an breathing out when expelling him. Good stuff.
Konigsberg Sensei was awesome as usual. He was teaching to drop your shoulders and not to bunch up and tense your muscles. When you do that you stop the flow of the motion.
I have some great video of him teaching this but it exceeds the size limits on this site. So until I can figure out how to upload it, it remains in my files. Bummer.
Before I start, let me mention a couple of things. This seminar was a few months ago from the date of this posting. It’s always a pleasure getting to see and train with both Popkin Sensei and Deglas Sensei. Especially at the same time.
I am going off of the notes I had put down the day of the seminar and my recollection, which is becoming more difficult to refresh.
I am becoming a real slacker to posting on my blog.
There were three concepts I put down and that I wanted to write about.
The first concept is to reduce 20%. From what I remember, Popkin Sensei was saying to scale back on two things, the amount of energy in your touch and the amount of pushback you give when your opponent touches or grabs you.
For instance, when you are grabbed and you reduce the autonomic pushback, your opponent falls into an empty spot and his center is compromised. The best part is they don’t realize it happened.
What we want to do automatically when grabbed is to tense up and thereby giving support to your opponent. It then becomes a fight. You gave out too much information.
Its the same concept when touching your opponent. Reduce the amount of your touch so that your opponent doesn’t have the opportunity to react by tensing up.
Popkin Sensei also said to practice the reduce 20% concept by consciously reducing your touch 20% every time you are touched or touching someone.
The reduced touch is an unexpected response with devastating impact. I have noticed it creates the effect of making your opponent stick to you.
The second concept is head past feet. Its one that Popkin Sensei has discussed a number of times over the years and it comes up in every seminar. But it’s crucial and deserves constant discussion.
The idea is simple. Get your opponent’s head past his feet so he is unbalanced.
I have written about this before. It is literally is the practice of unbalancing your opponent by consciously and physically manipulating his body so that you can see his head go past his feet.
Once you see that happen, your opponent is going down. Simple. Sublime. And requires no strength to make it happen.
The third concept is to breathe through your belly and suck your navel into your spine.
It had to do with making your stomach rise and fall to the rhythm of your breathing.
Popkin Sensei was saying how Okamoto Sensei would place a glass of liquor on Popkin Sensei’s belly and make him raise the glass so the he could reach it and take a drink. Pretty funny visual if you know Popkin Sensei.
I have to admit, this third concept is going to take me a while to mull over in my brain. It’s not a new concept to me, but one that I have never been able to get my head around.
There was a good turn out of the usual characters. And they are a good group of people. Dedicated to honing their craft and supporting the survival of this awesome information.
Tommy currently trains under Vlad at every chance he gets, which is often. And it appears as though Tommy is fast becoming Vlad’s number one apprentice. I note the numerous pictures of Vlad using Tommy as his ace receiving partner when demonstrating techniques while at seminars or training in Vlad’s Montreal headquarters.
Both are well deserved accolades and affirmations of their stature in Systema. I am lucky enough to train under each one of them on a regular basis. With Tommy opening a new school, I hope to train more.
OK. Onto the seminar.
I took two concepts away from the seminar; tension and breathing. Really, the two main concepts to Systema. And all martial arts for that matter.
There were specific exercises and drills we did that dealt with strikes, punching and grappling. But what was going through my mind were the breathing and tension principles and their application to making my exercises and drills more productive.
Let me start with tension. Both Dave and Tommy kept making a point of releasing the tension from your body so that you can feel your body. The initial reaction is to tense up your body and this cuts you off from your whole body. It locks you.
What I mean is that if you were being punched in the gut, you would tense up your stomach to deal with the punch. It happens automatically and essentially freezes you in the moment. Your stuck in that one position even if its brief.
The reality is that you want to be free to move. If you have an opponent worth his salt, while you are stuck in that frozen position, no matter how briefly, he could devastate you with a multitude of strikes.
This is what Systema is teaching, to overcome that tension reaction so you can move and move freely.
To emphasize this point, Tommy had us do a drill where we each got a partner and pushed/punched into their stomach. The person being pushed on had to release their stomach muscles and let the person push/punching drive their fist in as far as they could.
It was not painful and was not meant to be painful. It’s purpose was to show that by releasing your tension you can take a lot more than you think you can. And that in overcoming the automatic tension freeze-up reaction, your body responds more effectively.
But tension, and the release of tension, is intimately tied up in breathing. Learn to breath correctly through the tension and your body releases.
To show this, Dave had us do punching drills. And the concept of tension release and breathing is applied whether you are the striker or strike recipient.
So in action, the striker was to release his tension so that his strike came from his whole body and a relaxed position. The strike is meant to mimic a hammer drop so to speak. Let the weight of the hammer drop and do the work.
In application, the results are incredible. For the striker it’s as if you are just dropping your fists in dead weight with minimal effort while producing maximum impact.
To the strike recipient, you can feel the strike reverberate through your whole body. And to be able to take the hit with minimal injury you need to breath through your nose and out your mouth in order to release the tension in your body. When you release the tension, you can feel the strike go through you and dissipate.
Anyway, Systema is awesome. If you want to learn more about body movement and increase your own martial arts, whatever flavor it is, you can’t go wrong by adding Systema to your repertoire.
So it was the annual Claude Berthiaume Sensei Aikido Seminar at Florida Aikikai. Which happened on August 20, 2016 through August 21, 2016. For me, it’s a highly anticipated event and one I can’t wait to attend.
One thing I have always liked about Berthiaume Sensei is his attention to detail. He breaks moves down by verbally explaining it while making the uke move so you can visualize it take it out of the esoteric realm.
For instance, in doing a shihonage, he was demonstrating to move the uke’s elbow in the direction that the uke was going. But to also move your hips, your center, in that same direction.
You move from your core, your torso. You move around your spine. The result, your uke ends up moving to places he did not intend to go to.
Essentially what happens, is that you “disappear”. Your uke is off balance and going somewhere he never expected. It’s like opening a door when you don’t have your balance. Uke’s control of himself, is lost.
For non aikido readers, uke is your training partner. Specifically, uke is attacking you.
Berthiaume Sensei went deeply into breaking body form. I don’t recall him doing this before. It was really, really good.
Breaking form is a vitally important concept. It entails compartmentalizing the body into separate zones; certain areas of the body that are more easily manipulated than other areas. Breaking down the parts to affect the whole.
The areas to affect are wrist, elbow, shoulder, hip, knee, and ankle. He didn’t go into every area but did hit on elbow, shoulder and hip. While he did not come right out and talk about it like this, it’s what I heard him saying and saw him demonstrating.
It’s attack dependent. You use the body part of your uke to manipulate their center. As was shown, your uke attacks you with tsuki. You move slightly off and out of the way to such a point that the tsuki is going past you.
A tsuki is a punch, typically to the gut.
Depending how you moved, you are either still facing your original direction or the same direction your uke is facing. Either way works.
You now find yourself behind your uke’s center. And you are in a position to completely manipulate and devastate your uke with absolute minimal power on your part.
So, Berthiaume Sensei was saying now that you are in this position, you can do a number of things to make uke fall back into shikaku, the empty spot that exists behind everybody. You can move uke’s shoulder, the one he is not attacking from, to cause uke to spin out of control. Or follow your hand down uke’s spine to make him drop. Or put your hand on uke’s hip, slightly pushing out, causing uke to drop. They all work
Effective. Sublime. Devastating.
I only attended on Saturday. And it was time well spent. Besides being an overall great guy, he’s an awesome martial artist. He is on the USAF technical committee and that’s a good thing for Aikido.
Dave Merrell gave a Systema Seminar at John Stretch Park in Clewiston FL on March 12, 2016. I went up with my training buddies from Systema Boca.
One guy came from Chicago and another guy came from Georgia to train with Dave. It was great meeting both of them and I expect to see them at other seminars.
It was an incredible day of training. I especially like training outdoors in nature. It reminds me of my old Army days. Something about training outdoors that makes me feel alive and real.
Dave went over tons of stuff but I am only going to blog about two things; 1. movement, and 2. circle exercise.
Movement is everything. Systema movement is relaxed and encompassing. What I mean is that the movement mimics your opponent so that you are like fly paper he can’t get rid of.
You move in response to what’s being thrown at you. And in Systema, that could be anything because there is only one rule: live to fight another day.
Dave was teaching that in movement you have to minimize the distance between you and your attacker while maximizing your safety against the attack. You need to have small movements such that the force of the attack keeps its momentum yet you are just out of the way enough so there is minimal damage to you.
As far as exercises to understand this concept, we did the circle exercise. This was a few different exercises done in a circle.
The first was to have all the trainees stand in a tight circle, shoulder to shoulder, with a trainee in the middle of the circle. The trainee in the middle was told to relax and just go with the movement as we pushed him around from person to person. It was like being a human pinball at the mercy of chaos. And how can chaos be merciful?
I know from my experience, from doing this exercise, the more I let myself go and became part of the movement, the easier I moved and the less pain I felt.
It was hard to let myself go too. The group was forcefully shoving, pushing, cajoling me to get off of them and out of their personal zone. But I think that through this pounding I became softer. I liken it to kneading dough.
It’s difficult not to react to someone pushing you. I guess that’s the ephemeral lesson; to let yourself go and become one with the movement.
Believe me, we were not being gentle to the monkey in the middle. Systema trainees are a rough group of guys who like to advance their knowledge of pain. Both in inflicting it and taking it.
There was another circle exercise we did that was a bit more subtle. In this one, we stood in a circle, arms length apart from each other. Big circle.
While standing there, one guy at a time would break out and traverse each other trainee in the circle. He would weave in and out between each guy. As he came back around to his beginning spot, the next man would go.
It started with just weaving in and out while working on your breath pattern. Step, breath in. Step, breath out.
Dave then had us escalate it so that the second time around, you would weave in and out while the guys in the circle would move to hit you.
The weaver was charged with moving such that he would not get hit. He wasn’t allowed to block the punch or kick or to move far outside the hit. He could only move in order not to connect with the attack. Not easy when you instinctively want to react and protect yourself.
So we continued this circle weaving exercise and each time we went around, Dave added something new onto it. It got to the point that at the end, the weaver had to move with the attack and then take down the attacker. But it had to be done while maintaining the closeness to the attack. You weren’t allowed to make big sweeping movements around the attacks in order to avoid it.