Archive for April, 2012

My flexibility is pretty bad. We did some stretches at the Aikido class last week and I was probably the worst one there. The body is made up of a skeleton driven by lots of muscle groups and interconnecting tissue like ligaments tendons and fascia. I found a Men’s Health article with a set of Exercise steps designed to get you touching your toes that recognises this and has stretches for all tissue areas involved to complete this manoeuvre.

Today I have been office bound mainly reviewing academic papers and needed to take a break. So I thought I would give it a go. As a baseline measure, I gripped a plastic ruler between my feet to measure the distance from toes to fingertips. It was about 20cm from a standing stretch with feet together.

Step 1 – Exercise:  The Camel-Cat

After carrying out step 1, I achieved a 1cm improvement. 19cm to go.

Step 2 – Exercise:  Hip Hinge with heels elevated

I didn’t have a 2X4 or a weight disc, so improvising, I used a copy of Seeley, Stephens and Tate’s Anatomy and Physiology 3rd Edition. This measured about 2 inches. I can really feel the stretch on my calf muscles and in the back of thighs this time. 18cm to go.

Step 3 – The Exercise:  Hip Hinge with toes elevated

This was a really good stretch. I could feel it working all they way. Seeley, Stephens and Tate were really biting into my toes though – that put me off a bit. Still the proof of the pudding was another 2cm gained. 16cm to go.

Step 4 – The Exercise: Tennis-ball foot roll

I managed to complete this one, although it was rather ticklish. I had a problem once (a long while ago) with the muscle sheet under my right foot becoming bruised after I took a fall off the mat on to a concrete floor. I thought I had broken something but it turned out to be just bruising. The exercise yielded no improvement and left me with 16cm to go.

The article suggests that if you can’t touch your toes after one run through do it again and not where you had the best gain. This should be where you concentrate. Looks like for me its the calf area, this doesn’t really come as a surprise. I took a few minutes break (and wrote this post) before trying again from the top. Here are the results taken after each of the second set of stretches:

  • Step 1: 16cm
  • Step 2: 14cm
  • Step 3: 12cm
  • Step 4: 12cm

So, this confirms the key steps for me are 2 and 3 – the hips and calf muscles. By the way, the A&P book by Seeley, Stephens and Tate is an excellent functional anatomy reference with clear diagrams and explanations and I would like to point out that no copies of this text were harmed in the writing of this post.


I just bought and listened to Quatermass an album by the band Quatermass.

Quatermass (album)

Quatermass (album) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This was a bit of a random purchase.  I had not heard of the band before, they did an album in 1970 and they are not on a mainstream label. Well – that’s three good reasons to buy then!

Quatermass formed in England during September, 1969 as an outgrowth of a six-piece experimental group. The group includes John Gustafson (bass guitar, vocals), Pete Robinson (keyboards) and Mick Underwood (drums). There is a lot of good information on Wikipedia and also Carol Hynson’s site.

It all started during on evening where I re-acquainted myself with the progressive rock collection I built up at university.  I was listening to the album Ritchie Blackmore Rainbow. The track “Back Sheep of the Family” has to be one of my favourites and I found it was originally written and performed by Quatermass.

The band takes it’s name from the Quatermass films. I remember watching these Hammer Productions science fiction films when I was growing up. I listened to a few samples on Amazon and decided to make a purchase to explore the band and music a bit more.

When the CD arrived, I was surprised to find the jiffy bag package was quite thin. When I got the CD out, I found that it packaged in cardboard rather than the standard plastic CD jewel case. The cardboard cover is a replica of the original gate-fold album cover. The package contains the CD (also in a vinyl like protective cover) and a folded set of lyrics and notes on the history of the band and its members.


The first track is called Entropy. It’s a short instrumental piece that acoustically could reflect either Shannon’s Law or Second Law of Thermodynamics depending on your mood. It has a random feel at times, but gives the feeling of a flowing along on a journey or radiating out through a complex jumble of matter. Of course, it may be that the track got its name because “Entropy” sounded cool.

Black Sheep of the Family

The beginning of this track follows on from the feel of Entropy, but becomes a standard rock blues riff. It’s a bouncing positive track that possibly contradicts its subject matter.Its a firm favourite of mine and very similar to the cover performed by Rainbow.

Post War Saturday Echo

This one opens with another short instrumental passage in the form of a Hammond Organ style fanfare style.  This gives way to a very bluesy track with a heavy base line. The lyrics are sung in a powerful blues style. Far from being a post war time related track, the lyrics are timeless. You can imagine this as treatment of a modern city centre like London’s west end, New York’s Time Square or just in your own home watching TV punctuated with commercials. Despite the bright lights and advertisements, you still have to work,  to earn, to spend – a spiral without end…

Good Lord Knows

This track is flamboyant with harpsichord and orchestral sounds. It’s quite uplifting in the manner of a church hymn. The lyrics appear to form a musical prayer to preserve our families from the ravages of war.

Up on the Ground

Another powerful guitar track and vocals. I can only guess the meanings…


Another up beat track, with a rock ‘n’ roll influenced rhythm interspersed with slow Hammond like passages.

Quatermass-One Blind Mice-1970

Quatermass-One Blind Mice-1970 (Photo credit: Affendaddy)

Make up your mind

Another track dealing with the future over the past and the benefits of letting go of past memories and experience. Again an uplifting feeling which gives way to the entropy like randomness of matter in the final ending. This blends into the next track – an instrumental called Laughing Tackle and finally a reprise version of Entropy.

Bonus Tracks

The original album didn’t have these tracks. They released as a single. The A side – “One Blind Mice” is a commercial sounding rock blues song, while the B side – “Punting” is a funky sounding instrumental.

Deutsch: Mae maware Ukemi, Vorwärtsrolle Judo

Deutsch: Mae maware Ukemi, Vorwärtsrolle Judo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Yesterday night was a vigorous warm up, after which we did several ukemi exercises.

  1. Forward Roll
  2. Backward Roll
  3. Forward Roll into a backward roll
  4. Projected forward roll – get as much distance and height as possible

I had always been pretty good at rolling, especially the “projected” rolls. I have been doing them since I started Judo. They have saved me from some injuries both on and off the mat. During the projection rolls, I try to visualise water being poured. This appears to fit with the use of projected ki energy. I just didn’t realise it.

In Judo they are called zenpo kaiten ukemi, I don’t recall the jitsu name – probably the same. I think they are just called zenpo ukemi in Aikido. I came across this video of a projected forward roll on you tube. This was a common occurrence at my Judo and Jitsu clubs except that we didn’t use pads – we lined up people! Possibly not allowed these days due to health and safety!

The rest of the session consisted of tai no henka and detailed work on controls – Nikyo and Yonkyo .

I ache a bit today. First projected roll in 15 years. Felt great at the time!

Shihōnage technique performed in "half-se...

Shihōnage technique performed in "half-seated" position (hanmi hantachi waza). Photograph taken at Aikido Shinbukan Dojo, Esztergom, Hungary, (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Today, after the usual warm up and Shikko, we first practised Iriminage from a grab at both wrists from the front. My biggest failing here is getting too close to the attacker when stepping of the line. This does not allow enough space to pull their head into my shoulder to break their axis.I also had a habit of turning the wrong way, but usually managed to move my foot before dropping uke on it!


We moved on to Shihonage. This proved a bit of an effort too. The fault here was that I couldn’t keep  my balance when turning under uke’s arm. It turned out that my stance is wrong. My stance was too wide and that meant that when pivoting around my planted foot, I was too far away from Uke. I spent some time practising assuming the correct kamae for this technique.


"Hanmi" - Photo Credit: Le Blog de Maryline,

Sensei then demonstrated correct Kamae (posture):

  • Sankaku Ho = 3 Angles (Triangle)
  • Hanmi = Half The Body. Exposes only half bod to attacker. Allows a very high mobility in all directions in space
  • Hitoemi. The hitoemi position opens up the front foot, allowing tori to turn more easily in the direction of the foot. The hips follow the turn, driving power

"Hitoemi" - Photo Credit: Le Blog de Maryline,

I had done shihonage before in Ju Jitsu, but usually muddled through just enough, ending up with a partially effective technique. Now the detailed foot positions are explained, it should be easier. Similarly, I had done iriminage before too, but struggled to make it work. Giving room to break the axis and twisting the shoulder are the missing details. It is definitely the subtleties that make things work in Aikido. I feel I am making slow progress, but that’s good – progress is good. As usual, I did some homework and found a good description of foot positions (in French – fitting for an aide mémoire!).

I was given a Wii Fit for Christmas. So far its been good, its improved my posture, helped me to lose some ineffective weight and build some strength up to the point that I felt like taking up a martial art again.

Wii Fit

Wii Fit (Photo credit: mdelamerced)

I owe a lot to the Wii fit! The Wii Fit measures your balance when you do the body test as well as your weight. I don’t do too badly usually on the balance tests, but every once in a while it asks you to close your eyes. This is where I lose it. I find that I need a visual reference to keep still.

Today, I had a break through. It asked me to close my eyes and I tried to “centre myself”. I concentrated on my hara and my “one point” in my midsection. I didn’t lock my knees or think about balance, I just concentrated on “the centre”. Guess What?

It worked!! The Wii Fit Plus said I was dead centre! Better than most times with my eyes open. I tried it again to see if it was a fluke and despite nagging kids and chaos all around it worked again! I’ll give it a go again tomorrow, but hopefully that’s contributed to my Aikido core.

Bokken with Tsuba and Jo Staff

Bokken with Tsuba and Jo Staff

Today, I bought a Bokken and a Jo Staff. I used to be the weapons officer at the Jitsu club, but never personally owned a set of weapons except a Tonfa (or nightstick). The tonfa is mainly associated with Karate (which I had never studied), however a friend of mine who was a police officer bought a set when the Metropolitan Police introduced the side handled baton. He didn’t need two, so we split the cost and the set of tonfa.

The bokken came with two tsuba of which only the rubber one fits. I don’t recall having trained with a tsuba fitted before, but it was annoying when we had to carry the bokken in the belt and it used to slip out. The tsuba should stop this. I recall that we did the 31 step Jo Kata in Jitsu once or twice. I’ll practice this and a bokken kata to get used to handling them.

I was a bit surprised that aikido had a weapons handling focus, but as it was explained to me, lots of the movements are taken from samurai cutting movements. Applying techniques like shionage and yonkyo all replicate cutting moves and even actual sword grips on uke’s arm.

Hanmi-hantachi waza

Hanmi-handachi waza (Photo credit: Sigurd R)

We started out with the usual warm up and did extra shikko practice. Sensei explained a bit more about the warm up being part of the Misogi. The Shikko was to become important as we did something completely new to me  Hanmi Handachi. This means that Uke is sitting in seiza and is attacked by tori who is standing.

We began by doing the normal tai no henka standing, then applied it to the Hanmi Handachi situation. Tori needs to sweep around to uke’s side while keeping balance on his knees and tenkan while bringing his wrist to his centre to break uke’s axis. When I got this right it was like uke was going to fall on top of me!

We turned the movement into Ikkyo and I learnt more about the immobilisation pin:

  • Straighten arm
  • Angle at 45 degrees (above uku’s shoulder)
  • Roll arm forward to fully expose elbow joint
  • Knee close into uke’s arm pit
  • Pin wrist and wrist side of elbow joint
  • Move away by turning and backing away from uke’s outstretched wrist

We then moved on to Nikyo and Shionage, both from Hanmi Handachi.