Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Kote Gaeshi and “The legend of the great and powerful Sensei”

Great class last night. I define a great class as meeting 3 factors:
  1. I achieved my teaching goals / completed the entire lesson plan
  2. I had fun
  3. I learned something from my students

This blog is primarily about that 3rd one.
This next part is going to be fairly style and technique specific. Take what works for you ignore the rest, or just skip to the next part.
I teach joint locks under the premise of a tree and its branches. The trunk is our basic arm bar Ude Osae in Jujutsu or Ikkajo in Aikido. That is our bread and butter joint lock. If I get hold of an arm I'm putting you on the ground with it. Simple, gross motor and easily applicable from both offense and defense. Every other joint lock I teach is a branch from that trunk. Meaning in order to resist that lock the opponent will hand me something else (make my job easier)

Kote Gaeshi
Joint locks are prevalent in Japanese martial arts. An armored samurai is not very vunarable to strikes. However, in order for the samurai to move he has to be able to articulate his joints. Thus he was susceptible to those joints being moved past where they can move naturally, or opposite of the way they were designed to move.

Kote is the armor that protects the wrist. Gaeshi (or Kaeshi) is reversal.
Kote Gaeshi, wrist reversal, or return the wrist.

Many schools teach this technique using a thumb on the back of the hand.
In order for techniques to be applicable in the field you have to be able to do them when you are adrenalized (losing fine motor skills), and in all weather conditions. When it is hot and things are sweaty and slippery. When it is cold and you are wearing mittens or you can't feel / move your fingers. I like to imagine my fingers are broken. If I can do the technique with broken fingers, I can do the technique.

I teach two variations of this lock. From the arm bar if you lose the wrist you can trap the elbow and lock the joint with your shoulder. If you lose the elbow you can trap the wrist and lock joint with your fore arm.

The explanation of why two ways, was one of the things that made last night's class great.

Saying it is one thing but seeing a student (a professional you respect) understand it is another. Not only was he able to feel uke's resistance to the arm bar and use that resistance to his advantage. But he began to instinctively transition to which ever lock naturally became available due to the specific course of uke's resistance. Riding the horse the way it wants to go if you will.

The legend of the great and powerful Kasey.

I am a Sensei, I have students. I have been Sensei to some of these students for nearly 10 years. There is a student teacher relationship that develops.

The thing is, sometimes respect for Sensei turns into deference when training. Case in point, we were working a multiple attacker drill last night. I pinned down one attacker with my knee. Lise (the other attacker) hit me with a one two combo…to my shoulders. I grabbed her and pinned her on top of the other guy. I thought, wow I was really exposed there. Then I thought why the hell did she hit my shoulders?

Lise came up through a Korean system. In that system everything is yes sir, no sir, right away sir. If you dared to disagree with, let alone strike or defeat the Instructor you would be physically punished and publicly embarrassed in front of the class.

At the end of class I like to go around to every student and ask them to share one thing they learned in the class. What I learned last night was I have to somehow get students to flip a switch. When training I can't be treated like "the great and powerful Keckeisen Sensei" I have to be just a guy. I have to be your training buddy. If you don't smack me when I leave myself open to be smacked you are wasting my precious training time. That is disrespectful. That is saying if I really tried Sensei couldn't handle me I better take it easy. Much more disrespectful than smacking me in front of the class. If you can smack me that is AWESOME! You should be proud of yourself. I am proud of you, and we both learn something. If I keep leaving myself open to be smacked maybe I shouldn't be your Sensei. Even a god king can bleed, but Sensei can't learn if you treat him like one.

Train hard, Train smart, Be safe (and go smack your Sensei)


  1. That's been one of my hardest challenges to get across to students: ACTUALLY FIGHT ME!

    I've got one who's finally starting to get it. Only took 10 years...

    To students -- Your teachers need you to do things "for real." They can't demonstrate the technique properly if you don't. They can develop overconfidence or bad habits if you don't stop them. It's a give & take relationship -- on both sides!

  2. "I like to imagine my fingers are broken. If I can do the technique with broken fingers, I can do the technique."

    That was a lightbulb moment for me - thanks.

  3. Not to restate the point, the teacher strives to have their students surpass them. This is something that some teachers forget mainly because of their own ego.
    As mentioned the problem is that the student is also involved and works to keep the teacher on a pedestal.

  4. Great post. It's far to common for teachers to feel threatened by the very suggestion that they are not perfect. Sadly, it is fairly common for teachers to demonstrate only and only talk the talk, never working in with students. It speaks to your character that you not only encourage your students to test your mettle, but you are also proud if they are successful. As you said, that way, everyone learns.

    I have to agree with Mr. Walker about the broken finger reference. With your permission, I intend to use that analogy.

  5. @Journeyman.... yes it takes a great man to be willing to keep on learning and actively look to see if there are gaps in his own training. We are blessed to have one of the greatest.
    It's a pleasure and an honor to learn from him