R&D Update: June 2016

It’s been a busy year for us. Since releasing our Annual Update for 2015, we’ve undertaken a number of new R&D initiatives, as well as moved forward in-progress projects. Here’s a quick update on three of them.  

1. Tanto-Dori (knife defenses)

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Every martial art and every dojo’s training methods have their own strengths and weaknesses.  I can’t speak for other aikdio dojos, but at Ikazuchi Dojo we believe our technical system is very effective at dealing with grabs, committed strikes, and positioning against multiple attackers.  

However, after having the opportunity to train with a number of very experienced knife technicians, I’ve come to realize that our tactics and responses tend to break down when dealing with a knife. Fast attacks from a well-balanced attacker that can deal damage without committing weight or momentum cause real challenges for us. A skilled knife fighter can deliver a devastating flurry of cuts and thrusts in a small space without ever needing to commit their weight to any of the attacks.

As an update to our research on this initiative, we’ve continued to deepen our collaborative effort with the Inosanto Academy and are seeking a more comprehensive understanding of their knife and weapons movements. Just as the katana is a symbol of Japanese heritage and martial arts, the knife is equally as embedded in Filipino culture. Their short blade systems are incredibly mature and robust. They’ve been battle tested over decades of life or death engagements.

We’ve recently focused our research and collaboration efforts through two primary channels:

Broad familiarity: The goal here is to introduce the knife broadly to our student base, but at a fairly superficial level. We just want our students to see how a skilled knife fighter moves and how to think about the strengths and weaknesses of the weapon. We’ve had some of the Instanto Academy’s senior practitioners lead classes and workshops at Ikazuchi Dojo. Mark Cheng has now led 3 knife knowledge workshops at the dojo and Jeff Imada, who has trained under Guro Dan Inosanto for over 40 years, has been a guest instructor at the dojo.

Mark Cheng, with the support of some additional Filipino martial arts veterans lead a knife knowledge workshop at Ikazuchi Dojo.

Mark Cheng, with the support of some additional Filipino martial arts veterans lead a knife knowledge workshop at Ikazuchi Dojo.

Deep understanding: While our students keep the vast majority of their focus on development of their core aikido basics, Matsuoka Sensei continues his direct exchange program with Guro Dan Inosanto. Josh Gold has an active collaboration effort with Mark Cheng and has the opportunity to learn directly from Guro Dan Inosanto and Jeff Imada, as well. Our goal here is to gain a deep enough understanding of the knife for us to slowly adapt our techniques and teaching methods in this area.

Our recent focus has been to understand how a skilled knife technician attacks with the weapon and how they respond to deflections, counters, and disarm attempts. Our thinking is that by understanding these details, we will be able to better harden our defensive movements to reduce vulnerabilities and increase the probability of success with our disarms and throws.

One thing we’ve noticed in training with Academy members is that once they move into a disarm position, they are at points that can easily transition into a range of aikido throws. Our current theory is that if we can better harden our deflections, all of our throws and basic positioning tactics are valid and effective. We just have to get to that point without getting cut to pieces.

Josh gets a knife to the carotid artery after his disarm was countered.

Josh gets a knife to the carotid artery after his disarm was countered.

We are not trying to make radical changes to the knife curriculum in the aikido world but are just taking a modest step forward within our own dojo. We’re still gathering and processing knowledge and are not yet ready to share any conclusions or techniques yet. We do however, look forward to getting feedback on our findings when we have something well-structured to share.

We are profoundly grateful to have enthusiastic support from Guro Dan Inosanto and his instructors and students. I’m also thankful to have an ongoing remote dialogue with Autrelle Holland of Jacksonville Florida. As a martial artist with significant experience with both Aikido and Kali, he’s also added a unique and valuable dimension to our thinking in this area.  

My personal explorations in this area have opened my eyes as a martial artist and pushed me to deepen my understanding of the art of aikido and the way the human body moves.  

2. Motion Capture: FMS

The first thing we did with our motion capture system after it arrived was to play with it like a kid opening a present on Christmas morning. We suited up and starting swinging swords and rolling. It was fun.

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Once we got that out of our system, we realized that we needed to rigorously test the accuracy and performance of the system. It’s one thing to use the system to wave “hi” to your friends in virtual reality. It’s quite another to use it for analysis of elite movement specialists.

We decided that one way for us to dial in the accuracy system was to use it to capture and analyze a Functional Movement Screen. The FMS is a broadly accepted test to identify movement pattern disfunction and asymmetry in the human body. The FMS is used widely in professional sports. Since 2013, the NHL combine has used the FMS screen for every participant. Most NFL teams use the FMS. Many NBA players are tested. The US military also uses the screen.

Lebron James being given an FMS screen by Dr. Lee Burton

Lebron James being given an FMS screen by Dr. Lee Burton

Given the broad applicability to human movement and the demands of precision measurement of the screen, we thought it would be a perfect way for us to test the performance of our motion capture system.

Mark Cheng, an FMS faculty member, led us through a series of FMS tests. The first one was a mess. Accuracy was way off. The next one got better. By our third test, we had dialed in the accuracy of the system significantly. There were 2-week gaps between tests, enough time for our team to research methods to maximize the potential of the system and make necessary process and software enhancements.

Output from one of our early FMS tests

Output from one of our FMS tests

This has been a great exercise in discipline for us. We now know the strengths and limitations of the system and have the insight and know-how to develop some interesting applications.

We look forward to providing further updates on our motion capture efforts in the future. We hope to be able to share news with you soon about Project Blackbird, a motion capture based effort we’ll be undertaking soon.

3. Video

Video

We’ve been experimenting quite a bit with video this year. We set it as one of our strategic objectives for 2016. Since the beginning of the year we’ve done the following:

Capture Everything

Technically not everything, but we have captured large volumes of video. Hours upon hours of group classes, workshops, one-on-one training sessions, independent training practice, and instructor development sessions. For example, the knife knowledge workshops and some of the one-on-one collaboration sessions referenced earlier in this post have been captured on video.

Build a Pipeline 

We’ve developed a (somewhat) efficient video capture, production, and distribution pipeline. We can prep to shoot a session in 5 minutes and have the infrastructure and workflow to quickly move the video around, edit it, and share it. We also have a roadmap in place that will bring us increased video quality and production efficiencies over the next 6 months. 

Bring Focus to the Effort

Our first step was just to collect as much video as we could and experiment with uses and form factors. We’ve used video as assessment and instructional tools and have also captured video purely for testing and archival purposes. In the end, after looking at everything, we’ve set out a comprehensive strategy for our use of video. 

Some of our video usage will be for internal dojo purposes only. Other ways we will be using video will be shared more broadly. We’ve seen the enthusiastic and positive response to some of the videos we’ve shared in blog posts. In the last few months, we’ve had over 85,000 video views from over 100 nations. With the encouragement we’ve gained from that, we will soon be rolling out a video based application. 

We’ve already opened it up to Ikazuchi Dojo students. After a short testing and feedback period, we plan on sharing our thinking, approach, and results with the broader aikido community.

Video home page Expect more details on this in the coming weeks. We are excited to share our efforts and get guidance from you that will allow us to further shape and propel the initiative forward.

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6 Comments On “R&D Update: June 2016”

  1. I really enjoyed this article!

    Reply

  2. Greg Brown Birmingham Ala

    Your efforts to improve and take into the future this art we love are much much appreciated. Best wishes for continued research and new revelations. Thank you Sensei Gold and Ikazuchi Dojo. Greg Brown Birmingham Ala.

    Reply

  3. This is the way to bring in analytical methods to get a deeper and more objective understanding of martial arts in general and Aikido specifically.

    Reply

  4. I have to confess with a lot of envy, I’m impressed with the amount of things you guys are doing. Let me know if you need beta testers outside the dojo to check the video app 🙂

    Great job guys!

    Reply

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