Been two years…

It’s been two years now since I started to learn the alternate keyboard layout on my Macbook and I am still using the Colemak layout.  I love it even though my speed has stagnated at 60 wpm.   Considering I was not a touch typist before I started, that sustained speed is so far above (3x -4x faster) what I was doing it’s left me with little motivation to put in the necessary practice time to become faster. I am not someone that has to do a lot of typing for what I do so it’s easy to go a while with typing at all.  Even so, I did meet my original objective that when I do type I am able to do type fast and comfortably.

Amdur interview

Ok, it’s been a while since I have posted something on anything, iaido, piano, or Colemak keyboard layout.

I listened to this nice recorded interview of Ellis Amdur about Aikido on http://usaikido.com/ . I recommend it strongly to any aikido student and to any practitioner of martial arts in general, it’s an interesting informative interview about the nature of training and the history of aikido.

Good news is I have been getting steadily better and faster using the Colemak sometimes exceeding 50 WPM. For a former non-touch typist that is great. Definitely love the layout. While at my cousins wedding last weekend, it was painful to watch my niece slowly with many errors try to touch type using qwerty on her laptop.

Traditional Iaido practice is done on a hardwood floor. Many new students in Iaido find performing seiza waza quite uncomfortable on a wood floor. Even experienced students will probably find kata starting in tate hiza unpleasant for the left leg. Some groups regular practicing on firm tatami or canvas mats in Aikido or other jujutsu schools may attend seminars done on hardwood gym floors and find practice quite uncomfortable (I know I did!). Even those practicing on a hardwood floor may still find it a bit much to practice without protection all day over several days. The fact that there is some claims that older practitioners who have practiced for many years primarily on hard wood have more knee and other problems than those who practice on mats do may also give one pause. If you visit Japan you are pretty much guaranteed that you will be practice on a bare floor. So there is a need to find a way to take the edge of practicing the traditional way without sacrificing stability or having equipment that gets in the way during performance. I think I have found the best solution available.


I have used many different solutions over the years for extended training on hardwood floors but in my experience by far the best solution is this one. The foam is thick enough to do the job without being so thick that it creates instablility in sitting and moving or shifts the stress onto the ankles and feet. The open back reduces sweating and reduces the need for talcum powder to prevent excessive chaffing of the back of the knee. The ultimate pad is the Trace Extra Long Style Knee Guard for Women’s’ Softball!




the second item on this page is what I use and recommend,


Trace Extra Long Style Knee Guard

(Click image for enlargement)


Premium grade vinyl / nitrile foam pad for maximum protection, while

minimizing compression set. Get protection when fielding and sliding.

Fits comfortably on back of leg without restricting freedom of

movement. Nylon/spandex fabric. 14″ length 3/8″.



similar are the same Softball knee guards can be found here,





You may be able to find it at any local store that carries softball equipment. That is the way I originally discovered them, but so far online seems to be the easiest and reliable way to get them. The one important advantage of finding them in a local store is getting the right size for you. If you get a size too big you may have problems during practice of them shifting too much down your legs which can be annoying if you several kata in a row without break. This is certainly a problem during demonstrations!


However, as great as this is, it still doesn’t protect the top of your feet. If you have a funny kink in a bone on the top of one your feet like I do or other imperfections, sitting in seiza or tate hiza on a hardwood floor can become pure torture. What you don’t want is a lot of padding that interferes with your kata, you want a little dose of neoprene to take the masochism out of your practice!


The right Rx is some ankle neoprene slip-on like these that actually cover the top of the foot and allows you to move well all day on a hardwood floor by exposing as much of the bottom of the foot as possible for decent traction.




These kind of ankle neoprene supports are little easier to find as many national and local drug store chains like CVS or Walgreens carry them in addition to sporting goods stores. The key is to find ones that cover as much of top the foot as possible to do the job of taking the edge off. The neoprene is not as thick and so it may not take away all or most of the discomfort like the kneepads do. I personally think this is a good thing. You want it to be good enough to take away the torture, but not so effective that it removes you so far from the floor that you don’t experience the firmness of the floor. Without some discomfort you won’t be motivated enough to learn good habits. Good habits like not sitting all your weight back on your feet in seiza or tate hiza. When you sit you weight should be shifted further forward taking the pressure of the feet. The thicker padding of the knee guards allows to find a position of greater comfort. This arrangement of padding then is helping you to learn to sit correctly and move correctly and the thinner neoprene on top of your foot becomes a non issue. Over time you may find you can do without the ankle neoprene pullover or no padding at all for shorter practice on a hardwood floor. Therefore too much padding will prevent you from finding this out and leave you dependent on always using padding or practicing on mats.


My favorite Keiko Gi

I am not a fan of the synthetic material tetron though many who practice Iaido in Japan wear it.   I prefer cotton.  In that respect, not all cotton keiko gi are the same. Some are quite rough and stiff, while others that are quite expensive drape on you in a very clingy way make them too warm and quite icky feeling.  My favorite has been an inexpensive Fuji brand that I get from BoguBag.com.  With the weak dollar, the 60$ price may be going up but still worth it.  http://bogubag.com/Uniforms/Kendo/uniforms_kendo_gi.html

Kendo Keiko Gi, Fuji Brand, Thick Single Weave, Blue, Indigo Dyed Cotton:

17-306   Keiko Gi, soft single weave, Blue 

How to Put On the Hakama

I originally did some searching to help new students or to respond to questions or because of sites newer students sent me with questions.  Wearing the traditional Japanese pants is part of Iaido from the beginning so it a challenge every new Iaido student faces. I tie my hakama in the manner Mitsuzuka Sensei taught me and show that to new students, but the following naganata site is the closest  that I have found online,http://www.scnf.org/poh.htmlhttp://www.scnf.org/poh2.htmlWe use the square not style used when wearing armor.  See the pictures at the bottom of the second page above (see footnote below (1).  This Kendo site has something very nice coherent drawings of basically the way we do it,http://www.mushinkankendo.com/kendo_uniform.html—-Other sites that may be informative in the various ways that a hakama is put on.  Many new students to Iaido may have trained in Aikido, where the hakama is tucked around a thinner belt. That’s akin to tucking your pants into your under wear or tucking your pants into your boots.  Helps to hold things in but very informal. This is nice illustration and complete except we do not finish with a bow which by the way is tied incorrectly as shown (see the discussion in the footnote (1))http://www.freewebs.com/iaidotoyama/uniform.htm

The first sequence is musubi kiri, which is used for normal iai training. It’s quite simple to tie and can be done in a minute or two.


(right most green button on bottom right of page takes you to the next page, red button takes you back to the top page  http://kimonoo.net/kituke.html    )

The second sequence is jumonji musubi, which is used for formal gatherings and demonstrations (some disagree (1)).


 ———————————————(1)Lots of detailed discussion about the knot in front on this e-budo thread:http://www.e-budo.com/forum/archive/index.php/t-7306.html

There are several ways. The warrior’s way of tying the hakama, also called shin musubi (true/correct knot) is a simple square knot with the ends of the himo (cords) tucked in, so they don’t move and/or get in the way.


The commoner’s method, called jumonji musubi (figure ten knot, so-called since it looks like “ten” in kanji) is to tie a square knot; then take one of the cords, fold it up and place it crossways (i.e., parallel with the directions of the cords as they go about the waist). Take the other cord and wrap it around the bundle you’ve just made of the other end, then fold it under the cords, if there’s any left over, so that the end is pointing up (not down! I dunno why that’s “wrong”), and voila! Lots of iaido people do it like that, but I have it on good authority (i.e., Yagyu Sensei) that warriors’d rather be caught without a hakama than to tie it like that. You could also tie the cords in a butterfly knot (cho musubi), but it would make you look like a jinja maiko (shrine maiden). Or a heck of a dork. Hope this helps. 

— Meik Skoss———————————————

piano recital

Haven’t posted in a while partly because I just wanted the Colemak solution to be as visible as possible and also because the whole idea of blogging still seems like a strange idea to me even after reading other blogs here and there for a few years.

Well, I just contributed to online piano recital my own voicing of the classic “Stormy Weather” and it was a lot of work but fun. I felt I came up with some interesting voicings. In several places, I felt it was difficult not to be too dissonant. I opted for solution where the melody note was either played over a sparser chord or by itself and then immediately followed by a chord with more more color notes to suggest a bit more dissonance giving a nice richer tone. I came with an interesting coda also. I used a technique of passing through a flatted seventh chord in the left hand to suggest more movement. Over all pretty nice. It’s a challenge to play and my recording has mistakes but it should be interesting to keep practicing it an improving it. I am now working on several songs: Angel Eyes, Unforgettable, Let it snow, Christmas Song. Also working on learning stride technique. Overall, having a lot of fun with the Sudnow course. You can check out my playing at the recital site Sudnow students piano recordings. Look for the folder titled May 13th recital. Hope you enjoy!

Ok, I am a serious Mac user. I left Windows around the time Windows 98 finally came out and haven’t looked back.

This is my final solution for the Colemak keyboard layout I have been using on my macbook since the beginning of January. It’s sweet! If you don’t know, this is a touch type keyboard layout that is a vast improvement over Qwerty in comfort and far easier for Qwerty touch typists to learn than Dvorak. See the Colemak website for more infomation and why it would make sense for many people if they only knew about. Personally, I like it a lot so far after using it for 1.5 months. It’s really a travesty that children are still learning Qwerty touch typing in the 21st century in my book. It’s easy to setup on Macs, PC’s, and Linux/unix boxes. On a Mac, the one tricky point is replacing the Caps Lock key with a Backspace key. This is supposed to alone cut out 15-20% of the finger distance you make in typing. I initially for over a month did not change the Caps Lock key because it was a hassle involving some beta software extension that required more than the 10 seconds of effort to install. You can honestly be quite happy without the Caps Lock switch, but I finally decided to make the change and am happy I did! (see step 2 and 3 below)

This is the Colemak keyboard layout on a Macbook without Backspace replacement of the Caps Lock key:
Colemak layout on Mac

I finally decided to figure out how to make the Caps Lock key a backspace/delete key and it is rather nice though I have to be careful not to let it promote slopping typing because it is so much less trouble to delete. The following is not for hackers but for those less computer savvy or with little time who stumble on this layout and would like to try Colemak on their Mac but don’t have a lot of time to try something out that they are not sure about but could possibly grow to love. With that in mind I point out how you can be sure to up and using this great layout within minutes for free.

Okay, my final solution on my Macbook running Tiger (OS X 10.4.8) is the following and it works great.

1. go to http://colemak.com/Mac and download and install the Colemak.layout – the install is little more than dragging the file Colemak.keylayout into the correct directory, the ~/Library/Keyboard Layouts/ is the one I chose. Log out of your OS X User account and then log back in. Open System Preferences, click on the International icon, and in the Input Menu tab enable the layout. I suggest you also choose to the option “Use one input source in all documents” and select “Show input menu in menu bar”. That way you can switch back to Qwerty (U.S.) at any time if you need to for passwords and such. Also make sure the menu bar will show the “Show the keyboard viewer” option as that comes in very handy when you are first learning the layout by touch. I recommend TypeTrainer4Mac for learning the layout quickly (can be found here http://colemak.com/Learn). Ktouch is good but unless you already have Fink installed along with KDE then you are in for a lot of extra effort and time. IF you don’t know what I am talking about and don’t have Apple’s Developer folder installed on your Macbook, you REALLY don’t want to know!!! I lost a couple of days getting Ktouch working on my Macbook. It wasn’t fun and I would not have done it if I had known about TypeTrainer4Mac. I probably only occasionally practice with Ktouch now because it I put so much effort into installing it. Both are free to use.

(read the warnings – however in Tiger my experience is that the authetication windows and login windows always default to Qwerty layout no matter what I do. On my second laptop, a powerbook that is running Panther (OS X 10.3.9) with Colemak.keylayout installed, this is not the case for the authentication windows – they do become Colemak layout by default however it is trivial to change back on the fly if you have turned on the “Show input menu in the menu bar” International preference pane. The login window remains Qwerty in Panther. So the risk of mistyping passwords is never high.)


2. Download fKeys beta 0.2.1 and install, look at the readme file and use the package installer…. Since it is beta I personally will never install it permanently. I select it for the current session. A new session seems to be only when rebooting and not from simply logging out. So I only have to Activate it, which takes seconds, on the rare occasions that I reboot my machine this is a miniscule price to be sure a can reboot without this system extension installing.

3. Download the macbook config files from the same beta page and modify them using some cut and paste magic with the Colemak example in the kinesis keyboard config files. It is pretty trivial to do but you have to be careful because mistakes could result in causing a kernel panic.

    Don’t have the time ? or messing around editing text files is not you favorite past time ?
    Here is what I made and use and it works fine with no problems. fKeysMacbookconfigs.zip Feel free to use it. Nothing original here. I don’t know if there would be any changes needed on a Macbook Pro. If you have a Pro and will test it out let me know. These files still have the config for the powerbook keyboards and when I upgrade my G4 Titanium powerbook to Tiger soon I will test it there to be sure. One note however, my config files also switch the Apple “enter” key next to the right command key to another “option” key like on full keyboards. Made sense to me since I never used that key. If it bothers you it is real easy to delete that out of the config files but you will have to kind of read and understand the config files syntax. I expect that 99%+ of the mac users out won’t miss that “enter” key. For those typing in languages other than English this can be useful.

Missing your Caps Lock key for that rare occurrence when you want to yell at someone by email ?

Get a caps lock back by turning on sticky keys in the accessibilily preference pane
see here http://www.apple.com/accessibility/physical/

Actually, this is great and in many ways is more functional than the standard Caps Lock key because it allows you to effectively have Caps Lock on special keys as well. It’s nice not to have to hold down the Shift key when entering just one capital character. No more two hand stretching. For myself, I have decided this is better than dedicating another key to caps lock. All the shift functionality in one key does make a lot more sense. Why is this not standard behavior? It would be nice I suppose if if you could just make the shift keys sticky only. Some may not like that this makes all command keys sticky. It can be useful in unexpected ways. I was able to take a snap shot of the Apple keyboard layout above without showing any keys depressed because of sticky keys.

Note: When turning on sticky keys, I would turn off the beep but you may find as I did that the display option is kind of a nice not too intrusive way of reminding you what command keys are activated.

All this may be obvious or easy to some, but it wasn’t to me and I have been programming and using computers since the 1970’s. My hope is that this sets the bar low enough that more will discover and use this great key layout on a Mac!



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