Thursday, November 3, 2011

Throwing Yourself

I visited AikiWeb last night and found a thread centered on one of the quintessential issues of Aikido: The Complicit Uke. My own experience finds that you can't go many years in practice--what with new students coming and going, attending seminars, and so forth--without encountering that uke who may be just a little too helpful, who makes you look just a little too good. Granted, if you're testing and an uke is going to be randomly assigned you'd prefer this uke to that resistant one--but still...

A lot of discussion and criticism of the art are rooted in this issue. So, what is the right answer? What's nage to do when he encounters that overly helpful uke who is running on autopilot with a "big throw goes here" pre-programmed?

In our own studies at Sword Mountain, we would say that nage is already halfway to the ground... What matters now is how he responds next.

Beyond the mechanics of the jujitsu techniques, why does Aikido--or any martial art for that matter--work? What are we really studying here?

The moment you notice uke is not performing properly? That is your true opponent. That is the attack that you must handle. Everything before that moment you knew how to handle; with hundreds or thousands of repetitions of the form and variations under your belt, you can deal with the wrist grab and execute the technique with your eyes closed--you can see it through with you on autopilot. But then something goes awry... "This isn't right!" There is the true wrist grab... There is you, off-balanced. So, what will you do? How will you respond?

With the foundation set, we consider similar puzzles in a physical form when we study henka waza (changing techniques) and kaeshi waza (technique reversals). At the root of both practices is an immediate awakening from within your circumstances to an opportunity. Henka waza happens within the role of nage, sometimes beginning with the realization that "this technique is not working." Nage forcing ikkyo" becomes "Nage trying kotegaeshi," for instance. Kaeshi waza happens when roles reverse; for instance, "Uke about to be thrown with kotegaeshi" dies and is reborn as "Nage responds to a strange morotedori with iriminage." In either case, the success or failure of the transformation--as with the original technique--relies upon disrupting your adversary's expectation, a true off-balancing. In a truly free practice (jiyu waza) without fixed roles of uke and nage, the exchanges can become quite "Spy vs Spy"...

But let's step back one step further: Is this not the foundation of all of our Aikido techniques? A person accustomed to punching people in the nose is familiar with a handful of ordinary responses. The martial artist, however, presents the unexpected response. For some arts, this is simply moving faster, striking harder, being conditioned to the pain, and so forth--all fine, and all shattering the attacker's expected outcome. The same can be said of Aikido: the entering, the pivoting, the blending, the kiai, the atemi, and so forth right through meeting the adversary with a confident smile--all of this is our practice of off-balancing the attacker on every plane of body, mind, and spirit, disrupting the expected. Uke meets you on your ground, not his, and you are free to continually shift the ground...

As beginners in a particular art and style, we practice our ideal forms. In the beginning, they are not an integral part of us. With practice though, they become like breathing. We transmit these forms to the next generations of students. "Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera." If we only do this, we are only developing new habituated responses to situations--or, "changing our karma." That's not a bad thing, per se, but it is what it is: just new habits. Now should you encounter new situations, including physical agression, it's the adversary's habits versus your own, and the outcome one way or another is practically predestined...

... unless we realize this, and incorporate that realization into our practice as well.

Realizing that things are not going according to plan--not according to your expectations--is an opportunity to awaken. Seeing that things are going according to plan? Same thing. Seeing during an exchange that uke is being too helpful is a hiccup in your habitual flow. That disruption is as real and as effective as an atemi to your nose! For a moment, it's taken your mind, off-balancing you. Now what? How will you respond?

Before you answer, one last point: Uke may or may not have been complicit in this "attack" against you at all. All that is for certain is this: your expected response from uke, your noticing the violation, and all of the associated thoughts and feelings associated with that violation are all completely independent of uke's action--they are all within you. Now, what will be the source of your response?

Stay awake! Don't get stuck!

Masakatsu Agatsu Katsuhayabi!
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