The JiyuWaza Game by Ross Robertson
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The JiyuWaza Game is a fun training methodology I've developed to
familiarize players with energy exchange, fluidity of movement, and
spontaneity in the context of aikido. The game encourages a complete
freedom from traditional attack and defense forms, while illustrating
how these can arise naturally and inevitably.
Players interact in an agreed manner to keep energy constantly moving
between them. Each player attempts to stay on their feet while
remaining committed to their designated goal, but accepts a fall when
necessary and returns to play immediately. No score is kept and there
is no victory point. The aim is to cooperate within a framework of
inherent conflict, and observe the dynamic pattern as it plays out.
Like any good improvisation, certain rules and constraints encourage
exploration and creative discovery. Two players are the basic unit,
one representing Solid and one representing Empty (or Full and
Space). Players agree on a range of speed which neither should exceed
or alter abruptly. Learning occurs more readily when the speed is kept
slow and smooth.
The most basic rule is that one player will consistently attempt to
"push solid," while the other player "pushes space." At the basic
level of play, these roles should remain fixed until the players
mutually agree to trade turns.
The Solid player is instructed to seize the hand, wrist, or arm of the
other player. Solid then pushes toward the other player, generally
aiming for the central axis of the body. This is what we mean by
"pushing solid." The main challenge for Solid is to keep adjusting the
trajectory to push into a moving target.
The Empty player is instructed to make whatever allowance necessary to
open a space for Solid's energy to pass without resistance into open
space. This can involve moving the feet to allow for free passage, or
allowing perturbations of posture. No resistance whatsoever is
allowed, and Empty should never push back in any way. However, on the
occasions when forces are aligned, Empty is expected to "push space."
By "pushing space," we mean pushing toward any open area of the room,
pushing toward the ground, or pushing into any of the empty areas
around Solid's body (over the shoulders, under the arms, or between
the legs). Pulling is not allowed, and neither is accelerating
Solid's push in such a way that resistance is encountered.
Even so, resistance is likely to be met if Solid is playing the game
actively (Solid's job, in effect, is to create resistance through
compression). Therefore the dilemma for Empty is when to switch from
receptive to active, and back again as necessary.
Despite the prohibition which forbids Empty to push at or into Solid's
body, certain exceptions are permitted in order to gain open
space. Empty is allowed to make contact with any part of Solid's body
(within the bounds of safety and respect). Pushing with Solid's body
part is permitted to whatever extent that part moves freely. In other
words, if Empty can succeed in pushing space without resistance, it
doesn't matter if Solid's body is, for the moment, along for the
ride. If Solid's body offers no more resistance than pushing an
ordinary door open, then it is allowed. If the "door" is locked,
jammed, or feels too heavy, then alternate passage should be sought.
Each player has a secondary agenda of trying to keep their balance by
staying on their feet. However, it's perfectly normal for one or the
other to need to fall and take ukemi. This is a regular part of play,
and the fallen player should recover quickly and return to their
designated part. Alternatively, this could be the agreed upon signal
to take turns and change roles.
Once competency with the basics is achieved, several variations
present themselves which can enhance the experience. Solid may be
allowed to pull as well as push, introducing tension in addition to
compression. Solid may be given some leeway to also push space if
doing so may lead to a positional advantage from which to better push
solid (ie, ducking under Empty's arm to achieve ikkyo or sankyo so as
to push Empty's body with their own arm). More players can be
introduced into the game.
At higher skill levels, players can dispense with fixed roles. Each
must agree to keep an energy flow going, and each must assume
responsibility for not sustaining a clinch. That is, two players
should avoid pushing solid at the same time.
Students of aikido will inevitably try to map the roles of uke and
tori onto Solid and Empty. It is true that there are similarities in
these roles, but a strict correspondence would be misleading. The game
does not assume that throwing or pinning is in any way part of the
agenda. Nor is the game particularly biased as to who might take a
fall, if falling occurs at all.
The game is both collaborative and competitive. Players have a shared
goal of pushing, but the kind of pushing each is committed to puts
them at cross purposes. Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of the
game is how the energy itself tends to resolve this quandary.
In good play, both players are surfing each other's energy. The
differing and conflicting goals of pushing solid and pushing empty
keep the players constantly adjusting to the changing conditions. Each
adjustment necessitates a counter- or corresponding adjustment. The
system is highly chaotic, yet moments of synergy emerge spontaneously
in the feedback loop.
The system may stabilize for long periods, or may be driven to
turbulence. Distortion is recognized by one of two occurrences: 1)
Heat and friction is increased, ie, the players find themselves in a
clinch. This represents some measure of success on the part of Solid,
since both players are now pushing solid. 2) A collapse occurs. Either
or both players fall and take ukemi. This represents some measure of
success of Empty, since the collapse moves the system primarily toward
Despite the specified terminology, Empty performs best when neither
pushing nor pulling. "Pushing space" is really more about a commitment
to move only where one has complete liberty to move, and to avoid
moving into barriers or obstacles.
Since there is no scoring and no winning or losing, no referee is
necessary. It can help, of course, to have a coach (sensei) observing
and offering reminders. Players can and should give verbal feedback to
each other, particularly during the learning period. It is fairly easy
to step outside one's designated role without realizing it.
The JiyuWaza Game may be a step toward Contact Improv (a dance form
that has its origin in aikido) but I don't believe it is a step away
from budo. As a learning tool, it can be extremely effective at
showing where traditional kata forms come from and what their motives
are. Kaeshi waza is seen as a natural turning of energy rather than a
counter (contrary) measure. The game presents a simple formula for
performing powerful yet effortless aikido. Real skill is required to
play the game well, but assuming each player is performing fairly, the
learning curve is easy and enjoyable.
I would be delighted if readers were willing to try the game out for a
while, and post your feedback to this forum.
Still Point Aikido Center
Austin, TX, USA
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