View Full Version : flow, or technique

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Andrew Macdonald
09-27-2012, 10:45 PM
flow or techniques first

got in to a discussion with a student from another style, he showed me a video of some guy practicing and their movements were very fixed and step by step. he explained that this was just the wy they train

the way that i have been taught usually was flow and softness and find the techniques through that.

no way is wrong or better but i find it interesting

which way do you prefer?

09-28-2012, 02:23 AM
well when I first started my instructors said that it was ok to begin with for the movements within the kata to look mechanical because they wanted to know I understood the technique. But as you progress and improve they expect us kyu grades to flow much more naturally, all the elements of the waza coming together to form one motion.Now that I am a brown belt my instructors expect me to be able to react spontaneously to my uke's attack and to perform the techniques purely from muscle memory.

09-28-2012, 03:04 AM
I think you definitely need to learn correct body mechanics before you start worrying about flow. I definitely approve of the Yoshinkan philosophy behind teaching beginners. Having said that, it is best to keep the flow in mind as you progress and mix up your training a bit so that you don't get stuck moving like a robot.

Mario Tobias
09-28-2012, 04:14 PM
Hi Andrew,

For me, definitely technique first. There are different levels or hierarchy in aikido training:

Katai, meaning stiff, hard or rigid training
Ki-No Nagare - flowing

IMHO, this is also how each and every technique of yours should progress. For a person who has trained extensively with Katai training he would find it easier to go to Ki-no-nagare but an aikidoka who has practiced ki-no-nagare disregarding katai training when faced with a resisting partner would have difficulty progressing.

I say this because by doing katai training and having a very strong partner resist (by resist I mean not countering, just making it difficult for uke to perform technique), you are understanding body mechanics and lines of movement where the uke's body is weakest/nage's line is strongest. This is also where you work hardest. You "feel" the "lines of weakness" most by having uke resist a reasonable (or large) amount. No matter how uke resists, I believe there is always a line somewhere where he is weakest that you can do the technique. Aikido works because aikido techniques are based on physics/lever principles.

Katai training is a practice of basic discovery, "your" discovery. I think you cannot do this discovery "experiment" with flowing technique since you do not know if uke's line of weakness is genuine or not. whether he just falls by himself or you actually threw him properly. Although some would argue that flowing technique works, I think it is probably because it is the "generic" aikido technique that works however "your" aikido technique might be questionable. Anyway all I am trying to say here is that you don't know if you start with flowing if "your" technique works or not. IMHO, Ki-no nagare is advanced training.

Why would one progress in advanced training if his basics is on shaky ground?

If you look at the way Saito-shihan always teaches, he starts off requesting uke to hold hard and resist as much as he can for every technique. This is because he wants us to understand the basic movement, understanding the lines where uke is weakest. I see this in all of his videos.

Similarly, I also believe an aikidoka technique's progression should be:
Full contact (by this I mean uke holding onto nage as much as possible during the technique)
Some contact (nage leads just as uke makes contact)
Minimal contact (nage leads uke before making contact)
No contact and you should still be able to do the technique

This is one of the mysteries I have for my aikido why I can do the techniques with no contact. The reason one is able to do this I think is that aikido first and foremost is leading the mind, second understanding distance (maai) and timing and lastly leading uke in the lines of weakness as what you have discovered during katai training.

In my aikido, I approach my learnings adapted to my techniques as a progression or as a spectrum, not if a way of learning is right or wrong. By doing this I have somewhat clearer objectives of what I need to achieve as an aikidoka.

These are just some of the examples:
Katai training > Yawarakai > Ki-no nagare > Ki
Full contact > some contact > Minimal contact > No Contact
intent through physical atemi > intent through spiritual/thought atemi
Leading the body (physical technique) > Leading body and mind > Leading the mind (spirit)
understanding your movement > understanding uke's movement > understanding your movement in relation to uke

My 2 cents worth.

09-29-2012, 08:13 AM
this depends on the person. some are more inclined to a structure type of practice which gravitate them toward technique. some are more toward freedom of movement which gravitate toward flow. i came to aikido from other martial arts that are mostly technique based. Then i ran into those crazy systema buggers whose approach to things are mostly flow. i liked that alot. learned the flow from them, i went back and fixed my techniques, rounding out the edges, and smooth the flow.

i have seen folks who focused on technique and never got beyond into the flow, and this applied to most martial arts that i encountered. i also saw folks focus on the flow and their techniques are sloppy. based on my personal experience, which isn't all the much, arts that have competition component, the good ones will be better with the flow, i.e. moving beyond technique, sooner.

now, if you are in buffet situation, a good flow would get you more foods. :)

09-29-2012, 12:26 PM
I have an Iwama background, Iwama techniques are very "step wise". I find that this way of learning allows you to better understand the parts of the waza, and gives you time to understand what it is you are doing what you are doing.

However with a step wise practice like this, you can't really feel what we would call the "Aiki" of a situation. You can't see how they pieces fit together in time. So one must have a regular flowing practice.

To me you must also add at least one more step, and have a practice where someone is trying to stop you from applying technique, and is trying to apply technique to you as well. A sparring type practice.

All three of these ways are very important. At my school, we have a Kihon waza class, which is done step wise. Followed by a Ki-no-nagare class which is all done in motion. And at the end of the evening we have an advanced class, where we spar with each other.

In my opinion no step can be omitted.

09-29-2012, 10:37 PM
Saotome Sensei, I think in one of his books--and if not, it's in one of Gleason Sensei's books quoting him--says that for shodan he's looking for precision of technique. All the parts in exactly the right place at the right time. For nidan, he's looking for fluidity, to see that all the parts have been integrated into a whole movement. Sounds like a similar sort of progression.

09-30-2012, 05:59 AM
IMHO, this is the problem with individual learning strategies and group instruction.

Sequentially, some people learn better with the big-picture (flow) first and then adding the smaller-picture (technical proficiency). Its like a jig-saw puzzle where the most important piece is the picture on the cover.

Sequentially, other people learn better from the parts to the whole.

Often the style/school follow what learning strategy/sequence the founder/instructor found worked for them personally.

Many times people can only do one and not the other.

IMHO, sequencing implies eventually doing both.

Diana Frese
09-30-2012, 09:33 AM
i am feeling the urge to jump in just now, because the memories this thread evokes are so powerful. Then I will read thoroughly the other posts to absorb the details, which are fascinating. Thanks, everyone.

I took judo at college, as the winters there caused me to look for something to practice during those months and found it interesting and good exercise, as I was having trouble keeping up in modern dance class (Japanese people call this "modern ballet' although "modern dance" is usually not done with ballet shoes). By the way, I wonder if the term "modern dance" is used these days.

I liked the step by step movements, none of the movements were very difficult because they were explained properly. We progressed to more difficult throws because the basics were worked on first.But when I saw the teacher demonstrate one technique from Aikido, where you let the attack go past, and it was a moving attack, not from collar and sleeve grab, I was fascinated and wanted to learn more about it.

I still liked judo, but downtown our judo teacher's cousin had opened a school so we went there too, for more practice. The last three months I was there, he taught some Aikido classes. It seemed to be ki no nagare in retrospect, he just kept us flying around, since we already knew ukemi I suspect this was his way of getting to train. Fair is fair, we got a lot out of it, although I didn't remember how to do any of the techniques when I arrived at New York City and started to train there. The movement had captivated me.

Then in Yamada Sensei's school there were both flowing and resistance training. We loved the ukes who were smooth, and who made us look good on tests, but Yamada Sensei was always testing our techniques, whether in kokyu dosa or especially the standing double hand grab. You couldn't get away with anything.....

Forgive me for my "attack of nostalgia" now to re read the posts the rest of you wrote. I'm really gonna be fascinated it is such a great topic.... and you all express it very well.

09-30-2012, 09:42 AM
For all things, I like to say "Principles inform the details and the details inform the principles". Or said another way "details flow from principles and principles flow from details".

It think is a spiral relationship. Immersion is considered the key to learning a language like a native speaker. How could that not apply to something as subtle and over-arching as "harmonizing with energy" which would seem to include the concept of "flow"? At least it LOOKS like flow... Or something...

Diana Frese
09-30-2012, 10:01 AM
Fast forward to when I was teaching my own class in a YWCA (co ed class though) the next town over from our main YMCA dojo which wasn't able to reserve enough days due to more and more types of programs wanting the rooms.....

Mario's post reminded me of a type of class I taught from time to time that I called "The Star Wars Bar Scene". Since this was a Y class, I used that fact to use examples from daily life or even pop culture to get concepts across.

There wasn't any music, I hasten to tell you, and it wasn't a literal reenactment of the movie scene, but, yes, I had the students line up slouching against the mirrors in the room we were renting one class a week, as if at a bar, and it helped that the class was an hour and a half, so we could do the warmups and other techniques too.

One by one they were to attack the student standing in front of them several paces away.

For the first go-round, I instructed the person attacked to wave his or her hands a bit, as if flustered and not knowing what to do. Then the next time, the person was told to allow the attacker to push the (diagonal) shoulder, to sense what the push would feel like, the direction, if you will. Then next time to step back and let the arm pass by, and then the back of the neck appear and to hold it gently, turning so that the movement of uke and nage formed a U turn, still with the attacking arm leading forward and nage having redirected the attack so that uke is returned to the "bar" where the others are still, presumably, slouching as I said before.

"Here, have another beer, you'll feel better."

Or sometimes I suggested Ginger Ale.... but I hope this reflected the concept of resistance training leading up to ki no nagare in a way people who just dropped in to class might understand. I had a lot of opportunities to "play" with various concepts having a good mix of new and old students.

Thanks again, Mario, now I will go back to studying your post and the others on this excellent thread.

Cyril Landise
10-01-2012, 10:02 AM

This topic resonates with me.
I was brought up thru a relatively "rigid" style for 20 years thru the 80's under Akira Tohei Shihan who emphasized power development in his beginners. I still struggle myself with the transition to a more flowing style.
The statement that it differs from person to person is right on target, or as Tohei Shihan used to say, "case by case".
It seems that some folks need to get harder and some need to get softer.
Kisaburu Osawa, Hombu Dojo Cho in the seventies, said that he wished he had started training in Ki no nagare much sooner because it was so much more difficult than the harder styles.

Myself, (being a hopeless recovering engineer) I refer to the 4 levels as:

1) Power = Physics
2) Technique = Bio-Physics
3) Harmony = Psycho-Physics, and
4) Michi = Meta-Physics.

Luckily for me, all the levels seem to present themselves all the time, no matter the focus. I have written an article on this very topic called Aikido for Recovering Engineers (http://archive.usafaikidonews.com/articles/aikido_for_recovering_engineers.pdf) which is a light-hearted look at the levels from a somewhat mechanistic viewpoint.




10-01-2012, 10:13 AM
What do you want in a car, steering or brakes? ;-)

10-01-2012, 10:49 AM
What do you want in a car, steering or brakes? ;-)

Both are pretty useless without a working engine.

Chris Evans
10-01-2012, 12:01 PM
technique first then with resistance then with unpredictable attacks. if my main aikido dojo does not do this eventually then i'll be out of there, with a polite and grateful bow. no desire for perpetuating delusions and illusions in martial arts. it'll be a while before I feel qualified to say, since now i'm focused on being relaxed and learn the basic techniques. Ki or flow happens when very good waza combines with strong conditioning.

10-01-2012, 02:18 PM
Myself, I spent my first several years training in an “Iwama” style dojo and had it drummed into me that you must train hard, your uke will be holding you like Arnold Swartzenager, and these other “soft” dojo were fooling themselves. When I grabbed my sensei it felt like I had grabbed a mountain and an avalanche was about to unfurl upon me and I knew what the power of aikido felt like. I believed this was the way and scoffed at those poor people who were deluding themselves in so called soft styles (forgive me I was young).

After taking a long break from Aikido I set out to find a new dojo to train in. To select a new dojo I had all that I had be told and learned before and this would serve me well. I went to one dojo and explained my background that I was looking to find a place to train. On the mat in the first lesson I was called up to be uke, and the sensei held out her hand and I took it. I gripped firmly as I would in the past but there was nothing, no resistance, no threat, no impending doom, just a wry smile. This was the point where I realised this dojo isn’t for me. The next moment getting up from the ground wondering where the sensei had gone, and how I got on the ground, was the point where I realised I’d be hanging around this dojo for a while.

What is better? I don’t pretend to know. But I learned there are many ways to get to the goal. I saw some post on the forum that there is no hard and soft aikido just different ways of training the same aikido, and that strikes a chord with my experience. Different people learn in different ways. As for hard and soft training I’ll share the approach from the Yuishinkai Student Handbook (my editing) since it doesn’t seem to be mentioned previously in this thread:

Ko-tai – Fundamentals performed calmly and slowly striving for accuracy and precision.
Jun-tai – Flowing, uke attacks quickly and nage moves swiftly to throw or pin.
Ryu-tai – Large ma’ai both uke and nage close in, nage moves to throw or pin the moment uke attacks.

Larry Feldman
10-01-2012, 02:29 PM
Flow can cover up flawed technique - so form first, then flow.

10-01-2012, 05:39 PM
i have seen folks who focused on technique and never got beyond into the flow, and this applied to most martial arts that i encountered. i also saw folks focus on the flow and their techniques are sloppy. based on my personal experience, which isn't all the much, arts that have competition component, the good ones will be better with the flow, i.e. moving beyond technique, sooner.

Agree with this, all school based pedagogy have their limitations (despite the brochure). I see people trapped in technique and trapped in flow all the time...sadly i'm one of them :(

IMHO, this is the problem with individual learning strategies and group instruction.

Is this maybe a case for Koryu style study under a master teacher?

best and great discussion,

10-02-2012, 10:49 AM
I'm a sankyu student, and have been practicing for four years, with a switch in styles (due to moving towns) a year ago.
I started with more static style (full contact>some contact), where beginners focus on technical forms before adding speed and flow. I moved a year ago to another town, and a different dojo which is all flow based (some>No contact). I can say I'm very thankful for my earlier training in forms, as beginners who are thrown into flowing training have a steep learning curve. Of course some thrive, but others flounder- and the safety of Uke can be compromised when the basic technical forms have not been broken down to the elements.
In conclusion, flowing style (some to no contact) has challenged my aikido greatly, and I have learned a lot in the past year of my practice, especially about improvisation- but I'm sure glad I had three years of basic technique hammered down first!

10-02-2012, 12:34 PM
Is this maybe a case for Koryu style study under a master teacher?
Yes agreed.

If your personal learning style and the personal teaching style and process match, and if the prioritized preference for flow or technique match, then the style/school/sensei works for you.

If not, we struggle, change schools looking for one to match, or we change our own learning style, process, and preference.

Andrew Macdonald
10-11-2012, 01:40 AM
What do you want in a car, steering or brakes? ;-)

um......... sorry i don't get it

Andrew Macdonald
10-11-2012, 01:48 AM
Yes agreed.

If your personal learning style and the personal teaching style and process match, and if the prioritized preference for flow or technique match, then the style/school/sensei works for you.

If not, we struggle, change schools looking for one to match, or we change our own learning style, process, and preference.

i agree with this that it is a learning vs teaching style. but it is in Aikido i see another extra wee problem and this is with the non free sparring aspect. whereas in other perhaps more sporting orientated arts you can get in to free sparring from day one, sparring with seniors who know how notto get hurt and more importantly not hurt beginners. From my point of view this is very important for both the student, as they will learn the parts between the techniques (flow) and for the teacher can give them some different material to work with

this isn't a weakness just one way of looking at it

with aikido, i would be very worried about letting a beginner try anything the wanted to throw or even throwing a beginner so it is not really applicable. so in that situation more controlled technique based learning. would be more appropriate but then can take longer to find the flow, but that depends on the teacher i guess