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There's been an interesting shift in our randori practice (multiple attackers, usually any attack). For the first couple years of my training, we worked on randori very infrequently. When we did work on it, we always did our slow motion randori exercise. About a year ago, after moving into our new dojo and getting some additional students, we started a routine of making Thursdays randori night.
Our basic premise was that the ukes should take nage down if they can, and once down, the exercise isn't automatically over. Instead, nage should work to find openings and try to get back up. This kind of practice can be dangerous, especially for people with less developed ukemi, so we minimize the risk by practicing in slow motion.
I've mentioned our slow-mo version of randori before. Briefly, the point of this exercise is to practice randori with everyone moving in a slow walk. The real trick to this exercise, from uke's point of view, is presenting realistic slow motion attacks and reactions. So, there's training for the ukes as well as for nage. We also check our reactions by trying certain things at full-speed and then trying to replicate those things in slow motion. When doing the slow motion exercise, nage gets at least twice the number of ukes as he would at full speed.
Our randori practice has evolved over the past year. We've gotten to the point where we're occasionally doing full-speed randori. Naturally, these can be pretty intense exercises and we get some bumps, bruises, and even a little blood at times. At the same time, we've reevaluated some of what we're doing and modified aspects of the practice when we've needed to do so. For example, one of the things that we do as nage is use a lot of atemi when on the ground to open up space. As a result, the people taking ukemi started to get in the habit of holding nage down, but protecting themselves from attack at the same time. This kind of behavior reached its logical conclusion when I, and two others, took down our senior student, covered up, and ended up simply holding him without attacking him. After that we realized how silly and unrealistic we were being and we started attacking without anticipating nage's response.
We have a pretty "hard" style of randori practice characterized by full-out attacks from the ukes and a fair amount of atemi from nage. Frankly, we're somewhat proud of this, but maybe we shouldn't be. This hard randori is different from the type of randori that is standard from the AAA standpoint. AAA randori is characterized by slightly restrained attacks from uke and more technique from nage. The attackers quite purposefully held back a bit; they'd seldom all attack at once, in stead holding back a split second while nage dealt with another uke. They would also seldom take nage down once they got ahold of him. Atemi didn't seem to work as well for nage, possibly because the attacks were not as committed as what we do. And lastly, the whole idea of moving one person into another or using techniques like shihonage or sankyo is frowned upon as being a bit unsafe.
Our hard randori can be a problem, though. Thursday, I introduced the "not quite randori" exercises that Sato sensei taught us at the seminar. A couple of the guys had trouble backing down their responses to an appropriate level. In short, they were trying to win the randori, even though we weren't doing randori. Eventually everyone got the point, but it was disconcerting hard difficult it was to get everyone to take their aggression down a notch.
But, our randori practice continues to evolve. The week before, our instructor suggested that we not take nage down as soon as we can. His intent is that nage will get more of a chance to work through problems encountered during the exercise. While not a bad idea, I wonder if this isn't cheapening the exercise by make failure less inevitable. I really don't know how I feel about this change. Of course, it may not be a permanent change, but is instead, something we do on occasion to work a different aspect of the exercise. Time will tell.
The bigger change is that our instructor has become more methodical in teaching us a series of responses, or tools, to use during randori other than using a lot of atemi. We've always focused on using three specific movements: entering (irimi), turning (tenkan), and fading back (tenshin). In addition to these blending movements, we relied on strikes (performed in a kokyu-like manner) to open space. Our randori would be like this: blend-blend-strike-blend-strike-pile on.
Lately, our instructor has started teaching us to use various kokyu nage techniques during randori. Our instructor's approach has turned out to be similar to Sato sensei's approach at the seminar (I doubt this is a coincidence).
The reason for the change is probably many-fold. A few months ago, I expressed frustration that, as uke, I was continually getting punched despite my best efforts to avoid nage's strikes. My theory is that my mass was such that it was difficult for me to react to the strike during a full-out attack the way a smaller person might. So I'd get hit and continue my attack; I wasn't getting thrown. The natural conclusion was that maybe the atemi didn't always work and we needed something else. Furthermore, after our last full-speed randori session, our instructor was disturbed at all the minor injuries (bumps and bruises) and talk of who hit whom where (good natured talk, but disturbing nonetheless). Thus the shift from atemi as a primary tool to using it as a last resort. Kokyu nage is now being taught as more of a primary tool. This change has my whole-hearted approval.
I think these changes are good overall, we may be getting softer (not taking nage down as often), but I also think our randori will be more effective, especially with less reliance on atemi and better tools, like kokyu nage, at our disposal. I guess my ideal is that we'll continue to emulate the AAA style of randori without giving up the full-out attacks from uke.