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I teach Aikido at a small dojo in Winnipeg, Canada. Been doing so for many years now. This blog is just a collection of ruminations on teaching, descriptions of the events of daily practice, and the occasional funny story.
I had my students working on close-quarter striking and defense last night. Here's some of what I told my students:
1. Whether you're attacking or defending, plan ahead (or, at least, don't get attached to what you're doing).
I've noticed that a student who is brand new to randori will focus entirely upon what they are doing at the moment. By this I mean that every action totally absorbs the student's attention until it is completed. If attackers are attacking en masse, one doesn't have the time to observe the full result of one's actions. One must meet the attack, join with it, lead it, and then let it go. This all has to happen seamlessly and quickly without attachment to the end result. The more concerned one is about how one's defensive action has affected the attacker, the less attention they are able to give to the next oncoming attacker. In this condition one is rapidly overcome.
Likewise, when one is defending at close-quarters against, and counter-attacking with, strikes, one must not choose one's next move after the present one is complete. One must, in the midst of deflecting one blow, be choosing and delivering the counter-attack. Actually, one can, to a certain degree, anticipate and even order how one's opponent defends. In so doing one can, in a sense, force one's opponent to open up for an attack (in Aikido we'd say "lead" rather than "force"). But one must multi-task, defending and attacking together, without strong interest in the result of any single action.
2. Move the body, not just the arms.
Students who are new to close-quarters work tend to rely almost entirely upon their arms to defend themselves. This is usually at the expense of a moving body. I don't mean moving in the sense that the legs carry the body forward, or backward, or side to side. What I actually mean is that, while in place, the torso, legs and neck flex, and bend, and twist. Avoiding a blow this way is much simpler and faster and often puts one in a much better position to counter attack than stepping permits.
This tactic holds true (though in a somewhat different way) in randori, as well. Early on in randori training I get students simply to avoid shomenuchi, or tsuki, or yokomenuchi. Instinctively, they will almost always begin to deflect or block strikes with their arms. And as soon as they do this, their movement around the mats decreases. Usually, this creates a kind of feedback loop where because the student is using their arms to defend, they move around less, and because they are moving around less, they must use their arms more to defend. Inevitably this cycle ends in the student being overwhelmed. (Don't misunderstand me, though, its perfectly fine to use one's arms to defend - just not at the expense of a moving body.)
3. Follow the energy in its retreat.
In Aikido we typically try to use oncoming attacking energy to throw or lock and pin. If anything, we attempt to exaggerate the attacker's action or add to its energy. This is possible when the attacks are longer in their form and the attacker's center is entirely committed to the attack. When a shorter boxing-style attack is mounted this style of defense becomes extremely difficult. In such a circumstance, "riding" the attacker's arm or leg as it withdraws after its attack can be very useful. Just as there is energy moving out as the attack is given, there is energy in the withdrawal of that attack. This retreating energy can be exaggerated or added to, as well, and used to jam, or interrupt the attacker's rhythm and attacking initiative. If one follows at the right angle, one can move safely right through the attacker's center and throw.
Of course, I've by no means "arrived" as far as my understanding of these things and my ability to execute them is concerned. I'm getting closer all the time, though (and so are my students).