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Last night's classes were all great fun, and the last one was a bit different.
First, in the kids class, we reviewed a very direct kind of kokyu-ho from gyakute-dori, focusing on extending energy out beyond Uke. It's interesting to watch the kids working on that. At first Sensei had them work by themselves, just standing in hanmi and extending energy through their outstretched, relaxed arms and fingers While they seem to get that idea of extension, when they went to working in pairs they seemed unable to trust that it alone was sufficient. Instead of simply extending their arm out past uke's center, most of them resorted almost immediately to trying to push Uke over by shoving into Uke's neck or face with their upper arm, and rotating across Uke's center, clotheslining them. We probably all do this, especially as beginners in this particular technique, but in everything really. It's hard to trust the correct energy and form will ultimately produce the best outcome, so we fall back on trying to force things to happen the way we think they should.
Next, in the all levels adult class, weworked on a few techniques from ryote-dori (grabbing both wrists from the front), including tenshi-nage, kokyu-ho, and an interesting combination of the two, where the near hand does kokyu-ho while the far hand essentially executes the top half of tenshi-nage. The class was very technical, in a kind of centering and meditative way, really focusing on the minutia of our movements. A few good "aha" moments there, and I got some very helpful feedback from a couple of my ukes.
As I'm training with my upcoming first kyu exam in mind, I'm noticing the sense of completing a 5,000-piece jigsaw puzzle. I have three of the corner pieces, most of the sides, and I can tell what most of the picture is going to be. Maybe I can see the whole barn, but a few key pieces are still out of place. And there are whole sections where I can't tell how it's going to turn out yet. In class it's like I find pieces here and there. Sometimes I know just where they should fit, and other times I'm not sure, and just take note of them. In a lot of cases I can tell where pieces are missing, and I remember that I saw them, somewhere, a while ago… But now I have to go back and find them. It's starting to come together, and I'm enjoying the process.
Then there was the fourth-kyu-and-up class… It was different from any other class I've participated in. Usually, of course, Uke's job is to provide a committed, clean, organized attack, appropriate to the technique being practiced. But this time, Uke was to be difficult, fighty, and explosive, complete with shouting, shoving, and hitting. Nage's practice was to be compassionate and soft, calming the situation.
It was really interesting seeing what each of us found easy and natural, and what made us feel awkward and uncomfortable. Some found that having compassion directed toward them felt intrusive, a violation of their boundaries. Others found it difficult to call forth compassion-for-no-reason, without the background of a situation that demanded it. I found it was challenging to continue exuding compassion in the first part of the exercise, when Uke was being bratty and dismissive ("Go away! Leave me alone!"). My natural inclination in that situation is to give up on them quickly ("Fine, whatever. Go be by yourself.") But strangely it was less difficult later, when they were being aggressive and combative — that was easy to deal with.
When it came to being Uke, being difficult, and explosively and continuously attacking Nage, everyone was able to access it, with varying degrees of sincerity and intensity. It's hard to be either explosive or compassionate with no content to it, so some impromptu role-playing came up as a natural part of the exercise. Some pairs fell into the roles of friends, one trying to help the other. Others found that the roles of parent and child worked well. Imagine the kind of energy behind "I understand you don't want to go to school, but you have to go," and "I'm not going, and you can't make me, and I hate you!!!" and you'll have a good idea of the kind of energies we were playing with.
The point of the exercise was to learn how to bring calm compassion to the situation, to quench Uke's rage, and resolve things with no one getting hurt. And also to feel the effect of that kind of energy when it's directed toward you. It was a very effective laboratory for seeing what works and what doesn't. As Uke, the explosive, fighty one, when Nage was soft and accepting, absorbing the energy and slowing things down rather than being defensive and fighting back, the effect was to take all the hostility out of the attack. Sensei said we could be like 500 pounds of feathers, or 500 pounds of bricks. Either way, it's still 500 pounds, still effective, but the feeling is very different. I noticed even when I had openings, I didn't really feel like taking advantage of them. It felt like punching a pillow — nothing there to fight with — and I just ran out of intention. But if Nage felt sharp, quick, and reactive, it was easy to keep coming in, looking for any opportunity to get the better of them and continue the attack.
I think in any situation where we are in that frame of mind, upset and aggressive, we really want to find a quieter place. We don't want to fight. If Nage can help us find that quieter place, we will willingly go there with them.
All in all, a great, balanced day of training. Some good focus on technical precision, and a wider look at the big picture, a reminder of what Aikido is all about.