I was asked to pose the following by Thomas Groendal. If you can find the time to share your thoughts on the following, I'm sure he (and I) would greatly appreciate it!
In my dojo I teach that Aikido is the art defusing a conflict by harmonizing it. I also teach that an Aikido technique is qualified by the potential in it to end a conflict without permanent harm to either participant.
This is a very high goal, and in my opinion the trademark of Aikido. However, I often run into a simple, and perplexing discrepancy. Why is it that many Aikido techniques could not be done to an untrained attacker, without causing them grievous harm? I certainly would not explain how Aikido is the Art of Peace by throwing a coworker with a kotegaeshi into a break fall, as is often seen in demonstrations and dojos.
My questions are these.
What techniques would you deem the safest to use in a violent situation without the collusion or training of the attackers as a pre-requisite?
For instance, when grabbed or hit by a developmentally challenged but angry, strong and dangerous child at a high school visit, etc...
What techniques would seem to be dangerous when done outside of the dojo without a trained falling partner, and if so how do they not conflict with the above trademarks of Aikido.
For instance, would you do kaitennage to an angry loved one that had no knowledge of forward falls...
It seems to be a trend, that we are qualifying Martial Integrity as a necessary trait in our Aikido. Many serious teachers are making statements about the loss of kiai, atemi, attacking skills etc. that give Aikido enough martial integrity to deal with a violent person.
I would like help in defining an Aikido for myself that also can satisfy a set of specific qualifications for its benevolence, above and beyond the underlying "principles" or philosophy.
The answer lies in perspective, context, and perception. Aikido's highest goal is to blend with the attack, neutralize its intent, and permit no harm to either participant. As with any skill, the execution is dependent on the talent of the adherent, the veracity of the assault, and the unique set of circumstances at the moment of the encounter. In demonstrations, we should always espouse the highest ideals; but theory [ideals] and reality are two ends of a continuum that must be explored and understood.
If the attack is sudden and life-threatening, mere survival overrides any ethical prerogative and any successful application is warranted. That said, let me try to address your specific questions…
1. Why is it that many Aikido techniques could not be done to an untrained attacker, without causing them grievous harm?
It depends on your definition of grievous. In other words, everything you know is relative to someone else's perception. Will the attacker die on the spot? Not likely. Will they be permanently crippled? Probably not. What if they only suffer a separated shoulder, or a broken arm? Does that mean you fell short of your ideals? Who is attacking you and why aren't they trained? Did you prevent grievous injury to yourself or anyone else? A laudable accomplishment in any courtroom. Did you impart a life-altering lesson? An even grander accomplishment!
2. What techniques would you deem the safest to use in a violent situation without the collusion or training of the attackers as a pre-requisite? For instance, when grabbed or hit by a developmentally challenged but angry, strong and dangerous child at a high school visit, etc.
While in college, I found myself employed as a "bouncer" at several nightclubs, despite my small stature. Interestingly, most of the hooligans I escorted out of these establishments required no force whatsoever. Maybe it was the way I carried myself? Maybe it was the way I addressed them? On the few occasions that force was necessary, nikkyo, sankyo, yonkyo, or a variation sufficed; I did have to choke out one guy to prevent him from injuring another patron in the parking lot, but that was an extreme. Never did I have to resort to anything really drastic. If you ever have to do such a thing, be sure to talk to them, reassure them that it only hurts if you resist. The ikkyo series are the safest techniques in this regard.
2. What techniques would seem to be dangerous when done outside of the dojo without a trained falling partner, and if so how do they not conflict with the above trademarks of Aikido. For instance, would you do kaitennage to an angry loved one that had no knowledge of forward falls.
Just because uncle Fred gets rowdy at your mom's the New Year's party doesn't make it okay to toss him through the bay window. Techniques are like tools in your toolbox. Select and use them appropriately. Assuming you don't live in a double-wide in Arkansas, if uncle Fred breaks out his semi-automatic rifle, maybe a well-placed side-kick [yoko geri] through the bay window is okay. Otherwise, a subtle variation on nikkyo (that looks like you and uncle Fred are just arm-in arm) facilitates a nice walk outside or a chat on the couch. Just be sure to remind him that it only hurts if he moves.
I think you are being melodramatic with the idea of resolution and peace etc.
Aikido is not mysticism. It is a system of physical training that gives us choices in our endeavor to deal with a changing violent world.
All Aikido is, all it teaches, is to find an attackers center, move him out of it and then resolve the attack. All the technique we learn, and please undrstand that all forms of technique are extremely rudimenarty examples, are methods of breaking a persons center.
A master of the art rarely does 'standard' aikido when playing. He doesn't need it. a master of the art can break a persons center by a thousand subtle techniques that are hardly recognized by those coming up through the ranks.
Not Aikido, but I will give you a good example. Michael Jordan. He would bring the ball up-court and as his defender would move up to stop him, MJ would glance or 'look' one way or another. The defender, knowing how fast and smooth he was would respond instantly in that direction - and MJ would take it into the paint and up for 2 points.
MJ could 'look off' a defender and Thomas, it was the purest Aiido I have ever seen.
The beauty of aikido is that if one studies the principles, and we do that through our 'language' of technique, we get to a point where 'technique' is meaningless. It is all about center and balance and movement.
Once one controls these things you don't bother with the idea of "which is best", it is irrelevant. You place the attacker in the most appropriate place and be done with it.
All that having been said, I often teach a series of techniques that I call 'Brother-in-law" techniques, which are good for subduing but not breaking my ukes. Good stuff and with a little thought you will find them on your own, I am certain. Good luck.
Re: Non-Harmful Techniques
Tohei Akira Sensei once said: "Harmony is very important in Aikido. If you are attacked by a man with a gun, don't respond with a tanto." (my translation from the Japanese) Basically, good harmony means "don't bring a knife to a gunfight." By the way, he said this years before Sean Connery said it in "The Untouchables."
Harmony does not mean being a strict pacifist. Join, then lead. If a person is being an asshole, maybe pitching them with a kotegaeshi is not the answer. Maybe you should find out why that person is being an asshole. Maybe they have a perfect right to be an asshole at that point.
Most people trying to diffuse a situation make the mistake of getting in between the people in a dispute. That just puts the focus on you and makes you the new target. You have to stay off to the side and lead both sides to a new direction rather than direct confrontation. That is best done from an oblique angle.
I remember not knowing this back in my bouncing days and getting smacked in the back of the head with an ashtray by the woman being hit around as she tried to protect "her man" that was abusing her and I was trying to stop.
I learned to stay off to the side and engage both sides of the conflict from the side unless there was the danger of imminent grievous injury to someone. I also learned that people who become violent become violent because they feel that they are losing control of the situation and violence is one way for them to feel like they are back in control. To diffuse the situation, you have to let all sides feel that they are back in control of the situation. You can only do that by not intervening physically. Once you do, you become part of the problem system and will not be able to extricate yourself without controlling everyone (a very difficult thing to do without putting them all down on the ground in a heap). You have to intervene without physical contact and lead them to a satisfactory conclusion by joining with their emotions and needs (understanding and providing them with some of what they want -- a sense of control over their situation).
In the cases where that is not possible, where they will not be led to a peaceful conclusion, destroy and have no qualms.
On the other hand, you better first ask yourself, what makes you a better person than the ones in the dispute? What makes you an appropriate arbiter? If you decide that is because you are calm and can see both sides of the problem, then you should be able to lead them to a peaceful conclusion without physical intervention.
Re: Non-Harmful Techniques
I think the questions you're asking are fundamental to aikido. We should, in fact, ruthlessly examine our teachings to see if they are consistent. Principles and technique must exhibit true integrity (not just the "martial" integrity you mention).
A lot of confusion arises because, as you say, many of our techniques would hurt an unskilled (at falling, anyway) attacker. What is not emphasized enough is that to throw someone successfully is an attack, not a defense. This is ok, because just as we need to know how to defend from punches, kicks, and grabs, we must know how to deal with being thrown. But just remember that it is not the defender who does the throwing -- it's that the original defender has become the present attacker. This convention makes for efficient training.
But there should also be times where we specifically focus on techniques of loving protection, where we assume the partner cannot be responsible for how they fall. In such cases, throwing is not an appropriate response. Almost all techniques can be done in such a way as to bring a person close, and then lead them in a controlled manner to the ground, where they may be pinned. The late R. Kobayashi emphasized this in all techniques, and it was shown how to hold your partner so that they had no possibility of hitting their head on the ground.
It can be done. It must be done, as you have pointed out there are many situations where hurting the assailant would be competely counter to our defensive aim. This is a purely pragmatic thing, and need not even be driven by "lofty ideals."
You are not alone in seeking out this particular approach to aikido. I would be happy to discuss the matter in more detail, should you want to contact me directly.
Re: Non-Harmful Techniques
In my dojo, and at training venues where I am privileged to appear in, I introduce and maintain a mantra of NH, or "No Harm" This is the first part of an equation of NH/SH. which is intended to focus attention on an important aspect of safe training during class.
No Harm may be achieved when all participants of training, monitored by the instructors and seniors, commit to preserving an atmosphere of safe, stimulating and productive training.
The UKE agrees to allow the NAGE every opportunity to execute the movement or technique without undue obstruction or interference, while learning and perfecting the move.
The NAGE agrees to allow the UKE, every opportunity to follow the movements, and to take appropriate ukemi to safeguard themselves and not be harmed by the application of the technique.
And of course, there is SH. Shit Happens whenever an individual is unfamiliar with the movements being shown, is too absorbed with executing the movement without proper regard for his partner, or takes for granted that the UKE "should be able to" handle the rigors of the technique and of the training itself.
SH may be greatly minimized by instructors and senior members who are constantly on the watch for questionable pairings of partners, unsure or hasty execution of movements, or the subtle (or not so subtle) signs of distress being shown by one of the training partners during the movement itself.
A major point of self preservation to make is that each person must be empowered to be responsible for monitoring his or her own safety. At any time, if the lesson appears too complicated, the pace too fast, or the vibes from the other partner appear to be unsettling or possibly dangerous, that partner must retain, and exercise the right to sit that portion of practice out for the duration.
No instructor, or well meaning training partner can or should be allowed to over ride this most important option of self defense by the student. This right must be respected at all times, monitored by all members during training, and demonstrated, through example, by the justly concerned instructors at hand.
When commitment to "No Harm" becomes a dojo policy, and is consistently reinforced by the instructors and senior students, the incidence of injury or unintended abuse should lessen significantly over time.
This will then allow, over time, for more appropriate as well as highly intensive training to develop at all levels, raising the proficiency levels as high as the dojo members choose to, knowing that safety, respect and trust remain the foundation for the training benefit for all concerned.
Please remember, it is not the techniques that are harmful, but the manner, and intent, in which they are applied.
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