(This is long, but I wanted to address what others were asking and also to better formulate my own position for my own sake. Long as it is, I would greatly appreciate it if some would read it since I would dearly love to hear comments after these attempts to answer some of the issues raised above.)
Charles, you have said exactly what I was trying to say, only perfectly. Thank you.
Amir, Boon, and others kind enough to participate in this thread,
As way of analogy, it is kind of like doing Chi Sao (sticking hands) while blindfolded or with your eyes shut. Taking the sense of sight away "pressures" other aspects of the overall skill set that are developed through Chi Sao into greater and greater levels of maturity. The point of such training is not to say, "I usually fight with my eyes open" or "This is how you would fight at night or when you get sand kicked in your eyes." The point is to hone certain aspects of a certain skill set by taking away those options that are related but that we are most likely to become over-dependent upon via habit and/or ignorance.
That said, I would still like to address some of the issues raised above. I think I can tie them in a bit in an attempt to keep discussion going and to better explain the drills in question so that folks might be able to try them out themselves.
So let us say irimi is your thing -- is your tactical solution to addressing things like a barrage of ballistic attacks. The question remains, "How do you irimi?" It is not enough to say, "You just do it." How do you irimi? This question has to be understood as both a theoretical one and as a practical one. That means we have to ask, "What does it mean to irimi?" "What allows for irimi?" etc., AND we have to ask, "What prevents me from doing what I mean by ‘irimi'?"
I want to problematize the notion that "we can just move forward (any ol' way) against someone throwing a barrage of ballistic attacks." Why should that notion be problematized? Two reasons: A) Irimi as it is demonstrated in Kihon Waza is not the same thing as "just move forward." Irimi requires the presence of certain things that make it a tactical element capable of remaining viable as an aspect of non-resistance and thus as something you can use against bigger adversaries, etc. -- things central to Aikido praxis. For example, irimi, being mostly a yang move, requires the presence of an energy that is mostly yin in our adversary. To be able to capitalize upon this yin energy, we need to be capable of "sensing" this energy. So already, we are talking about a matching of yang to yin energy (theory) and we are talking about a capacity to both sense and correspond these energies (practice). B) If we cannot grasp at the level of theory and at the level of practice what is going in (A) we are either going to jam our opponent, losing the maai (i.e. the harmonious correspondence of yin and yang energies) that is relative to all of Aikido waza, and/or we are going to require that we be heavier, stronger, and more powerful than our opponent (such that our energy level is always yang in relation to whatever energy level our adversary is able to demonstrate). This means, in short, we will not be doing Aikido. However, it means more as well…
Aside from not being too successful against heavier, stronger, more powerful opponents, it also means that we will probably not be as successful against a weapon-wielding adversary and/or against multiple attackers. This is because moving forward in a way contrary to Aikido irimi changes time and space (i.e. the maai). It does this in such a manner that we become vulnerable to weapons (i.e. objects capable of piercing -- of penetrating yang forces regardless of the factors involved), and/or of being tied up -- being held, grabbed, and/or forced into an in-fighting or a ground-fighting situation. You can see all of these openings taking place in the video offered in the first post. The blonde gentlemen is smaller than his adversary, so his attempts to move forward do not work; he gets grabbed, dragged to the ground, and is vulnerable from someone else coming in from the crowd.
On top of that, and here is the clincher, you better hope your adversary is not the least bit skilled in capitalizing upon misplaced or forced yang energies -- see video below of what that might look like:
So you see, you want to irimi. You do not just want to move forward -- whether that is to the inside or the outside of the opponent's outer rim and/or his attack. You want to match Yang energy to Yin energy, harmoniously. This is what you see, or should see in Kihon Waza. However, everything is so perfectly matched by design in most Kihon Waza that we are very likely to develop little in terms of skill - since everything is already in a full state of development by design. Thus, at times, you have to use that design not only to repeat such routines, the way a dancer might go over some choreographed steps repeatedly, you will also have to use that design to inspire adopting its elements at a personal level -- the way a dancer maintains his/her own sense of feeling and expression of mood in a piece of choreography or the way he/she may give experience to the rhythm of a piece of arranged music, etc. When you are trying to do the latter, attachment to the form, or the form itself (as it is subjectively experienced) can actually be your biggest hindrance -- that thing which you must overcome. This is the "Ha" of Shu-Ha-Ri.
When this is your objective, you soon realize that there is a lot to irimi that the forms just assume to be present and that you have to go after by different means if you truly want them to be yours at a personal level. This is how I understood the first post actually -- as asking, "How do you get these things?!" As an example, let us ask, "What are two of these things?" They are: an awareness that remains oriented upward and outward (as opposed to one that is oriented downward and inward -- which the uncultivated practitioner adopts under pressure, and which you can see the blonde guy in the first video adopting); and an Angle of Deflection (one that first capitalizes upon the aforementioned awareness and that can then go on to create a redundant defense that can attach itself to your irimi).
You want to "know" what is coming, and you want to "know" what you can do (i.e. you want to be sensitive to yin energies, you want to be sensitive to when and where you can place yang energies). You also want to move/deviate one way with your body while using your hands to keep your adversaries weapons moving the other way and/or to prevent them from tracking you. You want a redundancy between your Angle of Deflection and your Angle of Deviation (this is seen in the forms in all of the te-sabaki from all of the "grab escapes" of Kihon Waza). The forms just assume these things by design, but that design, through our fear, our pride, and our ignorance, can often prevent us from assuming these skills for ourselves.
For example, the forms allow us to repeat such a sought after awareness over and over. However, since part of the form is not getting hit (a fact made worse by the tendency for uke to miss nage at all costs and/or by the tendency for nage to react more to the choreography than to uke's actual movements) there is a very good chance that our so-called awareness has more to do with this element of the form (i.e. not getting hit, not being pressured) than with any real cultivation of proper martial awareness. Sure, under prime conditions (e.g. one mid-level punch that goes flying by you as long as you step to the side slightly and move forward slightly), we can stand there with our nostrils flared, our mouths closed, our eyes slightly squinted, and our gaze penetrating the environment to the great beyond. However, one little pop (which we never really experience in the forms), and our mind goes in and down -- awareness becomes egocentric. Hence, the drill in the first video, where the "defender" spends time conditioning themselves to maintain awareness while actually being struck -- again offered here:
In this video, you can see, after the first fade out/in (after the start of the video), my deshi allows his awareness to go egocentric -- he thus turns his back and cannot sense what I am doing. I show him that he has done this by capitalizing upon the opening. Etc. What one is trying to develop here is a capacity to prevent his/her awareness from going egocentric -- which the forms just assume will be yours. Strikes are used here not as a way of "toughening up the body," but rather they are being utilized because the fear of being struck and the pain from being struck have a strong tendency to drive our awareness inward and downward. We do not want our awareness to go egocentric -- our forms assume we will not do this in combat. However, we cannot and should not assume it for ourselves. Therefore, you make up this drill and you measure yourself by how much awareness you can maintain throughout the barrage. You give the students a very simply physical attribute to focus in upon -- their gaze. Why? Because of the intimate ties that the gaze has with awareness. To understand more of what is involved, you simply have to try the drill. It is very easy to practice and it is very easy to see how our awareness can be affected egocentrically by being struck and by the fear of being struck. This would seem important -- I feel -- since being struck is such a likely part of combat but plays almost zero part in actual Kihon Waza training.
Nevertheless, you have to realize you are not just learning to be hit. Rather, you are measuring, cultivating, and properly orienting your awareness. You are just using being hit to do that. Therefore, you want to move beyond being struck and come to address some other element of irimi ashi. However, when you do this, you do not want to ignore these awareness factors. Thus, you say, "Let's work on Angle of Deflection. If you are aware, if you are able to sense what is happening, you should be able to deflect nearly anything and everything, especially at this pace. If you are not aware, you are going to get struck and you are going to reveal that you were not all that aware in the first drill and that you were just practicing getting hit (which was not the point)." This last point is important because if you get hit repeatedly in the second drill you are going to go back to the first drill and try and do it differently -- making more sure you are not just getting hit and that you are actually working to prevent your awareness from going egocentric.
However, because the training still revolves around maintaining proper awareness, such that we can now deflect (and later irimi with -- see below in drill three), we have to realize that folks are going to find ways of responding habitually to the pressures contained in the drill. That is to say, folks are going to find ways of not cultivating awareness AND not having that fact exposed to them -- due to fear, pride, or ignorance. What does that mean? You are going to see many folks trying to use their body movement more to not be hit, rather than using their awareness of what is happening to deflect. So what do you do? You restrict movement and ask folks to stand as still as possible, to attempt to remain as engaged to the Line of Attack as they were in the first drill when they had to work on maintaining awareness while being struck.
What are you looking for in drill two then? You are looking for not being hit, for deflecting what is thrown at you, and for sensing what is coming in before it is even actually thrown. However, as the last drill was not about being hit, this drill is not about blocking. Moreover, you do not want to deviate all over the place and/or prevent the attacker from throwing strikes at you because this would prevent you from cultivating the awareness you are seeking -- as it would alleviate the pressure to have your awareness go egocentric. Moreover, while deviating all over the place may prevent you from being struck -- though one should not imagine that you will not be struck at all -- such deviation will do nothing for actually using irimi ashi in combat. Why? Because while irimi ashi capitalizes upon the presence of a yin energy in the opponent, it always penetrates fully to the source of his action. Thus, irimi is like an arrow that pierces another arrow the full length of its shaft by following the grain in the wood. It does not seek to go around the arrow. There is nothing "cowardly" in irimi ashi. Therefore, in order to perform it in combat you will have to learn how to stay close, how to stay near the heart of the matter, you cannot be dancing all over the place trying not to get hit. Here is drill two -- offered here again:
So, you got awareness going, you have pressured it first with being struck and then second with the task of preventing you from being struck, and now you want to put it into something that more closely resembles what you find in Aikido Kihon Waza. Why? Because, as I said, you are trying to learn Aikido -- trying to bring what you see in the forms into real life. You are not out to, for example, practice kickboxing and/or to learn how to fight against a kick-boxer. However, you do not want to forget about the awareness factors you are using to bring the assumptions of the forms to your own personal art. So you say, "You got to do irimi. However, you have to get all the way to the back -- not just up the arm a little or to the front shoulder because that crap does not work in real life and is not consistent with Aikido. Moreover, you again cannot dance all over the place, you must pressure your awareness of the situation by staying as engaged to the Line of Attack as much as possible."
This last point is important to drill two as the last point of drill two was to drill one. Meaning, in drill two you were told that if you were aware, you could deflect everything -- even sensing it before it was thrown. If you could not, it said something about how much awareness you actually had in drill one. It says you are probably just being hit in drill one -- which was not the point of that drill. In drill three, you are told, "If you are truly aware of what is happening, if you are truly sensitive to what is occurring, you will not only not be struck, but you will be able to sense when you can irimi in this exact way (i.e. all the way to the back with both hands on both hips of the attacker) and from this exact place (e.g. from on the Line of Attack). If you cannot, then most likely you were just blocking into drill two and not practicing the proper awareness." Thus, if you cannot perform irimi ashi under these conditions, you will go back to drill two and try not just to cover up but to become more attune to what is occurring, even sensing it before it happens.
What are you looking for in drill three then? You are looking for an arriving at the back of the attacker in natural and smooth way -- as if it almost happens by itself. You are looking for how you get there just in Kihon Waza, only now you are doing it under the most extreme of conditions (e.g. against a barrage of ballistic strikes, from on the line of attack).
Anyways, I would love others to try these drills out and to let me know what they discover for themselves. It would be great if they could film it as well. Of course, everyone is welcome to join us in these drills as guests of our dojo here in Santa Barbara.