Dojo: Senshin Center
Location: Dojo Address: 193 Turnpike Rd. Santa Barbara, CA.
Join Date: Feb 2002
Re: committed attack/sensitive ukemi paradox
Yes, that makes sense. Thanks so much for taking the time and effort.
Please allow me to think out loud -- using your post as a kind of springboard…
For me, this goes to show how we all have different concepts of "commitment" in our training. This is perhaps very important to note. I think much of Aikido is like this -- it is not just like this with the concept of "commitment." For example, I imagine all of the "big words" (e.g. center, harmony, non-resistance, blending, etc.) in Aikido are prone to this kind of subjectivity. On the one hand, this subjectivity allows us all to agree with each other, but, on the other hand, it allows us all to agree only by ignoring what differences do exist (and thus ignoring what those differences might say about our own individual practice).
For example, we can all say, "Yes, we should attack with commitment and attempt to bring training to higher levels of intensity." In saying this, we get an agreeing consensus going. It is like saying, "I'm just trying to stay true to myself -- trying to keep myself real," on some sort of talk show (e.g. Jerry Springer, Sally Jesse, etc.). Utter a phrase like this in that kind of setting and you are sure to elicit a round of applause from the crowd -- a show of support and of agreement. There are these things that in our popular culture become so much of conventional wisdom that they in essence become something more -- something like a slogan, something just one step away from being a bumper sticker.
Aikido culture seems to be no different. We seem to be prone to this same process, where something goes from being true, to being conventional wisdom, to being a slogan, to becoming a bumper sticker (which can never be true -- unfortunately -- because of its over-simplification). Along the way, sure, we get people that want to offer caveats. In regards to commitment, these might look like this: "Well, one cannot and should not train this way with a beginner," or, "If one does only that kind of training, or if one does that kind of training before correct form has actually been acquired, it could actually be more detrimental to one's progress than beneficial." We also get those folks that wish to offer conditions, where they feel inclined to point out, "Not everyone wants to train in Aikido at that level," or "Aikido does not need to reach that level of training in order to be ‘real' and/or beneficial for someone." Etc. However, you get very few of us that hear such slogans and say, "I wonder if what you mean is what I mean -- for though I would say the same phrase, I wonder if we are actually talking about the same thing."
I am of the opinion that this will to sameness is part of our attempts to preserve certain aspects of our small self -- in their essence and in their functioning. Of course, so too would be the act of denouncing everything as different and/or thus as lesser. However, somewhere between these two actions is the practice of contemplation or self-reflection. It is a place where we can look at another and see ourselves. It is a place where we see our togetherness -- our real togetherness -- that exists in, through, and because of our differences. We often do not like to tread in this place because of the fear that we have of both being the same (i.e. common) and of being different (i.e. alone). For when we undergo such self-reflection, we must risk both of these things as we risk our own position (adapting it, modifying it, or rejecting it) in the risk of trying to understand that of another person. For many of us, this is just too risky.
I can see and understand what are you saying. I can say that we too train in this way. I can see how it does in some way relate to the initial problem brought up by Janet. I can also see how in many ways this type of "commitment" is far above choreographed ukemi and/or of taking falls for nage, etc. -- things most of us would complain about if it is not relegated to the addressing of learning curves (for beginners). In our own training, while this is in part related to what I read Janet to be saying, more of what is going on here is really a kind of self-willed pedagogical problem. This is why, for me, it is not wholly dealing with what I thought Janet to be discussing. This is why I attempted to answer this question differently and why I opted to talk about a different kind of commitment in one's training.
I thought Janet was referring to an internal resistance that has one fluctuating between two kinds of attachment (one to attacking with commitment and/or one to taking ukemi safely/properly). As I said, this is sort of in the type of commitment you are describing. However, I believe that the kind of paradox that shows up in what you are discussing only slightly touches upon the kind of internal resistance I was discussing. More of what is causing things like a lack of fluidity, etc., in what you are discussing is related to the structures of one's training -- more than to one's relationship with one's training (in my opinion).
Please allow me to share with you how we explain it in our dojo -- which we must do when we ask folks to go from this type of training to another level of commitment or offensive engagement: There are too many what-ifs in this type of training -- too many, "if this, then that." Moreover, too many alternatives are too much of the opposite direction to each other. This is mostly what causes the lack of presence, fluidity, etc., as one is being told to be Up and Down, Right and Left, Hot and Cold, Black and White, etc., while one is never afforded the traditional solutions for transcending such dialectical thought or action. For example: you have to have commitment, but you cannot seek to be rooted; you have to be able to hit nage if he/she does the technique but not if he/she does not; you must seek to succeed in striking uke but you must also seek to be ready for when you do not succeed; you must be engaged in your attack but you must look for escapes; etc.
If we look at this, one is being asked the impossible. One is being asked to be both up AND down, both right AND left, both hot AND cold, both black AND white. One is not being asked, though we often presume otherwise in our attempt to settle this structural paradox, to be in the middle, to be warm, or to be grey. Neither side of the dichotomy is to become ambiguous, more open, or more adaptable, while we are at the same time supposed to find meaning and sense via the very mechanisms that would under normal conditions cancel each other out in meaninglessness.
In other words, for example, we are supposed to have commitment but not be or seek to be rooted. This is oxymoronic. It is like being both hot and cold -- it is like jumbo shrimp. Eventually, we should realize that there would never be anything jumbo about shrimp. Eventually, we should realize there could never be any commitment in an attack that does not attempt to utilize the ground and thus gain a sense of rooting. Eventually, especially when we are not allowed the more traditional means of transcending dualistic thinking, we are supposed to realize that this is just another variation of the first kind of training I mentioned above. It is just another variation on the theme of cooperative/choreographed training -- by which I mean that uke stills consciously provides many of the physical forces that are by nature provided by the commitment of uke's and nage's mind, energy, body, etc.
This means that such training is really about uke and nage's attempts to "blend" with each other according to the ideals being prescribed. How do you get good at that? Simply by doing it repeatedly -- cultivating oneself to become sensitive to the fluctuations of one's partner according to the ideals prescribed by the choreography (kihon waza). By exposing oneself to a choreography repeatedly, one soon discovers even the subtlest of cues -- not only at an external level but also internally. It is like a dance step that one can time according to the music one is hearing and to the feeling one has inside. For my money, no one does this better than the Aikikai Doshu's uke. Man, these people put Olympic dressage horses to shame! However, we have to ask, "Are these committed attacks we are seeing, or are we merely seeing a commitment to the choreography?" I would say it is the latter. Additionally, I would say that eventually we have to draw a distinction between our commitments to the choreography (where we "commit" without being rooted, where we strike while ready not to strike, where we engage in our attack but look for escapes, etc.) and our committed attacks.
When we do, new solutions will arise. For example, we may come to see that it is nage's job to uproot uke or to not let uke be rooted. We may see that it is not uke's job to remain "unrooted," but that nage must respond, for example, to uke's attack sooner (at its origin or in the midst of it) -- before uke can root him/herself and when the attempt to root him/herself can be used tactically against him/her. Yet, as new solutions arise, new problems also arise. This is where I read Janet to be coming from. One of the major problems that comes up here is "How do we go from a type of training where I could remain committed and thus sensitive to a choreography that allowed to me to fluctuate between dialectics so that I could look for things like escapes (e.g. forward rolls, back breakfalls, etc.) to a type of training where it is now impossible to see (let alone look for) such escapes?"
How do we learn to attack when only attacking is being prescribed of us? We ask this here because up to now in our training this has not been asked of ourselves. Up to now, we have always had those various oppositions to fluctuate back and forth between in attempts to stay proximal to the prescribed choreography. How do we learn to land safely when nothing else is being asked of us? We ask this here because up to now in our training this has not been asked of ourselves. Up to now, we have always had those various oppositions to fluctuate back and forth between in attempts to stay proximal to the prescribed choreography. Subjectively, in committed attack training, the kind that is happening with Nature providing the relevant forces (not the conscious efforts of uke), etc., it feels like one can either attack fully OR take ukemi safely/properly -- not both.
In my opinion, things feel like this because of all the baggage we bring to such training from the earlier levels of our practice. When we were allowed to see our escapes, when we were allowed thus to look for them, when rooting became a thing to avoid because nage was not mandated to uproot us or to prevent us from rooting, when we should not allow ourselves to be rooted since nage was not mandated to address our efforts to root ourselves, etc., we prevented ourselves from addressing this new and real paradox -- one that is happening internally: If I attack fully, I crash fully. If I seek to not crash, I hesitate and de-commit in my attack. How do I do both, how do I stop one from preventing the other? Etc. This is how I understood Janet's issue -- perhaps wrongly. Either way, for this issue, in my opinion, no amount of growing accustomed can be the solution (as in the latter structural paradox). The problem is internal; the solution then must be equally internal. The solution is a reconciliation with our pride, our fear, and/or our ignorance.
Again -- just thinking out loud.
And again -- thanks Larry for the reply.