Dojo: Aikido of Northern Virginia
Location: Arlington VA
Join Date: Jan 2004
Re: committed attack/sensitive ukemi paradox
Exchanging ideas with you is always such a pleasure!
First, please let me recap my understanding of your post to make sure I've received the message you intended to send, then I'll try to squeeze out some useful thoughts of my own.
1. Human communication, at least the verbal kind, relies upon implicit assumptions concerning the specific meaning of the terms used. When the communicating parties have different meanings for the same term, but have not resolved the differences in advance, they can generate profound misunderstanding.
So when we're talking about "commitment" we should at least know what the other means so we can find the common basis for discussion. We must also understand the significance of the differences, so we can put the results of our discussion into the proper context and arrive at a meaningful result. This applies directly to the execution of aikido training--if I don't understand what you mean when you ask for a committed attack, I will only be able to deliver it by dumb luck.
2. Some, perhaps many, people are too embarrassed or egotistical to ask the question "what do you mean by X?" Extreme cases are too self-absorbed to believe that the question has merit. Others only take the first step--they see the commonality, but miss or refuse to look for the critical differences in meaning that can cause problems. This creates a barrier to effective communication that is very likely to frustrate our efforts to train meaningfully.
3. You are convinced that much of how Aikido is taught and learned (both "corporately" and "personally") aids and abets this failure to communicate and train effectively, by placing self-contradictory demands upon the student and by imposing a near-Pavlovian response. To wit, we do what we're expected to do to make our partner look good, whether or not it makes any martial sense. You believe that Janet's question revolves around the mental conditioning (i.e., desire to please) which has been foisted upon her by both the corporate and personal training she has absorbed.
4. You believe that both the problem and the solution reside in the student's ability to eliminate his own pride, fear and ignorance.
My thoughts follow:
1. Yep, I agree. If you've ever negotiated and tried to execute any type of personal or business contract (e.g., entered into and lived within a relationship with another human) you know that failure to agree on what things mean will doom the contract.
2. Yep, I agree here, too. Just look at why so many people get divorced.
3. I think it's really easy to end up conditioning oneself to "making the partner look good," and that it's reasonable to believe that some, perhaps many, dojos reinforce this by the way they train. I think that Ledyard-sensei has addressed this idea many times in his articles on aikido training--in fact, his current column does so again, far better than I ever could.
For me, this gets to the heart of Janet's question, 'cause I think I'm struggling with the same issue. Here's an example form my own training--hopefully, Janet will do me the favor of chiming in if I incorrectly replace her problem with my own.
We were doing katadori nikyo within the context of dynamic kihon waza--a single shoulder grab where nage's response is to step off the line and in, then, if nage succeeded in landing the grab, extending the trailing hip to create an opening for nikyo. As uke, once I landed the grab, I maintained it even when nage extended me to the floor and cranked in a decisive nikyo. From a martial standpoint, my position was martially untenable, and it ended up being nearly meaningless training for my 3rd dan partner. He looked great, but I cheated him him of the full measure of training he could have received.
Why did I hold on? Certainly not because I wanted to make him look good. I did it because I lost the martial meaning. I stupidly forgot that the grab is only the first phase of the real attack. That it's intended to unbalance and "fix" the target to create a high probability that he will be vulnerable to the second phase--a strike, either by me or my buds.
I also failed to realize that any attack-response chain can result in the attacker finding himself in a martially untenable position (no plan survives first contact with the enemy). I failed to exercise the proper martial judgment--to realize that my attack had been disrupted and that I needed to change my plan NOW. Letting go, relaxing my grip, riding his response while looking for another opening, these would have been much more martially appropriate things to do--and they would have made it much easier for me to take the kind of ukemi that would enable me to re-engage at a time and place of my choosing.
But, as I pointed out in my first post, I'm pretty single-minded and success-oriented (read persistent beyond the point of stupidity). That's been both good and bad for me over the years, and I'm working to bring it under even better control. Aikido is actually helping a lot by offering me both many more opportunities to learn this lesson and a more expansive (and useful) definition of success.
So while your conjecture about Janet's problem might be completely correct, and the internal solution you propose may be just what the doctor ordered, I'd like to pose the idea that perhaps she's a bit like me--a bulldog. And that this stems not from an overweening sense of pride, but a bit of dogged determination that's served her pretty well over the years.
It seems to me that the answer to her question "is there a degree of relaxation one learns over time within the committed, intense attack, that permits the seamless transition to connected ukemi?" is a resounding "yes!" Hopefully, our sempai will agree and will be patient enough with us that we can find our path to that answer. I think that all we have to do is train with that in mind.
I also think that the generalization you've posed about aikido pedagogy may be true to an extent, but that it need not pose any seminal internal challenge to overcome. My Dad often tells me that I think too much. In keeping with his message, perhaps it just comes down to people realizing why they train, and keeping that realization in the forefront of their minds. For me, that's training honestly within the context of budo very like what Ledyard-sensei's column puts forth.
Over to you and anyone else who wants to contribute.