Dojo: Senshin Center
Location: Dojo Address: 193 Turnpike Rd. Santa Barbara, CA.
Join Date: Feb 2002
Re: committed attack/sensitive ukemi paradox
Okay - here is what I go - it's long - so please skip it as you wish.
As I said above, I think everyone has made some very good points. I would like to try and comment on a few of them generally, while at the same time perhaps elaborating a bit more on what I was attempting to discuss before -- which Larry did an excellent job of summarizing.
First, I think that Jeff is right in pointing out that issues of trust are involved. Thus, I have to say that in my comments I am referring to how training takes place in our dojo -- where everyone knows everyone very well and everyone takes care of each other very well, etc. I cannot really comment outside of that. In other words, I am going to assume that trust is present. For the sake of this discussion then I am assuming that we are talking about an environment where no one on the mat has any ill will toward anyone else and no one would ever put his or her own mundane practice against the now and future practice of anyone else (via causing them injury or risking them injury). Therefore, like in our dojo, while we may experience injuries due to intense training levels, we are to never see a case of someone intentionally adding in some "extra twist" that more guarantees that Uke would be injured.
Second, in reading Janet's post, I zeroed in on what Tim did as well. Again, this may or may not have been what Janet was meaning, but I was trying to refer to that sense of having difficulty in going from one task (i.e. attacking) to another task (i.e. taking ukemi) when we are practicing with committed attacks. I have found this to be quite a common difficulty -- at least at our own dojo where we do seek to operate under such training parameters increasingly.
As we have all mentioned before, there are a lot of grey areas here -- with a lot of overlap - so let me try and be as specific as I can by giving three examples wherein issues of commitment might be raised and how these issues might or might not relate to a difficulty in transitioning from attacking to taking ukemi. I will be attempting to address three different kinds of commitment and some reasons why we do or do not see a problem in transitioning from attacking to taking ukemi, etc. In the examples, I will try to just take mune-tsuki as the attack, and I will try to work with Irimi Nage Tenkan as the tactical response. I will also try tweak these examples so that they can relate to other things said throughout the thread.
a. In this first example, an uke attacks but does not penetrate the target and/or seeks (consciously or unconsciously) to miss the target by wavering right or left in its vector. While others may disagree, I would categorize this attack as not being committed. It would not be committed because it seeks more NOT to have a relationship with the prescribed or intended target than it does to have a relationship with the prescribed or intended target. This kind of attack, however, can make for an ease of transition in going from attacking to taking "ukemi" safely/"properly." For example, if the technique being applied is Irimi Nage Tenkan, should Uke strike first to miss Nage and then second to go around Nage in the direction of the Kuzushi, such a waver in the initial vector would lend itself biomechanically to circling around Nage as choreographed by the ideal pattern of the technique (i.e. Irimi Nage Tenkan).
From my point of view, this is the most common thing seen in Aikido. Most folks train at this level, with this understanding of "commitment" (and of "ukemi") most of the time. As a result, tactical architectures themselves have even come to be constructed according to the ease that such wavering lends itself to the "ukemi" in question (which is the same ease that lends itself to "succeeding" in Nage's role as well). For example, more folks tend to seek to take Uke back in the opposite direction from the initial direction of the strike. This is not a problem under these conditions since Uke's "commitment" has lent itself to having Uke circle around Nage. However, under normal conditions (i.e. someone actually trying to hit you but misses you because you deviate from the Line of Attack), this course of action would actually result in a clash -- since Uke was going one direction (i.e. forward) but Nage is attempting to force them in the opposite direction (i.e. backwards).
Moreover, at a practical level, one not only sees a clash, but one more often sees a failure of the technique itself. This occurs because it requires too much energy on Nage's part to actually manifest the clash fully -- for all to see. What most often happens, since Nage often does not possess the kind of energy needed to reverse Uke's direction at all, is that Uke either goes flying by Nage and/or is not at all affected as choreographed in the technique. This is a very simple thing to experience. All you have to do is get you and your friend together and have one of you punch as hard and as fast as you can with no intention of doing anything else but that. Have the other one of you attempt to do Irimi Nage Tenkan as it is commonly prescribed and you will quickly come to experience the clash that comes from trying to take Uke in the opposite direction (pulling him/her) from the one they were striking toward.
The ignoring of this clash/tactical failure, by having Uke seek to miss and go around Nage, not only affords Nage's response a viability it would not have under more committed conditions, it, as I said above, allows Uke a less difficult time in transitioning from attacking to taking ukemi. This transition is made less difficult because it reduces the clarity of each of the two problematized aspects in Uke's role. That is to say, as the attack is not so clearly delineated, take the ensuing ukemi becomes less something one has to transition to. In a way, one is attacking and falling at the same time. For better or for worse, this has become what "commitment" means to the majority of aikidoka practicing today -- in my opinion. For many, if you are not attacking and falling at the same time, you are not attacking with "commitment."
Since this aids many of the tactical architectures currently in use, and since such "ukemi" can often beef up even the best of our egos as Nage, most Nage's come to support such ukemi by either instructing it, requesting it, and/or reinforcing it by opting to use Uke that can act thusly over those that cannot or will not. Therefore, because both Uke and Nage are "partnered" in this silent contract to make each other's roles more "easier/ego satisfying," I do not think we see too much of what Janet was trying to discuss. There is no commitment, and there is no difficultly in transitioning from attacking to taking ukemi safely/properly. That is why I saw Janet's dilemma as happening within another kind of commitment.
b. In this case, we have one trying to train like I mentioned above in the "try it at home" (get you and your friend) example. Here, one strikes as hard and as fast as one can with no other intention but this. With this kind of training, two things often come up, or, really, one thing comes up but it is often treated in two entirely different ways. I will divide these up into "b-1" and "b-2."
b-1. This first way brings us back to the kind of training we saw in example a. That is to say, there is a semi-conscious attempt to make certain aspects of the assumed choreography easier -- making any transition between different aspects of Uke's role also easier. However, it is usually Nage or Nage's role that is the catalyst for this (which is different from Uke mainly doing it and Nage benefiting from it as in example a).
In this approach, in the technique of Irimi Nage Tenkan from mune-tsuki, Uke is often instructed not to attack thusly (with so much commitment -- though this is not said outright). This occurs because Uke in his/her commitment subverts the intended architecture (by exposing the clash that is normally not present because of how Uke usually seeks to miss Nage and then to go around Nage). However, because it becomes impossible for some to doubt a given tactical architecture and/or their capacity to perform it, Uke is often faulted under the guise of needing to seek a better understanding of ukemi. That is to say, Uke attacks hard and fast, the technique fails, but rather than faulting the self (the Nage) or the architecture (which for many is simply beyond question), Uke is faulted and thus is required to learn how to "more properly" attack hard and fast (i.e. with "commitment"). This causes a problem because Uke did feel that he/she did attack with commitment and is now not sure what to do. However, in my opinion, this is not the problem I was trying to address in discussing what Janet brought up. This is a different kind of problem in my opinion.
The problem here is really one of culture, and the apparent paradox is unsolvable only outside of gaining the relevant and necessary cultural experience -- it is not a real paradox in my opinion. That is to say, Uke simply has to expose him or herself to the cultural assumptions that have come to make up the arbitrary understanding of what "commitment" means under these considerations and within this given situation. When Uke does this, the "paradox" is solved. What does this cultural process look like? It usually comes in the form of suggestions, advice, encouragements, admonishments, etc., that direct Uke in how to attack with "commitment," but not with commitment. Whatever shape these things may actually take in regards to how to attack with "commitment," they are all usually part of modern Aikido's conventional wisdom. They most often refer to all of the Aikido buzzwords. In general, they are some form of requesting Uke to match Nage (i.e. to de-commit from his/her own tactical agenda). Slowly, then, for all kinds of reasons, Uke is given more responsibility beyond just striking as hard and as fast as he/she can. Slowly then, commitment comes to mean more than it could or should. All kinds of "legitimate" reasons are given for these additions in meaning, but they all work to bring training back to the level witnessed in example a -- at least in essence. Thus, as I said above, one has no problem in facing the difficulty in transitioning from attacking to taking ukemi because real commitment is not present once the acculturation processes has been completed.
The directives that lead our training in this way may often sound like this: "You have to be more dynamic in your ukemi," "You should not be so rooted in your ukemi," "You have to follow Nage's lead," "You have to blend with Nage more," "You as Uke have to be ready for anything," etc. Because these slogans, and many others like them, are really just requests for Uke to not attack in so committed a fashion, but also because Uke (and Nage) do wish to train at a somewhat more "committed" level than what is seen in example a., some differences do exist. In example b's understanding of "commitment," "commitment" often comes to be understood as or abstractly represented by things that are usually only A PART of commitment (i.e. not commitment). Examples of this are: "hitting/touching Nage if he/she does not move off of the line," "continually striking at Nage via the same initial mechanisms if he/she possesses any ‘openings,'" etc. Nevertheless, what is important to note here is that Uke is soon not attacking like anyone else would (in other arts) but is now attacking only like a cultivated aikidoka would. This happens because we are slowly cultivated to move away from commitment so that we can move toward "commitment."
Thus, in example b while one does not have to face the difficulty of transitioning from a truly committed attack to ukemi, one does have to learn how to attack in a non-committed fashion and how to understand this new non-committed attack as a "committed" attack. This is not always so easy to do -- at least for some. For some folks, it is quite hard to figure this all out. They are pressed between their good faith toward the art, their teacher, etc., and their common sense (yet to be cultivated) understanding of commitment. One has to figure out how some added responsibilities that are shoved on Uke are supposed to add to his/her commitment and not take away from it. In other words, one is looking at a cultural process by which one slowly and subtly comes to understand what is not a committed attack (i.e. a thing that only has some aspects of a committed attack) as a committed attack and at the resistance we may all experience via a kind of culture shock. However, until this process fulfills itself, one is at a loss concerning how to go from what is a committed attack to what is being understood as ukemi but this loss is more centered on trying to figure out the new "committed" attack. It is not really about the difficulty in transition regarding moving between a committed attack and ukemi. It is about a difficult in transition regarding moving between holding a more objective understanding of commitment to a cultural understanding of commitment. One is facing the pressures that come to us via the art's presumptions regarding its idealized training environments. We must understand, in my opinion, that it is as if the role and responsibility of Uke, via a particular understanding of ukemi, twists and warps our own initial common sense on what commitment is so that we can eventually comes to see what "commitment" should be.
Regardless of how perplexing this acculturation process may be for some, as I said, earlier, I do not think that this is what is being referred to in Janet's post -- or at least it is not what came to my mind when reading Janet's post - because I do not really see this as a problem. One simply has to learn the rules of the game and then play accordingly. For that to happen, one simply requires the proper exposure to the given culture and the needed time to mature in that culture. One has to learn to "do as the Roman's do." In fact, one's difficulty in this acculturation process has more to do with one's resistance to "doing what the Roman's do" than with anything else. If one can let go of their current and more real notion of what commitment is and come to adopt Aikido's cultural understanding of it should be, one's body will move accordingly with little to no problem in transitioning from attacking to taking ukemi. This is because there is no real difficulty in transitioning because this level of "commitment" does not inhibit one from taking ukemi safely/properly.
b-2. In this example, both Uke and Nage expect the same thing from Uke's role, as far as attacking goes. Both expect Uke to strike as hard and as fast as he/she can -- no more, no less. In addition, of course, the training itself, which includes both the roles of Nage and Uke, assumes that Uke will not die because of the level of practice. Before Uke can get a subjective sense of the difficulty of transitioning from attacking with commitment to taking ukemi safely/properly, Nage must of course be in possession of tactical architectures that can address such intent and he/she must also be in possession of enough skill to embody those architectures under such training conditions. If Nage does not have these things, then Uke will not face a difficulty in transitioning from attacking to taking ukemi. This is because Uke's commitment will in most likelihood cause every action of Nage to fail and/or to operate at such a level that Uke transitioning from one aspect of his/her role to another becomes quite easy (due to a slow pace and/or to a luxury of time).
However, if Uke is training with a Nage that does posses such things, Uke is set for experiencing one of the greatest obstacles to training at more advanced levels (e.g. spontaneous levels, etc.). Here's what happens: Uke comes in with mune-tsuki as hard and as fast as he/she can (however that is determined); Nage has and can utilize a tactical architecture (i.e. a given version of Irimi Nage Tenkan) that does work in conjunction with such intent (i.e. not requiring Uke to be more dynamic, not requiring Uke to be less rooted, not requiring Uke to blend with him/her, not requiring Uke to follow his/her lead, etc.) -- an architecture that seeks to benefit from such commitment, from such rooting, from such intent, etc.; and before Uke knows what happens, or more correctly put, as Uke is in full commitment, Uke goes flying and somehow has to land safely/properly -- but usually does not (not at first at least).
Here, the unknown comes to plague us. It is brought about because of the attachment we normally have in our own committed attacks. This is the very same attachment that plagues a Nage under spontaneous training conditions - within his/her attempts to respond defensively in the face of the unknown. Here, that attachment, or the plagues of attachment, is/are amplified by Nage's viable tactical architecture and his/her correct application of that architecture. Facing this, Uke is in an entirely different scenario than he/she has probably ever been in before regarding Ukemi. It is a new experience, and one not quite identical to the rare one we've all had where some Shihan managed to throw us out of nowhere under less extreme conditions.
Perhaps, at first, we are not able to put our finger on all that is different in this type of ukemi, but we are immediately struck by how hard and how fast it was, how terrifying it was, how powerless we were though we were at first feeling our most powerful, how we could not do a simply breakfall, etc. In addition, worst of all, we know it is going to happen again -- the second we get up and attack just like we did before. What usually happens at this point? Uke, on their own, often sub-consciously, starts to disengage from the attack here or there in an attempt to get some sort of handle on the ukemi -- to find some sort of pathway to how they have experienced ukemi up until this point in their training. However, this is a regression, an attempt to return to what is known, and/or a resistance toward further progress. For example, an Uke might attack slower, or seek to penetrate the target less deeply, or stutter in their action, etc., so that they can possibly see or feel more what is going to happen as they are experiencing what is happening. In a way, by reducing their commitment, Uke is trying to get back to the first level of training (in example a) -- where one's attack is more conducive to their then level of practicing ukemi (which also happens in example b but by different means). Uke is trying to have the attack be the ukemi. In a way then, Uke is trying to get rid of the unknown, just the way a Nage might (incorrectly) tend to do within a spontaneous training environment.
However, knowing and not knowing is not the issue. We will not by knowing what to do come to practice non-attachment and thus be able to attack with commitment and land safely/properly. Knowing and not knowing is simply the beginner's mistake in trying to address the issue of non-attachment. As I said, this is the exact same thing that a Nage must face under spontaneous training conditions: the capacity to accept the here and now fully, or the capacity to practice non-attachment in the face of violence (especially against oneself). For me then, since this is all about the need for the cultivation of non-attachment, this means that Uke will have to reconcile this difficultly in transition in the same way that Nage will in regards to spontaneous training conditions. That means an Uke is going to have go within, dig deep, to reconcile the seeds of attachment that mark our habitual self -- to purify our false view that we can know and that in knowing will remain safe (in a broad sense). When an Uke can do this, the distinction between attacking and ukemi will fade away -- just as it does for the Nage in regards to his/her facing the attack and his/her tactical response. However, each aspect will maintain its clarity and its integrity, since such transcendence of distinction happens internally and not via some external, artificial, and/or cultural attempt to make the former more complimentary to the latter.