David Valadez wrote:
Again, I think that folks that practice Rank Aikido end up missing the bigger picture here because they cannot see the observation as anything more than a criticism - which is an attempt to suggest that it is not an observation. It is not a criticism to say that today, Nov. 18, is Friday. It is an observation. However, it has to be a "criticism" for someone that wants to say that today is not Friday. See how this works?
This resistance to the observation is making folks just focus in on one part of this thing. The other part of how we as senpai uke act differently toward kohai nage is totally being ignored - WHEN THIS IS PROBABLY THE LARGER AND MORE SPIRITUALLY DETRIMENTAL PART OF THE PRACTICE. Moreover, because we cannot get this far in the observation we are missing an even more spiritually detrimental part to our training - that which comes with our expectation of Rank Aikido.
I am here referring to those times when we are senpai nage feel affronted when kohai uke either out of experimentation and/or ignorance end up doing something as that presents a "resistance" to the waza being practiced. When this happens, we very often proceed to thrash them, make them pay, show them how they just jumped out of the frying pan and into the fire, force them into the technique, do atemi, etc. - you see that kind of advice offered all over the place on this site. Yet, what do we do when a senpai uke does such a thing, or when a teacher does such a thing, all of a sudden it stops being a martial challenge deserving of conquest. Instead, it becomes some sort of physical riddle that we are supposed to figure out in as pristine a way as possible. All of a sudden, there is no affront - there is only a great learning experience we are having difficulty grasping (for the time being) - there is only this great honor of being given so much needed attention, etc.
The other day I had a meeting with the Judo club's teachers. I showed up early to watch part of the class that evening. While I was watching the class, another spectator showed up to watch. He was interested in training in Judo. One of the senior practitioners came over to talk to him after he pulled out from the third hour of training. They proceeded to have a conversation about past training and what Judo might offer, etc. It came out that the spectator had done Aikido.
Upon hearing this, the Judo player said, "Well, Aikido is a beautiful art. It offers a lot of positive things. My younger daughter has actually opted to train in Aikido over Judo - the rest of the family does Judo. However, there are a lot of assumptions you have to accept in Aikido in order to train and sometimes those things get in the way of a great deal. In Judo, you know what you get. A throw is a throw, and when you are thrown, you are thrown. This allows folks to get along - as you can see. You can even have the toughest match of your life and then go out to get a beer with that person - laughing and talking the night away."
To this the spectator said, "Yes, I can see how helpful everyone is being (which was true) to each other. It is really great to see."
Later the senior Judoka left and the spectator started a conversation with me. It turned out that he had done some training with me as a teenager, when I used to instruct in Kenpo - when I used to travel around to dojo to instruct, etc. - he was at one of those dojo. We started doing some catch-up. The topic of past training came up and of course then so too did Aikido. Somewhere in there I told him that he should not think that there is only one Aikido - that instead he should realize that there are many types of Aikido - yada yada yada. Anyways, he ends up telling me this story:
"So I am at the Aikido dojo, taking one of my first classes. I don't know anything, and I certainly don't know what to do. At this place they all line up and have the nage throw everyone in the line before they go to the end. It is my turn to be thrown, only I have no idea what to do. I wasn't trying to resist anything, I just was ignorant of what all was going on. The person being nage was an upper-intermediate student. He could not move me at all, let alone thrown me, but rather than offering me some direction, he just got really angry at me for messing him up or for not cooperating or something. I took that as a bad sign."
If we are honest in our training, and if we have any mind at all for spiritual reflection, we are going to be able to look at how we have different emotional responses (and thus tactical responses) depending upon the relative rank of the person offering us "resistance" in our training. This is all part of Rank Aikido and why, in my opinion, Aikido in general often falls short in both martial and spiritual applications.
btw - great post Larry. Thank you.
Frankly, many practitioners completely misunderstand the role of the uke in the training interaction. People seem to fall into two categories... either they attack with the intention to take a fall, thereby never actually delivering a good attack, or they attack thinking that the "martial" way to be a good uke is to stop the partner's technique. This is just as bad from a martial a standpoint as it creates huge openings. No real attacker has the intention to stop your technique, he has intention to do something to you. This is quite different energetically.
This does not mean that the uke colludes... he merely executes the attack called for with strong intention. The fact that, with an unskilled partner that might result in the failure to execute the called for technique is the result in the lack of skill in the nage rather than the intention to stop his technique on the part of uke. Uke simply delivers the energy in as clear and strong a fashion as possible.
When I started teaching I noticed that my techniques worked better than when I was on the mat training under another instructor, At first I thought the ukes were cooperating but I would periodically do the technique wrong purposely and would make sure that they didn't just fall down for me. What I realized was that the ukes gave me "real" ukemi. By that I mean that, as the teacher I was free to do any technique I wished. I could change the technique at any instant, do a variation, throw an atemi, whatever. The uke had to be ready for anything, which is what an uke should be. But the moment you see the teacher demonstrate and pair up with a partner, there is already the expectataion of what the technique should be. Uke often, even without realizing it, is moving to counter the technique he knows is coming. Training partners often don't give each other proper ukemi. You frequently see them doing things with each other that they know would result in getting knocked cold by their teacher if they did it with him.
All of this is done with the best of intentions. It should be caught by the teacher and corrected as a mistaken way of training. But at least it occurrs with the best of intentions... When you add in the whole area of people's emotional baggage ie. fears and insecurites, all that ego stuff, you can get a real morass.
Not only do you have an artificial situation in which the technique occurring is "supposed" to be a particular technique, often a particular version, which is a completely non-aiki assumtion, but then there is a set of expectations based on the perceived level of the partner.
If one is training with a senior or especially the teacher, one expects that he can do the technique so one has little or no ego investment in taking proper ukemi. No loss of face, so to speak, to be thrown easily by the senior person. But the more junior the person is to you, the more the expectation is that he shouldn't be able to do the technique without at least working for it. The intention shifts from giving a strong and clear attack to giving the partner problems. To be "aiki" one should at that point switch the technique to whatever the energetic situation calls for but in most dojos doing a technique which the teacher hadn't demonstrated isn't considered acceptable. You are supposed to do the technique demonstrated. This makes it all the more important that the partner deliver the type of attack for which the demonstrated technique is appropriate because to do anything other than that results in forcing the technique and complete lack of aiki.
The above type of problem is extremely common and I find it takes almsot constant remnders from the teacher to not allow this to happen. If you then add in the ego issue of investment in ones status and position you can really get in trouble because at that point, when an interaction isn't taking place which matches the expectations of the nage, he gets angry and possibly even violent because he perceives a threat to his view of his skill level. A junior who he can't throw represents a threat to his self esteem, one of the mopre dangerous things someone can do in the martial arts world, especially Aikido in which the practice is so cooperative.
I havce seen this, even with senior teachers, who when given a hard time by an uke or if struck by him, will feel obligated to hurt him on the next technique, just to demonstrate to all that he is the inferior. Guess what the students at such a place do when their model is such a teacher?
It is the instructyor's job to keep people on the proper path and to make sure the ukes have tha right attitude with their partners. It should be explained that this isn't just because it's nicer but that it is reuired if ones Aikido is going to get past the merely physical, strength oriented level.