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Old 01-25-2007, 08:43 AM   #157
George S. Ledyard
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Dojo: Aikido Eastside
Location: Bellevue, WA
Join Date: Jun 2000
Posts: 2,670
Re: Instructor got mad because I didnt fall

Ken McGrew wrote:
I think it is a mistake to quote something from Saotome Sensei in order to refute other quotes from him. I did not "make up" the narration in his videos nor my experiences with him. Those who question what I am saying should buy and watch the Oyo Henka video. He does not contradict himself. English is simply not his native language. You have to listen carefully.
People should pay attention to this issue. It's not just the language barrier with Sensei. Often what he describing are two almost antagonistic aspects of a given principle. It is quite possible, at different times, to get quite different messages about the same topic. Its a tension of opposites which creates a balance. People need to be careful not to take one or the other position as valid but to see that its the balance of the two that Sensei is trying to get his stufdents to understand.

I've spent a lot of time at Saotome's seminars, trained since 1993 with two of his senior students, and have attended his teaching oriented training at his private dojo (where he told us to teach flowing and cooperative Ukemi, but to change techniques when confronted with resistance). People like to do what they are used to doing, but that doesn't mean that what they are doing will ever get them to his level of Aikido.
You have to be very careful with Sensei. You can look at what he says, you can see how he teaches, but you also need to look at the result. Has he been able to pass on what he knows? Ikeda Sensei is the only one of his students who is functioning at a similar high level. There are a very small number of Rokudan level folks who are starting to get it. But there are many folks who have been and are currently traiing in ways that will not, in my own opinion, result in an understanding of what Sensei is doing.

I think that Sensei was so worried about his students not falling into the trap of what he saw Aikido becoming that he let us train too physically for too long. He used to go out to the West Coast for a week or two to teach and would come back abolustely incensed by what he saw. he'd say "Aikido is not Flamingo Dancing... they are destroying the spirit of Aikido". For weeks after his return our classes were apt to look a lot like karate classes; hard and with lots of atemi.

One thing you can say about Sensei's students, you can't get any of them to back off from an attack. They don't collapse their energy field just because an attack is strong. But in my opinion Sensei let us train that way for too long. The folks who are stuck trying to be strong never get what he is doing. Twenty years of training in a rigid and resistant manner will not result in an understanding of aiki.

If you watch Saotome's videos you can see his Aikido for yourself. If you go to a seminar you will never see him tell the students present to grab in a resistant manner.
This isn't, strictly speaking, true and I think that is the source of a lot of misunderstanding... Sensei has frequently asked his uke to try to stop him. Being the largest of his students, I was frequently that uke. Since he has already mastered the principles, he likes to "show off" for the students that my resistance is pretty much irrelevant. But too many folks took those demos as a sign that they should be training with each other that way. The absolute last thing you want to do in your training is to imprint tension into the interaction. 50% of your training time is in the role of uke. If you spend half your time being rigid and immoveable and then think that your body will make the jump to fluid, relaxed, and sensitive when you do the nage role, you will be sadly disappointed. Your body will simply be confused.

But more than this, as a matter of martial application, when and how does one's hand get grabbed in the first place? It just makes no sense. It's an exercise. I don't stand around waiting for people to grab my wrist. If they do manage to grab my wrist, it would be because they were charging in toward me and therefore would have too much momentum to be resistant. In the hypothetical, if an attacker grabbed my wrist, I'd break his nose. (As an aside, raising the arm will not stop a real strike either, which will only drive your own hand into your nose). It just makes no sense all this grabbing and resisting. If you grab my wrist and do not follow, you make it easy for me to break my hand free, and strike you with a back fist. Following is your protection.
While I don't actually disagree with what your point is, I think that this description needs a bit of clarification. As I have pointed out before, I do not believe that Aikido is an empty hand martial art. It is primarily about weapons. The grabbing attacks we do are largely about a) trying to take a weapon from the opponent, usually a sword from his obi; b) restricting his ability to access the weapon or c) restraining an armed opponent while another cuts or stabs him. No one grabs an opponent's wrists the way we do in empty hand fighting.

So these grabs are essentially connection exercises. We do every type of grab imaginable to practice connection with the partner. One you have an understanding of how to take that grab and use the energy of the grab to move the partner, you can actually use the identical principles in the attack. The grab is not some attempt to show the opponent that he cannot move you... whoever heard of anything that stupid in a fight. The grab is a way to take the other's center.

Once you understand this, you start to realize why it is absolutely crucial to understand that the technique starts before the grab (or strike) happens. Kuroiwa Sensei once said to me that people do not understand what the grab is. It is an offensive technique. If the attacker really gets that grab, he has you.

Aikido is about capturing the attacker's energy, blending, and redirecting.
Actually, it goes both ways. The skilled attack is about capturing the opponent's energy and giving it direction and the skilled defense is doing the same thing to him before he can do it to you. The whole uke nage dichotomy is artificial so folks can train. No one goes into a fight thinking he's the uke.

You get good at that by creating a situation where you can practice it. Think of Irimi Nage. The first ura and blend brings Uke down. The second ura and throw happens only because and if Uke continues her attack. Saotome's style of Irimi Nage really emphasizes blending because he turns and turns rather than stepping back and stepping in. If you practice trying to resist as Uke after the initial attack, you are merely asking Nage to kick or hit you, and taking advantage of the fact that you have not fully attacked nor Nage fully thrown, and in general are wasting your time and your partner's time as well.
It's ok to practice that way... you just have to have the proper arrangement with the partner. In a real martial interaction, an opponent will seldom totally commit unless he is sure he has a finishing blow. Hence feints or uncommitted attacks like a jab. If you are striving for martial competence in your Aikido, you need to have some experience practicing with partners who try to do this to you. You need to develop the sensitivity to react instantly to resistance on the part of the partner with the proper atemi rather than by tightening up and putting more force into the technique. If you do that, the partner will be forced to stay fluid as well because he must protect his openings. Not every body wants to train this way. Many folks take offense at being bopped by their partner. So you have to have a partner that wants to train in this manner. But it is ok to do so. In the sense of Aikido as self defense, you might be called on to defend oneself against an attacker who has no training whatever. This attacker may do all of the things we teach our students NOT to do. You have to practice against that type of attack as well as against an opponent who is highly trained and reacts more intelligently if you can be said to be functional from a self defense standpoint.

It's good to have these conversations. In the end people can think and do what they want. Students under Saotome, however, in my opinion, have an obligation to try to do what he wants them to do. He is famous for getting angry at seminars when students aren't training the way he wants. Given language barriers I think many students never understand what he is looking for. I'm trying to articulate this to the best of my ability.
Ken McGrew
You are right that many folks do not understand what he is asking for. They latch on what they hear him say that fits their own predisposition. Normally, in training what one most needs to do is work on the aspect of the art which fits your predisposition the least. The strong ferocious folks need to relax and try being mellow and the timid, not so physical folks need to hit someone. Whatever it is that makes one uncomfortable, that should be what one works on hardest.

Last edited by George S. Ledyard : 01-25-2007 at 08:46 AM.

George S. Ledyard
Aikido Eastside
Bellevue, WA
Aikido Eastside
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