Dojo: Aikido Arts of Shin Budo Kai/ Bedford Hills, New York
Location: New York
Join Date: May 2006
The tool of resistance in teaching Aikido
with all that has been written and bantered about "resistance" in Aikido, I felt it timely to add my thoughts, that comprise an article in an upcoming newsletter to my students. Your thoughts and feedback would be greatly appreciated!
Resistance in Aikido
We have been inundated lately with talk about resistance by the uke in Aikido. In my opinion, much of the talk seems to miss some of the underlying foundations of both Aikido and the practice/training in Aikido. I would first like to discuss some of these "fundamentals" before addressing the utility of resistance in Aikido.
Aikido is a martial art that does not function within a force-on-force paradigm: Conflicts, by their very nature, can be defined as interactions within a force-on-force paradigm. The outcome of a force-on-force paradigm is heavily based upon inequities in skill levels, force levels, reaction-times, and other physical and timing factors. A force-on-force paradigm has severe short-comings. First, it is not a principle-based paradigm. Force-on-force might work well with percussive strikes with body parts if the a person has a significant size, strength, speed, and reaction-time advantage. This paradigm begins to fail when the person is now faced with striking instruments (bats, clubs, etc.). This paradigm dangerously fails with the introduction of an edged weapon, and fatally fails with spinning, metal projectiles. Second, it is neither efficient or effective. Imagine you are a warrior of old. You have been traveling for days to get to the battlefield. You are not well-rested, not well-fed, weighted down with armor and weapons. You now face your enemies and you engage each one force-on-force. You will tire quickly and soon become useless and most likely, dead! The quickest way to achieve the goal with the least expenditure of energy is ideal.
Martial arts that are sports-based (Tae Kwon Do, mixed-martial arts, Mui Thai, etc.) function well within a force-on-force paradigm because there are well defined rules and parameters that govern the application and limitations of applications of force.
Aikido is not based on a force-on-force paradigm. Aikido is principle-based. Let us explore some of those principles: One- The most efficient and effective way to move is from a state of relaxed and centered posture with the feet close to shoulder-width apart. If you doubt that, take a hard stance and/or wide stance. Time movement from that stance and from a relaxed stance with feet shoulder-width apart. The answer should be obvious to most. You must relax your muscles first, in order to allow your muscles to dynamically operate to allow for movement. Two- Never contest for force and space. This is a force on force paradigm. Three- Move in a manner that results in a tactical advantage. The initial movement typically unbalances the attacker. The initial movement typically allows you to execute techniques, while at the same time, the attacker is in a position where attack is difficult, if not impossible. Four- Efficient and effectively disable the attacker so as to be ready for what ever comes next with the least force necessary to get the job done. With relatively little force, the application of an Aikido technique provides a variety of options which can range from restraining a person, to killing a person. We practice techniques in a safe manner, but we should still be aware of how the techniques can be modified to match the threat level (harmonizing).
One of the major difficulties in both learning Aikido and effectively executing Aikido techniques in reality-based, or real-life situations is that there are strong "pulls" to enter into, or fall back into a force-on-force paradigm. Much of what we learn in life, particularly with men, is to rely on a force-on-force paradigm to address conflicts. One can easily argue that this response set is "hard-wired" within the body. We are reciprocal response systems, and we interact with others within this model. At a muscle level, the body needs to receive reciprocal feedback (muscle tension, or some other type of tangible force) in order for the body to signal to the muscles to stay contracted. The more feedback the body receives, the longer contractile tension can exist (up until a point) and the more of the body musculature can become involved. If the body does not receive this feedback, muscles will begin to relax after several seconds.
Learning to not tense-up in posture. Learning to not respond with contracting muscle force, and not responding to changing conditions by exerting tension/force are very difficult lessons to learn. We are having to train our bodies to respond in an almost alien manner! We have to unlearn one type of response set and replace it with another.
Aikido does not need to "tested" by trying engaging in contests with other martial arts that rely on a force-on-force paradigm: The proponents of "Aikido as being useless as tested in MMA" school miss the entire point of the art. Aikido is about harmonizing. That means that it requires us to make a fundamental paradigm shift from you-against-me, to us. I am not saying that cross-training is no good, nor am I saying that Aikido should not be practiced with those attacking in ways that they learn from other martial arts. What I am saying is that when you enter the octagon, you are engaging in a you-against-me paradigm based on a force-on-force paradigm with well established rules. It is very useful to learn how to remain connected to the uke, remain relaxed and centered when a person to trying to force you into the other paradigm. When a kokyu-nage is being applied to us, we move our bodies in a manner that allows us to remain safe. If the attacker does not do so, because he/she is so intent on taking you to the ground, or continue to strike you, the attacker might very well end-up with eyes gouged out, being choked out, or having a neck broken. Those endings only become difficult to execute if we begin to tense-up, and/or try and impose our will on the person (breaking the harmony). Learning to remain in the "us" paradigm is very difficult. Working our way up to being able to execute techniques from reality-based attacks while staying in this "us"/harmony paradigm is challenging at best. I am personally working hard every single day to not only improve at this, but to find ways to better teach my students to do so (so that they hopefully learn quicker than I am).
Resistance in Aikido:
Many people argue both sides of the "resistance" fence with little, to no attention given to the utility of the resistance being given by the uke. What is the purpose of the resistance? Is the resistance assisting the learning process? Who is the resistance meant for? These are questions that many people should be asking themselves. I would first like to explore what I consider to be two of the "bankrupt" positions bantered about:
Uber-Resister: The egotistical banter of those who talk about "stopping shihans" and shutting down people at will (or not- out of the graciousness of their hearts) is pathetic at best, and benefits nobody. George Ledyard Sensei wrote extensively about the difficult and critical role of uke in the learning process (go to Aikiweb article section to find the article). The job of the uke is one of teacher; not thwarter, or cooperator. Ellis Amdur duly noted that in most traditional ryuhas, the teacher took ukemi, because of an awareness of how critical the role of the uke was in the learning of the art to the student.
The uber-resister has no interest in attacking sincerely. The uber-resister is only interested in amply demonstrating to people who might care, how good he/she is. You can usually find this person working mostly with beginners. This person is looking for the adoration of the beginner who can easily recognize the superior skill level and the "generosity" to teach from the "extensive" knowledge base. The inability to harmonize, based upon personal issues, along with an unwillingness to be taught by others (shihans on down to lower ranks- yes we can learn from people of lower rank!) are the hallmarks of this person.
Aikido is taught in a manner that takes an occurrence in time and space and significantly slows it down and breaks the components apart so that a person can learn. We know what technique is being taught. We know it is not usually at a realistic speed (particularly for demonstrating a technique in a class/seminar). The uber-resister will apply resistance, knowing what is going to occur, knowing that what is happening is not done within a realistic time-frame. If you were to take that sequence of movements and apply it at real speeds, it would readily become apparent how ridiculous and unrealistic the sequence of movements were. If you can image someone punching at the chest at real speed, as the moment of impact is upon us, the attacker's arm pulls back at an odd angle (as opposed to the chambering of the strike after reaching maximum extending distance). When people try and point out the insincerity to the uber-resister, he/she blames the nage, the teacher, the style, etc. for the apparent short-comings that the nage is obviously unaware of (yes, even those lowly shihans are oblivious and unaware!). This person simply never learned how to play well with others. Harmonizing/blending with the attacker is simply beyond this person's capacity at this point in time.
New-Age Actor: In the land of peaceful bliss and harmony we must connect with the energy of the earth and freely share our love to all, even to those who want to kill us, for that is the goal of Aikido. "Ground Control to Major Fluff put your circuits on and return to planet Earth!" These ukes typically grab us in the manner in which a long-time lover might make contact with us. When they punch or kick, you can stand still and it will miss you. When you ask them to attack you authentically, they genuinely look hurt and say that they are! If you ask them to be like an angry mugger, they will tell you that this is "un-Aikido-like." These uke's are so deeply harmonized to us that when we begin to direct energy to the execution of the technique, they are flying through the air with grace and ease. When you ask them to go with what is really happening, they look amazed at you, because you obviously are not cued in to a higher level like O'Sensei was. When you attack them, they are upset with your level of violence. When they try to move, devoid of any real energy, it is as though they are operating on twenty milligrams of Valium and several pitchers of beer. You can usually identify those people at seminars easily. With their friends, their shared "delusions" look like the most graceful dances we have ever seen. When we sincerely attack them, they suddenly freeze and get that "deer in the headlights look."
These people will lectures us at length about the values of peace, love and understanding. To them, resistance, aggression, violence, etc. should not exist in an Aikido dojo. Their overly idealized world is a great place to visit, if only it were planet Earth. Harmonizing/blending with violence, aggression, anger, etc. is a difficult task. It requires us to approximate these experiences in our training so that we can do that when reality dictates to us that we need to act to preserve life. Approximating these experiences takes a tremendous amount of integrity, sincerity, care and concern. We cannot learn to get to that skill level unless we can train safely with people as sincere and caring as we need to be to help us learn those skills. We live in a world filled with violence. Learning to apply Aikido in the real world is the goal!
Resistance as a Learning Tool: Resistance in Aikido requires a lot of integrity and personal responsibility so that we can learn in a safe environment. It requires that we leave our ego's in the changing rooms. We need to practice with a "beginner's mind" so that we are always cognizant of our responsibility to learn from each other. We need to continually have honesty checks with ourselves so that the resistance that we are providing is helping the person to learn in an atmosphere that is conducive to learning. I can separate the use of resistance as a learning tool as certain points along a continuum from attack to completion of a technique:
Useful Resistance in the Initial Attack:
It is not easy to remain relaxed and centered, while controlling the center-line of the attacker when you are being attacked, so as to successfully harmonize with that attacker. A full-blown attack with a beginner will not be of much help in helping the beginner achieve this initial task. If we can attack the uke in a manner and speed that they can feel what is happening inside of his/her body, as well as ours, we can help that person develop the ability to accomplish the initial task. The better we become, we can begin to push this learning towards more realistic levels. Attacking each other with unpredictable, varying speeds and intensities, pushes us to the limits of our ability to blend with the attacker while achieving the initial task. If we feel ourselves tense up, the attacker tense up, etc. we can take responsibility for trying to figure out where we have gone astray. Slowing things down to a pace that we can get that "feeling" back is a good idea.
Useful Resistance in Helping to Teach Unbalancing:
If the nage has not unbalanced us and begins to try and go through with the technique we should let that person know this information. We can remain centered, tap the person with a free body part, begin a reversal, etc.. The intention is not to create frustration in the nage, or to have the nage be awed at our supernatural abilities. We need to provide direct feedback on what we experienced and what the nage can do to unbalance us. Helping/guiding the nage to achieve this step, regardless of the speed of execution, is invaluable in helping to teach the proper execution of Aikido techniques. As we advance, we can ramp up the speeds of attacks to test our ability to be so connected and moving correctly, that at the moment of contact, the person is already unbalanced and unable to execute a damaging attack.
Useful Resistance During the Execution of Techniques:
We can help the nage learn when the connection with us is broken, their energy is no longer extended, he/she is too tense, we are no longer being led off-balance, etc.. We can allow our bodies to naturally respond to what is happening or not happening to us. We can give feedback in a manner that informs, rather than defeats the person. I always encourage the person to stop where things have gone amiss, rather than start all over again. I want the person to become aware of what is happening with his/her body at that moment in time. Is there poor posture, unnecessary tension, lack of extension of energy? The person can then correct that, teaching the body through progressive approximation, and continue with the technique. At more advanced levels, we can ask the ukes to let us know when we have created openings in us so that we can be attacked, or a technique reversed on us.
Useful Resistance During Ukemi:
We can help the nage learn what is necessary/unnecessary, functional/non-functional in creating the conditions so that we are forced to take ukemi. This can range from not having to fall, to starting the reversal of a technique. We can help the nage be guided through proper movements that make us have to take ukemi. The more skilled we become, the more we can test each others ability to bring a person to the ground in a manner that the nage can control (do I want the person to land at my feet, or away from me and into on-coming attackers).
We can focus on these stages from a simple, static grab, all the way through the continuum to freestyle attacks with more than one attacker. Our ability to help each other learn to execute Aikido techniques through the use of resistance WITH utility is an indispensable tool for teaching.
We balance a very fine line between cooperating and resisting throughout this entire process. The reason we do so, is to help us all learn to be able to execute Aikido techniques under any circumstances. It is not a contest, competition, or battle of wills. The honesty and sincerity that goes along with leaving our ego's in the dressing rooms is highly demanding. We all falter in this process. The goal is to be able to have "OUR AIKIDO" be worthy of the name "Aikido." Some people will not be able to help us on this path, due to reasons unique to who they are and where they are in their life paths. I am willing to work sincerely with those that are as interested in learning as I am. I am not willing to allow some egotistical thug to try and hurt me, nor am I willing to engage in a fantasy-based exercise designed to highlight someone's apparent skill level, or idealized state of thinking. Life is short! Train sincerely!