Dojo: Aikido Eastside
Location: Bellevue, WA
Join Date: Jun 2000
Aikido... does the practice result in applicable skills or does it result in an increasingly rarefied activity? Aikido ukemi is unique. No other martial art looks like Aikido. I've played around in various martial arts for over forty years, in not one, would an attacker, EVER, run around his partner in a circle. Attacker's in any martial art I know of, if they don't like what seems to be happening to them, they will attempt to break connection, escape and regroup to attack again. Only in Aikido do we tell people to stay connected regardless of whether it makes sense to do so.
Now I don't actually have an issue with this... Aikido is unique. I love the movement. I think the whole point of the practice is the study of connection. But within the essential Aikido paradigm there is a rationale. If an uke grabs you, there is a rationale behind why he doesn't simply let go in order to not move. If a technique is correct, the uke letting go results in his being open to being struck. If the paradigm is operating correctly, at any point during the technique, there has to be some flow of energy through whatever the contact point is from the nage to the uke.
But what has happened in too much Aikido practice is the uke being taught to "hold on" and "follow" simply because their teachers told them to. If it becomes the uke's job to keep the connection, than pretty much anything nage does works. Just go up on YouTube... take a look at the ukemi for many of the top levels teachers. Often you see a number of things... You will see uke's who have only one side of their body activated, for instance a shomen uchi with the front hand while the back hand simply dangles at the side of the uke. Did you ever see another martial art in which anyone lets his body disorganize like that?
You will see ukes that attack with a strike, and when Nage moves out of the way of that strike, the uke's balance breaks of its own accord... the uke disorganizing his own structure just because his strike missed. In any other martial art, the attacker would maintain his balance and his center and when his first strike missed, there would be an immediate second strike.
You will see technique in which the nage is moving around the uke for some portion of the technique and the uke is actually sitting there waiting for nage to complete the throw. I can pretty much guarantee that, in any other martial art, if there is an instant in a technique when the technique goes neutral and what nage is doing is not directly affecting uke, he will either escape or reverse the technique. No one ever sits there waiting for you to do your technique.
The whole concept of what "leading" ones partner means gets lost when, the first time the uke lets go during a technique, he or she gets told to "hold on" and not let go. Then the nage proceeds to essential drag his partner through the technique, which works because the uke is told it his job to keep the connection. It is actually the nage's job to maintain the connection. It should be difficult or even impossible for uke to break connection. Now that represents VERY high level technique, no question. When you are down on the ground and you can't figure out why you didn't just let go, you are dealing with a very skilled partner. But understanding how "sticking" works in high level skills won't happen if the partner is told that disconnecting when it makes sense to do so, is wrong. When we tell our partners to hold on hard, then use that over commitment of strength to allow us to muscle our technique, we are missing what is important about how to connect. It should not be hard to maintain a grip during a technique. When the uke has to work hard to maintain the grip, the technique isn't what it should be. And anyone from any other martial art simply wouldn't maintain a grip like that if it was made difficult to do so... we have to train our people to do that as beginners.
Basically, in much of Aikido, people are taught an ukemi that is designed to make the teacher's technique work. Yes, there are reasons that the uke wants to maintain an "alive" connection to the nage throughout any given technique. The reason for that is Kaeshiwaza. If there is an instant of disconnection, an instant of collapse of nage's energy field, the least loss of extension, the technique is instantly reversed. This kind of continuous connection is the basis for good martial practice.
What is happening in much Aikido, in my opinion, is that the art gets increasingly rarefied... It's like the difference between applied physics and theoretical physics. The folks in the Physics labs can create conditions in which elements exist that, as far as we know, don't occur anywhere in nature that we know of. Very special conditions are required to create these elements. The folks in Applied Physics take the principles of Physics and apply them to real world projects. The principles that they work with cannot be so rarefied that they only apply in a lab or require a multibillion dollar super collider to duplicate. They have to work with principles that can be applied in every day conditions...
Much of Aikido has gotten to the point at which interactions happen that one simply cannot reproduce outside of the dojo and the rarefied conditions created by training ones partners to respond to our technique rather than having technique that actually creates that response in the partner.
If you train your partner to move as expected, you have no idea whether you know how to do something or not. In high level technique, there is little difference in feel between technique that works and technique that is working because the uke is tanking. The level of effortlessness is much the same. In order to know whether what you are doing is really working, you have to trust that your partner isn't just falling down for you. I frequently do a technique wrong just to check on my partners. If they break their balance or fall for me when I do it wrong, I give them a hard time. If they let go during a technique, if I can't show them why they were "open" when they did so, then it was My mistake, not theirs. I will actually do classes in which I ask the ukes to let go and break connection any place during the technique they wish. If the nage isn't still in a position of advantage or is open to reversal or striking when the uke lets go, the technique was wrong. This lets the ukes understand WHY they do what they do, it isn't just because they were told to. And it lets the nage understand exactly what really needs to be happening in their movement and with the connection and that if they lose that connection or positioning the technique is lost.