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Old 05-20-2013, 08:37 AM   #17
George S. Ledyard
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Dojo: Aikido Eastside
Location: Bellevue, WA
Join Date: Jun 2000
Posts: 2,670
Re: The Role of Uke in Aikido Training

Lee Salzman wrote: View Post
The idea that aikido is 90% atemi is something I often heard a lot in training, but then I can turn around and fellow students (I can only speak for the ASU, have not extensively trained under other organizations) are completely averse to the idea of techniques having anything to do with atemi, and teachers did not seem to be showing them enough to convince them otherwise. One particular awkward account sticks firmly in my mind when a fellow student told me, "No, that's a different art!", when all I was doing was something I was taught from yet another teacher within the same organization... atemi, during ikkyo. I was not even making any contact, just doing it to make my intent for practice purposes explicit about where I was driving it, nothing scary or violent, but the mere potential of there being atemi in that place unnerved his ideas about what the art is.

So the question is then, why are not all the throws introduced so that first we actually see the atemi, and then we see, okay, this is how you can avoid having to need it, by using that same interaction/energy to effect a given throw? The way the ASU curriculum was laid out, it's just, at this belt level you must know these techniques, and so that's pretty much what we focused on in the clubs I practiced in. The only teacher I can say who made extensive use of atemi was one head-instructor who came from a less than conventional background with respect to aikido than the rest. Otherwise, it was more like 9% atemi.

And if, on the surface, a large part of the job of uke is to give good, committed atemi, and using the same energies that might in other contexts drive a throw, then perhaps there was more to the role of uke than I was ever aware of... uke learns to use atemi, nage learns then what happens if he chooses not to use atemi in the way he did as uke. If that idea was implicitly embedded in the training, unfortunately I never got instructed in it. Like everyone else, I just kinda winged my attacks based on what information I was given, which was not much. I don't think I could have given a good attack despite any sincere desire to. So I guess there could have been more to it than I encountered in my training, had I known/learned better.
I do not think that any organization that I have seen is immune to the issues I am talking about. The curriculum of most organizations is designed to teach "basics". Not so many folks look at atemi in either the uke or nage role as a "basic" so it doesn't have its own block of instruction most places.

Saotome Sensei seemed satisfied that we attack with full speed and full power (when level appropriate). He did not spend a lot of time on the mechanics of striking. It was only after quite a few years that I realized that the mechanics of the throw, if one did them properly where the same as the mechanics of the strike. I teach that but not so many other teachers do that I am aware of. I will often do a progression where I take one technique and show it as a basic kihon waza, then move that technique from the physical miore towards the energetic and bythe end that technique may be pure striking. I'd venture to say that not many of the folks you'd normally train with would say that a technique like tenchi nage is a striking defense against a strike... but it can be. It's just that most folks haven't bothered to take it to that last step. This is really something one has to investigate on ones own... it is highly unlikely that you run into teachers who will teach stuff like this at a seminar, it's just too far above the pay grade for most of the attendees.

I have tried to do more seminars which are geared for yudansha folks and especially people running dojos. I can introduce some of these ideas to them and perhaps then they will go back to their dojos and work on it with their students. But, the fact is, some folks are interested and many are not. Most folks are really only interested in working on what is on the next rank test (or what they have to know to prepare their students for the next test). You start pushing the envelope too far and you lose a lot of them... And frankly, the more senior folks are, the less interested they are in re-working what they do to incorporate new ideas. There are exceptions... teachers like Bill Gleason or Hiroshi Ikeda who complelety redid their Aikido at a very senior level. But the folks I find to be the most receptive to new ideas are the 3rd - 5th dans. They will be the future teachers and if we can reach them, it will change things going forward.

I also take advantage of any expertise that comes our way. I have had a couple of 3rd and 4th Dans in karate in my dojo and have had them do seminars on striking for the rest of the membership. We have also had, at various times, a lot of exposure to the systema folks and my seniors, at least, have all had some practice with the systema striking system. Now, we have had Josh Drachman, one of Saotome Sensei's 5th Dans move to our area and join the dojo. He is also training under Ushiro Kenji in Karate and we have been able to start a modest karate program which Josh teaches.

The real problem is the level of commitment that the average student can / will make. Back in the day, there were a number of folks who trained every day, six or seven days a week. I hae talked to a number of other teachers and there seems to be a fair amount of agreement that it is increasingly hard to find people that will train that way, at least in Aikido. Consequently, it makes it difficult for a teacher to incorporate additional blocks of instruction because adding something to the prgram simply pushes something else out. We probably should work more on our striking, do at least some work every night. But then there's so much else we are working on that it seems to take a back seat to skills that seem more important and the students are left to work on their striking skills on their own (which wasreally how it was with us).

As for your partner's comment that somethuing you did "was from another art..." well, that person wasn't trained by Saotome Sensei and had no clue what he was talking about. Saotome Sensei is firmly on record over 40 years saying that Aikido has no "style". Sensei will do a class that looks like the softest T'ai Chi and then do a class that looks like the hardest karate. He can throw you with a classic judo throw and he can send you flying with barely a touch. It's ALL Aikido as far as he is concerened. At its heart, Aikido is like most other Japanese martial arts in that it is imbued with "sword mentality". One cut, one death is the model for Japanese sword and it influences al lthe other arts. In karate, Funakoshi always said "one punch, one death". In Aikido it gets changed a bit by becoming Kuzushi on contact (contained in the phrase Katsu hayabi, sometimes translated as instant victory). We win in the instant we come into contact (and that can actually be before the physical touch) then in that instant we choose to manifest the technique in a way that is creative rather than destructive. But youhad that one moment when you could have destroyed the opponent. If that moment wasn't there, the rest was just wishful thinking andthe Aikido is just a dance.

Last edited by George S. Ledyard : 05-20-2013 at 08:51 AM.

George S. Ledyard
Aikido Eastside
Bellevue, WA
Aikido Eastside
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