Welcome back, Mark! I've been away from the forums, too, but not quite as long as you have been.
I am quoting Mark from a post in response to Corky Quakenbush. It was a very interesting and important topic and I don't mean to take anything away from it here.
But I did want to address this statement. I hear it somewhat frequently, but like many things, it just gets mentioned in passing as if it were true, and no more analysis is required.
What are aikido's standard attacks?
Are they ineffective?
Are they unrealistic?
If so, what makes them that way? Is it the form? Is it the execution (energy/intent/intensity/focus)? Is it something else?
If they are ineffective/unrealistic, why do we practice against them?
If only the execution makes them ineffective/unrealistic, why is that so?
What are effective and realistic attacks?
Please address these questions in your responses, and then feel free to add whatever you deem necessary to further the discussion.
I am pleased to make your acquaintance on the board and I am so happy to receive your questions.
The questions you pose have informed my practice since around 2004.
I have found through extensive inquiry that the traditional technique emulation model of teaching aikido, while teaching the movements inherent in the art, inadvertently tends to instill a rigidity of response which requires uke to be in collusion with nage or requires nage to apply force to get uke's attack to fit the path of the technique.
From its inception, aikido has been taught using a technique emulation process that is natural to martial arts. Most martial arts have sets of movements called kata, which represent the physical forms by which the respective art derives it effectiveness.
In most martial arts the defining purpose of the art is to limit or destroy the ability of the opposing conflict participants to damage or control the martial artist. In almost all martial arts, damaging or controlling the opposing participants is how the purpose is met. Thus, the operating principle of most martial arts is that the participant who outperforms the other(s) wins the fight, and most likely through damaging or controlling the adversary(ies).
Aikido techniques can be used for the same purpose. Those of us who have felt the potential for damage or control in the aikido-world wristlocks we call sankyo, nikkyo, or kotegaeshi or who have been thrown across the room or driven into the mat understand how powerful aikido can be if used for typical martial purposes.
However, if used with a different purpose, a different intention, aikido operates on the principle that the participants are "in it together" for an outcome that beneficially resolves the conflict for all participants. Perhaps this fundamental difference in purpose requires a fundamental difference in the way the art is taught.
Kata (or technique) training can build a habitual response and doesn't take into consideration the natural variations in the expression of any attack in direction, intention, intensity, or level of commitment.
But aikido training in which the path of aiki is determined by the energetic interaction of participants instead of a pre-set movement takes into account all the variants, because the path is being created as a unified harmonious flow of ki. When approached this way, the aikido may effortlessly manifest in a path that doesn't fit what nage might have executed as his go-to technique for that attack, whereas unwanted side effects may be created by forcing an attacker to follow the path of nage's go-to technique.
At the beginning of seminars I facilitate I am uke for every participant. Even beginners will usually have trained enough to competently complete a throw from my attack. Everyone does wonderful beautiful youtube worthy aikido. Then I go through the group again, but this time I embody real attack intention. Suddenly a new dynamic comes into play and the outcome is very different.
Please understand that my intention is not
to stop anyone from doing a technique. With the energy I am giving them I should be on the mat instantly. Instead there is almost always a struggle before they either disengage from me or try to throw me hard, at which point I have to cease my attack or risk injury.
So where is the disconnect? I can relate to the idea of aikido as nothing more than a practice of self-purification as Janet suggested, if that is the way you want to see it -- I certainly adhere to that philosophy myself. I am not expecting a deadly attack and I would die happy if I am never called upon to deal with another one.
But I also believe that if I am really getting what the old man was blathering on about, my aikido will be martially effective as well. Surely Osensei, this master of deadly arts who had killed in combat and been the target of deadly attacks would not give his students something that would sound really nice in theory, but leave them sitting ducks to anyone with a real intention to destroy them.
In traditional emulation based teaching there are problems from the start with an art dedicated to harmonizing instead of overcoming. When a student enters the dojo and lines up in seiza to watch his instructors demonstrate a technique, there is an understanding that he is here to learn what the guy in the fancy pants is doing, not the guy who is being flipped around the mat.
Unconsciously, whether stated or not, the student will understand the point of aikido to be throwing the partner. When he is practicing, he will be praised the more readily his partner gets to the ground and if he is ineffective in his technique the sensei will refine his instruction with the goal of getting the result of grounding his uke more efficiently. It naturally becomes, immediately, a result oriented practice rather than a process oriented one.
The subliminal or not so subliminal message is that despite all the jabber about aikido not being about winning or losing, one's aikido is said to be "working" when the result of uke going to the ground is achieved.
You can tell if this is the focus in your instruction (on either end) if the instructor's corrections are geared toward overcoming resistance with leverage or positioning or to making it impossible for uke not to go to the ground. In real life attacks, if I am embracing the idea of "loving protection of all things," the last thing I want is for my attacker to go to the ground. That's where he is most likely to be negatively impacted. But if he does go all the way through his attack, I want to be protecting him from the danger when he falls, not adding to his danger. I want us both to benefit from our interaction.
Usually, since all the focus is on the technique, most aikidoka tend to think of their attack as something to kill time and to provide their partner with an "attack dummy" while waiting for their turn to practice the throw, that is unless instructed specifically as to what they are supposed to be doing to facilitate the throw. Unfortunately it has been my experience that most teachers instruct their students "not to resist the throw," but to "keep up the attack."
Unfortunately this ambiguous approach is usually misinterpreted because most classes on ukemi are about staying safe, not about giving an attack with authentic attack intention. The main result of this as far as I can see is that to avoid getting hurt or scolded, students learn to perform ukemi in a vacuum that just happens to be moving next to a nage in a vacuum. No real connection, no real intention except that every aspect of the technique be realized whether appropriate to the attack or not.
The attack then becomes meaningless except making uke something for nage to drag around the mat, or else the effortless in the technique comes from uke's performance of harmony with it instead of the other way around. The latter is fantastic for learning the movements of aikido, but not so good for learning what to do when the attack comes in the natural variants of an off-the-mat attacker who has the intention of sending nage to the hospital or morgue, not the intentionof wanting to help nage learn so the attacker can learn when it's his turn.
For the past nine and one-half years, I have been developing a system of teaching aikido from a base of ukemi -- not ukemi as in how to roll to protect yourself from your loving protector
, but as in how to meaningfully, continuously extend a flow of authentic attack energy to the partner's central core so that he or she may find aiki all the way to the conclusion without a pre-learned technique
How I define authentic attack energy
is, of course, crucial to the validity of my approach, so if you don't see it the same way as I you may not see the value in the approach. Authentic attack energy
is energy transmitted from the central core of the attacker with the intention of impacting the central core of the target by either destroying it or controlling it.
This is where it gets tricky, because authentic attack energy never kindly stops an inch from your throat. Nor do we want each encounter on the mat to be truly life or death.
The study in our dojo is largely about maintaining authentic attack energy at safe levels of intensity. When my uke maintains an intention to impact my center I can then start to see how that intention is actually creating the aikido and how much of what I erroneously do in the name of aikido is either forcing my partner into my technique or withdrawing in my vague hope that uke will somehow find his way to the mat without my help. I never get those benefits of seeing where my understanding of aikido falls short if I don't have that kind of authentic attack energy to show me where I am screwing it up. (Mark Freeman has spoken about that.)
Please understand I am not suggesting aikidoka permit the attacker to set the course of events, I am saying that when aiki manifests purely from the energetic connection of uke and nage, the attacker does the most wonderful job of placing himself on the ground though a path that injures no one, yet may be through a "technique" one never learned.