Re: The Role of Uke in Aikido Training
Ledyard Sensei, it has been my great privilege to have attended some of your classes at various ASU seminars. Once, I asked you one on one in a public swimming pool in Colorado what you meant by your statements about ukemi and you showed me with a grab how that felt. I totally got it, but I didn't have words to describe it though at that time it had been what we had been focusing on for about four years in my dojo.
Because in my dojo techniques are not taught or demonstrated, it is a practice dependent on authentic attack energy. No nage in our dojo will ever see an uke "complete his mission" unless there is a spontaneous manifestation of aiki, usually born of a transcendent consciousness.
We spend an inordinate amount of time on what constitutes authentic attack energy since our practice of aikido is absolutely dependent on it. Clearly the most difficult part of this practice is to maintain the intention to meaningfully impact the central core of nage with an intensity low enough not to damage the nage if nage fails to embody the principles of the aiki interaction.
It becomes even more difficult to maintain it through the entire aiki path because as soon as uke's system is flooded by ki from nage's beneficent intention, the attack energy provided by uke is transformed into a unified field with nage. It takes a lot of concentration of intention to overcome the natural reaction to this (dissolution of attack energy) in order for the attack to lead uke to the ground. The nature of committed attack must be understood.
In that regard, I agree with Peter Goldsbury's assessment that aikido is 100% ukemi because first, without an attack there is no purpose for aikido, and second, that if the attack stops in the middle or is not really an attack because there is no authentic attack intention, in our dojo everything stops except the core energetic connection.
To get to this point of understanding, we describe forms of energy as they arise from intention in conflict situations.
In broad strokes:
The only kind of energy that will produce aikido is what we call spear energy. It is energy as you describe - it is meaningful and intentionally directed into the central core of nage in a penetrative way. When answered with energy from nage that extends to the central core of uke, and the basic principles of aikido movement are incorporated into that extension, aikido manifests in any number of paths determined by uke and nage's combined expressions of energy.
The next kind of energetic expression we look at is shield energy. This kind of energy will not produce aikido because it is basically arising from a defense intention. This is what we call the energy you describe as locking on someone's arm or resisting a technique being applied. We also call this wall energy when it is extended to an extremity in a way where the extremity withstands force but most of the energy is withheld in the central core.
The third kind of energy we examine is withdrawn energy or a giving up of the attack. This is the flow of energy retreating back toward the central core. This arises from the intention not to interfere with nage, and is what I find to be the typical "going along with nage" kind of ukemi.
In the context of understanding and applying these types of energy in physical conflict we get a picture of how uke's intention drives aikido to manifest or makes it purposeless.
It is also in the understanding of these various types of energetic flow (in a continuum, not necessarily one or another) that we then get to see as nage, when we think we are responding harmoniously, that actually we are responding to the attack with our own spear, shield, or withdrawn energy because uke will feel it instantly as a counter attack, defense, or escape, and aikido will not manifest. The only exception to this is if nage expresses spear energy to the central core of uke. In that case uke will have to have a level of committment necessary to override his own limbic system response to defend against the counter attack. When this happens it resembles hard style aikido. It works just fine with the exception that the feeling uke is left with is that of being thrown, not of having been lovingly protected. Therefore it cannot be counted on as a resolution but as an invitation to retaliation.
All this examination of energetic expression arising from intention brings us as nage to then find the most important kind of energetic expression for aikido to manifest in a way that completely eradicates the desire to attack. We call this flood energy because rather than a constricted flow meant to forcefully impact uke's center, it is expressed as an expansion of ki to our partner which is uplifting, literally and figuratively. It arises most naturally from beneficent intention, and clearly demonstrates why Osensei called his budo one of love.
At this point it is common for the attack to end instantly, so beginners must be taught to maintain their spear energy until their own energy brings them to the mat, or meets either subsequent resistance or withdrawal from nage, in which case they will naturally find their own balance and continue the initial attack intention.
In this way, without any technique emulation, participants know why aikido suddenly manifested with uke on the mat, or why it did not. The key for us is in conscious expression of energy on both sides of the coin.