Dojo: Senshin Center
Location: Dojo Address: 193 Turnpike Rd. Santa Barbara, CA.
Join Date: Feb 2002
Holes in the Real Attack
Lately there has been a lot of talk about the nature of Aikido's attacks as they are practiced generally among the members of the Aikido community. The argument, in brief, goes something like this: "Aikido's effectiveness, and thus it's overall integrity, suffers from a common tendency to face only weak or 'unrealistic' attacks when training."
This position would seem to make perfect sense. It is after all a variation of the idea that you "train with what you fight, and fight with what you train." But I think that somewhere in the midst of all this "common sense" we are missing something very vital to Aikido training. Namely, there aren't supposed to be "real" attacks in Aikido training - because "real" attacks can't exist in the dojo - because any attack that exist in a training environment is a priori an ideal attack - that is to say NOT REAL.
Please bare with me. I do not mean to suggest that attacks should not be made with sincerity - with a unification of mind, body, and purpose. I only mean to point out that that is all Aikido requires of its uke for training: a unification of mind, body, and purpose. This can of course be manifested in strikes that are thrown hard and fast, but this can also be manifested in strikes that are delivered slowly. This can be manifested in right rear crosses and rear leg front thrust kicks, but this can also be manifested in movements like tsuki and yokomen-uchi.
After all, it is my opinion, that Aikido only requires a manifestation of energy. Energy by which one will learn to harmonize with, deviate from, enter into, redirect, and ultimately launch - to name a few. And for this, any ol' energy will really do - even energy generated by a non-human form - as seen in the training techniques of many traditional Chinese martial arts, for example. The point is, "real" and "unreal" don't really come into play in Aikido training. As well they shouldn't. After all, if real is determined by what one would mostly confront on the street, as the wisdom goes, then perhaps one hasn't been in too many street situations if he/she holds this position. For, as any law enforcement agent, and/or seasoned street rat would tell you, in the street anything is possible, and that alone is what make it real: its infinite nature, its never-ending and unknowable potential.
With anything possible, better to train, as Aikido does, with planes of ideal paths of action. With anything possible, better to see that you develop the skills that make "aiki" a viable tactic, than to determine whether or not you can address your buddy's haymaker in class. For one (e.g. My senpai's hardest left hook), or even 100 individual aspects (e.g. the left hooks of everyone in my dojo) of infinity (i.e. the total variations of what might actually face in the street) are in the end meaningless. But three planes of action, which mark a three dimensional existence, that stand for both everything and nothing, can and do fully provide one with the energy necessary to develop and cultivate the martial tactic of aiki. And this is done in a way that no left hook, no right cross, no spinning back kick can ever do.
When we consider the infinity which we are dealing with on the street, we can see that the specialized practices and techniques of various other arts (e.g. karate, boxing, etc.) are in themselves no less ideal than are tsuki, yokomen-uchi, or shomen-uchi. Also - when we consider the infinity which we are dealing with, we can see that even sub-branches such as slow, strong, fast, and weak are themselves but ideals and as such are things cannot exist on the street. This is because the street, or any other environment of violence, can contain no ideals. An ideal is an ideal simply because it can be duplicated and repeated and ultimately predicted and determined. The street, that is to say, the chaos of violence, lends itself to no such type of thinking or acting. What you face in the midst of violence is what you face. It is beyond judgment, distinction, and discrimination.
That being said, in training, whether a strike come slow or fast, hard or soft, is not really the issue it is cut out to be by many current thinkers on Aikido's "inefficiencies." All that mattes is whether nage was able to manifest and cultivate aiki as a tactic. Toward this end, slow, fast, hard, soft, roundhouse, tsuki, kick, strike, it matters not. Do you demonstrate and cultivate aiki? That's all that matters - that is everything. To believe otherwise is to reify an ideal into something it is not - into something it can never be: reality.
Though I have posted this amateur attempt at logic, this is not to say that I do not agree with many of the heartfelt positions offered here at AikdoJournal.com on the "problems" of Aikido. It's just that I do not see, for example, that attacking with Karate's ideal strikes over Aikido's ideal strikes will bring any great change to our art. Instead, as an alternative course of action, if we want to deal with Aikido's "problems" - let us look away from notions of fake attacks and real attack and look better at the countless examples of absent kuzushi - no loss of balance.
For example, if we are honest, if we take the time to look at tapes of ourselves, or tapes of others, we will see a preponderance of occasions where uke is launched or pinned from a base of support that has either two fully grounded contact points or at least one - which in combat would be used by uke to either counter a pin, throw, or strike, and/or launch their own pin, throw, or strike, etc. As a result of the trend to have no actual kuzushi, today, ukemi, "nice ukemi" has come to be synonymous with uke being able to post a foot, if not both feet, prior to "flying through the air". Today, generally, throughout the Aikido community, uke is standing when he/she is thrown. He/she is rarely ever falling before he/she is thrown. And yet, there can be no other way of understanding that when a foot, or feet, is or are posted, that this is a based that is engaged, that this is an absence of kuzushi, that this is a throw or a pin that would never happen in "reality."
Hiding behind the flawed common sense of "real attacks" will do nothing to address this (I would say) dominating trend in training. And such a detour from this trend is unlikely to occur since both parties have great stakes in the current misunderstanding of kuzushi. That is to say that uke (speaking generally) is highly unlikely to pursue a type of ukemi that places him/her emotionally, spiritually, and physically in a completely vulnerable position. (I didn't say "more vulnerable" since there is nothing vulnerable at all about being launched from a posted base of support.) And it is unlikely that nage will require such kuzushi skills of themselves since such a skill requires a much greater stability of base (which is as much physical as it is spiritual) - this is because uke's luxury of being allowed to post up, allows nage the luxury of posting up as well. The loss of this pseudo-stability on nage's part would mean that nage would require a dynamic stability, one capable of dealing with the reactionary forces of uke's movement - which would certainly require higher levels of investment in training, etc. - no matter how high those levels currently are.
Perhaps we do not become more "real" by adding things (i.e. "real attacks"). We seem to become more real by taking things away (i.e. allowing uke to post up before a pin or a throw). And maybe that's just a cute way of saying, "If I allow uke to post up before he/she falls, if I do not throw or pin uke as they are already fully falling, whether my attack was a straight cross or tsuki, even if I demonstrated aiki with it or not, I am just as "unreal" as ever. In the end, to be satisfied with the unreal, and this is where I agree with many of the commentators at AikidoJournal.com, is to have reconciled with nothing, is to have cultivated nothing - not physically, not mentally, and certainly not spiritually.