Dojo: Senshin Center
Location: Dojo Address: 193 Turnpike Rd. Santa Barbara, CA.
Join Date: Feb 2002
Re: The Nage/Uke Dynamic - Guidelines
Thank you so much for replying.
With what is being said here and what is being said at Aikido Journal, I am beginning to see a trend of sorts. I have to admit, I think folks see what they want to see when they read things like what I posted. Point in fact: I agree with much of what you say, but where I do, I do not think we are dealing with something that is relative to the topic at hand.
Undoubtedly, if you will allow me to say, folks seem to believe wholeheartedly that what they are saying is correct and thereby relative. Personally I do not hold that one thing implies the other, so any person wanting to comment, I feel, should make sure that both qualities are being met, etc. I think that is the beginning of a good opinion and/or the beginning of good feedback. On the other hand, there is the very good chance that I am missing some of your points and that we are indeed dealing with relative information, etc. Since that might be the case, please allow me to address your points in hopes that you will offer further elaboration that will beyond a shadow of any doubt demonstrate relevance. Outside of the topic of relevance, I think I will have to disagree with you on several remaining points. Again, in hopes that further elaboration on your part will force me to adjust my position, and thereby grow, I would like to comment on those things as well. Please see this as a process of reflection on my own part, not one of criticism concerning your view of things, and certainly not one whereby said guidelines are edited accordingly, etc.
2) I respectfully, and strongly, disagree with your statement that "Kihon Waza is a matter of experiencing a given form, and little else. . . ." Kihon waza must be alive and appropriate to the attack uke gives. While each party knows what is coming when the instructor says to practice shomen uchi ikkyo, nage and uke must each approach the practice as though they do not know the outcome of the technique. Partially this is for safety, as uke may give the "wrong" attack or nage may do the "wrong" technique. By being ready for anything, uke and nage can respond in a safe manner to an unexpected event. More to the point, if nage messes up in some way, there's no reason for uke to continue the technique as given. At the very least, uke may stop until nage can adjust and continue the technique, whereupon uke continues the attack.
Forms, waza, or kata, are not the antithesis to whatever is living. Saying that basic training is about experiencing a form is not at all the same thing as saying that one should train weakly, out of the moment, not be ready for anything, dead, not alive, casually, with one's mind wandering, etc. These are assumptions you have made concerning the understanding of the word "form." It is a misunderstanding of budo pedagogy that you have misapplied to the statement you have cited.
Forms training in Japanese martial arts always necessitate that one's movements stay alive, that the practitioner stay in the moment, etc., but at the level of kihon waza, at the level of Shu training, this is precisely so that one experiences the form fully and little else. The "all else" you are hinting at comes in else where -- through different means in our training. In kihon waza, one is not training in scenario-based self-defense routines -- which I think is more akin to what you are saying. Hence you reach your conclusion: "If nage messes up in some way, there's no reason for uke to continue the technique as given." But if one rejects the modern trend toward scenario-based self-defense training, and if one operates fully within a Shu-Ha-Ri model (which is totally different from scenario-based self-defense training because the latter wrongly equates shu training with ri training), uke has every reason to continue on with the form even if nage "messes" up. In kihon waza training, nage does not "mess" up with defending him/herself -- nage simply departs from the required form.
If uke retreats from the partnership every time nage departs from the form, which is a natural part of the learning process, nage will never be able to experience the form and thereby will never be able to commence the embodying processes necessary for the shu-ha-ri model to be fully implemented. Contrary to this position, your position would have nage somehow experiencing the form only after that were able to do it fully correct, with no opening for uke to depart the partnership from. There is just no way that such a process could ever prove to be productive in the real world. No nage will ever learn any waza through a process in which every uke departs through every suki that is manifested along the learning process. It sounds nice to say that forms have to be alive, in the moment, and that if nage messes up uke loses all reason for investment in the form, etc., but without the necessary reflection of what these things actually mean in budo pedagogy they become merely clichés and make little sense in the end.
Kihon waza should have the same spontaneity as shown in kaeshi waza, henka waza, and jiyu waza. In fact, we may be using the terms differently. Kihon (fundamental techniques), kaeshi (reversals), and henka (flowing from one technique to another) waza, can all be taught in a step-by-step, static manner or in a flowing and dynamic manner. One can use any of the three (not to mention oyo waza) during jiyu waza (free technique against either a known or unknown attack with one attacker).
Again, I think we are dealing with cliché here in your first line. I can readily agree to it, but I cannot blanket over everything for the sake of it. Undoubtedly, I imagine that one can very well use the various types of training you listed in a way that takes out the "unknown" element, but the guidelines made specific reference to training situations where one does not know what is going to happen, etc. This is more relative to what followed than the name of the type of training one was doing. So referring to only types of training that are dominated by the unknown, I would have to disagree with the position that the same level of spontaneity exists in kihon waza, where one knows for the most part what is going to happen, and spontaneous training, where one has no idea what is going to happen.
It may be the case that to the practitioner that has already reconciled the shu-ha-ri model, that is to say, to the practitioner that has already attained the full capacity to spontaneously express the art, that spontaneous training and forms training become very much akin to each other in terms of body, mind, and spirit, but from the point of view of someone that has not achieved such a capacity, forms are nowhere near spontaneous training -- in fact, the one does not even lead to the other. Doing forms over and over again will in no way bring one to a level of spontaneity. In Zen, which you may have heard, doing forms to become spontaneous is like polishing a brick to make a mirror. This is because forms training was never meant to be seen as something that holds the same level of spontaneity within the application of the shu-ha-ri model. I think in today's world this is becoming quite unknown. Rather, as true spontaneous training is being negated from one's training curriculum, forms are being lifted up to a position they were never meant to be at and can indeed never reach.
The bottom line is that uke is much more of a teacher than the instructor. The instructor will correct nage or help him adjust his technique, but uke actually helps nage feel when things are done correctly or not.
It is true that uke may be more of a teacher than an instructor -- if one's instructor is so disposed and/or if one's instructor is never uke, etc. -- but still, and regardless, such a statement is only cliché if we do not note the fact that it is the instructor that teaches uke. This instruction takes place in kihon waza. Again the type of training you are referring to, where one learns through failure, falls outside of kihon waza -- and for good reason. Forms is not the ultimate solution and so Budo pedagogy does not leave it up to forms training to achieve every end of martial praxis.
3) To that end, specific guidelines as to how uke should attack would be helpful. We have a couple of guidelines at our dojo. For instance: uke should work to keep his hips under his shoulders while moving; uke should constantly try to get into a position to launch a good second attack after nage has responded to the first attack; if nage fails to take uke's balance or lead uke well, uke should not move; conversely, if uke has any doubt about whether he should fall, then he should fall.
Since the guidelines are merely a point of reference for future experience and insight relative to the Nage/Uke dynamic, and not an instruction manual on how to do a fall, how to attack, or how to throw, or how to pin, etc., I felt it warranted to merely say that good form is assumed in uke's attack. Still do.
On the line, "if nage fails to take uke's balance or lead uke well, uke should not move," please see my earlier point on the division between Shu training and Ri training. In kihon waza training uke should stay in the technique regardless of what nage is able to accomplish or not accomplish. In spontaneous training I would agree with what you say here in this line.
(With Shu training, with kihon waza, being stretched to do so much in your praxis, I'm beginning to wonder if spontaneous training, training where the unknown is the dominant determining factor, only plays a minor role in your weekly training -- hence why your slant on the guidelines is looking like it does - ? Maybe we are just coming from totally different perspectives - ?)
On the sentence, "if uke has any doubt about whether he should fall, then he should fall," I would say: In kihon waza training uke should allow him/herself to be put in a position where the prescribed fall can be experienced; in spontaneous training, "uke" should never do as you suggest. In spontaneous training each person (assuming there is only two) must do all they can do to take all the guesswork out of training.
4) You handle the safety aspect very well. Generally, we say that nage is responsible for uke's safetly, but uke is responsible for uke's safety. Leaning how and when to fall correctly is very important.
Perhaps I did not handle this as well you think. I think my position is totally contrary to the one you offer above. Nage is not responsible for uke's safety in the guidelines. The guidelines clearly state a position contrary to yours in the following sections:
- Uke must take on the responsibility for the following: To constantly learn, study, and improve one's ukemi throughout the whole of one's training so as to ultimately provide Nage with the capacity to perform various martial tactics at full intensity and full applied energy.
- Uke, in their commitment to the art of ukemi, in their commitment to their own training, and in their commitment to the dojo as a training environment, is to continually strive to provide the above option as the third and most desired option in comparison with the following two: (A) Nage must opt to pull out of a technique or to greatly decrease the amount of intensity and/or applied energy being used for the safety of Uke; and (B) Nage must carry forth with a technique at the risk of injuring Uke.
- With all things being equal, while safety is the primary determining element for the Nage/Uke dynamic, it is Uke, NOT Nage, that is primarily responsible for that safety. In this way ukemi can remain the gateway and foundation to all Aikido training -- both martial and spiritual.
Your position that nage is responsible for uke's safety, reduced to an undesired option in the second paragraph provided above, is totally at odds at what these guidelines are suggesting one should be aiming toward. Again, this, I feel, is a product on the differences I am sensing between my position on spontaneous training and yours. In my opinion there is much wrong with placing uke's own responsibility in someone else's hands, and by those wrongs there is much negated -- much that true Budo training should not and cannot do without.
5) I think you have too much emphasis on the sempai/kohei relationship. I've learned a lot from my juniors and taught some things to my seniors. I've seen our instructor learn from us at times. I think the sempai/kohei relationship is more important to duties off the mat with sempai having more responsibility and needing to set good examples. Too much emphasis on being a kohei or sempai while actually practicing can lead to big egos on the part of sempai (at least I've had a big head for that reason, from time to time).
I'm not sure what you mean in the first line. One cannot assume that the senpai/kohai model leads inevitably to big egos -- especially since the model was designed, via Confucian thought, to function precisely against such things. Perhaps you are referring to an abuse of that model and not so much to the model itself. What can one do about such things? People that will abuse such things will abuse anything -- even the silence of such things. In short, the model is not the problem -- the big ego is the problem. That said I think one should note the way by which these guidelines employ said model -- it is actually the inverse of what one often encounters, so in many ways it's actually a check to the big egos that often abuse such interpersonal relationships between seniors and juniors. For example -- in particular to kihon waza training:
a) Most times senior uke's cry about "too much muscle," "bad form," "newbie not getting it," whenever a junior throws them with any decent kind of energy -- whenever a junior challenges their small self, ego, etc., and their attachment to such things. The big ego is hidden in the benevolence of trying to "help" uke "see the light". Here in the guidelines, on the other hand, senior students as uke have to expect the highest energies their junior can produce, and they have to expect that as much as it is expected of them to make any and all energies (even those coming from poor form, too much muscle, or newbie not getting it) safe.
b) Most times seniors who are out of shape, out of their prime, stiff, plagued by chronic injuries, or who have plateaued in their training (or are even regressing in their training), etc., use their senpai status to pull out of forms, to not commit to specific energies and/or attacks, and to resist any and all elements which might actually shed some light on how they have stopped training altogether and are just riding on the coattails of the cultural capital given to them by an institution that ultimately has nothing to do with Budo. Here in the guidelines, on the other hand, uke, junior and senior alike, are dictated by the form to participate fully. When total participation is fully mandated those weaknesses by which one cannot totally participate are brought to the surface. They are no longer hidden under the guise of "skill," "rank," "wisdom," etc. Being left with only what you can do, what you can't do, and what you are supposed to do, brings a clarity and an honesty to oneself and to one's relationship with one's training that just does not come about by "seniors" pulling out of every rep as they see fit according to their own egocentrisms.
c) Most times seniors enter into a silent contract with their partner -- one that basically is a type of violence in that it is a type of threat. The tenets of this contract are usually of the following nature: "I get to throw you hard, you don't get to throw me hard" (see point "a" above), or, "I set the pace of training: If you throw me hard, I will throw you harder.) In most other arts, this is something to be ashamed of, but in Aikido, in my experience it is the norm. I have never run into a karateka that shows their "toughness" by striking a beginner harder than said beginner strikes them. Karateka show their "toughness" by letting beginner karateka strike them harder than they are striking them. It's the whole idea of being able to take more, etc. Time after time I've seen Aikido seniors thrash their junior uke, and then when I am set to pair with them, as senior or even as peer, all of a sudden the gusto is gone from their training -- "Let's go easy." This is especially true at seminars. What a joke. And again, what a shame. In any other art, in any other environment, this would be labeled as nothing more than bullying. In Aikido, if at all, it is often only addressed with the bigger mistake of saying "Nage is supposed to take care of Uke's safety." No sensei I have ever seen says, "Hey, I just saw you training so hard with that other uke (junior), why don't you train just as hard with this uke (peer or senior)?" Here in the guidelines, on the other hand, each member of a dojo is both a senior and a junior, and as such each experiences the hard and soft of Aikido but in a way that is more rooted in honor and humility.
Note: If you want to purify the ego-head from himself or from your dojo don't opt to remain silent about senpai/kohai matters - put him in an environment where juniors pound the heck out of him for the sake of their own training, for the sake of the dojo, and for the sake of the art, put him where he is expected to constantly improve in his ukemi skills so as to keep all levels in intensity safe, where his cultural capital means nothing, where he's only left with what he can do, can't do, and what he's supposed to do, where he's expected to be in shape, strong, and flexible for as long as he's training, where he is not allowed out of policy to make or enforce silent threats (to juniors) or silent agreements (with peers or seniors), and then to seal it all with a kiss, stick him in a spontaneous training environment where all of the above still applies.
6) You state that is it not uke's job to make nage's technique "work." You also state that uke, like nage, is restricted to a given set of actions while practicing kihon waza. Some may see these statements as contradictory. I don't, and I think I see what you're getting at, but what should uke or nage do when the other breaks from those given set of actions? This should be clarified.
It is precisely because uke has a given set of actions that are prescribed by the form that he/she is not supposed to and/or required to make nage's technique work. Nage's technique working is a given, per se. We have to note: Kihon waza is the experiencing of a given collective of strategies, tactics, and body mechanics. In this way uke and nage become thoroughly interrelated but in a way that is not totally satisfied by the individual aikidoka that are opting to play those roles. True, over time, as skill is acquired, the differences between the ideal uke and the ideal nage AND the manifested uke and the manifested nage start to diminish. However, for kihon waza, they never become the same thing. There always remains a subjective distance between us and the ideal, and there always remains an objective distance between the ideal and us. (Hence the need for Ha and Ri.)
That said, the ideal uke is not supposed to do anything that is totally unrelated to the ideal nage's given set of actions. The manifested uke and nage are supposed to strive to live up to this ideal. For example, in the Isoyama clip being played at AikidoJournal.com you can clearly see uke jumping up to gain height and/or to make the lifting of his body more convenient for nage. Yet, nage's set of actions have done nothing to prompt this "jumping up". This is a clear departure from the form -- one prompted by the idea of uke making nage's technique work. If ideal nage's set of actions have no physical relationship to this "jumping up" then this action is deemed to fall outside of ideal uke's given set of actions. The resulting ukemi, while dynamic, violates sound strategies, tactics, and body mechanics, and thus it has to be deemed contrived by the manifested uke. It is not part of the technique.
This is quite different from the cases in which the manifested uke opts to fall in kote gaeshi though the manifested nage has not yet approximated the ideal nage nearly enough to necessitate the ukemi. Learning curves and the process of approximation have to be allowed for in real-world kihon waza training. What is not supposed to be allowed for is contrivances made possible solely by the manifested uke's desires, fears, or ignorance. Such things do not survive spontaneous training -- which means that a nage that employs them or relies on them will not either.
Kihon waza is about experiencing as much of an ideal as possible for the reasons of approximating that ideal as fully as possible. The time to experience the openings in one's technique, the failure of one's manifested application, comes elsewhere in one's training. This does not mean that correction in Kihon Waza is not possible. After all, there are many ways of experiencing correction outside of experiencing failure. One does not have to worry about a slippery slope where anything and everything can be seen as an ideal. There are many checks and balances- such as: a) strategies, tactics, and body mechanics are all fields open to scientific analysis and critique; b) kihon waza is supposed to be part of a larger curriculum that includes spontaneous training; and c) Sensei are supposed to act as the main engine in kihon waza by which the correct and the incorrect are determined.
This is how to understand the guidelines and their answer to your question when they say:
"Uke should not "resist" Nage's technique; Uke should not seek to "escape" Nage's technique; and Uke should not seek to cater the form to their own intellectual (mis)understandings, to their own emotional constraints, and/or to their own spiritual lackings thereof. Kihon Waza training is not an environment in which Nage has to "take" his/her technique, so it is not a place where Uke has to "give" it. Kihon Waza assumes that the technique is A GIVEN -- an a priori - -- for both Uke AND Nage to experience. The technique, which includes both Nage and Uke's role, is there to be experienced as determined by the pedagogy of the dojo. For this reason Uke is not to stray from the general guidelines (listed above) even in the face of some of the more common and assumed "benevolent" reasons offered (e.g. "I'm trying to correct Nage's form by exposing the openings in his/her technique.") Because Kihon Waza is a matter of experiencing a given form, and little else, all correction is in the hands of Sensei -- not Uke."
7) Overall, these guidelines are way too wordy. Guidelines are supposed to be brief and easy to remember. I would trim them to half the volume of words if you want any hope of a beginner grasping them.
I disagree. Guidelines are not instructions. And instructions cannot capture the Nage/Uke dynamic. Guidelines that are meant to act as a point of reference for future experience and insight should always deny the wisdom they hold from any first reading. One should always be forced to read them over and over again. First readings have to always be made incorrect if said guidelines are truly going to be a reference for future events. Otherwise, the casual thinker is always going to think they have understood everything at first glance -- as they already are. As these guidelines are not guidelines just for beginners, they have to be written in such a way that no "experienced" person can come to them and merely "checks off" what he or she already agrees with or not. The point of these guidelines is consideration, is reflection, not memorization.
Thank you very much for your reply. I am very thankful for the constructive criticism.