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Old 05-21-2004, 06:04 AM   #28
G DiPierro
Location: Ohio
Join Date: Mar 2002
Posts: 365
Re: The Nage/Uke Dynamic - Guidelines

Mr. Valadez,

Although I understand that you do not have as much time as you wish for replying to additional posts on this topic, as a latecomer to this thread I would like to address some of the points Fred Little brought up along with a few of my own that are directly related. I will not be offended if you are unable to reply in detail, as my intent is simply to suggest some alternative areas of thought that you might consider regarding this subject in the future, but I would welcome and appreciate your comments, as well as those of Mr. Little and others, if you wish to post them.

Along with Mr. Little, I found the implications regarding the authority of instructor and the dojo in your guidelines troubling. I agree with most of what the guidelines say with respect to kata practice, which you called kihon waza, being primarily a study of form, but I disagree with your recourse to the authority of the teacher as the ultimate determinate of proper form. This relates directly to the your concept of the “traditional dojo” that you mentioned in a later post.

By my definition, and that of most others who are familiar with classical Japanese martial arts, aikido is not a traditional art. It is a modern art. While it is true that in a “traditional” (read koryu) dojo, the word of the teacher regarding proper form is final, this is not true of aikido, and I think the misunderstanding of this point is the primary reason why so much of modern aikido is ineffective. I personally believe that aikido is clearly designed to be an art of self-expression, not an art of imitation, and while it seems from your posts that you may dispute this point, I nevertheless think that holding the position that aikido is a traditional art is untenable by any means.

Although you claim to be discussing the uke-nage dynamic in your post, in reality such an interaction is a relatively minor aspect of aikido training limited to free practice outside of the class structure. In a traditional art, it would be the primary interaction, but in such arts the role of the uke was always played by the senior person or instructor who would give an attack sufficient to challenge the student yet also enable him to do the specific technique well enough to practice the skills involved. Many of your guidelines for uke would apply. In modern arts, including aikido, this kind of direct instruction is difficult because of the larger number of people usually involved, and many teachers will avoid it even when working with smaller groups.

In aikido, partners continually switch roles under the overall guidance of the instructor, and so the function of the sempai-kohai relationship in partner practice, which was also mentioned earlier, is somewhat different than in a traditional art. The fundamental relationship in modern aikido is not actually the pairing of uke and nage, but the triad of uke, nage, and the instructor. There are several implications stemming from this change regarding the interaction of uke and nage that I feel your post ignores or else takes for granted without explanation or discussion. In fact, as Mr. Little pointed out, you make a few important assumptions regarding the role of the instructor relative to the other two without addressing these directly in your guidelines. Included among these assumptions is that the authority of the instructor with regard to proper form is absolute, which, as I indicated earlier, I find to be a fundamentally incorrect and troublesome one in aikido.

I believe that for aikido to achieve its full potential as a martial art, the criteria for correct form, which is not to say for correct practice of form, must be martial effectiveness. In a traditional art, one would simply trust that the form the teacher taught was effective. In many cases, there was no alternative, or if there was, a student might test a potential teacher by a direct challenge, only becoming a student if the teacher could defeat him. Also, given that teaching certification was much more tightly controlled in koryu than it is in aikido, there was a much greater chance that someone granted permission to teach actually was teaching effective forms since he was doing so under the personal authority of the iemoto, or headmaster, who was the owner or repository of such forms as they had been passed down through several generations starting, theoretically, from a time when the forms were actually tested in real situations.

In aikido, I find that most people who are teaching the art, even at the highest levels, are not teaching effective forms. There are many reasons for this, but the unspoken assumption that “the teacher is always right,” which you seem to accept in your guidelines, is a major part of this. So is the lack of true freestyle practice. These two things make it very easy for instructors or seniors to assume positions of authority without ever finding out if what they are teaching actually works. And when challenged on that aspect by, say, a student or junior, most get defensive because they perceive the challenge as a threat to their self-image as a “martial arts expert” rather than a challenge to a particular impersonal aspect of their form or technique. Because they have little experience testing their technique in an arena where the opponent does not always cooperate, they do not understand that their position as a senior or instructor is based upon more than the unchallenged supremacy of their technique, the concept of which is nothing more than an illusion that is the luxury of those are not constantly challenging themselves with realistic practice.

Because aikido is an art of self-expression, or because there is no guarantee that a teacher is teaching effective forms (I consider the two phenomenon to be related), the responsibility of determining correct form actually rests upon the student, not the teacher. The criteria for this should be martial effectiveness as established through realistic freestyle practice. Kata practice, in my view, should be a rehearsal of a specific form that has been proven to be effective in freestyle practice. This rehearsal involves specified roles and responsibilities for both uke and nage that are determined by what would be necessary for the technique to work with an opponent who realistically intended to continually attack the best opening rather than merely simulate some minor aspect of an attack and then cooperate with whatever nage wishes to do. This includes, as I discussed in a post on AJ a while back, that nage must begin in a correct kamae and that uke must attack that kamae in a very specific, yet still realistic, way and also respond to nage’s defense or counterattack in a certain way. Deviations from these highly specified roles make the entire situation (given a specific form) implausible and unrealistic and therefore unsuccessful at teaching martially effective habits of movement.

In my view, the role of the instructor in kata practice is, among other things that do not relate specifically to form, to provide guidance as to what makes a particular form effective. Such guidance should not be construed to mean absolute dictation of proper form as such an approach would assume that the instructor has already learned everything there is to learn about the form. I don't believe that there is a person alive today for whom this is true of the forms of aikido. In my experience, the best and most accomplished teachers are people who see themselves first as students of the art. Such people usually have a better and more open attitude towards learning than most of their own students do, even when they never get on the mat except in the role of instructor.

The instructor, in this model, is not the origin or source of correct technique, but simply another student who is a little farther along the path and can perhaps offer some insights that others cannot. The instructor should look to the students for what he can learn from them, as well as what he can teach them, as they will provide the opportunity for him to improve his own technique and understanding of the art if he is open to doing so. Sadly, few in aikido are, particularly when they stand at the front of the mat.

Although I applaud your efforts to establish clear guidelines for ukes and nages, I feel that the role of the instructor in the uke-nage-sensei triad must also be addressed if one hopes to develop truly effective kata practice in aikido. No set of guidelines for uke and nage will be successful in creating the type of practice necessary to develop effective aikido technique in the modern aikido pedagogical structure without the instructor first assuming the correct role with regard to teaching and learning form. Personally, I feel that the instructor should establish the guidelines for roles of uke and nage primarily through example and direct instruction on the mat, but in a larger organization a more formal set of rules may also be of assistance in clearly communicating the intent to all students. In any case, without the instructor first setting the correct example through his own actions of how to approach the art in way that develops the skills and techniques that will be effective in freestyle situations, the students will be severely limited in their ability to discover the importance of this on their own.

-Giancarlo DiPierro

Last edited by G DiPierro : 05-21-2004 at 06:12 AM.
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