Dojo: Senshin Center
Location: Dojo Address: 193 Turnpike Rd. Santa Barbara, CA.
Join Date: Feb 2002
Re: To block or not to block
Aside from prescribed Yoshinkan versions of Shomenuchi Irimi Nage (kihon), there is still the issue of how this all relates to the concepts of blocking, entering, and addressing one's balance therein. After all, the Aikikai Doshu, and one of his latest publications, was brought up at the commencement of this discussion. Speaking more generally here then, perhaps one might find it useful to go back to basic yin/yang philosophy in order to determine what may or may not be awry. Yin/Yang science runs throughout the bedrock of Aikido theory and practice.
No doubt, there are martially successful ways of parrying, of blocking, and/or of manipulating a given Angle of Attack with a given Angle of Deflection, but the tactic of "aiki" warrants that certain features be present while other features are absent. Again -- this is not to say that the employment of aiki is the only way to address these issues raised by Soon-Kian Phang. It is not. So other options already posted, different from the one I am suggesting here, are of course martially viable.
But if one is indeed wishing to employ the tactic of aiki within this technique then it is important, I believe, to note that we should not match yang moves with yang moves. This is a loss of harmony and thus of connection and blending. Physiologically speaking, this is manifested in the clashing of one's arm with nage's strike, and/or the losing of one's balance at the moment maai is closed to a range of close-quarter engagement, etc. Irimi is a yang move. In order to enter there must be an opening. This opening occurs when nage's hand is going up (to the top of his/her head). (Note: The near side of the body is not an opening when the arm is coming down.) The opening (trans. suki) brought about by uke's hand going up to the top of their head is the yin move. We should seek to match yang to yin. We should enter when uke's arm is going up -- NOT DOWN. If we make contact with the arm going up there is nothing to block, parry, dodge, etc.
We apply this same exact tactic in Shomenuchi Ikkyo (omote) -- for example. However, as in Shomenuchi Ikkyo more and more folks are catching/blocking uke's strike on the way down, more and more folks are doing the same thing in Shomenuchi Irimi Nage. Therefore I do not think we should be surprised to see this as a widespread tactical application -- regardless if it is a violation of aiki or not, and regardless of the rank of the practitioner applying such a violation. In "Best Aikido," it is not clear when the author is making contact with the strike. This is due to the still nature of the photographs. However, if you watch the videos Hombu (Aikikai) made a while back you will clearly see that he is matching yang to yang -- entering when the strike is on the way down and not the way up. (See Tape 4)
It is when we catch/parry/block/etc. the strike on the way down that the issues that Soon-Kian Phang raised are relevant. If you enter when the strike is going up, the raising of one's own hand/arms with the raising of uke's strike is a blending of motion. As uke's strike starts to descend, with nage already having blended with it, and with nage already being behind it, nage adds his/her own downward motion -- only it takes place within the spiral of the prescribed kuzushi. In this way, one harmonizes the downward motion of uke's strike with the downward motion of own spiraling Angle of Disturbance (trans. kuzushi). In this way, since one is at the center of the spiral, nage becomes the core energy. In this way, one will blend and harmonize but remain 100% dominant. In this way uke's intent as well as his/her energy, not just his/her arm, lends itself to the kuzushi and thus to the throw. One will not be thrown off balance and/or clash or risk the downside of entering to the near side of uke when his/her strike is coming down.
As for the other issue of having uke go flying by nage, etc., this too is addressed by entering during the yin phase of uke's movement. Nage's kuzushi should commence no later than the first moment that uke has engaged his/her weight on his/her own front foot. The best timing has nage doing commencing shikaku right at that moment. This allows uke's front foot to act as a "post," around which nage can generate various Angles of Cancellations on uke's other weapons. If one waits for the yang phase of uke's strike to enter, the only way that nage will reach the back of uke is if uke is waiting for such a feat. This is hardly realistic training -- kihon or not. My experience with spontaneous training, when uke is not required to wait there for nage to enter after they have completed their Shomenuchi, usually posits two outcomes -- both disagreeable.
1. If I attempt to enter during the yang phase of Shomenuchi, uke will be long gone (moving on to their next strike, grab, and/or counter, etc.) by the time I get to his/her "back" (trans. shikaku). This is very easy to experience. Best to try it as uke. Restrict your nage to addressing the Shomenuchi during its yang phase -- waiting to enter until then. Then strike at your partner as hard as you can but have not even the slightest intention of waiting for the "rest of the throw" -- simply keep moving straight ahead, with a second hard and fast Shomenuchi, if you would like. Any contact that nage will make with your descending arm will only delay or slow nage that much more down in their entering, and thus will only add to your ability to be long gone before nage reaches shikaku. The harder and faster you strike and move, the more amplified nage's tactical mistake becomes, the more obvious your own counters become -- simply by fulfilling the prescribed attacking element of this waza.
2. Due to some of the physiological imbalances present in spontaneous training, a strong and/or tall nage may indeed be able to get to the back of a shorter and weaker uke. However, should such a nage continue onward with the given kuzushi, they would be clashing against uke's energy and not blending with it. Due to the yang/yang timing, the amount of initial energy that uke put into his/her Angle of Attack will be too great and/or too far away from nage's center to be turned or spiraled in a positive manner. In order to execute the spiral nage will have to initiate a negative energy to bring uke back to a tactical proximity. As a result, one will be pulling uke into the kuzushi rather than pushing/guiding him/her into the kuzushi and thus into the rest of the throw. Aiki will be lost and violated. This pulling energy represents a clash since it consists of two forces heading in the opposite direction. Again, performing the above-mentioned experiment easily allows one to experience this.