Dojo: Senshin Center
Location: Dojo Address: 193 Turnpike Rd. Santa Barbara, CA.
Join Date: Feb 2002
Re: To block or not to block
Excellent reply. Thank you.
Please allow me to write the following more for myself than as a direct reply to your position -- which I believe to be sound.
I believe we may be resting on two different ways of looking at things. Our usage of "aiki" here does not seem to be the same, and our architectural dynamics of shomenuchi irimi seem to be different as well. I think I can along the way define my "aiki" without any more reference to the specialized and highly subjective term -- so maybe that might help this discussion progress. As far as shomeuchi irimi architecture, I can address that now. Doing so might put us more on common ground -- or at least on a ground where we can better see each other. You wrote:
"While the timing of the block/parry with the moment before the uke's front foot plants is the timing I prefer, we all know that seeking such timing is as much as an 'ideal' as anything else. The trained strikers I have dealt with specialize in not giving such an opening, always having a strong base to strike from. "
The differences here are that I was saying that one should begin the kuzushi at this moment in time. By "kuzushi" I was referring not to the disturbance caused by the block/parry, but to the kuzushi caused by directly manipulating uke's spinal posture. In other words, this moment in time is addressed by the tenkan kuzushi -- having already entered during the upswing of uke's striking arm, we tenkan right when uke's front foot plants. This I was contrasting against: we irimi right when uke's front foot plants. It is because good strikers always have a grounded base that I opt to tenkan at such a point and not irimi at that point. Perhaps this will become clearer later.
Yes, undoubtedly, there are many ways of doing this technique successfully. You are correct to note this. I was trying to give that impression even in my first post. This is also what I was suggesting when I used the word "ideal" in my second post. When I was contrasting the word "ideal" with "viability," I was referring to things like the workload/mechanical advantage ratio and/or the resulting apex energy level -- things like that. In that way, while we can say a lot of versions are successful, completely martial, and/or while we can attribute them to first or second hand experience, we can still talk about all of these versions according to the biomechanical issues relevant to the questions Soon-Kian Phang raised -- which I'm sure that you and most others would agree with.
In other words, we can ask, "Out of all of these versions, which versions require more ‘X'?" Alternatively, we can ask, "Out of all these versions, which versions generate more ‘Y'?" Etc. Personally, I like to address my own training in this manner. This is not to say that I do not agree with the traditional role that teachers hold in Aikido training. Yes, models do have their place, and so then do arguments that appeal to authority. You are most correct in this regard. However, from the perspective of biomechanics, appeals to authority are often reduced to being argumentum ad verecundiam.
We should not be so surprised at this since there simply is no single authority in Aikido -- as we all know. One can always find a teacher, of whatever prestige, to support almost any position by appeal. So one can see in "Budo Renshu," that shomenuchi irimi-ashi to the homolateral side is done on the raising of shomenuchi and not on the descent. (Pp. 49) There is also Shoji Nishio's book, "Aikido Yurusu Budo: The Irimi-Issoku Principle." In this book this moment in the waza is addressed with the following, "Deal with uke's shomenuchi by entering to his rear. As uke raises his hand to strike, move as if cutting upward through his underarm and shift around to the side and behind him. This is the method for entering to the rear for shomenuchi irimi." (Pp. 135) In the same manner, Morihiro Saito's book and videos lend themselves to the same appeal. In his work, "Traditional Aikido, Volume 3," the relevant text reads, "This technique calls for you to initiate a strike before your partner's and whipping down his hand trying to parry the blow." The accompanying pictures clearly show one entering during the upswing of uke's shomenuchi. All of this becomes compounded by the human element -- by the fact that any prestigious teacher will always demonstrate an example contrary to his/her stated ideals. As a result, thought processes based upon such arguments quickly regress to "Yeah, but my teacher said,…" etc., and eventually end up in the annals of federation doctrines.
Hence, my appeal to experience. However, I do not wish to universalize such experience, which is why I suggested for folks to go through the above-mentioned drills. These experiments are themselves biomechanically determined and as such, I believe, they do address the issues that were raised in the first post. To be sure, as you noted, skill acquisition does play a role in the outcome of such experiments, which is another reason why I believe we have to always return to biomechanical inquiries and observations. As such, I accept all ideal phases or versions as workable. I accept them with all of their claims and proofs. That means that I accept that there are many ways of doing a particular waza. However, as was said above, I am still able to ask and answer, particularly in regards to skill acquisition, "What is this skill made up of? What has to be present for this skill to manifest itself? What is required for this skill to function to its fullest capacity?" Etc. From there, one can then go on to determine one's practice, and to thereby understand it more deeply -- more deeply than the usual, "my sensei said…" (Which I do not denote to your person.)
So, what can we say biomechanically concerning these two timings? Answer: A lot! Leaving some of that unsaid and some of it said only before, here are two elements that I think are more relative to our discussion here:
A. Biomechanically, we can say that it takes less energy on nage's part to address shomenuchi (in this case) during it's yin phase (going up) than it does during it's yang phase (going down). This is because in the former case nage's arms are moving in the same general direction as uke's strike. (This is how I meant "aiki" to be understood: As, "forces that are not conflicting or canceling in nature -- but that are blended, harmonious, and singular in nature.") Both timing responses can function martially, both can be successful, both can even require relatively small degrees of energy in comparison to other types of responses, but it will never be the case that it takes less energy to address shomenuchi during the yang phase than during the yin phase. This is true, scientifically speaking, no matter who is doing the technique and no matter how many folks are doing one version or the other.
B. Since the energy being used to address uke's shomenuchi is for the most part sourced in the base of nage, it then means that yin-timed responses stress one's base less -- since less energy is required. Yang-timed responses stress one's base more. Bases of support that are less stressed are both more mobile and more stable than bases that are more stressed. Bases that are more mobile and more stable can address many more needs and concerns than bases that are less mobile and less stable. Again, the bases of both timings can continue to function martially, both bases can continue to not be architecturally compromised, and both bases may be relatively little stressed in comparison to bases from other responses, but it will never be the case that a yin-timed base is more stressed than a yang-timed base. This is true, scientifically speaking, no matter who is doing the technique and no matter how many folks are doing one version or the other.
These two biomechanical insights address many of the issues raised in the first post -- all but the "going by uke," which I addressed in earlier posts when I spoke about the second "clash" of pulling uke into the kuzushi, etc. So factual are these truths that the only conflicting evidence that Soon-Kian Phang is likely to experience is no evidence at all -- it is only the conflicting energy of a senior practitioner student or teacher that requires nage to stick to a yang-timed entry without knowing why such an entry is being primed. Such an entry is not a conclusion, it is a mere given. Yet there are conclusions to be drawn here.
We can draw the conclusion that yin-timed responses require less energy to do the same or more work than yang-timed responses. In real life, this translates into spectrums of applicability. Such spectrums will hold that while yang-timed entries can be quite successful (martially speaking), yin-timed entries can be employed successfully by more different kinds of people against more different kinds of people. The spectrum of smaller to larger, lighter to heavier, and weaker to stronger, is greater in yin-timed irimi-ashi regarding shomenuchi.
People, in my opinion, then have to adjust things according to these spectrums. If people are honest enough with themselves, they will remain situational specific in their applications without universalizing any of them, while still being able to hold on to and understand the truths behind each one. If they cannot be honest with themselves, they will often manipulate their training environments in order to make the spectrum more irrelevant by having the situational pose as the universal. Such people come to mistake the waza for the biomechanical truths that are behind every waza. As a result, such folks often become exclusionary or exclusionistic in their training -- as you know.
Understanding these biomechanical truths and comparisons are a way outside of all of this -- in my opinion. We all have to address these things -- if our training is sincere. In fact, we may be able to define sincerity in training by how strictly we relate our training to the science of biomechanics (and other related scientific fields) -- a thing not often said. It is because of the sincerity that most seasoned aikidoka have that we witness the same reasoning at work in the opting to choose yin-timed entries over yang-timed entries and in the adjustments/corrections people make within yang-timed entries themselves.
For example, feeling the need for more energy and/or feeling the greater stress being applied to one's base, yang-timed entries tend to require that one be more to the outside of the arm than to the underside the arm. As you know, spirals are best suited to this positioning. This modification, and/or architectural detail, is a result of the same biomechanical reasoning offered above. One opts more for the outside of the arm than the underside of the arm because one experiences the great amount of energy that is present during the downward portion of shomenuchi. It is because of that great deal of energy that is present during the downward portion of shomenuchi that one opts for a yin-timed entry. Thus, at their heart, both options share the same biomechanical observation. The moves are thus not contradictory to each other. They only offer differences in their application of scientific observation and thus in their spectrum of applicability.
Because we are training for the unknown, we are dealing mostly with increases or decrease in chances of success as far as our training is concerned. This is the only reason why the issue of "which one works in more places" (i.e. spectrum of applicability) becomes relative to issues of practicality. Chances of success, however, will never be able to imply that one particular way will not work and another will work. Therefore, as I said, there are many ways to do this technique, and thus many timings to this technique. Still, there is more to consider regarding spectrums of applicability. In particular, there is the common way in which we manipulate our training environments in order to make such spectrums seem irrelevant. The experiments I had mentioned earlier are attempts to subvert this manipulation (which often goes unrealized) and to expose it at the level of consciousness. Thereby, as at our dojo, people have a chance for a more sincere practice because they have a chance to confront the biomechanical truths of waza more directly.
Here are some of the more popular training environment manipulations:
Yin-timed entries: Yin-timed entries take advantage of what we can call Target Availability. Such an entry takes advantage of the suki or "opening" that is already present. As such, it takes advantage of the suki (i.e. the yin phase of the shomenuchi strike) that is first present. As was said earlier, this suki is addressed in all kinds of other techniques -- such as Shomenuchi Ikkyo -- omote. It also makes sense when one is attempting the same technique against a jo or a sword or a club or a bat, etc. Addressing this kind of suki in this way is considered one of the six principles within the Daito-ryu curriculum -- if you go by what Katsuyuki Kondo is saying on his video tape, "Daito-ryu Aikijujutsu, Ikkajo, Part 1." So we all know about this suki and how to address it with yin-timed entries -- whether we apply it in Irimi Nage or not. Yang-timed entries take advantage of what we can call Target Creation. Such an entry seeks to create an opening by manipulating uke's elbow. As such, it allows the first opening to go uncapitalized upon. Outside of the biomechanical advantages mentioned above, and while it would seem less appealing to allow openings to go by, while it seems more "Aikido-like" to employ Target Availability over Target Creation, and/or while it would seem more consistent to attach irimi ashi to an immediacy of attacking the first opening, it is very difficult to actually put all of this into practice. This is all because of the high degree of body reading and short response time required by the tactic of entering while employing Target Availability. As a result, training environments are often manipulated in such a way that said timing is made easy -- easy to the point of being unrealistic. That is to say, you often see a lack of spontaneous training involving such cases, you often see over-exaggerated strikes with lots of telegraphing, you often seen nage initiating the action, and/or you see strikes being thrown relatively slow. In the end, though the body mechanics may remain sound, because the training environment is manipulated thusly, the skills of body reading and short response times are not being cultivated -- the application is no longer practical.
Yang-timed entries: The more under nage's arm is to uke's arm, the more energy needed to address shomenuchi. The more outside nage's arm is to uke's arm, the more speed needed to address shomeuchi (i.e. too slow and the arm just goes flying by you and on to its next strike, etc.). In other words: Under the arm, feel uke's power; to the outside of the arm, feel uke's speed. This is true whether one utilizes spirals, strikes, etc., to generate the Target Creation and thus the ensuing kuzushi. The ideal is to be right in the middle of both of these vectors, while making allowances for one's own advantages and/or disadvantages (e.g. slower stronger folks do better to be more on the underside of the arm, faster weaker folks do better to be more on the outside of the arm). In yin-timed entries, one does not feel uke's power or his speed because the arm is not being addressed for reasons of Target Creation at all. In order to address these issues of speed and power, training environments that make us of yang-timed entries are often manipulated in the following ways. Strikes are stopped and held at the top of the head for an unnecessary and unrealistic pause, strikes are relatively light in their back up mass and shallow in their target penetration, strikes are halted in their execution at the moment that they make contact with nage's arm, uke waits still after his/her shomenuchi is halted for the purpose of allowing nage to complete his/her entering into shikaku, etc. In fact, we can see all of these manipulations in the clip of Moriteru Ueshiba -- offered above. In this case, training environments are manipulated to make less demanding the need to address uke's speed and power located within his/her shomenuchi.
So, what is my take? We should opt to understand as much as we can -- personally understand. In addition, we should be as honest as we can with that understanding. Then we let the two -- understanding and honesty -- reflect back and forth against each other, with our practice in the middle. I was hoping my suggested experiments could be taken in that light. For me personally, which is not to answer Soon-Kian Phang's question, if my attacker is smaller and/or if the environment should prove that I am the one in excess of energy, a yang-timed entry would do me fine, simply because of the difficulty of reading the body early enough for a yin-timed entry. Against a stronger, heavier attacker, for me, I would execute a yin-timed entry -- for reasons stated above. Which one do I train in as kihon: the yin-timed entry. Why? Because from this one you can more easily go to yang-timed entries. It does not seem to work so easily the other way around.
Again, thank you for your reply and for sparking off this thought process in my person.