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Configuring the Inevitable :: Practice :: Lesson 7 :: Matching Forms
Configuring the Inevitable :: Practice :: Lesson 7 :: Matching Forms
by Ross Robertson
Configuring the Inevitable :: Practice :: Lesson 7 :: Matching Forms

In our last lesson, we saw how we can closely match our partner's movements and take advantage of the actions they perform on themselves. When done correctly, the result is often a precipitation of one of the classical aikido forms, or kata. Unlike with most classical aikido however, here we are finding ways to help a person do the form to themselves.

Traditional aikido training usually involves teaching students these forms in their many varieties, and through repetition and years of training it is expected that the student will break through into the world of formlessness, where technique is spontaneous and organic. Unfortunately this process is anything but automatic, and decades might pass with still no breakthrough.

Traditional training has its value, and should not be abandoned. However, the approach being recommended here is a way to replace what may be missing from most classical curricula. This approach involves an immersion in formlessness, and an observation of the inevitability of form arising from formlessness.

Water is an often-used metaphor in many martial arts, and it is applies here. In its liquid state, water takes the form of whatever container it's in. Moreover, it molds itself to surround any shape that is placed in it. This is what is meant by formlessness. It is not the total absence of form, but a fluid adaptation to accommodate any solid shape that is encountered.

With this in mind, let's turn our attention to the subject of kaeshiwaza. Traditionally, kaeshiwaza is understood to be a counter or a reversal technique. A player attempts one technique, and the partner responds by countering with another -- or even the same technique. It assumes that there has been an opening and a seizure of initiative.

Yet there is another way to think about it. In the last chapter we saw how ikkyo may happen simply because the attacker does ikkyo to their own arm as part of the setup. If the recipient steps in and assists that motion and directs everything into the void, then the encounter is realized through the completion of ikkyo. Although the ikkyo is never transferred from attacker to defender, it is a complete and fulfilled gesture. There really is no reversal or counter, but rather a continuance.

To a trained observer, it may look like kaeshiwaza has been employed. And in fact, the energy directed at a target may loop around through the recipient (acting more as a conduit) while still flowing from the attacker, but now into emptiness. This twisting, coiling nature of the energy that doubles back on itself may be considered a reversal. For this reason we may still think of it as kaeshiwaza, as long as key differences are understood. There are no role reversals simply because there is only one role where a partnership is created in working together to direct the forward flow of energy. At no point in this scenario does the defender become the attacker. The energy flow may circle and loop, but at no point is it made to stop and reverse. Nothing is countered.

Hopefully the ikkyo-to-ikkyo example has become clear by now. Let's look at a couple of other examples where the form of the attack creates the form of the response. We'll use tenchinage, or "heaven and earth throw" common in many styles of aikido to illustrate the concept.

Step 1) Practice ryotedori tenchinage irimi, the two-handed entering version of the Heaven and Earth throw. Returning to the language introduced earlier, one partner will create the Solid form that is tenchinage. The other partner will be Empty, allowing the tenchinage to happen without any interference or redirection. This usually results in a backward fall for the recipient, or Empty partner. The goal here is simply for both players to experience the flow of tenchinage and to observe its spacial and structural form.

Step 2) As before, one player executes tenchinage, but slowly enough to allow study. The Empty player looks for openings and alternative pathways where energy may flow unimpeded. For this example we will observe the large empty space that is created underneath the heaven (upraised) arm in the form of tenchinage. If the Empty player's feet are positioned properly with the forward foot on the inside of the conjoined structure, then it becomes possible to allow the hips to turn as tenchinage is executed. Ideally this should not be done preemptively, but rather with the feeling that the hips are being turned by the dynamic of the solid form of tenchinage itself. The result should be that Solid has caused Empty to turn and face the same direction. If Solid follows through as this practice requires, then Empty winds up matching the form of tenchinage with the form of a kokyunage or zenponage. When done with appropriately simulated commitment, the result should be the forward fall of Solid as the structure of tenchinage collapses into the void.

Step 3) In the first stage explained above, Empty responds "late," and fits the form by taking the fall. In the second stage, Empty responds "middle," fitting the form well into its development by finding a different but matching form. In the final stage of this exercise, Empty responds "early."

First we should notice that the two players are positioned opposite one another, each one blocking the other's path. For tenchinage irimi, Solid typically will slide to the side of Empty. That will be the "earth" or lowered hand side, while the "heaven" hand is directed over Empty's opposite shoulder.

It's this slipping to the side that we want Empty to exploit. Empty should feel full of energy that wants to flow somewhere, but is blocked by the Solid structure directly in front. As soon as Solid slips to the side, an empty space is created, and Empty should immediately step forward into it -- not with a great burst of energy, but a simple feeling of release. Empty should not be concerned with doing anything in particular with the arms, except to practice the effortless return to the Arm Zones from previous studies.

It may take numerous repetitions before the desired result is achieved, but here's what we're going for: Empty steps directly into the "heaven" side of tenchinage. When entering at the right moment, there should be no collision whatsoever with the upraised arm. However, the "heaven" arm is displaced from its proper Zone and is weakened accordingly. If Empty simply drops their own arm into their Pocket Zone, then "heaven" becomes "earth." Although by no means necessary, it also often happens that the original "earth" hand rises up as a consequence of the energy that is redirected within the system.

In essence, we have a tenchinage-to-tenchinage kaeshiwaza. However, Empty has not really done tenchinage to Solid. It simply happens as a result of energy flowing through a changed structural system.

All so-called aikido techniques should be examined in this light. Many well known forms fit perfectly together, like puzzle pieces.

Some judo players talk about the "empty jacket" effect, where a player is so light on their feet and so capable with non-resistance that it feels like trying to fight with an empty gi jacket. What we are talking about here is the same, except now it is as if the attacker is trying to fight with the jacket they are wearing. Such is the nature of a perfect fit.

Form arises from formlessness. This is not mysticism, but simple structural dynamics. Emptiness is said to be formless not only because it has no form, but because it can become any form and is instantly and endlessly mutable.

Conflict requires a collision of Solids, which is to say form against form, structure against structure. But if form only encounters that which adapts and fits and flows, there can be no collision.

The transitory forms which Empty takes arise inevitably from the encounter with persistent forms. A pattern which has maximum freedom but no opposition will eventually flow into a grounded state. If it meets only matching patterns, then the absence of conflict is assured.

This is how we configure the inevitable.

Ross Robertson
Still Point Aikido Systems
Honmatsu Aikido
Austin TX, USA

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