The following concerns our practice when we’re trying to perfect something. We may be working on a technique, correcting a step that comes next, or trying to correct an internal aspect like body structure or movement. Perhaps we’re no longer centered, we’re starting to lose uke’s ikkyo curve, or we notice that we’re beginning to switch to using dumb force or locking parts of our body. So we stop midway through a technique to reset and fix the problem.
We train tirelessly to maintain proper body structure (e.g., six directions) and to produce and maintain aiki and kuzushi (take uke’s balance). When we truly stop a technique, we’ve literally stopping all of these things.
So what happens when you, as nage, just stop? Uke probably becomes stable. Kuzushi is gone, extension is gone, and depending on the uke, you may be about to be struck, thrown, or subjected to a joint lock. One thing that often goes unnoticed is that you’re also now in a position relative to uke that would never have existed had you not stopped the technique.
If we were actually in the middle of a technique, uke would still be off balance, nage would control the centerline, etc. So once we stop and the training partners reset, we really do not find ourselves still in mid-technique. We’re in some strange place in which we may find uke half bent, with nage raising his or her arms, and both are often stable and sometimes quite comfortable in that position. While there are arguable benefits in training from strange positions, the position is not mid-technique; it’s outside of technique.
Most of our techniques rely on kuzushi upon initial contact and work because we never give up that kuzushi. To restart, we need to regain kuzushi, and for this we need to reestablish numerous things that we had discontinued by stopping. As a result, true stopping can really complicate correcting the problem for which we decided to stop in the first place. So making the correction from a stopped condition usually takes far more focus and skill than if we could fix it without stopping. Additionally, the adjustment that had been required for the correction during execution of the technique often only makes sense in the context of the uke-nage relationship had existed before the stop.
So what to do? One solution is to slow the practice down to a speed at which you can control your body with the precision required. Slow things down to a speed at which you won’t tighten up or at which you can still soften, for example. Use a speed that allows you to correct the problem on the fly. But what about when we are already going too fast?: don’t stop; instead, pause.
Pausing is different than stopping. Pausing doesn’t discontinue. It maintains existing conditions, maintains the moment, pausing the change instead of stopping the technique. It allows us to retain the mid-technique conditions so we can work on the fix we want to make without adding complexity.
You pause the condition of your body. During the pause, you still maintain intent and six-directions; you keep your limbs alive; the list goes on. You also pause your relationship with the uke. In this manner, you can maintain kuzushi and you don’t need to get back to the mechanical place where the movement you’re trying to effect can be done. Basically, everything keeps happening, and the rate of change approaches zero.
Sometimes you can think of pausing as slowing things down to an infinitesimal speed. Things are still very alive and moving, but imperceptibly. Sometimes pausing means maintaining a dynamic condition. Some of our techniques happen during centripetal movement, so in these we may keep uke off balance and moving around us as we figure out what to do, such as what to do with our arms.
Now you can work on the correction without losing the moment. Nothing else has changed in your body aside from the speed of the changes. Now when you’re ready to move again, you can resume without resetting or restarting. There’s no need to regain kuzushi, reconnect your own limbs, or do anything other than press the virtual play button and being the movie back to its normal speed; but now the correction’s been made.
You can see a stop when uke regains his stability. Sometimes, he’s able to stand normally. A pause, on the other hand, can look like nage’s just toying with uke until he/she decides to get it over with.
So next time, consider asking whether you’ve just given up part way through a technique and stopped under the guise of fixing something. Or have you instead paused, keeping what was working well going, to simplify changing what wasn’t working well.
Brad Gould Sensei