098) The Attack in Aikido: November 2012

I apologize for the lateness of this blog, but Sandy threw us a curve… Power at the dojo and still no power at home…..

We live in the reality that we create for ourselves.  This truism should be examined closely as it is manifest in our Aikido practice.   A simple illustration of this statement is to say that a wrist grab is NOT an attack.  This past weekend, a friend and true warrior, were spending time together  and he recounted an often-heard comment from a nage who scolded him for not grabbing properly.  I told him that I frequently illuminate the idiocy of such a statement by grabbing a student in a static manner and say  “I have grabbed you, lay down and die fair warrior!”  We frequently engage in “attacks” that are not realistic, overly stylized and then even label certain teaching methods (eg- STATIC GRAB)  as attacks.  It should be of little surprise to the well-rounded, martial artist that people who “live” in this reality fail to do well in more realistic encounters with well trained attackers.

The role of uke has been discussed previously (please read it, if you have not already done so) and this month, I will focus on the uke’s role as an attacker.  I start off from a basic understanding that there is a very big difference between teaching someone how to fight in a short period of time, from teaching someone the martial art of Aikido.  The friend that I mentioned above, described Aikido as a graduate school experience for fighting, which also highlights that distinction.  This also means that I have to teach students how to attack properly, if they have not had any substantial experience as a fighter or in “harder” more aggressive martial arts.  I take the slow and steady approach toward teaching this art.  I am seeking to fundamentally change the manner and way in which a person handles an attacking force.  This is a process that takes time and a lot of attention to details.  This process requires a graduated approach which builds upon success at rudimentary levels toward developing success at high intensity levels of attacks.

A grab is basically the prelude to a real attack.  The grab serves as the setup for something that can really cause damage or restrain a person (setup to a punch, kick, throw, etc.).  The wrist (or shoulder, elbow, etc.) grab serves as a very good starting point for students to learn how to respond and move while receiving an unrealistically large amount of kinesthetic and tactile feedback for an unrealistically long period of time.  If you want a person to “rewire” his/her body in the shortest period of time, this step is absolutely necessary.  This requires that the uke grab and create a “freeze frame” experience.  A common pattern that develops in most dojos is where the uke grabs and them subtly (or not so subtly) moves in a manner that counters what the nage is doing.  I will demonstrate that change in motion at a realistic speed to stop that bad habit from becoming entrenched in my dojo.  At a real speed, it looks more ridiculous than when people are practicing techniques.  The next steps involve increasing the pressure and intensity of the grab so that the nage can learn to begin initiate things before that attacker’s grip gets locked on.  We can then add particular vectors of force to the grabs, followed by logical strikes and throws, further increasing the demands on the nage to be able to perform waza under increasingly more difficult circumstances.  This logical progression places the grab within a teaching paradigm that allows someone to start off in an unrealistic setting and move toward developing the ability to complete waza under more realistic types of attacks and scenarios.

More dynamic attacks necessitate the proper teaching of attacks to the ukes (if they have not learned so previous).  The all-too-common attacks in Aikido, when viewed from the outside, look comical.  It looks as though people are training for a zombie movie role and even can look like the attacker has a paralyzed limb!   People rarely attack with arms out from an off-balanced body and leaving the arm out there after that punch misses.  Unless a person has a paralyzed arm, it is highly unlikely that you will see a person try and strike with one arm, while the other arm flops limply at the side.  I love it when I see a person with one arm dangling, take the other arm, pull it back and to the side of their body in order to initiate a yokomen-uchi strike.  The look on that person’s face when my fist is in front of their face, clearly illustrates my teacher’s comment “If you move properly, you do not need technique.”  People do need to be taught how strike properly.  That means proper movement, good balance and excellent control.  When you are working with a beginner, slow speeds, excellent control and balance are necessary components in helping the student learn how to move properly to strikes.  It is critical for a student to learn NOT to try and grab or control the limb of an attacker.  The student needs to learn how to use that limb as an avenue toward disrupting the attacker’s body.  I frequently say “the arm is not attacking you, but the person is.”  As a student progress, the attacker can increase the intensity and speed of the attacks. At higher levels, if the attacker’s body is not instantly disrupted, then the attacker can continue to engage in other types of strikes or attacks (that also means kicks).

The nature of this type of training is designed to clearly illuminate that expression “the uke chooses the techniques, not the nage.”  The uke, as an attacker, has a lot of responsibility in being able to accurately gauge the level of the nage and attack in a manner that always keeps the nage of the border of success and failure, so that the nage can predominantly express success that can be built upon.  A corollary benefit to this type of training is a healthy, overt communication pattern that is established between the students (that also means between the students and teachers, particularly since I consider myself to be a life-long student).  This helps maintain a strong budo community that enables us train as safely as possible.

Train smart, train hard and train safely!

Marc Abrams Sensei

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