134) Aikido: Form & Function. October 2015

Aikido is a traditional Japanese martial art that, like other traditional forms of martial arts, is the subject of many negative comments related to it’s relevance and validity as a martial art.  I do not waste my time trying to justify what I do to people who seek to find information to support there foregone conclusions.  I do not waste my time with people who believe that what they do represents some ultimate or pinnacle martial arts experience.  I do have a lot of time to explore with any open minded person, the positive and negative aspects of Aikido (as it is mostly practiced today).

I think that an important aspect of any analysis is the identification of particular forms (In Aikido- waza, based upon certain stylized attacks) and link them to their function (what is our particular type of waza and practice suppose to do?).  We should be able to offer some constructive commentary based upon how we see our form relating to it’s perceived function.  This should enable us to identify aspects of our practice that we might want to change in order to develop a better sense of congruence between form and function.

Aikido practice is mostly a paired practice that entails predetermined, stylized attacks that enable a partner to perform a stylized, predetermined technique in response to that attack.  The attacker either becomes immobilized or ends up on the ground, both endings become a stylized manner of handling a technique so as to avoid injury.  The stylized, predetermined attacks and responses to that attack serve to inculcate a manner of responding to particular types of attacks.  The obvious advantage of this type of training is that you learn how to respond to some particular set of movements without having to think about what you are going to do.  In physical conflicts, you simply do not have the luxury of time to think about how you might respond to an physical encounter.  The drawback to this type of training is that we can easily become deluded into thinking that this is all of the training necessary to be ready for most real-life, physical conflicts.  If you have absolutely no concern or worry about being engaged in a physical conflict, then this practice serves it’s purpose for you.

If you do want to be able to be more prepared to use what you learn in a real-life, physical encounter, then you must begin to look deeper into to what might be contained within the form of attack that we practice, while looking deeper into what might be contained within the techniques that we practice in relationship to the attacks.  We then enter the proverbial worm hole of looking at attacks that have similar force vectors, while looking at how modifications to the techniques may either enhance and detract from dealing with these similar attacks. To highlight this point, we had a student in NYC who had a black belt in Taekwondo.  After a couple of months he began voicing his doubts about his perceptions of the weaknesses in our training.  I kept telling him to be patient and open minded.  After he was there for about six months and knew how to find the ground safely, I told him to wait until Imaizumi Sensei left the dojo and he and I could explore his concerns.  I told him to attack me in any manner that he saw fit.  He faked a punch and tried a front snap kick .  I entered in, controlling the centerline and he impaled himself on my left fist.  His other foot flew forward as well and he hit the ground on his back with his head making that familiar bounce.  His first comment was that was not the Aikido that Sensei was teaching!  I told him that just because he was not able to perceive the form within the form, that he should not necessarily jump to conclusions about what was and was not contained in our practice.  I repeated to him my favorite quote from Imaizumi Sensei “if you move properly, you do not need technique.”  He left after about a year of practice because he was too closed in his way of thinking to look beyond the practiced form.

The attacker is our Aikido practice learns how to make a singular attack and receive the energy of the technique in a manner that prevents injury (we call this ukemi).  This form has an important function if you use this practice to learn how to attack properly without creating openings, allow the person to perform the technique without showing that your structure has not been fatally compromised and finally to end up in a position of safety.  Unfortunately for us, too many of us have turned our ukemi practice into looking wonderful and circular while highlighting the “effectiveness” of the technique.  My Karate teacher accurately points out the nonsense of this type of practice by saying that you do not TAKE ukemi, ukemi HAPPENS.  Many of us simply look like acrobats on mats.  The use of a singular attack should not look like half of our body is paralyzed, nor should our attacks create openings in us that you could drive tractor trailers through!  Our receiving of energy of the technique should be informing us how to move in response to something happening to us so that we can remain martially viable.  We should not be programmed to make dramatic flips in the air and large, loud slaps on the ground, when such things would result in significant injuries in places other than soft, flat mats.  I wrote a blog a while ago on exploring the many layers of ukemi and how it can inform our practice so that we can become better at attacking and responding to attacks (blog #91).

We should be able to have open dialogues with other martial artists and ourselves about the form and function of our practice.  We should use this dialogue to push ourselves to expand how we can develop the form inside of the form which created truly martially viable functions.  We should also simply thank people for their closed-minded opinions and move on, rather than trying to convince people to change their foregone conclusions.  Our focus should always be on a constructive path forward in our practice and never allow complacency to occur in our practice.

Marc Abrams Sensei

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