003) Week of 9/8/08: The Role of Nage

Aikido is a unique and challenging martial art in that competition works against the learning of Aikido, yet we are training to be able to respond appropriately to real-world attacks (as opposed to “canned”/preplanned attacks and responses).  There is a tremendous amount of responsibility that rests with both the Nage (person performing the techniques) and Uke (person who is attacking and then receiving a technique) in order to accomplish the lofty goal of becoming a competent martial artist.  This week’s classes will focus on the role of the Nage in helping to create a learning environment that is safe, non-competitive, honest, and worthwhile.

When we enter into the dojo, we need to focus in on the two philosophical pillars of this dojo:  Mushin- Empty Mind.  Leave behind what has transpired in your day and begin to focus in on your immediate self and your immediate environment (both internal and external).  Shoshin- Beginner’s mind.  Focus in on opening yourself up to the learning experience of the class itself.

Nage’s first focus should be on Shisei- Posture.  If you are not standing properly, your body is engaged in a constant struggle to maintain balance.  This lack of stability takes away critical energy from being aware of youself and your surroundings.  When we can assume a proper balance (vertical spinal structure) our bodies can let go of tensions and we can begin to foster a higher degree of positive energy.  The nage will suddenly notice a remarkable increase of awareness of one’s surroundings.  This increased awareness is like an energy force field.  We become more aware of what is happening all around us and with distances far greater than we thought that we could extend our awareness to.  This allows us to negotiate our interpersonal world better, by controlling the nature and distance of the relationships with those around us.

The Nage’s focus when working with the Uke is to blend/harmonize with the uke.  This task is next to impossible if you are not putting forth positive energy (Ki).  To test the power of this, we practice approaching one another with different emotions and we can easily see how positive energy can allow an attacker to get too close when disrupting and even neutralizing the intent of an attacker.  Developing this strong, positive Ki inside of ourselves through sincere practice builds up our confidence and helps us to move beyond reacting with fear and anger towards many situations.  This then allows us to blend with the uke through the extension of our positive energy into that person.  We transform the situation from “you vs. me” to “us.”  This harmonizing is the critical foundation upon which techniques emerge from.  Without this harmonizing, our techniques are crude and relatively ineffective means of hand-to-hand fighting.

The Nage needs to remain connected to the Uke from the beginning to the end of a technique.  This requires the Nage to keep good balance throughout a technique, maintaining strong, positive ki, while moving properly (refer back to the natural movement blog).  Suddenly the nage becomes aware of how hard it is to keep many components working.  We need to focus in on taking ownership for what is not working with a technique.  We will begin to see within the execution of a technique where and when, which component(s) begin to falter.  Good feedback from our partners and Sensei (gee that’s me!) help us to focus in on what aspects we need to work on.  We suddenly begin to experience a technique work in such a way that we think that the Uke was faking it.  This successful experience spurs us onward and leaves us with a profound sense of the power of what we are heading towards.  We create an ever-increasingly sensitive feedback loop to what the Nage and Uke experience in a technique so that the Nage can begin to execute seemingly effortless techniques with severe, and even sudden attacks.

We are all working together to help each and every one of us to become the best that we can be.   It becomes an intensely positive practice.  Kai means association. We are all working together, united to forging ourselves into better people->peaceful warriors.  People who truly make our world a more peaceful and safer place to live. This kind of practice is Shugyo (see blog of shugyo) and the Nage plays a critical role in creating and sustaining this kind of training.

Marc Abrams Sensei