I've been thinking about gyakugamae ate (#3 of jun nana hon kata) more and more over the last couple of years, especially since we've been exploring other approaches to aikido techniques lately at Windsong.
For the longest time, I was taught, and the way I always saw it done, was to use the near hand as a sort of "eye threat" (it could be with the edge of the hand, or the back of the hand, etc.). In other words, you just stick your hand in front of uke's face, usually without any contact whatsoever, with the intent of getting uke to flinch and fall down as a response.
Now, I have nothing against eye threats. I've seen a well-timed hand, or even finger, suddenly appearing in front of the face make an unsuspecting uke jump on their own head. It looks like magic, as if the person doing it simply reached out and extended their "ki" with enough force to throw his opponent without even touching him.
But I've also seen it fail. I mean, I've seen uke not flinch at all (at which point he'll usually grab tori's hand and end up doing something with it). I've also been on the receiving end of some very, shall we say, "pronounced" gyakugamae ate's, where my head is practically peeled off like a Pez dispenser!
Ultimately, it seems to me that one ought to be fully prepared to do something definitive, as definitive as all the other ateme waza from the opening section of the kata, but if uke flinches and jumps on his head at the appearance of a hand before you touch him, bonus.
For a while, I would do it with a hand to the face, just like shomen ate and aigamae ate, only from behind the arm. But as I observe some other Tomiki styles, I've found some interesting approaches. In the videos below, tori slides his entire arm across uke's upper torso, almost like gedan ate, but above the arm instead of under it (which I've also done on occasion, but by accident).
I've noticed, too, that sometimes tori's hand is pushing, palm out, but then sometimes, his palm is up. I don't know if it matters, or maybe it creates two subtly different phenomenon?
Then there's this technique, called sayunage, which comes from a traditional, Ueshiba background:
His palm is definitely up, and his action is more of an up-and-down, riding the wave, sort of motion, as opposed to the more linear shomen ate/gedan ate type of approach familiar to Tomiki styles. I've played with this some and I've had some pretty decent results. I like what he says about lifting uke's chin, too. It seems to break uke's posture very quickly (just as shomen ate can do) and make it much harder for him to resist.
I'm not saying I think gyakugamae ate should be done one way or the other, I just think the variations are interesting. But I do worry about practicing only the eye threat, mostly because what you do in practice is what you'll do in reality. (There's the story of the police officer who trained to disarm an assailant, but in practice, he always picked up the fake gun and gave it back to his training partner to do it again. When caught facing a real gun, he disarmed the bad guy, and then, per his training, picked up the gun and gave it back! Luckily, his partner was also on the scene.) If I'm used to just waving the back of my hand or side of my hand in front of uke's face, and the eye threat doesn't work, will my subconscious be sufficiently trained to do the version that definitely cleans the guy's clock like gedan ate?
As a side note, I also think it's interesting the way these aikidoka do gedan ate. They sort of knock uke back over their thigh, causing more of a backwards, spinning breakfall. Ours have always been more linear, causing uke to do a side fall. I think I'd better have an experienced uke if I were to try something like that, though!