In the first section, ateme waza. we're going after uke's center line pretty directly. To most of us, beginner or otherwise, that much is fairly evident. But it took me a long time to figure out what the next two sections, hiji waza and tekubi waza, the elbow and wrist techniques, were really all about. Because I was messing with the guy's wrist or his elbow, that's where my focus lay.
But in time I came to realize that kote gaeshi, for example, is not about cranking on a guy's wrist. Hiki taoshi is not about locking a guy's arm.
I always thought, I cause kuzushi, and then do something nasty to his wrist or elbow. Rather, I cause kuzushi, and then I cause a greater kuzushi, kuzushi with more control, kuzushi that's much harder to recover from.
The wrist and the elbow are simple means of manipulating or disturbing uke's posture and balance (kuzushi), just as the first section was. My ultimate goal with kote gaeshi and hiki taoshi (or shiho nage, or waki gatame, or ude hineri, etc.) is always to break down uke's structure, to create off balance.
As I mentioned, in the first section, we do it directly. From there, we move progressively further away, first out to his elbow, then further out to his wrist. In the last section, we're still messing with uke's center, but now we're using our own center to shear across uke's in different direction (the hands are doing relatively little other than providing a point of connection).
So we've been focusing on not just "how are you holding uke's wrist?", but "how are you holding uke's wrist so that his posture crumbles?".
Shiho nage has been particularly illuminating. Since the beginning, it never felt very comfortable to me. Sure, the Ueshiba guys did it all the time, and they seem to love it, but I didn't get it. Yeah, I might be able to get the guy stumbling backwards, which certainly makes it harder for him to attack me, but he didn't fall most of the time, either. In fact, I noticed that this sort of thing was happening a lot with other folks, too. Some posture was compromised, we got uke close to the edge of the cliff, but nobody was going over.
Until I realized, Duh! It's tekubi waza—a wrist technique. What are you doing with the wrist to affect his center?
And here's the difference. I was holding uke's wrist the way I maintain any other grip in aikido, with a cocked wrist (which essentially maintains my unbendable arm). Notice the right angle in the grip below (I used my computer and my own wrists for these photos, so it will look kind of wonky). That's just how you're supposed to grab as tori, right? Well, like most principles, that works great—except when it doesn't.
Now, look what happens when I straighten my grip, like I'm pointing at a wall instead of the ceiling.
Notice how uke's arm gets a little more jacked up. The fun thing is, making this one simple change is enough to make uke's hip suddenly jut out, too (his eyes get all wide and everything, it's fun). When I demonstrated the difference between the two grips in class today, just the one little change, one student remarked with amazement that it looked some unseen sniper had just shot uke and he dropped like a stone.
But it's not pain, oddly enough, that does it. I used to assume that this was what was happening with "other schools", particularly regarding wrist techniques. Ah, they're just cranking on it, and the guy drops to relieve the pain.
Well, maybe some of them do, but only because they misunderstand what's actually happening. Turns out, there's really not a lot of pain involved at all. We're simply turning the wrist in a direction it's not physically made to go. It's a matter of a body's architecture: turn the wrist in a way it's not designed to go, it will start to turn the elbow; the turning elbow will then start to turn the shoulder; and the turning shoulder will start to force the center to jut out. Everything gets all coiled up until it can't coil up anymore and it has to uncoil. (Which is, of course, where the big flippy falls tend to come out).
Same with kote gaeshi, etc. No pain; everything just... crumbles, and you can just set them nicely on the ground (you don't have to do the flippy fall, but it sure looks cool).
So finally, shiho nage is not quite the misunderstood, "red headed step child" of the 17 for me anymore. Although I will admit, I suspect there's still more going on that I don't understand yet. That's okay. That's what makes it fun.