For the rest of March in aikido, we'll be working on crossing over from kata to randori, from one end of the spectrum, kata, where everything is known and predetermined to randori, where nothing is known or predetermined. It's quite a gap, really, and for a long time, folks had a hard time making that transition.
The introduction of renraku waza years back has done a lot to help that. But in addition to that, there are other exercises we can do to help gradually add bits of randomness into the equation, something Lowry Sensei refers to as "incremental chaos."
To start, we broke into two groups of four (I wanted groups of three, but alas, there were 8 of us). We each took turns in our group for 1 minute each doing a release with 3 attackers. The first round, we focused on the 1st release, the second round on #2, then 3 and finally 4.
After everyone had a turn, we restricted tori to one hand, first a round with the right and then the left. The 3 uke's, however, could now grab with either hand; tori just had to do some kind of release, do whatever comes out.
Outside of the benefits of guiding us toward randori, I also like this kind of drill for a lot more reasons:
1) It forces tori to move constantly, never allowing him to completely "get set" the way we can in normal kata practice (reestablish ma'ai, get our feet even, etc.) You have to live with whatever angle uke comes at you from, and you have to work with whatever foot you happen to have in the air.
2) You have to be more aware of what's around you, of more than just one uke. Some students would look back and forth from one uke to another, wondering who's next. This, of course, would always make them slightly late when an attack finally did come. At least one in my group wisely began looking "at nothing" or what is sometimes referred to as "gazing upon the mountains." By not locking in on any one thing, you perceive much more in your periphery (I heard once that our mind actually responds quicker to things we see in the periphery than things we see from the front, which is interesting).
3) You're too busy to think about what you're going to do or what you did "wrong". You're also too busy and too tired to worry about the "messed up" release you just did (which really wasn't wrong at all, it just didn't fit into their idea of what it should have been).
4) High numbers of repetition. We all know why that's important, right?
5) The absence of instruction. As the old Elvis song goes, "a little less conversation, a lot more action." Sometimes, we just need to stop teaching and correcting, stop analyzing and even criticizing our own performance and just do.
6) It's kind of aerobic. You might actually break a sweat doing this for half an hour! And frankly, I think we can be a bit lazy in aikido class, and I personally think it would be valuable to move a bit more.
7) The dulness of relentless repetition gets you out of your own head. Call it a small form of misogi, repeating the same thing over and over, testing your endurance a little. Once you pass boredom and fatigue you wander into "blank" territory, or mushin. This is really just a "tip of the iceberg" form of it, but I'm not sadistic enough to throw folks into the deep end of the pool right off the bat ;-)
As a little added bonus, at one point, Scott, the leader of the other group, actually got them speaking in an Italian accent while doing it! Silly, yes, but he said it also helped get their head out of the "technique".
All in all, a very invigorating, refreshing class.