Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Where is you mind?

It wasn't long ago that a critical aspect of different sections of junana hon kata, or randori no kata, finally dawned on me. I realized that, with the second section, or hiji waza, I was focusing on what I was doing to the arm or elbow, and with the third section, tekubi waza, I was focusing on what I was doing to the wrist.

Which would seem natural since that's what their names mean: "elbow techniques" and "wrist techniques". The epiphany, however, came when I finally realized that I'm not doing something to the arm or the wrist, but rather I'm using the arm and wrist as a means of affecting uke's center line. The first section, or atemi waza, deals with going after the center line directly. From there, we move outward to using the arm to affect the center line, and then move even further out to using the wrist the same way.

This realization has, in turn, affected my perspective of the rest of not only aikido, but judo as well. Now, I'm much more focused, not on throwing uke, but on continually, progressively crumpling his posture, breaking him down bit by bit.

For example, I would approach each technique this way:

1) Step in the right place, with my support foot pointed in the right direction, with my hands in the right position. It was a bit like posing an action figure, as if all I had to do was do was these specific things, and everything will go smoothly.

2) If judo, then suck up the distance between us.

3) Pull the trigger. Do some sort of action or another that would launch uke into the air or send him hurtling to the ground, be it a wrist crank, a definitive step, a reap, a hip action, etc.

While it's important to step here and move your hands there, I never thought much about why. "It's about kuzushi—off balance," you say. And you're right. But what did the kuzushi look like? I began to wonder. What did it feel like—for tori as well as uke—when it was really happening?

In other words, I stopped thinking about kuzushi from the perspective or what I was doing, hoping uke would just magically fall down. I began to think more along the lines of what was happening to uke. Not just his elbow or wrist or leg or whatever—his whole body. I took my mind out of my own Self and put it in uke. In him, around him, around us both.

So, back to aikido's elbow techniques. Oshi taoshi (or ikkyo) is a good example. I noticed myself and others primarily focused on pushing on the elbow. When that didn't get uke to magically jump to the ground, it naturally became a game of pushing harder. As a result, we tended to push on uke's elbow out in space, somewhere to the side of his head.

But it wasn't working, or at least we could make it work as long as we were stronger than uke, or uke was just cooperating. The funny thing is, I'd been originally taught, years ago, to imagine I'm trying to put uke's elbow through his own ear. But I suppose I got lost in what I thought oshi taoshi or ikkyo was supposed to look like, and I never understood the meaning of that instruction: use the elbow to affect his center line.

The wrist techniques were no longer about uke jumping because I stepped in some specific place, or he was simply responding to pain, but rather, is the turning or twisting (which does not involve being strong or cranking, by the way) doing something to his posture?

I also found that focusing on a thing like the wrist or the elbow often caused me to stop. "Okay, I'm holding a proper kote gaeshi now. Your turn to do a flippy fall." But while we were always taught to keep our center moving, it never occurred to me that my hands and arms should often continue moving in their respective arc as well (I think I interpreted the "unbendable arm" principle to mean I keep them stuck out in front of me like two planks nailed to a tree). Again, not in a way that cranks on uke (that would be force against force, now wouldn't it?), but that moves smoothly with how uke's body is naturally built.

Ah ha! This is what is meant by all those words and phrases like "blending, joining, be light, be in harmony with uke," etc. Now, I'm discovering all sorts of little nuances here and there that have a seemingly magic affect on uke's posture without strength or cranking.


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  2. Thanks, man! Yes, please feel free to share my silly little thoughts all you like =)