Sunday, December 11, 2011

Other meanings of "balance"

It occurred to me a little while ago that the term "balance" as I have always applied it to budo might have another meaning. My definition fell along the lines of "a state of equilibrium or equipoise; equal distribution of weight." Standing up without falling down.

So when it came to "breaking use's balance," I assumed my job was to make my uke physically unstable, tipped over in one direction or another, on the verge of gravity pulling him down to the ground.

But then I started thinking about other dictionary definitions of "balance" I realized those could apply as well.

Balance between objects
Balance also means "to arrange, adjust, or the proportion of parts symmetrically." In other words, when two otherwise separate objects equal each other in some way, be it weight (as on a scale) or size or position, etc.

When we begin in budo, tori and uke face each other. Both have all their proverbial weapons (arms, legs, center, etc.) pointed at the other. Generally, neither one has any tactical advantage over the other. We are in effect balanced.

Then uke attacks. Even if all we do is step slightly off the line of attack, without ever touching uke, we have created a form of "off-balance." All of our weapons are still pointed at uke (arms, legs, center, etc.) but all of his are pointed out into empty space. We now have more of a tactical advantage than he does. We can strike, while he must now re-orient on me first before he can do anything. In fact, you could do all of that without uke attacking first.

Let's say we're both moving together in rhythm, in sync with each other. I can change that rhythm: take two steps in the time it takes uke to take one, or take a larger step than normal; I can change my grip; I can change direction, and so on.

What other ways can you see yourself "balanced" with uke? How can you disrupt it?

Mental balance
Another definition refers to a person's "emotional stability, a calmness of mind."

When we begin, both of us are mentally in balance (hopefully!). We are ready, poised, focused on and aware of our partner. Let's fast forward to a point where, in aikido, I'm holding uke's wrist in kote gaeshi. I may or may not have his physical balance, and even if his weapons are still pointed at me, we have somewhat of a relational imbalance. But there's also the chance of an imbalance in focus.

Uke may now be worried about his hand, wondering how to extricate it. I, meanwhile, can hold that hand without much thought, and maintain my focus on all of uke: what his other arm is doing, where his feet could move next. His focus is diverted, at least in part.

On the other hand, given that same situation, I myself could place too much of my attention on the kote gaeshi I'm trying to apply, while uke could be keeping his focus broad, on all of me and what is going on, and easily counter the technique.

Or how about judo? Have you ever grappled with someone that you just couldn't pin or arm bar or choke, even if they didn't necessarily do the same to you? Maybe they trapped your arm, and they're just laying there, letting you flail around trying to get out. You get frustrated, right? Getting frustrated usually makes us speed up, get angry, make rash decisions. If our partner is still calm, open and rational, he has created a distinct off-balance.

What other ways can you create a mental or emotional imbalance in your uke? What other ways are the two of you balanced?

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The power of a pre-turned foot

There's a section of our "walking kata" or tegatana no kata in aikido that I find very, very useful in judo. After stepping forward and back diagonally, the side to side, there's the part where you turn 90° by pre-turning your foot. It looks a little something like this:

You step to your right first, then return to the start, then repeat the same action on your left side. Be sure, of course, to step with your hip still over your lead foot. In other words, don't put your foot over there, then move your hip over it. The two should move together.

Here's how it applies to nage waza. First, I do the pre-turned step to my right (for example; you could start on either side). Uke will find that he's no longer facing me, so he'll turn as well in order to square back up again. As he's doing so, or just as he finishes, I make the same pre-turned step to my left.

Doing just that creates such a wonderful kuzushi with all kinds of possibilities. This morning we worked on sasae tsurikomi ashi. Here's a few videos for your viewing pleasure.

The embedding was disabled on this one, but watch it on YouTube, and even though you can't really understand him, he talks about the same pre-turned step. 

First we did static uchi komi practice. Uke just stands there the whole time, both of you with your traditional grips. Tori takes a pre-turned step to his right, but uses his trailing left foot to prop uke's far (right) foot. Tori should also lift his left elbow to make uke pitch his shoulders forward slightly.

From that position—and this is important—tori should put his left back down on the mat pre-turned, pointing at uke's toes so that he goes right back to position #1 above. Then do the same thing to the other side. Get a lot of reps and then switch roles.

Because taking a pre-turned step is not just important to entering many throws, it's also very important to setting up a number of secondary throws, or renraku waza. Learning to move with that pre-turned step will also help you to be able to dance out of your partner's throw attempts, and immediately find yourself in a position to counter.