Getting the fit

Funny how our ideas and our approach to a given thing change and evolve over time. "Truth" seems to be more and more elusive: what I accepted as gospel one day, I can't help but doubt the next. Okay, maybe it's more like years than days, but still.

If there's anything I've learned from budo that is absolutely permanent and unmovable is that nothing is really permanent and immovable. Just when I think I "understand" a thing, I find a new perspective (typically through the eyes of someone else). I almost want to go back to students I've taught and say, "Hey, remember that thing I taught you? Well, here's another way of thinking about it..."

This time, I happen to be thinking of the concept of the stage of a throw in judo. I'm sure you've heard it:

First, kuzushi—off-balance
Then, tsukuri—fitting in
Finally, gake—the throw

For a while now, I've been thinking of it in terms of a sort of math problem: 1 + 2 = 3

In other words, if I can get kuzushi AND tsukuri, then—and only then—can I get the gake (and in fact, the gake may even take care of itself).

Now? I'm not so sure.

Frankly, if you just stand there, doing nothing, minding your own business and not reacting in any way like some kind of mindless dummy, I can walk up to you and get my fit-in, my tsukruri, and then throw you, all without ever worrying about kuzushi. In other words, I don't technically need kuzushi in order to make gake work. Heck, if you're light and weak in addition to being a mindless dullard, I may not even need tsukuri.

But the problem is, few of us are weak, mindless dummies. If someone just tries to walk up and "fit in" and join centers with us, we'd be like, "Whoa, hey, dude! What the hell are you doing?" And certainly, in the case of randori or shiai, no one is going to just "let" us get the fit; they're going to fight it, right?

Which leads me to think along these lines: I need kuzushi in order to get to tsukuri. And if he's still resistant to the throw, I need tsukuri in order to make gake happen.

But here's the kicker: even in randori, even when my partner is by no means just "standing there" like a moron, sometimes, every once in a great while, I can catch him by surprise. It happens—not often, mind you—but maybe he's not paying attention or something and I just zip straight to gake—boom!

Or perhaps I tried a throw and failed. I may step directly into a fit-in for a different throw and pow! Of course, one could argue that the "failed" first throw is a form of "kuzushi". And you'd be right.

But I think my point is this: don't worry about any of that, just learn the progression. First get your kuzushi, then get your tsukuri, then your gake, just the way your sensei taught you. Pay attention to your form and accuracy in all three stages, and don't let any one area slide.

For me, that one area has been tsukuri, the fit in. It seems like kuzushi has been a big focus in my budo career, but lately, I'm really beginning to focus on and become fascinated by that second step—tsukuri. And when I watch students doing a little nage komi, it seems like the main reason they have trouble is because they lack tsukuri.

Even in aikido, where I wouldn't normally think of "fitting in" because it seems like we're always moving at a distance from uke, I still think there's a form of tsukuri. It may, perhaps, be better expressed by the word "positioning" relative to uke.

All of that, of course, may change over the coming years. Just something I've been thinking about.


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