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Beat Them With A Stick

posted 12 Aug 2010, 03:27 by aikidorepublic   [ updated 19 Aug 2010, 21:29 by Ben Hamley ]
The trouble with Aikido is that its too nice.  From the very first day we are told it is a defensive martial art.  Its a great sales pitch and a nice philosophy but its ultimately flawed if we avoid the martial path because of it.  In the dojo it can leave nage somewhat timid and trembling awaiting the merciless attacks of uke in tanninzugake (jiyuwaza or randori).  However by adopting the idea of striking first, we turn the tables and uke becomes the defender (who we let off the hook with the kindness of aiki). At first the strike is a physical atemi, but progressively becomes more about taisabaki (body movement and footwork) and intent. It changes the equation and uke becomes the person reacting and desperately trying to get away. So desperate in fact that arms raised to shield themselves become pins and their movement away becomes a fall or tumble.

Its not a new idea, just often absent from regular practice.  The good news is that striking first is an integral part of the Aikido syllabus, its just less palatable in the 'art of peace'  ideology.  It is often forgotten or overlooked as we busy ourselves with the intricacies of learning the multitudes of techniques.  Striking first, before attempting anything fancy, is a progressive step that very quickly turns Aikido into something quite effective.


So what's wrong with reacting?  Well nothing.  Its just that its slow, maybe too slow for  Mr. Knuckle who is on his way!  In the psychophysiology laboratory we talk about the P300  (300ms or 0.3seconds) - the time it takes for the cognitive brain to react to seeing something, and tell the body to do something - its a slow process.  We can speed this up considerably by not involving the cognitive brain (some people call this muscle memory) but its still a reactive way of doing things.

Even the intention to wait expectantly for something to happen before deciding what to do is slowing the process.  Neurons need an electrical signal in order to fire, this signal comes from the eyes if its a visual cue like Mr. Knuckle.  This signal has to rise above a threshold value before anything can happen, and waiting expectantly actually raises that threshold in your neurons.  A higher threshold means neurons need a greater signal to react…making you even slower.


Having made the decision ahead of time to strike, you remove several decisions from your brain like:

which hand is uke going to attack with

what attack is uke going to do

what technique should i do?

I've already done 3 kotegaeshi's in a row, think, think what s another technique i can do to impress sensei

Instead you are ready to attack and when you unload you force uke into reacting mode, it slows them down. Once uke has been interrupted out comes the aiki tool box of techniques at your side and you finish the technique at a time and pace that suits your choosing. Three basic timings are available for your actions Before, Same-time and After uke attacks. Traditionally the term Sen (meaning initiative) is used to explain these timings, sen no sen, sen, go no sen are common terms seen in the martial arts to explain these timings. 

Understanding and practicing these timings mean you can relax, pick the moment to do technique, not worry if you are slow or fast, not worry about what uke does and pick the style of aiki you want to do. The feel and form of tanninzugake now becomes what you want to do rather than what uke wants to do. Its a freedom from uke born of aiki.

Same-time, Strike First

This is the timing we most often learn every day in the dojo. Uke moves and we move at the same time. Usually this means starting to do the technique as the attack comes, it has a tendency to become reactive though need not be. By using the strike first idea our first movement is not to do the technique but to strike uke Same-time. This is nothing new, its called atemi and is used to unbalance uke n a physical and mental sense. In our school its often overlooked or given as a cursory hand wave in ukes general direction rather than a powerful and important part of each aikido technique. The idea comes from the Japanese sword (as does our art) and can be seen clearly in the ikkyo kata as the foundations for that technique and many others as well. 

Before, Strike First

Its a setup in the dojo, you know Uke is going to strike and when they do their feet will be planted and the power will come, so strike first, strike before! Its also probably true for the real world ™ as well. Catch them before they step in, catch them as they are starting to chamber for the strike, heck catch them as they are getting up off the mat from the last throw. Thus released you are free to stop waiting for uke to come to you, you can go to them. Start stalking uke around the mat, make them run, put them on the back foot, strike before they are ready. It can have the effect of drawing their strike just to defend themselves and then taking ukemi just trying to keep their centre and regain ma-ai so they can launch an effective attack. 

After, Strike first

Hold the line don't run, and at the last possible moment strike. Strike not to hit the line of attack and to hold uke to the line and even drawing ukes intents along the line of attack. Drew them  past you, draw them into your technique. Once uke is drawn and trapped on the line you have the freedom to get off the line and to get out that aiki-toolbox again. Called kiri otoshi in the Shinto Muso Ryu this is most often seen in Maruyama senseis' Kutai level technique 

Learning and practicing striking

For the past few weeks we have been using weapons (bokken) suburi and partner practice exercises as the warmups. Solo suburi (cutting) done correctly teaches the correct hanmi, intent and commitment needed to learn to complete technique.

Paired practice (kumi waza) with a partner teaches correct footwork, timing and distancing. When your partner is given permission to follow your movements as they cut they become your best teacher, flaws in your timing, ducking, stepping to avoid, stepping too deep or shallow etc... are revealed in a way that we can diguise from ourselves in openhand practice.

Maruyama sensei has introduced some kata from the Shinkage Ryu, these kata contain the secrets of same-time, before and after strikes using the sword and are just waiting for us to discover them and use them with confidence in our bodies. When using the sword and these kata there is nowhere to hide, either it works or it doesn't. Unlike open hand practice its much harder to fake it to make it work. Probably these are some  of the reasons the kata are not so popular to practice, together with needing a partner that knows and understands what they are doing (they are the teacher)

Beat them with a stick

This was the opening line of the blog and a concluding statement as well. Next time when stepping onto the mat for tanninzugake, pick up your mental sword first , bring it with you and strike uke at a time thats suits you choosing, then finish with something from your aiki-toolbox and finish them off! Cower no loner before uke, its your mat, use it, embrace the inner thug and beat them with a stick ;)

Sword work, strike first - a foundation for ikkyo