Monday, April 10, 2006

Take the Ukemi you never had

"it looks like it doesn't work" "they are going with it" "it wouldn't work on me" "there's no way they can make someone fly through the air like that"...

All are comments I have overheard from people watching a demo of Aikido. All are wrong, but worth addressing since they speak to the heart of what we are training in the dojo.


Shocked yet? I am NOT kidding. When you employ these techniques for real (meaning when you or your loved ones are under threat of injury), there is no ukemi for the person you do them to. It does not look flowery, graceful, or elegant. It works; they break. The End.

In some of the techniques (shiho nage kuzushi, hiji shime) we feel a gentle taste of what the real aikido must be like: a bone shattering stop to a very sudden drop. For others, we understand that changing the angle, adding atemi, dropping to the mat (like sumi otoshi), or combining sweeps with the movements mean there is no way out for uke. Only an idiot would allow an opponent an escape to a technique. The people who developed modern aikido fought for their lives in real combat - they were not fools. Trust me, it is there for uke's safety in the dojo.

The aikido we see on the mats gives uke a way out so we keep from injuring each other and can continue to train for the real aikido. I am glad to say that for the most part we have avoided injury in the dojo, although we are getting to the stage where it is more likely than before. In the beginning, we are largely incapable of harming ourselves and each other because we have literally no control over our bodies. At the brown belt level we are dangerous for having enough control and knowledge to apply a technique, but lacking the full control to execute it safely. Feeling confident, we end up hurting our training partner or ourselves. Now is the time to be especially careful.

Jiyuwaza is the hardest part of it all. People think even that is the real Aikido, but it is not. It is the closest our training can get, and in many ways extremely beneficial to our being able to do real aikido, but that is not it. If it were it would only be one technique in length and then uke would be unable to continue (if still alive).

So if we are not doing the real aikido, then what is the point?
By our training, we learn to control our bodies, learn to find distance, timing, balance, grace, speed, power, and all of the other characteristics that will help form the foundation of real aikido. Through the jiyuwaza practice we learn to center ourselves, control our fear/anxiety, and expand our sphere of consciousness. We learn to focus ourselves and to free our body. But this is still not the real aikido. It is only the steps to train for the real aikido.

Now, I am the very first one to say that our higher learning and study of martial arts should imbue us with ethical beliefs. That mans NOT breaking people into pieces unless we have no choice. However, let's not forget martial means MARTIAL. These techniques were designed for a purpose, and that purpose is to dispatch opponents swiftly, efficiently, and completely. Seagal-sensei's aikido is closer to what happens when you really use these techniques, which is precisely why I am against ever doing so except under the gravest of circumstances. To indescriminately injure others causes potentially permanent damage to our psyches as well. It is simply not worth doing unless there really is no other way.

So next time you do a technique in the dojo, silently be thankful to shite for putting uke there, and don't forget to take it. And never forget what these techniques are meant to do. We have dangerous stuff here, and dangerous stuff needs to be handled with care and respect.

And next time you watch an aikido demo, marvel at the skills and control of the people, be awed by their ability to safely show you a glimpse of the real aikido, and above all, be glad they don't injure anyone.


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