Brian Kagen pick: “Help Each Other!” by David Shevitz

“At nearly every camp or seminar I have attended, Sensei says these words to us just before calling us to practice a given technique. I’ve heard the words before, but never really stopped to consider if my interpretation of them was correct. After all, I’m supposed to be studying a martial art. It wouldn’t be unreasonable to define helping my partner as attacking with as much focus and intent as possible, to ensure that they really are doing the technique and not just going through the motions. To put it another way: it was always my impression that the best way to help my partner was to attack as realistically as possible.

This year, at Summer Camp, Sensei expanded on this notion of helping each other. “Don’t resist!” he clarified. “Technique is to learn how to lead!” I was a little surprised. Surely, Sensei wasn’t advocating that we not resist our partners technique? The very idea made me concerned. If there was no resistance, how can the nage understand if they’re truly taking someone’s balance? Those of us who study aikido have likely experienced training sessions in which the uke just fell down no matter what you did. It’s very frustrating, because you have no idea if you’re doing the technique correctly or not. Worse yet, if you don’t resist, what makes studying aikido any different from dancing or acting? For the first time, I was really concerned that I was being told to go down a path I did not want to follow.”

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  1. My take is that resistance should be selective and instructive. For people at about the same level, general resistance is fine. Work hard; get strong. If there is a disparity in skill, size or strength, however, it is important to modulate resistance to allow the weaker to succeed. But the success should be achieved by getting closer to uke’s idea of the ideal technique. Uke should exercise discretion. If sufficiently advanced, uke can ALWAYS frustrate nage. Often, though, the lockup is vulnerable to simple stuff like a fist in the face or knee in the groin. Eventually isn’t ukemi the art of getting out of the way of that sort of thing?

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