“Differences between martial arts training and fighting methods,” by Autrelle Holland

“Morihiro Saito Sensei tells us that atemi is for actual fighting.
I believe that this is common sense when facing multiple attackers.”

One thing that I have learned from my practice of Kali that I have started to pick up on in my practice of Aikido and Aiki Budo techniques is that there is a clear difference between the training method and the fighting method of most martial arts. This is hinted at, or sometimes stated explicitly by those in the know.

Saito Sensei tells us that atemi is for actual fighting. I believe that this is common sense when facing multiple attackers. It’s easier to strike multiple attackers and maintain your balance and mobility than it is to control them. All the more so for one on one combat.

Nishio Sensei alludes to this in his taijutsu presentations. He always starts and enters to a position where he can strike and not be struck. Isn’t this the keynote feature of hanmi/hitoemi? How many of us are adding this facet to our everyday training? In his weapons, his uses otonashi no ken/jo – he doesn’t touch the opponents weapon. That means that he does not parry, but enters and strikes. At every moment, he shows that he controls the encounter. My own belief is that these practices are advanced articulations of Saito Sensei’s ki musubi no tachi.

Saito Sensei’s bukiwaza does use parries from the awase form, but each motion is decisive. This goes back to the old koryu, where “blocks” were really strikes to the opponent’s limbs, head, or body. Katori Shinto Ryu calls this “kuzushi” interestingly enough. Kali uses this as a training method, to substitute the weapon as sort of a “focus mitt” to strike at – not as an attack that is blocked.

It seems like Aikido, at least as I have experienced it, is a lot of unlearning things that are deeply ingrained as a kyu. That may be the the fault of the student, but I still see yudansha doing things that simply would not work against a resisting partner, even less so in actual fighting.

It seems that we forget that that majority of O’Sensei’s students were already experienced martial artists. They came to him, he invited them to attack them however they wish, and then “something happened” and they found themselves thrown or pinned. These people were given training methods. They either understood how to create the applications for fighting methods, or researched it to discover it on their own.

If Aikido is to be understood as a martial art, we have to learn a clear distinction between training and fighting methods. In the Lost Seminars video series, Saito Sensei goes over the levels of training in depth. The ki no nagare forms come closest to a fighting method, given the rhythm that they employ. But the attributes required to perform effective fighting techniques come from the kihon forms. This is clear from his demonstrations.

In regard to Ledyard Sensei’s comments about koryu weapons training for the deshi – hard to prove, but I accept it wholeheartedly. His series, Principles of Aiki, is excellent, by the way.

As a final note, weapons have to be the core of our practice. At my dojo we practice traditional forms of Aiki Ken and Aiki Jo. We also practice forms of stick and knife, borrowed from Kali, but adapted to explain and demonstrate Aiki movement. I find that the two-handed weapons establish footwork, hip positions, and distance ideally, while the shorter one-handed weapons articulate exactly the way the hands move.

More later.

The above text was submitted as a comment to Stanley Pranin’s article titled “Towards A Reform of Aikido Technique (1): Background.” I felt that the insight Autrelle has provided deserved a wider audience. — Editor

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  1. So to this I would add that I have been looking at the current model that techniques are based on. We “receive” the “attack.” Irimi, kuzushi, atemi, tsukuri, what have you, then the “technique” follows. I suppose that’s fine for kihon waza. It’s a very elementary and effective way to conduct practice.

    Compare to Kali. The attack is a yokomen uchi style with a stick or a blade. I use my stick or blade to attack the limb as it is coming to me. The hopeful results are as follows:

    1-The pain from the blow causes the attacker to release their weapon, effectively disarming them.
    2-The damage from the blow prevents the limb from being used effectively for the rest of the encounter.
    3-The “flinch response” from the the pain and the damage mentally changes the aggression in the attacker, to a person that has been injured.

    This is not including the footwork (ashi sabaki) and the distancing (ma ai) , which allows you to strike the limb and not receive a strike in return. The attacker is “unbalanced” both mentally and physically from the pain, allowing for following up as deemed necessary.

    So we have a SIMPLE technique based on the weapon that includes irimi, atemi, kuzushi, tsukuri. The difference is, these things happen IMMEDIATELY, at the onset of the encounter Nishio Sensei comes to mind. Ledyard Sensei’s demonstration of controlling the space that the opponent needs to attack comes to mind here as well.

    Contrast to the usual model of Aikido where the technique is lethal or decisive near the middle or end, rather than the beginning. The token atemi to the face with the free hand from katatedori techniques isn’t enough when your partner can grab with impunity anyway. The training method, even for kihon, must keep us safe the entire time.

  2. It seems to be forgotten, but not by O’Sensei’s deshi who fast learned painfully, that one “takes” ukemi in order to get away from the atemi that follow positioning. There are ABSOLUTELY NO “throws” in Aikido. The waza are a means to open up the opponent, create a “tsuki” setting up for useful and damaging atemi, prior to a flow on or takedown if still necessary. To this end kuzushi, but kuzushi seldom ends up felling a real opponent. One out of ten maybe. Of course we cannot deliver such atemi in training as the damage can be severe. So we express the follow-though as a “technique” and “ukemi,” which simulates an approximation of what happens in real situations. Otherwise why “take” the ukemi? Why not just stand there and smile. Aikido expressed as “throws” only work in a co-operative context. Hence Morihei stating: “Aikido is 90% atemi.” Not gratuitous, or random ones but scientifically delivered after setting up the opponent as the waza are intended. Otherwise it’s a mere dance. If anyone has doubts about this, get out of “the ring” and mere dojo and work a door, or other live security and you will soon find out. Once reality bites the waffle ends. Real danger is slightly different to make believe.

    Great article Autrelle. We need more like this. Thank you! And thank you Stan for edifying this vital aspect.

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