The psychology of combat in Aikido? Some thoughts on the fighting strategies of the art of peace,” by Autrelle Holland

“The Direct Attack is just like it sounds – a simple yet direct technique against a gap in the enemy’s defense. In Aikido, this could be as simple as applying kotegaeshi or nikyo against a wrist grab, or a spirited direct iriminage.”

These were the thoughts I wrote concerning a post on Aikido Journal recently. You can view the original post here, but I fleshed out these thoughts in more detail here. The original post gave me the impression that”the author felt that a combat operations process, such as OODA was either misunderstood or inherently lacking in Aikido. If I misread his intention, that is my fault alone, but it did spark some thoughts about the subject. I believe that the very nature of Aikido techniques suggest a clear set of ideas for use in actual fighting. By fighting, I mean actual fighting, not sparring or training hard, or challenging your skill with someone from a different art for comparison’s sake. Aikido is a product of Asian sword culture. Things like OODA, for the Aikidoka, should be understood as an articulation of some of the minor points of The Art of War or Go Rin No Sho. I personally have a very progressive outlook on training methods, as I am looking to the possibilities that Aikido will have for future generations. Still, I like to go back and read the old books. You’ll find that it’s all there, just waiting to be rediscovered.

The words of O’Sensei are a great place to start. He wrote a lot of doka, or poems, to guide those of us who would seek what he sought. Some of these are very poetic, and reference heavenly bodies, deities, and the elements. Others are very literal, such as “step here” or “put ki here.” The execution of the technique should also include the strategy required to apply it. Let’s talk about OODA for example. A lot of this hinges on timing and rhythm, also known as “sen” in Japanese arts. Everyone uses timing and rhythm in a real fight. Some are more aware of this and therefore are much better at it. I will describe two different feelings. First is the person who receives a strong attack in a skillful manner, redirects it, and then applies a technique. Second is the person who initiates movement against the attacker, and having prepared against his defense, skillfully ends the encounter with a technique. These are two different things entirely. Both have “zanshin,” a mind that is always present, but it’s not the same given that one has the intent to initiate the physical encounter. The mental encounter, which always begins before the physical one, may not have even been “observed” by the person who waits to receive an attack.

“The best strategy relies on unlimited responses.” Morihei Ueshiba, Budo

“Using no way as way, having no limitation as limitation.” Bruce Lee, Tao of Jeet Kune Do

Budo is a path that has many roads that split away from it. However, few roads can really take us toward true budo. Because of that, it is important to have reliable sources for information. I like to refer to several sources when contemplating strategy, but I favor the words of O’Sensei, and the old books as well. Since the original post was looking at ideas found outside of Aikido for information, Master Bruce Lee came to mind today, and I thought that I would share his ideas for fighting strategy, along with some of the words of O’Sensei. Master Lee is famous for what he called the “Five Angles of Attack.” These were the basis of his approach to fighting. They all involve initiating the physical fight in order to control the outcome of the encounter.

Direct Attack

“Bujutsu must be applied just like a sunbeam flooding a room with light as soon as the door opens a crack.” Morihei Ueshiba, Budo

“To me, the extraordinary aspect of martial arts lies in its simplicity. The easy way is also the right way, and martial arts is nothing at all special; the closer to the true way of martial arts, the less wastage of expression there is.” Bruce Lee

The Direct Attack is just like it sounds – a simple yet direct technique against a gap in the enemy’s defense. In Aikido, this could be as simple as applying kotegaeshi or nikyo against a wrist grab, or a spirited direct iriminage. The difficulty in this method is its simplicity since you must have great skill to pull off a singular technique from start to finish. O’Sensei could do this. So could Master Lee.

Attack By Combination

“Take things as they are. Punch when you have to punch. Kick when you have to kick.” Bruce Lee

“…the true strategy of a real warrior has no limits.” Morihei Ueshiba

In the event a singular technique is warded off, have a combination prepared to follow up with immediately. Combining techniques is very common in Aikido where an opponent may move in an unexpected manner and make your original technique less effective. This can be as simple as turning a botched ikkyo into shihonage. The point is to overwhelm your opponent with endless techniques, and to not rely on one single method.

Attack By Draw

“Moving, be like water. Still, be like a mirror. Respond like an echo.” Bruce Lee

“When facing numerous opponents, draw out their attacks, enter directly, and turn behind their thrusting spears…” Morihei Ueshiba

Here you show your enemy something that appears unguarded. When the enemy attacks the opening that you provided, you strike in response. This is not just passively letting the enemy attack as they will. You deliberately make a show of guarding something. Sensing this, your enemy will naturally begin to look for what is unguarded, and proceed. This is as simple as keeping your hands down as waist height, inviting a strike to the face. In the 31 Jo Kata, movement 9 finishes by hiding the jo behind you and offering your head as an easy target. When your opponent is drawn out by this and attacks, he is struck as he raises his jo.

Progressive Indirect Attack

“Be like water making its way through a crack.” – Bruce Lee

“…you must perceive the openings in your opponent’s position – that which is lacking – and apply a technique there.” – Morihei Ueshiba
This is similar to Attack By Combination in form but not in function. Progressive means just that, a series of attacks that increase progressively in their power, ferocity, complexity, and so on. Indirect means that the actual target of the attack remains to be seen. The first few techniques are designed to set up a indirect attack on something that could not be attacked directly. One example for an Aikidoka could be entering to iriminage on an opponent’s right side. As the opponent tries to counter the throw, you continue behind your opponent’s back and grab their left hand to do kotegaeshi.

Attack By Immobilization

“To hell with circumstances; I create opportunities.” Bruce Lee

“This will immobilize your opponent’s hands and feet.” Morihei Ueshiba describing a kotegaeshi pin.

Here the enemy is held in place by a hold or grappling technique. Of course, an enemy can be bound by means other than just physical. Master Lee, given his study of Wing Chun, was an expert trapper. Trapping is the art of binding an enemy’s limbs, rendering them useless, while fighting. Often he would initiate with a punch, and if it was blocked he would trap the blocking hand and the punch again. If that second punch was blocked with the other hand, the hapless opponent would find both his arms trapped and not available for any further offensive or defensive movement. There are certain movements in Aikido that call for this feeling too. Shomenuchi shihonage and certain katadori menuchi techniques have this feeling. I’ll leave it to the reader to discover the hidden Wing Chun in their Aikido.

Of course, these ideas are interchangeable. If you can follow Master Lee’s train of thought, you can see how he arrived at these conclusions: from actual fighting, and not mere presumption. All of them have relevancy to Aikido. Aikido has its own rules of engagement, but true knowledge is also available from outside sources, provided those sources are proven and valid. There is a lot of talk about “bringing back” the martial nature of Aikido techniques. I guess after losing so much in terms of waza after O’Sensei passed away, the masses finally got to a point where it cannot be considered enough to copy a person who copied a person who copied a person who copied O’Sensei.

Aikido is a martial art. Aikido its own inherent tactics and strategies. If you are not sure of this, the next time you are practicing ken or jo techniques, ask yourself one question: why? Why am I doing this move now, at this point? What is at risk? Am I protected? Is this a jo technique, or is this also a spear technique? The “why” of the kata is supposed to put you in the mindset of someone with a plan, not just someone doing a kata.

Lastly, the first thing I ever learned about strategy in martial arts: if you don’t have a backup plan, you don’t have a plan at all.

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  1. Good Stuff….and Army motto”Fight like you train…and train like you will fight”

  2. Autrelle , this article is rich with vital information. Anyone reading it carefully will gain. Thanks, it was a pleasure reading it.

  3. What’s really interesting is practicing some of the old drills that Master Lee did, but using Aikido techniques as a suffix!

  4. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KOJdxaOHJ1w

    One of the ways we train and cross train. This is very generous and instructive footage!

  5. Aiki-JKD

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