“In each and every case the person had failed to unbalance uke, and was attempting to apply the technique against a partner with a stable structure.”
Back in 2013, I conducted a joint seminar together with Pat Hendricks Sensei in Las Vegas. For me, it was a wonderful experience as I had an opportunity to reconnect with many aikido friends and make a number of new acquaintances with some delightful people. Allow me to make a few observations that I have taken home.
The elusive concept of relaxation
The first has to do with the tension-filled body state of the attendees — most of whom were yudansha and teachers — when executing techniques. This was especially the case for techniques involving hand grabs, that is, katatedori techniques. As I have experienced elsewhere virtually without exception, students will tense their arms at the start of a technique. Even when I explained that that the tension in their body alerts uke to their intent, timing, and direction, it was very difficult for them to grasp this concept and apply it to the technique.
It was not that they were ignoring my instructions to move without tension in their body, but simply that they were unfamiliar with the mental and physical state of “martial relaxation” I was attempting to describe. They could recognize and feel the difference between relaxation and tension, but not reproduce this state in their own body. As a result, one of the areas of research I wish to focus on is how to take this abstract notion of “relaxation” in a martial context and teach students to translate it to their aikido training. My goal is to devise a series of exercises and imagery to enable students to produce this relaxed physical and mental state in movement. The principles involved are quite subtle, and seemingly counterintuitive to how we have trained our bodies to function in daily life.
Getting stuck and what to do about it
During the last few minutes of my final class, I encouraged students to speak up and show examples of problems they were having with specific aikido techniques. We had time for three people to demonstrate in front of the group and indicate where in their movement they were having trouble.
What was interesting to me, yet hardly surprising, was that in each and every case the person had failed to unbalance uke, and was attempting to apply the technique against a partner with a stable structure. Also, they ended up standing in front of uke, well inside his range of vision and within easy reach. This was the “sticking point” where they were prevented from continuing their technique.
Uke still balanced
What I did was suggest that they focus on their first action to be sure they unbalanced uke before attempting to apply a technique. This means getting off the attack line and usually executing an atemi to achieve this result. My impression was that the attendees did not use atemi much in their training. When they did perform atemi strikes to neutralize uke’s attack, their movements tended to be tentative and therefore had little effect on uke who continued to resist. They were “stuck” at this point in their technique.
I believe there is a lot of potential for improving students techniques if we can teach them to incorporate well controlled, vigorous atemi while remaining relaxed. If atemi are effectively delivered, it is possible to completely reverse the encounter with uke to allow nage to gain and retain control over the outcome.
I would like to sincerely thank Pat Hendricks Sensei and all the participants for making the effort to attend the event and bringing an abundance of positive energy that resulted in a thoroughly enjoyable experience.