Techniques in Aikido?
When an instructor sets out to demonstrate an Aikido technique, essentially he is not doing Aikido.
Ridiculous? Well, yes and no. If we think of Aikido as a martial art that has movements like this and techniques like that, then naturally “doing Aikido” includes “doing techniques.” Indeed, the basic practice of Aikdio has participants working in pairs, taking turns performing a particular defenses against a particular attacks. From this point of view, the student would like to know that each particular technique is effective, and the teacher should be able to demonstrate its effectiveness. To prove effectiveness, naturally the technique should work under adverse conditions including heavy resistance, yes?
Take a Step Back: Intention
Suppose one person’s intention of “I must do the ikkyo technique” encounters another’s “I will not allow the ikkyo technique to be done to me”—Ikkyo versus Not-Ikkyo. Before you know it, a wrestling match is underway—the manifestation of the two intentions in opposition. One must prove he can; one must prove the other can’t. This opposition is completely contrary to the higher practice of Aikido.
Over time, the student practices many, many defenses against each attack with endless repetition. But why so many? After all, if you could make that ikkyo work under any circumstances, you would never need another technique, right?
Ah… So, it turns out that the best defense against the famous not-ikkyo attack is generally not the ikkyo defense itself. As a matter of fact, in some styles, there are several techniques that essentially begin from a position that may be described as “ikkyo failing,” including nikkyo, sankyo, and kotegaeshi…
But, taking one step further, one may ascertain that not-ikkyo is really not a particularly threatening attack and probably requires no defense at all!
But, in an actual interaction, when in the midst of ikkyo you find resistance to ikkyo, you should naturally adapt. Remaining sensitive to the changing circumstances and finding the appropriate response to a physical threat is the realm of Aikido practice. “Getting stuck” trying to make a technique work is a failure in Aikido practice.
So, Who Needs Ikkyo?
Is this absolution for your ikkyo that never seems to work? No, of course it is not. Within your encounter, you have available to you whatever physical techniques, principles, movements, and so forth, that you have practiced under similarly stressful conditions. If a poor ikkyo is in your bag of possibilities, you are naturally at a loss. Conversely, if more, better practiced techniques are in your bag, you are in a better position. However, the practice of not getting stuck itself does not require a large number of techniques; rather, sincere practice that includes watching for these details, including learning to sense when you are stuck, is enough.
So, We Cooperate Then? No!
So, woe to the nage (defender) who needs to practice his ikkyo while his uke (attacker) is intent upon practicing not-ikkyo. Uke must be corrected to note that this is not the time for this type of interaction. And woe also to the nage whose uke holds the cooperative intention “his ikkyo will happen!” After all, when should it be the attacker’s intention to cause a particular technique to happen? In neither case will nage have the opportunity to practice the technique properly.
Ideally, uke need only hold an intention such as “control (or harm) nage,” or more specifically “control nage by first grabbing his wrist” (designating the attack), to begin the exchange. The exchange, then, however chaotic, will flow from and be bound by these intentions.
It can be tricky to navigate…
So, from where did this thought come?
Last night I had the pleasure to demonstrate Aikido’s versions of ikkyo, nikyo, and sankyo, to a handful of friends with varied martial backgrounds and competitive spirits. Picking a competitive martial artist friend about 100 pounds heavier than I to demonstrate a finer point of ikkyo, I met his evil grin and his not-ikkyo…
… and I failed quite miserably!
The failure was allowing myself, the de facto instructor, to be drawn in, attempting to force the ikkyo against another’s not-ikkyo, first for the sake of instruction, and then as a battle of physical strength.
Hopefully I did not leave anyone with a bad impression of Aikido. At least I found a reminder of what I am personally practicing in the Zen-based investigation of the art. There is where I need to work.