Ryotedori jiyuwaza: fixed attack, free response. Uke seizes your wrists, but unlike those preceding or expected, this grab is stiff. You will not be permitted to move, and Uke will adjust to maintain this hold without being thrown. What is your response? A little struggle to the left, a little to the right. A little push, a little pull. Maybe a twist? A body shift? A drop? A sutemi attempt?
Suddenly, your Aikido is challenged and you are failing. Perhaps you pull something out with a “There it is!” from Uke? Congratulations? Perhaps, perhaps not.
Let’s reexamine through a Zen lens: What happened here?
Nage is working within a framework, a context, a collection of rules, interpretations, assumptions, expectations, and so forth. So is Uke. Yet, these contexts need not necessarily be matched. Realistically, how would they be? Even if the teacher does set the context, can we assume the contexts of Uke and Nage match that of the instructor perfectly, let alone match the other’s? What if the instructor asserts no context, leaving a vacuum? What will emerge?
In our example, did Nage break the Aikido context by giving other than a “pure” ryotedori attack–in this case, a ryotedori plus “I’m going to test you” attack? Did Uke get drawn out of a “proper” Aikido context and into Nage’s context by struggling to make some technique from the repertoire of named techniques work? Did Nage expect Uke to limit his response options to the same while he worked to hold Uke in place?
So, the above is a somewhat fictionalized view of our practice last Thursday. The only facts were that (1) four of us with vastly different styles and experience got together and enjoyed a few rounds of friendly jiyuwaza, and that (2) I took some extra time past the point to catching my breath to observe the dynamic caricatured above. What I saw was something of a dojo Rashomon plot: the hard stylist, the soft stylist, the non-aikidoist, and I may each have walked away with a personal interpretation of the practice. Not everyone was privy to all of the information: The hard stylist wondered in retrospect if it was okay to take the practice in a different direction; the non-aikidoist looked for a nod from me to see if I would allow the type of response that he knows well from outside Aikido; and so forth.
We had the unique opportunity to explore an undefined space where the only true boundaries were self-imposed limitations. Thankfully they included safety and respect for one another, but even those were not explicitly stated. More than styles and skill levels came together in this encounter. Hopefully we’ll have the opportunity to review our recollections of the practice and to see if anyone noticed when and where the true enemies appeared…
I do look forward to more with this crew, though this one encounter was valuable beyond measure!
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