There is a concept about Aikido training and rhythm that is quite distinctively unique, with reference to other martial arts.
Last evening’s training with Edna, made me realised that not a lot of folks understand, why Aikidokas always seem to appear to ‘fall on their own’.
High Tempo / Low Tempo
It is quite common in a beginners class that the lesson goes from step 1 to 2 to 3, and the ukemi is taken, almost as a matter of exaggeration or deliberation. Techniques is broken down into bite size moves, and the technicalities are often explained, and experimented until the beginner students can move, in a manner without too much doubt or questioning. This kind of hand holding is can be quite protracted, and tedious. The technique can be quite static and there are more opportunities to try, test, resist, and figure out hows and the whys of a technique. This is somewhat a low tempo Aikido; baby-steps.
A high tempo Aikido, is liken a seasoned chef, in his kitchen, one that he has worked in for many years. He knows the kitchen layout, the nooks and crannies. He can move quickly from the fridge to the raw food to the cooking and serving, all without much talk and explanation. Things seem to ‘flow’ with a sense of energy and rhythm, and everything appears to the untrained, easy.
The session I partnered Edna was a Ryote-tori Kokyu-nage. Sensei was emphasizing on the pivot of the hip to move a slightly stronger or larger uke, and this move, when done quickly, expeditiously, looks deceivingly simple, uke will appear like they fall on their own. But that’s not the point with Edna.
She paused, and posed this question me, her uke: “Am I falling on my own?”
Simple answer is ‘Yes.’
Now here is the long answer
Edna has acquired a long number of years in training. She is proficient in her moving, and certainly confident in her ukemi. As her uke, going for the grab, I can trust her to move expeditiously, without time consuming self analysis, or attempt to understand why. As her uke I trust her capabilities to execute the technique well. With a skilled partner like her, I can move, and move quickly.
So what happens when we move quickly? Thinking stops. Aikido is action, not thinking. On the mat, it is action, trial and error. When it is working, keep it going, build rhythm, build a fast tempo, and push each other, help each other with a better physical conditioning. I am not overstating that I can continue the technique very much like an Energizer bunny. In any martial arts, any fight, the first thing you bring to the table is physical conditioning. I have long learned to outlast ‘good’ and ‘skillful’ partners, who are simply not physically conditioned to maintain the tempo I drive.
So for Edna, her question is obvious, she may think that I am giving her the ‘charity fall’, it is really hard to tease apart when things are moving so fast. Was her technique so ‘perfect’ that at a touch, and pivot of her hips, I fall? Not always so! But what happens in a fast tempo Aikido is, I as the uke is committed to the grab, that is my job, when the nage moves, in relative synchronous speed to mine, motion creates fluidity, and that will ultimately result in me taking a fall. Can I resist her technique, not very likely, unless there is a jam, unless she jams up her technique; angle wrong, out of breath, distracted, or simply fumbled, then it is back to analysis to paralysis.
Learn to trust and un-think
As an Aikidoka clocks the years and moves up in experience, the tempo will naturally begins to pick up, big circle movement becomes efficient, the circle will get smaller, and smaller, until it is only perceptible.
Advance training builds a lot of trust between partners that the technique is executed correctly and the uke is taking a genuine fall. There is no place to question if the nage is doing it ‘correctly’ or not, or is the uke is taking a genuine fall or not. You just keep going at each other, nage does what the nage does, the uke, falls, gets up quickly and go at it again, no talk necessary.
Back to the analogy of the kitchen, the chef will not slow down to just scrub and do the dishes, when he has a good rhythm going, he will move fast, with a wipe and clean as he goes motion, everything in the kitchen becomes one movement and it is a beautiful thing to witness the skill of such professional at work. There is a present, a humming spirit of good vibe, that is what Aikido practice is about.
When you got a good run going, keep running, don’t stop to ask yourself, ‘Am I having a good run?’