I ended class with Siew Chin on Thursday evening. And she always finds it a challenge exercising kokyu-ho with me. So I shared with her a few pointers.
It is not about ‘getting ready’, which to me means a state of transition from ‘not-ready’ to ready. There is a stage of preparation that mean there was a stage of un-preparation. This is not acceptable in life as we must always be prepared. Taking time to get ready for something is a waste of time because you can never be fully ready for something. Aikido has taught me that no amount of training and preparation will prepare one for whatever that person is preparing for. There will always be something not done ‘right’, something fall ‘short’ on hindsight.
The attitude in Kokyu-ho is about being ready. Be ready. To be ready will cease the stage of not-ready. and hence minimize weakness. Be ready is also a state of relaxed awareness, not too sure of what to expect, but at the same time confident in oneself to handle whatever may come.
One habit she has is that she clenched her fists, repetitively open and close, in a pumping motion, which I personally would discourage, as it doesn’t really ‘relaxes’ the hands, by playing with contraction and expansion. In fact, it transfers more tension downwards and makes the fingers loses its sensitivity, something that is very important in Aikido, kokyu-ho.
Kokyu-ho is like a mutual, opposite handshake. You cannot shake a person’s hands, stiff. Palms open, fingers hyper-stretched is not a handshake. A ‘handshake’ hand is relaxed, open for the contact, not anticipating anything else other than a candid friendly open contact. No one anticipates a handshake, it either happens or it doesn’t. The contact, the distance put into a handshake is important.
Similarly, think of Kokyu-ho as a handshake, nothing more, open your palms, wrists relaxed not ‘cocked’ or ‘locked’ in any direction. just let the person wrap his hands around your wrists, not worried about moving him/her now or later. Your uke moves when the movement comes.
You, not me.
It is not about geometry, where you tilt a person off angle and then easily topple your partner, of course geometry plays a part in kokyu-ho, but if you meet a centred person, you cannot simply, tilt, leverage, angle the person off balance. Whatever. tilt, leverage, angle you hope to achieve will be absorbed into the person’s centre.
Project your energy to achieve what you want and you will stall. The funny thing about Aikido or kokyu-ho in specificity, is that the more ‘you’ want to do it, the more difficult you face in doing it. The stronger the ‘I’ the weaker you become. If in your mind you think ‘I’ want to do kokyu-ho. I want to off balance him/her. Or he/she has to be tilted, off balance so that I can execute kokyu-ho.’ I’m sorry, all you will get is all the ‘I’ you wanted. You will tilted. You will be off balance, it’s never about you. If all you get self absorbed in kokyu-ho, you will be absorbed by the self. That is not the point of Aikido.
If there is a start, there will be a stop. If you can start it, someone can stop you. In Kokyu-ho, power can be felt, commencement can be detected. It all starts with a jerk, a muscular tension that happens suddenly. My reaction is simply that a reaction to an action. As long as you jerk, the acceleration can be felt, I can stop it. Tension begets tension.
So try to small start if you can, in your kokyu-ho. make the acceleration as small as possible. so small that your partner cannot detect it, and by the time your partner detects it, it is too late for your partner to do anything, other than to succumb to your directions. It is not the big movement that kills, it is the accumulation of small moves that leads a to often dramatic ending. People sees the dramatic ending, but not everyone sees all the small movements leading up to the climax.
So in Kokyu-ho, think small, the slight move of the wrist, down to the finger nail tip, not even the finger tip. your muscle twitch must be so imperceptible that you can move at ease. It is stealth in movement.
So that is my thought for Kokyu-ho.
First Published on: May 27, 2012
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?’
There is much to learn in a beginner’s class and one very common way to help beginners to learn Aikido is to break down one single waza into steps. This will help with the absorption of movement, the positioning and physicality of the waza, in relation to the uke.
Well, this is not rocket science. Almost everyone learn and master skills this way, so even with the most complex task, can be learned one step at a time. This methodology also helps to build confidence and taking things one step at a time, allows troubleshooting, guidance and corrections in timely interventions.
We need to understand that this is not the ‘Beginner’s Mind’, this is in fact, a fixation to the ‘Beginner’s Mind’ which defeats the principles of the ‘Beginner’s Mind’ in the first place.
As we begin to gain proficiency in our movement, we begin to move in a seemingly skillful manner. Things becomes easier to do, we can do them without much thought. This is the departure from a junior belt and the journey into a more senior grade.
I still see a lot of senior belt, taking the whole waza step by step, despite of them already familiar with the moves, and has done it many, many times.
As we move into senior grade, stoppages needs to become shorter, until the entire movement becomes one seamless stream of energy from beginning to the end.
So we need to progress from a step by step waza to one that smoothly transfer motion from one end to another. Being a more senior grade requires the understanding of this transfer, in our physical body.
Our arms and legs can only stretch so much, and at my height, any given men, or women taller than me will have better reach and range of motion than me. Yet, in Aikido, we are able to move bigger opponents, this is not only through the use of leveraging, but more importantly, our understanding in the transition of power, motion and continuity, and leverage is only a small part of that equation.
simply move, and everything will fall in place.
When our opponent catches us, we need to move so that we hyper-extends our opponent, in such a manner that it displaces the balance. But our range of movement will get exhausted, and stop, before that happens, we need to move something else to keep keep our motion, and initiative. Keep the tension, so that our opponent remains engaged, until we finish our moves.
It is not only just having the energy move from left hand to the right, but it is also in simultaneous motion, left leg and hand, synchronous with the hips. The hands and legs will move together. A junior belt will move the hand, then the leg, then the hand…any and all stoppages is an opening for your uke to become the nage.
There is this habit of a junior belt ‘ownself checking ownself’, but stopping every now and then in the movement. This stops the flow and makes the whole waza static, and the uke difficult to follow. More often than not, it is a habit, albeit a bad one, to stop every now and then to check. There is no need to check, simply move, and everything will fall in place.