Cyclic Aikido

Cyclic Aikido

movement_Fotor movement

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?’

Having a conversation

Having a conversation

Last evening, I share in class that the Uke and the Nage has to develop a relationship in the waza, and not just be the Uke and the Nage.

One issue I think that is very common in Aikido, is that everything looks so ‘blended’ and ‘harmonious’. It has that effect on people and at very high level, the waza if very irresistible to both the nage and uke. Aikido waza, when skilfully applied, can look very much like a collaboration between 2 very willing parties. So to a layperson, they will usually as ‘where is the attack?’

Like Goldilocks’ soup, not too hot, not too cold.

The uke, strictly speaking, do not attack in a traditional martial arts sense. I recently sees it has having a conversation with the nage. And the nage having a conversation with the Uke, both are at odds when they come together on a specific topic, and both walked out of that conversation, learned and respected each other for their opposing opinions.

It is a physical conversation without opening the mouth.

No it is not body language, it is more than that. when the uke holds the nage’s hand, it creates a situation, which the nage needs to resolve with the uke, amicable, peacefully, without harming anyone in the process. The Uke, might come and say ‘I’m pro life, anti-abortion.’ The nage says, ‘Abortion is necessary.’ Someone’s got to give, and if both go at each other with their own view point, eventually, both will end up bitter, defensive and not getting any good opinion about each other. Life is much, much bigger and larger than our own petty narrow viewpoints and argument.

I see Aikido as that lubricant, you are independent enough to make a stand for your view, yet, supple in mindset to yield, and agree to disagree. Instead of making your stand and make your partner look bad, creating ill will.

A waza is not just a waza, it is a way out, finding reconciliation in a very difficult situation. Hence, the Uke’s job is to have a physical debate with the nage. The nage has to skilfully manoeuvre through the mental ‘mindfield’ and thought train so that the debate can be robust and everyone learn something from each other walking away. Then peace can be sustainable.

Uke Night

So I made it  ‘Uke night’ for Friday’s class, and focused on the Uke, precisely because if the uke does not hold a robust enough conversation, the whole waza becomes a shallow physical exercise. I wanted the uke to present a reasonable amount of resistance in the technique. There are different levels of everything and same goes for Aikido resistance. At one spectrum, you have very easy, fast flowing, uke, who will fall irrespective what the nage does, or the other end of the spectrum, you get a uke who resist till a level where you almost want to rearrange that fella’s face! Between that 2 spectrum, we need to find Aikido in there. Like Goldilocks’ soup, not too hot, not too cold.

This is the challenge, because, people think and the uke have this conversation with himself, or herself, about how a uke ‘should’ be. And the nage, on the other hand, will have a self talk about how nage ‘should’ be. and both also have an opinion about their nage, and their uke, respectively. when we go into a waza with such self talk, we are not contributing to the waza, and simply go there to do what we go there to do. Then a 5 second waza, remains at that 5 seconds. But if both parties open themselves up, the uke resist necessarily, so that the nage can learn, and when the nage realised that it is not so easy to make a uke fall, the nage will also develop a certain finesse and not take the waza and uke for granted. When both goes at each other with such an attitude, a 5 second waza can develop a deep, meaningful bond. both will learn from each other, in a constructive and positive environment.

Too much resistance!

During class, there will be people who resist too much, so much so that the nage can’t do the technique properly, any decent Aikidoka, will tell you that happens all the time. So I have to tell the uke to adjust their strength and resistance, to suit the nage. It has to be intelligent, responsive, not a death grip uke. We are all there to learn Aikido, no bone crushing.

And just because I say it is ‘uke night’, some uke made things so tough for the nage, nothing moves. I share with the class, when everyone takes a stand, that is when things becomes belligerent. There is no need to take a stand and make it a monumental task for every nage to make you take a fall. The story goes like this, every uke will take the fall. Period. The issue to bring to mind is, what level of effort a nage needs to take to make the uke fall. Moving a mountain? Or lifting a feather? The magic is in between. Nobody is infallible.

So I hope the lessons is there, the Uke needs to come alive and not go through the motion. Aikido is not a dance, as I constantly says it. It is real hard work, where both parties put in their best, and everyone walks away from the waza, mutually rewarded and learned. It is not about who walks away the winner, and who loses. Which is why there are no medals, champion’s cup in Aikido. Both the nage and uke are trying to achieve a higher level of meaning than that, and in order for us to do so, we have to offer each other a sincere, open hand to have a courageous and tough but mutually agreeable conversation.