Aikido is stereo-typically about love, peace and harmony. The flowing movements and effortless throws and pins showcased a form which is resistance-less.
I gave a class recently and decided to practice ‘hard’ Aikido. ‘Hard’ as in I wanted the students to grip hard. Really hard and resist the nage’s movement. The nage has to try his best to move despite of the resistance.
It is not an evening of nice Aikido techniques, with well-practiced pins and throws. It was meant to be ugly. It was meant to be physical. The uke is expected to be difficult and put the nage on a spot.
It is not about the uke giving ‘dumb’ resistance, and just put a huge amount of difficulty in front of the nage. The resistance has to flow with the nage’s movement. I told the guys it is not a muscular, lock down type of resistance. It is not a death grip. Instead, move with the nage and at every movement point, resist and counter. It is not going to be an easy class, I told the guys.
In short, I wanted the guys to give 80% asshole resistance, and not 100%. We are still in martial arts to foster learning and goodwill. We can give 100% or even 110% percent resistance, and it will just piss people off, and create animosity which will not help anyone in learning. It is about resistance, not countering the nage’s movement, which is a very fine line we will not be aware when we cross it.
The whole point of the exercise is to ground both parties. More often than not, the uke is too nice to give a hard grip and when it is the nage’s turn to be the uke, the niceties is reciprocated. To what end will we learn the dangerous downward loop of an ineffective, patronising aikido? Put all that aside, and give a good hard reality check to the nage.
Wrap, not grip
The essence of Aikido hold is not a grip. I’ve learned long enough to know a wrap works better as it doesn’t kill the connection. As an uke, I wrap my hands around my nage’s wrists;instead of gripping, this allows me to feel and flow with the nage. And of course, resist from my centre, and it doesn’t lock me down. I don’t become a dead weight attached to the nage’s hand. The nage move, I move, but I also create resistance while the nage move.
In a very experiential and intrinsic sense, wrapping instead of holding or gripping, allow my hands fully feeling the nage’s move. And I can manoeuvre and control my hands via my wrists. My body is not locked into the grip, from my wrist onwards, I can flow. This kind of holding doesn’t tire me out and I can hold a person for a long period of time.
When your uke holds you, are you immobilized or is your uke immobilizing himself upon you? We commonly think that the nage is the more being held, and arrested by the uke’s grip. When you are free enough, you can see that the uke has essentially given up his mobility and immobile himself onto you. You as the nage continue to be mobile, no matter how hard the uke grip. In fact, the hard the uke grips, the more he pins himself to you and allows you to move him.
There is always slack
Which brings us to the next point; there will always be slack. There is always a minimum level of movement on our skin, muscle and sinew. You cannot be gripped to a level where you are totally immobilized. You uke can only immobilized you at your cerebral level, physically, the human body has some many parts moving, there is almost always something you can move, in response to your uke. There is always some small movement you can execute. Your wrist still turns even if your hands are held in a morotedori (two hands on one wrist) grip. Learn to use a small wrist movement to move the entire uke’s mass.
Personally I am not a big fan of ‘no-touch’ Aikido. We are humans and from the day we are born till our death, we will be in constant touch with another human being. That is what makes the connection which defines us. We are not fire-and-forget missiles that we can destroy a target without touching them.
Touch and contact helps us adjust our movement and psyche which is the best feedback for helping us improve ourselves on just our Aikido. And during that class, that is what I emphasised to maximum, full on, hard gripping Aikido.
When we are on the streets, no one is going to hold you with a courtesy grip. Everyone who wants to harm you will hold you down and beat you up. The holding down part will be gnarly and nasty. If we are not trained to deal with a hard, nasty grip, we will only dupe ourselves into thinking that we can do what we keep doing in the dojo, when it matters.
Easy is easy
It is a no brainer. It is easy to have our uke fall all over us; at a touch we pin our uke. We think of Aikido as flowing, and when our uke offers resistance, we go ‘tsk’ and thinks of our uke as stiff, lousy or don’t understand Aikido. More often than not, our uke doesn’t understand our movement, and they have only one job, to offer resistance. So they resist, they best they know how, and it is our job to work around that resistance, the best we know how.
The world we live in isn’t always working in harmony, there is not always peace and love, and we need to train with the reality that Aikido sometimes needs to be tough, ugly and haphazard. In the real world, all your practice and training will fail in the face of your enemy. The world doesn’t understand Aikido, and the world will offer resistance. The world will fight. We have to learn that fight, and yet not fight that fight. So we need to train with a hard grip, move and understand our body movement, choose non-aggression over a hard-ass uke. If we are unable to move when our uke grips us hard, it is high time we ask ourselves how good is our Aikido in the face of resistance.