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Ballistic ukemi

Yesterday’s class we worked through tegatana and hanasu then moved into an emphasis on ukemi and evasion. We practiced the evasions from tegatana with a partner attacking as in nijusan to get a feel for uke dropping through maai and tori dropping out of the way. We added in a practice knife and continued the drill and all of a sudden things were different – but not. In theory, all that the addition of a knife should change is the initial length of maai, but somehow, the knife changes both uke and tori somehow. Uke seems more aggressive, more dangerous, while tori’s interest in the importance of evasion becomes sharper (pun intended).
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Then something occurred to me. On one of the internet fora that I read, there is an ongoing discussion about not underestimating people’s potential. This principle takes many forms, but commonly we talk about not underestimating uke’s potential to be dangerous. It occurred to me that if addition of a knife sharpens tori’s mindset then tori is underestimating the empty handed uke. We can’t assume that the empty handed guy is necessarily less of a threat than the knife-wielding man. So we worked back and forth between knife and no-knife practice trying to bring the sharpness of the knife practice into our empty hand practice.
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This led us into some more talk about ukemi. There is a part of the attack that must be ballistic motion. That doesn’t mean crazy or super fast. In fact, ballistic means that uke is not in control of the speed of the attack. If uke starts at ma-ai then his attack step must be a single down-step that is large enough to reach uke’s face/center. During this step, uke is under the influence of gravity. He is literally falling upon his victim. If the attack is slower than falling then uke is stepping/wobbling toward tori with half-hearted intent. The attack cannot really be faster than falling, but it can appear that way, so if it looks faster than falling then uke is telegraphing his intent. All uke has to do to become an ultimate threat to tori is take one ballistic step through maai to touching distance. At this point tori must assume that the empty handed guy has the same potential for mayhem as the knife guy.
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This also led us to work on tori’s evasion movement. It too, has to be ballistic. If it is half-hearted or slower than falling then tori is likely crossing the attack line multiple times. If it seems to be a “fast” evasion then tori is likely crouching to spring offline, which will get him hit during the preparation phase.
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So, uke must make one falling motion through maai to touching distance with evil intent and tori must make one falling motion off that attack line. Any more from either partner is a less beneficial learning situation for both.
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With all that in mind, we worked on aigamaeate, gyakugamaeate, and gedanate from nijusan. Kristof was getting an excellent offbalance and blending well into his tenkan motion. Vincent was punishing me with great offbalances between my feet to the point of busting me before he could practice the moves we were working on. Patrick M. was doing excellent work, emphasizing getting completely offline and moving into the techniques. After working on a #7 chaining motion we played with a randori motion exercise that is equivalent to the kokyu-ho or kokyu-dosa exercises played in some other aiki classes. More on kokyudosa later…

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