One common complaint about aikido as a system of self-defense is that it looks like the uke attacks like an idiot and then jumps onto the ground to make tori look good. Sure enough, if you check out aikido demos on Google or Youtube, uke is often either running blindly at tori or is lurching slowly forward like a monster in a 1950’s movie, giving an extended arm to tori to do with as he pleases. You even occasionally see videos of Doshu or of the various “old school” “hard style” aikido folks in which ukes attack like brainless zombies. Honestly, Doesn't it look like Frank is about to execute kotegaeshi in the picture?
What’s going on here? Surely this isn’t what the founder or his prewar disciples (i.e. Tomiki, Shioda, etc…) intended aikido to become. Well, there are several things going on here…
- These are just demonstrations and the ukes are understandably reluctant to ruin the demo or make the instructor look like a fool. (Not a very satisfying answer to the question or solution to the problem)
- To artistically represent anything there has to be some degree of abstraction from reality. The same is true in the abstraction of combat into martial art. There will necessarily be distortion. (Still not a really satisfying answer.) The trick is managing that distortion such that the martial art is still artistic but also still functional and practical.
- People who are attacked violently and randomly fail to learn. They refuse to learn. In fact, unless you see the same type of situation several times in a format you can handle, it is nearly impossible to learn from it.
- If you look at the act of striking in general (disregarding the use of weapons for right now) there are at least three requirements for any striking attack. First, the attacker has to approach to within touching distance. Second, the attacker has to extend a natural weapon (arm, leg, etc…) and has to put strength in it. Third, the target for the most part has to be the victim’s center of mass. Otherwise the attack stands a greater chance of glancing off or missing.The basic attacks of aikido (shomenate, shomenuchi, yokomenuchi) are the most abstracted things that still follow these principles.
So, the attack of the living dead that you often see is intended to be a somewhat abstract attack that fulfils the above three requirements but is still orderly enough for tori to deal with and learn from. Where aikidoka get in trouble is when uke forgets his role as THE BAD GUY and gives the appearance of fulfiling the above requirements without ever really posing any potential threat to tori. That is what uke's role is - present a potential threat for tori to deal with. So, how can uke improve his potential threat while still using the ordely attacks that tori can deal with?
- Maintain eye contact as much as possible. If uke can look tori in the eye then tori is making it too easy for uke.
- Uke should not wallow around in a state of offbalance. If tori gets an offbalance, uke responds to regain his balance then regain a position from which to attack.
- Uke's attack should take place in one efficient, ballistic motion from outside ma-ai. If uke gets closer than ma-ai without attacking tori should already be smiting him.
It is really sort of a strategy game between uke and tori. Tori is always trying to get into strategically stronger positions and uke is always trying to regain the strategic advantage.