Thursday, April 09, 2009

The cowcatcher

I've written a lot about getting out of the way - the first and probably most important idea that you learn in aikido. Now I begin working on how to integrate these ideas into the rest of the aikido that we're doing. I'm going to talk about an idea that I call, "The Cowcatcher."
A cowcatcher, in old railroad parlance was an angled grate welded onto the front of an engine that was designed to pick stray cows up off the railroad tracks and throw them to the side so they didn't get hung up under the wheels and derail the train. A cowcatcher is a fender or a deflector or a flying wedge. We use a maneuver I call, "The Cowcatcher" at the beginning of nearly all aikido techniques (at least all frontal attacks). Here's how you do it:
  • close both hands into tegatana (a.k.a. shuto or spearhand) shapes so that you don't break you fingers against uke's arms.
  • point your spear-hands together in front of your belt with unbendable arms
  • as you evade out of the way, sweep both arms upward between uke's face and yours, both arms still unbendable
In effect this is a double rising block (as in karate - think the middle of Bassai Dai) that is blindly swept through the center line of the relationship. it has several benefits, much like the old railroad cowcatchers...
  • it occupies the centerline that uke has to come through to hit you
  • it tends to deflect any attacks coming at you
  • it tends to leave tori's arms in contact with uke's arms, so that it is easier to grab in preparation for some technique
  • it can clear some space for tori to walk around in
  • having hands thrown in his face disrupts uke's attack and makes him hesitate
I recommend that if you don't typically use the cowcatcher in your practice, consider this exercise - do whatever aikido or jujitsu techniques or karate one-steps you practice but make the first move a step off the line of attack combined with this cowcatcher motion. That is...
  • get out 'da way
  • do the cowcatcher motion
  • now, do your cool jujitsu/karate move
I think you will find that your techniques become much more robust, general-purpose, and fail-soft if you add the cowcatcher to the front of them. Try it and let me know how it goes.

Photo courtesy of PSD

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  1. If I would have just nominated you for the Hall of Fame a year earlier you would have gotten to see an interesting demo from a karate Grandmaster. He did an extensive study. On a form of double rising blocks, and how they could defend the high line and mid line. He would not only block or parry techinques while evading, but he also had alot of grappling techniques he had refined that he could preform from both arms in a double rising block position.
    Its hard to say it is a cureall technique, but it is a great starting place for your arms.

  2. I usually call these "Oh, sh**!" blocks, but I like your term better. I learned a similiar concept in batto-jutsu - keep the point of your sword between you and your opponent, and I carried it over into my karate training.

    Keep up the blogging, you always give me something to think about!

  3. Wish I'd seen that demo, Rob. You don't happen to have the DVD of it, do you?

    Rae, Thanks! We actually frequently call the cowcatcher by the same name you mentioned. Some yankees in our class who didn't understand the reference to cowcatchers started calling this maneuver a "snowplow" or an "icebreaker" - but a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, eh?

    Thanks for continuing to drop by and read my blog. Tell a friend ;-)


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