Monday, April 06, 2009

Yippee, we're doing suwari!

Photo courtesy of Dokiai
A few days ago I was having an email discussion with an aikido guy whose opinion I respect a lot. We were talking about suwariwaza and he had this to say...
I hate the kneeling techniques. I don't really get a lot out of them and they always make my knees hurt.
At the time I didn't really think twice about this. I even half agreed. This is a pretty common sentiment - that suwari is a time-waster, is out-dated, is culturally irrelevent, and doesn't add anything to your practice. But the more I think about this, the more bothered I am by it. Not by his opinion (everyone has opinions), but by the situation behind it (aikido suwari sucks).
Why does aikido suwari practice have to be terrible? People should be shouting, "Yippee, we're doing suwari!" when we work on it. Why is it such an onerous time-waster? People in BJJ don't moan, "Damn, it's time to do groundwork again!" Consider the following spectrum of martial arts practices arranged in close-and-tight to loose-and-far order...
(close) judo newaza - BJJ - suwari - standing clench - aiki (far)
If you buy into this ordering, then suwari becomes the missing link between close standing work and loose groundwork. Some BJJ guys call suwariwaza 'kneeling takedowns' and some old amateur wrestling books refer to these techniques as 'short takedowns.' Everybody does suwari as a link between ground and standing, so why does aikido suwari suck so much to have to practice?
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  1. pat you have theories that the knife is a symbol of power in Aiki kata. Could Suwari be a symbol of working on your feet with limited movement? Ex. Like saying While working on your feet you have freedom of movement in open space, but suwari would be like doing the same tech in a hallway.

  2. my knees hurt too. Too much to be able to be able to be able to do suwari at all

  3. I'm enjoying the suwari practice that I'm doing at the moment. It's occurring on a relatively infrequent basis as I'm spending a good portion of time helping the white belts.

    Also, Cleghorn Sensei tries to get me to alternate a standing technique with a kneeling technique. Since my training partner is a Nikyu, we alternate one of his techniques with one of mine. This reduces the strain on the knees and gives me the opportunity to let lessons from the kneeling technique percolate through my brain while being an uke.

  4. That's certainly part of it, Rob. Stay tuned for a post tomorrow in response to your 'knife as a symbol of power' comment and how it relates (I think) to suwariwaza.

    Scott, that's a pretty good practice idea Tim had, to alternate a suwari technique with the same standing technique. It gives the knees a break and you also get a lot more exercise getting up and down off the floor. I wish more senseis would give folks a break from suwari or give their medicine in smaller doses. I remember a seminar where the entire morning class was 2-3 hours of suwariwaza. We were so damned sore by lunchtime that I couldn't get off the floor, couldn't bend my knees to get in the car, and couldn't straighten them to get back out of the car (and I was a young, strong guy at the time). I cussed that sensei under my breath for quite a while.

  5. Rich "the smile" MinnisApril 21, 2009 8:16 AM

    It is sad that so many people don't like suwari. It has so much to teach us. Rob and Scott both elude to the benefits I see in suwari. First, we can get away with a lot of slop in our techniques when we have the range of motion from being on our feet. We can move great distances to get kote geashi and other techniques to work. But does this really teach us the techniques? What if our motion was limited? This makes us evaluate the use of posture, locks, etc. to increase our efficiency. We are taught kote gaeshi in Junana and then again in owaza, and they seem very different. Then we get it again in the advanced katas in suwari! While doing suwari techniques, I have worked to see how I can get the greatest reaction of of uke with the simplest amount of motion. In my many randories with karl, one thing that I have noticed is how his grip is very vice-like and soft at the same time. He will control the wrist porture while not restricting your overall motion. While this still perpexes me as to how he feels everythign as he does in this situation it showed me the importance of little things.

    From Suwarim I have realized that kote geashi can be done is a very small space with very limited motion and uke can be incredibly off balance during the process. This made me examine all of my techniques in order to find where I had a lot of slop from not using all aspects of ukes body to help me. Suwari has taught me to be able to apply techniques rapidly without using speed (theres a seeming contradiction for you), allowing myself large amounts of reaction time when and if the technique fails.
    I have rambled long on this, but ultimately do agree with you that suwari is ground work. even in judo or other ground arts, we find ourselves on our knees and never question the idea that it is ground work. Why when we raise our torso do we suddenly think it is something different?


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