Friday, September 11, 2009

The slow blade penetrates the shield

Photo courtesy of Sean Dreilinger
Aikido tends to move at the speed of uke, which is generally pretty slow. From a standstill, most people can move their center of mass about 3 feet per second, and moving from a condition of off-balance is about the same. So, if aikido guys move so slowly, how can they do atemi (strikes) - and in particular, how can they move slow and still hit hard enough to knock someone down? Following are four thoughts on why slow atemi still works.
  • Increased mass: If you use more of your body mass, you can afford to reduce speed and still put a lot of energy on uke. If you were to attach a baseball to a rope and swing it five or six feet away, you would probably no be too hesitant about letting it swing back and hit you. But if you put a bowling ball on the same rope and swung it, all of a sudden you wouldn't want to be hit, even though it is still moving slowly.
  • Overcoming inertia: If you are trying to knock someone down, his body will only move so fast anyway. You can put all the muscle you've got into forcing him to go faster, and he won't. You still have to overcome that starting inertia. Try this: grab uke by the lapels and throttle him back and forth as fast as you can. You'll notice that he really doesn't move much. Now, push and pull with longer, slower oscillations and you'll find that uke moves more and is easier to move.
  • Vital anatomy: Any slow strike to the face could just as easily be an eye-rake, which doesn't require speed or force. Pick your anatomical targets properly and apply a significant part of your body mass to them and you don't have to be all that fast.
  • Perceived speed: Humans are pretty good at paying attention to fast-moving things but we tend to ignore things that are still or which are moving the same speed we are (relatively still). If you are moving quickly and there is any telegraph in your motions then it can be harder to hit uke. But if you let your body flow slowly and smoothly into theirs they will be less likely to respond. As they said in Dune, "The slow blade penetrates the shield."
Relax. You can push instead of punch and step instead of kick - and still be very effective.
Patrick Parker is a Christian, husband, father, martial arts teacher, Program Director for a Cardiac Rehab, and a Ph.D. Contact: or phone 601.248.7282
Suggested great books on aikido, judo, and strategy.
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