Sensei Strange asked me in an interview a couple of weeks ago, "When does our practice become not-aiki?" Today this question got me thinking regarding the 10 kumijo applications to the 31 jo kata - What is it that makes this exercise aiki instead of just stick-swinging?
Well, there might be several answers, but here's one thing that can potentially make it not-aiki. Aiki is not about taking turns, as in...
- you strike and I block
- then I strike and you block
- then you strike and I block
- and so on...
Nobody ever gets ahead of that cycle except by luck. Aiki is about seizing the initiative so that you get to take all the turns. So an aiki encounter might go something like...
- you strike and I evade and counterstrike
- you try to deal with my strike and I strike again
- you try to deal with that strike and I strike again (notice that these "strikes" might be any sort of technique - not just atemi)
- until the attacker is destroyed or controlled or irrelevant...
When working these kumijo exercises beyond the uttermost basic levels, avoid the taking-turns mode. Get into the taking-uke's-turn-away-from-him mode. Watch for places where the pattern looks like it might become taking-turns but tori breaks the rhythm, seizes the initiative, and triumphs.
As you are watching for this shift in initiative in the kumijo, notice that it often happens in non-weapon aiki via the application of atemi and/or kuzushi, and it is always accompanied by exquisite taisabaki.