Monday, August 01, 2011

Shomenate - how to get started with aikido

There's probably about as many ways to approach teaching aikido as there are teachers of aikido.  But one way that you can sorta divide teachers into camps is by looking at what they teach first.  Most aikido teachers begin with some sort of footwork drills or body-coordination taiso or something like that, then they proceed into the "real techniques."

photo courtesy of Beau Saunders
In a lot of non-Tomiki schools, what you will see first is Ikkyo (literally "the first thing") which is basically using an elbow control to press uke face-down into the ground into an armlock.  Tomiki folks call that oshitaoshi (arm press) and teach it sixth.  What the Tomiki folks teach first is shomenate (frontal strike or frontal entering).  It is interesting to compare these two techniques to see what different teachers might place primary emphasis on.

Oshitaoshi (ikkyo) is a control/throw that happens with tori standing behind uke's arm in a fairly safe place.  Obviously this is a better place to be than standing toe-to-toe with uke.  The Tomiki folks, however, for the first technique, have tori entering directly in front of uke and standing directly between uke's feet.  The idea behind this (at least my understanding) is that it is assumed that you will occasionally make tactical mistakes.  Even though you would like to end up behind uke's arm, sometimes you will move the wrong way under stress or sometimes the attacker will out-maneuver you, placing you toe-to-toe.  The Tomiki idea is to give you a reliable backup technique first, so that you'll have a simple, effective answer for when you do make this tactical mistake - then proceed with teaching the more preferable behind-the-arm stuff.
That's not to say that it's wrong to teach ikkyo first.  I don't think it really matters what you work on first (technique-wise), because everyone eventually gets to about the same technical point no matter where you start.  It's mostly a matter of custom and preference.  I actually enjoy teaching shomenate and oshitaoshi (ikkyo) together first as opposite sides of the same coin.  For an interesting demonstration of oshitaoshi being taught before shomenate, check out Nick's Merritt Stevens videos.
But for my buddy, Mario, who asked for some more concrete guidance on starting aikido practice...
Patrick Parker
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