Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Seek safety in the Heart of Danger

There is an axiom in aikido that applies especially to our weapons practice, but which provides some nice crossover benefits to empty-handed work -
dodge small - strike big
Our tachidori and jodori in Tomiki aikido are mostly based on shomengiri (straight-down sword cut) or tsuki (straight forward jo thrust).  As uke passes ma-ai and becomes committed to the attack motion, uke attempts to enter past the weapon at least far enough to take control of uke's arms, while slipping only slightly out of the way so that the strike barely misses.  Then, several of the disarms-  especially the jodori - end with tori smashing uke with a huge, strong, decisive atemi.  There are several benefits to applying "dodge small-strike big" in practice...
  • Assuming that you only have finite energy/strength/resources, everything you put into off-line evasion is that much that you cannot put into entering, and if you are to have any hope in the disarm, you've got to enter past the weapon to control uke's arms.
  • People, when excited and adrenalized, like in a real life-or-death situation, often tend to make large, wild evasions and small, timid, hesitant strikes.  We try to counter this tendency in our practice by getting accustomed to evading as small as possible and by making the atemi as large as possible, assuming that in a real encounter the actual evasion will be somewhat larger and the strike somewhat smaller.
  • By evading small, you limit the amount of free space that uke has to screw something up for you.
  • It builds intestinal fortitude to steel yourself to calmly watch a sword descend toward your head, then at just the right moment to slip barely out of the way.  It also builds spirit and audacity to grab someone by the face and launch your center through theirs, smashing them.
  • It is good practice for uke to learn to absorb large atemi (though it is definitely an advanced ukemi practice).  This builds resilience and confidence in your ukemi.
The way that I teach this small evasion is to imagine that, uke and tori are standing on railroad tracks.  There is a track running through uke's right foot and tori's left foot, and vice versa.  The evasion is done by tori sliding one foot straight forward on its track, then turning the other foot onto the track behind the lead foot.  Enter strongly as far as you need to, then turn just far enough out of the way.
The way I teach the strong atemi is to tell tori to place an unbendable arm under uke's chin, gently lifting it into spinelock, then to stride between and beyond uke's feet with an emphasis on bringing the second foot up as soon as possible - you want tori's feet to land as nearly to the same time as possible.  The power in this push comes from the speed of the recovery step - not the length of the lunge.  It is very important to coach uke to yield to this strike by taking a large step back and sitting down out of it.  If uke is hesitant about yielding, he will endanger his neck.

Seek safety in the Mouth of the Dragon.
Patrick Parker
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