Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Atemi waza or irimi waza?

In my aikido and judo classes I'm in a constant process of trying new ideas out.  I'll take some part of our curriculum and flip it and turn it and look different facets of it.  I'll put it in different orders and try looking at it from other perspectives.  I often end up putting it right back into the curriculum the way it was given to us by our teachers, but sometimes my studies yield what appears to be a better way to teach the thing or practice the thing.  And not only that, but even if I put it back just the way it was, I end up with a better understanding of why our teachers gave it to us in that form in the first place.
Lately I've been thinking about the first five techniques of Junanahon kata.  These things are referred to as a group as atemiwaza - striking techniques - which doesn't make much sense to a lot of beginners because they don't look like how we usually think about striking someone.  It looks and feels like more of a pushing thing.  You can sort of justify calling #1-4 strikes because "Hey, you could hit the guy from that position if you wanted to," but then you get to #5 (ushiroate) and it seems like the least strike-like thing you've done so far.
What if we stopped calling these things strikes and went back to calling them what the rest of the aikido world calls them - iriminage (entering throws)?
See, an argument could be made that Ueshiba only taught two things - irimi (entering) and tenkan (turning).  The basic strategy of aikido could be boiled down to something like, "First try to enter in (irimi) occupying uke's space so decisively that he is overturned - BUT if something goes wrong with your entering, turn out of the way (tenkan) and look for another time/place to enter.
Tomiki's atemiwaza fit this strategy perfectly.    In fact, didn't Tomiki allegedly say, "None of this will work unless you apply shomenate first."  That's about the same thing as saying "You pretty much have to try irimi first, then your tenkan techniques will work better."
I don't know that changing what you call the thing changes it too much, but then again it could help to get us a little more in line with the rest of the aikido world so that some more meaningful communication and sharing of ideas could go on...

Patrick Parker
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