Monday, April 01, 2013

Thoughts on aikido atemiwaza

I've said before, several times, that atemi (striking) is a vital part of aikido - at least aikido that is done as a martial art or self-defense.  Remove the strikes from aikido and it becomes an especially boring form of modern dance.
It turns out there are about 2 different ideas about striking in martial arts - 

  • percussive impacts intended to cause severe structural damage - what you think of as karate and boxing strikes.
  • non-percussive bumps and pushes intended to distract and disrupt the opponent's balance and posture - like you may see more often in jujitsu and aikido

There are plusses and minuses to both kinds of striking techniques.  Whichever one you favor, you can certainly find some justification for it - but whichever one you favor also has some potential problems to consider.

  • Percussive atemi is direct and intuitive and fairly quick and easy to learn.  Percussive strikes can also end a fight very quickly.  So boxing and karate may be a shorter path to quick self-defense than aikido atemi.  It also makes you feel powerful to be able to defend yourself with your fists - so that may appeal to some folks.
  • But in a litigious society, percussive atemi may create legal entanglements.  I know a fellow that was blind-sided and managed to collect himself enough to lash out with a hook punch, breaking his assailant's jaw.  Even though there were witnesses and it was a clear-cut case of self-defense, the assailant still sued.  It may be more defensible in cases like this to be able to say, "He attacked me and I was afraid so I pushed him away and I guess he fell down."  Pushes also look more innocuous to witnesses than do skilled-looking punches.
  • Punching is a higher-precision activity than pushing or bumping. Pushing someone is a much grosser motor skill than punching, and is a much more easily retained skill under pressure than punching properly.
  • Pushing is a more automatic, autonomous response than punching.  If you push against a mammal, they tend to push back automatically, whereas, surprised people often have to collect themselves a bit to prepare themselves to punch or kick.
  • With punching, there is greater potential for self-injury.  That is largely why boxers tape and pad their hands.  People that fight with bare fists tend to get their hands cut up if not broken.  These particular injuries don't often occur to people that fight open-handed.
  • There is less potential for control with percussive strikes.  Since there is no way to know just how much force you need to put on someone to disable them, the common strategy is to generate maximal force and apply it to the opponent's weakest spots.  This means greater potential for injury and less potential for control.
From reading those bullet points, I'm sure that you can tell that I personally favor the non-percussive aikido-type atemi.  It's no skin off my back if you disagree - I'm sure there are a lot of kick-punch folks that could beat me up.  But per my analysis, the benefits of non-percussive atemi clearly outweigh the benefits of percussive atemi.

What do y'all think?

photo courtesy of Germaine

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Patrick Parker

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