Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Return to beginnings, middles, and ends

Some time ago I wrote a post describing our lineage of Tomiki aikido as organizing the tori-uke encounter into beginnings, middles, and ends...
Aristotle wrote in his Poetics that "A whole is that which has a beginning, a middle, and an end."  This applies to aikido as well as to poetics because an encounter also has a beginning, a middle, and an end.
  • Hanasu is the main exercise that we use to study beginnings. 
  • Randori is the main exercise that we use to study the middles.
  • Kata is the main exercise that we use to study the endings.
A student told me today, "under previous aikido instructors I used to spend a whole lot more time kneeling on the ground trying to finish a pin on uke."  I pointed out that different classes like to emphasize different parts of the whole of aiki but my preference is to spend most of our practice time on beginnings and middles because if uke is finished then he's finished but if he's not finished then it's not time to play the end-game.  You're still in the middle.
Today, thinking about this old article, I still agree wholly with my conclusion - I prefer to emphasize beginnings and middles in my classes, but I think I would re-word it a bit.
Hanasu (wrist releases) are the main exercises that we use to study beginnings.  These teach evasion and entering and off-balancing skills that are most crucial in the initial parts of an encounter.
Randori, as I said earlier, is used to study the middles, but in Tomiki's lineage, a lot of our randori study takes place in the context of Randori-no-kata (also known as kihon no kata or junanahon kata) - a set of seventeen (plus or minus - some instructors have said 15, some have said 23) techniques that represent the vast majority of technical aikido things that you will see in randori.  So, I might characterize Junana as being about the middles of the tori-uke encounters.
In my old post I said that kata was about the endings, but What I should have said was osaekomi (pins that we usually only see in kata) are the study of endings.
So, a typical encounter would start off with a release-like motion (hanasu), and flow through something that probably looks like something in Junana, and end in something that looks like one of the pinning controls that we see in the various kata.  So Hanasu-Junana-Osaekomi is sort of a template for organizing your ideas about encounters.
This reminds me of a story from days gone by.  Many moons ago, my sensei took three of us lowly shodans to a seminar in a neighboring state.  It was an Aikikai dojo that was hosting one of the biggest of big-name Japanese sensei.   Everyone would sit in a big circle in seiza as the sensei demonstrated some move or another.  He always demonstrated three times. He never spoke English or gave instructions, just demonstrated the thing three times and grunted permission for us to all go and do likewise.
Then the class would break up into partners and small groups that would try to do what the sensei had demonstrated and chaos would ensue because nobody in the room had a clue.  Everyone would start asking their neighbors on the mat, "how did he do that?"
Except for us - the four Tomikiryu pariahs in the room - the guys that did that sport crap instead of real aikido.  We were able to watch what the sensei did and immediately translate that in our minds to, "Oh, he just did release #1 and flowed into #6 from Junana and then held the guy down like this."  So we would grab a partner and start practicing the thing.
Pretty soon all the lower-ranked Aikikai dudes were asking us," show me how he did that." and we wisely whispered, "Hell no!  That old Japanese guy over there - this is his day to be sensei, not mine!"  We could tell that he was getting progressively more frustrated with the students' inability to follow his demonstration, and we didn't want to draw his wrath when we were the strangers in a strange land.
It's not that the Aikikai students were poorly taught or incompetent.  They just did not have a framework to understand what they were seeing the sensei do.  Thank you, Tomiki sensei, for providing us that framework of beginnings, middles, and ends.

 photo courtesy of Paco PH

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Patrick Parker

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