Wednesday, August 07, 2013

Optimal grips for aikido learning

There's this funny phenomenon that we discover perhaps a bit earlier in judo than in aikido - taking out the slack in your grip. Because we are doing jacket wrestling, we have to figure out how to make a connection to the other guy through grabbing his clothes.  When you grab uke's sleeve, for instance, there is a bit of cloth between your fist and their arm.  This cloth creates slack in the connection, so we rapidly learn to twist or turn the gi or re-position the hand a bit to remove the slack.
But, we don't do so much clothing grabbing in aikido - The grabs mostly happen directly on the body (like on the wrists or forearms), so we don't ever think about slack in our grip.  But there is.
If you take your forearm for instance, it is composed of two nearly-parallel bones surrounded and covered with soft tissue - muscle, skin, connective tissue, etc...  So, if you take a moderately firm grip (firm enough to connect to the flesh of the arm but not crushing into the bones) then when you push or pull on the arm, the flesh deforms and stretches a bit - slack.  You can most readily see this stretch along the long axis of the forearm but there is some rotational stretch that happens as you twist the flesh around the bones.
So, there is going to be some slack in your grip that you're going to have to deal with as you get more sensitive and precise in the martial effects you are putting on uke.  But there is more to this thing than just taking up the slack in your grip so you can push or pull.
Ever have an uke that grabbed your arm so hard that you felt like he was going to crush your bones to dust? The uke with the vice grip hands?  You tell them to lighten up but you feel a bit bad about it because it makes you seem like the wimp because you can't deal with a real manly grip - maybe your aikido is insufficient for a real attacker. No, actually we tell Mr. Vice Gripper to lighten up because a convulsive grip is not conductive to learning aikido.  There is so much noise in that grip that uke can't feel signals from tori and there is so much pain in the grip that tori can't feel signals from uke.  Without being able to feel each other's motions through the connection, it's hard to learn aikido, so we tell VG to soften up.
But then you've also had ukes on the other extreme.  They are so light that they are almost ephemeral.  Any exertion at all on tori's part tears uke's powder-light grip off and then there is no connection.  Makes you want to slap uke around a couple of times and tell him to man up and clamp on so that we can do some real aikido instead of a fairy dance.  Well, we have to tell Mr. FairyDance uke to apply some strength, again, because with no signal passing through the connection, there can be no learning.
So, you don't want Vice Grip ukes, and you don't want FairyDance ukes.  How do you tell uke to make an optimal grip without spending a ton of time playing back and forth between these extremes until they finally get it?
Tell them to grip just hard enough to get a firm (not crushing) connection to the flesh, then take all the slack out of the grip - so uke's hand is pulling flesh, which is in turn pulling fascia and bones.  It turns out this is a very good (perhaps optimal) grip for passing signal through touch from one partner to the other.
Following is a good demonstration of this idea...

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Patrick Parker

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