Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Koshiki is king of context

We learn most of our domains of knowledge outside of meaningful context.  For instance, we learn to sing our ABCs long before we are taught the rules that make those letters work together to cue us to make sounds that make others think about trees or tables or whatever we are talking about.
We do this in aikido too.  We learn several forms of falling and rolling that sort of resemble things we're going to have to do when someone throws us, but then there is a logical leap when we move up from doing solo ukemi forms to being uke for someone.  Our foundational ukemi practice lacks the context in which it will be used.  That does not make practicing back falls and forward rolls bad - it's a good way to do it.  Just be aware that there is going to be a contextualization process.

For the past month or so, we have been using this variant of an old Kito Ryu kata - Koshiki no kata - as a warmup and falling exercise.  It makes for a great falling exercise because...
  • In each of the 21 techniques, both uke and tori are falling or dropping.  This is a mostly unfamiliar mode of practice for us because we are mostly used to pitching uke while tori remains standing.  Having to fall while connected to another falling person improves our situational awareness and it also allows us to get in twice as many reps as if we had one person falling at a time.
  • It exercises the three most important falling skills - taking a knee, forward roll, and backward breakfall.  These three skills will save you from most aikido encounters as well as most falling incidents on the street.
  • Because Kito was one of the ancient influences on both aikido and judo, the techniques in this kata can be considered sort of a proto-aikido or proto-judo.  The falling practice is surrounded by a bunch of motion that provides context for future aikido and judo practice.  It is sort of like a preview of what is to come in these arts.
  • It provides a context for the student to understand the seeming paradox of compliant partner practice in a combative art. As kid in America, the only activities that we generally have as prelude aikido and judo are competitive sports like football or wrestling or baseball or karate - or else totally non-combative activities like dance.  This prior context makes learning to fight using compliant partners seem stupid to us.  This kata is sufficiently non-combative and dance-like that it does not stimulate the beginner students' desire to beat each other up, but it does exercise ukemi skills while developing a context for later practice - so it provides a context for understanding that aikido and judo, while being combative contact martial arts - they can be practiced in a compliant partner mode.
  • It is really kind of fun moving with a partner and practicing falling skills in odd configurations without having to get our egos inflamed with winner/loser dominance games.  It is sort of like playing catch prior to a baseball practice.  My oldest son (12yo, alpha-male type, natural athlete) told me the other day that this has already become his favorite kata ever.
So, we are still in the midst of experimenting with this kata, but it looks promising to become a standardized warmup/ukemi practice for us in both aikido and judo classes.

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Patrick Parker

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