Discovering Aikido: Principles for Practical Learning  ©

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Balance

 

I don't know what effect these men will have upon the enemy, but, by God, they terrify me.  Duke of Wellington

 

Taking anotherís balance is easier said than done, but if done well, the throw becomes a forgone conclusion. Uke can be tricked, lured, tripped, distracted, struck, pushed, or pulled off balance.

 

(a)   From eight to two directions

Teachers often speak of happo, or eight directions. What it means is that tori can evade in eight directions, off-balance uke in eight directions, and counter attack in eight directions. A useful schemata for solo exercises, but it is not easy to think of eight directions while training with a rapidly moving partner; far easier is to limit it to two. The body bends forwards and backwards. Sometimes it is forwards and a little to the left, or backwards and a little to the right. Tori just concentrates on the forwards / backwards distinction, any variation being the result of where uke pulls, pushes, or just plain falls.

 

Two directions, to the front and to the rear.

 

Weak line of balance in hanmi posture. Weak line of balance in shizen-hontai posture.

 

By forwards is meant that place right between the feet, the natural bowing position. By backwards is meant the opposite. So, if aiming for an ikkyo shape, aim to lead, or have uke fall forwards in their natural bowing position, if the result is a little left or right of that, so be it. Another very important point related to the twisting of the arm is that if one twists uke's arm inwards, they topple to the front; if it is turned outwards, they fall to the rear. This simple combination of twisting the arm and rear / forward movement covers almost every 'shape' in Aikido. A simple concept to grasp, and one that expands one's knowledge rather than having hundreds of seemingly spurious techniques that thwart it.

 

(b) Some balance related exercises

1   Have uke stand upright and tell them not to move. Tori grabs their lapel and draws them forward slowly. If uke truly does not want to move they will come up onto their toes until they just have to take a step forwards. If tori pulls their left lapel, it will usually be with their left foot that they step, but not always. This is a useful beginning for learning Judo throws, but offers the Aikidoka an insight into balance. So, as uke begins to topple, tori moves in, drawing them on for a hip throw. Or, tori could trip uke up when off-balance they try to step forward. Or, tori could grab one lapel and one arm and perform a floating throw. Or, if uke leans back too far tori could take advantage and throw to the rear. This kind of training is rarely, if ever, done in Aikido but is very useful.

 

Uke raising up on toes when pulled.  

2   Have uke stand upright and tell them not to move. Tori walks behind uke and pushes uke's head, slightly upwards. As above, uke has no choice but to raise up on the toes and eventually take a step. This provides useful insight into irimi-nage.

 

  Uke cannot resist being pushed.

 

3   Make a circle with some belts and play Sumo. Whoever pushes uke out of the ring wins. But do they? Uke learns from this experience. As uke is pushed out, uke gets the experience of what it is like to be on the edge. Quite often, in their desperation to remain in the ring, rather than simply be pushed out they raise up a little becoming completely off-balance and open for a throw, perhaps not unlike that heart-stopping feeling when one almost falls over a height. This explains why, in Sumo, some of the throws can be quite spectacular. By having had this experience of being on the edge, uke now gains an idea of what to aim to create when taking on the role of tori.

 

4   The art of the magician or pick pocket is to take the mind. The key to their art is distraction. This has to be the most underdeveloped skill in Aikido. Have the students punch each other in the stomach. Anyone who has trained reasonably hard can take a half-decent blow to the stomach if prepared. Next, choose a student and ask them to relax their stomach completely. Feign a slow punch to their relaxed stomach - but do not hit! Ask them how they feel. Even though the blow did not strike, they feel a little queasy; the thought of it is awful. Now imagine, if confronted by a mugger, one could distract their mind for a moment by say, holding some money out in one hand and leading them slightly forward with it. Their stomach muscles would not be tense, not prepared; one could take sudden advantage of this and knock the wind out of them with even a gentle blow. Of course, there may be many other openings for attack. What is important then, is that if tori can unbalance uke either physically or mentally, uke becomes momentarily so concerned with regaining their balance, perhaps even breathing in with shock, that they are momentarily wide open for attack. A problem in Aikido is that at the point of breaking balance the aim is usually an immobilisation or throw that often takes too much time - the moment is over. A blow, at this moment, would have far more debilitating effect, and perhaps at the same time enable the throw, or make it redundant.

 

5   Tori feigns an attack towards uke's face. Uke flinches, moving their head rearwards. Tori follows up with shomen-ate.

 

6   Tori feigns an attack but uke blocks it by raising an arm. Tori makes contact, takes the arm and redirects according to uke's response.

 

7   Uke grabs tori's palm-up wrist strongly in ai-hanmi. Tori pushes towards uke's centre gently until tori feels uke countering the action with force of their own. Tori turns slightly and rotates the hand palm-down, adds a little to that force, following it in its natural direction, and leads uke into a technique. From an ai-hanmi grasp, kote-gaeshi is probably the easiest to do in this situation.

 

8   When uke grabs in katate-dori, tori makes a shomen strike to the head to distract uke, thereby causing uke to momentarily loosen their grip due the change in focus of concentration. If uke continues to grab tightly, consider hitting them for real!

 

 

9   A powerful short, sharp jerking force on one of uke's arms can momentarily disorient them. Not exactly traditional Aikido but very useful in self-defence.

 

10   Hit uke. Being struck is quite disorienting for most people. Aikido has lots of feigning attacks, the real hit is rarely carried home. One need not hit with a full hand, half should suffice for training.

 

11   Shout at uke. A loud kiai can be very effective at disorienting uke momentarily.

 

12   Have uke grasp tori's hand violently, with speed and power. Tori receives it tensed up. After a few repetitions, tori suddenly relaxes their arm and the next time uke catches it, they lose their balance and almost fall over. Yet tori did nothing!

 

13 Tori and uke both stand in shizen-hontai. Uke takes a right step forward and uses their right hand to push tori's right shoulder (or take the right hand). Tori retreats slightly and lures uke on. It looks like ai-hanmi for a moment, except tori steps back on the right side, effectively ending up in gyaku-hanmi. From here, the initial movement is like meshing gear cogs and a tenkan technique (irimi-nage) is natural. Next, using their same right hand, uke goes for tori's left side. This time, tori naturally steps back on their left side and what looked like a gyaku-hanmi beginning ends up as ai-hanmi footwork. From here, the initial movement is like two chain wheels and usually, an irimi technique (shiho-nage) is more natural than a tenkan one. Starting from shizen-hontai lures uke deeper into the attack and creates technique specific irimi or tenkan shapes. This kind of stepping movement can be also practised to develop co-ordination and harmony. It is also very useful for studying trips and reaps.

 

Uke pushes toriís left shoulder Ė gear cog movement. Uke pushes toriís right shoulder Ė chain wheel movement.

 

14  In Yoshinkan basics, irimi techniques are practised from ai-hanmi, tenkan from gyakyu-hanmi. While different to the mainstream Aikikai style, try it. For some techniques, it definitely makes more sense in the way certain 'shapes' unfold in terms of balance.

15  Now, if you have read this far, I shall talk about another practical concept that aims to take balance. Aiki sensitivity.

Try shomen-ate on uke. Move in and place your hand on their chin as usual but do not push. Some uke's will start moving either backwards in anticipation, or forwards in anticipated resistance. This is a mental control aspect (as is #4 above) and can be a training method unto itself. However, now, let uke regain balance. Push uke back slowly and gently, a millimetre or two, with almost no power - like TaiChi in 'slower' motion; your gentleness will infect uke and take out their stiffness. This in itself is good training. Push a few mm more and feel for uke beginning to lose balance ever so ever so slightly (push by moving your body not just your arm). If you push too mush they either stiffen up and fight back, or take a step and retreat. When off-balance, at that very moment, they are wide open for  attack (for shomen-ate this would be a firm push). Next, try with irimi-nage, and so on. With irimi-nage, after pushing them back off-balance- try to drop them straight down. This is really good training for sensitivity but it is not the end result for aiki as it takes too long to get uke off-balance. It is a training exercise but to get it right it has to be done many many many times. Fit it into your normal training. The waza of Aikido are designed for this kind of training. Aiki training. They are not just Jujutsu waza.

16  Kokyu-ryoku expansion is also good for developing your aiki. As uke grabs, tori typically extends their arms a little, often without even realising it, as in suwari-waza kokyu-ho for example.  Now, use this expansion the instant tori makes any attack. Also, expand your chest if htey take hold and watch what happens to uke.  Put all this into everything you do and think about it while doing it. Aim to take their balance just a miniscule amount - not enough to cause them to take a step. At first, your movements will be obvious to uke. In time, however, if you work on it, your movements will get smaller and smaller, be less obvious, yet remain effective. Indeed, as a result, they will be more effective.

17  Read 15 and 16 again. We already have these methods in Aikido hidden in plain sight. You need to focus on it mentally and practically to realise it. Most Aikidoka who get anywhere do so accidentally, without knowing the why of it, and so don't know why they can do what they can do. Thus, of course, can never pass it on

 

 

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