suwari-waza adds a completely new dimension to moving around for the average
westerner. Once accustomed, suwari-waza isolates the legs somewhat from
the postural equation and helps develop overall stability. Also noticeable is
the fulcrum power generated by the knee just as it lowers to the floor. Of
course, this is the point where it is useful to apply the technique and to a
less visible extent, it transfers unconsciously into one's tachi-waza.
Hanmi-handachi techniques add another dimension and make one aware that
whether performing suwari-waza or tachi-waza, one's feet should
always be in such a position that it is possible to stand up or sit down quickly
(f) Three weapons
Producing all the
techniques against the three weapons, the tanto, bokken, and jo,
potentially triples one's repertoire at a stroke, not to mention doing them from
kneeling or half standing positions. Practising lots of techniques against a
single weapon provides the opportunity to discern strong and weak techniques -
one has to be realistic and realise that some are far better than others. Also,
practising a similar technique against different weapons allows one to get used
to operating at different distances. It also shows how the tactics vary between
weapons, both in terms of attack and defence.
(g) Training to the
Sometimes a class is
just too slow. The teacher clacks two tantos together, or better, uses
keisaku, two large pieces of hard wood that monks
use for clapping: One clack means one technique, say, shomen-uchi
suwari-waza-ikkyo. The teacher waits until all have finished - all
students hold at the finish and wait. The teacher clacks again: For the first
four times, students perform two irimi and two tenkan variations
and the teacher waits until all the students have finished and the room is
silent. Tori and uke do not change roles yet. The teacher
continues but this time clacks when about half the class have finished. On
hearing the clack, all techniques must stop, all ukes must rise and
attack toris immediately. The teacher continues for about ten more times,
then tori and uke change roles and start again. After it is done,
change partners, move onto the next technique, and start again. If on getting to
sankyo or yonkyo some students do not know them, just have them do
ikkyo again. Finally, continue with a few hanmi-handachi-waza and
tachi-waza. It is amazing how much one can get though in a short space of
time with this kind of practice.
Another ‘beat’ training
method is to follow the rhythm of music. This is particularly useful when
training alone. Repeat a certain movement on the left and right alternately for
one complete rhythmic song. It is exhausting, and what is practised will
infiltrate the sinews thoroughly so be careful to perform only good technique.
method of practice adds vigour to Aikido and can be further developed with
sannin-dori (three-onto-one) or tanin-dori (multiple attack). Rather
than being a test, this kind of practice should be used to develop skill. The
practice can be varied in several simple ways and each time it is useful to
concentrate on one aspect only. For example: no attacks - ukes walk
forward, tori evades; only one uke allowed to attack at a time,
slowly; tori names the attack; the teacher names the attack; ukes
choose one attack each then stick with that same attack; ukes all use
striking attacks; ukes all use grabbing attacks; tori tries to do the
same technique to different specified attacks; tori tries to do as many
different techniques as possible from one method of attack; ukes and
tori are free to do whatever they like. Obviously, the latter is the goal
but a structured route will help tremendously.
Also practised in
Aikido are escapes from morote-dori when held by two people. These
techniques are not easy and force one to keep one’s centre while using both
hands. Every teacher seems to have their own collection but they are rarely
shown – make sure to remember them if seen.
(i) Renraku-waza and
renraku-waza (combinations) and kaeshi-waza (reversals or counters)
are other interesting methods of practice. Not often taught, renraku-waza
link techniques together in logical progression. Rarely done are kaeshi-waza.
Some say O Sensei taught them only to his senior students. Obviously, such
training is more common in a sporting style such as Judo. Further, Shodokan
Aikido, the competitive style, has its very own kaeshi-kata. One reason
renraku-waza are not generally taught so much might be because of the
prevalent idea that the main technique is supposed to work, and that if it does
not, one should figure out why rather than switching to an easier technique.
There is some logic here, but it is wishful thinking to assume that one
technique is always going to work. Accordingly, train with reality in mind and
vary technique per the situation.
(j) Free practice
Otherwise known as
randori or jiyu-waza, free practice can mean anything from allowing
the students a little time to do whatever they want to do, to plonking them in
the middle of the mat and telling them to do tanin-dori against any
attack. In Shodokan Aikido or Judo, randori is fighting. In traditional
Aikido it is usually referred to as jiyu-waza, where tori is free
to do anything.
Naturally, true free
practice is excellent for the students. Typically, free practice is done towards
the end of the class and students will practice what they have studied that day.
Other times they can do whatever they like. In this way, tori and uke
can negotiate their Aikido training rather than always have it dictated to them
by the teacher.
After about three weeks
of any style of traditional Aikido the average beginner will no doubt begin to
learn and espouse the idea that competition is against Aikido principles. They
will soon learn to support their stance with the argument that many Judo forms
have disappeared since it entered the Olympics etc, or that sport Karate without
kata has lost its essence. What is amazing is that before starting Aikido
these very same people played soccer, tennis, or whatever and greatly enjoyed
themselves, and probably still do. It is quite amazing how gullible and
irrational the human mind can be. We are all competitive and we all bring it
with us to the dojo. In our society, it is natural. That being said, in
the dojo, to an extent, we are like the monk in the temple who tries to
forget the external world. Not easy, perhaps not even rational, but a goal
nevertheless. By not competing in Aikido we have the chance to develop our
ability to a higher level through co-operation. However, if the ultimate
purpose, fighting, is ignored or forgotten, we may lose direction. In Aikido
then, the way we test ourselves is to make strong attacks when striking or
grabbing. Of course, at times this can turn into a friendly kind of competition
where uke tries to clobber tori or grab them so strongly that they
cannot move. When martial art becomes sport the main problem is that the
committed attack vanishes as both parties become overly cautious in their desire
not to be caught off-guard or off-balance. Competition as we know it, with form
and rules, complicates the art as it overly prescribes the method in which we
train. If competition is the way one wishes to go, then what is needed is a
broader training program that includes the traditional method and also covers
every competition-illegal technique to be found; techniques are illegal in
competition because they are dangerous, and they are dangerous because they
work, but they can only be dangerous if one is good at them. If they are not
practised because they are dangerous, then one is not practising a martial art –
perhaps it could be called a martial sport. So, in the case of say, Shodokan
Aikido, the competitive form of Aikido, whether it is indeed sport or art can
only be determined by how one trains, not whether one enters competition.
Some teachers hold a
particularly gruelling class and call it misogi, or spiritual cleansing.
Typically, one does the same thing, like shomen-uchi with a bokken,
for the whole lesson. Two things happen here, either one’s technique gets
progressively worse, or it improves. The whole point of the ordeal is developing
the mental determination to continue in the face of adversity – overcoming
fatigue and pain. In terms of technical development, however, there is a danger
that it can have a very detrimental effect on technique since it is when one is
exhausted that what one really knows comes out, or worse, what one is doing
really sinks in. If one is making bad technique, this will obviously be training
a bad habit. If one can overcome the pain and continue to push out good
technique then it will have a very positive effect – one will be able to produce
good technique under stress. A more modern training method ought to dictate that
one stop when the technique worsens – yet many would give up too soon. The most
useful benefit of misogi training in terms of technique is to move from
the learned to the acquired – but will only have a positive outcome if the
technique is performed consistently well.
(m) Centre to centre
Tori and uke place a jo (staff)
between their centres and take it in turns pushing each other slowly and
strongly across the mat. The aim is to become aware of initiating strong
movement from the centre while maintaining balance and posture. If you find it
painful to hold/push the jo strongly, put a book against your belly to
dissipate the force of the push thereby allowing you push even more strongly.
Also, if one partner seems much stronger than the other, give the weaker one the
book and see how much they instantly improve!
When moving onto technique, say ikkyo, draw your
attention to the jo exercise - do the technique with the same kind of
push-feeling, as though pushing uke from your centre rather than through
the arms. Likewise, uke should coordinate his attack by moving centre and
striking arm in unison.
Aikido can be great fun
and it is not too difficult to invent interesting methods of practice. Some
interesting play ideas follow:
1 From shizen
hontai partners push each other until one moves a foot, the object being,
not to move. This can be varied by taking it in turns to attack and defend, or
having both attack together. More fun can be added by allowing pulling.
2 Both partners walk
towards each other along a line on the tatami, the object being to walk
through each other. Obviously, one partner needs to be pushed off the line,
allowing the other to continue straight ahead maintaining composure. Sometimes,
both fall off the line. To make good practice, make it a rule that the forward
walking movement cannot stop. This leads to a quick, dynamic decision.
3 Make a Sumo ring
with belts. With jackets on or off, push partners out of the ring, or make any
part of their body touch the floor.
4 Sit facing partners
as in suwari-waza kokyu-ho. Simply, partners push each other over at the
same time by any means whatsoever. Backwards can be dangerous if the person is
not flexible. Pulling could also be allowed.
5 Facing partners in a
press-up position, try to knock one's partner's arms away, making them fall down
on their bellies, or faces if not careful.
6 Have students put a
tanto or a piece of paper in their belts at the rear. Students now have
to run around and collect as many tantos (or papers) as possible. Creates
an almost battlefield like situation and develops an idea of strategy.
7 Sometimes done in
Judo is a game where two people try to steal each other's belts, standing,
kneeling, or both. The wise teacher tells all the students to put their hands on
their heads before explaining the activity. This means they cannot suddenly
tighten their belts! A useful rule is not to deliberately touch your own belt.
8 Two students run and
clash into each other. Uke tries to maintain their post-clash position
for a second or two, which gives tori the opportunity to recognise a
shape to take advantage of to form into a technique.
With any game it is
best to keep rules really simple. Only make them more complicated after everyone
has a clear understanding of what they are doing. The teacher's responsibility
is to make sure it does not get too rough. The teacher has to create a sense of
fun, but maintain control. Accordingly, it is not a good idea for the teacher to
* Some more methods can be seen in
the section on Strategy, especially the last section. Also, check out the
chapters on Aiki, Ukemi, and Resistance.