Attack!

Tony wrote recently on the forums at http://www.londonaikido.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=155 on atemi or the practice of striking.

This is a huge topic and often completely overlooked in many aikido circles. So much so that some people would argue that aikido does not include striking. This is not so, although the focus on knockout blows that you might see in karate or some Chinese arts is fairly minimal.

Apart from the use of strikes in defending oneself (I think I have written on this before) there is obvious area of the initial attack. What are we defending ourselves from in aikido? Someone is trying to injure us or make us do something we don’t want to do like hand over our worldly goods. In most of these cases there is some form of physical attack in the way of flying fists, and in more unusual cases flying feet, knees, elbows or even head.

How can we defend ourselves from such ballistic attacks if we cannot reproduce them in training. It is therefore necessary to study, at least in part, punches and kicks and so on in order that we can then study how to deal with them. Many of the early aikido students (O Sensei’s students) were already black belts (or at least well versed) in a range of external arts such as sumo, judo, karate, jujitsu or forms of kung fu. O Sensei’s focus in training therefore was in teaching these already competent fighters how to relax, blend, control and use their “ki” to be even more effective. This has been misconstrued in some peoples minds as aikido not really doing hitting.

I believe O Sensei himself, or at least one of his top students, stated that aikido is 90% atemi!

Any way back to our training. In the past I have had difficulty getting a technique to work. I haven’t been able to off balance uke or they have managed to recover their balance and block my technique. It is important to train so that you can deal with such situation, as they will inevitably occur in real life. But I believe that in many cases the fault has been, at least partly, in a poor or uncommitted attack.

If you are supposed to be attacking someone and don’t really try to connect, either by stopping short or second guessing the technique and redirecting your attack or just not following through, then it is almost impossible to get many of the most wonderful kokyu nage throws of aikido to work. You start struggling to get the technique on, uke gets solid and nervous because you are trying to force it and what you end up with is a non-technique, either uke looks at you and nothing happens or they are kind to you and roll off without being thrown. This is not just poor aikido it is detrimental to your training and drilling into you bad practice that is really hard to remove later on.

From day one all attacks should be fully committed, honest and true. This means picking the point of attack, aiming correctly at it and following through correctly. This then gives tori every opportunity to actually practice good aikido and uke the opportunity to experience good aikido and learn more about their ukemi.

One important point: A committed attack does not necessarily mean a full force attack.

Look at the level of the person you are working with. If they are a young, strong, 5th dan who trains daily, then you should be looking to knock their head off – if that is what you have agreed! Otherwise you should be looking to temper the power of you attack accordingly.

This means going SLOWLY! Slow attacks can still be committed and provide so much more opportunity for learning that crappy uncommitted fast attacks. When things happen quickly your brain just does not have the time to process what is going on and instinctive reactions kick in. There is no learning going on. Your body is just doing what it would normally do. Research has shown that your conscious thought and control processes are about 1 to 2 seconds behind what is going on.

If your attack takes less than a second then there is little chance you are learning anything.

Think about that next time you are training. Attack slowly but with commitment. Be a good uke and allow things to progress as though you had attack fast; if you would have been off balanced if you attacked quickly then allow yourself to be so when attacking slowly, rather than cheating and using the lack of speed to allow you recover your balance. Build up the speed as tori become more comfortable with the movement; this indicates that they are transferring the technique into their unconscious control mechanisms and out of their conscious brain.

If you need any evidence of this in action, just watch any free play in class. There are some techniques that people have internalized and they appear to do these quite well at any pace – in fact they often revert to doing it over and over again. There are other times when tori just seems to freeze up and go blank – this happens at all levels. That is the time where the technique is not learnt well enough and the conscious brain is having to try to catch up with what is happening. When you see this happening, go slower …

… and train more!