It is a long running debate in martial arts circles as to the efficacy or realism of training. It is easy to argue that in kata the point of the training is to learn the movements of the technique and so the level of “realism” can be minimal. Similar to slip catching practice in cricket, the batsman purposefully edges the ball to allow the fielders to practice catching – one could say that you would never get such easy catches in reality, the batsman wouldn’t be edging it so nicely and might be trying to smash the ball, and so on. But the point is that you need to set up a situation that allows development of the technique.

Freeplay on the other hand always gets a bad rap. People look at it and claim that the attacker is not really trying; that in reality they would never leave their arm out that long; they would follow up with another attack; and so on. This is all valid but also misses the point. Freeplay is not a fight nor a competition to see who can knock the other person down. Freeplay is yet another opportunity for developing your technique. As such the attacker should be attacking in a way that pushes the defender to their limit but no more. If this means single slow telegraphed attacks, then so be it. The interesting thing to focus on in freeplay is starting to work under a bit of pressure and allowing techniques to come more freely than in kata. If the attacks are too strong or fast then more often than not the defender loses it, freezes or reverts to some subconscious response – perhaps a previous style of martial art or something more primeval learnt in the playground! In both these cases the benefit of training is lost – at least in terms of developing your aikido.

When doing freeplay: Don’t worry about the realism until you can easily handle what is coming at you; Don’t be afraid to ask the attacker to slow down; and most of all concentrate on what you are trying to get out of the practice – sloppy physical techniques are not good aikido and you are teaching you body bad habits.

See you in a couple of weeks.