An unexpected bonus today on the mat: not one, not two, but three guest instructors arrived on the mat!
The first two were not unusual. Greg and Shari are two instructors who live in Yakima, WA. They are great folks, and deeply knowledgeable about aikido and martial art training. Greg, in particular, has over three decades of karate experience, and has the dubious honor of beating the heck out of me as I was training. That may sound cruel, but it wasn’t. I refused, for the longest time, to really acknowledge that my uke was trying to attack me. Greg had no problems letting me know that he fully intended to land the punch, kick, or grab. I learned quickly from him how important it was to be ready prior to the attacker’s movements–out of all the lessons I have learned in aikido, I think this was the one I most needed. I am very grateful to him for that.
Another instructor who arrived was Oliver, who is an assistant instructor at a Kokikai dojo in New York. I admit I didn’t recognize Oliver at first–I just knew that, when he stepped into the dojo, that he was somebody who knew where he was and what he was doing. He was great fun to train with–personable and committed in his attacks and throws. He even showed me a great little way of resisting nikkyo–it was not a COMFORTABLE way of resisting it, but it did work, and in a way I did not expect.
As we practiced, I asked Greg if he would share some of his thoughts on training. One of the key elements he mentioned was a very simple one: aikido techniques were designed to deal with someone trying to fight you. This seems blatantly obvious, but it’s important becomes clear when you realize a simple truth:
Most of us, on the mat, aren’t trying to fight. We aren’t even thinking about it.
This is not a good thing. If we aren’t thinking, as ukes, how to fight our opponent, then we are not really doing our job. There is a distinct difference between an uke who is trying to attack in order to fight, and an uke who is trying to attack in order to not fall down. Most people fall into the latter category. This results in ukes attack and “freezing” in ways that are illogical, in attacks that have no power or little meaning. We are, in a very real sense, wasting our nage’s time.
Now, some might immediately counter this idea with several thoughts. For example: often we are studying balance and timing–an uke might be attacking in order to illustrate these points, to help the nage refine his or her technique. Another example: newer students don’t have the reaction time to perform a technique at normal speed; consequently, the uke slows down to provide a better learning environment. These are valid points, but they leave out the fact that you can do all this and still retain the context of a fighting environment. I can attack a white belt, doing so slowly, and still retain the intention to knock them down with my punch. I can help a senior student with their timing by focusing not on their movements, but rather by ensuring that my own attack is focused, clear, and committed.
This is hard for many aikidoka to follow. Most of us, in truth, study aikido because we don’t WANT to fight. But this is not true. What we want, as aikidoka, is to respond to a fight with movements that are more elegant and effective than brute force. To understand how to accomplish this, we need to have uke’s who attack sincerely–otherwise, we have no way of knowing if we’re being effective or not. Without a proper attack, studying aikido is like playing basketball without hoops–you might be going through the motions, but there’s no way to tell if anyone is winning the game.
In other words, to quote a favorite game of mine: “You must fight!”