Sometimes, when you have been studying a martial for a while, it’s very easy to get lost in the abstract, the theoretical. After all, you’ve probably been through enough training sessions, enough tests, that you have a decent sense of your technique. Improving your physical skills becomes a matter of refinement, as opposed to a matter of acquisition. It’s natural, perhaps even correct and appropriate, to start focusing more on strategy and philosophy instead of just physical technique. At least, these topics start to appear more interesting.
But sometimes, we neglect to remember that we too were beginners. And one of the most important aspects of any martial art is that, when pressed, you have the skills to defend yourself physically; that you can back up your philosophy with ability. New students who step on the mat need to acquire this ability, and a common criticism of aikido is that we don’t focus enough on the “practical” aspect of the art. By “practical,” I dont necessarily mean combative–I mean what gives a new student the most self-defense bang for their buck when they are at a stage where physical technique is still unreliable. I’ve been trying to figure out what I’d consider to be the most fundamental, self-defense-related aspect of aikido training for beginners. I’m still debating it, but so far I’ve settled on one concept:
Get out of the way!
Nearly all of aikido requires us to get out of the way of an attack; to “step off the line,” to use a common phrase. Sometimes, we step off the line using an irimi movement, sometimes it’s tenkan. But always it is an immediate and simple movement. In class, we often focus on an entire technique, so it is very easy to get lost in focusing on how to throw your opponent, or where your hands are supposed to go. These are important skills, to be sure, but what is often missed (or not emphasized enough?) is the idea that, once you step off the line, you have given yourself a temporary reprieve from the attack. Can’t remember what else to do after you get off the line? Take a look at where you are! A quick irimi or tenkan step puts you right into an opponent’s blind spot–they cannot hit you because it’s too difficult to reach you. Think of all the things that you can do from that position in the split second before they turn. You can even simply run–after all, the whole point of self-defense is to remove yourself from a dangerous position and put yourself in a safer one.
In other words, getting out of the way gives you options. Options which, after further study, allow you to employ any number of techniques to prevent your opponent from being a threat to you.