Throughout your training, no matter what martial art you study, there is going to be a technique, a kata, or a concept that simply drives you nuts. In fact, it’s highly likely that the specifics are going to change from year to year (or even month to month)–maybe you feel like you can’t do shihonage, then later you’re fine with shihonage but annoyed with tsuki kotegaeshi. I’ve gone through this enough times that by now I just accept it as a part of my exploration of aikido: what I learn makes some things seem easier, while making some things seem harder.
There’s one technique, however, that has long since given me pause: kaiten-nage. For those who are unfamiliar with aikido, kaiten-nage is frequently translated as “rotary throw” (which makes me think of rotary clubs, which in turn does not help me with the technique), or “wheel throw.” However you translate it, I have my own term for it: “pain in the rear.” The principle of the technique is as follows: you take the lead arm of your attacker and lead it in a large circle perpendicular to the floor (this is where the “wheel” part comes in). This lead forces your uke to fall forward and down. As the arm starts to swing up behind the uke, you place your hand on their opposite shoulder, preventing them from standing. Their attacking arm has now become a lever that you can use to keep uke off-balance and, eventually, propel them forward into a large roll.
My issue with kaiten-nage is that it always seems to require either (a) a compliant uke, (b) a flexible and relatively small attacker, or (c) both. When I have attempted the throw with a skilled uke, I usually have no problem. But as soon as I have someone who is more muscular, more stiff, or just less experienced, the throw becomes nearly impossible to do. In fact, my dislike for the throw reached such a point that I turned to my students who were about to test and said: “I don’t care what throw you do, so long as it’s not kaiten-nage.” My inability to do the technique was leading to my inability to teach it.
This began to change some months ago, when Sensei came to visit. During a short stay here, he taught a seminar and had me as his uke. He called me to attack and, suddenly, I found myself being thrown with kaiten-nage. But what kaiten-nage was this? Instead of the usual kaiten-nage position, I found myself with my shoulders completely twisted until they, and not my arm, was perpendicular to the ground. Sensei had one hand on my attack arm, keeping it low, and the other on my shoulder, keeping me twisted up. I was completely helpless, until he released me and I could escape into a large roll. The technique felt amazingly simple and impossible to resist.
Being thrown by this technique, however, did not make it easy to understand or to do, and I admit that I still left kaiten-nage in my “things I don’t get” bucket. This past week, however, I have been going through this bucket, figuring that it was time to once again look at the things I find hard to do, because they problem are the things I most need to work on. I started looking at kaiten-nage, and trying to find what, if anything, it had in common with other techniques. I then came up with a hypothesis: kaiten-nage is really very similar to a standard kokyu-nage (timing throw), with one main difference: my arms are reversed. In a standard kokyu-nage, my lead arm is on the attacking arm and my other arm is on uke’s shoulder. In kaiten-nage, it’s the opposite: my lead arm is on the shoulder while my other arm is on the attacking arm. I brought this idea to class last Saturday to see what others thought: so far, there has been one complaint: the technique certainly takes someone off balance, but it becomes very delicate to release uke so they can escape safely.
No doubt there is still much more that I need to study in regards to this technique. But I am writing about it now because I feel I’ve learned a lesson: when you’re stuck with that technique that you just don’t understand, try to find as many similarities between it and the techniques that you feel you do understand. You may be surprised by what you discover.