Nikkyo and Focus

Last night, the dojo was working on 6th and 5th kyu techniques. Testing is coming up soon, and it was a good opportunity to review a few techniques that we haven’t touched on in a couple of weeks. One of these techniques is kata tori nikkyo. Nikkyo, which we translate to “second position jointlock” is one of the more potent jointlocks in aikido. For those who have not experienced it, perhaps the easiest way to describe it is to imagine your wrist being twisted one way, while your elbow and shoulder are twisted in the opposite direction. If it sounds uncomfortable, that’s because it most certainly can be.

Nikkyo is a remarkable technique in Kokikai, because we do not teach it as a means to cause pain. In fact, one of the things that I stress when teaching nikkyo is that the nage should NOT try to cause pain. One might think this is because we don’t like to hurt others, and that may be true. But the simple truth is that there are too many people who have extremely strong wrists and arms. If you attempt to power your way through the technique, intent on causing your uke pain, you will eventually meet an uke with the physical strength and force of will to withstand your movement. The result is…embarassing, to say the least. At the moment in which you are essentially intent on injuring someone else, your technique not only fails–it becomes easily countered.

What is so amazing about nikkyo is its ability to reveal just how much how confrontational you are. When you have an uke with whom you cannot apply nikkyo, what do you do? Do you attempt to crank down on the wrist even more? Do you rationalize your failure by saying that the uke isn’t resisting correctly? Both are common reactions, but neither are correct. I learned this through one of my most senior students, a gentleman who has remarkably strong arms and who recognizes that, when practicing with me, will attempt to resist the nikkyo as much as possible.

When he first resisted my technique, years ago, I was furious with myself. I felt that I should be able to apply the technique without fail. My response was to attempt to apply more of the same: to increase how hard I was attempting to twist the wrist and elbow. On occasion, I eventually succeeded. But the cost was high–it was too much work; worse, it caused my student pain. As time passed, I started to rationalize my shortcomings by pointing out that there were numerous ways in which my uke was vulnerable. I claimed that, by resisting the way that he was, he left himself completely unable to attack. These points may well be true, but they miss the mark: the issue was not in what my uke was doing, but in what I was doing. (In fact, I think this is the point that Sensei is trying to make what he says: “Some people cheat. So what? Throw them anyway!”)

Last night, I finally had a small realization. I wasn’t learning from my mistakes. When my technique did not work, I would continue to apply more of what already failed–more power, more twist, more weight. What I needed to do was what I had been trying to tell myself and my students for weeks: that often the way to solve a problem in a technique is to focus from the beginning. To ensure that your mind is clear, your body is relaxed, and that you are intent not on what you are doing, nor what your uke is doing, but instead on what the two of you are doing together. This is not easy to explain, and extremely difficult for me to do. And yet…

…towards the end of class, I had my student attack again. This time, I opened my mind as much as possible, I relaxed my body as much as I could, and I tried to pay attention to everything that was happening between us. As we moved through the technique and reached the point at which nikkyo was to be applied, I found myself not trying to apply power, not trying to apply speed. I only wanted to move with my uke as correctly as possible. I felt him respond to the technique and drop to the mat–not out of pain, but out of an inability to resist. Through focus came nikkyo.

I do not expect this to be a repeatable feat…yet. I do know now, however, that I need to pay more attention, to be more focused. And through this focus, correct movement will come.

10 thoughts on “Nikkyo and Focus

  1. Still, I believe if one keeps difficulting tori’s work, no matter how focus we are, we still take the risk of getting out of line in matter of using “over-strenght” or forcing the nikkio into a “good” outcome, but puting aikido principles on a second plan.

    So, what would be the solution? A movement with more momentum? More flow without letting uke fixing him/herself on the ground? More KI? All of these questions with focus being the primary aspect beforehand. And I believe these questions may apply not only on nikkio but also on other techniques where is easy for uke, with his power/strenght/force, to counter tori or difficulting his job.

    Excuse me some lame english, hehe.

    Good readings Mr. Shevitz!

    Thank you, Cheers!

  2. I quit studying with a small dojo out here several years ago – and one of the main reasons I had for leaving was the extreme backlash I encountered when I successfully resisted as uke. Their reasoning was that what I did was “unsafe” (it wasn’t) but what was clear to me was that as the new guy I’d pointed out a flawed execution in a “master.” It’s always seemed to me really amazing that there are defensive ways of moving which have no counter. It’s equally ridiculous to suggest an uke do nothing in response once technique is established- otherwise why would you think you could actually defend yourself in a fight? 🙂 In other words, great post!

    1. This reply is to Erik’s post. I mean no disrespect, but obviously you do not know the importance and honor of being a good Uke. There are times, such as in randori that you can resist more, but to be an Uke for a Master is and honor and you should be honored to recieve his technique. To resist without being asked to first is disrespectful, and frankly it is dangerous especially if you are recieving a technique from a Master level Sensei. The only reason that you were not injured, probably was because of your Sensei’s level of training. First, learn the technique then learn the counter. One of the best ways o learn a technique is being a good Uke as well as Tori. After you mature in your Martial Path, in a couple of decades, you’ll understand the importance of this respect and honor.

      1. Hi Keith. I read Erik’s use of speech marks around the word “master” to indicate the comment was tongue in cheek. I personally couldn’t think of anything worse than not giving anyone a strong, wholly committed attack, regardless of whether they are a real Master or not (whatever one of those is). To do otherwise for me would be disrespectful. If tori can’t deal with such a strong attack then perhaps they are not as good as they thought they were in which case next time I would “attack” less strongly.

        The fact that Erik was able to resist suggests to me that on that occasion at least, the technique was performed incorrectly. Rather than berate Erik, the “master” should just have changed to a different technique. Takemusu aikido…

  3. Nikyo is a fantastic technique to learn many Aikido principles. In the beginning, you can just crank on the wrist, but since the uke is in a mechanically inferior position, nage usually is able to get uke to tap out. It is one of the first techniques a beginner learns that has immediate, tangible results. Then after careful study, we learn that everything we first thought about Nikyo was totally wrong. It is not about the wrist or tapping out. Tapping out is for beginners to let you know to stop, it is not something that should be happening during advanced practice. Nikyo is to put uke down, so then you can finish them off with a more suitable pin. If you keep thinking that you want a tap, then you keep your mind in just uke’s wrist, and that is very, very limiting. Once Uke’s hand is against your chest (or in your hand for tegatana), you connect your centers and then you put you mind into dropping uke to the mat. This way you can just skip over the part about the uke’s wrist being strong. It is still a very powerful technique; but you make a center to center connection and do not rely on pain to move your uke around. Once you figure out the center to center connection feeling (sawari waza nikyo is the traditional training method to get this), then you start to wonder if you can apply it during sankyo and kotegaeshi, then latter iriminage and everything else.

    If your training partners tap out and drop immediately out of habit or old memories of a sensei’s nikyo that was painful, it will be hard to get this feeling. If your partners actively resist the techniques with shoulder strength and arm stiffness, same thing.

    I am glad this topic about nikyo came up. It has been a central technique of study for me.

  4. Thank you for your reminder to focus on what is going on with yourself and your training partner. Obviously, this is something we need to do in all techniques and ideally, all of life! Really trying to connect with your partner instead of doing something to your partner is one of the best lessons we all learn daily from aikido. Domo arigato!

  5. Pain compliance aikido is a lower level form of aikido. That is not to so it if necessarily bad or will not work. It is a result of a stronger person manhandling a weaker person or a compliant uke being taken advantage of by an abusive nage. It is fine outside the dojo as long as the receiver is not drunk or drugged when you are defending yourself. It is not so fine in a dojo setting where you are trying to help each other become proficient and will repeatedly attack each other. It is the result of torque being applied to one joint in this case the wrist. If the torque is applied to or spread through multiple joints (which takes more aikido skill on the part of both uke and nage) nage gains control of uke without the need for pain compliance. In the same manner properly performed koshinages should allow a skilled uke to stand right up and go at it again without pain. That is why a good uke and a good nage are both required for both to improve their aikido.

    If nage’s body angle to uke, non-linear force application, weight balance and/or on-off muscle firing are not just right there is no way nage will be able to lock more than one joint. If uke just falls down or is just a bigger person resisting nage will never learn how to do this. It should be a collaborative not a competitive or collusional art.

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