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.