|Aikido as a life-long undertaking |
This last year for many was only a little short of being an ordeal given the turmoil of the economy. Heavy work schedules keep many of us from training as much as we might have otherwise wanted while some of us found challenges in staying employed.
In spite of this the dojo grew as we added new players, and new white belts began to get their feet under them and started to understand the scope of Aikido. We had many promotions including some to black belt which I, as Sensei, found personally gratifying. A teacher can only feel successful when the student shows understanding and advances in the art form and in the martial arts the clearest example of this is always found in black belt promotions.
I cannot take full credit for this however as the Hatamoto, and indeed all the Yudansha, always play a big part in the player's advancement. Their assistance in mentoring the more junior black belts, the Ikkyu's/Nikyu's as they prepare for demonstrations, and the colored belts is invaluable.
2010 events included our starting this newsletter; something we've attempted in the past but were unable to stay with due to the effort involved. Thank goodness for technology as this new digital template and auto-distribution system via email really simplifies the work. And, since this will be a monthly issue; if you have any ideas or topics you want covered then email me and I'll add it to the list so that we can keep fresh ideas and information flowing out to you (the Aikido player).
Technically, 2011 will see quite a few advancements coming into the curriculum that will truly expand the scope of what you will eventually master. Most of these new areas will be focused towards the Yudansha level due to the complexity, sophistication and need for good ukemi skills but all Aikido ranks over time will be exposed to these areas.
Neck Locks: We began developing abilty in a neck lock/choking kata that is somewhere around 1,000 years old and was shown to Americans by Fukuda Sensei, oldest living female Judo Shihan and an original student of Kano. The kata is comprised of 3 parts; kihon practice, formal standing applications and formal defenses. Currently only about 2 or 3 of us are consistently working on this but this next year will see all the Yudansha beginning to develop expertise in this important area of study. The ability to knock an opponent unconscious seemingly without effort can truly intimidate others and adds a major arrow to your quiver. The kata also includes defenses against someone attempting to choke you out or pin you against a wall; all critically important self-defense skills.
Sacrifice Throws: Having worked on this for the last 2 years off and on we've finally arrived at a final form. Applied from the Aikido randori paradigm these waza are invaluable in randori conditions. Too many times a player will approach hand randori by pushing into or against the opponent. If the recipient of this "pushing force" simply fades away in a sacrifice throw and blows the "pushing" opponent into the floor, important learning lessons are immediately available; first, over-commitment at the wrong moment will get you in trouble just about every time, and second, if you do become overwhelmed in randori and begin to feel completely "toasted" so-to-speak a well timed sacrifice throw into a ne-waza condition can solve your problems and give your opponent some of his own to solve.
Also to be covered as part of developing the sacrifice throw kata are responses for tori to use when the throw fails and tori is on the ground, on his back and has to prevent uke from taking a viable ne-waza attack on tori. These ne-waza techniques include both arm-bars and choking defenses and are pretty practical in their application in addition to adding value to our Aikido ne-waza and self-defense applications.
Tanto Jutsu: While we do not intend to make the mistake many knife arts tend to make (such as teaching "dueling" or pretending the knife doesn't have a cutting edge on it) we do find value in looking at how so many martial artists approach this issue of knife vs. knife fighting.
Exploring the knife has become pretty endemic over the last 2-3 years what with Hwa Rang Do, Arnis, Escrima and now Systema each having their own "secret moves". Most of what I've looked at on the web or on the various DVD's I've bought and reviewed are, in a word, garbage as they make several potentially fatal assumptions. First, they assume the knife has no real cutting edge on it. Next, they assume that the opponent won't close and instead will hang back and "duel" with you much like George Chakiris in "The West Side Story". Next, they assume that while you're doing the "secret sauce" dis-arm that the opponent won't use the free arm to beat on you before he breaks loose and disembowels you. I won't get into recent video I was sent where the Systema instructor showed "no-touch" knife disarms where he literally waived his hands in the air as uke dropped the knife and passed out on the ground with the defender 10 feet away.
Groan ........ no wonder so many people think that all martial artists should work on the mainway of the circus as a barker.
We'll take two primary approaches to the paradigm. The first will be to explore using a knife to keep the attacker at the long/middle distance. While both will be using a knife (training weapon of course, no metal involved) the defender will actually be internalizing the idea of using anything in his hand including a coffee cup or a short umbrella or flashlight to knock the knife out of the attackers hand and potentially break their wrist before expanding the distance and "getting out of Dodge" (running for safety). The ideas of not closing onto the knife and of understanding the control of distance and movement (instead of "dueling") is primary here. As my old Sensei used to say; "Remember that an Aikido player with a knife is always superior to an Aikido player without one"; another way of saying that understanding principles of timing, distance and movement is a lot more important than trying to duel or disarm the attacker which is always a more difficult than it looks.
Secondarily; we'll look at military style applications that mainly involve a rapid closing with the attacker and then by "gluing" yourself to them, take total domination over their space and defuse their attack by being so "inside" of it that they become helpless. You become a tick on the hound-dogs' back that he can't reach to scratch off.
While we do not intend to make "Dueling Knife Fighters" out of everyone, understanding the weapon and the tactics of the opponent is an important part of learning self-defense. So sayeth everyone from Sun Tsu to General George S. Patton.
Lastly, we plan on energizing the irimi nage throws. As part of this upgrade in ukemi skills I've included a clip on this newsletter of Christian Tissier throwing his uke in irimi nage (aka aiki nage, the 5th waza from the Big 10 & Irimi Nage, the 2nd waza from Kuzushi no Kata). Wrapping uke around your hip and throwing him looks difficult but all-in-all, it's just another breakfall that all the Yudansha will eventually learn to throw. We'll start work on the ukemi skills right after we come back from the holidays. It will, I think, add a dimension of beauty to the irimi nage that we already do. We have discovered a simple method of teaching the breakfall so over the next year we'll factor it into the curriculum; esp for ikkyu and Yudansha.
It looks to be fun but intense so we'll see you on the mat in 2011.
L.F. Wilkinson Sensei