Little House In Ise

March 23, 2009, 18:33
Filed under: Aikido | Tags: , , ,

This is not intended to be about the “martial effectiveness” of Aikido, irrational fears of personal invasion, street-fighting or what not. I am addressing a flaw that I see in my performance of Aikido in the clinical environment of my dojo and relating that to apprehensions about handling personal violence.


相田みつを 作

          At that time
How will you move?

by Aida Mitsuo

How will you move? Hell, will you move? When you need to, will you be able to move? Even after years in the dojo, if bad shit happens in real life will your training kick in? So far as I am aware, the zen poet Aida Mitsuo was not a martial artist. He very likely had something entirely different in mind when he splashed the thoughtful zinger above onto paper. That said, it gets directly at one of my darkest fears: would I freeze? I want to know but I don’t want to be a situation where I would find out.

Self doubt aside for the moment, my instructors have pounded it into my head over the years that survival is not a matter of moving right or moving elegantly. When things have gone so irrecoverably wrong that art becomes weapon, just about any movement is better than none. In randori (乱捕: “free-style” often with multiple attackers) training we are frequently told to keep moving, don’t stop, don’t make yourself a target, turn, enter, lower your center, MOVE!

In weapons work a different philosophy applies. When closing with an armed attacker there are more and less safe areas to stand, approach or withdraw. If the weapon happens to be a sword (my current source of stress) the relatively safe areas are extremely narrow and the range of attack much greater than one might imagine. So, random movements or turns are NOT appropriate for anyone not wanting to emulate a kebab. Move, yes, but it must be the surgically precise move appropriate at that moment.

When training to take weapons away from armed attackers, the assumption that is most commonly seen in Aikido dojo is that an attacker has gotten the drop on you and their weapon is drawn. The technical goal is then to evade the attacker’s blade and disarm them without getting cut (running away, never seems to be an acceptable goal — I just don’t get that).

Weapons are force multipliers — a person weighing 50Kg might not be intimidating in their shirtsleeves but wielding a 30 centimeter knife they project much more martial force. That same person with a sword has the potential to be very intimidating. Intimidating enough to make me to freeze momentarily. On a gross mechanical level I can make the techniques work but I feel my own hesitation and know that it is a critical flaw. Even before trying to achieve Aiki or even a vague sense of “doing it right” I must get past this ghost that pins me down when I need to be throwing myself forward. “Ignore the cut, think only of cutting*” I’m just not there… not yet.

Similarly, if in a moment of enormous stress, when adrenalin rushes and the heart pumps rage into the brain, would I be pinned to the spot? Would I move? I don’t know and I don’t want to find out.

* Miyamoto Usagi or perhaps Miyamoto Musashi, one of them said it anyway.


6 Comments so far
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I think what I dread is the pause–and as you say, the unknown embodied in that poem. If they have the jump on you in the first place, you’ll probably perform quite well and automatically–after all you’re still relaxed and they’re the one who’s hyped up. But if there is a break in the action, someone is cornered, maybe running away is possible, tunnel vision and blood pumping… But realistically, you know you’re as well-trained as anyone can be for the unexpected, right?

Comment by lukasa

running away, never seems to be an acceptable goal — I just don’t get that

LOL. I look at it as, what we do is what happens when running away is no longer an option…

I definitely understand that sense of fear. I’ve been training for two years and I still seem to have some concern as to whether the mat will be there when I fall :), as evidenced by Sunday’s break-fall practice. Never mind whether I would be able to react properly in an actual crisis… of course, awareness of that core of fear is one of the things that led me to take up Aikido.

Comment by executivepagan

I have practiced years in the US, and now in Japan for a year. I have never thought about the lack of movement, but that is exactly it. It is really hard to know how you will react, and I often wonder the same while at the dojo.
I did have a small problem were someone grabbed me when I was lying down. Without even thinking, I had them down on the ground. They were not hurt, but it was over very quick and instinct had taken over. I had to actually think about what happened afterwards, probably since I did not think, just pure reaction. This was being very tired and relaxed. If I had felt the threat, I think it might have turned out different. I am just not sure though.
On the mat I feel quite stiff and randori is something I can never do enough of. I always want to find that fluid movement. Maybe in 20 years.

Comment by Skenyon


Where are you training now?


Comment by Eric Holcomb

Hello Eric,

I am in Kitakyushu at Kuroishi Sensei’s dojo. The same as Eddie. Although I will be heading back to the States later this year. When I come back to Japan in a few years, will have to make it to Hombu Dojo for a visit. When that happens, perhaps I can be your uke.

Thanks for the interesting blog.

Comment by Skenyon


Really, if you can get a chance to drop by while you’re here you won’t regret it. Besides, Tokyo can be kinda fun too. Either way, I look for ward to meeting you!


Comment by Eric Holcomb

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