Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Irimi Uchi Tenkan Entry To Initiate Shomenuchi Sankyo Ura

Irimi soto tenkan
INTi Dojo Mon 21/6/10 class

The conventional and standard way of entering Uke's sphere to perform this technique is by stepping to the outside of Uke's cutting hand using irimi soto tenkan (outside turn from irimi entry) foot step. The picture on the right captures the irimi soto tenkan movement of Tori as he swings Uke's cutting hand in a downwards and rearward spiral for the finishing takedown onto the mat.

Tonight I taught the students a variation of the sankyo technique using a irimi uchi tenkan (inside turn from irimi entry) foot step to clinch with Uke as he steps forward cutting shomenuchi with his leading sword hand.

In this variation Tori slips under and pass through Uke's arm-pit to position himself to Uke's rear before executing the finishing takedown. Upon successfully positioning himself to Uke's rear the rest of Tori's movement is the same as the standard version as depicted in the picture above.

Sankyo lock
However in order to slip pass the small space under Uke's srm-pit, Tori must feint an atemi (strike) to Uke's head. My preference is to feint a strike with age ura zuki (rising inverted punch: uppercut) to Uke's chin though any other types of hand strikes are also applicable. As a deception and distraction tactic the objective of the atemi is to force Uke to lean his head and torso backwards and also to block the blow with his other free hand in the attempt to evade the strike. Uke's leaning his head and torso backwards will cause him to stand on his toes thus floating his whole body mass and centre of gravity upwards, resulting not only in Uke loosing his balance but also in creating a void under Uke's arm-pit for Tori to slip through to the rear side of his partner. Without this atemi Tori will have to bow his head downwards and forcefully lift Uke's hand upwards to create a passageway. This kind of forceful application will betray Tori's intent resulting in a counter attack by his partner before Tori can even initiate his action.

This version of shomenuchi sankyo wasn't even planned as part of the night's lesson. It just happened spontaneously in response to a late counter to a shomenuchi strike. I wanted to do the standard version but because I was stressed out and tired with a tension headache from my office work I was too late to respond when the Uke strike shomenuchi. Thus too slow to intercept Uke's cut when his hand was still overhead, I was forced to step offline when Uke's striking hand reached the end of its trajectory at gedan (low) level. Then without conscious of what I was doing at the point when Uke's chopping hand was already at gedan level I grabbed his wrist with two hands, and under cover of the age ura zuki strike, managed to go under Uke's arm-pit to successfully execute a sankyo lock and complete the takedown. Energised and delighted by the discovery of an alternative way of doing shomenuchi sankyo ura I gradually recovered my low energy level and then proceeded to other immobilisation and projections techniques.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Looking Deeply Under The Hood of The Katas of Aikido Training

Reading about the definition of karate by Morales-Santo Domingo as the study of katas got me thinking about the learning of Aikido techniques in the dojo.

"Kata is the manifestation of the art of karate. It unfolds its meaning through time. Most of a kata remains untold, undecipherable at first glance, most times at the hundredth glance. It is a ritual of epiphanies and within them the fleeting secrets lie," Jorge Morales-Santo Domingo

Is learning Aikido the same as learning katas? Well, it all depends on whom you ask and how you define what is kata.

20 years ago during the early formative years of my Aikido career when you ask me this question I would not hesitate to declare that learning Aikido techniques is not the same as learning katas because I was simply verbalising what my instructors had told me. Fast forwards 20 years later to the present time when I have become a teacher and am teaching the art to students I encounter the same question raised by inquisitive students.

If you define kata narrowly as a arrangement of fixed sets of idealised martial movements and forms practiced solo by the individual then Aikido training is not the same as practicing katas. Because in the typical Aikido training format where you need two partners to practice, one acting as the attacker and the other the defender as the study of Aikido is not a solo practice then obviously the learning of Aikido can not be equated to the study of katas.

On the other hand if you define kata generally as the study of a prearranged set of idealised martial movements with a known input and a known outcome then Aikido training is the same as learning katas. In the typical Aikido training format the attacker attacks in a prescribed way and likewise the defender counters and neutralize the attack also in a prescribed way. In this respect as far as the pair is concerned there is a known and predictable element of input (the method of attack) and also a known and predictable element of outcome (the method of defence). Thus even before the start of the exercise both partners are already aware of their respective roles and how to engage each other to produce the desired outcome because every movement is already prearranged and predefined before hand.

Nowadays whenever such a question arise I will tell the student that I am teaching him the katas of the art. Inevitably the next question will be whether the katas of the idealised martial movements will work in a real life situation.

My answer will be something along these lines:

"Just as no boxer fights like he spars, does the bag or skips rope I don't expect the Aikidoka to fight in self defence as he does the katas. Although the kata is a static mold, an ideal, a form, a map from here to there it teaches you essential martial principles such as timing, centering, relaxation, anticipation, extension, evasion, movements, breathing, postures, combat distance, exploitation of openings, deceptions, etc that would get you out of harm's way in a fight. While the forms may not represent realistic combat movements the underlying martial principles that these simple forms teach you are valid for self defence applications in all situations. By looking deeply below the hood to understand the intents behind the forms you are in fact learning a valid and practical combat science."

To further drive home the point I would show the student the myriad of practical applications hidden in the simple movements of the katas and adaptive transformation and use of the simple forms in different types of combat situation. I try to help the student understand that in the end there are really no static techniques or forms to master but just movements arising naturally and spontaneously in conflict resolution. However to get to the stage where you can freely use your movements to define the techniques you have to start the journey by learning the katas.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Wed class 2/6/10 in INTi. Movements define form.

Instead of focusing rigidly on form and technical precision I asked the new girl member to imitate my movements intuitively in slow motion and also to capture with her mind and heart intent the functions embedded in the movements.

To allow the natural and intuitive process of learning to take place freely I broke down the technique into several parts and in each part breakdown further into Tori's and Uke's movements, all done in a slow, relaxed, rhythmic, continuous and dance-like motion.

After grasping the individual parts I then asked her to combine all the separate parts into one continuous movement. In my mind I was borrowing the concept from the slow, rhythmic, delicate yet graceful hand and body movements of the traditional Balinese court dancer to teach this new student how to execute a Aikido technique with effortless grace.

Lo and behold! At the end of the class this new girl who has never done Aikido before was able to execute the shomenuchi iriminage technique by recalling the movements rather than the precise forms.