Added with permission from Kim Taylor Nanadan (CKF) Iaido, Rokudan (CKF) Jodo and Niten Ichi Ryu Shidoin, January 2023
Or should that be More On Uke? Perhaps it depends on what uke is doing today. I don’t think we pay as much attention to our “opponent-self” in our arts as we might. OK it’s probably just me, but I keep thinking we ought to spend more time on our attacks.
Without a good attack our techniques don’t go very far. Two people memorizing their half of the kata and going through it without much attention or thought makes for a very slow learning curve.
On the other hand, a senior just crushing a junior is also not a very efficient learning curve. The best way to learn is to be defeated, I just read that in the Kenjutsu Fushiki Hen (Kimura Kyuhou 1764, trans. Christopher Hellman) about three minutes before I fell asleep and then almost fell off the sauna bench. It’s 2 feet wide, don’t roll over! The quote is out of reach of my installed software I’m afraid, have to do something about that, but it concerns those who go about the country trying to learn. They are pleased to find someone who can beat them because they can learn from them. They are not pleased to win because that’s more or less a waste of time. Kimura goes on to say that those who become masters are grateful and humble for their knowledge and so don’t seek to be famous which is why there are many masters you’ve never heard of.
Now Kimura has very little time for kata, and even less for solo kata like Iai. He figures they are poor ways to learn and he never saw any real masters come from that training system, but we’re talking kata practice so we will do our best. I think Kimura is spot on, even though he’s talking from 1764. I agree with him because… well let’s face it, because he agrees with me, so there’s my Trumpette moment for the morning. Without a good uchitachi, without a good uke it’s almost impossible to learn what the art is trying to teach. to get to the point where Kimura wants to go, to the principle of emptiness, to Musashi’s void. This is the place from which kata arise, so if you think about it, we are sort of trying to pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps aren’t we? Hard to do but possible maybe with a helper.
So our partner needs to beat us every kata, just a little bit, so that we chase them toward the place we’re headed. To the place where we don’t need kata any more, the place where we can read our opponent and move to where he’s going.
With weapons practice that means that uchidachi has to read us and push us a little so that we stop trying to remember the next move and just make the next move. Not enough to crush our spirit, but enough for us to become better without realizing it. To get beaten over and over again, but by an uke who has to work harder to beat us every month. Musashi says we start with a light bow and little by little work up to a heavy bow. We know we lift light stuff up off the floor before we end up lifting heavy stuff up off the floor. Why not in our budo kata?
In Aikido it means that uke needs to be just ahead of the technique. Not leading nage around by the nose, not dragging him back to a standstill, but attacking, staying ahead of the technique far enough not to get hurt, but attacking all the time. Providing enough resistance to a throw to allow nage to feel how it goes, but not enough to stop nage or get injured. This is a good uke.
It requires knowing what the attack is, and how to follow that attack up. For instance, if we are doing tsuki, kote gaeshi, a punch to attack with a wrist turn to throw, how much sense does it make for uke to punch and then stand there like a moron, nage beside him with his fist under control? Not a lot, yet this is what we see all the time. Does it not make more sense for uke to turn toward nage to continue the fight? This gives the movement that nage needs to understand the throw. Does it make sense for uke to step back and pull his fist out of nage’s grip in a counter to the technique? No, nor does it make sense for uke to lock himself down in full balance and power so that the fist goes nowhere at all.
Both those counters to the counter mean that nage has to change the technique and that’s not what you are studying. Uke ought not throw himself, go floppy, go rigid or counter the technique. Uke ought to continue attacking until thrown, in such a way as to keep nage “interested” as he has to get more and more precise to make the throw. Far down the road, little by little, nage may develop the skills to change his technique to handle all the efforts of uke to shut him down, but that’s not usually today.
Eventually, despite what Kimura says, a good attacker can pull a student up toward that spontaneous, freestyle, empty place where there is no kata, where kata just appear. As I’ve said before about Aikido:
Move, don’t get hit
Move, don’t get hit
Move, oh technique,
Move don’t get hit.
Practice, with full attention, with a partner who is trying (a little bit) to take your head off (which makes you pay attention) and you may get there.
Along the way you might also learn stuff about yourself. What I’ve learned is that, like the Hulk, I’m angry all the time, and the secret is to know that and keep it under control. Ritual helps, routine helps, working helps, practicing budo helps, writing this stuff helps, but it’s always there. Always.
I know what it is, I’ve lived with it all my life, don’t try to use it, like Bruce Banner says, you might not like what you get. Think millions of angry, well armed, old white dudes who don’t know how to control the rage monster and so get controlled.
For a while. Good luck with those rallys.
Feb 17, 2017