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Castle Rock AIKIDO
Traditional Japanese Martial Arts for Adults
Aikido Philosophy Corner
Brief Analysis on the Fundamental Difference Between 
the Practice of Aikido and Its Application Outside the Dojo

OR

Aikido: Training vs. Application, 
My Thoughts, Ramblings and Internal Dialgoue

by Lee Barnhill

Hello, our Dojo-Cho, Sean Hannon asked me if I’d write an article for the upcoming newsletter. Actually, what he said, if I remember correctly, was he’d be honored if I’d be so gracious as to relinquish some of my precious time to impart some of my vast wisdom upon my fellow members of Castle Rock Aikido…or was it, hey dude, want to write an article for the newsletter. Hmmm, perhaps it was somewhere in between…I like to think so.
Well your first question may be, why two titles? Well, why not. If it was good enough for Rocky and Bullwinkle it is good enough for me. I think you’ll find the latter to be much more accurate, but you’re smart and I bet you already figured that one out. Let me take this opportunity to let you know right up front this is not going to be a formal essay or a graduate level paper with highly researched facts and hypotheses because I don’t write those anymore and they can be mind-numbingly boring. Instead, this will be more like a one-way conversation where I’ll talk way too much and all you’ll have to do is listen intently on the edge of your seat with bated breath. So, follow along and hopefully you won’t get lost on my mental detours and find yourself abandoned, laying in the fetal position crying uncontrollably and feeling like you’ve forever lost part of your soul. Well buckle up grasshopper…it’s going to be a very bumpy ride!

My primary purpose in writing this article is I hope to provide a few nuggets of information you find meaningful and can apply to your training and methodology to further develop your understanding of Aikido training and its martial application. Additionally, I hope to make you smile a bit, perhaps giggle a time or two, and make you question my mental well-being. So, begins our epic journey… First, in order for you to better appreciate my point of view I think it’s important to know a little bit about my background. Second, I believe it’s important to understand why we train like we do. Why practice is structured the way it is with more static, repetitive focus on basic movement and technique in the beginning followed by bigger, more dynamic movements coming later. Next, I want to highlight some basic, or not so basic, principles and thoughts concerning my views on Aikido’s application in the real world and in the course of self-defense. Finally, I hope to tie some of the processes and principles of training and application together. Please note, I’m going to keep this at a high level with more of a broad overview. I’m not saying anyone or any methodology as right or wrong and other people will certainly have differing points of view. I’m simply providing some information for you to digest at your leisure; keep what you want and feel free to toss out the rest.

Don’t sweat it; I don’t think you’ll have any trouble following along. In my adventures I’ve been a lot of places and met, worked, and trained with people from all over the world. It has been my experience the type of people who gravitate toward Aikido seem to have an above average intelligence level; obviously, I’m the exception to the rule. So, not only are you awesome…and you are, but you’re smart too. Now give yourself a big ole pat on the back and take a look in the mirror and tell yourself how smart you are. Excellent. Well, now that you’re riding high on a wave of exuberance and self-esteem I’ll take a minute to tell you a little about my background. 

My martial arts training began with Shorin-Ryu Karate in 1980 when I was eleven. Yes, I know what you’re thinking…I can’t possibly be that old and I agree with you…I do look amazing. Anyway, over the years my training has become fairly diverse as I began training in other arts such as traditional Japanese style Jiu-Jitsu, Tae-Kwon-Do (South Korea), Aikido (Hawaii, Guam, and the mainland with all the other “Haoles”), Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, and finally some Krav Maga. Several of these arts are very similar and complementary to Aikido while others are drastically different. Together they comprise a wide range of focus areas: different punching and kicking styles, varied focus on grappling application, nerve attacks, joint locks, hip throws, chokes, close combat, sparring, controlling techniques, weapon defense (gun, knife, sword, jo, stick, and bat), application of force and strength, application of relaxed movement, off-balancing, blending, the use of Ki, and numerous pinning techniques. Jesus that’s a lot of techniques! Oops, didn’t mean to bring religion into the conversation. Not everyone is a Belieber…some prefer to put their faith in a higher power of their choosing or an inanimate object. I think I’ll put my faith in Jerimiah. Do you remember him…Jerimiah was bull frog…he was a good friend of mine. While I can’t prove the existence of some things I can at least prove the existence of bull frogs. Heck, I’ve held them in my hands…and tasted their flesh! Whoa, that was a bit disturbing and has absolutely no place in an Aikido article (and yet I refrain from hitting the delete key…weird huh?). But don’t freak out I’m talking about delicious fried frog legs…yummy…tastes like chicken. Now back to the conversation. I think a big question we often ask ourselves is with all those techniques to choose from how do you decide which to use and when to use it? Believe it or not you already have experience in many of those focus areas even if Aikido is the only art you’ve trained. The breadth and depth of your experience will determine how many variations you may know. So, back to the question, how do you choose? Well, it’s actually a very simple answer…you don’t. I’ll discuss in more detail later but for now think of it as the more you know can directly correlate to your ability to move easier and feel more comfortable in various situations.  

Did you know whether you’ve had one Sensei or one hundred you’re never going to perform exactly like them? You probably did…you’re so smart. Rather, you will take parts of the principles and techniques they teach and hone them into your own style. You’ll take the principles you relate to best and the techniques you feel fit you best and become more proficient with those while discarding others. At best, if someone is familiar with a certain Sensei’s instruction they may recognize some of it when they watch you train. I’ve studied under numerous Sensei, Masters, Instructors, Coaches, and Professors; especially in Aikido where I’ve had the privilege to study under eleven Sensei and many others at various seminars. I’ve found all of them to be different and those differences enabled me to develop a well-rounded style. In my humble opinion, a Sensei is simply a student of the art who has been walking down the same path as you, only longer. Luckily for us Aikidoka, they have a desire to share what they’ve learned. Through years of dedication to the art Sensei has honed ability into skill and at a high level can make seemingly difficult movements appear effortless. However, there’s a secret to their graceful appearance…lean in close and don’t tell anyone what I’m about to tell you. Great techniques appear effortless because they are effortless. Boom! Mind blown…I know, right! Didn’t see that one coming did ya?

So now, let’s take a look at how we practice in the dojo. You’ve probably heard the saying about training your techniques, “do it 10,000 times and when you’re done do it 10,000 more times and you might start to understand.” Let me say clearly, all your training boils down to one thing…muscle memory. Everyone has the ability to improve over time and repetitive practice infuses your techniques into your muscle memory and decreases the need to think about what you’re doing while you’re doing it. It frees the mind to think ahead. The biggest obstacle to your improvement is you. A lot of your training is focused on repetitive basic movements and technique. This is because it takes time to learn a technique and even longer to understand the principles involved in its execution. Aikidoka tend to brake a technique down into steps to facilitate learning; you should avoid doing this…although, it’s easier said than done. The focus gets placed on learning each step and leaving no time to think ahead to the next step until after it has already arrived (don’t worry, I understand, everyone has to go through this process). It takes time to develop enough proficiency so your mind is free to think one step ahead, then two steps ahead, then being able to see the end of the technique when uke begins their attack. Most of the time you spend in the Kyu ranks is focused on training your body how to move while staying strict to the basic technique. Perhaps we should have an old Catholic nun in the dojo who’ll smack us on the knuckles with a wooden ruler if we become sloppy with our techniques…that’d teach us. However, the reason you shouldn’t brake techniques down into steps is because it makes their execution choppy. Instead, you should work to make them smooth. A technique done smoothly only has one step…how easy is that! By smooth I mean you should move through the entire technique at the same speed. Don’t suddenly speed up or slow down. Of course, this is much easier to accomplish in the dojo than it is when “life” suddenly smacks you in the face and reminds you who’s the boss. Your training will help you stay the course. You can’t speed up your technique by moving faster; i.e., faster ≠ faster; faster = choppy. You speed up your technique by smoothing it out. Move through the entire technique at a steady pace just decrease the amount of time it takes to do it; i.e., smoother = faster. You should discover you’re movements become easier to perform. Additionally, you won’t feel as though you’re moving fast; you’ll feel like you’re moving slow and have better control. However, someone watching you may say it appears to be fast. Also, uke can flow with you and make adjustments much better when you move smoothly lessening the chance you’ll break your uke.

As there is with every rule…there is an exception to the don’t abruptly speed up or slow down philosophy which occurs when uke attacks. In the dojo, this occurs during the initial attack; however, in a self-defense application it could happen more than once. Think of it like this, Aikido teaches us when uke attacks you should move off line, blend with their energy, take their balance, bring them under your control, and FINISH HIM!!! If uke’s movement at the beginning of the attack is very fast then you’ll need to use speed to quickly move off the line of attack. This burst of speed may be faster than the speed you’ll use to execute your defense. So, after you quickly avoid the attack and you’re blending with uke’s energy you slow uke down to your speed…you don’t stay at their speed. In short, uke dictates the speed of the attack (nage can have an influence on this) but nage dictates the speed of the technique and it can be much slower than the speed required to avoid the initial attack. This is not to say it can’t be faster…it can…it’s nage’s choice. However, typically when I see people (this includes me) executing a technique too fast it begins to get sloppy. I don’t want to get into the weeds on this so try focusing on just being smooth.

When I first began to study Aikido with Herbert Condo Sensei in Hawaii he would tell me to pay attention to his feet and not his hands. He said the foot movement was the most important principle to understand. So far, I don’t believe I’ve ever seen a novice (Kyu rank) student successfully pull it off. Because it’s all about the hands, right? What am I supposed to be doing with my hands…where am I grabbing…how do I get the wrist over like that…blah blah blah. This is because the arms are all show and do a great job of capturing your attention. It’s almost impossible not to watch them because it looks as though they’re doing all the work. Not to mention if you don’t know what they’re doing…you take one step into the technique and stop because you’re trying to figure out what to do with your hands. The reality is you do have to use them…I mean a little bit at least, right? It took me a long time to understand what Condo Sensei really meant. Quite honestly, had he phrased his comments in a different way I may have figured it out a little sooner. But then again maybe not…remember I’m not the smart one…you are. Go ahead…pat yourself on the back and tell yourself how smart you are again…I’ll wait. Done? Good. Now I believe I have an understanding of what he meant and I agree with him. He didn’t necessarily mean watch the feet and memorize what they’re doing. What he meant was watch what happens to the body as the feet are moving. To expand further…because you’re connected to uke…watch what happens to uke. Got it…clear as mud? Let me clarify a little more. You can move your arms all over the place while keeping the rest of your body almost perfectly still and if you do this while you’re connected to uke probably not much is going to happen unless you add a lot of muscle into the equation. On the contrary, what happens when you move your feet; be it a step or a turn? Think about it for a minute…your center (one-point) moves. You can’t move your feet without affecting your center and when you’re connected to uke you’re using your entire body (through your center) to move them and not your arms. As you’ve probably heard me say before, it’s much easier to move uke using your body instead of your arms. It changes the way the whole connection to uke…feels to uke. Apply force through the arms and uke will feel the force and push back against it and if they’re stronger than your arms they’ll win that battle. This is essentially an exercise of Isaac Newton’s third law of motion which states, for every action (force) in nature there is an equal and opposite reaction. If uke feels you pushing against them with your arms…they will push back or at least have a desire to push back. However, by moving with your center, uke will “slightly” feel there’s a force moving against them but they won’t be able to pinpoint the source. Because they can’t tell where the force is coming from their body won’t be inclined to push back against it. Additionally, you’ll be moving uke with your whole body which is much stronger than either your or their arms.

In the dojo, much of your training starts from a very static position. Additionally, you begin many of your techniques at a point which begins somewhere within the attack. This is not necessarily a bad thing…just a fact and something for you to be aware of so you know when it occurs and can begin to see around this “dojoism.” When you’re training from a static position you can focus on making a good, solid connection to uke, affecting uke’s posture by moving your center (and the rest of your body), and quite frankly, just being able to move out of a static position and into a more advantageous one. When you train more dynamically; the movements are easier and the flow feels much smoother. Under dynamic motion the connection you establish with uke happens much, much quicker. When you’re static you have a tendency to wait on uke to grab or attack before you begin to move. However, dynamically you either initiate the connection to uke or lead their mind as they reach or move toward a part of you that’s never there unless you give it to them. Huh huh…he said, “give it to them” ...huh huh. Come on, that’s good material, where are my Bevis and Butt Head fans?

Through repetitive training of technique after technique you’ll see yourself grow and progress. You’ll achieve a higher level of understanding and begin to feel your way through it as opposed to seeing your way through it. During my BJJ training, when we were rolling (5-minute grappling sessions) I would often just close my eyes the entire time. I could do it because there was no punching or kicking to worry about. Occasionally, my partners would tell me it was a little freaky or weird. Meaning they were freaked out by it…advantage me. However, I was just eliminating the visual aspect of training in order to focus on the mind-body connection. Instead of moving where I saw I could or should go I would feel my way through everything. Obviously in Aikido you can’t close your eyes for five minutes nor even during the whole technique; but, after the initial attack you can…try it. We spend a long-time training just to improve our ability to effectively execute a technique. The time spent also reinforces our mind-body connection and it is this connection that you’ll want to employ during real world application. As I like to say…let your body tell you what to do and move where your body wants you to move. Don’t think about it…just do it. Why do I feel like I just stepped into a Nike commercial?

Have you ever heard of the OODA loop (pronounced u-duh)? It is a decision cycle of observe, orient, decide, and act. It was developed by a military strategist and an Air Force Colonel. Leadership classes may involve discussions on use of the OODA loop. You use it all the time and don’t even realize it. Let’s look at it as it applies to self-defense. As uke begins their attack, you “observe” what they’re doing which involves realizing what’s coming; e.g., a punch or kick or whatever. Next, you “orient” yourself to the incoming attack such as look for the angle or direction that will suit you best…step off the line of attack. Next, you “decide” what you’re going to do, such as execute iriminage. Finally, you “act” and perform the technique. This works well in training and now that you’re familiar with the process you’ll actually see it unfold before your eyes as you train slow, like magic…oooh…aaah…disclaimer, no rabbits were harmed in the execution of this technique. There’s nothing wrong with this concept and it works very well in certain situations. I believe it works well for slow Aikido training but it breaks down when the training becomes more dynamic and in real self-defense applications. I’ll discuss more on this in a bit.

I hope I’ve provided you with some things to think about and perhaps added a few new tools to your training toolbelt. Now let’s look at how some of this may change when applied outside the dojo. Although I didn’t discuss it earlier, ukemi is more likely to be the technique you find yourself using in the real-world. Whether you fall down or get attacked by someone…you’re going to get hit…it’s just a matter of how many times. When you fall the ground will only hit you once…unless you’re going downhill or get a good bounce. If you’ve honed your application of ukemi so it’s “second nature” to you then your body will attempt to land in a familiar position. However, whether you successfully achieve the perfect falling position depends a lot upon gravity and time. Obviously, your hope is to not get hurt…and you may not. I’ve successfully pulled this off a number of times. Realistically, a very good and successful outcome is to minimize the damage; meaning it may hurt but it could have been worse…been there…done that too. I’ve found the most jarring aspect of falling is not the landing it’s how quickly and unexpectedly it can happen.

Hopefully all of our rigorous training has sharpened the mind-body connection to a level where techniques have become second nature to us. Grasshopper, can you snatch the pebble from my hand? As I mentioned previously, under dynamic situations or self-defense applications the OODA loop brakes down because there is not enough time to progress through each step. For example; you’re being attacked and you observe the punch coming and start to orient yourself to it. As you’re deciding what to do, another punch is coming so you begin the process over. Observe the second punch…orient…begin to decide…Bam…punch landed. Well I hope you observed that little piece of reality…get with the program sport! As you start to orient to what just happened…Bam! Another punch lands. By now you’re thinking is Donald Trump still President…where am I? You never get past the second or third step in the process…you never get to the action step. In a real-world situation, you’ll probably only have enough time to observe and act. You won’t have time to orient and decide…at least not on a conscious level. This is where second nature/mind-body connection comes in handy. All you have to do is let your body move, observe what is happening, and act on what your body tells you to do. The orientation and decision process will be relegated to the subconscious level. Keep in mind this doesn’t suddenly make you an amazing athlete…no worries brah…you’ll be humbled when you eat a punch or two…just life’s way of reminding you who’s in charge. This is also why you don’t have to choose an action from the plethora of techniques you know. Wow, you know so many techniques…you’re really smart…look at the size of the brain on Brad. Just move and let your body/subconscious mind tell you what to do.

Our strict training in the dojo won’t always translate directly to a given situation. Say you’re at a bar and someone decides to start messing with you. I don’t know why I chose a bar…I don’t hang out in them…I just figured you don’t see nefarious individuals hanging out at the local YMCA looking for trouble. So, you’re at a bar and somebody walks up and asks the age-old question, “What the f@#k are you looking at?” Even if this surprising action takes you back a bit, remember you have options from which to choose. One, I would be remiss if I didn’t say you could and should just walk away or you could tell them you weren’t looking at them. Two, you could take this opportunity to provide them with some information they may have formerly been unaware of concerning their mother. Three, you could be honest and simply reply, “The dumbest son-of-a-b@#$h I’ve ever seen!” Don’t worry, they’ll appreciate your honesty…they always do. What I’m trying to say is an attack can happen out of the blue when you’re least expecting it and you may find you’re not in the optimal position to begin to defend yourself. The good news is bad guys will always give you time to figure out whether you want to start with your left or right foot forward…wait, I like the left…yeah, let’s go with the left foot and don’t forget…bend the knees a little. When bad things start, you may find yourself sitting down, leaning on a bar or up against a wall, you could have your back turned, your hands in your pocket, you could be sitting in your car, or any number of other positions. The opportunity for you to move into your ready stance (aihanmi or gyakuhanmi) may never present itself. Additionally, keep in mind a ready stance telegraphs to the attacker that…well…that you’re ready…and kind of says, “bring it on big fella.” You have to be prepared to defend yourself from any position. It’s an adjustment to the beginning of the technique and it may not be the only adjustment you have to make.

The preceding example is just a small, simple explanation of some issues you can have in just beginning to defend yourself along with an opportunity for me to crack a few jokes. I can in no way describe the multitude of situations which can occur nor will I because you don’t really need to know them to be successful. To further gum up the works; your ability to defend yourself can be constrained by a number of external elements. Such as the number of attackers, your ability to anticipate the attack, how much room you have to move, the available lighting, the location, etc. You simply cannot plan for all of this, but you can give it some forethought from time to time. A little mental preparation is a good thing. Don’t get caught with your pants down…really…nobody wants to see that. It’s less about the situation and more about how you react to it. If your mind-body connection is on point then hopefully you’ll execute the proper defense for any given situation…if not…don’t stop moving…adjust to it. In short, the proper defense is anything that’s effective.

Sgt. Rory Miller defined self-defense in his book, Meditations on Violence: A Comparison of Martial Arts Training & Real-World Violence, as “…the recovery from stupidity or bad luck, from finding yourself in a position you would have given almost anything to prevent.” I highly recommend this book as it will give you a much better understanding of not only your training and your reactions but about the types of people who would seek to do you harm and how they think and operate. Sgt. Miller offers another good nugget of information, “…people are never decisive in conditions of uncertainty…you must be able to act with partial information.” Translation…you don’t have time to stand there and make sense of what just happened…get your hands up and move. In order to overcome indecisiveness and act without whole knowledge you must incorporate a variety of scenarios into your training. Although you can’t necessarily do this in the middle of an Aikido class without drawing the ire of Sensei you can make it a mental exercise. Look for the variations and openings as they present themselves while you progress through your technique. Don’t just see what’s available to you, (e.g., punches, knee strike, kick, smash the back of the elbow with your forearm, etc.) but think about how uke would respond. Differentiate between this is how I do this in the dojo vs how you could do it on the street. We don’t often practice atemi as part of the Aikido technique. Sometimes Sensei may draw your attention to it, but it’s always there and it’s wise to recognize those opportunities. There are people who believe Aikido and atemi do not belong together and its perfectly ok. However, my Aikido is full of atemi.

Hopefully you’ve noticed during your training uke is constantly placed into very vulnerable positions which we tend to ignore as we progress through the technique. At any given time, you could alter the technique to take advantage of these vulnerabilities and inflict some real damage. Obviously, be very careful in the dojo as uke is probably not ready for these sudden changes. So again, at the least, make it a mental exercise to recognize these openings. Have you noticed when training sometimes you attempt a technique and for whatever reason it stalls out somewhere in the middle? This is usually the point where nage begins to try and force the technique by adding unnecessary muscle into the equation because as we all know more muscle means more better right…probably not…definitely not. Remember Isaac Newton’s third law of motion mentioned earlier? If during the course of defending yourself you start forcing something to work…the attacker is going to push back against this force and the strongest person will win the battle…not to mention this will consume a lot of your energy (their energy too, but you don’t care about that so much…you care about yours…don’t waste it). I personally won’t hesitate to abandon a technique I feel isn’t going to work and I believe the sooner the better; don’t give the attacker a chance to recover. The caveat is you should immediately flow into something else…make an adjustment or two or three or more…and it will probably involve switching techniques like we train to do (e.g., sankyo to yonkyo or ikkyo to iriminage) or quickly exploiting a couple of uke’s sensitive and vulnerable areas (e.g., face, rib cage, groin, back of head, spine, elbow or knee joint).

Have you ever been frozen? No, not the movie; what, with that adorable song and all. You know, the one everybody likes to sing along with when they’re alone in the car. No…maybe it’s just me then. Rather, there is a process which can occur whether you’re training or defending yourself called “Freezing.” In training, you’ll generally see it appear when you find you’re not quite in the position you intended to be in but yet it’s a very familiar position just not one best suited to continue the technique you meant to use. Therefore, you find yourself searching/thinking about which technique you should switch to and sometimes it doesn’t come to you right away or several do and now you have to choose. All the while your deciding what to do next in reality you’re just standing there…frozen…thinking…and the seconds just keep ticking by. Now I could be wrong but I’m pretty sure an attacker isn’t going to sit there and wait for you to make a decision…no sir…they’re gonna mess you up. To counter this effect, all you have to do is move…move, move, move…something will come to you or you’ll just end up moving into a familiar position which allows the technique to flow out of you. Besides, you can better defend yourself if you’re moving. People will also freeze up when they’re attacked/assaulted unexpectedly as the mind is trying to catch up and understand what is happening. As mentioned earlier, you must be able to act with only partial information…protect and defend yourself. As I see it, a successful self-defense in one where you’re able to minimize the damage taken from an assault and are able to walk or run away. This may sound funny, but there is no requirement for you to inflict any damage on an attacker. An attacker may just be looking for an easy victim and if you’re effectively defending yourself they may decide this is too difficult and run away. Or perhaps you will have to inflict damage. So many scenarios…so little time. Besting someone is just a way to embellish your machismo or for the ladies your inner…I am woman hear me roar. Again, I would be remiss if I didn’t point out, as the victim/defender, you could be subject to legal action brought against you from the attacker or thief or whomever if you use excessive force. Again, so many possible scenarios. You should defend yourself to the point where you feel you’re out of danger. Also, if the option presents itself you should run away…this could be the most effective self-defense. You should never feel like you have to fight as this is an active choice of engagement; but, you may have to defend yourself…like it or not.

So, let’s see if I can tie some of this information together for you. The dojo is your safe space where you can fail time and time again almost without repercussion. When you train, you’re training both the mental and physical processes. Stay the course on strict training to hone your abilities and create a strong mind-body connection…make your movements become second nature. Close your eyes and feel where your body (center) is as you move…feel your balance…feel how they control and affect uke. The more adept you are at doing this, the better you’ll be at recognizing when you’re not in an ideal position and be able to make effective adjustments. Employ your mental exercises during training to see different angles of attack, see openings and vulnerabilities, see where you can move if you suddenly need to change what you’re doing. Try some of these out in training; it’s much better to fail in the dojo than on the street. Training is a learning process and it’s easy to train what works and harder when you find something that doesn’t work. The dojo is where you figure it out and make it better. Vary your techniques a bit and see how they feel; if you fail, this is where you work through it. Put yourself in positions which require you to make adjustments and see how they feel; some will feel good and others…not so much. In real-world application I think it’s essential to move by feeling. You can call it whatever makes better sense to you, feeling, second nature, mind-body connection, flowing, moving as one…it’s all the same. The more comfortable you are in different variations of a technique and more adept at quickly making adjustments the better you’ll feel about relying on your mind-body connection in tense situations.

Aikido looks really pretty in the dojo and if your uke can follow along well it can almost be described as a dance. Nage leads (leads the mind) and uke follows (continuous attack or trying to recapture their balance). However, brake out an Aikido move on the dance floor and you’re sure to quickly find out your partner won’t be describing it as “dance like” and you can think about it on your long walk home or perhaps your shameful Uber ride home. The reality of Aikido applied in real life is it will be less graceful than in the dojo and probably ugly. You only need uke to flow with you for a second or two before your actions turn to inflicting pain and control. The way some techniques, iriminage for example, can be performed in the dojo are what I like to call the “nice way” where you take uke’s balance and make them fall backwards and roll out of it. This “nice” application could actually result in injury on the street as an attacker smacks their head on the pavement because they don’t know how to fall. But just a slight adjustment to the end of this technique and it can be performed with a more brutal outcome. This is actually less an adjustment and simply another form of the technique; remember not everyone trains/teaches techniques the same way. I believe you should be aware of some of these variations/adjustments so you have them available in your tool belt if you need them.

Remember to focus on how your center moves when you move your feet. Your center is what drives you through the technique and you want to bring uke along for the ride. People don’t always attack from a well-balanced position; it’s an attack not a fight. They’ll be coming at you to take your head off and they’re usually off balance during the process. This makes it easier to blend and control if you’re in a position that enables you to blend and control…you’ll have to be moving and getting off the line. When the defense is born out of dynamic movements connection to the attacker happens very quickly, almost instantaneous. As I like to say, you have to be able to move and defend yourself from any position. Meaning…be flexible…you don’t have to “be ready” to be ready. Aikido doesn’t have to look pretty, it just needs to be effective.

This article’s focus on Aikido application/self-defense refers primarily to being attacked/assaulted as opposed to fighting. Let me clarify how I distinguish between the two. Fighting and being attacked aren’t the same thing. In fighting, generally, two people are actively participating in aggressive and violent actions toward one another. An attack is perpetrated by one or more individuals onto another individual or individuals typically without their acknowledgment. You have a generally good chance of talking your way out of or possibly just walking away from a fight. In an assault, the attacker doesn’t care what you have to say and at least initially won’t let you just walk away. Keep in mind during the initial stages of an escalating altercation/fight, before any punches are thrown, if one person begins to back down it could quickly turn into an attack as the other party sees a potential advantage…never let your guard down especially if you’re able to walk away.

Everyone training in Aikido is there for the same purpose…to learn Aikido. However, the reasons vary with the number of students. I think it’s safe to say almost no one is training because they’re hoping to get into a fight. I believe the vast majority are looking to learn a martial art, learn self-defense and discipline, to improve upon some aspect of themselves, to build self-confidence, to get some exercise, get out and meet new people, increase their mobility, or to help them work through some difficult moments in their life. For me, I’m just trying to fill a little of the emptiness in my soul. No matter your reason, everyone trains the same techniques so it’s easy to find someone to help you out when you’re having trouble. On the other hand, life treats everyone differently and everyone handles life in a different way. I feel you should take it upon yourself to at least be aware of the possibilities life can throw at you and strive to improve on your ability to successfully deal with conflict.

I hope you enjoyed the article and were able to find a few nuggets of meaningful information. I hope you found my ramblings and internal dialog a bit entertaining and not too distracting. If you’re reading a scaled down, non-humorous version of this article…blame Sean…he made the final edits…and you should be aware he has deprived you of some decent material wrapped in some quality entertainment and now you are the lesser for it. If he decided to leave everything in the article then I believe you should question Sean’s ability to recognize quality writing and realize he has subjected you some highly inappropriate material potentially causing permanent damage to your delicate psyche. Either way…blame Sean. Thanks for reading…see you on the mat.