For those happy few who got up early and braved the snow, today we explored my assertion that there is no ura – and to demonstrate I returned briefly to ikkyo. When properly done, ikkyo is a return of uke’s arm (sword, dagger, whatever) back on the line of approach, from the inside relationship. To that point, nage’s front shyuto – please remember – must be directed at uke’s head (i.e., it is emphatically not a block or redirect). Holding that thought – as uke is your intent for your head to be a target? Didn’t think so. Therefore uke has only two logical responses: first avoid the strike, resulting in omote; or second to try to slip to nage’s shikaku to reverse the technique. It is the later dynamic that allows a well-trained nage to execute ‘ikkyo ura.’ I put that in quotes, because when one looks at the dynamic, nage really doesn’t “do” anything differently to execute ikkyo ura vs omote – it is fundamentally a direct downward cut. But as uke tries to slip the initial throw, nage responds by keeping in uke’s shikaku as uke tries to approach nage’s shikaku. (And note, this could be made into an endless repetition if both players are equally skilled.) It is uke’s movement that engenders “ura” not nage’s intention.
There is value in teaching ura as if it were a technique separate from omote. I am providing you ideas to look holistically at the encounter so that eventually the focus on techniques becomes irrelevant and replaced with a focus on the quality of connection and spatial relationship of the players.
Only then do phrases like “the conclusion is determined from the moment of first contact” begin to hold merit.
After showing ikkyo’s transition from omote to ura we then explored the irimi nage omote to ura relationship. Being mindful that irimi nage is nothing more than ikkyo on the outside line – we quickly realize that it is only because uke is also trying to get to nage’s back that the ‘ura’ relationship is created. If uke doesn’t make the attempt, then there is no logical reason to ‘throw ura.’ It would be superfluous motion, wasted energy, a violation of the maxim of efficient motion. I recall Yamada sensei admonishing testing students to “be more simple” when throwing irimi nage. He does not emphasize ura with its down-up-down pattern. He wanted a simple irimi nage omote – an irimi entry, take the balance, and throw. So he wanted a different technique? No – he wanted a correct presentation of the relationship the participants demonstrated – if uke doesn’t move to the outside line to escape, why try to move them that direction?
Am I really advocating that there is no ura? Call it rhetorical hyperbole. Ura is a useful concept, but remember it is nothing more than a label for a particular dynamic relationship. When testing we need to see it demonstrated only because we need to see that nage understands that one can execute any given technique from either ‘the front’ or ‘the rear.’
At the end of class I demonstrated a ‘bunkai’ or application off the irimi nage entry. When presenting the hand palm down and using the shyuto as in doing kirikaeshi (to lock uke’s wrist) and then using the front hip to draw uke slightly forward, only for nage to quickly reverse direction and strike to the top of the hip/femur and drop uke immediately. I then showed a more ‘tai chi’ presentation whereby rather than a punch, the top hand becomes a palm strike while the supporting free hand lifts the hamstring (look at your hand at the terminus, it is a Chi Sao relationship).
For those of you looking for the logic chain – this ‘bunkai’ is essentially the same form of ‘irimi nage’ as what I have (for short hand reference) called Shibata’s entry (elbow control-strike at chudan level) and Yasuno sensei’s (front hand control of uke’s elbow to gedan) and Ty’s version (panatuken to jodan level). This time I gave it to you from static (aihanmi katate dori) to gedan. Sorry – these notes probably will only foster confusion if you haven’t been in my class.
I also spent some time trying to demonstrate the importance of ‘sensitivity’ and ‘connection’ as it pertains to irimi. As written notes, all I can say is that what is often perceived as speed is the ‘absence of information.’ And power is generated not by muscular strength but by leading uke to the appropriate position. There is no short cut to get to that understanding. Rote repetition, experimenting with strength, ballistic speed, etc., are all useful and necessary tools to physically learn the relationship, but I can only tell you that ultimately it is the relationship that is the goal.
That probably sounds as if I am trying to be spiritually profound. Trust me – I remain a square-hat rationalist (Wallace Stevens, look it up please). I will eventually get a fencing master into class to help everyone better understand that it is only the quality of connection that matters. Fencing is expert at this particular lesson – finding the blade, keeping connection, then slipping to enter. The light mass and high speed makes the foil a necessarily highly sensitive antennae – one where physical strength is a manifest disadvantage. But more on that sometime else.