Aikido is an energetic system – meaning that we require a partner to train effectively and ultimately need the partner’s intent to inform our responses. This fact leads some to conclude that Aikido is a defensive art insofar as it does not appear to emphasize attack and also that the spiritual history decries violence. Nevertheless, when one actually studies what O’Sensei and other prominent Shihan have demonstrated and written, it is abundantly clear that attack was a primary means of eliciting a response from Uke – in short an Indirect attack to force a line of response – thereby “controlling the encounter” or in the more poetic (obtuse) phrase – winning before the battle is enjoined. Ignoring the debates of the moral superiority of this approach to a violent encounter, let us focus on the reason or the logic of training in this manner.
All training is by definition a complicit encounter. We are trying to cultivate a trained response to a dynamic encounter – therefore neither the attack nor the response can be random: if it were the chance of an injury is guaranteed. Given the inherent limitation of training (vs fighting) a partner based method (vs a solo or kata based) is an expedited training method – it requires us to focus on our personal movements as well as our partners.
Because of this – quite often I see people trying to “train” uke to respond in a prescriptive manner. In order to train a technique both players must adhere to the logic of the encounter: what is uke trying to do and how is nage contending with that intention. Therefore – both players are executing at the most basic understanding a choreographed – i.e. prescribed – movement pattern in order to understand how both parts of the action relate and comprise a unified action. The inherent danger is that often uke is taught how to “follow.” This is a misleading (if sometimes useful) verb. I personally find it an offensive verb because if I follow as uke, then my self-directed action, my intention, is all “given” to nage leading to dangerous metaphorical understandings of the art – “it’s a lot like dancing.” No it isn’t. [Unless we approach our understanding of dance as a means of teaching the body martial movement patterns – which many forms were… but even then the metaphor is backwards – dance is like martial arts, and the reciprocal isn’t really true.*]
So while “teaching” ukeme and learning to follow a lead is sometimes a useful teaching tool, it is a very dangerous one because it can lead quickly to an empty pattern of movement – devoid of the logic of combat, which I submit, must be the primary basis to inform your movement patterns. If it isn’t combat effective, then why do it?
How then should uke train? Once the rudimentary movements are learned – the basic pattern of response – then start to think: “How would I best position myself given the limitations of my current body position, my available weapons, and my proximity to my partner in order to deliver a lethal counter strike?”
These notes are reminders for an outline of a series of courses on the “why” for our lines of movement that should help facilitate the “how” in executing them.
Aikido’s traditional ki-hon techniques may in fact capture the range of human motion within the compendium of its curriculum, but it is not presented in a ‘systemic’ manner. For that I baldy plagiarize the following from Kenpo with only minor modifications from Bruce Lee’s Jeet Kun Do (JKD) methods of attack:
SINGLE DIRECT ATTACK
All Attack thrown without strategy by telegraphing directly is NOT JKD. (Notice that Aikido’s attacks are primarily Single Direct, but I would suggest they have a strategy…)
All Attack thrown with a Feint, or Fake attack, Two Types
Feint returns back to execute Real Attack,
i. Feint with Hand – Attack with Hook Kick
ii. Feint with Kick by Leg Lift & Jab with Hand
· PROGRESSIVE INDIRECT ATTACK
Feint does not return back & attacks follow one after another progressively
Back fist Feint – to Side Kick – to Trap & Punch without pullback
SINGLE ANGLE ATTACK
Attack from Inside Angle or Outside, Kick or Punch
Angle in & Jab, OR Angle out and back fist
Angle in & Hook Kick OR Angle out & Side Kick Hip
ATTACK BY COMBINATION
Boxing Combination OR Kicking Combination OR Kick Boxing Combination
Jab – Jab – Cross OR Jab – Cross – Hook Ld
Front Kick Shin – Side Kick Knee – Side Kick –Body (All Lead)
Lead Hook Kick – Jab – Cross – Hook Ld
ATTACK BY TRAPPING
Pak Sao Rear Trap – Lead Jab
Lop Sao Lead Trap – Rear Cross
Straight Blast with Multiple alternating Pak Traps & Punches
ATTACK BY DRAWING
Intentionally open one area like Face or Groin & as soon as opponent attacks there, Parry & Execute a real attack. Used to get an opponent close & bait him.
A) Open Face Guard intentionally & bait him for Punching – When he responds do Side Kick
B) Open Groin by pouting it out & bait him for Hook kicking – When he responds do Lead Jab – Cross
Please remember that Bruce Lee was a great student and connoisseur of motion. He borrowed heavily from fencing (read his note books) and recognized many of the important combat lessons this “sport” still has to teach. Primary among them is the realization of ranges – “4 Combat Ranges” – were instrumental in becoming a “total” martial artist.
The four ranges of combat
The strong-side lead is another fencing lesson adapted to empty hand – which derives from the observation that the best defense is a strong offence, hence the principle of “Intercepting” and the preference for a strong-side lead. Lee believed that in order for an opponent to attack someone they had to move towards them. This provided an opportunity to “intercept” that attack or movement. The principle of interception covers more than just intercepting physical attacks. Lee believed that many non-verbals and telegraphs (subtle movements that an opponent is unaware of) could be perceived or “intercepted” and thus be used to one’s advantage. The “5 Ways of Attack” are attacking categories that help organize the repertoire. The concepts of Stop hits & stop kicks and simultaneous parrying & punching were borrowed from European Fencing and Wing Chun’s theory of simultaneous defending and attacking.
Five Ways Of Attack
- Single Angle Attack (SAA)/Single Direct Attack (SDA). Is a single motion (Punch or Kick) which moves with no effort to conceal it, directly to the target on the most economical route. It can also be indirect, beginning on one line and ending on another. Such as a punch that starts to the stomach (mid line) and ends on the chin (high line). SAA is an attack that is launched from an unanticipated angle that is achieved by moving in such a way as to create an open line into which to strike.
- Hand Immobilization Attack (HIA) and its counterpart Foot Immobilization attack, which make use of trapping/parrying to limit the opponent’s function with that appendage.
- Progressive Indirect Attack (PIA). Simulating an attack to one part of the opponent’s body followed by attacking another part as a means of creating an opening.
- Attack By Combinations (ABC). This is using multiple rapid attacks, with volume of attack as a means of overcoming the opponent.
- Attack By Drawing (ABD). The goal when using attack by draw is to “draw” the opponent into a committed attack by baiting him into what looks like an exposed target, then intercepting his/her motion. One can execute a motion that invites a counter, then counter attack them as he takes the bait.
- Efficiency – An attack that reaches its mark using the maximum amount of energy and applying it to a single point in the least amount of time.
- Directness – Doing what comes naturally in a learned way.
- Simplicity – Thinking in an uncomplicated manner; without ornamentation.
Simultaneous parrying & punching
When confronting an incoming attack, the attack is parried or deflected and a counter attack is delivered at the same time. Not as advanced as a stop hit but more effective than blocking and counter attacking in sequence. This is also practiced by some Chinese martial arts. Simultaneous parrying & punching utilizes the principle of economy of motion by combining attack and defense into two movements thus minimizing the “time” element and maximizing the “energy” element. Efficiency is gained by utilizing a parry rather than a block. By definition a “block” stops an attack whereas a parry merely re-directs an attack. Redirection has two advantages: It requires less energy to execute. It utilizes the opponents energy against them by creating an imbalance. Efficiency is also gained in that the opponent has less time to react to the nullification of their attack while having to worry about defending an incoming attack.
In addition to the forms of attack – the development of “laws” also provides a framework for thinking:
Kenpo Law #1: The Circle and the Line
The first law of kenpo states that when your opponent charges straight in and attacks, you should use your feet to move your body along a circular path. You should also consider moving your arms in a circular pattern to deflect the oncoming force.
When your opponent attacks you in a circular fashion, however, you should respond with a fast linear attack —along a straight line from your weapon to his target. Just as the circle can overcome the line, the line can overcome the circle.
Kenpo Law #2: Strike First
This principle has several meanings. First, it indicates that kenpo is primarily a striking art. Seventy percent hands and 30 percent feet is the classical breakdown, but you can change the proportion according to the circumstances or your body build.
The second meaning is that if a confrontation is inevitable you should not wait for the aggressor to attack first. The kenpo curriculum also includes numerous grappling and throwing techniques, but research has shown they are used in less than 25 percent of the encounters practitioners have found themselves in, and they are ineffective against multiple attackers. Because grappling uses four times as much strength and energy as striking does, it has been deemed a last resort suitable for use only if your opponent penetrates your first and second lines of defense: your feet and fists, respectively.
Kenpo Law #3: Multiple Strikes
Kenpo is different from many karate styles in that it teaches you to strike first and strike often in rapid succession— high, low, straight in and along a circular path. While unleashing such rapid-fire strikes, it becomes difficult to kiai (shout) in conjunction with each one. Therefore, you should forget about issuing a kiai with each blow; in fact, doing so means you are expending excess energy. Your first and second strikes should be designed to stun, distract and slow your opponent. Your third and, if necessary, fourth strikes are the power blows. Remember the kenpo maxim: First set your opponent up, then take him out.
Kenpo Law #4: Targets
If you had to punch a hole through a wall, would you rather hit a half-inch of sheet rock or a 2×4 stud? The answer is obvious, and it’s also why kenpo advocates striking “soft” targets. No one ever broke his knuckle punching an attacker’s temple, no one ever fractured his instep kicking an attacker’s groin and no one ever injured his knifehand striking an attacker’s throat. In Japan the makiwara board is used to toughen the hands, and in Thailand muay Thai fighters harden their shins by kicking banana trees. Kenpo is different in that it teaches the path of least resistance and least pain. Precisely targeting the temple, face, nose, neck, solar plexus, stomach, groin and floating ribs is superior to simply pummeling away on random parts of the aggressor’s body.
Kenpo Law #5: Kicking
Kenpo’s mandate to kick low is based on logic. A roundhouse kick and spinning reverse crescent kick to the head may be flashy and impressive, but such maneuvers take longer to execute because your leg has to travel farther. They also expose your groin to your opponent’s kick. Because kicking high requires superior balance and focus, you should practice your leg techniques high. But deliver them low for self-defense. Furthermore, kicking low to the legs—executing a “pillar attack”—can break your opponent’s balance and his leg.
Kenpo Law #6: No Block
Kenpo emphasizes economy of movement and economy of time. Hence, its no-block principle teaches that to avoid being struck by a punch or kick, you should move your body out of harm’s way. The most advanced defense taught in the martial arts, it was perhaps best expressed by the old Shaolin priest in the Kung Fu television series: “Avoid rather than check; check rather than block; block rather than strike; strike rather than hurt; hurt rather than maim; maim rather than kill—for all life is precious.”
Strategically, a block is a wasted move because it does not stop your opponent from attacking again with his free limb. It is much better to move yourself out of the way of his punch or kick and simultaneously counterattack.
Kenpo Law #7: Yielding and Redirecting
Yielding and redirecting are best exemplified by the symbol of yin and yang (soft and hard). When your opponent attacks hard, you should counterattack soft. If he is weaker than you or attacks soft, you should counterattack hard to end the encounter quickly and directly.
Aikido includes many techniques that rely on the same principle of yielding and redirecting. In most karate systems, however, blocking is extremely hard and may injure not only the attacker but also the blocker. For the most part, kenpo does not adhere to this concept of “a block is a strike.” Instead, it teaches you to block soft and strike hard.
Redirecting is also of paramount importance. Many arts teach their practitioners to use a downward block to stop a front kick, resulting in the dents’ hammer fist being slammed into the attacker’s instep, but such an impact can break the blocking hand or arm. Kenpo teaches that it is preferable to parry your opponent’s leg to the side and spin him off-balance before you counterattack hard. Such a redirecting movement will usually disrupt his balance and leave him vulnerable.
Kenpo Law #8: Mobility
Mobility may be the easiest kenpo principle to understand. It holds that a moving target is harder to hit than a stationary one. As basic as that sounds, many martial artists fail to implement it. Kenpo teaches that there are three types of fighters: the statue, who has little mobility and will not retreat; the runner, who has to be chased around the ring; and the steamroller, who just keeps coming at you. If you are any one of these, be careful because you are predictable and can thus be defeated. To transcend mediocrity, you must mix things up and no matter what, keep moving. If your stance is upright and your movement is good, you will be able to put yourself in a superior position relative to your opponent.
Kenpo Law #9: Flexibility
The law of flexibility is the law of survival. Kenpo is unique in that it adapts to your build, personality and spirit. If you stand 4 feet 10 inches tall, it makes little sense for you to focus on kicking when your greatest strengths may be mobility and quickness. If you are a 110-pound woman, it makes little sense for you to grapple with a 230- pound assailant. The old kenpo masters showed their wisdom when they proclaimed that in a fight for your life, you should use what you know best and forget about the sanctity of the style. Every practitioner has different attributes that can make him or her effective.
A tall person with long legs may have an advantage with kicking; a short person may have an advantage with his hands; and a heavy person may have an advantage in grappling. The law of flexibility allows them all to develop their own repertoire of techniques from within kenpo.
Kenpo Law #10: The Warrior Spirit
The final principle of kenpo is composed of two essential components: the internal and external. A rabid dog may pose a formidable threat, but it possesses only the external component of the warrior spirit. Inside, the animal is not thinking. To have a complete warrior spirit, you must be ferocious on the outside but calm and tranquil on the inside.
Samurai warriors used to say that any day is a good day to die. That did not mean they sought death. On the contrary, they wanted to preserve life— especially their own. But they knew that if they went into battle with fear in their heart, they could die or sustain a serious injury. They knew that only by embracing and accepting death could they focus everything on the physical task at hand: defeating the enemy.
Your kiai, facial expressions, stance and on-guard position must all work in unison. Following the principle of yin and yang, you should be hard on the outside and soft on the inside. When used in this way, warrior spirit can be more important than physical skill.
Notice the similarities?
*On martial dances