A new month so moving to a new focus: a front shoulder grab – kata dori. First the context. A shoulder grab while wearing a dogi (or Edo-period clothing) can be an effective control. Starting with the little finger one quickly wraps his grip in the fabric of the shoulder or upper sleeve to effectively pin the opponent’s arm or at least provide a solid purchase for taking the balance. This grasp is a brisk attack, a control then a destabilization which could be followed by a strike with the free hand (kata dori menuchi). However, done with vim and vigor the shoulder grab could become and effective attack – imagine pulling the opponent straight down into an object. Whatever the scenario, kata dori requires a prompt response.
Given a proper attack tori has already taken out the slack which thereby creates the necessary tension. Momentarily allow uke that point. Without moving the shoulder or telegraphing, take a stabilizing step back which simultaneously counter’s tori’s pull and keeps the tension so that from this new deeper base (farther from the point of contact) you can now draw your shoulder back with a hip rotation. Simple tanren development and a good way for both players to develop a sense of rooted, grounded connection that forces balanced development. Once the stability and hip strength is understood, then we add the arm.
First the kihon-waza. Assume nage presents left shoulder which tori obligingly grabs with his forward (right) hand. Leaving the shoulder in place, nage steps forward with his right leg and delivers an atemi, then with tori distracted/stunned, nage moves to the flank with his left foot whilst the right hand moves from the atemi down the brachial to the crux of tori’s elbow with constant contact and forward (ie toward tori’s hara) pressure to deliver a ‘camming’ rotation with the ulna to ‘pin’ tori’s elbow. All this while drawing the grasped shoulder back. Lots of vectors to follow, but the ashi-sabaki (footwork) is a simple ‘box step’ and the arm pattern is just drawing the sword (iaido). The lessons from tanren training are the stability and sequencing of the feet (establish position, then deliver torque) and iaido should remind you that the saya moves as much as the sword does (ie the grasped shoulder is critically important to keep moving in the opposite vector as the ‘striking’ hand).
The typical point of failure is that most people pull tori toward them, push tori’s arm down or otherwise forget to perform a rotational camming action into tori and fail to move their shoulder away from the action. The overall feeling is one of increasing tension.
The bunkai should be obvious insofar as tori’s initial aggression is immediately stopped with a strike to the face then a rapid disengagement of the grab and a follow up strike. Should tori maintain the grab, then the flow of action will bring tori down and directly in front of nage. But all this presumes an ill-trained opponent.
An opponent who is better trained will ‘follow’ the action and thereby close the distance (or if nage struck, will intercept the strike, thereby forcing kata menuchi). This moves us to the slightly more advanced line of play whereby nage rotates to the inside line (ushiro tankan) rather than the basic ‘drawing’ move. This action will often drop tori’s head down and in front – a kaiten-nage-esque move. If you imagine a Spanish circle or any basic 8-count figure – such as:
The footwork is increasing in complexity because the path of travel is greater and timing (ki-musubi) is now of critical importance. The basic footwork (with nage in left hanmi) is, right foot from E to A, then left foot from C to G. However, the more advanced would require left foot ‘sweeping’ from G to C while right foot advances pressure from D to H and perhaps culminating its move from H to G. In the kihon-waza, tori remains at A, but in the more advanced, tori has started on the A-E vector only to move to C-G because of the dynamic tension of the technique. But again, all this presumes a specific encounter wherein both players assume the shoulder grab is of paramount importance.
Most of Aikido’s beauty is the flow of the encounter – the visual ‘dynamic sphere’ that is created when both practitioners are adhering to the logic of the scenario. This ‘suspension of disbelief’ allows the ‘advanced’ flow where in tori attacks with the intention of kata dori, nage matches the rate of tori’s advance by drawing tori forward and intercepting the grasping hand many techniques become possible. However, rather than work off a presumed grasp, tonight we played the attack with the possibility that the kata dori could be a jodan tsuki and later, a double dagger. Change the assumptions of the scenario and the movements become more abrupt.
Because a tsuki or a dagger thrust rapidly close the distance, nage must move first off the line and close just as rapidly to counter the attack – strike that which moves first. The play here is to trap the dagger against tori who would (should) be retracting to re-load for another strike. The angles will be unfamiliar at first because the distance is much closer than a “normal” Aikido attack. If you play the ‘normal’ Aikido line (with a drawing retreat or ushio tankan), you will find a cunning adversary will attack your newly vulnerable side with his free hand. This bit of devious reality from a knife-fighter’s game wherein the opening move is mere deadly bait to elicit a response that assures tori of the kill stroke. So the counter to pin the assailing arm with the ‘basic’ camming action but this time at an angle to return the first knife to tori’s center, then to use the powerful hip turn to force tori’s secondary weapon off line – because you have controlled and rotated tori’s spine. This is controlling uke’s center.
Once turned, tori’s original offending hand is now across nage’s chest, so a quick upward strike to the hyper-extended elbow, followed by a rapid strike to the groin, then the head allows for a much discombobulated uke to be thrown ude-kimi nage, shihonage, kote-gaeshi: take your pick. It wasn’t the throw but rather the concept of the set-up that we were working on tonight.
We will be exploring kata-dori because it automatically puts us in ‘trapping range.’ This is close in fighting range. All our natural weapons are available to us and we must be able to contend with them all. Tonight we started close, then moved out, only to move in close again. Shorter range, faster timing, fewer visual signals. Work here for a while and then the longer ranges will seem slow – time expands again and your options increase. The brusk movements are necessary developmental tools that should allow you to better understand the flow and connections of the longer ranges. We must learn to play them all.