Monday, March 21, 2011

One Hundred and Ninety


This post concerns the 'connection' that occurs between uke and nage in Aikido. It is in no way a commentary on the topic of internal strength or internal power, choose the term you prefer, which I consider to be a totally separate issue.


Connection is essential if Aikido waza is to be executed with aiki as opposed to the application of brute force alone. As such, it's important to examine ways in which connection between uke and nage can first be established and then strengthened so as to facilitate the application of technique.

This past weekend George Ledyard sensei conducted a seminar in Bedford Hills, NY that dealt with this topic. I was fortunate to be able to attend the Friday night class and examine the ideas and methodology behind George's exploration of connection in light of my own experience as an Aikido practitioner. To that end I decided that my best course of action was to leave my body of knowledge 'at the door', practice the exercises as closely to how they were demonstrated as possible and not fall back on what I would normally do when I got uncomfortable with material presented in new and unfamiliar ways.

Convergence and Divergence

Connection is the goal. How to learn to establish connection and execute waza with aiki (the spirit of connection) forms the foundation of a methodology of teaching that will eventually take the student to the goal. Until Friday night's class I had been exposed to a single teaching paradigm for learning to connect with uke's center in order to effectively execute technique. George's presentation brought to light another way of achieving the same goal. Afterwards, when comparing his take with my own experience I noticed that there were areas where our two paradigms converged and areas where they diverged. In the following paragraphs I'll attempt to delineate where these convergences and divergences occur.

The Paradigms

I'll refer to the operational methodologies of teaching and practicing connection as body-centric and feeling-centric.

Note - My opinions expressed herein about George's presentation are based on two short hours of instruction and the reader should be aware that I'm giving my recollection of what I heard and was shown. Please allow room for error.)

The body-centric approach, as presented by George, was illustrated by practicing exercises that required us to perform specific physical movements with 'intent' (unified body and mind) in order to connect with uke's center, and when successfully connected, go on and perform, say, a tenkan movement or ikkyo against a katate kosa tori grab. Implicit in the teaching was the idea that both uke and nage should reach for each others' center in a way that goes beyond the physical connection. The body-centric approach teaches both uke and nage effective mechanical means which, when coupled with intent, allows them to merge and unify their centers. The exercises George had us practice had the form of some of the paired Ki exercises that we have in our Ki syllabus but with the emphasis put on body mechanics and intent to achieve the desired outcome. I noticed that I had trouble when I had to execute moves in a specific sequence of steps as opposed to my normal way of moving which, for lack of a better descriptor, is all at once. A two hour class is too short a time for me to gather enough information to comment on this method of teaching/learning in any more than a cursory fashion.

The feeling-centric approach, as we practice it, requires the student enter into a process of self discovery via repetitious practice of paired Ki exercises in order to connect with his/her partner's center. Mechanical instruction is kept to a minimum beyond setting up the parameters of the exercise being performed. Like the body-centric approach, proper intent is required in order to unify body and mind in order to obtain this 'correct feeling'. Both uke and nage are encouraged to perform the exercise with the same goal in mind. The feeling-centric approach teaches uke and nage to merge and unify their centers by experimenting until correct feeling is achieved and the exercise can be repeated successfully over a number of iterations. Very little guidance is provided in the way of body mechanics. The student is encouraged to rely on what feels right for the given exercise. Subsequent repetitions of the exercise reinforce correct feeling and strengthen it. Learning this way requires that uke provide appropriate resistance based on the level of nage's ability. Uke will stress nage to the point of failure and then after holding there slowly push just slightly beyond.

For both paradigms, once connection is established it can be strengthened by increased force applied in the form of push, pull, lift, press tests or by gradually increasing resistance applied by uke in the direction nage is looking to move.


The systems 'converge' at points in the list below.
  1. Unification of mind and body 
  2. Importance of moving with intent
  3. Establishment of center to center connection
  4. Non-reliance on muscle power
The systems diverge at points in the list below (in body-centric - feeling-centric format).
  1. Body mechanics - correct feeling
  2. Applying technique - letting technique emerge
  3. Application of control over uke - giving uke freedom of movement (within the context of staying safe)
With the exception of number 4, the systems converge at what I call soft points. Soft points are those aspects of Aikido that can be considered somewhat intangible due to the lack of physical representation. The systems diverge at what I call hard points. Hard points are those aspects of Aikido that possess real world existence. Hard points are the way of getting there, soft points become evident when I've arrived.


Note - Don't take the physics metaphors that follow too literally, in fact, don't take them at all literally. 

The body-centric approach is a lot like classical physics in that given a set of initial conditions, with the proper application of mechanics within the structure of the idea framework, the desired result can be made to happen.

The feeling-centric approach is more like quantum mechanics in that due to the fluid nature of an encounter initial conditions do not necessarily indicate the exact direction of the eventual outcome. The nature of the uke/nage relationship is 'fuzzy' and the result is allowed to emerge as a consequence of the evolution of the action.

Thanks again George for a very stimulating two hours.

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