Tuesday, December 02, 2008
The vast majority of aikido techniques have an atemi (strike) in them somewhere. (I've heard it said that there is always an atemi available somewhere.) Often we allow the atemi to be de-emphasized in the dojo. I think this is a serious mistake.
The raison d'être of atemi is usually given as a "covering" move for nage. Especially in irimi moments, nage may be open to attack. The atemi, then, gives uke something to deal with instead of having the opportunity to reinforce his attack. This may very well be true. However, I think it's less than half the story.
The compelling reason for an atemi is to disrupt uke at the moment nage will apply a technique. This is crucial against a skilled opponent.
Aikido is usually described as a "blending" with the opponent's attack. The matching of uke's direction, speed and timing is meant to unbalance uke and allow a technique to work. True as that may be in theory, this pollyannaish approach wouldn't hold up under all conditions. Even if an aikidoka executes a perfectly timed technique at speed, there is one other consideration not often dealt with in the dojo: What if the attacker has a stronger center, is much more firmly rooted and possesses a superior ki flow than the aikidoka? What if he is more relaxed, calm, and focused? In other words, the attacker is a high level martial artist.
Well then, without something to change the equation, blending with that punch and pulling off an effective kotegaeshi would then come down to which one has the most ki happening at that moment? (Of course, we are assuming the aikidoka can execute a perfect technique, with enough speed and perfect timing -- leaving the Aikipenguin out of the discussion entirely.)
I don't think this is an acceptable state of affairs. After all, if we are practicing a martial art is designed to peacefully end conflict, we should be able to do that with a degree of confidence.
The solution, ironically enough, is a bit of aggression! A well placed and timed atemi will disrupt the opponent's energy flow as well as his concentration and attention. This is very important as that will then allow the now more energetically coherent aikidoka to successfully apply the technique.
Note the difference between a skilled attacker and one who simply resists the technique. An opponent who resists is not all that unusual, even in an aikido dojo. It often takes years for uke to soften up, in the meantime, resistive partners offer plenty of opportunity for practice, even in the best dojo. By definition, a skilled aikidoka will have more energy at his disposal than a resistive attacker and should be able to handle him with relative ease.
Osensei has been quoted as saying "Atemi is 90 percent of aikido."
I think to many people, as it was to me, that seems to be just another one of Osensei's perplexing statements and is soon put aside without making much sense of it. I now am not so sure about that. I think a man with his martial experience and skill would know as a matter of course how vital it was to disrupt his attacker's flow and rhythm. (It is also said he had a devastating kiai.)
By the way, this discussion shouldn't presuppose a passive nage who just waits for the attack -- but that is a discussion for another day.