The practice of self-defense through Kokikai Aikido involves coordinating our mind and body in order to lead the attacker’s mind and body. In other words, there are two (or maybe more!) minds involved. And two (or more!) bodies. Everyone, nage and uke, experienced and inexperienced, moves in the way that is natural for their body. Every attacker, every attack is slightly different. Both uke and nage have a slightly different mindset each time.
Just like an apple pie, every Kokikai technique has a recognizeable form. The basic techniques may be simple. However, to work toward a “perfect” technique, just like a pie, we have to learn to make it just right for that situation. As students we must work very hard not to rely on external aspects – how much the wrist is bent, which leg is forward, how far we turn. These elements are important, but only if they help us do technique that feels the best.
This idea applies not only to doing technique, or “nage’s side,” but to ukemi (attacking/falling) as well. Correct ukemi means having the correct intention and moving in a way that is natural for an attacker to move. There are people we think of as “great uke,” because they are fun to watch: they may be flexible, or strong, or both. But someone who is less flexible or strong can be a perfect uke, as long as their intention is correct and their movement is logical. As nage we then have to learn to respond and adjust to each uke. We can’t force our uke into cookie-cutter movement that is not natural for that person’s body. Maruyama Sensei throws each person correctly no matter how athletic or unathletic, flexible or inflexible they are.
Sensei reminds us of this when he says that we must try to find the correct feeling. This is evident when watching Sensei: We can see that he changes his technique slightly from one throw to the next. Sometimes (!) this is frustrating for students. We try so hard to figure out what is expected of us, what we should look for, what we should do! It's a challenge to try to catch this “correct feeling.” It’s even more challenging because there are variations in technique that can make a big difference.
When you feel frustrated because you are not sure what you are looking at, try to remember that the strength of a technique is based on the way it feels. Sometimes Sensei says “looks real: fake. Looks fake: real.” The best technique may look like not much at all. Try changing how you watch. See if you can find something to look at (maybe nage's posture, or how relaxed the hands are) that will help you understand more about catching Sensei’s feeling.
Sensei has often used the metaphor of an apple to talk about technique: a beautiful looking apple may turn out to be made of plastic: inedible. A real apple may look the same, but it's edible - even delicious. It's hard to avoid focusing on what technique looks like, and concentrate on correct feeling. Maybe we can learn something from apples and apple pie.
This post is part of a series that's based on an article I wrote about Kokikai Aikido. Here's the first post