Attacks in Aikido

Many times you will see very stylized/unrealistic attacks in Aikido practice.  This can take many forms.  The grabs may be specified in a very specific way as to how each part of uke’s hand operates, where the pressure is directed, and/or where uke stands in relation to nage, and which foot is forward.  These are not necessarily bad things in themselves, these details often result in a very powerful grab that seeks to control nage in a specific way.  Nage can then respond to this specific, consistent stimulus with an appropriate response or technique, which is also fine.  Where things go awry is when ONLY one specific way of grabbing/attacking is used in practice.  Then you end up with this:

This is obviously an extreme/absurd example of requiring a specific attack of your partner.  For practice, you should have some agreement of how uke is going to attack so that the technique you are learning is appropriate to the attack.  If uke attacks in a different way, nage may need to respond a different way.  If the difference is too large, you both end up practicing something different than what was shown, which is bad etiquette in the dojo and potentially unsafe.

All that being said, I have occasionally practiced with people at seminars and dojos I visited where I have been told that I was “attacking wrong”.  I usually just smile and do it the way they want me to.  Sometimes I ask about other ways of attacking, and get shown the “proper” (in their dojo) way to attack.  In the back of my mind though, I’m thinking that this is probably not a healthy training place if you are at all interested in realistic self defense.  You should absolutely conform to the traditions of your art in terms of set practice kata.  But if you want to pass off what you are doing as self defense, you better allow “wierd” attacks like jabs, uppercuts, kicks, etc. 

This is why you see so many people in Aikido today cross training in other, typically fighting/striking, arts.  In the past, many early Aikido students came to the art with experience in another art and that experience included realistic efffective strikes/attacks.  Nowadays, many Aikidoka have only done Aikido and their attacks are terrible.  Too many Aikidoka practice only against a long punch with a step that remains extended so that you can work the technique.  This would only happen in a very small number of attacks in my opinion.  Also, I have rarely seen anyone practice against a 1-2 punch.  If you always only expect one punch, you will be in a world of hurt when your attacker blasts you with a continuous barrage of strikes.

I have been training simultaneously in Aikido and Wing Chun Kung Fu (Hung Fa Yi) for the past 3+ years.  The striking and engagements I have learned there have significantly altered and improved my Aikido.  Pretty much none of what I have learned about striking resembles what you see in most Aikido practice (style issues aside).  Distances are closer and more realistic.  If you screw up, you are likely to get a fat lip.  I would say this is not true in a large number of Aikido schools, based on my sampling.

So next time you step on the mat, think about switching it up a little bit.  You will be amazed at how a small change can make you more aware of holes in your training and reinvigorate your practice.

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