Finish the Technique
Thursday, 10 September 2020
Over the last number of months, as the world has been shut down, there has been an increase in weapons training. As noted in a previous post I think this was a missed opportunity but it has revealed something else that was unexpected. The world over aikidoka are performing weapons techniques and kata. Now, more than ever, social media groups are flooded with videos of aikido weapons. Watching these videos it’s almost impossible not to notice a problem.
It seems that when aikidoka are performing weapons kata there is a tendency for us to fail to finish the moves. It’s a surprising thing to be sure, but on reflection perhaps it shouldn’t be. This is a concept that may never have been explained to you before so I’ll try to do it now. If you’ve never been told this don’t worry about it, this is the sort of thing you find out in a weapons school, not an aikido dojo. Pretty sure the concept was first presented to me in a iaido class not an aikido one.
Here’s how it works, whether you’re performing suburi, or kata, you are performing a set movement. That movement has several distinct phases. For simplicity let’s keep it to three. There is a start, a middle, and an end. These are pretty obvious distinctions. The start is what you do to get going. The middle is the majority of the technique, and the end is where everything comes to a stop.
The end is presenting a major problem for us. The primary issue here is that we don’t seem to have one. Technically, we do, otherwise those cuts and thrusts would go on for ever, but they only stop because we run out of middle. They should stop because we have reached the end.
Imagine you’re driving to a friends house. As you arrive the car runs out of petrol. You’ve ended your journey, and you’ve finished at the right place, but you didn’t end the trip. You got lucky that the fuel ran out there. There was no conscious choice by you to end what was happening. The car just stopped.
The same concept applies to our weapons. We’re not choosing to end the technique, it’s happening by default. When you end the technique without an ending, when the middle just peters out, it looks like the first video here. There doesn’t really seem to be anything wrong with that, and this is what a lot of our weapons work looks like.
Unfortunately, the techniques in that video simply don’t end. They flow nicely, and we’re all about the flow, but they don’t come to a conclusion. This is an issue because it means that they are not martially effective. Imagine if you were to do ikkyo, but stopped when the person was bent over. You haven’t finished ikkyo. You started, did most of it, but then the person simply stood up because you lost the martial effectiveness.
The danger with this is that in failing to finish a weapons technique, we teach ourselves not to finish techniques. It’s the old story about the martial artist that gets mugged, takes the knife off the attacker and immediately hands it back to them because that’s what they did in training. That may be an urban legend but the point being made isn’t. You will eventually do what you are trained to do, regardless of how foolish that training is.
If we aren’t finishing the weapons techniques it immediately raises the question of whether or not we’re finishing the empty hand techniques. We’re very fond of saying that aikido comes from the sword, and that we base our movements on that. If that’s so, and if we really believe that, then by not finishing the sword technique we’re going to take that into our empty hand work. It will be almost unavoidable.
In the second video here, I am very definitely finishing each technique. Think back to the first video, or just watch it again. There is a very clear difference between these two videos. One of them looks much better than the other. It also looks like the techniques would actually accomplish something other than mild annoyance.
This isn’t being more aggressive or violent either. These are claims that get laid at the feet of people that do what I’m suggesting. It’s none of those things, it’s just finishing the movement before going on to the next one. It looks more aggressive, but it isn’t. It’s what it should actually look like. It only appears more violent because each technique has reached a conclusion. It’s no different than an uke not falling over because you didn’t finish irimi nage, and an uke falling over because you did. One looks more aggressive than the other. The difference is that when they fell over, the technique was finished.
It doesn’t take much to finish the techniques either. In many cases all that’s required is a better grip of the weapon (te-no-uchi). That’s not all though. I have found that one of the simplest ways to train this is to slow down. Treat your weapons forms as if they were movements in tai chi. Even if you’ve never done tai chi I’m sure you will have seen it at some point and have an instant visualisation about the speed of the movements.
Slowing things down provides you with the time you need to complete each individual movement before proceeding to the next one. Performing the 31-step jo kata at this speed takes several minutes. Beyond learning to complete each motion it also has other benefits for you such as improving balance, concentration and flow. All of which should be goals for any aikidoka. Even better is that performing weapons kata at this speed allows you to retain the flow while learning to complete the movement, it’s the best of both worlds.
This final video shows a comparison of the two side by side. Ask yourself which one would you would rather be hit by? Don’t be the guy on the left.
Slow down, learn to finish the movement and take that back to your empty hand training.