There is a well known concept in aikido that it’s almost impossible to be unfamiliar with. Chances are that you came across it during your first lesson. We usually refer to that concept as the ‘Line of Attack’ (LoA).
It’s a basic idea that forms a fundamental principle within our art and likely several others as well. The LoA is an imaginary line that connects uke with nage and is the line along which uke attacks. It is generally considered to be straight and the shortest distance between uke and nage.
In Our Techniques
In aikido, every technique starts with uke entering along the LoA and nage moving off it. This is how nage avoids the strike; if you are no longer on this line then you cannot be hit. At this point, nage is then free to complete their technique. It’s worth noting of course that this also allows us to embrace Rule #1 – don’t get hit.
This simple idea allows aikido to work; you move off the line and from a position of complete safety perform a technique. It really is that simple but is actually very difficult to do, because part of the explanation is missing. Ask any aikidoka and they will tell you what I already have. Step 1 is get off the line of attack, Step 2 is perform the technique.
What It Really Is
The part that’s missing is in Step 1. It’s not actually ’get off the line of attack’. Step 1 is more accurately:
Get off the Line of Attack and remain off it for the duration of the technique.
That is a very different statement with far reaching implications. Leaving out the second part leads many aikidoka down a path towards poor technique. By restating it with the extra information we’re forced to examine this simple idea of Line of Attack and realise that it is not a static thing. The LoA, by definition, moves. Once more, just to be completely clear:
The Line of Attack moves during a technique.
A Different Ukemi
Consider that the role of uke is to strike nage. Throughout the entire technique uke should be looking for an opportunity to do just that. If an opening arises then uke will attempt to counter, grab, or strike. They will usually do this along the shortest, most direct path a.k.a. the Line of Attack.
This means that for an aikidoka to be safe they must be aware of the LoA and make certain they have neither moved onto it nor allowed it to move onto them. Most aikidoka can manage the first of these things, the second is usually what gets us.
To avoid the second you must observe the direction of the uke’s initial attack, and continue to observe for any potential attack along the LoA. This itself means constantly avoiding the LoA. Not only at the start but throughout the whole technique.
By moving off the LoA we force uke to adjust their position, which forces nage to adjust their position, which forces uke to adjust their position, and so on and on. Both uke and nage are trying to get a position of superior advantage.
A Second Strike
In the vast majority of training most uke’s give up after the first initial strike so even when the nage is back on the LoA they just don’t take the opportunity. This in turn allows the nage to think they cannot be hit anymore and creates a sense of complacency in them. The best way to wake them up to this complacency is to hit them. Very few things teach aikidoka about the LoA during a technique quite as fast a shot to the ribs or rabbit/kidney punch. As a 3rd Kyu a Nidan once kindly informed me that I was back on the LoA during kote gaeshi by roundhouse kicking me in the rib cage. There was no real strength behind the blow, but enough to make that the absolute last time I was ever in that position during kote gaeshi. It was so effective that today, 17 years later, I still point that spacing out when teaching kote gaeshi.
The LoA is a fundamental concept in martial arts and one that we rarely think about in aikido after the initial evasion. Don’t let that habit creep into your training. Be switched on through the whole technique and remember to ask yourself, “Can I be hit in this position?” If the answer is “Yes”, then you have moved back onto the LoA and need to make an adjustment to your technique.
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