Author: Bret Gordon
As an aiki jujutsu instructor, this is a statement I hear almost on a daily basis. It stems from both the outrageous number of charlatans floating around the internet and the overall ignorance when it comes to advanced martial arts. For those that don't know, what this statement is referring to are the wrist-grab connection drills that show an aiki practitioner effortlessly throwing an attacker without any conventional technique (to see an example of these drills, click here). This sounds ridiculous, and sometimes looks so too, but I assure you it's real. I know this because I was a heavy skeptic too, until I landed on my rear enough times to finally ask how it worked.
Before I go into the larger problem that this statement exemplifies, I want to explain how and why these wrist-grab connection drills work. First and foremost, we must understand that what is being demonstrated are not self defense techniques. They are drills meant to reinforce fundamental principles of balance, sensitivity, motion, timing and structural manipulation. Once the student learns and ingrains these principles, they begin to infuse them into conventional joint locks and throwing techniques to make them more efficient and effective. But that doesn't mean these drills require a compliant attacker either. In fact, the very premise of aiki involves receiving the force of your attacker and returning it. Therefore, you must have a committed attack to work from. The attacker must grab you with malicious intent.
The common response is that the attacker can simply let go and neutralize the technique. In theory, that's true, but the reason they don't let go is based on our natural fear of falling. Do you ever notice how when you lose your balance, you immediately reach out for something to grab onto? In order to fight this fear, the body has a postural control system that has two major functions: to ensure that balance is maintained by bracing the body against gravity, and to fix the orientation and position of the features that serve as a frame of reference for perception and action with respect to the external world. Postural control relies on multisensory processing and motor responses that seem to be automatic and occur without awareness. Our balance relies on the alignment of the vertical line. In reference to aiki connection drills, at the moment of contact the attacker is immediately shifted off their center line, giving the sensation of falling. The body's postural control system tries to correct that by anchoring itself to the only stable thing around it - the person throwing them. This gives the practitioner enough time to finish the throw by compromising the attacker's structure to the point of no return. So now that we've cleared that up, let's talk about the bigger problem!
Thanks to both the popularity of MMA and the instant gratification culture we find ourselves immersed in, the martial arts have become all about fighting and how quickly you attain proficiency. Anything that doesn't provide immediate results is often thrown aside. We're all looking for short cuts.
Traditional kata are often the first things to be discarded and mocked, but people fail to realize just what kata are (and that's mostly our fault). The generation of instructors we have now has grown up in the arts with kata's only purpose being to fill in the curriculum and earn your next color belt. The truth is that kata is simply the practice of fighting techniques without a partner. It's no different than when a boxer or MMA fighter shadow boxes. They are practicing the techniques of their craft in an idealized format to perfect technical aspects and precision. The problem is that not enough instructors know how make the correlation between kata and self defense. Bunkai oyo (analysis and application) has become a lost art, creating a void for people to capitalize on by selling DVDs and seminars. In reality, kata and kumite (sparring) should never be separate.
Now, very rarely are these derogatory comments ever made in person, and when they are they're addressed on the spot. Usually, these are comments people make on internet videos and photos, which only capture a brief moment in time. They offer no context, and generally no description of what we're watching. Therefore everyone assumes that because they are seeing a partner drill performed with a designated attacker and defender, what's being demonstrated is meant to be taken at face value as a self defense technique. So when these drills defy conventional wisdom of realistic attacks, keyboard warriors are quick to condemn. Granted, a lot of what's out there is pure garbage and fraud, but we still should be open and willing to discuss what's being shown in order to better understand it.
However, the truth is that they don't want to understand it. Everyone has their own comfort zone, and their base of understanding. Anything that doesn't fit into their frame of reference must be discarded. Otherwise, it might challenge their firmly held beliefs and they won't be able to sleep at night.
The next major issue is the Monday morning quarterbacking. Hindsight is 20/20. When we're looking at video of something that's already happened, and not from the perspective of the person it happened to, we can see things that are generally not apparent to the recipient of the technique. We also have time to pause it, rewind and deeply analyze every technical aspect of what's going on... Not something that the recipient is able to do in the split second that many of these techniques happen.
And lastly, anyone can counter a technique they know is coming. It doesn't take any skill at all to block a punch that you see coming from a mile away. If you know that when you try to punch someone, they're going to try to grab your hand, you're no longer committed to that punch as much as you are retracting it. Therefore, we circle back to the necessity of a committed attack. If you're anticipating something to happen, such as you saying that after you grab the practitioner and they start their technique, you're going to "let go" and disengage, you're not really grabbing them. A realistic attack involves someone grabbing you with malicious intent to either restrain you or drag you somewhere. There's going to be a struggle, and the attacker is not going to let go simply because you move. They expect you to move and fight back... It's an attack.
Remember, everything works within a particular context. There is no technique that works against every type of attack. If there was, we'd only ever have to learn that single technique. You can't talk about how unrealistic a response is to a particular attack if you change the context. That would be like saying a baseball bat isn't effective at hitting a baseball because you can't kick a field goal with it.
Instead of trying to crucify whatever doesn't fit into our box, as students of the martial arts we should be striving to understand the purpose of what we're seeing. No one questions why a boxer jumps rope, although I've never seen one bring a rope into the ring. The study of martial arts, and even of sport fighting (MMA, boxing, kickboxing, etc.), involve the use of supplemental exercises and training methods that serve a variety of purposes. Just because you've never seen it before or understand why it works does not discredit its validity. We've all heard the old adage that there's numerous ways up the mountain, so stop attacking those who don't follow yours. I will admit that the study of traditional martial arts may not be the fastest way to become combat efficient, but at the top of the mountain, the view is exactly the same.
This article was originally published on the US Association of Martial Arts blog. To view the original article, please click here.
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About Our Blog
The articles posted here have been shared from the US Association of Martial Arts website, run by our headmaster Bret Gordon, for their relevance to Aiki Jujutsu. For more of his writings, please click here.