My opinion that the Yamaguchi style of practice is the way to go was again affirmed recently. I recalled something that Peter Goldsbury wrote in which he described four Aikikai Hombu shihan along some common parameters, one of which was whether they gave openings. Immediately I connected Goldsbury’s mention of “giving openings” with seeing Endo sensei pause and wait for his uke. My thinking was around developing choice, comprehending possibilities, and organization and structure of one’s body.
Upon taking ukemi for Endo sensei and having him wait for them, most people’s first reaction is, “What’s he waiting for? What does he want?”. Responses that I’ve observed include, in the short term at least, trying to disengage, move away or otherwise create distance and end the interaction, trying to break connection without moving away, trying to manipulate the connection and regain neutrality or even advantage, trying to simply regain balance without emphasis on keeping or breaking connection, keeping connection while maintaining one’s own broken posture, out-waiting the nage for him to complete the technique and consequently neglecting the connection, or completing the fall as uke “should” and consequently breaking connection with the nage. I am sure that I myself have done all of these with Endo sensei, and I have observed with interest other people exhibiting these various responses. I believe that the responses reflect individual differences in the realms of social conformity/expectation, submissiveness, control, fear, self-awareness, and visceral comfort. Speaking for myself, the responses that outlasted the others as far as being constructive have been 1) to try to regain neutrality while respecting (but inevitably manipulating) the connection and 2) to simply explore which ways are easier than others to move, and simply do so without any specific objective, similar to simply regaining balance stated above.
What consequence or benefit does giving the uke an opening bring? When giving the uke and opening and waiting for them, you are giving them a choice – any of the above choices. The inevitable condition that they encounter is that in order to execute a choice, their body must be organized in particular ways. Conversely, the choices that are available depend on the organization of their body. By the nage giving the uke choices in the manner, what is nonverbally conveyed to uke (and those observing astutely) is that uke has a significant part in determining how the interaction occurs. The exploration of how to influence the interaction is tightly bound to the development of the sense of how to organize the body and adjust to various situations. As human beings, we have specific limitations and strengths. Accordingly certain ways of organizing ourselves function better and are more comfortable than others. In practicing with the above focus on choice and possibility, we are usually inclined to discover that which is more comfortable and efficient (and if we are so inclined, explore that which we have tendencies to do despite being inefficient and uncomfortable). Thus such a way of practicing is more likely to develop one’s adaptability, self and relational awareness, and the tendency and capacity to return to equilibrium i.e., resilience.
However, I think we need to grasp that this way of practicing is applicable to people within a certain paradigm and why. The paradigm is one in which I, as a student and the uke of an instructor, am striving to explore the possibilities within certain forms, as opposed to simply discovering my own, new way and deconstruct the forms i.e., emphasizing all of the ways I do not need to stay within the forms. I am not trying to resist or reject my role as uke. I am not necessarily trying to contest nage for his role i.e., wrest control from him. More simply put, I identify as uke and while my exploration my includes the limits of the role, it is not with a desire to escape or change that role. I operate in a neutral manner (despite the actions, particularly the initial one, being predetermined i.e., I don’t “try” to be uke or nage adamantly – I perform the initial action and receive the guidance on me, with “me” developing through training), in which I am simply one party in an interaction, receiving and accepting the input my partner gives me, and continuing my participation in the interaction.
With that said, I think the current way of practice is applicable to someone who has acquired a certain level of familiarity and functionality with respect to the forms and the uke’s typical responses. I should have a general, yet concrete, sense of how I should be receiving my partner’s input and what input they should be giving me. Familiarity with the forms entails having developed an idea of how a typical flow of events goes in those forms. Another way to say this is that I develop and consolidate a preconception of what happens. Also I should be able to fall comfortably in all of the “standard” directions and at all “reasonable” points to fall in the dynamic. Accordingly I should have a sense of “standard” and “reasonable”, as they reflect safety and efficiency with respect to human structure not dependent so much on individual differences. Without such a foundation I will not be able to viably take on the project of exploring my adaptability and deviation from my preconceptions – my ability to recover or adapt to “glitches” and other idiosyncratic, unforeseen circumstances. I should be able to function without my structural organization being completely neutral or perfect.
The currently described exploration of possibility must be done in context i.e., within the interaction and therefore in a continuous way, rather than breaking contact, stopping my energy, making space, then restarting the interaction. Sensing, adapting, reconciling are all done while in the context of relating with another person, which in most cases means while in physical contact. Not only do the benefits include improved self-awareness, self-control, use of the self i.e., viability, etc., the door is opened to discovering and studying one’s own tendencies i.e., mental and physical habits. More salient in aikido are issues of control, conformity, agreement, communication, fear, aggression, passivity, submissiveness, dominance, etc. However, I would stipulate that most people do not necessarily go through, or need to go through, this last door in order to experience significant benefit from this way of practice.