Kinds of strength

At a recent roundtable discussion, someone mentioned that they thought that it was crucial for uke to always be giving energy to the nage. Uke should not emphasize just being there to fall down or have their posture broken. Often in aikido there is confusion between the two, with most people expecting the uke to be someone who falls down regardless of what happens, and by extension, if they continue an effort to stand back up, they are being antisocial and difficult.

In Endo sensei’s seminar classes, he often has uke use one or two hands to grab and raise the nage’s arm up. Nage then practices how to extend the arm downward. Even here, the behavior of uke seems to be interpreted in two ways. In one, uke continues to give energy, whether like a strongly flowing current or less strongly. When nage extends the arm downward, uke may allow their posture to be broken, but the priority is to continue to extend upward or return to how they were initially. In the other interpretation, uke raises the nage’s arm up and tries to remain fixed there. There is no more effort to raise the arm up. When nage begins to extend the arm down, uke 1) has no ability to regulate their effort to maintain the initial state strongly or less strongly, and 2) if nage starts to succeed at lowering the arm and accordingly uke’s posture starts to break, uke still does not extend any energy toward nage – they only try to stop the process of their posture breaking. This effort to stop can include using bursts of effort, repositioning, and changing the connection i.e., grab. All of these changes make the partnered, agreed-upon practice difficult.

There is no clear line between the first and second interpretations. This lends itself to confusion between the two kinds of strength, or the two kinds of challenge nage encounters as they try to lower the arm.

As nage, it is important to discern between the two kinds of challenge as one may waste effort trying to make something impossible happen, or make something improbable happen smoothly or quickly. Also, the effort toward the first goal can be all-captivating, but when one notices one is dealing with the second kind of strength, one can remember there are other goals. The first effort doesn’t need to be completed. The more important thing is that one can still be available for other efforts and goals.

As uke, it is important to discern between the two kinds of strength because the objective is different. It is nonsensical to devote a significant effort toward something one doesn’t even understand, particularly when that something seems to interfere with the partner’s learning. Also, as uke, one is continually experiencing having one’s posture broken yet somehow being available to the nage partner for it to continue happening or happen again and again. The process that uke is undergoing is being disrupted yet not disrupting oneself i.e., receiving and mediating nage’s efforts to disrupt/break posture. This mediating process is the crucial piece. It is not just about receiving nage’s efforts and energy, but how one is receiving it and interacting with it. The interaction is quite spontaneous and vague, so the objective is all the more important. Should the uke be trying to insulate oneself from any of nage’s efforts? Should uke be nakedly open to all of nage’s efforts? The answer is somewhere in between, but hard to define, since in words it is to end up having one’s posture broken and falling down, yet not make it excessively easy to do so.


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