There is another thing that I realize I’ve walked away with from the Aikiweb seminar, evidenced by how frequently it’s been popping into my mind. It is the phrase that George Ledyard used, “hit the (partner’s) structure”. This phrase fits so well that I am tempted to say I prefer it over the expression “tai-atari (体当たり)”, which would be the original term I heard. Perhaps tai-atari would show its usefulness in the connection to “ki-no-atari”, which of course leads to an early point, namely that there is no absolute distinction between body and ki, or body and mind. For now, I had a train of thought run through my mind based on “hitting the structure”.
With variation among schools of aikido, there are place where the partners pause. E.g., after nage does the turn in tenkan/tai-no-henko; the first cut down in ikkyo omote; the first cut down to create kuzushi for kata-dori or katate-dori ikkyo, the cut down after the initial irimi movement in irimi-nage, etc.
What the examination of pauses boils down to is, what possibilities do you have from that position? The scope can be as narrow as, can you and your partner go to the next proper step in the form? It might be wider, such as can you extricate yourself from that position and continue attacking, possibly with the other hand, without opening yourself up to all manner of techniques and attacks? From this general question of possibilities, the examination is no longer restricted to the codified pauses in the forms. It’s anywhere uke’s balance is broken, which direction they fall or stumble, and how they recover. And, possibly the extraneous question, how to still “be uke” in that the interaction between nage and uke is completed with uke falling or being pinned.
What the idea of possibilities has to do with “hitting structure” is that in order to have the possibility of acting on a partner, one must be engaged with them. That is, I might have many possibilities by disengaging, staying away, and making noncommital gestures to engage, but none of them will give me access to the possibilities of interacting with or acting upon my partner.
The more or less codified pauses are points at which uke can check whether they are organized enough to a) hit the nage’s structure with their structure (as opposed to with only their arm) and b) move in accordance with the next step in the form, or more precisely speaking, move such that the next step in the form is fitting (or else the nage can either forcibly continue the form or change to something else that is more fitting).
Offhand there are 4 ways in which the interaction can go.
- Uke hits nage’s structure with his own structure.
- Uke hit’s nage’s structure only partially (eg with muscular strength only).
- Uke hits part or none of nage’s structure (eg only the arm) but with his own structure.
- Uke hits part or none of nage’s structure and without his own structure.
There’s a fifth way, consisting of uke leaning on nage. I’m presuming that this gives uke the sensation of pushing on nage. Suffice it to say, using one’s body to push and to lean are quite different actions. At the least, leaning creates the potential for falling, and likely makes acting upon uke’s body by nage a completely different action. Utilizing the fall is probably primary and not necessarily easy.
One way that it is not easy (if uke is leaning skillfully, like a good tackle), is that nage must still be moving with his structure, not just any old way. A skillful tackle will fill up the “space” within nage’s body such that nage may be literally backpedalling, or unable to use his body with the feeling of backpedalling.
When one “grows up” in a particular school, they learn where to stop and how. The “how” part might not be examined very deeply, though there might be a sense of accomplishing it better or worse. Another piece that might not be examined is “why”. From what I myself have seen, both students who do and don’t come from schools where these “pauses” are practiced struggle to one degree or another when faced with the examination of “how” and “why”. This examination is probably presented to students familar with pauses as pausing in unfamiliar places and times, with consequences relating to what happens after a pause. These students may at least have the possible advantage of having something to translate to become more flexible or generalized. To students unfamiliar with pauses, the examination is likely more of a struggle. For one thing, if a student is used to continuous movement, they may face the demand of organizing their body only at a few points, such as at the very beginning or very end of contact with nage. If demanded to pause right in the middle of flow, their body organization might be lagging behind, accustomed to the luxury of catching up later in the flow, or jumped ahead, knowing what the next leg of the flow will be like. Or perhaps the student might not even be behind or ahead, but simply doing an approximation, sort of like counting from 1 through 10, “1, 3, 5, 34, 2, 78, 5, 9 9.1, 10”, used to getting by within the loosest of criteria. If a student was suddently corrected that this was not really counting from 1 to 10, they might have some justified response, indicating the criteria that they’ve been using, such as “I counted 10 numbers didn’t I?” or “I started with 1 and ended with 10 didn’t I?” The student who is already used to pausing may be used to counting correctly from 1 to 10, but struggle with the task of struggle with the task of counting from 1 to 20 using whatever numbers they deemed fitting. For both, the examination of pauses may seem nonsensical.