NGAExperience® Nihon Goshin Aikido

Three Fall Seminars ~

A Centralized Theme In Kuzushi

By Jonathan Wilson

24 September 2015

Nage’s First Ambition:  To Cause Pain or To Unbalance?  A Study In Priorities Of Work In A Martial Defense

In any type of operation, there are a series of things that should be prioritized.  In the army we called them “Priorities of Work” ~ and they could be divided into all sorts of things:  What to do if your weapon misfires, What to do when occupying a defensive position, What to do when a soldier is wounded, etc.

All these actions were formalized in some Army training manual or another.  You just had to remember them.  Still even without a manual, you have formalized all kinds of things according to priorities.  Consider your morning routine.  It is also based around a set of repetitive priorities that make sense.  Wake up!  Use Bathroom!  Wash Hands!  Wash Face! Brush Teeth!  Get Dressed! Etc.  Get them out of order, and weird things start happening.

At the fall 2015 Nihon Goshin Aikido Seminar in Lexington, SC this year two of the instructors expressed ideas about priorities when dealing with martial attacks.  

Controlling uke was obviously paramount and a theme expressed in varying shades and degrees by all 4 instructors.  In one of the sessions, a karate instructor floated the idea that control could be gained by inflicting pain with strikes.  In other words, “if you inflicted pain in a certain way, uke would respond in a certain way.”  Uke’s anticipated response to pain would allow nage to “catch up” to the speed of any attacker (even if nage was “old and slow”) by anticipating where uke would be next.  It was an intriguing concept which got me to thinking about my own priorities of work in the defense.  When someone attacks me, what are my priorities of work?

Background:  In our dojo, “move first ~ technique second” is an oft quoted philosophy.  I’m sure something similar is said in your dojo also.  Nage has to move, but should his first movement cause pain, or unbalance?  

Personally, I prefer to unbalance.  As an athlete, I’ve worked through all kinds of pain.  One of the best matches of my tenure as a soccer player was played on a broken foot (that was broken about 5 minutes into the match).  Every time I took a step, whether walking, jogging or sprinting, I could feel the broken bones in my foot rubbing against each other (like the feeling you might get if you pass your knuckles back and forth across the edge of your desk). Still the match was more important than the bones in my foot, and I was able to compartmentalize the pain for the entire game.  Turns out it happens all the time.  Former Alabama Football Legend, Bear Bryant played a whole football game on a broken leg.  Just last year, Clemson Quarterback, Deshaun Watson played the entire USC versus Clemson football game with a torn ACL.

The point is that pain tolerance is different at different times ~ even for the same people.  When you are calm, things seem to hurt more.  Add adrenalin into the mix, and things seem to hurt less ~ or even not at all.  

I know this last point to be true via first hand experience.  While it is true that I played an entire soccer game on a broken foot, it should also be noted that I also once passed out while getting an ultrasound on my knee (which is a painless procedure, BTW).  Crazy right?

So, while there is merit to the idea that causing pain could be helpful, I’m not sure you should rely on it exclusively; especially if you’re relying on nerve pressure points or joint locks.  

As additional supporting evidence, consider this anecdote from a Seidokan Aikido seminar held this past Saturday.  At one point during the seminar, I was working with a friend on an application to the front wrist throw.  He was once a collegiate wrestler, weighs 240 lbs, and is very strong.  This seminar was his first aikido experience ~ to which I had invited him.  We were at the seminar together, and we agreed that it would be better if I were his partner the whole time ~ to help him understand what was going on, etc.  

So the attack was a straight punch (tskui) from ai hamni (mutual hamni stance) to First Wrist Technique with an ~ ahem ~ “Irimi Tenkan” movement (Irimi:  “enter” and Tenkan: “turn” 180 degrees).

He attacked, and I did the irimi tenkan movement.  When I slowly applied the front wrist throw lock on him, he just stood there.  I gradually increased the pressure, and then he finally said, “That’s starting to hurt a little bit” to which I said, “Just roll over on your side like the guy did in the demo, and your wrist will stop hurting.”  He thought about it for a second and then powered up into me forcing me to release the grip on his wrist or break it (I released the grip), and then he got me into a head lock ~ which I decided not to counter.  All and all, it was pretty funny.  

After that little episode, I asked him, “Why didn’t you just roll over like the guy did in the demo?”  He said, “Because I’m a wrestler, and I don’t want to be on my back.”  My reply was actually a question:  “But didn’t it hurt to power up against the technique like that?  I could have broken your wrist.”  He said, “Well hell yeah it hurt, but I wasn’t going to go down on my back if I didn’t have to.”  

His cup was never empty, and that pretty much set the tone for the whole day.  Throughout the seminar, the instructors would walk by and demonstrate to Matt and me the technique they had demonstrated to the whole group ~ as was their practice with all of the training pairs.  Pretty quickly, I was invariably the uke selected in these mini demos.  Only once did an instructor attempt to demonstrate a technique on Matt, and it was early in the day.  It was also pretty funny.  The instructor first tried to unbalance me, and I fell like a stone.  He tried the same technique on Matt anticipating similar results, but Matt didn’t budge.  The instructor tried it again without success, and then said, “You wrestlers ~ throwing you guys is like trying to get a cat to land on its back!”  Then he smiled and quickly moved to the next group ~ leaving me to figure out how to throw a cat and have it land on its back all by myself.  

So for the rest of the day, nothing (and I mean NOTHING) the instructors demonstrated ever worked exactly like it had been demonstrated when I tried it on Matt.  Still, I managed to do most techniques by making sure I was keeping Matt’s shoulders extremely tilted and making sure he was completely off balance throughout the movement.  I focused on dropping my weight to add leverage, finding the missing leg on his proverbial 3 legged stool, and putting his center over that missing leg.  When they demonstrated joint locks, I opted to use a grip that would not lock the joint (because he immediately resisted every joint lock), and then combine the weaker control with big, and effective movements that promoted unbalancing my training partner.  Most of the time, this allowed me to settle Matt to the mat pretty gently.  

The best adaptation of this notion of extreme unbalancing was a Pull Down from the rear application where I used his hips as my lever.  “Hips?” you say.  Yes Hips!  I initially scratched his forehead trying to use his head as a lever ~ in which I got great eye socket contact, (but moved nothing), and ended up losing my grip and scratching is forehead.  I felt terrible about the scratch, but he insisted it was okay.  Seeking something sturdier (that I could operate with 2 hands instead of one hand), I tried to connect with his traps (neck muscles) but to no avail.  He backed up a little but I could not unbalance him enough to make him fall.  The third time, I connected with both hips and used those as my lever.  I pulled his hips back with both hands, and sat him down effortlessly.  The hip connection worked perfectly every time.

All and all, it was an interesting experience for everyone, and testament to the importance of working with an unbalanced uke.  

This of course leads me to summarize my last seminar of the month ~ which was the first one I attended ~ at Water Oak Aikikai with Shihan Donovan Waite.  Each of the seminars had the same theme ~ unbalance uke as much as possible as quickly as possible.

The seminar with Waite Shihan was a Friday & Saturday affair.  I slept in the dojo, which is by all accounts, a magnificent work of art ~ see dojo picture to the left.  In each 3 hour training session (in which there were no breaks for water, etc.), we worked for a minimum of at least 45 minutes on Kokyu Dosa each session (see video demonstration ~ as this is Shihan Waite demonstrating the exact technique we were doing).

By the end of the morning session on Saturday, the tops of my feet looked like they had been passed over with a cheese grater, and I had a bruise on my left knee that is still tender a month later.

See the picture of my torn up feet to the left ~ I’m not exaggerating.  It was nasty.  By the afternoon, on Saturday, I had taped up most of my toes ~ as had everyone else.  Our feet and knees were all torn up.

Toward the end of the afternoon session on Saturday, I worked with a guy named Mike ~ who was one of Shihan Waite’s former uchi-deshis (live in students).  As we were training kokyu dosa for one of the last times, I asked him, “Why does Shihan Waite work on kokyu dosa so much?”  To which he responded,  “He loves it.  I think he thinks it’s the easiest way to communicate the idea that you’ve got to unbalance uke before you can effectively move him.”  

~~ And that pretty much sums up my experiences from all three seminars, which generally all contained the same centralized theme of unbalancing uke to establish control.  

If you want to move uke ~ to get him to comply with your intention ~ you need to unbalance him first.  Pain can wait.  Make unbalancing uke your first priority.

Finally, in the sneak peak email that went out last week, I got a few responses to the initial question on unbalancing which I’ve added here to further reinforce the notion that unbalancing is the critical objective.  I think there is a general consensus here in both replies.

I have a simple approach: pain is useless if it doesn't unbalance the attacker. I will sometimes prefer pain as a first tool, but pain isn't a tool unless you're using it toward an end. In and of itself, pain (absent injury) doesn't do anything useful unless it happens to scare them off. That's a pretty thin basis for self-defense. ~ Gerry Seymour

In Daito-ryu, NGA's ancestor we attempt to unbalance the attacker at the point of contact. I personally consider NGA to simply be Morita-Ha Daito-ryu (Daito-ryu interpreted through Shodo Morita ~ so they are very similar in approach and philosophy). I would not consider pain as the correct alternative or word. I consider the word "CONTROL" to be more appropriate. ~ Jose Del C. Garrido

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The kokyu dosa tragedy documented.  This picture was taken after the morning session on Saturday. I had 11 blisters.  I taped everything up and survived the final afternoon session.

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