Attacks and Intention
by George Ledyard
If Aikido is to have any real value other than as a dance form then things need to be seen and practiced for what they are. Repetitive practice of technique from attacks which are energetically false imprints a whole range of associations which are wrong and will prove disastrous when a real committed attack is made.
A shomenuchi is a knife-edge strike to the front of the head. Whether you do it off the front foot, off the back foot, as an extension outwards (like the Shingu folks) or as a powerful vertical downwards strike (like the ASU folks) doesn’t matter. What matters is that it is a strike and that the uke is attempting to strike the nage. If nage is too junior to handle a full out attack then the attack is adjusted to make it safe. But if he makes a mistake it should still hit him; it just doesn’t hit hard enough to injure. When you get to yudansha level you should be seeing committed and powerful attacks. If nage makes a mistake he should get hit.
Attacks in many dojos are completely lacking in intention. You can casually move off the line of attack and the uke will dutifully strike the spot where used to be standing. No matter how slowly you make your entry somehow the uke never hits you. You attain O-sensei level of ability to move around without anyone ever hitting you (as long as the attackers are from your own dojo where this type of detrimental practice is condoned). I consistently encounter people at seminars who are shocked to find that they can’t actually do the irimi movement they thought they could. Repeatedly my hand keeps touching their heads no matter how they try to escape. Their problem isn’t that I am somehow so much faster than anyone else they train with… it’s that I have a clear intention to strike when I strike. They’ve been cruising along in their dojos thinking that they could actually do that irimi nage, and then they find out it was all a dream.
Once again, I was at a nidan test in which the person testing looked fairly competent but was not, in my opinion, being challenged in any way by the ukes who were all from his own dojo. At one point a new uke, a student from outside that person’s dojo, stepped in. His first yokomen strike went right through this fellow’s attempted deflection and bopped him upside the head. To his credit he was able to make the adjustment and handled the next few committed attacks. But you could see the shock on his face when that first “real” strike came in. It made it painfully obvious to everyone present who cared to look that none of the previous ukes were actually trying to do a strike.
I think that people need to make an attack be what it is. It is a strike and the person doing it needs to think of it that way. He should be trained to have the strongest intention to hit that safety allows. This starts with the teacher. If the teacher accepts unreal attacks from his ukes than the whole basis for training at the dojo is undermined. My teachers, Ikeda Sensei and Saotome Sensei, absolutely expected you to do your level best to nail them. On those very rare occasions when one of us would succeed you’d get a smile and a “very good”. We trained with each other the same way. In my early yudansha days I got hit as many times as I succeeded on my entries. But as frustrating as that was sometimes, when I pulled one off I knew I had pulled one off. I didn’t have to wonder if my partner had given it to me.
In many dojos there is so little intention in the attacks that when someone who can really attack does so, the students can not stand in front of it and keep their centers. You can feel their energy field collapse as you start to move forward with the strike. If you can’t hold your mind steady when the attack is delivered, then no amount of training, no amount of technical acquisition, no amount of detailed understanding of how a technique works will make any difference. If your mind goes into retreat at the instant of the attack, everything else is over before you even make physical contact. It doesn’t matter that you know hundreds of techniques. They are simply hundreds of techniques which you can’t do.
George S. Ledyard