Assembling a Defense

As we learn the techniques and applications of Nihon Goshin Aikido or any other art, we begin by breaking them into parts. While this teaching technique (known as “chunking”) facilitates learning for both adults and children, it also causes students to develop hesitations in their movements. At first, students pause at the end of each “chunk” (in both application and technique) to allow their brains to catch up and tell them what comes next. After some time practicing, they simply have the ingrained habit of stopping at that point in the movement, and find that they have a very difficult time moving smoothly past these transition points.

While I don’t know of a way to avoid the development of these hesitations, I do have some suggestions for helping students to move to the free-flowing movements we all strive for.

Re-Chunking. The hesitations developed because of the way the movement was broken down. So, give the student somewhere else to break the movement, allowing them to move past the habitual pause. In time, by varying the pauses, students are able to move through all transition points without unnecessary pauses (and, helpfully, to stop at various points of a technique without losing the technique). A good exercise for this is to select a few roundhouse defenses that start with a parry. First, have the students simply block and parry, making sure their uke is off balance at the end of the parry, but not executing any technique. Once they are smoothly moving to this point (which is well past the usual habitual pause at the end of the block), have them continue into an application. While they are practicing this application, ensure that they pause at the end of the parry (to avoid pauses elsewhere). Continue with the other defenses you’d selected. After they’ve completed this exercise for three or four applications, have them attempt to repeat them, removing the pause at the end of the parry. Conclude the lesson with a brief attack line, to allow them to try out their new smoothness. Repeat variations of this exercise from time to time, and your students will have fewer pauses, and will do a better job of controlling their uke.

Transitioning Between Techniques. Some students’ hesitations are reinforced by a lack of confidence in the technique, and the fear that they will be stuck with everyone watching during a defense line. To overcome this, students need to learn to properly transition between techniques. Have students react to an attack with a specific technique, move to a specific point, and switch to another technique (for instance, from Handshake to Come Along). At first, practice just a few (no more than three or four) techniques in a row. As their confidence and ability to see available openings for techniques improve, extend the exercise.

Practice Movement without Technique. For some students, the best answer is simply to improve their balance and confidence in motion. This can be accomplished by practicing moving transitions between stances. For instance, have them step from a front stance into a jigotai, then step and pivot into a hanmi. There are endless variations that can be used, and an instructor (or student) can invent their own series of transitions to practice, effectively creating a kata. The more a student practices these transitions, the more smoothly he or she can make transitional movements with a technique.

There are any number of other ways to work on this problem. Send me your favorite ways to cure this, and I’ll include them in a future article.

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Gerry Seymour is the founder of the Self-defense Academy of Western NC, in Hendersonville, NC.

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