Note: This article was written from the mainline NGA point of view, prior to the development of Shojin-ryu.
Many students, as they learn the classical techniques of Nihon Goshin Aikido, misunderstand the purpose of these techniques. They may think the classical techniques are for defense, which they are not (though some are effective for defense – more on that later). They may think the classical techniques teach only motions, which is not true. They may think that classical techniques teach us only very specific and narrow bits of information that we call “techniques”, which is also untrue.
Mind you, this is not a failing of the student (nor necessarily of the instructor). It simply takes time to truly understand some of the lessons in our classical techniques. Many of us learn these lessons without ever being aware they are being taught (thanks to Bowe Shihan’s well-designed classical technique curriculum). But I believe that there are some students who will learn more quickly if they understand what they are being taught and why these forms exist.
“Wait! Did he say ‘forms’?” Yes, in fact, I did. Our classical techniques serve much the same purpose as kata (or forms) do in other arts. They allow us to learn movements in a supremely controlled way, where there is a specifically “correct” way to do things, so we know precisely where our feet and hands should be (and where our partner’s feet and hands will be). So, yes, the classical techniques teach movement, but that is not all they do.
As for self-defense, that is very much not the purpose of the classical techniques. These are teaching forms, designed to help us learn the basic movements and principles of a technique (or group of applications) in the most efficient manner possible. Some may be effective for self-defense, and all teach things that are important to self-defense, but as a whole the classical techniques are not for self-defense use, themselves. In this, they are again like the kata found in other arts – it is unlikely that anyone will ever encounter precisely the correct sequence of attacks and responses to use an entire kata in self-defense. What he will find use for is the transitions and movement taught in the different kata he has learned.
As for the misconception that the classical technique teaches only the narrow movement used in the associated technique (or group of applications), this is only partly true. When we practice the Arm Bar classical technique, we do learn movements that apply quite nicely to a large portion of the Arm Bar applications we use in self-defense, but we learn much more. The start of the classical Arm Bar technique is a variation of the start of other techniques (like the Spin Around throw), and teaches a simple, effective manner of breaking an attacker’s balance by simply moving their hand to your hips and then moving your hips.
So what is it that is missing in these three misconceptions? Principles! In our classical techniques, we learn principles that transcend not only that technique, but all of our 50 techniques. We learn what my instructor (Mr. John Wyndham) refers to as “big techniques”. What are these big techniques? A few of them are:
- Kuzushi (breaking the uke’s balance), through several of the other principles.
- Lead, in several directions.
- Balance, both static and dynamic.
- Stances, and when to use them.
- Connecting our center to uke’s center.
- Moving a small part of uke through a large part of us.
- Moving a large part of uke through a small part of uke.
The list is much longer than this, but you can easily see where I’m going, I hope. I’ve seen instructors emphasize or de-emphasize different areas of a technique (not changing the motions – just the timing) to foster one principle or another. In the classical technique for Unbendable Arm, alone, there are at least four distinct principles being taught. I won’t get into them in detail at the moment, in the interest of space. Perhaps I’ll take that up as a future article. However, my take on the principles isn’t nearly as important as your own. Each student should look at his own classical techniques and strive to find the principles he is being taught through them.
Gerry Seymour is the founder of the Self-defense Academy of Western NC, in Hendersonville, NC.