Social media are all about connecting, to friends, relatives, and strangers. Aikido is also about connection, and that is what we worked on last night. When you turn in tao no henko (e.g. going back to back when attacked gyaku hanmi katate tori), do you want to break loose (e.g. to strike uke), or do you want to stay connected (e.g. to throw uke).
These are options. Depending on the situation, you might want to do either. To break loose, you want to lever your arm out of the gap between uke’s fingers and thumb. To do this, you pronate your arm (rotate it to palm down) and lift up. To stay connected you want to press your arm into uke’s grip, you supinate your arm (rotate it palm up) and press down.
These movements will work on uke’s grip. However, there is more to it. You don’t want to just connect to uke’s hand. You want to connect to their center. You want your center to connect to their’s, so that when you move your center, uke feels the effect immediately. So how do you take up the slack in that connection? Sometimes, uke does it for you. If uke is determined to keep hold of your arm, their muscle tension will make the connection for you. But sometimes uke will not hold tightly, and will keep their center rather than keep their grip. This is a perfectly sensible martial response. You just prevent nage from doing anything useful with that arm, and don’t commit. It isn’t helpful to beginning aikido students, but that does not make it a stupid response (except when the goal is to teach a beginner something).
So what will make uke hold on, to grip your arm and accept having their posture compromised rather than letting go? A threat. Particularly a subtle threat. So if you move your arm towards their groin, they will most likely hold on. The initial tendency for nage is to do this too overtly. Then the response is often too uncontrolled to be useful. But a small move in the right direction will often result in uke holding on nicely.
A common failure with katate tori kokyu ho is that nage’s arm gets sweaty and uke has difficulty holding on. This shows that nage is applying too much force in the wrong direction. If instead of sliding nage’s arm out of uke’s grip, try working more by pressing your arm into uke’s grip. Set up uke’s arm so that it is extended over their front triangle point and press down, and uke will lose balance.
Connection is easier to work on and study with a grip, but it is just as important with a strike. With mune tsuki, for example, you want to turn in a similar fashion to katate tori, blending with the strike. You want to extend the arm just like with katate tori, and you want to press at about 90 degrees to the extended arm. Then you can throw uke down with kokyu ho just like with katate tori.
The timing is a bit more critical, because the natural thing to do if the first punch misses (or even if it hits) is to throw the second one. For a punch to be effective, it must stay on target for a moment. Yanking it back before it has had time to transfer its energy into the target is not effective. But it only takes a moment for this to happen – maybe quarter of a second. At that time, for an effective punch (and who cares about getting hit by an ineffective one) uke’s arm is rigid and extended. If nage has contact at that time, center to center, they can disrupt uke’s posture just as effectively as with a grab.
Often people grab the gi to make that connection. I am sometimes guilty myself. However, this generally messes up other parts of the technique. Instead, just move your own center in the right direction (i.e. use your legs, the arms merely being connectors). For some reason, this moved uke more effectively.
You generally do not want to stop uke from extending their punch. In fact, if you can make them extend it too far, that’s even better. If you touch their arm and rotate your own, this will tend to do what you want. It is a subtle movement, and it maybe extends their arm only an inch or so, but done just as the punch is focused for impact it also moves uke’s body. From being centered and grounded, their weight is moved just a bit, their weight goes onto the balls of the feet or even the toes, and they are easy to move.
Timing is even more critical with a knife attack. There is less need to time to allow the energy to transfer. You still need to connect to uke’s center, but there is less likely to be much resistance as knife attacks are more likely to be fluid rather than strong.
These things all need to be studied. They need to be practiced. We tend to put too much emphasis on throwing uke down, on pinning uke. In the street, success is very important. In the dojo, we are practicing, trying to learn. We also want our dojo partners to learn. It is important to focus on our immediate goals if we are to succeed. As we learn, it will translate into more probability of success if we are unfortunate enough to need to use our art in the street.