2010. szeptember 23., csütörtök

The application of groundfighting techniques in aikido basic training

Fundamentally aikido is based on techniques performed in a standing position, as the art of sword fighting it originates from is difficult to imagine in any other form. Even techniques performed in suwari-wasa bear resemblance to standing techniques – the mere proximity of the ground does not entail radical differences in the sense that no new techniques are introduced. Why does it still make sense to take groundfighting into account when dealing with the instruction of aikido? Several possible points of connection emerge upon closer scrutiny.

Finalizing pins

In aikido, techniques are typically finalized by pins or grappling holds fixing the opponent to the ground, yet these situations often leave opportunities for continuation. One must not forget that grounding the opponent does not necessarily decide the final outcome. Hence it is very useful to be acquainted with the possibilities of continuing the fight either in the case of lying on the ground or standing faced with an enemy lying on the ground, since experiencing such situations helps finding the optimal position in aikido as well inasmuch as learning how to keep the uke under control as securely as possible.

Similarly, when dealing with grappling holds (katame-wasa) it is important to know about the possibilities of the uke to free himself and to be acquainted with techniques to counter such infelicitous events.

Naturally, the above does not mean that it is fundamental to incorporate the teaching of groundfighting elements in aikido trainings, as these have their own areas of application where they can be learned, practiced and perfected, either forming a martial art system in themselves (as in Brazilian ju-jitsu) or a part of a martial art style (e.g. Kodokan judo ne-wasa). However, the knowledge of the basic positions and techniques of groundfighting can enhance the accuracy of finalizing aikido techniques, moreover it calls the aikidoka’s attention to the fact that zanshin is an important part of aikido techniques and not merely an ending of them.

Physical preparation

Apart from the refinement of aikido techniques, practicing groundfigthing has a beneficial effect on physical strength and stamina. As groundfighting bans the use of kicks, punches or attacks of vital life points, it provides a space for practicing techniques and using the body with maximal energy while minimalizing the risk of injury at the same time.

During groundfighting the stability of the position is just as important as mobility and agility. This requires the coordination of the entire body, the legs and the arms and finding the most appropriate movement in the given situation. The goal is twofold – on the one hand the fixing of the opponent securely with the least possible effort is vital and on the other hand keeping the dynamic mobility of the body is also essential so as to be able to adjust oneself to the constantly changing and shifting positions. Given that during groundfights this is put into practice using a much more dynamic and vigorous bodily contact than in usual aikido practice, mistakes in bodily position become much more noticeable and salient and as a direct consequence more amenable to correction. Groundfighting experience thus helps develop the proper positioning of the wrists, arms, shoulder and relating to these the entire bodily posture that is of vital importance in the practice of aikido as well.

For beginner aikidokas these few-minute long, intensive ground-fighting grapples can give the type of physical strain that is difficult to procure by resorting solely to aikido techniques, particularly with beginner aikidokas who would have had little chance of mastering the adequate skills for more intensive aikido training – particularly that of ukemi-wasa. Over and above the already mentioned advantages the strengthening of the body – both the muscles and the joints – during groundfighting should not be underestimated, although naturally this presupposes certain regularity. Contrasting groundfighting with more traditional strengthening methods one finds that in the former body postures are more natural and the effect extends over the entire body as opposed to being restricted to a small set of muscles.

Mental preparation

Beyond the technical and the physical preparatory aspects, groundfighting has an impact on enhancing the spiritual and mental practice of aikido.

Groundfighting requires a continuous and strenuous concentration, an incessant physical and mental presence in recognizing the movements and motions – or even the intentions of these on the part of the opponent. This type of concentration is often effaced in aikido practice, given that the roles of uke and tori are previously negotiated and allotted, and movements (in theory at least) are largely predetermined. On a more advanced level however, upon experiencing that two techniques are never perfectly identical in their actual execution, it is precisely this mental concentration that makes the timely recognition of the necessity of altering a movement possible.

For absolute beginners the bodily contact inevitable during the practice of aikido may be alien and a potential source of distress. In sharp relief with this during groundfighting bodily contact is generally even closer and more direct, dissolving this initial distress in beginners.

Finally, independently of all the abovementioned, groundfighting provides an opportunity for relieving accumulated tension, however it should be taken into account and stressed that even in the absence of extensive knowledge of a variety of techniques, the practice of groundfighting should revolve around playfulness, controlling one’s own body as well as that of the opponent as opposed to the use of brute force for its own sake. For basic level practice the knowledge of the most important positions in groundfighting should suffice (such as the guard, side control, mount, back). From the perspective of aikido the acquaintance with how to hold these positions firmly is much more important than forcing movements or shifts between the positions let alone finalizing fights with techniques. This is particularly important in the case of beginners, who are easily carried away by the thrill of the fight, averting their consideration from both their own and their partner’s bodily integrity. As most accidents are likely to result from such inadvertences trainers should be ready to call attention to these dangers.

Gábor Rékai
English translation: Rosie Ivády

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