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Why do we practise aikido the way we do? And what are we doing, really?

I believe that we are using different kinds of restrictions to achieve a higher level of freedom. An example of a very basic restriction is that we try not to use strength to overcome the problems we encounter in the keiko. We try to find a more “clever” solution than busting trough with brute force.

Another basic restriction is that we practise very precise forms, kata, that we should be able to perform with all our training partners. So by restricting our options we put the focus on specific difficult areas. As the form is set we do not allow ourselves to go around the mountain, but rather look for small goat paths in the area we have restricted ourselves to. This forces us to increase the resolution of the picture we get through the connection with the partner to find the way, as a mountain stream finds the way to the ocean by flowing downhill between the rocks and curvatures in the terrain.

There is one restriction I have been thinking about a lot lately. Traveling to seminars and receiving instruction from some of the top teachers in the world is really great. However, traveling is expensive, and money are sure to run short at times.  Even if I attend seminars twice per month it still leaves lots of time where I feel that I need guidance. So I am very glad to say that I found a different kind of teacher that is present wherever a training partner is present. The complete grab!

Photo by Sonja Sauer.

Inside the partner’s grab is so much exciting information we can just reach out and… grab. Every time someone grabs us and we do something, the quality of what we are doing will be reflected in the grab. Likewise when we are the one grabbing. Are we able to keep the complete grab through some basic movements with the partner? As an example, with extended arms, the grab at the point between us and our partner (two more restrictions) and a complete grab we are already almost restricted to the “safe places” in case of irimi tenkan, both for uke and for tori. If we can’t go, we have to do something first. If we are pulling or pushing the grab will tell us. This extends to everything we do in our daily training.

At a seminar the grab is there in addition to the invited sensei. When we grab someone with a high level we receive aikido from them like through a USB cable. Without it we will not feel as detailed what is going on. What they do inside, happens to us inside, and the body learns the ways. It is like learning with the body, and the mind catches up later. A very comfortable way of learning in fact, as we avoid frustration over not being able to do what we know we should!

Many would maybe say that a complete grab is not very realistic. No, it is not, but should it be? I believe the “attacks” in aikido are constructed pedagogically, not to simulate a real attack in a street fighting situation. The complete grab creates an environment that is good for learning. For me that is enough.

Why should the partner hold on when we move? Well, that has to be an agreement of the practice. A restriction. If we decide to study the complete grab, we have to hold on to study it, or we can just move on to a different study, or go home.

Grab is king!

Enjoy your keiko! Aikido make people happy!