Katie wants to set up a Randori class in a few weeks time. As we're going to Canada at the start of March, the class will probably begin after we return. It's her class, but I've had things I've been working on for a long time now and I thought I'd post them.
You see, when I did my Shodan test, the kata portion went very well. The test went on for close to an hour. I had very good feedback on Tachidori and Kaeshiwaza, which I needed to work on. When the Randori portion happened, I got trashed. I had four uke who all came from different cities in Alberta and Saskatchewan and they all knew me well. We were in the basement of the Albert Community Center in Saskatoon where Saskatoon Aikikai still trains. The room was very small.
The first Randori, I had all four guys holding me. I started to do a Shihonage variation to one of them, knowing that I could peel off a few others. I felt my friend's wrist start to give way and I could hear him crying out in pain. I had been stationary for a few seconds, and I knew that was enough that I could have been killed. I gave up, and spared my friend as I had already lost anyway.
I was given a second chance. I emptied my mind and kept three people away from me - then the fourth grabbed me in a bearhug from behind and picked me up off the floor. Of course I thought I knew what to do about a bearhug - use my head to break someone's nose, use my heel to break his foot or kick him in the balls. I stopped myself from doing this to my friend and got dumped on the ground. I was angry with him for putting me in that postion of having to chose his safety over my testing well. Yancy did explain to me later that he thought grabbing me around the waist was kinder than hitting me in the back of the head - I'd put him in a position of having to chose my safety over his role as uke. If he'd been a lazy uke, I might have never looked to the people in the room like I had been honestly tested.
I learned so much from this test. I had been trying to just flow with the attacker, and I had been doing some Taiji pushhands in the hope of learning to receive and flow with the energy of my attackers. I ended up ignoring the environment and I was trying to receive one person at a time instead of thinking about fighting a group. I also didn't learn enough about responding to some attacks - I knew little damaging tricks that I thought was going to get me through a "real situation" while forgetting as a nurse, I don't want to always hurt people "in the real world." I didn't give myself the options and choices I needed.
First off, Randori or fighting a group is still about each individual throw. A throw needs to be done well. No amount of tactical planning makes up for poor execution. So, every technique of every class is a chance to get better at Randori. In other words, don't skip the Basics Class to only go to the Randori Class.
I started to take it one step further, making things a little more difficult for myself. Could I carry on a conversation with the person I was practicing with? It sounds like bad etiquette, and it is. Beginners need to focus on one thing at a time, and this was my way of seeing if I could do more than one thing. Was my technique getting so engrained that it wasn't mentally overwhelming? I had a few partners who could tell me all about their day, what they had made for dinner and what girl they were dating while powering me very solidly into the floor. I can't quote Shakespeare, or carry on a high level debate. I can tell a lie, so long as I don't feel emotional about it ie the moon is made of green cheese instead of lying aobut something very personal and embarrassing. It's much easier to be fully honest and talking about a subject not too distant from the practice. Some partners will have their hands drop down and their whole body stops moving with a single question, and they need to have me shut up for their own development.
I tried to see the ceiling, the door, the walls and the position of other people more clearly while throwing and being thrown. I kept working out in the busier sections of the mat during a seminar - could I avoid collisions, avoid hitting a wall? Could I avoid landing on someone else or hitting something? Did I know where the edge of the mat was when I was falling? I started to practice with throwing people with this level of mat awareness as best I could. Throwing with full speed and power with this level of awareness is hard for me - I need to be very dialed down to stay fully aware.
Omote and Irimi movements often have uke falling back the direction they came, and Ura and Tenkan movements often have uke falling in the direction they were already headed. (Shihonage is the opposite.) I had read about the four directions, and I taught a class where everyone was doing Tenchinage and Shihonage to four directions. I put pieces of paper on the floor and made them targets for nage to hit using uke's body. Then, I started doing 8 directions. I was wanting to be able to throw to any direction.
I started to see four corners in Tai Sabaki. The four corners didn't just let me throw to any direction, I could start to move in any direction and pick my placement in the group.
I started to get ready for my nidan test, and I knew I needed at least five techniques for each attack. I knew that techniques like Sokumen Iriminage, Ukekimenage, Shihonage, Kotegaeshi, Kaitenage were all part of a sequence that can all be done off a single entry just like Ikkyo, Nikyo, Sankyo, Yonkyo and Iriminage were all possible off a single moment of contact. The next part I wanted was to be able to pick and chose which thread I wanted to follow.
I started to focus on Tai Sabaki for my test. There are thousands of techniques possible against Shomenuchi, but only a handful of relationships to uke and only a handful of ways to receive the initial attack. If I could learn this, I could pick my location on the mat while blending with the attack and then throw to any direction.
It worked well, but to pick a location and a relationship (planning) while just letting things happen wasn't working well if I was receiving in a passive mindstate. If I was being passive, at least I learned enough to work from wherever I was in relation to uke. Initiating and receiving were very different and let different options appear.
My Nidan test arrived. My kata portion was good again. I was able to show different Tai Sabaki to different attacks, which is what I had set out for myself as a goal. Three people tested at the same time, with their respective ukes. Then, all three of us were brought together with the uke and each candidate did their Randori against the five of us in turn. I was the last to go, and people were getting tired. Two of my ukes thought they were finished, and the others had been thrown constantly for a while now.
I initiated strongly and remembered O Sensei's Dokka to "seize their minds and scatter them all." I ended up going up the middle, then found myself to the outside. My first few movements were clean. Then, I decided to switch gears. I had a sore knee and I had hurt my foot an hour before my test and I was getting tired. Aikido is all about blending isn't it? I tried to do some blending instead of just irimi.
a. They were a little tired and tenkan is for leading or blending.
b. I had set the pace of the Randori up to the point I "changed my mind."
c. I had communicated that I was going to be aggressive and forceful. They believed me and responded accordingly - more slowly and with more reticience in their attacks.
I came up to a guy who was slowly backing up. He was bigger than me. He'd been the first to go of the three of us, and in his mind, his test was done. He was the outside of a circle of attackers now, and I didn't want the other four behind me. I actually touched him first and thought about leading him in a circle. His eyes were wide, and he was breathing hard and sweating harder. It was briefly on my mind that he was going to fall into the crowd if I sent him straight backwards.
He would have fallen easily with a straight irimi movement. Instead, I tried to lead someone in a circle who just wanted to run away. I didn't let my mind follow his motion, and I had to muscle him. Now I was more tired. O Sensei would write that I should have sent him on his way. My uke didn't attack me, but I had threatened the group (with my movement) and told them not to attack me.
I finally broke out of the circle, using irimi. The whole group had to run after me, and this time I was able to turn and lead them while they were in motion and it felt much easier.
A karate teacher from many years ago told me he was focusing on timing, as he thought that was everything. All props to the karate teacher, but I finally realized that there was something more than timing. I did a big intimidating movement. I set up a mindset in my uke. I manipulated their intentions. I established the relationship. I changed my mind, discarded what I made, stopped reading their intentions and tried to be the passive one in the group. I did that. I created the situation.
Kawahara Sensei would often have us practice initiating at seminars, but the whole idea didn't feel like Aikido to some. I remember his lessons, but I had never properly practiced them. We were attacking first or eliciting an attack and then using Uke's movement. How much better timed can a response be than if I set up the attacker to respond to me? I can play my own game, and not just respond to theirs. It just doesn't feel like the purely defensive desire only for peace to force the attacker to play your game.
I think this relates to Saito Sensei's Ki no Nagare practice. If I wait for Uke, katatedori, katadori, sodedori, munedori, higidori, tsuki, and any combination of a grab and a strike will all look the same. If I initiate or move before the grab, they're all the same. That's one of my practices for now.