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Thursday, February 16, 2012


Yonkyo is one of the osae-waza of Aikido.  The name translates into "fourth teaching."  This does not refer to more advanced material over Ikkyo (first teaching) nor does it refer to order of importance nor are all Aikido techniques numbered.
In Daito Ryu, there was a fourth catalogue of 15 techniques called Yonkajo, one of which resembles the basic Yonkyo in part.  Some of the other techniques resemble variations on Yonkyo that I was taught.  Some techniques in the Daito Ryu Yonkajo I think most modern Aikido students would not recognize as being related to Yonkyo.
In Yoshinkan, the name Yonkajo was retained but there is only one technique being referred to.  Aikikai refers to Yonkyo, and again it is one technique.
Sensei once told me that there was no technique called Yonkyo in the “old days,” rather all the techniques all involved some version or aspect of Yonkyo.  I never got to really clarify this with him.  Certainly, Yonkyo focuses all your structure and intention on one point of your Uke, and uses this to manipulate Uke’s overall structure.  The feel of Yonkyo can be found in Shihonage and many other techniques. 
One seminar I was told a story about a student from a rural dojo who came to the large city school and could pin everyone in the big school with his Yonkyo.  I remember being inspired somehow, and I'm not sure why.
Under Sensei, I also learned two specific Omote and Ura variations, using two different pressure points, as well as a Ki No Nagare variation.  I had to learn four different Yonkyo pins – for my Gokyu test!  I learned about Yonkyo on other body parts, and how to use this feeling of Yonkyo in any grab.  Locally, I see students trying to make all Yonkyo only one thing.  The USAF doesn’t require Yonkyo on their test requirements.
Lessons I learned from this technique: 
1)       Don’t focus on causing pain.  Focus on the control.  Pain will hurt, but pain only makes Uke madder.  If your Uke isn’t controlled, you are in trouble.  I see people that focusing on causing pain to their Uke to the exclusion of all else.  If Uke says it doesn’t hurt yet, ask them to stand up.  If it doesn’t hurt but they can’t move, this is much better than if they feel pain but shake free and jump right up.  My time working with young offenders and mental patients showed me how futile and counterproductive pain compliance can be.  Control is always the goal.
2)      Don’t focus on the one pressure point.  The goal is to affect all of your Uke.  The one point on Uke’s wrist should affect his shoulder and spine and ultimately his balance and his ability to move.  Tunnel vision on the wrist won’t help achieve this.
3)      Yonkyo is one of the more painful techniques early on, but one of the least likely to cause damage.  This makes it ideal for some forms of mental training.
4)      Trying to inflict more pain or better control by using more muscle doesn’t work.  Nage needs to relax and extend.  When my wife teaches, she does a variation on Tai no Tenkan where Uke is just placing their open hand against Nage.  Uke learns to follow and to keep their hand connected and in her words, "Avoid the grabby feeling."  This is true for all grabs, but Yonkyo is one technique that really works this ability.  Muscular, stiff grabbing stops Yonkyo from happening at all.  The hands need to relax, project, connect to your whole body and extend.
5)      Yonkyo is not done by your hands.  Your hands are where Yonkyo is finally expressed from, but you must use a whole body motion.  To do Yonkyo, I feel it start in my toes and knees, go through my pelvis and up my spine then out my arms to the knuckle joint.  The tiny spot of contact is hit with my whole body.
The actual Daito Ryu Yonkajo seems to show cracking Uke’s skull on the ground with the impact, and the shoulder can eventually dislocate with a very forceful full body pin.  Really, the pin manipulates the anatomy in a very similar way to the Nikyo Ura and Sankyo pins.  Uke is in the same configuration, the difference is in Nage.
Without an aggressive intent to damage Uke, there is no risk to fingers or wrists breaking with most variations.  Elbows are not at risk of being broken with most versions.  Uke’s neck is safe when pinned.  Uke gets to feel the pain, and relax.  Nage gets to inflict pain, and relax.  At worst, there will be a bruise on a beginner’s wrist.  Very soon with regular practice, even the bruises stop.  Now the mental training can start.
It is an unfortunate reality with self defence techniques that we will be working against someone else.  We will have chosen to stop someone from doing something.  This choice is foreign to a number of our students as we have become “The Peaceful Art.”  A split second hesitation in our application, and we will fail.  As we become okay with inflicting pain, we start to steel our resolve to action. 
This isn’t just for violence – doing a dressing change or giving an injection to a patient is also difficult because of the need to cause pain in someone else.  I still flinch remembering a young woman needing sutures put in her lip.  The needle driver would dig into her lip, the thread would pull, her eyes would water and her whole face was a mask of pain with each movement.  But, she needed this to stop bleeding.
Being worried about causing pain distracts me, makes my hands clumsy and my patient feels more pain!  My patient feels more pain over a longer period of time because my fear-clumsy hands take longer to do a procedure.  My fear is magnified when I have witnesses and an audience, and I think for me it is out of a sense of guilt and failure.  I am there to reduce suffering; when you suffer, I fail.

Once I am okay with the reality that, as a health care professional, I will cause pain, then I can relax and develop ways to reduce the pain I cause.  I can talk calmly and soothingly.  I can start being more aware of my technique, causing the least amount of pain in the shortest amount of time because I’m not being distracted by my fear.
I stopped telling patients, “this won’t hurt a bit.”  I tell them, “this is going to suck” if in fact it will.  They feel respect for their suffering, and they can adjust.  There is no point in lying to them – they can feel it in my hands when I don’t believe what I am saying.  I do tell them, “I will do everything I can to make this more comfortable.”  And then, I do. 
Martially, when I am okay with causing pain nothing of myself is held back.  My whole mind (and therefore the whole body) is then committed to what I must do.  I can develop this while Uke is not at great risk for injury.
An important mental practice is also there for Uke.  As Uke, I feel the pain.  Pain is scary.  Pain threatens me on a very core level.  I stop thinking properly.  My years of training can be overwhelmed.  I become my most animal self and Fight or Flee.  In some techniques like Nikyo or Higi-Kime, a sudden reflexive panic flinch or jump can lead to injury.  We are slaves to our base instincts at this level.  Safe ukemi becomes an accident, not a practiced response.  Eventually, the panic will come at the wrong time and cause harm.  The self-control that is the hallmark of a senior martial artist is absent.
With some students, I will give them a “mantra” that I use myself.  Yes, it’s from Dune. 
“Fear is the Mind-killer.”
“I will embrace my fear.”
“I will let my Fear pass through me.”
“Only I will remain.”
And, for myself:  “Pain makes Fear worse, Fear makes Pain worse.”  I try to get calmer with each iteration.  I feel each joint relax further, and maybe stretch a little more while trying to be very aware of the injury threshold.  (This is for very slow and mindful practice by both partners.)  The pain is always lessened as I relax.  Tension and fear always make the pain more intense. 
In other techniques, injury can indeed follow pain.  Waiting to tap when Uke is trying to find an elbow lock can leave you permanently crippled.  With Yonkyo, the worry is much less.  This gives Aikido people a chance to train to work through pain. 
In real violence, getting hit in the face is enough to leave some people stunned and defenseless.  It might not be because of injury, but a numb fear response from the violence and the pain.  Pain and shock overwhelm the trained reflexes. 

In receiving techniques, we get to feel the pain, and keep calm and mindful anyway.  We are still ourselves.  Je Me Souviens!  The fear of pain no longer stops the student from acting in a rational, safe and determined fashion.  Your mind will make the leap to calming down when faced with pain and fear in general, in time.  You can stay calm in the face of fear and pain.  This reflex can save your life.  I really believe that.
I had to practice Yonkyo for every grading until Nidan.  I had to learn Yonkyo against Shomenuchi, Tsuki, Morote Dori, Yokomenuchi and Ushiro Ryokata Dori.  Many seminars involved Yonkyo practice, including my very first that left my hands too weak to feed myself the evening after practice.  My pain tolerance is much more than it used to be. 
This isn’t the most effective technique in the Aikido arsenal for me.  There are people out there with thick wrists and lots of scar tissue that won’t feel the pain and some people whose shoulders are too stiff to allow me to easily get them in the controlling position.  Wadokai Aikido dropped it from their syllabus altogether, opting to only teach more “guaranteed  result techniques.”  Not all people who told me it wasn’t worth practicing because it could be resisted could actually resist even my Yonkyo. Sensei, of course, was much better than me.   

Apparently this was the technique demonstrated on a member of the Secret Service during an early Aikido demonstration to an American president.  The technique of course worked.  I find it is very worth practicing.  The mental training gained has helped me in my general life.
For me, Yonkyo is about all of my intention aimed at and applied to one body part of Uke in an effort to control Uke’s body and balance.  Compared to Morote Dori Kokyu Ho, where a teacher might say, “be a flower opening up” in Yonkyo one might talk about “skewering” someone or describe a laser beam-like intention.
This sounds to me as related to something like Atemi, or striking techniques.  After 20 years, I still see so much to get out of this one technique.

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