Day 11 – starting waza – shihonage

This post originally appeared on my AikiWeb blog…

We started waza today. I was a bit surprised because I thought we would spend all of April on ukemi and kihon dosa, neither of which are at even barely acceptable level, at least not consistently. However, since we have to perform in the embu in May, I think they want to push us a little bit.

For today and the rest of the week, we are practicing shihonage, which is the first technique in Yoshinkan. Specifically, we started today with katate mochi shihonage ichi. In Yoshinkan, techniques are divided into ichi and ni classes depending on whether shite is moving forward or backward. Katate mochi is wrist grab, and shihonage is, as everyone knows, “Four Directions Throw.”

The day started well with a good first class, and when I heard we were going to start shihonage today, I thought, I’m going to knock this class out today, because I’ve been doing shihonage in ippan classes since I got here in January. But ohhh, no! By the end of the day today, I didn’t think I understood anything about shihonage at all.

In ippan classes, I am used to Payet-sensei saying things like “good, good” or “yeeees” or “that’s it” (not necessarily to me, but in general–he is very even and good-tempered instructor). But today I think he actually looked disgusted. I guess that is the difference between expectations for ippan students and kenshusei students.

Here is a partial list of problems with my technique:
– atemi coming from arm rather than back leg
– too much tension in the forearm, breaking uke’s grip
– too little tension in the forearm, losing form
– hips aren’t low enough
– back foot isn’t flat
– shoulders too high and tense
– after relaxing, body and arms aren’t extended enough
– after extending, shoulders too high and tense
– hands coming too far over head during rotation
– hips out of alignment after rotation
– using arms rather than hips to take uke’s balance
– arms chopping rather than extending forward
– stepping rather than shuri-ashi during nage

And that’s just problems as shite. As uke, I’m gripping too hard and too soft and generally just before nage, my flexibility is not enough to perform the ukemi properly.

All of these specifics aside, I think all my problems with this technique can be summed up in one point: I don’t really feel any connection with uke.

Payet-sensei does demonstrations–one again today–where he talks about energy going from shite’s hip to uke’s hip. And when he does techniques in super-slo-mo or stop-motion, you can see uke’s body changing in response to his movements. But I can’t feel this connection at all.

Before today, I thought I could. I thought that just before the nage, when uke’s balance is off and you are holding his wrist, I thought that was connection. But since I am not controlling uke’s balance properly going into the nage, whatever I’m feeling can’t be a connection.

The only other point I can make is “bad knees,” which is beating a dead horse and sounds like an excuse. However, to be fair to myself, my knees really did feel horrible today and were affecting my movements. Shuri-ashi during this nage, for example, feels like cliff-diving when you don’t have any confidence in your knees–you’re just throwing your weight forward and hoping you don’t crash into something.

Is this what learning shihonage is supposed to be like, or am I particularly thick-headed?

Keiko 1 – practicing ukemi by shite leading uke by the wrist, then periodically throwing. Shite runs backward with an arm out, changing direction, while uke tries to follow maintaining an imperceptibly light grip on shite’s wrist. This was tiring after doing it all class but quite fun, although I missed conditioning workout this morning after two days off for the weekend.

Keiko 2 – shakko ho with bokken, then kihon dosa renzoku practice, plus introduction to shihonage. Renzoku was pretty weak. First thing in the day, it takes about 10-15 repetitions of kihon dosa for my knees to get accustomed to the form.

The main shihonage exercise for this session was performing the technique with only one hand. Sempai Nick made a good catch: when my arm kept coming over my head and then down with my shoulder forward, he said, “that your swimmer’s arm,” and sure enough he was right. I was performing the movement almost exactly the way my arm would enter the water for crawl stroke.

Keiko 3 – shihonage practice, breaking the technique down into parts, plus partner exercises for practice extending the arms from the hips and legs.