By Carl Frederick
Carl Here’s a scenario for you: You’re in class, either learning a new technique or practicing an old one. And maybe the instructor tells you to “play around with it,” perhaps throw an atemi, or a counter, or this, or that. So you work at it with your partner. And then, the inevitable.

“Well, what if I do this?” your partner begins. “Fine,” you boast. “I’ll just do this.” Back and forth you go, and then, just as you think you’ve reached that pinnacle of transcendent awesomeness, your partner executes that ONE atemi, that ONE counter, or that ONE irimi.

And you freeze.

“What do I do now?” you wonder. Of course at this point you’re technically dead.

Game over. Thanks for playing.

You begin to question everything. You replay the encounter again in your mind, looking for the correct response.  “What if,” you wonder, “I had just moved there, right before he did that.” For some, the tendency is to become depressed, believing their entire technique is flawed. They may even look at other activities to fill their time. Knitting perhaps?

I’m exaggerating, of course, but there is purpose to what I am saying. Throughout my martial arts career, I have personally seen the foregoing play out, time and time again, either in myself or my fellow students.

Given my chosen career, for me “failure” means “death.” But as I have learned, and have tried to teach others, the martial arts are always variable. Always. No matter how hard you train, there will always be something that comes along, some surprise, that will inevitably screw everything up. You can mull over a technique for days, looking for perfection, but in the end someone always comes along to set aside your best laid plans.

A mistake I sometimes see is believing that some foolproof, perfect technique exists. I am at fault for this as well. But we simply cannot achieve this. There’s no one way to do something — sometimes you just have to do whatever it takes to make it work. I believe fully that the best martial artists are not the ones who are “perfect” in some abstract sense, or, say, have a playbook of everything that may happen in an encounter, or even those who create detailed backup plans in case their first backup plan fails.

For me, the most impressive martial artists are those who can adjust to new situations, and prevail. Even if it’s messy.

9 thoughts on “Variables

  1. Interestingly, Carl, that nasty shiho-nage I taught last week can be countered with sutemi.

    Turns into a head throw / breakfall for nage.

    I was thinking about it after class and remembered training with Gorman at Keller Sensei’s seminar, who began to demonstrate the counter. (After I had asked, mind you. I freaked.)

    Something to ask Bernath Sensei when we see him in September.

  2. Just goes to show that anything can be countered by anything. But hopefully I wont be up against any drunken shihans in my career

  3. Well, there are no Aikido shihans here in Jacksonville. Dee’s the highest ranked Aikidoka in these parts. And she’s a responsible imbiber. 😉

    To clarify, though, the counter can only happen when nage presents, or uke is able to create, an opening. In this case, the opening is the failure to maintain correct body positioning.

    If nage is not perpendicular to uke, in shikaku, (i.e. if uke is facing nage), then uke can execute kaeshi-waza.

    The mechanics are technically different than the counter where nage fails to take uke’s balance, and uke counters with shiho-nage.

    Conceptually, however, I think both counters are exactly the same, in that both depend on nage failing to control uke’s center.

  4. I don’t think standard atemi will work to control uke’s center here, unless the maai is correct for a kick or knee strike. Is that an option DK?

    I think the way to control uke’s center in this particular technique is through body positioning and the (fairly devastating) joint lock. If you maintain the joint lock, and stay perpendicular, I don’t think uke can counter.

    Hey, wait a second. Did I just turn into that kind of martial artist who makes backup plans for their backup plans??


  5. Nothing wrong with making back up plans…just as long as you can adjust when they dont work.

    You still need to affect uke somehow to give yourself enough time to transition from the initial blend/block to the joint lock. Someone is not going to be nice and let you grab their arm and rotate. So, a strike, kick, eye poke, whatever I think would be a must..

  6. Good luck to everyone testing Saturday!
    I’ll be in South Carolina Saturday; my sister is having a baby.
    Hope everyone does great!
    Sorry to miss your visit Sensei. 🙁


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