Something About A Sword

The aikido dojo has a very diverse schedule, with the later half of each class being some kind of specialty for those who stick out the entire hour and a half.  A lot of students don’t, especially the younger ones.  They do the first forty five minutes or hour of general instruction and then leave.  Each night is a different emphasis, with my favorite so far being Monday and self defense.

Wednesday and Thursday nights is weapons practice.

I’ve been told that part of the development of aikido as a distinct style involved the creation of moves to take a weapon away from your opponent.  Traditional aikido works with three weapons – the tanto (a knife), the jo (wooden short staff), and the bokken (wooden sword).  Monday night I worked with a tanto in the self defense lesson.  Wednesday night, swords to the head.

Derek-sensei is a new instructor for me, and the move he demonstrated intimidated the crud out of me.  The first looked simple: your opponent attacks in an overhand motion at your head, a move called shogun…  I think.  You spin to the side, avoiding the blow, and wind up parallel to your opponent who’s weapon is now down.  You each over and grab the hilt between their two hands and rotate your wrist, throwing off their balance as they try to retain control of the blade, and then essentially hip-check them off to the side.  They roll, and you have the blade.

Simple.  Right.

The major problem I had with this move wasn’t the grabbing the sword part.  And the rotated wrist / hip check?  I’m a percussionist and curvy – wrists and hips were why I picked aikido in the first place.  No, the hard part is the roll.

Breakfalling is the first thing any sport will teach you.  You’re going to fail a lot, and you need to know how to land so you don’t hurt yourself.  I haven’t done tumbling since gymnastics when I was, oh, 7 or so.  Now I’ve been practicing – in fact, I try to use the crash mats even if it’s just by myself for a couple of minutes each lesson.  Those have all be kneeling rolls, though – starting low to the ground.

This wasn’t.  This was a full on “you’re standing up, you’re hip checked, now fall down and make it look good.”

I wasn’t ready for it.  In fact after Derek-sensei demonstrated the move I stayed put, kneeling in the line, and watched others practice because I knew I wasn’t up for it.

But Tommy and Chris waved me over anyway, and let me be the one to do the striking as they rolled.

Taking a sword away from someone is a tremendous psychological rush, just so you know.  Even if it’s slow and faked.  It feels amazingly powerful.

The second move was a variant on the first.  This time instead of immediately hip checking your opponent, you turn and bring the sword up and between the two of you, allowing you to switch the weapon to your dominant hand, before then rolling them forward.  Hand changes are really tricky for me, but I figured this out after only a couple of repetitions, and spent the rest of the time having Jeff demonstrate the difference between attacking along your line keeping your balance, and attacking at an angle with less force.

It’s a lot to absorb, and things like angles, foot positions and degree of rotation make a big difference in every move.  Aikido isn’t about power or strength; it’s about precision, balance, reaction and harnessing motion.  A constant refrain is “relax”, and it’s frustrating to not be technically skilled (skilled nothing, how about familiar?!) enough to let go like that.

I’m also wishing there was a way I could practice at home.  I don’t have the living space for tumbling, obviously, and I don’t think my downstairs neighbor would thank me even if I did.  Still, I’m keeping my eyes peeled for ideas.  If nothing else, I’ve been spending a lot of time poking around the AikiWiki.

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Published in: on April 14, 2011 at 14:55  Comments (1)  

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One CommentLeave a comment

  1. #swordstothehead ;p This sounds so awesome!!!
    I’m loving the Florence and the Machine lyric *kick to the teeth is good for some* at the moment.
    Sounds like it’s going well over all and i’m so pleased hun.


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