Here we continue the article by Lewis Bernaldo de Quiros on ‘Levels of practice, ability and understanding in Takemusu Aikido’.
Once the basic technical repertoire has been developed through the fundamental levels (see Part 1 of this article) then other areas of technique and practice become accessible. For teaching purposes, theses areas can also be broken down using the semi-flowing teaching method discussed previously, however, these advanced levels are normally practiced at the second flowing level (nagare and ki no nagare). They include:
Jiyu waza (free style practice)
Henka waza (variation techniques)
Oyo waza (practical techniques)
Kaeshi waza (counter techniques)
Jiyu waza is free style practice either against a pre-determined single attack or different multiple attacks. This practice develops towards freely generated attacks from one or from multiple opponents. Technical responses are not set, but can be generated freely. It can be done in slow motion or at speed. The variations for practice at this level are many. It leads on naturally from the previous fundamental levels and allows for a more 'playful' practice of the basics in flowing form.
Henka waza are basic techniques which are changed to suit a changing attack. The technical change in the responsive technique can be either a variation of the same technique which was being applied to uke (e.g., nikyo to a variation of nikyo) or a change to a different technique altogether (e.g., nikyo to irimi nage). Learning henka waza deepens our understanding of the basic techniques as we study them from new angles and situations where uke resists, changes his attack or tries to escape. It deepens our understanding of the techniques through apprehending their limits and potential range of applications.
Oyo waza are more martially oriented, combat applications of the basic techniques. They usually involve the use of atemi (strikes) to create openings in the balance breaking set-up steps along with shorter more direct technical pathways in the resolutions. This practice needs to be done carefully and with control and within the limits of the ability to blend and receive of uke as techniques at this level are potentially physically dangerous.
Oyo waza are not taught until the movements and techniques at the previous fundamental levels are firmly grasped. The atemi should not break up the movements, but fit into them and the directness of the techniques at this level should not be technical shortcuts, but rather minimalistic and functionally efficient expressions of them. This level is important to know as it puts to rest many questions aikidoka have regarding the 'combat effectiveness' of Aikido. Especially those who have no experience of having trained in other martial arts and therefore have difficulty placing Aikido in a martial context. It also serves to put the basic techniques into perspective as far as connection, control and atemi are concerned (both being able to deliver atemi and being aware of when one is open to atemi from an attacker).
Modern day Aikidoka do not train with the development of this level as a priority, but without it we can easily go astray in our basic training as far as the effectiveness of the basic techniques are concerned. Knowing the oyo waza and having this knowledge 'in the background' of our training serves as a check on these important principles.
Kaeshi waza are Aikido counter techniques to Aikido techniques and were traditionally only taught to instructors. Kaeshi waza practice is advanced practice in the sense that both ukemi and the knowledge of the techniques with their internal structure needs to be well developed. Counter techniques rely on understanding and being able to feel the weaknesses in a technique which is being applied to oneself as uke and it is through these weaknesses or 'windows' that the counter blends are initiated to recapture control of one’s centre and of nage’s centre. Simply practicing set counter techniques without this inner feel for the openings is to miss the point and value of this practice.
‘Takemusu Aikido’ is the freely inspired responses to the unique demands of the moment based on the principles of Aiki. This can be either technical or 'non-technical'. This is not a level that can be 'practiced', but is more the fruit of years of practice.