On Saturday we worked on flowing movements. Often people try to throw uke, and in particular, try to do so using their upper body strength. This works about as well as trying to cut through a target with a sword in the same fashion – not well.
The first exercise we did was to hold the bokken and move it like a figure eight (as in katate hachi no ji gaeshi with a jo), from the hips. This means the movement is powered from the leg muscles, which are much stronger than the arm muscles. The arms only connect and guide the sword. This exercise is harder than it appears, especially for western males.
The hips move first, then the shoulders, then the hands, and finally the tip of the sword. It should feel like you are a whip, with the body being the handle, and the sword the lash. And on the two diagonal parts of the cut, you have to turn the sword so that the cutting edge is leading.
Then we grasped uke’s hand as for kote gaeshi and threw them by moving the hips. The aim was to use the hips, rather than the shoulders, to throw uke, and to focus on nage’s movement rather than on throwing uke. A graceful flowing movement works better.
Uke can at this time practice similarly, allowing the gripped hand to move first, and the body last. This has the advantage to uke of spreading the energy nage is delivering both in body location and time, making the ukemi quite easy.
From there, we worked on doing technique as cutting with a sword. Most techniques are shomenuchi cuts with a sword. If you cut at the wrist so as to rotate the arm in pronation (rotating the thumb inward, so that the radius and ulna are crossed), you have ikkyo or nikkyo and related techniques. If you cut the wrist the opposite way, in supination (rotating the thumb outward, so the radius and ulna are not crossed), you have kote gaeshi and related techniques. If you cut through uke’s head, you have irimi nage.
Kosa dori kote gaeshi, in particular, is three sword cuts: a horizontal one to break lose from uke’s grip, another to take kuzushi, and a third, vertical, one to throw uke.
It is critical in these movements that you think of cutting with the sword rather than thinking about doing a technique on uke. Most likely, the difference is because when thinking of a sword cut you are intent on making a smooth complete cut, while when you are trying to throw uke you are thinking of an interaction, one that uke can easily stop or at least mess up, when the technique becomes difficult and ugly. Interestingly, relatively new students find this approach easier than more advanced students. I guess I haven’t stressed fluid movement enough.
For any successful technique, connection from nage to uke is critical. Once you have the movement down well, you have to connect it to uke without damaging the fluidity of the movement. Nage can do this by altering his position relative to uke and by stretching the movement to accommodate to uke’s body size. He can also alter the timing of his movement in particular going faster or slower to accommodate uke’s movement. All without impairing the flow.
Uke can and should do the same things, altering his position and movement to connect to nage. And why should uke do this? Initially, because it hurts less. If you are stiff and uncooperative and nage does a good technique, you will be thrown anyway, but it will hurt. With kote gaeshi, for example, you can get your wrist, elbow, and/or shoulder badly wrenched. And when you do hit the ground, you will hit it harder and less gracefully, which hurt more also. Besides, blending with nage is the best way, perhaps the only way, to perform kaeshi waza.