Is That Gun Loaded?
by Robert Wolfe
Anyone with even rudimentary knowledge of gun safety understands the answer is, “Yes — treat every firearm, every time, as though it is loaded.” That is the only way to have any assurance of avoiding accidents… and even then, plenty of accidents occur when the rule is forgotten or ignored.
What astonishes me is the degree to which so many practitioners of aikijujutsu and its derivative arts seem completely oblivious to the fact that even in routine practice they are essentially playing with loaded firearms, blithely training with techniques that are specifically designed to cripple or kill. And as is the case with firearms, when that truth is overlooked the consequences can be disastrous.
Obviously, there is always a degree of inherent risk in any kind of martial art training, but the potential is greater in highly sophisticated forms of grappling than in percussive arts such as karate. Not only is most punch/kick sparring nowadays conducted with everyone wrapped in foam, it’s virtually never the case that sparring partners are attempting to break each other with full-power, penetrating strikes. In aikijujutsu though, even when practicing a technique that has been modified for safety, the technique very definitely still has teeth and will bite. This is why, in the Yamate-ryu, we enforce very strict protocols on the mat. More about that in a moment.
While there is always intrinsic risk, and purely accidental injuries can happen, there is a distinct root cause in the overwhelming majority of serious injuries — those requiring medical treatment — in aikijujutsu/derivatives. The root cause is failure to recognize and appreciate the lethality of techniques and lack of regard for the training partner.
A major difference between aikijujutsu and other arts, even other forms of grappling, is the degree to which uke — the person on the receiving side of the technique — is giving his or her body to the training partner for the sake of the partner’s benefit in practice. While in other arts both partners are actively engaged in defense as well as offense, in aikijujutsu there are many instances of uke allowing himself or herself to be placed in an entirely vulnerable position so that the training partner can work out the technique. This is a gift of incalculable value and abuse of this consideration is despicable. (Making this gift to each other is why, in a proper dojo, the personal relationships that are developed are particularly close.)
As I mentioned, in the Yamate-ryu we employ specific protocols to manage risk:
• We align the direction of ukemi, the path of falling or rolling in consequence of a technique. Many accidental injuries in aikijujutsu/derivative dojo result from two or more uke being thrown into each other, or rolling into each other from opposite directions. By aligning ukemi, we ensure that any accidental contact, at worst, is along parallel paths and is typically inconsequential.
• When uke taps, it means, “That’s it, right now!” We’ve visited dojo in which people think uke tapping out means, “Okay, now I should crank uke even more, just to help them stretch out for the future.” Guaranteed way to inflict chronic, cumulative injury.
• When uke taps, the technique is released immediately but gradually and gently — suddenly releasing a joint under significant stress can also inflict injury.
• As the intensity of training increases, uke endeavors to stay one-quarter inch ahead of the technique. Once both partners are assured the technique is being applied correctly, and speed and power are ramped up, there is no reason for uke to absorb repeated and increasing stress on the joint(s) targeted by the technique.
• We make clear distinctions between styles of practice. If it’s kata, there is no variation or improvisation allowed. If it’s randori, the attacker and defender are defined, but counters and adaptations are permitted. If it’s shiai-geiko (competition) between seniors, very liberal parameters can apply.
• We teach applied versions of techniques from the start, to begin developing practical combative skills as early as possible and prevent students accidently executing the most dangerous versions of techniques.
At Itten Dojo we are keenly aware that the gun is always loaded.