View Full Version : Observation #1 'Focus'

Mark Jakabcsin
31st July 2000, 01:08
Earlier this year I was fortunate enough to attend a seminar by Don Angier Sensei out in Dallas (thanks Toby and Kathryn). As I have stated in the past, my experience in aikijujutsu has been with Okamoto Sensei of the Roppokai, although as many of you know we no longer train with him. Anyway, my trip was very enjoyable and I found the differences and similarities between Angier Sensei and Okamoto Sensei fascinating. My one weekend with Angier Sensei does not qualify me to have any opinion about him, his art or methods, nor do I claim any. The purpose of my post is to make some observations in the hopes of starting an interesting and informative thread. I understand that many of us are very passionate about the subject of aiki so flames are a real possibility but that is not altogether bad. If this works out and proves to be interesting I will post other observations, anyway here goes:

The second day of the seminar Angier Sensei was demonstrating a technique for the second time (he showed it once, everyone tried, and he was giving us more words of wisdom) when he made a comment about not focusing on uke at all. Since I can not state his exact words from memory I will paraphrase MY understanding of what he said (keep in mind I could have misunderstood his comments (how very PC of me)). He stated that while doing a technique one should not be concerned with uke or uke’s response but should focus solely on what the individual (tori) is doing. Perform the technique in textbook fashion (my words) and ignore uke. Anyone who was there (Toby, Walker, Henry, etc.) please jump in and correct or add to my paraphrase.

Anyway I found this odd, initially, since Okamoto Sensei has taught us that each technique is varied slightly based on how uke attacks. Each person attacks differently and each time a person attacks it is different than the last. He taught us to relax and apply the principles based on uke’s attack. The principles remain the same but the angles, circle sizes, tension, breathing, etc is varied slightly based on the attack angle and method, commitment of the attacker, balance/weight distribution of the attacker, etc. All of these factors play a role in how the technique is actually performed in a given situation; i.e. the textbook is rewritten slightly for each situation.

I have been thinking about this apparent difference for many months and would like to hear others input. Which do you focus on, yourself or your attacker?

As I have reflected on this subject and thought about how I actually perform technique I have begun to think that maybe there are more similarities between these approaches than there are differences. Perhaps the differences are semantics. If you look at the side of a quarter with George Washington on it and I look at the side with the Eagle on it, we are still looking at a quarter even if the appearance is different. I could go into detail on this but this post is already too long. What are everyone’s thoughts on the subject? Who do you focus on when doing technique? What do you teach your students to do? Advantages/disadvantages of both?


Jeff Cook
31st July 2000, 02:36

What you say makes sense; we have to take into account the entire picture when practicing or executing a technique for real. The entire picture includes the interaction and relationships between the tori, uke, and the environment.

In my opinion, the way of application of any technique is determined to a large degree by the uke. The uke provides the means for his own defeat.

Jeff Cook

Neil Hawkins
31st July 2000, 10:20
To learn a technique you must initially perform the technique regardlesss of small changes in the attack. However once you become proficient it is important that your defence is dictated by the attack. You can start one thing, but change half-way through when the attacker resists or applies a counter. Obviously the primary goal is to get the technique correct straight away, but you've always got to be prepared.

So in practice, focus on technique, in combat focus on the attacker and the suroundings, your awareness has to be open to all possibilities. Never focus on anything to the exclusion of everything else.

At least that's the way I see it.


31st July 2000, 10:22
I'm not sure if you mean centering, but yes, once I have learned my part, as tori, then I absolutely begin to focus on uke. This is part of ma'ai I would think, and I try to focus on uke's center, and even put my sight in the most advantageous spot to help my peripheral vision "see" or feel as much as possible. Centering or focusing on the task is, I think, not only important, but completely necessary in each given attack, or waza. If there is something on which to focus, it is uke. His surroundings are important, but you must center, and then focus. You may react as your reflex tells you, but if you have been doing it for while, this allows you to focus even more on the task. Good post!:idea:

31st July 2000, 10:43
Obviously I wasn't there and don't know what Sensei Angier meant, but I've said the same thing to my students and I can tell you what I mean.

Often people anticipate what is or isn't going to work by looking at Uke and they moderate the technique accordingly, often doing something that whilst looking the same completely misses the point.

In my experience any changes that need to be made to accomodcate Uke are slight and usually happen subconscioulsy once you have some degree of understanding of the technique.

I would assume this especially true in a seminar type situation where there are a number of people unfamiliar with your art, and in my limited experience of Aiki Techniques this is even more magnified.

Just my humble thoughts

31st July 2000, 18:25
I definitely remember the comment as it was a bit of a shock to me (pushing me out of a groove). I understood it as (a paraphrase again) if you perform a technique ‘perfectly’ then uke will be manipulated ‘perfectly’ so if the technique is correct then uke has no other option but to react as expected. This was a new - I think - idea for me and an appealing one. Looking for perfection in oneself rather than striving to produce it ‘outside’ of oneself - in uke, in an artwork, etc. - is a common theme in Japanese arts, but I hadn’t considered it in this way before.
It also reminds me of another quote that struck me at the time, “I could diagram the entire system on graph paper.” Several times Angier Sensei referenced all of the work he has done to find the most efficient patterns of movement and exact details necessary for a technique to work so the logical theoretical conclusion would be an inescapable technique that did not depend on any individual characteristics or actions exhibited by uke only on universal principals and common characteristics of all ukes.
Now this was also my first exposure to Angier Sensei so I don’t know if this is a theme or if an offhand comment has sent the newbies in strange directions. Anyone with more experience care to comment and correct?

31st July 2000, 21:42
Hi guys,

This question by Mark demontrates why Yanagi ryu is so difficult to discuss verbally. I will make a stab at this question but please be patient.

"He stated that while doing a technique one should not be concerned with uke or uke’s response but should focus solely on what the individual (tori) is doing."

Okay, on a basic level this statement addresses two points.

The first is that even in the beginning, Yanagi ryu jujutsu techniques (the mechanical movements) are unusually precise. Without first becoming very conscious of this and following these movements exactly, you will not learn the physical dynamics well enough to understand the principles effectively. So, in the beginning do not become distracted by the fact that the technique fails and then change the form to "force "the technique to work. You are then doing a different form than the one you are attempting to learn. It may look similar but it will probably now be operating on a different set of principles.

Secondly, people new to a technique tend to want to "watch" the uke as they are performing the technique. Often this distorts the tori's posture changing the physical dynamics of the form. Again this means you are now doing a form that may look similar to but is principly different from the one you were attempting.

In simple terms imagine the difference in applying a Judo Tai Otoshi if you look at uke over the same shoulder you are attempting the throw as opposed to looking over the opposite shoulder.

Obviously, as your skill level increases you will then become more adept at adjusting the physical aspects of a technique while addressing subtle variables presented by the attacker, all this while remaining within the particular parameters that define a particular form.

There are other levels of understanding Angiers Sensei's statement here but they are more intricate in explaination and really address specifics more familiar to intermediate & advanced students of Yanagi ryu. These are not "secrets" or anything, but because of this they are only covered in open seminars if particularly applicable to the persons present.

Doug posted above concerning Angiers Sensei statement:

“I could diagram the entire system on graph paper.” Several times Angier Sensei referenced all of the work he has done to find the most efficient patterns of movement and exact details necessary for a technique to work so the logical theoretical conclusion would be an inescapable technique that did not depend on any individual characteristics or actions exhibited by uke, only on universal principals and common characteristics of all ukes.

This is a simple recognition of the importance of studying physiology and kinesiology. Without being able to ascertain which movements are universally possible in the human body and which aren't, you are operating in the dark as far as basic physical manipulation goes. This subject is much more complicated than most people consider. That is why Don mentions it so frequently. A deep understanding of voluntary reflex versus involuntary reflex is but one small part of this study.

I hope that helps,


[Edited by Toby Threadgill on 07-31-2000 at 06:48 PM]

Richard Elias
31st July 2000, 23:22
Everybody is right.

In the begining stages of training (which might apply to a seminar setting) the focus for students is totally internal, personal body control. Later, as one becomes more advanced, the focus goes on to the uke and whats happening in his body. Then the two begin to come together. You learn to effect the uke by focusing on control of your own body. The most important time for focusing on the uke is during the initial blend. One must establish what we call "tsukuri" the proper relationship required between your body and the attackers to perform the desired technique.

Then the focus goes inward, while still maintaning awareness of your surroundings. Here comes the hard part.These things change from technique to technique. Each technique has it's own formula, or requirements for successful application.

We have what we call "scanning". This is, constantly being aware of the position of uke's body throughout the course of the technique. Before initial contact this is entirely visual, speed, distance, direction, estimated amount force, target, weapon, etc. After contact you must adjust to the uke by what you sense through your contact with his body. That is, if I'm grabbed by the wrist, I must be able to feel where is the uke's weight, balance, direction, attention, force or pressure exerted, tension, triangulation, position to counter or attack, etc. all through my contact with him at the wrist. Certain things cause other things. For instance, If I have him in a position where he is leaning on me heavily, even if I'm not looking at him, I will know where his weight, direction, balance, and triangulation are.

Alot of this is achieved by feeling the through the lock or tension we've created in the opponent, visualization, and a whole lot of practice. Our system is taught in such a manner that these things are developed from the begining, even though your not aware of it. Being able to actually apply such sensativity doesn't come for some time.

So, put simply, in one respect you are focusing on the uke, but your doing so through what you feel in your own body. So you must ignore your outer perceptions of the uke and focus on your technique.

Confused yet?