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No feedback is good feedback

by on May 17, 2012

No time for a video this week, so I’m going to write briefly about something I’ve been thinking about lately.

No feedback is good feedback.

I’m not talking about constructive criticism here, we could all use more of that, I’m talking about sensory feedback. Our brains crave feedback. We want to know where we are, and what’s going on. But when we are doing an aikido technique properly, really blending with uke, there should be very little feedback from our points of contact with uke.

An example: recently we’ve been working on kotegaeshi. Specifically, versions of kotegaeshi that lead uke inevitably into “flyers.” (This will be a video eventually…) I was working with Janine and feeling very good about my technique. Janine was taking a big falls very smoothly, and landing in a good position for me to turn her over. However, Janine told me that there was a point in my technique where there was some friction – something impeding her path. Over the course of a few repetitions we tried to figure out where exactly it was.

We tried to have her tell me to pause when she felt it, but that turned out to be difficult, because it was happening just after the point of no return. It turned out that the problem was that I was trying to apply the technique. I was doing a great job of moving smoothly and blending right up until the point where kotegaeshi was inevitable, at which point the urge to apply kotegaeshi was overwhelming.

After 10 years of study, my brain has a firm idea about what kotegaeshi is.  Once all of the pieces were in place and Janine was falling over it just couldn’t resist. It wanted to feel the feedback of me cranking Janine’s wrist over, to have the security of knowing how much force was being applied. But since Janine was already going over, extra force wasn’t necessary. In fact, since Janine was already on a smooth path to the ground, the extra force was only impeding her progress.

The feedback that I grew to expect from techniques: the torque on tekubiwaza or the pressure in atemiwaza is in fact a measure of how far I am deviating from true aikido. You only feel that kind of feedback when you are trying to take uke in some direction that he is not already moving in.

There is another feeling that I’ve begun to actively (if somewhat clumsily) seek, which I’ve referred to at some points as the feeling of “connection.”  I felt it when doing Eric’s connection drill, stumbled across it in the midlevel kuzushiwaza, then searched for it in the low level kuzushiwaza, and finally the runarounds.

I think it’s the feeling of a light touch. You can feel uke’s grasp, but since you’re moving together, it never becomes firm. Sometimes I find that it tingles.

Actually, in everyday life, light touch kind of creeps me out and I’m not alone: Occupational therapists have observed that a very light touch alerts the nervous system, but deep pressure is relaxing and calming. I think we crave the feedback of deep touch because it helps us orient ourselves. Light touch doesn’t tell the touch-e enough about the touch-er, so they get creeped out.

What I aim for these days (when I remember to!) is to move uke while feeling as little feedback as possible. I know I’ve got it right when all I feel is the faint tingling of a light touch.

For those of you who don’t practice (either of the?) JAA Tomiki style(s?) I’ve finally found a good video of the kuzushiwaza on YouTube so you’ll have a better idea of what we’ve been talking about all of this time:

In other news, you can now access this blog from a shorter URL: It’s a temporary redirect for now, but we will probably switch over eventually. The site also needs some design work desperately, but don’t hold your breath.

  1. I call it ‘tactile invisibility.’ Indeed. I strongly feel it only becomes aiki when your body doesn’t know what just happened (as both tori and uke).

    Lately I have focused on the proprioceptive nervous system as a major player in this developing this lack of feedback. What causes this layer of our nervous system to feel is pressure. If you can move a partner’s body without pressure it usually takes the brain a second to catch up it’s own internal map. Trippy stuff.

    How do we move a opponent without pressure? I think the short answer is often we don’t? Our real job is to connect to our partner, then we freely move ourselves. Due to the connection of centers (musubi) Our partner moves as a reaction to our own movements.

    Never accept technique as valid just because someone falls over. That is not the aiki game. The interaction must be close to effortless. At least, that is the goal.

    One last thing that has helped me soften up dramatically in the past few years is to stop throwing people. In my estimation the Kake, or execution of technique mentality, ruins waza. Never throw. Sculpt and shape your partner’s structure until gravity takes them. Gravity always beats a poor structure.

    Thanks for the vid.

    • What are your thoughts about movement along vectors that don’t conflict with uke? Is it possible to move uke in this way while remaining connected?

      I’ve started to run scenarios through my head as I typed. I was going to hazard an opinion, but I think it warrants some investigation. (My guess is that it’s possible, but that the most effective distance to move will be so small as to be almost invisible.)

  2. Movement along vectors that don’t conflict with uke? I get what you are saying, but I think we should always be running vectors of non conflict. I think it gets smaller and tighter as we improve. I think going through a conflicting vector of uke is just an illusion. It looks like the high level people are running right though uke – but they are not. They have figured out where the spaces in freedom and structure are.

    You might consider working the Judo happo no kuzushi exercise. Work it both from the judo grip and from aiki range/attacker moving in. This exercise allows you to focus on balance breaking in the 8 directions, so all your vectors are covered.

    Also, here is a film Lowry Sensei made that might help your pursuit of softness. We have been working the 17 with this idea in mind, and it really has lightened us up. Sensei has moved me all around the mat with a single finger with this exercise. I have to regularly practice it, or I quickly forget it.


    • That’s a fascinating video. We’re going to have to give that a try tonight! I don’t have any judo experience (I’d love to get a chance sometime) but I’ll try to track down the happo no kuzushi exercise.

      I think my question regarding vectors on non-conflict was – if there is no resistance at all are you “moving” uke? It’s probably a question of semantics more than anything. Perhaps what you are doing is causing uke to choose move himself, in which case you aren’t doing any of the work, but the job is getting accomplished none the less.

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