By Hiroshi Ikeda, edited by G. Ikeda
"Next, grab your partner's wrist..." is a common refrain heard in practically every beginner aikido class. Grasping a partner's wrist is such a simple move, akin to shaking hands or reaching for an object. Of all the movements we make, reaching out to connect with someone or something is one of the most familiar and comfortable. And of course this is precisely the reason katatedori is commonly used to introduce students to the intricacies of aikido.
The uke side
We should practice always with the goal of controlling our partner's center, as opposed to merely controlling his or her arm with superior muscle strength.
As beginners we stand face to face in front of our partners and reach for the offered wrist, working in a spirit of trust and not yet mindful of the more dangerous aspects of the art. We move easily and cooperatively, as we should at this point. In a short time, however, our bodies gain some knowledge of forms, and there is more room in our minds for new observations. That is when we realize, or when our teacher points out to us, that we are totally exposed and open to any manner of kick or punch from the partner whose wrist we are grabbing. This is a big problem.
So we must learn to combine the hanmi stance and the wrist grab, standing obliquely to the side of our partner while grabbing - still facing our partner, but from a protected position. At the same time we also realize that, just as the partner's free hand (or legs) can deliver a blow to us, so too, can our free hand or legs deliver a punch or kick or serve as an active defensive shield. We begin to adopt a more martial stance, a safer approach, when we perform katatedori.
Once we have learned how to grab from a protected position, we can next explore variations of the grab...either pulling, pushing or holding. After all, in a martial or street situation the grab is only the first step. It is used to hold or to draw the victim closer, in order to gain control. That accomplished, the next move could be a blow to the face or a choke or some other controlling move.
In the days of the battling samurai, a disarmed warrior had no choice but to grab the wrist of a katana-wielding opponent, in a lifesaving attempt to prevent the armed party from drawing his sword. If muscle strength alone were relied upon, obviously the stronger man would win, but the real test was who could gain control of the other's center. This involved an understanding of power on a deep level.
As we explore variations of katatedori, we should practice always with the goal of controlling our partner's center, as opposed to merely controlling his or her arm with superior muscle strength. As we grab the wrist, we should use a yonkyo-like grip that is backed up by connection to our own center. We must also learn to "get through" to our partner's center to create ittai, or the state of "one body." When we can do this quickly and effectively, the nage will be unable to perform a counter technique.
The nage side
...At this point, nage can then make a slight circular shift of the hips, connecting fully with uke's center, and creating ittai, or the state of "one body."
Going back to basics, when we assume the role of nage, allowing our partner to grab our wrist, we first learn how to irimi (enter) or to tenkan (turn). We are taught to move our arm in such a way as to either slip out of the grip or to stay within the grip, depending upon the particular lesson of the day.
In the beginning this seems pretty easy, until one day a linebacker of a student comes along and applies a grip commensurate with his size. The message our wrist sends us is, "I'm really stuck, and if you try to move, our arm will be broken off at the elbow." What a surprise - we can't tenkan; we can't irimi! This is because in the early stage of our practice, we have been merely training our bodies in the forms and the flow, and now we have encountered a partner who does not cooperate and whose strength exceeds ours.
Suddenly, irimi and tenkan, once familiar security blankets, have become the most difficult things in the world to do, and we have to start examining them all over again. Now we ask our partner to give us a tight grip, and we begin to try those small movements that help us "tie the hands together," to help us connect with our partner. In order to move, we must learn how to connect with uke, unbalance and weaken his or her grip - somehow bypassing and/or using their strength. In the process, we become very absorbed and caught up in the one connecting point - the grip uke has on our wrist. While such focus is a necessary part of the discovery process, we can't stop here. For one thing, by putting all our attention in one spot, we let our guard down elsewhere, leaving ourselves vulnerable to attack from another angle. And for another, for some reason, we still get stuck.
And then our teacher points out that we have forgotten the rest of our body. Oh. When we run, both arms and legs work in unison. When a tightrope walker performs, she uses both arms for balance. (And you might have noticed that the better the tightrope walker, the smaller and less perceptible are her counterbalancing arm movements.) When we do aikido, or any other martial art, we must remember to unify our body and make use of all our parts, eventually including our inner power. When one arm is grabbed, we must pay attention to using our free arm in ways that enhance our balance. And further, we must remember that our free hand is available for atemi.
Going back to our earlier of example of dueling samurai, the unarmed warrior would necessarily use a kosadori, or cross-hand grab, with his right hand attempting to immobilize the right (sword-wielding) hand of his opponent. The unarmed man's next move (in reality, everything would happen in one move) would be to get behind the swordsman, with the intention of choking him with his free, or left, hand/arm. This maneuver is known as kosadori ushirokubijime.
The swordsman (nage) would properly be holding his saya with his left hand and the hilt of his katana with his right. While he deals with the attack on his right hand, the position of his left hand, near the center of his body, serves to stabilize and balance him.
In order not to be overcome, at the instant the unarmed warrior (uke) grabs for nage's wrist, nage must twist his right hand in such a way as to place the attacker's hand (and arm and body) in a slightly unnatural position, so that he instinctively wants to reposition it. If nage is successful, he has rendered uke just uncomfortable enough so as to compromise uke's strength, balance and concentration, while avoiding separation. At this point, nage can then make a slight circular shift of the hips, connecting fully with uke's center, and creating ittai, or the state of "one body." In ittai, uke simply cannot escape, nor can he attack further, and nage can then resolve the conflict.
The intrigue continues...
Katatedori and its variations are deceptively simple, especially to the casual observer and the newcomer. As with all forms, the more we delve into body mechanics and the more partners we "confront," the deeper our level of discovery becomes. While we can write about ideas to further our progress, it is simply impossible to describe the information that we get through the sense of touch. Testing and experimenting with katatedori on the mat may eventually give us a glimmer of O'sensei's vast understanding.