When I first started Aikido, I often had issues trying to understand what my instructors were describing, and even more issues trying to accomplish what they were saying. Pull with your front foot, extend your arm without moving and body drop, do not always mean the same thing to different people. The vocabulary used to describe the body’s action during a technique is unlike anything normally encountered. Further more, it will take multiple descriptions to each student until something “clicks” and they understand what is trying to be accomplished. All Aikido students should be asking questions to clarify what the meanings of these terms are until a common vocabulary is developed between you and your instructors. It took me many years to finally understand what was being described by these terms.
Let’s take a look at Gyakugamae-ate from Kihon, right side stance. A basic version of the technique starts with stepping off the line to the back left corner, hook uke’s extended wrist with the right hand, and then sink into the uke to pull them off balance. Next is to move the left foot forward into the weak line and extend the left arm so the left hand goes to the uke’s left temple. Pull onto the front foot, while rotating the body to kuzushi uke, and pushing the right hand holding uke’s wrist against uke’s body. Finally, do a body drop and tskuri forward to finish the technique. While learning the technique, various instructors have used different words to describe how the body should act, but I found that specific descriptions of the actions themselves eventually worked for me.
Breaking down various parts of the technique, the first step has tori sinking into the uke to kuzushi them. But what does sinking into the uke actually mean? Some teachers have said pull towards the back foot, others have said dead weight the arm, and still others have said to just relax the lead arm. Depending on your point of view, all three are “correct” if it results in the proper principle being applied to the uke. For me, pulling with just the back foot results in too much tension in the lead arm rather than relaxing enough to create downward pressure. As a result, uke’s body is twisted, and not in the proper state of kuzushi. Just relaxing the lead arm also was not enough. What eventually worked for me is the dead weight the lead arm while keeping tension in the fingers.
The second part of the technique is to step the left foot forward and extend the left arm so the left hand goes to uke’s temple. The extension is the issue, though. Is it “to imagine the arm is a garden hose and fill it with water”, “reach for a non-existent door knob”, or “move your arm forward while not moving forward?” Again, depending on perspective they are all correct, but the door knob analogy is what worked for me as the intent is to extend the arm and have all of the arm muscles working together.
The third part of the technique is to shift the uke’s balance backwards towards their weak line. Various descriptions included just turn to the left, pull onto the front foot, and/or rotate the body. Just turning does not take the uke backwards and they step out before the body drop. Extending for a door knob, then while ignoring the uke, pull to the front foot while rotating left accomplishes the technique for me. How do you describe pulling using the foot though? This has varied from walking on ice, shifting your body weight from back foot to front foot, and shifting forward without using the back leg so you don’t bridge. For me, is more of a walking on ice motion than transferring body weight.
Finally, the body drop to finish the technique. I have heard various versions on how to do a body drop, from just let your body drop suddenly, lift your feet, and lift your knees. Raising my knees causes me to “jump” instead of drop, so lifting the feet is what clicked for me.
Instructors, when you are teaching please try to use multiple descriptions of how each part of the technique should be done, potentially teaching it two or three different ways to help the students understand what their body should be doing during the technique. And students, working with multiple instructors can help you get different perspectives or descriptions of how a technique works. Start asking “how” to extend the arm, and what should be happening when entering so you can get a better understanding of what is intended. Seminars and conferences are great ways to meet new people and also get these different viewpoints on how the technique works. By working with new Akidoka and instructors, maybe their descriptions will help to make something click for you.