I want to address the subject of self-defence and how waza techniques performed in kata fashion translate into effective self-defence, hence why I have titled this blog 'Application Aiki-Jujutsu'. There is much tension within Aiki-Jujutsu (at least in my mind) as to the nature of the waza and the relationship between tori and uke and how one applies the techniques successfully in self-defence. Being a traditional art Aiki-Jujutsu contains three main categories of techniques within its syllabus: suware-waza (seated techniques) hantachi-waza (half-standing) and tachi-waza (standing). As the art has a long heritage dating back to the Samurai, many of the Samurai customs are preserved within its syllabus. For example, in historical context suware-waza makes much sense and the techniques would have been practical and effective when the Samurai were within the royal palace or castle of their lord and had to knee walk in every room. In the 21st Century the context of the Suware-waza is lost and therefore the techniques appear obsolete.
One can study Aiki-Jujutsu on one level purely as a practice in Japanese Samurai culture, from a historical point of view; or one can study Aiki-Jujutsu as a martial art for self-defence application. The former means one is simply free to learn the waza without any thought to application and thus their primary purpose or goal is the perfection of the waza as an art form. The latter requires both perfection of the waza and application to self-defence. The latter is a much harder route to take as there is no sport or contest within Aiki-Jujutsu.
However, from my experience and reflection there are two technical keys to effective application for self-defence: posture and atemi (strikes).
This panel of 4 images taken from Katsuyuki Kondo's Daito-Ryu Aiki-Jujutsu instructional DVD gives us a very clear example of the importance for any effective technique of posture and atemi. Without taking your opponent's posture first then your technique will become a contest of strength as they remain on balance and strong. Good aiki is always about taking posture before executing the technique. Sometimes taking posture comes from your attacker over-extending themselves and being off-balance before they make contact with you; other times taking posture comes through having quick reactions and reading your attacker's movement and intention. But there are times when opportunities to take posture will not present themselves openly and this is where atemi's come in. Occassionally (depending on the intensity and aggression of your attacker) a Mitsubushi strike will be enough, just a distraction to change your attacker's mindset and give you that window to take their posture. More commonly though for a violent confrontation a powerful atemi is necessary.
Within the dojo atemi's are never delivered with full force, but on the street it is critical that you perform atemi, whether it be to the body, legs or head with conviction and power. Atemi serves to 'soften' your attacker, to injure or hurt them giving you the space and time to execute the desired technique. Thinking you can perform a successful, kata style technique without using atemi is wishful thinking as your attacker may not telegraph their attack like the best-case scenarios practiced in the dojo. One must always be prepared for worst-case scenarios when dealing with self-defence. To give you an anecdote from my own training, I occassionally train with a women who used to do Kung-Fu. We sometimes playfully spar with one another and the thing that I am always amazed at is her speed. This is the advantage of striking arts, something I don't think Jujutsu practitioners fully appreciate. We talk alot about atemi but then because there is no contest our speed and reaction time is never truly developed like those who practice 'hard' styles such as Karate or Kick-Boxing. Speed is an essential attribute to the successful delivery of an atemi. One of the most important truths within self-defence is that reaction is always slower than action.
There is one last thing I think is fundamentally important to effective self-defence: visualization. Visualization is a recognized psychological tool for the success of athletes of all sports. Whether it is MMA, 100 metre sprint or Tennis visualization is incredibly important. It helps self-belief in your ability and technique and promotes confidence. A fanastic, if a little theatrical example of this is Robert Downey Jr's Sherlock Holmes (pictured) where he visualizes the sequence of moves and attacks he needs to make in order to beat his opponent. This may sound contradictory to the Japanese concept of Mushin (no-mindedness), but any contradiction is superficial. Visualization does not occur at the point of attack - there would be no time in order to react if you were so analytical - rather visualization happens within the dojo as you practice and assimilate the technique into your mind and muscle memory. Athletes do not visualize their victory during the game or race - they visualize it on the training ground and in the locker room. Mushin comes into practice at the point of attack when you allow your muscle memory to perform the techniques and have absolute confidence in your own ability.
To conclude then, taking posture, using atemi (often in conjunction with one another) and visualization are the keys to unlocking effective and applied Aiki-Jujutsu for self-defence.