What Just Happened?!

What just happened?! That experience on the mat when you execute an attack, then nage adeptly steps to avoid it, and blends perfectly to redirect you with such light pressure that you don’t even feel it – you end up on the ground wondering what on earth happened. It is such a wonderful thing I cannot help but smile and even laugh every time it happens. It is the ivory tower perfection that aikidodoka seek, and it is truly marvelous.

In one of the many books I have read written by people who live and work in real world violence (police, security, etc.), I recall an account of a very experienced jujutsu practitioner who was working as a bouncer. Unfortunately, I do not recall which book and it has been some time so I am paraphrasing based on my recollection (which is far from perfect). One night he had to deal with a drunk belligerent. Despite his best efforts at verbal deescalation and redirection, the drunk was determined to fulfill his goal of getting physical and took a swing at the bouncer. Using his jujutsu experience, the bouncer quickly and adeptly had the drunk on the ground with such efficiency that the drunk had no idea what happened. The bouncer was pleased at how effective and elegant his jujutsu was in this real life scenario. He didn’t get hit, the drunk didn’t get hurt, and was down on the ground in the blink of an eye.

What he learned came next, when the drunk got up and kept coming. The drunk believed he had merely tripped and fell, and got back up to press his attack further. The bouncer realized that while his technique was extremely effective at getting his attacker to the ground, it failed to change the drunk’s mind and interrupt his aggression for more than a moment. The lesson he took away was that in such circumstances (which are nearly impossible to recreate in a dojo) capturing the mind of the attacker is necessary. His solution was what he referred to as an A.I., or attitude interrupter. He referred to this as a pain component which included a short, sharp sting to get the attacker’s attention. Something which would penetrate his anger, focus, or drunken state – and would remind him that what just happened was no accident and to revisit his intentions.

Controlling locks, pins, and atemi are all suitable for this purpose, provided they are solid enough to deal with someone who is at the edge of or in an aggressive or frenzied state. Again, this is difficult and rarely experimented with in a dojo setting. This could be even executing technique with enough physicality that the attackers knows he is being effectively handled. Such execution lacks the subtlety and elegance of perfect technique, but includes this crucial message that a sincere attacker can require: that they are not in control of this situation and they need to stop. If they don’t, and right now, it will get much worse for them immediately. This is very much capturing the mind, which is a crucial aspect of strategy. Best if you can do it without having to enter the physical realm, but you must have it once you do enter it (or someone else enters you into it).

In my own training with people who deal with violence in their profession, they all echo this lesson. It is not their first priority to cause pain, and causing injury is to be avoided, but sometimes people are in a state that they require solid convincing to turn back from their harmful intent. It is a lesson that academic martial artists who have never been exposed to an attacker with this mindset can (and should) learn from.