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suki, 隙 : part 2

November 18, 2010

This is part of a short series about openings/opportunities in aikido and other martial arts.
Part 1: introduction, openings in others
Part 2: openings in ourselves
Part 3: off the mat, vulnerability and compassion

The previous part dealt briefly with recognising and exploiting openings in our opponent (and noted how the same openings can be found in ourselves).
In this part we’ll look at closing openings, irimi, evasion, fall back plans and deliberately leaving openings.
We work from the perspective of the vulnerable partner this time.  Why should we look at vulnerabilities in ourselves?
* Knowing your vulnerabilities lets you know what to strengthen.
* You can not strengthen yourself to be invulnerable to all adversity at all times. When failure is not an option you must know how to win even when the odds are against you.

closing openings in our technique
In part 1 we noted techniques have some inherent openings. One example is the pivot in shihonage, the most common point in the technique for a counter.
As tori you have a few options if your technique is countered:

  1. don’t ever try to do the technique again
  2. complete the technique in abbreviated form the next time you do it
  3. leave the opening but persuade uke to not exploit it
  4. leave the opening but diminish uke’s ability to exploit the opening
  5. close the opening
  6. re-counter their counter technique
  7. some combination of the above options

Obviously not all of the above options fulfill the same aims equally. Let’s look at some of these in more detail.

1 don’t ever try to do the technique again
Do you have an alternative that will achieve your aims better? Does this technique offer you something unique?
2 complete the technique in abbreviated form
E.g. do udekime nage instead of shihonage. This avoids the openings in the pivot. What would we lose by not practising the technique in its longer form?
3 leave the opening but persuade uke to not exploit it
This type of compliant training has a place when introducing a technique or trying to focus on some other aspect of it. When the skill level is greatly different the more experienced practitioner will see many openings in the less experienced practitioner that the less experienced practitioner may not even know about. Which ones get highlighted is a matter of current priorities.
There is a danger of taking this option unconsciously, especially in kata training like aikido.
4 leave the opening but diminish uke’s ability to exploit the opening
This diminishing can take several forms: 

  1. attack their senses before the opening, e.g. atemi to the eyes (a canny partner may still guess what you’re doing)
  2. turn uke so they aren’t in a position to take advantage
  3. make a simulataneous attack that forces uke to take a position contradictory to one that they could counter from (can’t orient, can’t decide)
  4. destroy an essential component for their counter action e.g. stun/break/constrain a limb

A facetios conclusion of this line of thinking: to close the opening of uke escaping your ikkyo pin, first kill uke,,,

5 close the opening
Generally an opening starts earlier than you think. The best time to close an opening is before it begins.  (See irimi below)
Is it possible to close this opening and still keep the essential characteristics of the technique? This is the heart of a lot of our technical training.
6 recounter their counter technique
This can be easy in some situations and very difficult in others. Some counters/escapes by uke put tori back in an ideal position for a continued technique e.g. uke spinning out of shihonage may leave you back in a starting position for shihonage.
Direct counters that use atemi or a very short action are more difficult to re-counter.
We’ll look more at re-countering in evasion.
7 some combination of the above options
Ara waza / self defence techniques often both abbreviate the techniques and diminish the opponent with strikes early on.


Irimi, to enter with the body, is a important part of aikido.  The idea is generally introduced with shomenuchi iriminage. We boldly enter to a safer place, closing the openings of hesitation and fear, like grabbing a nettle before it stings.

You’ve tried to avoid leaving any openings for your partner to exploit but failed. Your guard was down and now there’s a fist sailing towards your face like a golf ball. Assuming you’re aware of the situation you may have some options

  1. get hit (not really evasion)
  2. evade by moving the target off the line of attack (slip, bob, weave, snap back, step out, etc.)
  3. change the line of the attack (parry)
  4. roll with the punch / absorb
  5. counter attack
  6. guard up / take a defensive mode
  7. some combination of the above

Evasion is similiar in throwing, locking and choking.

Fall back plan
Assuming you’ve taken option 1, i.e. failed to avoid or evade the attack, what now? We should have a back up plan. Grapplers learn to escape holds, strikers learn to regroup after being rocked, etc.  Fall back plans must be appropriate to the situation.

Deliberately leaving openings
Control, i.e. keeping your openings to a minimum, takes resources. There are times when you may not want to employ all your resources for control, such as:

  1. conserve resources for some other use e.g. move from a pin to submission
  2. allow your partner to train a specific skill
  3. set a specific trap for your partner (“indirectly causing an opening in our partner” as we called it in part 1)
  4. move into a more chaotic situation / scramble

We are free to surrender some control if we know how to act from less favorable positions; free in the sense that we can take risks if we can deal possible failure i.e. in bjj you’re more likely to give up a mount for an arm-bar if you have good sweeps.
You only have to take risks if you’re not winning, which is why in judo we are more content to hold a pin then try a submission compared to when playing under bjj rules.

In summary we should recognise the weaknesses in ourselves.  This knowledge will inform us how to better ourselves and what contingency plans we need to put in place.  Sometimes resources are better spent on tasks other than covering our openings.
Sorry for being so brief on each point, I’ll include some references that expand on the points here in the last part.


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