Aikido: “relay” Practice

One of the big challenges in Aikido is moving from the highly-contrived (choreographed) partner practice we see most often in Aikido dojo – to the exciting multiple-attcker “randori” free-style for which Aikido is known in the movies.

Another thing that many students of most martial arts find difficult to overcome is the tendency to stand and wait for something to happen rather than moving strategically to control space and time in a dynamic environment.

Finally, one of the challenges in building any dynamic skill is iterations/time (the number of practice events you can do in the time available).

To address these issues, we developed “relay” training – which is a bit like a relay race in which each runner hands-off a baton to the next runner. In our case, the “baton” is the role of Uke – or attacker. The first person to be attacked is Nage (“defender”) only until they resolve that attack – after which they immediately attack another participant in the relay drill. That person is Nage for only that moment – after which they are to attack another participant. And, so on.

This practice breaks the (very tactically bad) habit of standing around waiting to be attacked. It gets the student moving and keeps them moving toward their partners – tactically engaged, and compressing the time management of other participants. It keeps their brain deeply engaged, usually triggering an intense flow-state. These things are a very powerful step toward the mental, psychological, and strategic requirements for successful randori. Relay training also facilitates a very high iteration count per unit of time, and engages cardio training. I also find it some of the most fun of all Aikido practice. Any number of participants (more than 2) can be used. The smaller the number the more dynamic the practice. We prefer 3…

We manage the complexity of relay training by defining the “level of contrivance” – or what we might call the “rules” for the practice. Safety is of course rule #1, where we manage collisions of ukes. Past that, we may limit the body movement of the entrance, the terminating technique, etc. (invent rules that serve your training). In the first video below, we dictate both the body movement and the terminating technique. In the second video, we step down in contrivance, dictating only the entrance body movement we want to focus on for that practice.

In the second video, you can see each relay participant using the other two against each other – as shield, club, or distraction. You will see a couple of times it was very possible to throw one onto the other – where that option was examined and then not taken. This creates a different mental pattern and competency than conditioning to always throw ukes away from each other.

Second relay is a step down in contrivance: evasion must be tenkan; termination is open.

Those who want a more detailed explanation of the concepts involved can find one of my articles on “contrivance” in martial arts training available here.