The role of Jiyu Waza
When people first come to study Aikido, Jiyu Waza, or freestyle movement is the first thing that impresses them about the art. When done correctly, it is fast, dynamic, athletic and skillful, making both people involved look like they know what they’re doing! What is the actual point in doing Jiyu Waza for the Aikido practitioner however? It is unrealistic practically and somewhat choreographed between those involved.
Jiyu Waza has many learning elements within it, both from the point of the Shite (doing the technique) and the Uke (receiving the technique). Aikido in general does not have competitions, and so in a way, jiyu waza is our form of competition between the shite and uke. Techniques are performed from a certain attack in a more dynamic way than regular basic training, allowing for improvement from both partners. The job of the uke is to receive the technique and then get up and attack again as soon as possible. The role of the shite is to perform the technique well and effectively, in a dynamic way, and to respond to the uke’s speed in order to avoid being hit. Jiyu Waza in this way then becomes a game of cat and mouse, where, although the partners are working together to improve technique, endurance and ukemi (falling), an element of competition can be introduced with who can perform the techniques faster, or get up and attack quicker.
Jiyu waza as already said should be kihon waza or basic techniques, but done more responsively and dynamically. This is not an easy task and there is a tendency to want to do jiyu waza quickly when training begins. This can lead to sloppy techniques as well as injury as a level of control is lost in relation to kihon waza. Having said this however, simple jiyu waza and free movement should be taught fairly early in my opinion as a way of improving ukemi. From my experience, people are comfortable doing a fall if given time to prepare for it, yet when they are asked to do the same fall within a technique, find it difficult as the control has been taken out of their hands. Jiyu waza can allow that control to be taken away, but at a slow pace to start with, allowing the uke to fall from different throws, different directions and different partners in a safe and controlled way. The pace can then be built up gradually, until eventually we see examples of near perfect jiyu waza with awesome ukemi from uke, and awesome technique from shite.
Jiyu waza is there to improve technique, endurance and falling as well as adding an element of pressure to regular training. It should be built up from a fairly early grade to improve ukemi and ensure that the aikido does not become too static or rigid.