Shodo o seizu is a principle of aikido which means “control the first move”. There is a great deal to understand and appreciate about this simple concept. Simple doesn’t mean easy. Most modern aikido seems to overlook this concept, which is evident from both watching it and hearing aikido instructors state that aikido is a defensive art. The teaching standard is that technique is a response to a given attack. This is not strategically or tactically sound. Aikido has not found a way to make a defensive approach successful, at least going at real life speed instead of attacking slowly and telegraphing the simplest of attacks.
If you are on the defensive, you will likely fail. In combat, the party with the initiative holds the advantage. The adages “it is better to act than to react” or “action beats reaction” are other ways to look at this same concept. Acting first will not ensure success, but it drastically increases the odds, especially combined with another concept made famous by the military which is “violence of action”, more commonly known as “shock and awe”.
Martial arts like Krav Maga are built on sudden, explosive, extreme levels of attack to assure success. The fact that the military uses this time-proven approach on modern battlefields is a testament to its soundness.
The fact that aikido is a civilian based art does not negate the importance of seizing control of a situation before someone else does. Violence is not necessarily required to do so, but that is based on circumstance. It is our judgment which determines whether decisive physical action or contact is necessary. When that time comes, decision must be quick and action initiated without hesitation. You often don’t have more than a moment to observe, decide, and take action.
Best case scenario is you take away the opportunity and ability for an aggressor to attack you.
The best modern example I can think of which most people can relate to is Mike Tyson. His approach was so remarkable that many of his fights weren’t even fights. He merely ran over his opponents before they could begin their assault on him. His evasive movement was integral to this approach, which was a perfect combination of extreme elusive movement (protecting himself) and an extraordinarily potent offense.
Aikidoka can certainly appreciate the elusive movement and its defensive effectiveness, but are probably not keen on the punishing offense he unleashed. The thing is his strategy would easily fail if either aspect were missing or even just mediocre.
When you look at film of O-sensei, you see ukes rushing at him but he doesn’t wait for them. At the moment which uke would start forming his attack, o-sensei is already in motion with the entry/attack of his own. It is difficult to make out in the rough footage, but it is there.
If you ever get to feeling that your aikido is difficult to keep up with uke’s attack, it is because you are not attacking. The feeling of needing to speed up is also indicative of this defensive mindset. Change this around and take the mindset of attacking uke. Do so at the level of intensity just a bit higher than he/she is crossing into range. After all, aikido is about appropriate response.
Aikido is not about waiting around to be attacked, and further waiting for an attack to be formed up and headed your way before starting to respond.
Control the first move.