The possible impossibility of the “no touch throw”.
There are a lot of things in Aikido that seem mystical, but nothing more than the “no touch throw”. The ability to throw someone without touching them seems amazing to some, and impossible to others! Before this article is done, I’m going to prove to you that the no touch throw is completely possible and how training to do it can prove Aikido to be an effective martial art. Think it’s impossible- read on!
So you think a no touch throw is impossible? The problem you are having is first in your head and second in your training methods. Because we can’t understand how it’s possible to throw someone without touching them, we can’t begin to understand how to train it. Since we can’t train it, we can’t do it. It is a mistake to assume that throwing someone without touching them is a magical thing, so the answers I will present in this article will not be magical in nature. They will require some long hours of training, but no magic. Let’s break the problem down a bit more and see if we can find an answer to our question that doesn’t require magic powers.
What is a “throw”? A throw is basically a projection of some sort, a way to make something fly away from you. You could throw something down- sending it onto the ground, at something like a person or wall, or simply fling it out into space. We throw things all the time: balls, car keys, paper airplanes, light objects of any kind. However, if you had never seen a Judo throw, throwing something like a person would sound nearly impossible- even if you could touch them! It would sound difficult because people are heavy. Even so, as martial artists we know that it is quite possible to throw someone by lifting them. We understand that even a small person using proper leverage is quite capable of throwing someone up to 300 lbs! Judo players perform this task quite regularly, and can even do it when their opponent is trying to resist them.
When Judo and Jiu Jitsu first appeared in the United states, many were mystified. A small person throwing a much larger person seemed like a real act of magic! Many didn’t believe it could be done- however, many early competitions showed us that a throwing art like Judo was indeed very real and its throws could be learned by even small children. Once we started to understand the principles of leverage and timing that were employed by Judo, we started to accept that it wasn’t magic at all, and throwing arts stopped being mystical and started to sound practical. In the same way, once you understand the workings of a no touch throw, you will no longer believe that it is an act of magic. Hopefully, it will also open your mind to Aikido’s other possibilities!
One of the ways to throw someone is to lift them. Arts like Judo show us how to pick someone up using good leverage and our bodies’ framework. However, this is not the only way to throw, since to throw something is merely to make it fly away from us. Another method to throw an opponent is to trip them. While not quite as fancy as a lifting throw like a big hip or shoulder toss (as seen in Judo and many other grappling arts), tripping techniques are an equally effective way to throw someone. Tripping works on a slightly different principle than a lifting throw, and understanding that principle is key to understanding the no touch throw.
Normal walking requires us to fall and “catch” ourselves regularly. When we walk, we shift our weight forward until we start to fall, at that point we pick up our leg and set it down again to catch ourselves. We have all been practicing this since we were 1 or 2 years of age, so we are quite good at it. We are so good, in fact, that we forget that we’re falling at all. What a trip does is interfere with our ability to extend our legs after the weight shift, and this is what “throws” us. Though tripping is a great way to throw someone that doesn’t require lifting, it does still require touching them, in both the way you move their body weight and the way you interfere with their leg (so they can’t catch themselves). In order to use tripping methods you’ll definitely have to touch your opponent; but have you ever tripped when no one is touching you?
As a fellow bi-ped, I’m sure you are all too aware of the dangers of walking, ha! Due to carelessness or unknown footing, we’ve all sent ourselves tumbling off into space many times. We know all too well that it doesn’t take someone touching you to make you to fall down, it’s quite possible to trip all on your own. It’s not magic- it’s physics! But falling isn’t someone throwing you- is it? What’s the difference between someone throwing you and you falling all on your own? The difference is if they intended to make you fall. If someone plans to make you fall down and you can’t help but fall, in essence, they’ve thrown you.
So, it is this ability to throw with intention and not physical contact that makes a no touch throw possible. Many would say, ‘yes, but in a serious situation like physical conflict, I’m not going to be careless- I wouldn’t let myself be tricked like this’. Watch this video of sport competitive situations where the attackers and defenders were trying very hard not to get thrown, and yet they still were! In this video you can see everything from professional athletes to school teachers falling for a no touch throw. Children, athletes, old, young, even four legged creatures can be seen falling (literally) for a no touch throw.
No touch throws are very real, and competitive athletes use them all the time. In fact, they are considered a high end skill that many professional and top level amature athletes have used to make a reputation for themselves. It’s not magical- but it does take a keen understanding of our opponent’s mind and many, many hours of training to do! Aiki can be translated as the way of fitting energy, and intent is a kind of energy. In the no touch throw we find a way to fit our intentions (to throw our attackers away from us) with our attacker’s intentions (to attack us) in a way that makes them fall- no touching required.
Now the part you probably don’t want to hear. Because there is no magic involved, learning how to do something like a no touch throw is going to take a lot of work. You’ll need to improve your footwork, and not just slow methodical footwork, but fast explosive movements. The footwork taught in Aikido is excellent: as a student of many martial arts, the footwork training I learned in Aikido is still the best I’ve found. But the way we train it needs to be improved. Aikido people tend to practice footwork in a very mellow and casual way; instead, we need to start training our footwork more intensely. The kind of footwork drills that football, soccer, basketball players and other professional athletes use are ideal for this.
In addition, the typical Aikido Uke doesn’t attack in a way that lends itself to a real no touch throw. You need to be working with opponents who are actually trying to get you- not just simulate tackling you, but are really trying to do so. This live attack action is what is needed for a no touch throw. Simulating the actions of the attackers is good when you are just starting to learn Aikido, but if you want martial skill, you’re going to need to step up the attacks! The overcommitment on the part of the attacker can’t be faked, you’ll have to actually convince them to overcommit naturally, due to their desire to get you.
Lastly, you have to understand that your attackers are not going to fall everytime they attack you. In Aikido because we simulate attacks instead of really attacking, Nage tends to get the idea that every time he engages with Uke, Uke will be thrown; nothing could be farther from the truth. You need to change your focus in Randori practice from being the person who is always going to throw, to the person who allows the attacker to attack. If you do your job correctly as Nage, most of your time will be spent blending with Uke, and not throwing them. It is only when Uke becomes overconfident in their attack that they will over commit- this over-commitment is when a no touch throw happens.
For those who are looking to ensure Aikido’s status as a “martial” art, the “secrets” to the no touch throw are exactly the same “secrets” or skills we will need to make Aikido an effective martial art. In our art we allow the attacker to undo himself, rather than jumping in and forcing him down- the no touch throw should be the epitome of Aikido technique. In my style of Aikido, we call the “no touch throw” Aiki nage or Aiki otoshi (depending on how it’s used) because we believe strongly that this kind of action is ideal Aikido. A perfect no touch throw requires the perfect use of Aiki!
I look at Aikido the same way I look at the no touch throw: it seems magical until you understand how it works. Aikido is an art designed around movement and understanding our attacker’s mind. It’s not a system of struggling and fighting. The more we can embrace the idea of using mind and spirit instead of trying to physically enforce our will, the more we’ll understand Aikido. This might sound like it would require magical powers- but that’s only if you don’t understand it yet.