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I'm a short guy been doing aikikai aikido for a few years now and still have a few problems when practicing on bigger folk. For example, when practicing sankyo from a shomenuchi attack, there's a position to take the attacker off balance after beginning the omote attack as shown in the left hand diagram below.

sankyo

Following this, the idea is to right drive the hand towards the armpit in preparation for sankyo. What's the best way of doing this to a resistant partner? It just doesn't feel right if I'm doing this move to someone with big arms as I've got small hands.

What I guess I'm saying is, what approaches to people take in aikido to training with bigger, stronger partners who sometimes don't want to cooperate?

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tl;dr Balance breaking, timing, and power/speed is what you are looking for.

The answer depends what type of training you: kata, randori, or shihai.

In kata, you are supposed to learn basic movement. As such your uke should help you and not hinder you. A quick word with them to ask "why is this not working?" should fix it. Although I suspect that you are missing something in the technique: balance breaking and speed of movement is all important there but when you start learning you have neither. Do it slow, making sure you get the movements right. Your uke should be giving you feedback, if not ask for it!

This is your opportunity to understand how the balance is broken for this technique. As you get more and more familiar with that, the speed of entry and timing come into play.

In randori, depending on the intensity, is where you get to make that kata your own: You have to get a good balance breaker. You have to get good speed. You have to get good timing. All the things you learned in the kata phase. And sometimes, none of those things will help! Some techniques are not suitable for you to use depending on your and uke's body types. Needless to say, your uke should be helping you there as well. After all, these are still learning/teaching exercises.

Of course, you get feed back from randori into kata! Randori does teach you when the timing worked, and how to apply that balance breaker. Thus, <recursion> kata makes your randori better which makes your kata better which makes your randori better which ... </recursion>

In shihai, you are on your own! Uke's job is to fully resist and potentially counter your technique. This is hard. You cannot get there unless you have a very good understanding of all the above steps. Do not try to run before you can crawl. ^_~

In the example you give of a shomenuchi attack, you need to get in as the shomenuchi is coming up. Once it is going down (the attack proper), you're too late. A very fast and speedy entry will give you a good balance breaker. When (if) uke is off balance, it does not matter how strong they are: they go where you place them! Of course, that requires some power on your part. Again, we are coming back to movement.

The sankyo pin... If you have small hands, chances are that this is not a pin for you. You should be able to do it in kata but do not bother is randori/shiai.

Finally, if you really want to get this to work: grow stronger...

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What I guess I'm saying is, what approaches to people take in aikido to training with bigger, stronger partners who sometimes don't want to cooperate?

There's two separate issues here:

  1. With techniques involving leverage and balance some will not work from various angles or with extreme differences in size. They Just Won't Work. Part of your study is to learn which ones these are and NOT USE THEM in a critical situation. If you're a tall guy fighting a short person and you're doing something that requires you to get under them you're going to have a LOT harder time than if you were shorter than them. The converse is also true--as you note. However many of these can be made better with some changes in your movement. This however requires an engaged Uke. Which leads us to 2:

  2. Some People Are Dicks. They aren't in the dojo to get better, they're there to win fights. And every time you work a technique with them it's a fight. The first thing to try is to talk to them--explain that you don't know the technique yet and need their assistance in getting better. Next, ask your instructor what to do. Maybe they can either some answer, or they can talk to the class about what being an Uke is.

(gets up on soapbox)

Being an Uke is not being a participant in a fight, it is not being the Opposition Force. It is another aspect of being a student, it is where you learn how the technique manipulates the body. Where (if any) the holes are and how to cover them. It's also how you learn when you've "lost" so that you can do something (e.g. roll out, whatever) to mitigate it.

What I do is try to regulate my "resistance" with my partner's level of experience. Last month in one class we were working on a specific shoulder lock. One of the guys I trained with is a cop that is...he doesn't mind fighting. He'd rather you didn't, but if you want to, well, that's ok. Well, he's good at this stuff. He does joint/arm locks professionally. He gets ZERO slack from me. I'm not going to actively fight him because I like my joints, but I'm also not going to give him one stinking millimeter. He's got to "make" it work, including the subtle little stuff (to the extent I know it. He's better than me). By doing this I help HIM Get better, and it helps me learn those little subtle things.

Some of the other people in my class seem to never even seen violence on TV. They aren't nearly as good, so when I work with them I won't make them be as perfect. With them I focus on the main ideas and then as they "get it" I work with them on the smaller and smaller stuff getting a little harder to move as they learn--so they have to refine their technique over time.

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