Katate-dori practice

Much of our basic practice goes like this: tori offers a hand, uke grabs it and the technique begins. In our normal practice we get so used to doing this that there is a danger that it loses its meaning and becomes a mindless ritual.
Uke grabs tori’s wrist as a precursor to an attack; the act of grabbing the wrist is not generally the attack itself, merely a means of preventing tori from using the held arm defensively while the actual attack – perhaps a strike to the head with the other arm – proceeds.
When tori extends his arm to uke, the action defines the limits of tori’s personal space, which uke is attempting to invade, and which tori will attempt to protect; as an obstacle that uke must remove in order to attack tori, it also provides tori with an opportunity to control uke by directly capturing his extended arm. The point I am making is that tori is not simply offering his arm to uke who obligingly takes hold of it: tori is actually controlling the encounter by extending his arm.
Of course katatedori attacks are also a preparation for strikes such as shomen uchi and yokomen uchi; they allow the tori/uke interaction to be slowed down to a manageable speed in order to facilitate learning, but the practice can easily turn into an automatic sequence of holding out an arm, waiting until it is firmly grasped, shuffling feet to get the correct starting position, and only then beginning the technique. However, once the technique has been rehearsed this way, so that the appropriate movements become suitably internalised, the practice should move on.
There are a number of ways in which the basic practice can go forward from the initial learning phase. For example, tori can initiate the technique at the instant of contact rather than waiting until both partners are ready to begin. When we settle ourselves before commencing a technique we are freezing the instant of contact to allow both partners to respond consciously to the situation. However, in reality tori would need to use uke’s attacking energy to initiate an appropriate response instantly.
Uke could also direct tori’s arm down or to one side allowing tori to practice using this action to initiate an appropriate response. Tori ‘s response is to avoid interrupting uke’s directional stimulus by extending it and using it as a transition to an appropriate technique. For example, for katate dori gyaku hanmi, if uke pushes tori’s arm away from his body to the side, tori could move to that side and perform tenchi nage or sumi otoshi, thus using uke’s action to assist the execution of the technique.
Another idea to explore is the manner in which tori receives uke’s attack. Rather than passively accepting uke’s grasp, tori can meet the attack and actually take control of it at the instant of contact. This is as much a mental attitude as it is a physical response. Allowing uke to take control of tori’s wrist gives the former an immediate advantage. Tori can remove this advantage by extending his physical and mental energy into and beyond the point of contact. This shift of attitude denies acceptance of the attack, replacing it with a positive action. This approach, which can also be used for other attacks, significantly changes the tori/uke interaction.
If we are not constantly vigilant our practice quite easily can become ritualised to the point where it no longer makes much sense. Katate dori practice is only one example of how our practice can potentially degenerate; I hope to give my views on other aspects of practice in the near future.