Moving off the line (Sometimes the bear needs poking…)

Posted by: on Oct 23, 2018 in Aiki Stories | No Comments

Sensei Saw It…
Sempai Heard It…
Uke Wore It!

Most times I fail to move off the line completely and then wonder why I have trouble completing the technique. The prerequisite of being off the line isn’t there so the correct levers and pivots are not easily accessible.

Pre-grading preparation has been mostly choosing the variations and memorising the required entries. The wonderful and very patient Sempai’s have also been ‘Poking the Bear’ in order to get me to move correctly and to apply the technique and atemi at the correct points. I was instructed to just deliver the atemi and the rest would follow.

In the grading, facing a tsuki attack at full speed, years of previous karate training kicked in, and I delivered the atemi whilst moving off the line. Poor unsuspecting Dick Sempai as uke wore the atemi, as I continued the kote gaeshi technique without hesitation.

Sensei said the look of shock on Dick Sempai’s face was priceless. Fortunately the atemi was a relatively light tap, although a light bruise on the cheek was visible the next day. (Apologies to Dick Sempai)

The Setting: Audrey, 1st Kyu Grading
The Technique: Kote Gaeshi from Tsuki Attack at full speed

Raising the Arm in Ikkyo

Posted by: on Aug 27, 2014 in Aiki Stories, Takemusu Techniques | No Comments

Ikkyo means first technique. So what is the meaning of performing Ikkyo?

There are many answers to this. But the one that has become most significant to me lately is learning how to raise the arm.*




















Or more correctly, teaching your partner (on whom you are performing the technique) to raise their arm by constant repetition and stretching.

Most beginners when asked to raise their arms up (over their heads) bend the elbows. This problem is quickly cured if practising to raise up the arms when holding a katana (sword) as they will strike themselves in the head with the tsuba (guard) if the arms are too bent.

I have my students perform this motion over and over again, whenever and wherever they can, as part of their small stick practice.

Black belt Rosemary raising stick

If you tense the arm to put power into it, you quickly find that the stick is on a collision course with your head. A good reason to relax the shoulders and let the hand raise up.  Because this relaxed extension of the arm is not an instinctive movement, I believe that one of the reasons then to practice ikkyo is to form your partners arm into the “right” shape so that they will eventually develop the kinaesthetic appreciation of the form.

My teacher, Takayasu Sensei shihan, advises that ikkyo, nikyo and sankyo are fundamental development forms and that O’Sensei had famously said that: “if you are able to perform ikkyo, nikkyo and sankyo perfectly, then I will grant you the 3rd degree black belt“.

Aikido practice (as taught by O’Sensei) and carried on by Saito Sensei in the Ibaraki Dojo was not just a compendium of techniques assmbled according to some overall scheme, but an integrated and organic whole that as well as teaching form changed, adapted and ameliorated first the body and subsequently the mind of the trainee. As Saito Sensei has written (Aikido vol. 3 Applied Techniques:

“AIKIDO was so perfectly structured by Founder Morihei Uyeshiba that the trainee, as long as they carry on their training in the correct form, can assimilate, as a matter of course, what the art has to offer.”

This motion of simply raising up the arm, when understood at the subconscious level, allows the practitioner to enter a realm of unified form. At this point the opponent’s resistance is passed. Of course this is the motion of kokyu (breath/extension power) without which Aikido would be a mere dance.  Saito Sensei demonstrated this movement in his own form:
1. Applying ikkyo to a partners arm
2. Raising the arm (in shihonage)

Saito Sensei applying Ikkyo

Swing both your arms up to the apex of their height



*This beautiful woodblock print “One Hundred Aspects of the Moon: Gojo Bridge Moon” was a personal gift from Sensei Ann Reekie of the Canberra Dojo.

It shows the fateful meeting of the warrior-monk Musashibo Benkei and Minamoto no Yoshitsune on Gojo Bridge in Kyoto and is by the famous woodblock artist, Tsukioka Yoshitoshi. The picture shows the moment when Yoshitsune leaps through the air to to avoid the blow from Benkei’s staff and who then distracts his opponent by throwing his iron fan (tessan) at Benkei’s head.


Using Hip and Hand

Posted by: on Apr 2, 2014 in Aiki Stories | No Comments

Use the hand to move the hip

Use the hip to move the hand

But don’t stand.

Three Kinds of Disciples

Posted by: on Jul 6, 2013 in Aiki Stories | No Comments

A story from Zen Flesh, Zen Bones (compiled by Paul Reps):

 When Zen master, Gasan was studying under Tekisui, his teacher was very severe.  Sometimes he even beat Gasan.

Other pupils would not stand this type of teaching and quit.

Gasan remained, saying:

A poor disciple utilises a teacher’s influence.
A fair disciple admires a teacher’s kindness.
A good disciple grows strong under a teacher’s discipline.

Ouch, Sensei that hurts!

Posted by: on Jul 6, 2013 in Aiki Stories | No Comments

Many people when starting Aikido, find the techniques extremely painful. Techniques like Nikkyo, Sankyo and Yonkyo apply pressure directly into the nervous system. They cause submission through pain compliance.

But what if it is the teacher who is applying these painful techniques to the student?

The sensei’s role is to ensure that every student is able to learn in a safe environment, with due consideration for each individual’s age, infirmity, injury and ability.  When the teacher applies a painful technique to a student he does it understanding the level of application of a technique that creates pain as opposed to damage.  But the student can feel betrayed, that someone who is there to help them, is instead hurting them.

The teacher has to strike a balance between protecting the student from harm and hurt, and encouraging the student’s development by moving them along the path beyond where they would choose to remain.

Painful or not, no techniques should ever be performed with malice. And that is the key.

Training in martial arts is severe, it has to be to strengthen the spirit. But it should always be done with loving kindness not to cause injury.

Ultimately, O’Sensei’s Aikido is a martial art (budo) and people who enter the dojo to join in its practice must confront their fears in a real and painful way and gain strength through overcoming their own limitations (real or imagined). Little by little they will find that they can grow stronger as the technique is applied. It still hurts, but they are able to feel calm not frightened, knowing that the technique is applied to benefit them not to damage them.

This is the unique relationship between a student and the sensei.

The student has to find the teacher that is right for them and trust them with their lives. Only the teacher knows where they are leading the student and the student has to give up something of themselves to follow. Or put another way – give something of themselves to the teacher in trust.

It is with that respect and understanding that we bow to each other.

Instructions on how to tie the Obi for children (and adults too)

Posted by: on Jun 29, 2013 in Aiki Stories | No Comments

People tie their obi (belt) in different ways depending the art they are practising and the school they are learning with.

This is how we tie the obi at the Ku-ring-gai Dojo.

1. Start with the end (tagged or name end on the left hip) Tag up.

2. Wrap the belt around your waist, from left to right.

3. Do not wrap it around your stomach (which will restrict your breathing) but around the centre-line of the hip (that is measure the hip from it top to its base) and pass the belt around the soft tissue near the mid-point.

4.  IMPORTANT: As you wrap the belt around your waist, be careful to ensure that it lays flat over itself and your body.  There should be no kink or twist in the belt, particularly over your spine.

5. The belt should be long enough to go around twice and leave enough length at the end to tie it off. Bring the end of the obi UNDER BOTH bands and UP to the RIGHT.

6. Now pull the other end of the belt that you started with (the end with the Tag) from underneath the belt DOWN to the LEFT

7. Tying the Knot.  The belt is tied with a Reef or Square knot. (Be careful to avoid ending up with a Granny or Granary knot, which is not as strong and will not lie flat – it is easy to spot the difference.) See here for more information on the different knots.

With you left hand holding the end that is DOWN and your right hand holding the end that is UP, cross the Right over the left and thread the left end through. Pull to tighten.


How to tie a Reef (Square) knot

Posted by: on Jun 29, 2013 in Aiki Stories | One Comment

And avoid getting a Granny Knot (the information below is extracted from Wikipedia and other sources.)

A Reef knot is formed by tying a left-handed overhand knot and then a right-handed overhand knot, or vice versa.  A common mnemonic for this procedure is “Right over Left, Left over Right makes a knot both tidy and tight“. Or the reverse.


A Granny knot results when you do two consecutive overhands of the same handedness. The granny knot is a weaker knot than the reef knot.


The working ends of the reef knot must emerge both at the top or both at the bottom, otherwise a Thief knot results.


Saito Sensei Quotes

Posted by: on May 25, 2013 in Aiki Stories | No Comments

morihiro-saito-sensei quotesStanley Pranin of Aikido Journal, has published a series of quotations by  the late Saito Sensei about his teacher, the Founder of Aikido, Morihei Ueshiba.  They are worth repeating.

The Takemusu Aiki Association are the inheritors of the teaching from O’Sensei’s dojo in Iwama.  We work to keep the memory of O’Sensei’s insight alive through our practice.

The quotes from Saito Sensei are:

“I don’t know any aikido other than O-Sensei’s.”
“Many shihan create new techniques and I think this is a wonderful thing, but after analyzing these techniques I am still convinced no one can surpass O-Sensei. I think it is best to follow the forms he left us.”

“These days people are inclined to go their own way, but as long as I am involved, I will continue to do the techniques and forms O-Sensei left us.”

“It is a big mistake to think that there is no ki no nagare practiced at Iwama. The ki no nagare techniques of Iwama are executed faithfully as O-Sensei taught them. People tend to train in a jerky way. And when people do soft training they do it in a lifeless way. Soft movements should be filled with the strongest “ki.” People can’t grasp the meaning of hard and soft because they didn’t have contact with O-Sensei.”

“The aikido world is gradually distancing itself from O-Sensei’s techniques. However, if the technique of aikido become weak it’s not a good thing, because aikido is a martial art. My practice of aikido is always traditional, the old-style way. Now I am looking after my Sensei’s dojo. Also, I am guardian of the Aiki Shrine, the only one in the world. Many teachers create their own techniques, but I can’t do that, I’ve got a hard head! I’m following exactly the teachings of my Sensei.”

“O-Sensei taught us two, three or four levels of techniques. He would begin with kata, then one level after another, and finally, it became just so… and now I teach in exactly the same way. Because O-Sensei taught us systematically I’ve got to teach in an organized way, too. Generally speaking, O-Sensei would make remarks like the following: “Everything is one. Everything is the same.” He taught us in that way. I’m just following his example.”

“When O-Sensei explained Aikido he always said that taijutsu (body techniques) and ken and jo techniques were all the same. He always started out his explanation of Aikido using the ken. Although he didn’t use a one-two-three method, he always taught us patiently and explained in detail what we should do.”

“O-Sensei also drilled us in a step-by-step manner. I am simply trying to make this method my own through hard study and to have others understand it. As I follow O-Sensei’s instructions my students are appreciative.”

“O-Sensei would say: “That’s not the way. Every little detail should be correct. Otherwise, it isn’t a technique. See, like this… like that!” I was very lucky O-Sensei taught me thoroughly in detail, and I’m following his example.”

“When I starting teaching myself I realized O-Sensei’s way of teaching would not be appropriate so I classified and arranged his jo techniques. I rearranged everything into 20 basic movements I called “suburi” which included tsuki (thrusting), uchikomi (striking), hassogaeshi (figure-eight movements), and so on so it would be easier for students to practice them.I was taught first how to swing a sword. I organized what I learned and devised these kumijo and suburi for the sword. O-Sensei’s method may have been good for private lessons, but not for teaching groups. In his method, there were no names for techniques, no words. This was why I organized the movements into tsuki (thrusts), uchikomi (strikes) and kaeshi (turning movements) and gave them names.”

“I saw nothing but the real thing for 23 years. I don’t really know anything other than the Iwama style taught by O-Sensei. My role is to preserve these teachings. That’s the main thing.”

Thief at the Dojo

Posted by: on Jan 14, 2013 in Aiki Stories | No Comments

I had heard about this story before, but never from someone who was there.  Stanley Pranin of Aikido Journal, recently re-published an interview with Shoji Nishio Sensei from 1983. He told this story about Koichi Tohei Sensei training at the Iwama Dojo:

“Mr. Tohei went to Hawaii in 1953. On his return, he brought back a leather coat which was impossible to obtain at that time in Japan. It had fringes like the ones you see in western movies. He had a leather coat when it was impossible even to obtain leather shoes… I really thought it was amazing. Then, that coat was skillfully stolen. That was what had happened when I turned up for training. I saw that all of the uchideshi had been made to sit in seiza and Mr. Tohei was shouting something. Then I heard that Tohei Sensei’s coat had been stolen. At that time Mr. Noguchi, Mr. Genta Okumura and Mr. Sunadomari were some of the uchideshi.

Then O-Sensei appeared asking, “What’s up?” When Mr. Sunadomari explained what had happened O-Sensei responded: “Oh, it was stolen, was it?” (Laughter) Then he came into the dojo. Tohei Sensei also sat in seiza because O-Sensei entered. O-Sensei started to walk around them. We were really wondering what he was going to say. What he said was: “You’re the one to blame, Tohei.” Then, he disappeared. Tohei sat silently for a while. Then he, too, disappeared. Everybody was relieved and started training. (Laughter)

After practice, I was leaving for home and ran into O-Sensei who was on his way to the bathroom. I went up to him and said, “O-Sensei!”. He said, “Ooh!” I asked, “A few minutes ago when Tohei Sensei had his coat stolen, you said he was the one at fault. Why did you say that?”

He answered, “Don’t you understand why? Those who practice budo shouldn’t have that kind of spirit (kokoro). One shouldn’t show off things which people desire to have. You can show off things you can give, but otherwise you shouldn’t. Poor man, he took the coat because he wanted it. However, by taking it, he became a thief. It’s all right to have the coat stolen, but he was made a thief. Stealing is a bad thing, but the man whose coat was stolen committed the original sin. He created the occasion for an opening (suki) in the man. As a budoka (martial artist), that’s bad.”

And this in turn reminded me of a similar Zen tale:

“When Bankei held his seclusion weeks of meditation, pupils from many parts of Japan came to attend. During one of these gatherings a pupil was caught stealing. The matter was reported to Bankei with the request that the culprit be expelled. Bankei ignored the case.

Later the pupil was caught in a similar act, and again Bankei disregarded the matter. This angered the other pupils, who drew up a petition asking for the dismissal of the thief, stating that otherwise they would leave in a body.

When Bankei had read the petition he called everyone before him. ‘You are wise brothers,’ he told them. ‘You know what is right and what is not right. You may go somewhere else to study if you wish, but this poor brother does not even know right from wrong. Who will teach him if I do not? I am going to keep him here even if all the rest of you leave.’

A torrent of tears cleansed the face of the brother who had stolen. All desire to steal had vanished.”

[From Zen Flesh, Zen Bones compiled by Paul Reps]

It is not known what happened to Tohei Sensei’s coat, or the thief who took it.


Learning Aikido by “stealing the technique”

Posted by: on Sep 11, 2012 in Aiki Stories | No Comments

The following article is copied from Stanley Pranin’s Aikido Journal website. You can find the full article and accompaying slideshow here:

One of the things that stood out to me during my years of practicing aikido in Japan was the fact that the majority of Japanese instructors — including some of the most famous names — spent almost no time explaining their techniques during practice. They would simply demonstrate the technique 3 or 4 times and say, “Hai, dozo!” (Ok, go ahead and practice!).

If you talked with the senior students about wishing that the teacher would explain more clearly, often you would get an answer something along these lines: “You have to pay close attention and STEAL the techniques.” The implication was that you were a westerner, and that the oriental approach to learning was different. You would have to adapt to their way of learning since you were in Japan. Shades of the inscrutable Japanese!

Well, this kind of reply satisfied me for a time, but then I noticed something…

The senior students — and most of the other students too — couldn’t do the techniques at anywhere near the level of the teacher! I thought, “What’s the point of coming all the way to Japan and spending years trying to master something that was not well explained and poorly organized?”

You could counter this sentiment by saying that westerners miss the point, and that they expect everything to be handed to them on a silver platter. They have to pay close attention to what the teacher is doing, and then they’ll understand if they are sincere and dedicated.

This did not satisfy me for very long either. Here’s why… If you have very few students who are willing to spend the necessary time to “steal” their teacher’s techniques and become skilled in their own right, what do you think happens to the school after his passing? Remember, none of the senior students can perform at the same level as the teacher.

The answer is that the school tends to fragment and enter into a state of rapid decline. By the second or third generation, the teacher fades into the annals of history even though he may have been an important figure in his day.

Morihiro Saito was an exception to this rule. That was one of the main reasons I choose to move to Iwama and study with him. He would clearly explain what he was doing and demonstrate the correct execution of techniques so that students could make quick progress. Moreover, he wrote many books and left a wealth of videos where he introduces his technical system in very clear terms.

[Derek says] In my experience training at the Iwama Dojo under Saito Sensei was like attending “Aikido University” for future instructors. Saito Sensei not only taught students Aikido but also taught them how to teach Aikido. His frequent use of pantomime provided memorable insights that graphically illustrated the essential points to make the technique “work”. No one who saw Sensei explain koshinage will ever forget the essential elements of the technique or how to teach it to others. Saito Sensei was a masterful teacher of Aikido as well as a masterful exponent of Aikido technique.