Use of Weapons in Aikido

Posted by: on Jun 8, 2012 in Aiki Stories | No Comments

There is a current “debate” as to the value/need for weapon training in Aikido and its importance. Our dojo follows the training curriculum from O’sensei’s personal dojo in Iwama, Japan as laid out by his longest serving student, the late Morihiro Saito Sensei, and as taught and continued by Saito’s student, Saburo Takayasu Sensei, 7th dan shihan.

The practice with the bokken (wooden sword) and Jo (wooden staff) is integral to our practice of Aikido as passed on by the founder of Aikido, Morihei Ueshiba. If you watch this video, you will hear Stanley Pranin, the editor of Aikido Journal, and a long time Aikido practitioner and researcher, explain why.

Sayonara Nikkyo

Posted by: on Jun 4, 2012 in Aiki Stories | No Comments

The departure of Frédéric and his family back to France occasioned the need for a party and a sayonara-nikkyo. David Alexander Sensei tells the story of this practice from the Ibaraki Iwama Dojo at his Iwama Monogatari website:












Sayonara Nikkyo

There is a tradition in Iwama that whenever someone who trained there for any significant length of time goes back home, a sayonara party is held for him (or her).

A part of the tradition is to treat the person to a sayonara nikkyo, in which two people apply nikkyo to his wrists so that he can’t tap out. Of course, care is taken to make sure that he is not actually injured.

Some people say that I invented the sayonara nikkyo. I don’t clearly remember, but it’s probable that in its basic form it existed before I set foot in Iwama.

But I did invent a humorous twist to it. At one party I was observing someone enjoying their sayonara nikkyo and, on impulse, picked up a bottle of Suntory Red whisky (the official dojo drink which we called “Iwama nectar”), and poured some into the recipient’s mouth. Everyone thought it was very funny, and it caught on and became part of the ritual.

How much better can it get; receiving refreshing stimulation to both wrists while enjoying delicious Iwama nectar?

Derek-double-Nikkyo-Iwama 2000

My own experience parallels this

I first went to Iwama to study in 1980. It was at my own sayonara party at the function centre on Mt. Otago that Saito Sensei personally selected David to be one of the executors of my “double-nikkyo” – I still remember it – fondly!

Here is a later photo (from 2000) recoding the practice in Iwama with Hitohiro Saito Sensei (right), Kenichi Shibata Shihan (left) and with Miles Kessler skilfully handling the genuine Suntory Red whisky bottle.

The practice of nikkyo still holds an important place in my dojo.

Doing Ukemi

Posted by: on Jun 4, 2012 in Aiki Stories | No Comments

David Alexander Sensei was a foundation student at the Iwama Ibaraki Dojo and his stories are legendary. Here is one of my favourites from his Iwama Monogatari website:

Introduction To Iwama

I first went to Iwama and met Saito-sensei in the spring of 1972. I was training at the Aikikai Hombu Dojo in Tokyo at the time, and heard stories about this “outdoor dojo” in Iwama and a legendary sensei named Saito who was teaching the classes there.

Saito-sensei was scheduled to teach Sunday morning classes at Hombu, and I went every Sunday in hopes of meeting him. But he never came. So, it seemed that I had to go to him. My wife and I went to Iwama and ended up in the six mat room at the entrance to the dojo. Saito-sensei and a few other people were training.

After a while Saito-sensei came over to us and asked if I wanted to train. I said yes. He asked if I had a uniform. I said no. He said “Wait a minute”. He went to his house and brought back an old uniform. I put it on and bowed into the class.

My first training partner turned out to be the resident monster whose name was Shigemi Inagaki. The first technique was shiho-nage. The first time he threw me, he did it so hard that I hit my head on the mat and was knocked out for several seconds. When I woke up, I thought to myself, “This is what I’ve been looking for”.

We stayed for several days in Iwama, and slept in O-Sensei’s old storeroom next to the dojo (which was subsequently demolished to build the current “red room”). It was a very interesting place, filled with books and old charts of Kotodama symbols that O-Sensei used in his lectures.

We wanted to move to Iwama as soon as possible, but there was no housing for us. I commuted to Iwama from Tokyo a number of times over the summer and participated in numerous gasshuku (seminars) with university students and other groups. Particularly challenging was one with Isoyama-sensei and his students from the Air Self-Defense Force base at Iruma. Saito-sensei finally arranged to have a house built for us, and we moved to Iwama in the Fall. We ended up staying for about 10 years.

Levels of Training

Posted by: on Jan 27, 2012 in Aiki Stories | No Comments

David Alexander Sensei spent over 10 years training in Iwama under Saito Sensei, in the old days when understanding was obtained from vigorous and rigorous practice. In an article he explains the four levels of technique in Aikido training:

1. KATAI (rigid)

Also known as Kihon (basic) it is what builds the foundation of tai-sabaki (body movement) and kokyu-rokyu (abdominal breath power).

2. YAWARAKAI (flexible)

Like bamboo bending in the wind,the Yawarakai level emphasises the principle of awase and requires the defender to give in resiliently to deflect the attack in a direction that he can merge into the movement and take control. Yawarakai technique is intermediate between Katai and Ki-no-nagare.

3. KI-NO-NAGARE (flowing)

In Ki-no-nagare technique, the defender does not wait for the attacker to obtain a grip, but begins merging into the attacker’s movement before contact is made.

4. KI (spirit)

Saito-Sensei explained in his book, Traditional Aikido Vol. 5, on page 36 that: “Aikido is generally believed to represent circular movements. Contrary to such belief, however, Aikido, in its true Ki form, is a fierce art piercing straight through the center of opposition”.

For Alexander Sensei’s full article see Levels of Technique in Aikido Training.

Elegance in Aikido

Posted by: on Jan 27, 2012 in Aiki Stories | No Comments

David Alexander Sensei was my sempai when I trained at Iwama in 1980. He had the rare experience of spending over 10 years training under Saito Sensei, in Iwama while Saito Sensei was in his prime. He also gave me my “sayonara nikkyo”, when I returned home. He explains his idea of elegance in Aikido technique:

“After training under a good teacher for several years, it is possible to develop “Kokyu ryoku” (loosely translated as “abdominal breath power”).

“Most trainees do not get Kokyu, especially if they omit “Katai” (rigid) training and practice “Ki no Nagare” (flowing style) exclusively. If many of them are grabbed with strong power, they can’t even move. On the contrary, in Iwama in the 70’s, getting Kokyu was almost a given.

For someone with good, clean technique and Kokyu Ryoku, he or she is able to perform a technique effortlessly against a strong person who is resisting with full power. This is real Aikido, and would make O-Sensei proud.

So, this is my definition of elegance in technique; “Effortless against full power”.

For more of Alexander Sensei’s interesting anecdotes, see Iwama wisdom.

Relax when you Throw

Posted by: on Dec 21, 2011 in Aiki Stories | No Comments

Some years ago, when struggling to gain insight into how to powerfully perform morote dori kokyu nage (the basic form practised at the start of every keiko) I cam across an article by Koichi Tohei in Aikido Journal (Vol. 24, No. 2 1997).

Tohei Sensei 10th dan, the previous dojo-cho of the Aikikai Honbu Dojo and founder of the Ki no Kenkyukai (Ki Society organisation) teaching Aikido with Mind and Body Coordinated, is known throughout the Aikido world. (Tohei Sensei passed away at the age of 91, on 19 May 2011). So the comments he made in this article were both memorable and instructive. He gave this history:

“In 1940, Mr. Shohei Mori introduced me to Ueshiba Sensei and I became his student. I was terribly impressed with the way Ueshiba Sensei would throw people without any strength at all. I went to the dojo for every practice, but I found that I couldn’t even measure up to the high school students who were training there. After a while, however, I noticed that whenever I came to aikido practice completely exhausted after a session at the Ichikukai, nobody could move me. I also noticed that when I threw people while in that exhausted state, they would really go flying. These two phenomena made me realize that the trick was to let go of strength. On the other hand, Ueshiba Sensei was always telling us to use strength in the techniques. So I experimented in various ways with both using strength and then letting it drop away, then using it again and so on. … At that point I realised that relaxation was an important key, although I also noticed that there were things that I could not do simply by relaxing. I felt that the reason must be something I was doing wrong. … When I returned from the war, I found that whereas Ueshiba Sensei could throw me very easily, other people’s techniques were completely ineffective. There was obviously some difference between the two applications of technique. Others said that it was simply that Ueshiba Sensei had ‘the strength and skill of a thousand men,’ but I wondered if it were really true that despite both of us being human, Sensei could do and I could not do. … It was around that time that I discovered Tempu Nakamura Sensei. He taught me that ‘the mind leads the body’. The mind is the upstream and the body is the downstream. If the upstream is muddy, so will be the downstream. From Nakamura I learnt that unification of mind and body is possible through purifying the mind and allowing it to influence the body. I had already experienced this on the battlefield, but I had not connected that experience with this principle. I think the same can be said of aikido. Looking back on what Ueshiba Sensei did, it is clear that he would apply his techniques only after leading his opponent’s mind. By contrast, we were all trying to lead our opponents’ bodies, and then trying to figure out how to throw them. Naturally they would resist and become impossible to throw.

In order to lead your opponent’s mind, you must first have complete control over your own mind. If you can’t control your own mind, you can’t expect to be able to lead the minds of others.”

Of the teaching he received from O’Sensei, Tohei Sensei remarked: “The only thing of true value he taught was how to relax.” And he added: “Even the relaxation Ueshiba Sensei taught was not explained in words, but rather something he demonstrated with his body.”

Aikido – the struggle to Understand

Posted by: on Nov 16, 2011 in Aiki Stories | No Comments

Aikido is difficult to learn – the path is long and winding. As with many endeavours one constantly struggles with levels of understanding. Each achievement leads to further questioning and uncertainty.

Don’t be square, be hip!

Posted by: on Mar 14, 2011 in Aiki Stories | No Comments

When entering or turning which move first, the hips or the feet?

O’Sensei’s Kuden (Saito, M., Traditional Aikido, Vol 1, p. 4) says:

The rotation of the hips determines the movement of both feet,
The movement of the head determines the movement of both hands.

Saito Sensei’s comment on the Kuden adds:

“However, the hips move before the feet. Do not be aware of only moving the feet. It is good practice to rotate the hips to evade an opponent’s thrust.”

A simple application of this form is in the second suburi. Saito Sensei describes this technique as follows (Saito, M., Traditional Aikido, Vol 1, p. 27):

“The right foot steps back as the sword is raised overhead. At the same time, twist your hips to move your body out of the line of attack. As the strike is made, a step is taken with the right foot, and the right hip is thrust forward.”

Both O’Sensei and Saito Sensei emphasise the importance of initiating our moves with the hip. Not only do we start with hip rotation but we finish with a hip thrust. Do not lead with the feet but with the hip.

Remember the old saying from the 60’s:

Don’t be square, be hip!


Why sweat the small stuff

Posted by: on Mar 3, 2011 in Aiki Stories | No Comments

Students often say, “why is it important to do the technique ‘precisely’ surely everyone is different – we can do it in our own way”,  or particularly for westerens “near-enough is good enough”.

Saito Sensei commented in his “Dos and Don’ts while training” (Volume 5 – Training Works Wonders page 41):

Perform Exercises Accurately

There is a saying that the slightest deviation renders a technique renders a technique ineffective. There is no need to conduct basic exercises with undue speed. Care should be taken not to leave out the cardinal points of the exercises and form a peculiar habit as a result of too hurried an approach. You are advised to follow faithfully the “Kuden” (Secrets of Aikido orally bequeathed by the Founder), which casts light on these cardinal points.

Hitohiro Saito Sensei explained in an interview with Aikido Journal:

AJ: The precision needed for blending is a valuable point.

“Saito : Anyone can blend in a general sense, but one should begin with more specific forms which will ultimately expand to the universal harmony the founder spoke of. First you learn how to blend with your partner “toe to toe ,” then how to pivot on your front foot. When you know how to pivot properly you will be able to execute an urawaza technique. One cannot express these things verbally; they can only be mastered by training. The founder said, “Practice comes first.” It is not that your partner blends with you, but that you should blend with him in everything: “Move, open, then take the lead. ” This is what O-Sensei taught Saito Sensei.
A mistake of one centimeter could make it impossible to execute a technique successfully. You can’t change the technique willy-nilly to suit yourself. There is a definite way to do each technique. Anyone, not just the physically strong, should be able to apply the techniques. Unfortunately, people neglect tai no henko. I can tell by watching people practice tai no henko and morotedori kokyuho what kind of practice they have been doing at their dojos. I do not need to see more. I think all the basics of the founder’s taijutsu are contained in these two techniques and ikkyo.
It is hard to find anyone who is able to execute a perfect ikkyo technique. I know this may sound insolent, but I think you cannot understand aikido without starting properly from these techniques.
If you have not mastered tai no henko, you will always end up clashing with your opponent in the other movements. The basic training it to enable you to solve the problems caused by wrong body movement. This is impossible to explain in words, as it has a deeper meaning, but I feel the only way to learn is to allow your partner to hold you firmly.”

Why sweat the small stuff – because it matters!

Kuden (secret oral teachings) of Aikido

Posted by: on Feb 14, 2011 in Aiki Stories | No Comments

In 1974 Saito Sensei wrote in his forward to Volume 3 of his book Traditional Aikido Sword Stick and Body Arts that he had quoted “the words bequeathed by Founder Morihei Ueshiba  which represent the heart of techniques”.

Sensei Derek Minus has asked that these secret oral teachings or Kudan be recorded for those students without access to these invaluable books. First published in 1974 by Minato Research & Publishing Company, Tokyo, the cited page numbers will be from the 12th printing, July 1981.

1. Standing Kokyu-ho or Morote-dori kokyu nage (p.30)

“lower your shoulders, joints, hips and mind”

Saito Sensei in expressing this Kudan would say, lower the kata (shoulder), hiji (elbow), koshi (hip) and kimochi (spirit).

The next two kudan relate to variations on the basic form of standing Kokyu-ho:

2. Kokyu-ho when your wrist has been twisted until the palm is facing upwards (p.32)

“Don’t resist the twisting attempt. Instead, charge your body with centralized energy and move the waist panel of your Hakama into the back of your held hand”

3. Kokyu-ho when your wrist is held upward (p.36)

“Close your hand and charge the thumb with centralized energy”

Saito Sensei next considers the  basic forms of Ikkyo through to Gokyo.

4. Shomun-uchi Dai-Ikkyo Omote waza (p.40)

Saito Sensei reminds us that O Sensei’s teachings on the seated Omote form were to take your partner’s wrist from underneath:

“your thumb touching his pulse”

and to move into and take the pin with

“a spirit surging effusively from the earth and thrusting forward in an endless drive”

5. Shomun-uchi Dai-Ikkyo Ura waza (p.42)

The kudan of the Ura form was:

“to pin the arm of your partner circularly, giving it a shade of a push and a twist”

Saito Sensei then gives the kudan for the standing forms.

6. Shomen-uchi Dai-Ikkyo Ura-waza (p.49)

“Two plus eight equal 10. Four plus six equal 10. Five plus five equal 10″

This, he explains, is the way to meet your partner”s force. Thus a large step by your partner should be equalized by a small step from you.  If this needs further clarity he has given us the  belief  of O Sensei that,  “True Budo knows of no opponent nor an enemy. True Budo aims  to form a wholly integrated entity“. (p.21 vol 3).

7. Shomen-uchi Dai Nikkyo (p.50)

Take the pin, in training, to stimulate uke”s shoulder and elbow by:

“gluing his elbow to your lower abdomen, twist toward the head of your partner”

8. Shomen-uchi Dai Nikkyo Ura waza  (p.52)

Once uke’s hand is pressed against your lapel, twist your hips to:

“bend his arm in the shape of  <, causing his little finger to turn toward his nose”

9. Shome-uchi Dai Sankyo (p.56)

Saito Sensei says that once having taken the sankyo grip,  to apply the impulse producing twist to your partner’s wrist,  it is necessary to

“position yourself side by side with your partner”

10. Shomen-uchi Dai Gokyo Ura waza (p.64)

We are first reminded that the unbreakable rule of Ura waza is to align your toes (or knee) with your partner’s.  Then  to turn your body obliquely:

“like the movement of the billows”

11. Yokemen-uchi Shiho-nage (p.72)

Saito Sensei illustrates the correct hand position with a photograph of  himself holding a boken. This grip is applied to uke’s right hand wrist. (The reverse grip would be true for a left handed attack).  To ignore this arrangement of your hands will block your path, which is akin to the movement of the 5th suburi.  Sensei Derek Minus says “thumb side low” a short hand reminder of the kudan;

“Grasp the wrist of your partner in such a way that the thumb side of his hand is led out in front of you”

12. Hannmi-handachi: Ryote-dori Shiho-nage (p.77)

To take a balanced position and avoid a kick, it is necessary to stand up before turning. Once you have turned, if your partner is too strong for you to take a step without being pulled backwards:

pull back your foot, restructure your balance and take another step forward, thus downing him”

13. Kotegaeshi (p.80)

Saito sensei gives a reminder that your hands must stay in your centre – in front of your navel.

“Kotegaeshi should be performed at a lower height”

14. Kaiten-nage (p.82)

“triangular entry is essential to the Rotary throw”

15. Irimi-nage (p.92)

Saito Sensei has written that the focus must be on your extension. Turning your thumb downward:

tighten your arm like a ring of iron”

16. Hanmi-handachi: Shomen-uchi   Irimi-nage (p.102)

When kneeling, it is as though you are  much shorter than your partner, so this advice should be followed for the technique if standing,

“In taking on a taller person, fold him up prior to the throw”