“Pre-emptive Aiki: No touch throws,” by Nick Lowry


“Real kuzushi at a distance has real effects as it disrupts ukes initializing, targeting, tracking and capability to launch attack. It is a sort of preemptive aiki.”

http://www.aikidojournal.com/blog/media/lowry.jpgThe venerable Sugino sensei once remarked that if you are seeing aiki for the first time and you can understand what you are seeing, then you are not seeing aiki.

It’s interesting seeing the beautiful variety of “no touch work” throwing/control applications demonstrated by several sensei on YouTube and Google videos lately — and it’s interesting to read the diversity of reactions to these demos. I remember back to the first time I felt the effect of “kuzushi at a distance” and to my green belt mind it did seem like magic ki powers.

It was in the early 1980’s and I was in a bout of intense toshu randori with my sensei. I had just gotten back to my feet and was maybe 12 feet away. I was locked on to my target and stepping forward to reengage my sensei with a frontal attack when, at this great distance, he made a sudden pointed gesture that seemed to freeze one half of my body in place. As the other half of my frame continued to move, the frozen side created postural distortion and collapse. I was laughing nervously to myself as I went into side fall, knowing that I had just bumped up against something strange and incomprehensible. It had felt like he had zapped me with a beam of pure will power and had somehow thrown me long before I could lay a hand on him.

These days, I see these effects as excellent perception (mitori), timing (hyoshi) and focus (kime) on the part of tori — and characteristic of sensitivity and receptivity on the part of uke. Such extraordinary throwing conditions are an interaction effect that happens in the relationship.

Many viewers of the videos respond that they feel that what they are seeing is just fake or that the ukes are overly conditioned or doing bad practice–on the fake part I can attest that I have seen demonstrations of this that are obviously prearranged and overdetermined (choreography can replicate the look of what is going on here) but that these effects are also sometimes completely “real” i.e. unrehearsed–spontaneous–naturally occurring reflex triggers. Real kuzushi at a distance has real effects as it disrupts ukes initializing, targeting, tracking and capability to launch attack. It is a sort of preemptive aiki. The attack is concluded before it has begun.

Expectations about uke and attack complicate the matter. Whatever type of uke a particular system or lineage of aiki creates/fosters/develops will determine and shape the type of nage(or tori) you end up with–from full on resistance and dampening of kuzushi to completely open and receptive fully embodying kuzushi with no interference–from characteristically wary and cautious to reckless and bold –under committed/overcommitted–uke teaches and informs nage(tori) with each response.
The reality of uke and attack is a spectrum of probability and remains indeterminate until the actual relationship develops. Most people think that this happens when the two bodies connect but that relationship begins long before physical contact is made–at the point of intention.

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  1. …but, for the most part, “no touch” throws depend on uke being trained to fall away from trouble. with the exception of those few who have mastered “action at a distance”, would expect to see more atemi, and more completely developed techniques, when engaging attackers who are reluctant to fall.

  2. nick beatty says:

    I would love to have this demonstrated on me. In all my years of practicing martial arts, meditation etc. I have never seen a demonstration of “no touch” technique that was not complete BS.

  3. Mr. Beatty, I have not seen it from the distance apart as Mr. Lowry describes it, but I have felt it in closer proximity with one of my earlier Sensei.. I come from a kick/punch background and he said to attack him however I wished, so I started with a fake mai-gari into a reverse punch, he got off the line of attack and shot his hand forward at me all I saw was the fingers coming to my eyes, so I tried to change my punch into a block as I ducked my head.. and simply fell on my butt… He never touched me. My subconscious got the best of me by trying to protect my eyes.. still that is another example of a no-touch throw that anyone can understand.

  4. Think of it this way. I’m attacking at a good clip, and as I get up from a fall I reach hard forward with my right hand for a perceived opening in nage. But instead of an opening, nage extends into that space – atemi, contact or no contact. In a millisecond my mind changes and I attempt to switch my attack to left. But my body can’t keep up and I fall again. Nage never touched me. But did I trip over my own feet? Had nage never extended toward me I never would have fallen. Had nage been slack, my initial attack would have continued, but we were connected and we ended up with a no touch throw.
    I’ve been on both sides of this in many years of aikido and I believe it is a skill that can be developed.
    Connection and ki by some definitions.

  5. Daniel Kati says:

    I have experienced this technique from a sensei who learned both Daito Ryu and aikido.

    I didn’t expect he would do such a thing. After I got on my feet again, I tried to attack the way that if I perceive an action from his side, I will draw back instead of continuing with the attack. Sometimes I was able to withdraw, and I didn’t fall, but I always got unbalanced and needed a few seconds to be stable again.
    I don’t think it has anything to do with energy, I think he was playing with my mind, and with my intention.
    If I would have attacked very-very slowly, or with closed eyes, I’m quite sure it would have not worked at all.
    Sensei was told about this technique: “I actually do nothing, I only let him face his own conciousness”.
    It was a strange feeling.

  6. Yeah, there are quite a lot of “no touch throws” out there done by trees. Those trees have amazing ki and aiki, I tell ya.

    While moving along a path in the woods, a tree branch in the way, pointing at one’s eyes causes involuntary reactions of jerking backwards. Sometimes the legs are left to continue and voila — one falls. No touch throws done by a tree with one of its branches. Amazing display of skill and grace is all I can say. Very aiki like, too. The ki projecting from that branch must be very strong. It would do Darth Vader proud.

    People flinging fingers towards eyes can be counted as “no touch throws”, we have to count tree branches. Same concept, same result.

    How about if one is skiing down a hill and one wants to go to the right to a perceived opening but as one gets over a small hill, one finds a small tree in the way. In a millisecond, one switches skiing paths to the left, but the body doesn’t keep up and one falls. What a marvelous display of ki and aiki that the tree had. A beautiful “no touch throw”.

    Ah, now I understand! All those master martial artists who went into the forest to study weren’t visited by tengu or spirits. No, it was the trees that taught them! It wasn’t the flexibility of the willow branch as the snow piled on it, it was when the snow fell, that branch rebounded towards someone’s eyes and satori was achieved as that someone dumped himself on the ground in an amazing “no touch throw”.

    No touch throws are possible if we only commune with trees for enlightenment, skill, and unnatural powers.

  7. Dear Mr. Lowry,

    thank you very much for your short article on no-touch throws and your reasoning about it. I experienced it first in 1986 when I attended a class of Nobuyuki Watanabe sensei. At this time I had 13 years of aikido training and 1st dan for some years. He gave quite a usual class but in the second half he started to demonstrate strange things leading to no-touch throws. I had never seen such a thing before and I believed that it must be a fake. I had a chance to practice with one of the uke of Watanabe sensei and he appeared as no-nonsense aikidoka. So, there must be something else. But only some 13 years later I attended a first workshop lasting for a week given by Watanabe sensei in Germany where I directly experienced this phenomena. It was and is no fake. Since then I attended many seminars given by Watanabe sensei observing many aikidoka being confronted with the same experience. It is, as you wrote, the relationship between uke and nage. The uke has to attack. Without the intention to attack, I believe, you wouldn’t experience a no-touch throw. And it all starts long before the uke starts to move. My feeling as uke is that as long as I prolong the attack I am drawn into unbalance more and more. It is only avoidable if I would retreat. There are several DVDs available about these seminars (Japanese with German translation) by http://www.kenbukan.de/videoverleih.htm (web site is in German language).

    Thanks again for raising this issue

  8. Be careful not to miss the point entirely. A tree doesn’t extend ki and make you fall skiing. When you fall it shows your lack of ki and center. Had you been truly centered you would have adjusted and skied around it. Natural ki test.
    Same in aikido. If you trip over your hakama, it shows your lack of center, not your nage’s skill.
    Is it possible to consciously extend into an uke’s space and make them fall without touching them? If you read the original blog again, as well as most of the comments, or read aikido accounts from dozens of sources and sensei’s, you’ll see that many people have experienced this feeling, though on rare occasion. If you personally haven’t experienced it, then I guess it is total fake BS until you do. You can keep practicing, and maybe get lucky enough someday to feel it, or do it, or even learn how to do it.
    Or maybe not.

  9. Don’t bother explaining to him Bas some people just don’t get it, or choose not to understand.

  10. An interesting bit from some guy named Tohei. Claims to have a 10th dan from Osensei.

    “Many people were surprised that I was able to throw the sumo wrestler Kurosegawa, seemingly without touching him. People think, “Tohei can throw people without touching them!” But that’s not right. I may not have been touching him with my hands, but I was touching him with my ki. A person that comes rushing forward to attack is preceded by his ki, and wherever that ki goes, his body is obliged to follow. (This is why it is impossible to throw people who are not really intending to attack you.) So all I had to do was evade his ki; I simply let him go where he seemed to want to go, and he fell of his own accord.”

  11. One form of pre-emptive strike is simply zanchen, which I take to mean ‘preparedness’. in the Shodokan randori, when practicing or in a match – being prepared, and looking it, has quite an effect on the opponent. Similarly I notice in my training buddies that when they get this they appear much more formidable to me than when they treating it all more like a sport (which this form is) or like fun (which this also is). Zanchen, in Shodokan randori, is neutral stance, face on to the opponent, at a maai that allows for a one-step attack. From here we can move, during or while an attack is taking place, using taisabaki, to the right or left into one or other hanmi stance that then allows for a tsukuri, and if kuzushi is obtained then a waza. I have been surprised how the initial zanchen makes such a difference to me and my opponent – even my training buddies in training practice.

    I mention this because it seems to fit with the various directions other responders here have been going. However I am aware that other forms of Aikido do not have resistant uke, whereas in Shodokan randori, effective resistance, that leads to errors on the opponents side are cherished. While I am aware that I, as a fairly new student, use way to much muscle, I am becoming aware of both regular Aikido potential and the more esoteric Aikido of effecting at a distance.

    Cheers and great responses you lot.

  12. I remember my Sensei asking me to strike him with a bokken when I was 4th Kyu. I raised my sword, his eyes met mine…and suddenly he was a huge, intimidating massive presence that overwhelmed me. I literally missed him by two feet, and he walked away laughing and telling me to “learn to cut straight.” I think about that everytime I read, “the spirit is the true shield.”

    Psychology, anticipation, illusion, deception, elicited reflexes, even intimidation (scare someone too much to attack you and maybe you don’t need to resort to violence) – these things aren’t always present in practice, but they are useful and not really anti-Aikido.

    Can someone cause a reflex in you at a distance? Walk past a bakery shop early in the morning, and see if you don’t salivate. Check if you’re salivating just thinking about walking past an imaginary bakery.

  13. In a double car garage dojo in Monterey California in the early 70’s during my first Aikido introduction I experienced this type of throw without being physically touched by the Sensei. I had no training in any kind of martial arts at that time but I had a good 13 years of gymnastics, tumbling, trampoline, etc. under my belt and naturally knew how to fall without damaging myself. At the end of the class the Sensei would call upon each student to assist him in his own training by attacking him in any way they wanted. I will never forget the feeling of this method of throwing.

    The Sensei was a young man named Stanley Pranin and since it was my first time training in Aikido he had me attacking him with katatedori (wrist grabbing). I would grab his wrist, he would do a technique, I would land on the ground or roll out. The tempo of the attacks started to speed up as I got more comfortable with what we were doing. All of a sudden as I went to grab the extended hand it was not there and I was flying through the air and rolling out, I had never been touched but flew a good six feet in distance having no idea what just happened to me.

    I spent the next couple years in daily practice in Aikido and learned this type of throw is a technique, it is a learned throw, learning to separate a persons mind from their body when they are focused on attacking you. On many occasions, Sensei would throw members of the class using this technique, sometimes he would use an atemi to cause the separation of mind and body and other times he would only used a vocal atemi to create the no touch throw. I recall asking him one time what this kind of a throw is called and I believe he said it was a variation of a kokyunage. In our dojo this type of throwing was taught along with atemi’s and weapons training. After Sensei Pranin sold that particular dojo he relocated to Japan for 20 years of study under Saito Sensei. The no touch throws this article is speaking of have been being taught in dojos ever since I first began Aikido training and we were also shown movies after class of O’Sensei demonstrating this method of throwing. It is a technique that is taught along with all the other throwing techniques in Aikido classes as far as I am aware of. I have passed on these teachings in other dojos I was asked to teach in during my years of formal training. It is as real as Ki.

    • It’s nice hearing from you, Clay!

    • “I would grab his wrist, he would do a technique, I would land on the ground or roll out. The tempo of the attacks started to speed up as I got more comfortable with what we were doing. All of a sudden as I went to grab the extended hand it was not there and I was flying through the air and rolling out, I had never been touched but flew a good six feet in distance having no idea what just happened to me.”

      This is precisely what conditioned response is.

  14. I did have a student come to class, and he was not following on any throws at all and didn’t see how this could possibly work. The attack was katate dori, and when I would try to lead him he just stood there.

    So, I went into the change room and took his wallet and keys out of his jacket. I held them up in the middle of the mat, and when he tried to grab them back I was able to throw him no problem. The Uke needs to have some motivation.

    Of course, when they just try to sit still and not move, then touch’em – hard.

    • I must remember this, haha, I am having the same problem sometimes.

      There are days when the partner just stands there as if it were not our mutual project to train, together. (There’s a big difference when it happens while training with an advanced aikidoka who knows exactly what I am expecting and who, by not obliging, is trying to teach me how to improve my own movements, and when this course of events is due to an unskilled apprentice like myself.) Being a beginner, I am not at least in the position or knowledgeable to instruct, so I get frustrated instead.

      It’s interesting how much it affects my feelings, really. I love to train and normally afterwards, I am energized and, well, quite happy, but at those less fortunate days when I somehow fail to engage my partner to cooperate with me, I feel totally down. Clearly a beginner’s reaction, I know, I haven’t figured it out yet how to deal with this incapacity of mine to animate the partner.

      The wallet will do the trick, though! Thanks for the tip 😉

  15. I think the only time these throws occur “naturally” is when you have an uke engaging in what they think of as a “committed” attack. What I mean by this is that they are running full tilt at nage trying to grab a wrist. Then they cause themselves to fall because they have failed to control their own body during the course of their attack. Nage doesn’t “throw” them, they just change what they are doing so that it startles the uke into a spastic, or worse, completely fake throw:


    When I started training in Wing Chun along with my Aikido, I quickly realized that there are a whole bunch of people out there for which my Aikido would not work. My kung fu brothers would attack with commitment and and effort to not just strike me but disrupt my balance with the strike as well. They practice a type of aiki through striking and engaging incoming strikes (bridging) that I had never encountered before. If I tried one of these “no touch” techniques on them, I would quickly find the space in front of my face filled with several punches. If one of these Wing Chun guys tried to attack a “no touch throw” Aikido guy, the result would be a smashed nose for the Aikido guy. So, my Aikido doesn’t look or feel like it used to, it is far more effective now after over 6 years of Wing Chun training.

    There seems to be no effort to protect their own centerline on the part of nage in these demonstrations. It doesn’t matter because the attacks are so poor that they don’t need to, they are never in any danger of getting hit. A person running at you trying to grab your wrist from 8-10 feet away is not an attack, it’s an invitation to punch the uke in the face. I see no point in training in these things (no touch throws), they will never happen anywhere outside a delusional dojo. No one with the real intention to attack you is going to fall down from 10 feet away just because you waved your hands:


    I don’t dispute that for training purposes, uke must commit to the agreed upon stimulus so that nage can practice the agreed upon response to this stimulus. This may even get slowed down to what I call “Tai Chi speed” until nage can master the body mechanics. This type of training requires a skilled uke that does not anticipate and stop the technique just because they know what’s coming and they have the time to negate it, there must be some cooperation. As nage becomes more skilled the speed can increase, but the key here is that the cooperation on uke’s part should decrease at the same time. If this doesn’t happen, nage doesn’t actually have any skill, they just get good at throwing cooperative ukes at really high speed, which leads to these “no touch” throws. They are illusions. As the speed and skill increase, there should be the real possibility of getting punched in the face. Otherwise, you are not doing martial arts.

    If someone has a video of a skilled attacker getting thrown with one of these “no touch” techniques, I would love to see it. I haven’t seen one yet. By skilled I don’t mean “running full speed to grab someone from 10 feet away”…


  16. A long time ago, I was watching a demonstration by Kushida Sensei (Yoshinkan/Yoshinkai/Yoshokai). He was doing randori with a half dozen uke, some armed with bokken or jo.

    I recall one uke was squarely behind Kushida Sensei and charged him. Kushida turned to face him and the uke tried to stop and his feet ran out from under him and he fell.

    After the demonstration, I sought out the uke (whom I knew) and asked him what happened. He said that the it was the look on Kushida’s face. He thought Sensei was going to kill him.

  17. Jim, my guess is the (no touch throw) is an option for when the right circumstances present themselves and not an automatic counter to every type of attack.

  18. Sean,
    I would not say that a no touch throw was ever “an option” for nage. The reason, from all the examples/reasoning above, is that the “no touch throw” is something UKE does, NOT nage. The minute nage consciously “tries” a no touch throw is when they have crossed the line into thinking they are a Jedi or something. The attacker will likely immediately disprove that delusion.

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