Archives for August 2011


“Exploring the Founder’s Aikido,” by Stanley Pranin

Aikido Founder Morihei Ueshiba (1883-1969)

“The Founder’s art was truly magical.”

One of the realizations I came to fairly early in my career of researching the origins of aikido is the fact that few teachers of aikido today are aware of the specifics of the Founder’s art. More so than Morihei Ueshiba, aikido pioneers in the postwar era such as Kenji Tomiki, Gozo Shioda, Kisshomaru Ueshiba, Koichi Tohei, Morihiro Saito, Seigo Yamaguchi, Michio Hikitsuchi and others are the key figures that have left the strongest imprint on the way the art is practiced today.

Morihei Ueshiba’s teaching methodology that was out of synch with postwar Japanese society, his strong religious orientation, his frequent travels and irregular schedule made it difficult for most of his students to receive in-depth instruction from the Founder. To this can be added the fact that aikido developed and spread in Japan during an era of peace that later blossomed into a time of unprecedented economic prosperity. In such a societal setting devoid of the constant specter of war and a sense of physical danger, aikido training in a period of peace lacked the intensity and focus of the uneasy times of the prewar era. Also, the practice of judo and kendo was widespread before the war and taught in school. This meant that those students who learned from O-Sensei in the prewar era had a much better level of physical and mental preparation when embarking on their training compared to those after the war.

To be sure, there have been some excellent technicians and inspiring teachers during aikido’s early years of growth starting in the 1950s. There have been those, too, who have spoken of the moral dimension of aikido and its role as a vehicle for the betterment of individuals and society. Nonetheless, the hyperawareness, sharpness, and unbridled exuberance displayed by the Founder while demonstrating his art can hardly be seen anywhere. In a similar vein, the Founder’s religious perspective and view of himself as an instrument of the “kami” whose purpose is to realize peace and brotherhood on earth is too grandiose a vision for most aikido teachers who see themselves mainly as providing self-defense and exercise training for the public.

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“Interview with Mariye Takahashi (2)” by Stanley Pranin

This interview contains one of the most vivid descriptions of the spiritual side of Aikido Founder Morihei Ueshiba. It is a first-hand account of the Founder entering a trance state and speaking directly with the Kami. You have never read anything like this. – Editor

“I could see him so clearly, standing there outside the door, bathed in the electric light from inside the room, as dignified, resolute and noble as ever. Besides his strong personal “presence,” he also struck me as being very large physically, standing there filling the whole doorway as if a giant rock had suddenly appeared there. The space around him seemed strange, as if filled with a vacuum, overlaid by a kind of rich tension, looking nothing like the hallway of an inn. I even heard my ears ring with a bell-like sound I never heard before. He said, “Mariko, it’s dark out here; let me in!” so I answered, “Yes, of course, please come in.”

I remember seeing him there so clearly, in every detail, even down to his white tabi socks. At that moment, I suddenly felt like I was losing my balance, like I’d suddenly fallen under the influence of some sort of strange “universal gravitation.” It was like I’d run into a massive wall made of particles of wind. For an instant is was as if some intangible “wave-motion” was pushing toward me, like a kind of air pressure, but not the result of any kind of actual wind. It so affected me that I could barely stand up and I even felt like I might actually fall over backwards! I sort of tottered there for a bit, trying to regain my balance. I also wondered briefly why, in spite of all the aikido training I’d been doing, I was having such a hard time maintaining my center. And of course I felt even more pathetic and embarrassed with O-Sensei standing there watching me the whole time as I stumbled around.

Finally I think one of my knees touched the mat. The dimensions of time and space were so strange that I became totally disoriented. At that time I ended up in a fetal position and began to feel really sick. I slowly began to fall sidewise. Involuntarily, my head fell to my chest. I tried to raise it to the normal position but it was just impossible. Not only was my head heavy, I felt like some kind of massive power was over my neck giving me the feeling of being cut open. My body was continuing to fall and was getting closer to the floor. Then I saw out of the corner of my eye O-Sensei dashing into the room to my aid to support my body and help me into a seated position.”

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“Improvisations: Aiki is not Always Pretty,” by Ellis Amdur

According to the party line in the “soft” martial arts, we lead our opponents in the direction of their intentions and desires; therefore, aikido is nonviolent because we don’t “interfere” with what they are trying to do. Somehow, though, I never quite grasped the idea that my opponent was attacking me with a plea to be wristlocked into nikyo, or flung ass-over-tea-kettle in a kokyunage throw. OK, I’m being flippant; aikido is not so intellectually vulgar. Yeah, yeah, it is instead an embodiment of principle, of the smooth and economical resolution of conflict—of doing, as the Buddhist precept requires, no unnecessary harm.

However, that pretty caveat notwithstanding, how do we harmonize with something truly immoral, absolutely chaotic, or genuinely vile? One way out, of course, is to stand on morality—when an act or intent crosses certain lines, then the harmonious act, the act of love, is that which stops the beast dead in his tracks. I confess I’ve used that argument myself. Yet it is easy, then, to slip into the stance of what I call “God’s Own Sheriff,” where I believe my spirit to be untainted and righteous, and so I don my badge and my cloak, and with my trustworthy MAC-10 machine pistol firmly clasped in my fist, restore harmony far more efficiently than with iriminage and kokyuho… and in far greater numbers too! I could hop in my car and drive downtown on Righteous Street, shoot a couple of drug pushers spreading poison to young children, take a left on Ideology Avenue and plug a few corrupt politicians, and finally after a few rights on a winding course on the Road to Good Intentions, dead-end in the suburbs and shoot a child molester right between the eyes. Now there’s some harmony we can all sing along to!

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“Interview with Rorion Gracie,” by James Williams and Stanley Pranin

Few martial artists, whether in the United States or abroad, have not heard of Gracie Jiu-Jitsu. The ability of the Gracie brothers to work successfully against fighters of many various styles is exceptional. Even more impressive is the fact that they seldom seriously injure an opponent, even one who is obviously attempting to cause them harm. The Gracies’ soft, blending approach has much in common with aiki, yet they have avoided the temptation to make their style harder in order to deal with actual conditions, either in the ring or on the street.

I first came to know the Gracie family in the late 1980s. My brother-in-law, Chris Poznik, had begun training with the Gracies and spoke highly of their style of Jiu-Jitsu. [Note: We have used “Jiu-Jitsu” as the spelling of “jujutsu” in this article as it is the preferred spelling of the Gracie family] Chris and I had wrestled in college together and I respected his opinion. Determined to find out just what these Brazilians had that was so special, I made an appointment for a private lesson. At the time the dojo was in the garage of Rorion Gracie’s home. I found Rorion to be about my height, slender and very polite. The ensuing session convinced me of the viability of the Gracie system. The fact that I was bigger and stronger, with extensive wrestling and martial arts experience, did not prevent me from ending up in several submission holds. Most of the time I had no idea how I had placed myself in the predicament. While I sweated and strained, Rorion remained calm and polite. His breathing never seemed to change. When the session was done I was quite impressed both with the practicality and sophistication of the art as well as the calm courteous demeanor of Rorion. As I bowed to him to end the class I was surprised to hear him say, “No, no, James. We are both men here. You don’t bow to me.” A firm handshake ended the lesson.
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RESULTS – FOUR DIAMONDS 1024 Win a free e-book competition.

FOUR DIAMONDS 1024 Win a free e-book competition.

The answer is 4 – Counters receiving any technique into Ikkyo

The first technique is converted into Sankyo instead of Ikkyo.

The first winners with correct answers were:

* Miklos Kanyo

* Robin Karlsson

* Lee Wood  and * Andrew Pratt came in together so both received a copy of the e-book.

The competition is now closed.

Thank you to all participants.

Quite a few people also said 2 but if you look carefully the techniques do in fact get transitioned into Ikkyo. Even though for example the elements of the previous technique remain, the focus of ki is on the main technique which in this case is Ikkyo. Adjacent Techniques will have to be the subject of another book, chapter or at least a blog article.

Best wishes,
Nev Sagiba


  1. Transitions from Ikkyo to other techniques
  2. Transitions from any technique into Ikkyo
  3. Counters receiving Ikkyo into other techniques
  4. Counters receiving any technique into Ikkyo
  5. Ikkyo variable counters
  6. Ikkyo variable counters and some transitions
“Now an e-book:
FOUR DIAMONDS 1024 – Basic Transitions and Counters of Aikido

by Nev Sagiba

4 Diamonds 1024  - The Book

Get the e-book: "FOUR DIAMONDS 1024, Basic Transitions and Counters of Aikido"

The ability to adjust seamlessly between techniques defines mastery. In most cases, this essential attribute of Aikido has been either ignored or guessed at. This book not only reveals the innate simplicity behind the apparent complexity of Aikido Transitions and Counters, but it provides a full spectrum of possibilities for practicing. Here it is, simplified in drills of two techniques. When you can do these drills easily, you will be able to effect spontaneous responses to any attack. If you know your basic techniques this book is recommended and will enrich your Aikido. FOUR DIAMONDS 1024, provides complete sets of exercise drill guidelines to enable exploration of the available range of basic transitions and counters and unlock their potentials.


Each Moment Made New – Can You Really Prepare For Class?

For the student, preparing for class should be total.

For the instructor the same.

You are going into unexpected territory. Each time unique as if into battle. Indeed the battle is with your self, the unconsciousness.

Each moment is entirely new. As in the ocean, nothing appears predictable other than those predispositions which are. The rest is to be found in the principles of navigation. Skill in action. The ability to notice and to respond.

Nothing in existence is exempt. The wise choose to address such skill in advance by way of training methodologies or Do that better animate those attributes of consciousness, the body-mind connection, that in awakening and refining, enables far better navigation and strategic skills than in those who choose to remain unconscious and blunderbuss through existence. Blind unconsciousness merely adds harm in the world. Mastery of life and self is found in the developing of skills that bring one closer to impeccable than the day before.
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“Kyuzo Mifune, Master of Judo,” by Robert Noha

Kyuzo Mifune (1883-1965)

This is the first in a series of articles on the teachings of master martial artists from arts other than aikido. They have proven useful in my aikido training and teaching. Our own training experiences, teachings from O-Sensei, his students and our own teachers will always form the core of our aikido. But we stand on the shoulders of the giants from previous generations, not all of them from aikido. I am offering these perspectives in the hope they will be of value to you as they have been to me.

Each article will start with a brief sketch of the teacher’s life. Next, will be a discussion of an aspect of his teaching that I have found helpful. The conclusion will be some suggestions on how to apply the teaching to your own practice.

The first teacher to be profiled is Kyuzo Mifune, judo 10th dan and author of the classic book, Canon of Judo (Seibundo-Shinkosha Publishing Co. LTD., Tokyo 1956).

His Life

Kyuzo Mifune Sensei was born on April 21, 1883 in Kuji City, in Northern Honshu and died on January 27, 1965. He entered the Kodokan in 1903. He attended Keio University and majored in economics. In his early life, he supported himself through the creation and publication of a highly successful local newspaper, but judo was his passion. By age 30, he was already a 6th dan and on May 25, 1945 he became only the fourth person (up to that time) to be promoted to 10th dan. He taught at the Kodokan, where he became the chief instructor and at numerous universities, police departments and military academies. He received many awards including the Order of the Rising Sun from the Japanese government. Prof. Mifune was active in judo throughout his life, including acting as a referee in the Tokyo Olympics, in 1964, less than a year before his death.

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“O-Sensei: Concretizing the Myth,” by Stanley Pranin

Every movement attaining the significance and manifesting the size and vitality of Aikido must have some charismatic individual or core group as its focal point. Aikido is of course no exception as the Founder, Morihei Ueshiba, was a man of extraordinary dimensions. Recently, I have been reflecting on the complex attraction that 0-Sensei holds for most Aikidoists who have been exposed to his accomplishments.

Although I am not equipped to provide an in-depth psychological portrait of O-Sensei, it is clear from even a cursory reading of his biography that he was a man who was driven. Small and weak as a boy and an only son, he felt a need to prove himself from an early age. His feelings of inferiority supplied the drive and tenacity with which he was to pursue his every goal. Despite the fact that the early focus of his energies was on becoming strong and acquiring technical prowess, he later explored with equal intensity the realm of the spirit which eventually left an indelible stamp of humanity on his Aikido a mark which was to lift the concept of martial arts to new ethical heights.

As we contemplate his genius, however, what concretely constitutes the object of our fascination with the man? Let me offer my impressions. First, there was O-Sensei’s ability to dominate the physical reality characterizing the attack-defense sequence. This is naturally not meant to imply that mental or spiritual elements were absent in the application of his technique; indeed they were present. Yet, what is most patently obvious is that a seemingly impotent little old man was able to control and direct the energy of his powerful young attackers. And as if this were not remarkable enough, he succeeded in exercising his mastery without inflicting injury on his opponent. His techniques were round and flowing and his philosophy imbued with love. His debt to the martial figures who preceded him was unquestionable and yet his art contained something fundamentally new. It offered a glimmer of a new possibility, a new solution to the “zero-sum” game played by man from time immemorial. A refusal to do battle while emerging unscathed from the battlefield.

For those who believe martial arts require brute force, he demonstrated the gentle irresistibility of his technique. For those who imply they are too old to train and improve he moved with child-like grace and energy into his eighties.

O-Sensei was a man of passion who achieved a state of serenity. There was an aura of mystery enveloping his art, something perceived as unattainable by those who view him as a god while offering great promise for those who view him as a man.


Excellence in technique: Shoji Nishio Slideshow


“Spendid technique and clear instruction!”

Shoji Nishio Sensei is one of the leading Aikido instructors of the postwar era. Early in his career, Nisho found the Aikido instruction he was receiving to be inadequate, and engaged in crosstraining in karate, iaido, and jojutsu. In this sense, he was inspired by the example of Aikido Founder Morihei Ueshiba who had wide-ranging skills that included weapons that he incorporated into aikido.

Shoji Nishio will guide you through everything you need to learn to improve the martial effectiveness of your technique!

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“Aikido and the Spine,” by Bartłomiej Gajowiec

I think we are finally at the point of concluding our description of the body parts and now we can concentrate on the spine. The spine is a no man’s land that has been explored by many, and explained erroneously in so many ways it is hard to believe. My conclusions will be questionable to some, but I am not simply gazing into a witch’s crystal ball. I would defend them because my patients show me the correctness of these findings. Nature defends itself. There is just one physiology, one anatomy; we will not invent anything revolutionary.

Let me divide my deductions into several parts:

1. A mechanical analysis of the spine and a quick look at its five parts
2. The role of the spine in autonomic body function
3. Aikido and the spine
4. Pain and aikido

From the mechanical point of view, the human spine is a system of pivots, shock absorbers, and propelling devices. The range of movement of particular spine parts depends on the shapes of the relevant articular surfaces that determine its mobility.
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Preface to “Yurusu Budo,” by Shoji Nishio

Shoji Nishio, Aikido's Innovate Genius

“I consider aikido a morally principled ‘Yurusu
Budo,’ that is, a “Budo of acceptance…”

A number of people have suggested over the years that I publish a book. So far I have always refrained from doing so for several reasons. First, I have always considered myself simply another follower on the path, in a position neither to serve as a model for others nor to assert my views on budo technique.

However, having grown older, and having already mourned the passing of such teachers as Seigo Yamaguchi, who held my highest respect from the very beginning of my aikido career, and Morihiro Saito, who worked so tirelessly to transmit the Founder’s aikido in its purest possible form, I began to consider what will happen to aikido from this point on.

Aikido is a “budo, a “martial way,and therefore inextricably rooted in “jujutsu” or “martial technique.” Yet when I look at the aikido world today, I see very little “budo-ness” being expressed in technique, and I wonder if people haven’t begun to forget these important roots. While people often say things like, “Aikido is sword technique…,” and “throws and pins are actually strikes…,” there is rarely any explanation of such ideas. There are even some who claim that aikido has no need for things like striking and weapons techniques. In many settings these days, aikido is becoming little more than a kind of health exercise pursued by the elderly, and women and children.

It was in light of these considerations that Aiki News editor Stanley Pranin once again approached me to publish a book, and I finally agreed with the caveat that I would simply be expressing my own thoughts on training. I often tell people who come to train with me my view that the value of a budo is determined through comparison with other budo; even if you’ve superficially mastered techniques like ikkyo and nikyo, these are pointless unless you can make them work in the context of other budo. Judo, kendo and karate all have their own strong points and we must study these too. Budo techniques are not permanent and unchanging; if other things change, then naturally budo change in response. What does not change, of course, is the spirit of aikido as it was taught to us by the Founder.

As the goal of my training I have always strived to realize even one of the Founder’s teachings. He taught, for example, about a certain universality inherent in aikido: with a sword this technique becomes a sword technique; with a jo it becomes a jo technique; it can become all things. He also said, “the conflict is finished even before first contact is made.” Such teachings are the kinds of things I have strived to study in the course of my daily training.

The result, while still imperfect and incomplete, is that I am now able to express my everyday empty-handed aikido training using the sword (ken) and staff (jo).

Before starting aikido I had dabbled in both karate and judo. When I later heard it said that “aikido is the sword,” I took up studying swordsmanship as well. My subsequent practice has confirmed that idea, to the extent that I now doubt it is possible to understand aikido fully without some understanding of swordsmanship.

The sword in Japan has an undeniably bloody history. The sword of aikido, however, steps back from that use of the Japanese sword as an implement of death and attempts instead to restore it to its true, original nature: namely, as an ideal tool for rectifying that which is wrong in the world, for cutting a path by which humanity can live, and for perfecting the self.

Nowadays, I strive to use my aiki sword and jo to control my opponent from the moment just before contact would have been made between our weapons, attempting from there to embody forms in which cutting is superseded by mutual coexistence. In this sense, I consider aikido a morally principled “Yurusu Budo,” that is, a “Budo of acceptance, and a manifestation of what the Founder meant when he said that “aikido is a path of loving and protecting, generating and forming, and bearing and cultivating everything in the universe.”

Before the Founder passed away thirty-four years ago he told us, “This old man has brought [aikido] this far; all of you must take it from here.” In light of these words, I think it is insufficient–unforgivable, in fact–for us to simply maintain the status quo.

I don’t think budo is something that can really be understood by reading books or watching videos; true comprehension can only come through actual experience. Accordingly, putting it all into words here will undoubtedly make for difficult reading. Nonetheless, I offer this publication in hopes that subsequent generations of aikidoists may find it of some small use, both as a genuine view of budo and as a pointer toward some of the worthwhile forms that aikido training might take.

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Black Belt Interview with Koichi Tohei, November 1965, in Los Angeles, California

Koichi Tohei during 1965 Black Belt interview

The interview linked here is a rare conversation with Koichi Tohei Sensei, 10th dan, conducted during the summer of 1965 in Los Angeles during his USA tour. At that time, the publisher of Black Belt magazine was its founder, Mito Uyehara, a practitioner at the Los Angeles Aikikai.

“I definitely keep my one point at all times. If you do it only in the dojo, you cannot develop your ki because the training you receive in the dojo is too short. Only an hour or two a day is not enough. You must do it until it becomes a part of you and you do it naturally – unconsciously like breathing. Too many beginners do not really understand and keep concentrating on the one point (a point 2 inches below your navel) almost in a physical manner. They look at their expanded bellies and think they are doing it right. They do not understand they must concentrate, not intensively, but calmly.”

“The most important concept of Aikido training is applying it to daily life. Aikido teaches you to relax and that alone is beneficial. I wrote a book recently entitled How to Apply Aikido Principles to Your Daily Life.”
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