“Morihiro Saito on the classification of Aikido techniques,” by Stanley Pranin

“There are about 600 techniques in aikido. There are basics,
ki no nagare, oyowaza and henkawaza.” — Morihiro Saito

Over the past several years Aikido Journal has released a series of DVDs titled “The Lost Seminars” featuring Morihiro Saito Sensei based on seminars he conducted abroad during the 1980s and 90s. In preparing the videotapes for publication, we have added over 10,000 subtitles that record Saito Sensei’s comments during these events. In the many hours of seminar footage, Saito Sensei explains and demonstrates hundreds of techniques that he learned from the Founder in the postwar period through O-Sensei’s death in 1969.

It is interesting to note that Saito Sensei would often provide more detailed technical sequences and unusual techniques during these foreign seminars that he would seldom have time to demonstrate in Iwama. Thus these DVDs taken as a whole constitute an invaluable catalog of aikido techniques from O-Sensei’s Iwama years. In addition, Saito Sensei periodically makes comments that contain pearls of wisdom that unlock a deeper understanding of the art. Here is a gem from one of the videos where Saito Sensei describe aikido’s vast repertoire of techniques:

There are about 600 techniques in aikido. There are basics, ki no nagare, oyowaza and henkawaza. Oyowaza are basic techniques applied to different circumstances. Henkawaza are techniques that are modified midstream to suit changed circumstances. If the technique is going smoothly, and you then change to something else, it is not a henkawaza.

I find this an elegant way of classifying the huge body of aikido techniques. While the differences between basic and ki no nagare techniques are normally easy to comprehend, many people have found it difficult to grasp the distinction between oyowaza and henkawaza. According to Saito Sensei’s explanation, oyowaza are aikido basics applied to circumstances outside the scope of the basic curriculum. They can therefore be understood as “applied” or “advanced” techniques. Henkawaza, literally, “changed techniques,” are modified methods used when it becomes necessary to adapt the execution of a technique to changed circumstances. Stated in more plain terms, henkawaza are what you do when you flub a technique!

There are many more of Saito Sensei’s comments worthy of close scrutiny on the “Lost Seminars” DVDs. If I had access to such materials early in my aikido career, it would have been a tremendous boon. Do check out the descriptions of these wonderful visual materials in our catalog. Several of the DVDs include sample video footage that will give you a good idea of their contents.


  1. In the movie set “Reclaiming The Blade” there is a companion disc of out-takes and such. Among them is a section on training routines. In that is a segment called “Standing On A Stone”. I would take it that the teacher is probably ex SAS or something of the sort. There are other interesting elements of the companion volume. They show the making of a GOOD European sword, There are some good segments in the training segment titled “half swording” which will be familiar to Saito students. That one little subchapter, Standing On A Stone, to me, is worth the cost of the movie.

    In watching I am again reminded that the human body is what it is. I love the segment within Standing on a Stone called “Windows and Gifts” in which the teacher evolves techniques on the fly using the weaknesses of the human frame and posture. What distinguishes aikido, to me and beside my long allegiance to it, is its fairly seamless integration of those opportunities across its spectrum.

    This comes to the point of oyowaza or henkawaza. IF all goes to plan, you have oyowaza. If, by contrast and much more normally in the course of human conflict, things DON’T go to plan, then you may be in henkawaza. …if you’re not in kaeshiwaza…

    For teaching purposes it is important to have an orderly categorization of techniques, but conflict is disorderly. I teach all grabs as controlling techniques, the master of them all, imo, is morote dori which can quickly become a pinning technique, or even a transport technique. So, if you are working one of our named or numbered aikido techniques from morote dori, is that kaeshiwaza? In all techniques there are transitions or “corners” which may offer opportunities to reverse. The reverses in turn probably have transitions or corners… Gets confusing; a bit like M C Escher. So, when I get mixed up (frequently), I’m lucky that my foundation is Saito Sensei’s orderly system.


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