O’Sensei developed the Aiki Ken and Jo Suburi, which thankfully have been faithfully preserved and transmitted as excellent forms from which Aikidoka can develop precise technique in both empty-handed taijutsu and weapons partner practices. The basis for the utility of Suburi is the introduction of large external objects that increase visibility and awareness of all aspects of Aikido technique.
At Shugyo Aikido Dojo we teach the Suburi to beginners as part of a standardized curriculum in the traditions passed to us through our lineage with Morihiro Saito Shihan, Hitohiro Saito Shihan, and Pat Hendricks Shihan, and we encourage advanced students to continue exploring the Suburi as a means to deepen competence in all aspects of Aikido.
The Suburi are helpful exercises that enable students to put into meaningful practice their understanding of lines and positioning, develop hanmi, kokyu, and dynamic balance, establish effective movement from center and hips, and work on timing of movement and breath. They are the subatomic particles that comprise our more complex movements, and provide an invaluable opportunity to refine and perfect the innumerable details that go into each technique. The more deeply we explore and live with the Suburi, the greater the connection we find with all forms of Aikido technique. The Aiki Ken and Jo Suburi truly are a magnificent creation by O’Sensei, and his beautiful gift to all of us contains the key and gateway to mastery of the art. The more advanced we become, the more deeply we are invited to explore the Suburi, and the greater the reward of discovery this path offers.
This is the first in a 27-part series on the Aiki Ken and Jo Suburi, and this article and the ones to follow are paired with YouTube video demonstrations of each of the Suburi. These paired demonstrations and articles are offered to Aikidoka who would like to more fully understand the precise mechanics within each of the Suburi, how they can be practiced in both solo and partner settings, and how one can align the Suburi with taijutsu to develop increasing competence and precision with both basic and advanced technique.
In this first article we examine Choku Tsuki, which is the first of the Aiki Jo Suburi in the series known as the Tsuki No Bu. In summary, Choku Tsuki is a forward thrust. Below is a video demonstration of the components of this Suburi.
The exercise requires a fluid combination of movements that can be divided into 3 major sections:
2. Transfer momentum forward
3. Complete thrust
The movement begins with the jo being held vertically in the left hand while standing in hanmi with the left foot forward and angled slightly because of the line represented by the jo. Your right shoulder is back and relaxed. Drop your center by bending your knees while staying in an aligned posture, and while doing this, coil your hips in a counterclockwise rotation. Keep your right hand in basic kokyu and in front of your center, and this movement from your hips and legs will naturally bring your right hand to the jo, allowing you to grab it without reaching for it. There are numerous teaching and practice opportunities just in this initial moment of the exercise: standing in proper hanmi with alignment and balance, kokyu, coiling the hips, and breathing in are individual activities that can be directed in a structured series of activities.
You now have a lower center of gravity, in hanmi and on the balls of your feet, with your hips coiled, knees bent, and lungs filled with air. There is a lot of energy stored in this position, just waiting to be released. This is the drop.
The second part of the movement takes advantage of this stored energy: staying dropped, lift your left foot off the ground, pushing off your right foot, opening your right hip, and breathing out slightly. Your left foot transfers forward. Meanwhile, keeping your fingers loose with your hands and arms in kokyu, keep your left hand in front of center in kokyu and allow the right hand to slide along the jo. Again there are teaching and practice opportunities here: it is especially significant that releasing the hips can result in a linear movement, and there can be discussion about the kinetic chain required to transfer the muscle tension into forward movement.
You are now in an intermediate lunge position with your right hand slightly behind your right hip and the left hand still in front of you. The jo is in an upward slant as the thrust has been initiated but not yet completed. You have begun to breathe outward and uncoil your hips.
Keeping your left hand at the same height above the ground (and staying dropped to allow this), bring your right foot forward to a position behind your left foot to regain hanmi. Meanwhile, expel all the air in your lungs and contract the muscles throughout your abdomen and core, simultaneously allowing the momentum to help guide your right hand to a position slightly in front of your left ribs so the jo is parallel to the ground. Both hands should end up in a solid grip with the knuckle of each index finger on top of the jo. This completes the thrust motion.
At this point there is opportunity to discuss the timing of the breath as well as the degree of tension required in the hands and arms relative to the moment of impact. In addition, when students combine all 3 parts of the suburi into a fluid movement, they begin to discover how to use a drop to initiate a movement and transfer gravity into forward momentum, and how to coordinate the impact with regaining their hanmi. Body alignment and fitness become critically important as you draw awareness to the body dynamics required to execute the movement.
At various points in this exercise, it can also be useful to put the jo down and do the same movements with hands in kokyu and in front of center. This can initially be done in front of a mirror for solo practice. Then students can face each other in pairs and move toward each other together, observing each other and working together. Groups of students can work together in an 8-directional practice, from both left and right hanmi. There are also opportunities to show the relationship between the components of this suburi and forward moving taijutsu or even atemi, which can be added to the partner and group practices.
April 19, 2012
James Neiman, 4th Dan Aikikai