This is the second in a 27-part series on the Aiki Ken and Jo Suburi presented by James Neiman, Dojo Cho of Shugyo Aikido Dojo, where martial arts instruction in Union City, California is offered. All the articles are paired with YouTube video demonstrations of each of the Suburi (click here to subscribe to the channel). 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 article we examine Kaeshi Tsuki, which is the second of the Aiki Jo Suburi in the series known as the Tsuki No Bu. Below is a video demonstration of the components of this Suburi.
In summary, Kaeshi Tsuki is a forward moving thrust, related in important respects to Choku Tsuki, but with a reversed grip in the right hand that results in the practice of a spiral motion through space. The exercise requires a fluid combination of movements that can be divided into 3 major sections:
- Transfer momentum forward and initiate spiral from center
- 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. While you are dropping into position, begin with your right hand in basic kokyu, and rotate it counterclockwise until your fingers are pointing to the left. The movement from your hips and legs will naturally bring your right hand to the jo, allowing you to grab it without reaching for it, keeping your right elbow dropped and relaxed to the extent possible. Your right hand will grip the jo in reverse position compared to that of Choku Tsuki, and you will feel tension throughout your right arm from this rotated position. 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, understanding the implications of the right hand grip on the jo, 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, right hand in reverse grip, knees bent, and lungs filled with air. There is a lot of energy stored in this position both in the upper and lower body, just waiting to be released. This storage of energy is more extensive than what you practiced in Choku Tsuki, because you have stored ki in your center that will be released in a spiral motion. This is the drop.
The second part of the movement takes advantage of the stored energy: staying dropped, lift your left foot off the ground, pushing off your right foot, opening your right hip, and releasing your right hand to begin returning to your hip, breathing out slightly. Your left foot transfers forward. Meanwhile, the release of tension in your right arm will naturally cause it to uncoil your wrist and drop your elbow, and the right hand will naturally travel toward your right hip. Observe the front tip of the jo, which begins a large spiral motion through space. This spiral motion is dependent on the left hand, representing the one point in Aikido, which remains still in front of your body and serves as a center of rotation for the tip of the jo. Again there are many potential enriching teaching and practice opportunities here: the involvement of the right arm allows the student to see a spiral of decreasing radius moving forward through space, has direct riai to numerous techniques, and is connected to movement from the hips and center.
You are now in an intermediate lunge position with your right hand having progressed toward your right hip and the left hand still in front of you. The jo has begun a large spiral as it has completed a partial turn while you moved forward, and the thrust has been initiated but not yet completed. You have begun to breathe outward and uncoil your hips and right arm in a coordinated release of tension.
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 your right index finger on top of the jo and your left hand in a reverse grip compared to that of Choku Tsuki. This completes the thrust motion, and you will observe that the spiral motion of the jo narrowed to a single point in space. This is a deeply meaningful thing to observe: a circle of large radius, moving forward through space, contracts to a circle of zero radius. From a large initial and energetic movement, you have moved to the one point now observed in the stillness of space. This is a moment of profound meaning and beauty, and one of the hallmarks of Aikido. It is worth enjoying!
.At this point there is opportunity to discuss the timing of the breath as well as the degree of tension required throughout the entire body relative to the moment of impact. When students combine all 3 parts of this suburi into a fluid movement, they practice how to use an even greater drop than with Choku Tsuki to initiate a movement and transfer gravity into forward momentum, begin to observe that the jo’s spiral motion reflects a circular motion within the body’s center, and begin to think about how to coordinate the internal circular motion from center with the forward linear movement to complete the thrust and regain hanmi. Dynamic body alignment, storing ki, breath, tension, release, and timing become opportunities for discussion for practitioners at all levels.
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 work together and practice related empty-handed taijutsu, such as kata dori techniques. The circular motion within the body can result in pivoting exercises as well, and groups of students can work together in an 8-directional practice, from both left and right hanmi.