“Aiki Ken and Jo Suburi: Part 3 – Ushiro Tsuki” by James Neiman


This is the 3rd 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, and click here to view all the articles in this series). 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.

Ushiro Tsuki

In this article we examine Ushiro Tsuki, which is the 3rd of the Aiki Jo Suburi in the series known as the Tsuki No Bu. Click here to view a video demonstration of the components of this Suburi. In summary, Ushiro Tsuki is a rear moving thrust, related in important respects to Choku Tsuki, but with a jo thrust to the rear beginning on the left side of the body. Ushiro Tsuki is the first jo suburi in which a rear moving thrust is executed, and involves an alignment of the jo that serves as the basis for more complex movements in later suburi. The exercise requires a fluid combination of movements that can be divided into 3 major sections:

  1. Drop
  2. Align the jo
  3. Transfer momentum in the rear direction
  4. Complete thrust

The movement begins with the jo being held vertically on the left side of the body, in the left hand, while standing in hanmi with the left foot forward and angled slightly. 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. Just as you learned with Choku Tsuki, drop into position, allowing the movement from center and kokyu to naturally bring your right hand to the jo, keeping your right elbow dropped and relaxed to the extent possible. As with Choku Tsuki, this completes the drop movement.

In this particular suburi, you are introduced for the first time to a rear-thrust orientation, and the exercise includes a horizontal alignment of the jo prior to the thrust. To accomplish this, continue to coil your hips and kokyu both hands until the jo is laying against your left forearm and is completely parallel to the ground. The forearm serves as a guide for properly orienting the jo in this exercise. In later suburi this will not happen, so pay great attention to detail with respect to the orientation of your entire body as it reaches this position.

There are numerous teaching and practice opportunities just in these initial moments of the exercise: standing in proper hanmi with alignment and balance, kokyu, coiling the hips, aligning the jo by moving from the center and 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, jo aligned against your left forearm and ready to thrust to the rear, 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 were required to coil your hips even further in order to align the jo.

The next part of the movement takes advantage of the stored energy: staying dropped, begin pushing off the ball of your right foot, opening your right hip, lifting your left foot off the ground, and allowing both hands to kokyu, breathing out slightly. In order to maintain the jo’s parallel orientation to the ground, move from your center and keep your left hand at the same position in front of your body, allowing the wrist and fingers to remain flexible enough to permit the jo to travel toward the rear through space in its parallel orientation and constant height above the ground. You have now begun to transfer the energy of the drop into momentum in the rear direction.

Your left foot transfers backward as your right hip continues to open and you push off the ball of your right foot. Pay close attention to the stillness of your left hand, as it represents the one point in space and enables the efficient, parallel motion of the jo with respect to the ground. Your right hand, already in kokyu, permits the thrust motion to the rear to occur. Your left foot stops its movement and settles into place, and your left hip tucks to absorb and stop your body’s momentum.

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 4 parts of this suburi into a fluid movement, they practice how to use a drop to initiate a movement and transfer gravity into momentum in the rear direction, begin to observe precisely how to execute a straight rear thrust with the jo, begin to think about how to coordinate the internal circular motion from center with the backward linear movement to complete the thrust, and begin to understand how to use one hip to initiate motion while using the other hip to stop the motion and re-establish hanmi. Dynamic body alignment, storing ki, breath, tension, release, coordinated use of both hips, and timing become opportunities for discussion for practitioners at all levels.

There are many potential enriching teaching and practice opportunities here: the movement from hips and center from a dropped position with eyes on what is behind and in front has direct riai to numerous techniques, and contains especially important blending and energy absorption lessons that are well suited for partner practices. For example, students can work in pairs where the uke moves forward with a ryokata grab while the nage absorbs the attack. Another exercise could involve students working in groups of 3, where the nage engages with an uke to the rear while maintaining distancing with an uke in front.

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