Archives for May 2012


The Forgiving Martial Art: Shoji Nishio’s “Aikido — Yurusu Budo” now an ebook!

“O-Sensei’s thinking was great. He made a tremendous change from
the former unforgiving, lethal martial arts to a ‘forgiving martial art.’”

This 208-page technical volume is written by one of the greatest teachers of the postwar era, Shoji Nishio Sensei. This is Nishio Sensei’s first book and is presented in bilingual, Japanese-English format for an international readership. This beautiful volume contains hundreds of technical photos illustrating Nishio Sensei’s empty-handed techniques along with detailed explanations and commentary on their interrelationships with the ken and jo, and the deeper principles of aikido.

Aikido — Yurusu Budo offers a comprehensive look at Nishio Aikido and covers the key principles of his art through the presentation of gyakuhanmi, aihanmi katatedori, sodedori, katadori menuchi, shomenuchi, and yokomenuchi techniques. Both empty-handed versions as well as techniques using the sword and staff are presented.
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“Keeping It With You: The Hardest Part of Training,” by Gary Ohama

“Keeping it with you; now that’s the hardest part of training. Not losing it. Having it there when you have to use it.”

This was the response from life-long martial artist Norman Carr (Shotokan and Doshinkan Aikido(1).) We were discussing the benefits of physically “hard” training, sort of reminiscently. The normative age of this Black Belt class was around sixty years old. Realistically speaking, throws and breakfalls are now a long-term disability should anything go wrong. (Plus, it seems to take quite a long time just to get back up!) As martial artists an injury directly jeopardizes our ability to protect ourselves and loved ones. We will have defeated ourselves in this primary aspect of martial art training. As advanced Black Belts we really don’t need to do the breakfalls, or the throws, whether practically speaking or symbolically.

Our martial art quest of “continually seeking” required that we maintain our effectiveness despite the natural aging process. We are still looking forward, and not back. Our path took us to what many proclaim as the correct way to go. We went to internal methods. Our dojo has gone to a more intense emphasis on internal and breath methods.

The training is no longer anywhere near as physical as in our younger days. Yet we are more effective, not less. We have proved for ourselves the adage of internal benefits: we are now faster, more balanced, and more powerful than before. (Norman still is doing no problem, full-speed Aikido against Tae Kwan Do practitioners.) The essence of what we have discovered is that “the forms are fairly easy to duplicate, the path of creativity is not.” (2)

In practice it is very rare to execute a technique at 100% speed, power, or technique. Practice training is done in a manner that permits a breakfall or a tapping out release to occur. In the dojo there isn’t the likelihood of an unexpected attack. Remaining in an alert “condition red” is easy to do for the few hours of a practice session. Plus the initial response to the fear factor of a sudden violent encounter/trauma can’t be duplicated in the safety of the training atmosphere and circle of training partners.
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Morihiro Saito: Takemusu Aikido, Volume 3 — Basics Concluded, now an ebook

“Rounding out your basics with Kaitennage, Koshinage, Tenchinage, Jujinage, and more!”

Takemusu Aikido: Basics Concluded is the third volume of this comprehensive series presenting the aikido of Morihei Ueshiba O-Sensei. Volume 3 covers the following series of techniques: koshinage, tenchinage, kaitennage, jujinage, morotedori kokyuho and suwariwaza kokyuho. This work is profusely illustrated with more than 500 photos and includes detailed, step-by-step explanations of each technique. Bilingual, Japanese and English.

Morihiro Saito, 9th dan, is one of aikido’s most highly acclaimed teachers and was active for 56 years in the art. He was one of the founder Ueshiba’s closest students and operated Ueshiba’s country dojo in Iwama, Ibaragi Prefecture while serving as caretaker of the Aiki Shrine. Saito is well-known internationally due to his numerous technical works and frequent instructional that which took him to more than twenty countries.

From Morihiro Saito’s Introduction:

It has been twenty-seven years since the passing of the founder and today many different styles of aikido exist. The result has been that teachers have taught freely based on their individual ways of thinking.

Of course, it is a fine thing for instructors to teach based on their own ideas. However, I am compelled to feel somewhat uncomfortable that such a situation will result in confusion over the nature of the aikido that the founder laboriously formulated over a lifetime. The reason is that today in aikido there are those who do not recognize the validity of weapons techniques employing the aiki ken and aiki jo. Moreover, there are some whose aikido techniques are very different from those of the founder. There remains little trace of his genius in this kind of aikido.

As a direct student of the founder and the person in charge of his personal dojo, I constantly remind myself of my responsibility to faithfully transmit his teachings as I instruct my students. For this reason, the Takemusu Aikido technical series being published by Aiki News is very important to me. I sincerely hope that Volume 3 will be of some help to those who cannot participate in my seminars or those who are unable to come here to Iwama to learn.

Morihiro Saito
Ibaragi Dojo, March 1996


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“The Virtues of Aikido,” by Stanley Pranin

The popularity of aikido both in Japan and abroad is a post-World War II phenomenon. Early students of Founder Morihei Ueshiba such as Koichi Tohei, Kisshomaru Ueshiba, Gozo Shioda, Kenji Tomiki and others, followed by their students in turn, were mainly responsible for the growth of the art on an international scale.

What factors are responsible for aikido’s broad appeal? Many people observing the art for the first time comment on the beauty and gracefulness of aikido techniques. The attacker is thrown in a seemingly effortless manner yet suffers no apparent harm from the encounter. The promise of a self-defense art that protects the individual while sparing the aggressor is an attractive concept in philosophical and moral terms in a world where the specter of warfare seems ever present. Aikido’s ethical basis appeals to man’s deep-seated instinct for survival. At the same time, the art provides a unique alternative to the violent techniques of other martial arts—techniques that elicit moral repugnance in many.

On a physical level, aikido has much to offer for the health conscious. The accumulated benefits produced by warm-up, stretching, throwing and falling exercises are considerable. Many practitioners have undergone dramatic physical transformations through aikido training on their way to a fitness lifestyle.

The social milieu that develops in aikido dojos is an important part, too, of the training experience for many practitioners. Aikido tends to draw from a wide age range and students continue longer than practitioners of arts centered on competition, primarily the domain of young people. Also, I think it would be accurate to say that, as a percentage, aikido has a higher ratio of female participants than any other martial art. All of this contributes to a strong sense of community. For many students of aikido, the dojo is an extension of or even a substitute for their family.

Aikido: the non-martial art

For all of the positive benefits of aikido training, the art has not yet realized its great potential as a social force for promoting harmony among peoples. Although the relationship may not appear obvious, I think this is due in large part to the art’s distancing itself from its martial roots. It is the martial atmosphere of the dojo setting that allows students to develop real-world skills and elevates the level of training beyond that of a mere health system. The neglect of the martial side of aikido can be explained in part by historical circumstances.

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Free PDF download: Koichi Tohei’s 1974 Letter of Resignation from the Aikikai Hombu Dojo

“I have tried with all my heart to repay the kindness of Master
Morihei Ueshiba who founded and taught me Aikido.”

In May, 1974, an event occurred that shook the roots of the aikido world to its very foundations. It was then that Koichi Tohei, the chief instructor of the Aikikai Hombu Dojo, resigned from his post and left the headquarters organization to form his own school. Many aikido associations, dojos, instructors, and students, particularly in Japan and the U.S.A., were compelled to make a choice of whether to stay within the Aikikai system or join Tohei’s newly-created Shin Shin Toitsu Aikido organization.

Here is the background to the story. In 1969, Morihei Ueshiba officially awarded 10th dan rank—the first ever—to Koichi Tohei. Following Ueshiba’s death, Tohei’s attempts to have the Aikikai Hombu Dojo instructors’ staff adopt his teaching methods which emphasized the principle of Ki were unsuccessful. He proceeded to set up the Ki no Kenkyukai (Ki Research Society) on his own in September 1971. On 1 May 1974, Tohei finally resigned from the Aikikai after several years of strained relations with Doshu Kisshomaru Ueshiba and other Aikikai teachers. At the same time, he founded the Shin Shin Toitsu Aikidokai (Society for Aikido with Mind and Body Coordinated).

On May 15, 1974, he sent a widely-distributed letter in Japanese and English versions to hundreds of dojo heads in Japan and abroad explaining the reasons for his severance of ties with the Aikikai Hombu Dojo. This letter, in which Tohei details his reasons for leaving the Aikikai, has only been seen by a few people over the years and has largely been forgotten. Anyone attempting to understand these pivotal events in aikido history will find this document to be invaluable as Tohei expresses in his own words his version of the events that transpired.

After preserving this letter for nearly four decades in our archives, we are now releasing it to the general public as a free PDF download.

Click here to signup for free download of Koichi Tohei Letter of Resignation


“Another Yoga miracle story!,” by Stanley Pranin

Readers may remember I wrote a blog last year about my experience with yoga and how it has allowed me to manage chronic back pain and continue my aikido training at a reasonably vigorous level. I even recorded a video where I demonstrate how I have modified my aikido warmups to include yoga postures. It’s really become a mainstay of my aikido practice.

Today, a buddy of mine sent me a link to a video about a veteran who has gone from being obese and disabled to a healthy physical specimen. It’s one of the most inspiring videos I’ve even seen, and I wanted to share it with you!


“To Steal at the Crossing,” by Nev Sagiba

As a kid, did you ever tie two sticks together at the centre then pull them sideways to form a cross? Did you then notice that they would yield towards alignment one way more than the other?

“Juji-tsu” – “to steal at the crossing,” also has the connotation of “ju-jutsu” – “soft means.”

What crossing are we referring to? When any interaction jams there are two possibilities. We can continue to struggle, and struggle it will be. Until the heavier, stronger, larger mass prevails. Or we can try something different.

Is there another way? Yes, accommodation! Finding the way that is predisposed to flow.

Accommodation following the clash, irimi-tenkan forms the basis of “aiki-jutsu” – “the way of harmonizing intention.”

This accommodation finds that in so doing, it can “steal” the energy of the attacking force and direct it to a neutralising trajectory.

Aikido is the study of this principle at a practical as well as more esoteric level. Why did the Founder of Aikido, Morihei Ueshiba, place so much consequence in this Way, so much so that he devoted a lifetime to the pursuit of this study with a zeal hitherto unmatched in time of relative peace? Why did he extend to the philosophy of practical nurturing, protecting and healing all life?
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Morihiro Saito: Aiki Ken at the 1989 All-Japan Demonstration, hi-res download

“Morihiro Saito’s electric Aiki Ken demonstration in
front of 5,000 people at the Budokan in Tokyo!”

Morihiro Saito, 9th dan, gave an outstanding Aiki Ken exhibition at the 1989 All-Japan Aikido Demonstration held at the Nippon Budokan in Tokyo. Some 5,000 people were on hand to witness this historic demonstration. His uke on this occasion were Hiroki Nemoto, Kenji Shibata, and Hitohiro Saito, all 5th dan at this time.

Saito Sensei’s electric performance includes the following content: Ki Musubi no Tachi Sayu Awase, 5 Kumitachi, and lastly, the Kumitachi no Henka. The Ki Musubi Tachi is a special paired sword practice that includes several fundamental blending (awase), parrying and striking movements. It is one of the most dynamic of the Aiki Ken exercises. The five kumitachi, also paired sword practices, are an elaborate set of sword exercises with a partner that teach most of the blending, striking, and parrying basics of the Aiki Ken. Finally, the Kumitachi no Henka, are variations of the basic kumitachi that can be executed at different points in the kata. These latter henka are infrequently taught, and thus the opportunity to see them demonstrated by father and son on this occasion is a rare one indeed. This film is of unusually high quality having been shot with one of the best prosumer video cameras of the day. In addition, all of the action scenes are repeated in slow motion to allow viewers to focus on detail.

Morihiro Saito Sensei needs no introduction. He began training with Morihei Ueshiba at the Founder’s country dojo in Iwama in 1946 at the age of 18. Saito Sensei was one of the closest students of the Founder during a period of time when few Japanese had the luxury of practicing martial arts. During his years as Morihei’s student, he also learned Aiki Ken and Aiki Jo techniques directly from the Founder. Saito Sensei is considered by most to be the preeminent master of aikido weapons. He left an elaborate ken and jo curriculum built upon the foundation he acquired from his training with Morihei Ueshiba.

Duration: 9:39
File size: 212 mb
Frame size: 720 x 480
Price: $2.99


“How to find an Aikido dojo by following these 8 steps,” by Stanley Pranin

“You may find that Aikido offers a new tool for cultivating your body and spirit, and continuing opportunities for forging new friendships.”

Aikido has been practiced in the west for more than 50 years. It is not the best known of the many oriental martial arts on the scene, but it does offer several unique advantages for learning self-defense, and can end up completely altering your world view on human interaction. In the paragraphs that follow, I offer a few suggestions about things to consider before enrolling in an aikido school.

Examine your motives for wanting to learn aikido

Before you start your search for a suitable aikido school, called a “dojo,” it’s worthwhile to carefully consider your motives for learning the art. In most cases, those who have seen a Steven Seagal movie and believe the action scenes reflect training in aikido dojos are likely to be disappointed.

Let me explain why this is so. The founder of aikido, Morihei Ueshiba (1883-1969), was a martial arts master and also a devoutly religious person. He lived through the prelude and horrors of World War II and this cataclysmic event strongly influenced the modern form of the art that was popularized in the postwar era. Morihei was strongly against introducing a competitive element into aikido, or converting it into a sport as had been the case with the old jujutsu schools that were the forerunners of judo.

The founder regarded his martial art as a tool for bettering oneself through the culitvation of one’s body and mind, ultimately achieving a higher spiritual plane by going beyond fighting and conflict. He regarded the world as a single family and aikido as a unifying force.

Although there are many training methods and schools of thought about what aikido is, most dojos and aikido instructors are at least aware of the founder’s vision and sympathetic to his way of thinking.

Read up on the subject

Since the philosophical underpinnings of aikido are rather different from most other martial arts accessible to the public, it would be time well spent to explore the life of Morihei Ueshiba and the history of the art to get a feel for its principles and goals. The Aikido Journal Members Site has vast resources that will help you in your search for accurate information on the subject. There are countless other websites with information on the art–many of those associated with aikido schools–that offer all sorts of introductory articles that may prove useful.

After educating yourself on the subject, you may conclude that aikido is not really suited to your purposes, and seek elsewhere for training options. On the other hand, you may find that Morihei Ueshiba’s aikido will offer a wonderful means for transforming your life, offer a new tool for cultivating your body and spirit, and continuing opportunities for forging new friendships.
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Hi-res video: “Morihiro Saito ventures to America for the first time in 1974”

“An undisputed technical genius goes abroad for
the first time and captures the hearts of the Americans!”

This long-lost film was made in 1974 in San Francisco and Oakland, California on the occasion of Morihiro Saito’s first American seminar. He was 46 years old and in his prime and traveling abroad for the first time. Saito Sensei made a lasting impression for his technical and teaching skills and was invited back many times.

Sensei’s uke and traveling companion on that trip was Shigemi Inagaki Sensei, then a 5th dan and a formidable aikidoka. David Alexander and Dennis Tatoian also formed part of Sensei’s entourage from Japan. A number of his early foreign uchideshi including Bill Witt, Bruce Klickstein and Hans Goto were based in northern California, and Sensei had been invited to conduct seminars on this occasion by them. He taught back-to-back seminars at the old Aikido of San Francisco and at Stanford University on October 5-6 and October 12-13, respectively. Saito Sensei also taught a class at the Oakland Aikido Institute during this tour.

Below is a report by Stanley Pranin on Saito Sensei’s visit from Aiki News dated October 1974:
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“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

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“My Pick of the Top 20 Core Techniques of Aikido,” by Stanley Pranin

One of my students asked me to create a list of core aikido techniques that would serve as a guide for a well-rounded curriculum. In response, I have come up with a list of the techniques below which I believe embody the essential principles and techniques of aikido. This selection is, of course, a subjective one, and subject to change.

Here are the 20 techniques I have chosen:

  • Tai no henko — One of the three exercises always performed first during practice by Founder Morihei Ueshiba. This exercise teaches the basics of the ura, or “turning” movement of aikido. You step toe-to-toe with uke and pivot to the outside while curling your hand in front of your center.
  • Morotedori kokyuho — The second of the exercises always practiced by the Founder which involves a kokyunage-like response to a strong two-handed grab. This technique helps develop the ability to blend against a superior physical force, your partner’s two-hand grab against one arm.
  • Shomenuchi ikkyo omote — Ikkyo is the first of the basic ikkyo-yonkyo arm manipulation series in aikido. The ikkyo movement is performed with you moving in front of uke to apply a horizontal arm pressure, and ends with an ikkyo arm pin. The Founder would initiate this movement against shomenuchi as documented in his 1938 training manual titled “Budo.” Most modern schools practice this technique in response to uke’s striking in contrast to the Founder’s approach.
  • Shomenuchi ikkyo ura — The ura version of ikkyo teaches how to blend with uke by turning to the outside, followed by an ikkyo pin.
  • Katadori ikkyo omote — Ikkyo omote performed from the the shoulder grab is different in that you must use your shoulder to establish a blend and gain control of uke’s arm. As you enter, you crouch forward immobilizing uke’s arm against your shoulder to come to the ikkyo position. This technique is very important to learning how to use your shoulders and hips in tandem.
  • Katadori nikyo omote — Nikyo is the second of the ikkyo-yonkyo series in aikido. A potentially dangerous technique, it must be performed cautiously. I favor locking the wrist in position and inclining the torso forward to apply pressure. This method is very effective, but does not result in injury to uke’s wrist since it is immobilized. A seated pin follows.
  • Katadori nikyo ura — The ura version of nikyo involves a turning movement, followed by the nikyo seated pin.
  • Katatedori sankyo omote — Sankyo is the third of the ikkyo-yonkyo series. Performed against a single-hand grab, uke is first unbalanced and secured through a ikkyo movement which is followed by the sankyo pressure, leading to a seated sankyo pin.
  • Katatedori sankyo ura — The same sankyo with the pin being accomplished through an outward turning movement leading to the seated sankyo pin.
  • Kosadori yonkyo omote — Yonkyo is the fourth of the ikkyo-yonkyo exercises. Here it is performed from a cross-hand grab and involves a strong pressure against the nerve on the inside of the lower forearm. The yonkyo pin is performed while standing using the entire weight of the body.
  • Kosadori yonkyo ura — The ura version of yonkyo executed in the same manner with an outward turn into the standing yonkyo pin.
  • Shomenuchi iriminage — One of the crowing jewels of the aikido curriculum, the Founder initiated the movement against shomenuchi before executing the iriminage throw. This technique teaches very important lessons of footwork and pivoting. The final part of iriminage is performed with a rotational movement of the arm referred to as a “kokyu” movement. A common mistake is not to face in the same direction as uke which leads to an ineffective blend and a clash with uke.
  • Tsuki iriminage — This technique, although not often practiced, is excellent for developing a response to a rapid thrust or punch followed by iriminage. It can be used in a multiple-attack scenario. One should avoid becoming entangled with uke’s movement and be able to rapidly disengage to deal with other opponents.
  • Yokomenuchi shihonage omote — Another of the important basics of aikido, the shihonage, or “four-sided” throw, teaches how to vary the direction of the throw depending on the particular set of circumstances. The first part of shihonage should lock uke’s elbow and upper arm. This is often overlooked allowing uke to resist your movement. One then passes through raising uke’s arm as if wielding a sword. The final movement resembles a sword strike and can be secured with a standing or kneeling pin. From yokomenuchi, this technique can be performed by first entering, or alternatively, by stepping to uke’s front to blend and then applying shihonage.
  • Katatedori kokyunage — Several techniques can be referred to by this name. The variation I am thinking of involves entering to uke’s side and extending your arm across the upper body past the eyes to produce a “flinch response” which uke’s head is jerked backwards. Your forward leg enters diagonally behind your partner for the throw. This is a very important awase, or blending movement.
  • Katatedori shihonage omote — Another possible application of shihonage from a single-hand grab. The whole body should work as a unit to first unbalance uke by establishing an armbar, followed by the shihonage throw. A good exercise is to throw uke in different directions to practice turning while controling uke’s body.
  • Ryotedori tenchinage — The so-called “heaven-and-earth” throw of aikido, this is a rather complex movement requiring a great deal of coordination. It is a study in contrast as you must blend with uke using both arms simultaneously. One hand enters downward while the other hand, executing a kokyu movement, spirals upward. Step through to uke’s side to complete the throw.
  • Munadori kotegaeshi — The munadori, or chest grab, is a simple way of teaching someone the all-important kotegaeshi wrist turn technique which is ubiquitous in aikido. One avoids the grab turning outward with the feeling of cutting to the outside and rear. Having established a blend with uke, kotegaeshi can then be applied. It should not be necessary to force uke down using pain compliance. Your blending movement must unbalance uke to the point that he falls easily when his wrist is held.
  • Ushiro ryotedori ikkyo omote — This technique is performed when both your hands are grabbed from behind. Raising and extending your hands forward and up, you unbalance uke. The same basic ikkyo omote movement can be applied from there. See the Shomenuchi ikkyo technique above.
  • Suwariwaza kokyuho — The third of the three exercises performed by the Founder at the end of each class. This exercise teaches how to blend when both hands are held. You must make your body into a single unit, leading with your hips and guiding the movement through the subtle use of your hands. It is important not to tense up or resort to physical force in an attempt to push uke over.

I might suggest a very good technical book titled “Takemusu Aikido: Background & Basics” by Morihiro Saito for those who would like more information on this subject.

Finally, I would invite you to contribute your list of the core techniques of aikido. As I wrote above, this is a highly subjective thing, and will also vary from style to style. I look forward to reading your comments!