This is the 6th 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.
Shomen Uchi Komi
In this article we examine Shomen Uchi Komi, which is the 1st of the Aiki Jo Suburi in the series known as the Shomen No Bu. Click here to view a video demonstration of the components of this Suburi. In summary, Shomen Uchi Komi is an overhead strike. It builds on many of the same body dynamics that you learned in the Tsuki No Bu series, focusing on the body movement that naturally results in a striking motion. Shomen Uchi Komi provides important perspectives on the most important core principles of Aikido: namely, dropping into position, getting off the line of attack, and counterattacking. The basic body movements derived from this practice begin with the dynamic and fluid movement involving both uke and nage, and continue with the kinetic chain involved in forward, backward, and striking movements. The exercise requires a fluid combination of movements that can be divided into 3 major sections:
- Drop back
The movement begins with the jo being held in shomen kamai, meaning that it is held in front of your body with the tip pointing toward an imaginary opponent’s throat. Your right foot is forward, and ideally pointing directly in front of you. Your left hand is at the tip closest to you, positioned about 2 inches below your navel. Your right hand is positioned further up the jo at a distance from the tip that is equivalent to the length between your wrist and your elbow. Your left shoulder is back and relaxed. Drop your center by bending your knees while staying in an aligned posture. Begin to kokyu your left hand so the tip of the jo begins to lift. Shift your weight back onto the ball of your left foot while coiling your left hip. Push off your left foot and open your left hip so you travel backward and slightly to the left of the line of attack, transferring your right foot behind you, allowing your right hip to absorb your backward momentum and finishing with the majority of your weight over your right foot. By the time your right foot is in its new position, the tip of the jo should be up and behind you, ready to strike. Be sure to keep you elbows in. This completes the drop back movement.
Now that you have absorbed the energy along the line of attack, you can enter. Do so by pushing forward with the ball of your right foot, shifting your weight forward. As you move forward, allows the jo to drop to your spine through a counterbalance of the momentum of your body and the stillness of the your hands in front of you. Continue keeping your elbows in. Lift your right foot as your weight shifts to the ball your left foot, and as your right foot begins to settle in front of you, allow the forward momentum of your body to begin arcing the tip of the jo into its strike. You have begun the transition from entering into striking.
The final part of this suburi is the completion of the overhead strike that began as you entered. The jo already has momentum from your forward movement, so the primary activity at this point is to control its arcing motion to complete the strike. As you complete the movement forward and settle onto your right foot, the tip of the jo that was behind you strikes at the head level, settling into a horizontal position parallel to the ground afterward. Your right hip tucks to absorb the forward momentum. You have now completed the strike.
At this point there is opportunity to discuss the dynamics of this suburi: the drop back takes you off the line of attack and enables you to gather energy for the counterattack. You have the opportunity to practice fluid motion in your hips as you transfer your weight back and then forward again. You have added a new and important dynamic: allowing your drop back and the subsequent motion forward to be coupled with counterbalancing effects on your jo. Also, note the gathering and releasing of energy: gathering during the initial drop back, and releasing during the entering movement and final strike. As you practice this suburi you will notice that the entering and striking movements are all part of a single energetic combination, providing a profound lesson on the origin of a true strike. The dynamics of the combination of movements involved in this suburi will give you important perspectives for the entire family of Shomen No Bu. Dynamic body alignment, storing ki, breath, tension, release, coordinated use of both hips, defensive movements, counterattacks, and timing become opportunities for discussion for practitioners at all levels.
There are many potential enriching teaching and practice opportunities here: the dynamic absorption and release of energy, and the true nature of the energy and force of an overhead strike are profoundly important areas for exploration. This suburi has direct riai to countless techniques and partner practices. For example, students can readily see the connection with tsuki iriminage and various kokyunage practices. There are also opportunities to practice striking atemi as a result of this practice.