Jun
23

“Lessons from Morihiro Saito Sensei (1)” by Stanley Pranin

“While the differences between basic and ki no nagare techniques are normally easy to comprehend, many people have found it difficult to grasp the distinction between oyowaza and henkawaza.”

Over the past several years Aikido Journal has released a series of technical DVDs featuring Morihiro Saito Sensei based on seminars he conducted abroad during the 1980s and 90s. In preparing the videotapes for publication, we have created literally thousands of subtitles that record Saito Sensei’s comments during these events. Over the course of the many hours of seminar footage, Saito Sensei explains and demonstrates hundreds of techniques that he learned from the Founder in the postwar period through O-Sensei’s death in 1969.

It is interesting to note that Saito Sensei would often present more detailed technical sequences and unusual techniques during these foreign seminars that he would seldom have time to demonstrate in Iwama. Thus these DVDs taken as a whole constitute an invaluable catalog of aikido techniques from O-Sensei’s Iwama years. In addition, Saito Sensei periodically makes comments that contain pearls of wisdom that unlock a deeper understanding of the art. For example, in the tape I am working on now, Saito Sensei states the following:

“There are about 600 techniques in aikido. There are basics, ki no nagare, oyowaza and henkawaza. Oyowaza are basic techniques applied to different circumstances. Henkawaza are techniques that are modified midstream to suit changed circumstances. If the technique is going smoothly and you then change to something else it is not a henkawaza.”
I find this an elegant way of classifying the huge body of aikido techniques. While the differences between basic and ki no nagare techniques are normally easy to comprehend, many people have found it difficult to grasp the distinction between oyowaza and henkawaza. According to Saito Sensei’s explanation, oyowaza are aikido basics applied to circumstances outside the scope of the basic curriculum. They can therefore be understood as “applied” or “advanced” techniques. Henkawaza, literally, “changed techniques,” are modified methods used when it becomes necessary to adapt the execution of a technique to changed circumstances. Stated in more plain terms, henkawaza are what you do when you flub a technique!

There are many more of Saito Sensei’s comments worthy of mention that I will post as time permits. In the meantime, if you would like to view these seminars for yourself, please have a look at this link.

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Comments

  1. Clark Bateman says:

    An elegant explanation, to be sure, but I think the broader “techniques modified midstream to suit changed circumstances” definition of “henkawaza” is perhaps more spot-on than the paraphrased reference to a “flubbed” technique (although that certainly is ONE reason), as it may be also be necessary to change “on the fly” because of something other than a mistake by nage, such as an unexpected movement or weight shift on the part of uke, or even the introduction of another individual into the equation (such as another uke, as in randori, or a stray participant from another practice pairing getting in the way). Just my own humble opinion, of course…

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