This is the 8th 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 Gedan Gaeshi
In this article we examine Shomen Uchi Gedan Gaeshi, which is the 3rd 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 Gedan Gaeshi is an overhead strike combined with a downward turning movement. It builds on the basic techniques you have learned in the Tsuki No Bu and Shomen No Bu series. Shomen Uchi Gedan Gaeshi delves into one of the most widely cited principles of Aikido: resolving conflict that exists on a line of attack by moving off that line. 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, striking, and turning movements. The exercise requires a fluid combination of movements that can be divided into 4 major sections:
- Drop back
- Enter and strike
- Gather energy
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 left. 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 begin to execute the enter and strike movement. 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.
Next you will complete 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 enter and strike.
The next part of this suburi, in which you will gather energy for the turn, begins with a transfer of weight toward your rear, similar to what you learned with Ushiro Tsuki. You will transfer your weight back onto your left foot, tucking your left hip, and wrapping the jo around your left hip. As you wrap the jo around your left hip, the right hand moves forward to the front tip, and the left hand slides to a position on the jo that is very close to the left hip. The bottom tip of the jo should be hidden behind you. This position, as discussed in the video, is one of stored energy, with the majority of your weight on your left foot with your left hip coiled. This completes the gather energy movement.
The final part of this suburi is a forward movement into a downward turn. To execute this movement, push off your left foot, opening your left hip. While doing so, allow the right arm to extend forward. As your weight transfers onto the ball of your right foot and your left foot begins to lift and step forward, allow your left arm to extend as well. Observe the position of your left hand on the jo in front of your center: this is a classic kokyu position. As you complete the movement forward and settle onto your left foot, the tip of the jo that was in back of you is now in front of you, striking at knee level. Your left hip tucks to absorb the forward momentum. You have now completed the turn.
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. The next movement back along the same line of attack allows you to gather energy that you will then use for the downward turning strike, which takes you off the line of attack to the resolution.
The core principal of exploring a line of resistance and finally resolving the conflict by moving off that line of resistance is one of the most frequently explored subject in Aikido, and is to be found during nearly every moment of Aikido training. This suburi cannot be overemphasized in importance, and is one of the first instances in which basic movements are combined into core patterns of movements that characterize the basis of Aikido. This suburi has direct riai to countless techniques and partner practices, and the combination of movements in this suburi can be found in other essential weapons practices, including the 6-count jo and 31 kumijo.