This is the 9th 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 Ushiro Tsuki
In this article we examine Shomen Uchi Ushiro Tsuki, which is the 4th 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 Ushiro Tsuki is an overhead strike combined with a rear moving thrust. It builds on the basic techniques you have learned in the Tsuki No Bu and Shomen No Bu series. Shomen Uchi Ushiro Tsuki represents the prime purpose of Aikido: dealing with multiple attackers. This initial exercise approaches the basic combination of 2 attackers: one in front of you, and one behind you. 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 thrusting movements. The exercise requires a fluid combination of movements that can be divided into 4 major sections:
- Drop back
- Enter and strike
- Re-orient your body for movement in the rear direction
- Complete the rear-moving thrust
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 ultimately execute a thrust toward the rear, begins with a transfer of weight toward your rear, applying what you learned with Ushiro Tsuki. You will begin by transitioning from the finished strike using the weight that is already on your right foot. Coil your right hip, dropping onto the ball of your right foot, pronating your right arm to facilitate the grip your hand will need, and drop your left shoulder to prepare for the movement and thrust to the rear. The jo will be guided in direction parallel to the ground using your left forearm, but need not actually rest on the forearm. You have stored energy and prepared your body orientation for the rear moving thrust. You have re-oriented your body for movement in the rear direction.
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. You have completed the rear-moving thrust.
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 engage with the uke in front of you, and the transition to re-orient your body for movement in the rear direction allows you to engage with the second uke behind you. Timing is an essential quality to be explored as you practice this suburi. The movement toward the front uke gives you a small moment to prepare for your engagement with the rear uke.
Your training for randori can be a series of applications of this suburi and many other scenarios involving multiple ukes located at various positions. This is a simpler application because your body movement is along a single line, but you can begin to think about moving your body toward all 8 positions. It is recommended that you begin by applying combinations of strikes and thrusts using this suggested pattern of variation, and then begin to add in other techniques. Once you have done this, you can apply similar patterns without weapons and add even more ukes, thus transitioning to a complete randori practice.