This is the 10th 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.
Gyaku Yokomen Uchi Ushiro Tsuki
In this article we examine Gyaku Yokomen Ushiro Tsuki, which is the 5th 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, Gyaku Yokomen Ushiro Tsuki is an reverse 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. Gyaku Yokomen Ushiro Tsuki is an advanced exercise in dealing with multiple attackers, using the basic combination of 2 attackers: one in front of you, and one behind you. In this case, the movements are preemptive. The basic body movements derived from this practice begin with a dynamic preemptive overhead strike from left hanmi, and continue with the kinetic chain involved in transitioning to a rear thrust movement. The exercise requires a fluid combination of movements that can be divided into 3 major sections:
- 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. Shift your weight forward, allowing your center to drop. As you drop your center, allow your hands to rise in front of you so your forearms are vertically oriented and parallel to one another. You should be able to look through the area between your forearms. As your hips turn and weight continues to shift forward onto your right foot, allow the tip of the jo to drop to your spine. As you shift your weight completely onto your right foot and your left foot comes forward, allow the forward momentum of your body to execute the strike. As you settle onto your left foot and your left hip tucks, the jo ends at a position parallel to the ground. Be sure your right shoulder is back in this left side striking position. You have now completed the yokomen 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, as you did with Shomen Uchi Ushiro Tsuki. You will begin by transitioning from the finished strike using the weight that is already on your left foot. Coil your left hip, dropping onto the ball of your left foot, releasing your left hand so it can grip the opposite end of the jo as it moves into position, and drop your right shoulder to prepare for the movement and thrust to the rear. The jo will be guided in direction parallel to the ground using your right 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 left foot, opening your left hip, lifting your right 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 right 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 right foot transfers backward as your left hip continues to open and you push off the ball of your left foot. Pay close attention to the stillness of your right hand, as it represents the one point in space and enables the efficient, parallel motion of the jo with respect to the ground. Your left hand, already in kokyu, permits the thrust motion to the rear to occur. Your right foot stops its movement and settles into place, and your right 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 preemptive strike at the beginning of this suburi is an exercise in timing. Instead of waiting for the attack to happen and taking the time to absorb and counterattack, you enter into the front uke’s space and stop the attack before it can begin. The transition to re-orient your body for movement in the rear direction allows you to likewise preemptively 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 is extended with this final suburi in the Shomen No Bu series. Randori can be a combination of both counterattacking and preemptive attacks, determined by variations in timing and spacing of ukes. Continue to explore applications of this suburi and many other scenarios involving multiple ukes located in all 8 positions. It is recommended that you begin by applying combinations of strikes and thrusts, sometimes preemptively, 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 and more advanced randori practice.