Archives for July 2012


“The problem with Nikyo and Kote Gaeshi” by Phil Davison

“If you use Nikyo in a contemporary self-defence situation, your enemy
may simply stand there, and possibly hit you with their free hand.”

When I first started doing martial arts I trained in a Hapkido dojo (dojang) where the sparring was reasonably intense. We had a lot of injuries. I don’t agree with this sort of training and nowadays my students very rarely injure themselves. But in training like that I learned a few valuable lessons, and these have got me thinking about Kote Gaeshi and Nikyo.

Way back then, I was sparring and my left little finger got caught in the sleeve of my opponents gi. We both heard a crack, but I formed a fist with my left hand, and carried on favouring my right hand until the instructor called break. There was no serious pain (until later), and I was young and tough (and perhaps stupid as well). An X ray later revealed that one side of the second metacarpal bone had been shattered. Lesson: Firstly, it’s surprising how much damage a fluke accident can cause, and secondly – having a finger bone shattered is not enough to stop a fit young man.

Another time I was doing a demonstration, and my partner and I got our timing wrong on a gyaku hiji technique. We both heard my ulnar collateral ligament tear. I knew something was wrong – but hey – it was a demo so I was hyped. Of course I finished the demo (I was young and tough (and stupid). Did it hurt? Not that I remember – I was too hyped up with doing the demo to let it stop me, although I was aware that I no longer had full control over my right arm.
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“More on Aikido & Weapons from a solo training perspective,” by Charles Warren

The answer to the question of whether weapons should be a part of aikido training is pretty obvious on my part. After all, I’m an Iwama style student.

What would have become of my aikido without the style and the weapons? I moved to Lake Tahoe in 1976 two years after starting aikido (1974). I was a 2nd kyu. In the day, it wasn’t unusual for brown belts to start classes, and I did. Didn’t ever, in what turned out to be normal for my aikido career, have many students. Most nights I had none. So, what was I going to do?

Saito Sensei gave me the tools to train on my own, and weapons have always been a major part of that. So, my typical keiko, even today, is to do some stretches, ki exercises, hitori geiko (assuming that I have a partner and going through techniques without one), and weapons. I never knew until you recently produced the Tohei video that I owed the ki exercises to Tohei Sensei (through Alan Grow, an early teacher in Oakland, California). The bad part of hitori geiko is that you don’t have the resistance and mass provided by a partner.

The good thing is that you don’t rely on that mass and resistance for balance. That improves posture, something that I saw demonstrated early on by Kisaburo Osawa Sensei when he came to California in 1975. Erect posture not only gives the outward impression of confidence, it actually instills it.

In the day (19’76-81), I spent two weekends per month in the San Francisco Bay Area taking every class I could, but without the weapons, could I have built strength? Would I even have continued to train? Without the weapons, would I still have strength or continue to train?

This is to skip over the salient virtue of weapons. They are the perfect training partners. They give completely honest responses to your movement without any chatter. They leverage and magnify your mistakes so that even you may be able to see them.

The same principle applies to sword (tachidori) and jo taking (jo dori). The techniques are only slightly different from normal taijutsu, but the additional threat implied by the weapon puts pressure on your everyday technique, magnifying the glitches. Fix them in weapons taking, and they will fade into imperceptibility in unarmed taijutsu. That goes double for weapons partner practice (kumitachi, kumijo).

I’m sure it is possible to do a lot of aikido, learn a lot and even achieve advancement in rank without weapons. But to say that neglecting weapons is a good thing sounds a bit parochial to me.

Click here to download and view an example of my jo awase training


Review: Alister Gillies’ “Tenchi: Building a Bridge between Heaven and Earth” by Ken Jeremiah

“Tenchi: Building a Bridge between Heaven and Earth” is written by a longtime practitioner of Aikido, Alister Gillies. In this text, he relates some of the things he has learned throughout the years. These include some insights regarding the connection between the mind and body, and the training undertaken in order enhance this relationship. The book also includes information about the development of internal power, and the existence of specific (aiki) movements in Aikido that can be traced to its parent art, Daito-ryu Aikijujutsu.

The book is a collection of essays in which the author reflects upon his personal experiences while training in martial arts, and on the practices used in order to increase the connection between the mind and the body. Due to the nature of the book, there is a variety of topics covered. These topics include the “therapeutic value and function” of Aikido, and the diversity of different styles of Aikido. For example, some styles emphasize spiritual development and allow martial efficacy to take a back seat, while others value martial effectiveness and train in a manner that aims to increase such skills.

“Tenchi: Building a Bridge between Heaven and Earth” also points out the popularity of Aikido (and Zen) in Italy and France. Comparing the ideas of French philosophers with the viewpoints found in Japanese martial and spiritual practices, the author explains how such seemingly diverse traditions actually blended together logically for Europeans. It is primarily for this reason that “there are more people practicing Aikido in France today than in any other country, including Japan.” Italy also retains a strong connection to Japan, and it too has a flourishing Aikido community.

In my opinion, the most interesting aspects of the book were the chapters in which Mr. Gillies delved into the history of the art. He explained that O-Sensei taught different things to different students, and that this must be kept in mind in order to understand the complete whole. He also explored the connection between Daito-ryu and Aikido with an emphasis on the changes that O-Sensei made in order to formulate Aikido. In addition, he discussed the connection of Aikido to Zen. Although O-Sensei was not a member of this sect, or any Buddhist sect, there are some practitioners today who like to make this connection. As such, this book may help to clarify such connections for students who choose to combine these traditions, modifying Aikido in order to suit their own purposes. Mr. Gillies also compares the teachings of Aikido, specifically the notion of Tenchi, to various other religious and cultural traditions on the planet, including shamanism.

“Tenchi: Building a Bridge between Heaven and Earth” does not lead readers along a linear, step-by-step voyage. Rather, it is a free-flowing, drifting text, in which the readers might not know where they will end up. However, at the end of the trip, they will be richer due to the experience. This text is worthwhile for practitioners of Aikido, and it may lead to future research regarding the connections between Chinese and Japanese practices and similar exercises found in cultures throughout the world, both new and old. I recommend it.

Tenchi: Building a Bridge between Heaven and Earth
by Alister Gillies
2012, CreateSpace, 134 pp.

Review by Ken Jeremiah, Ed.D.


Rinjiro Shirata Bio: “The Kobukan Prodigy” Wreaks Havoc!” by Kaku Kozo

The prewar golden era had just arrived for the
Kobukan, which was nicknamed the “Hell Dojo.”

A Biography of Rinjiro Shirata – Part 2, by Kozo Kaku is available to our readers on the Aikido Journal Members Site.

“I want to follow Sensei’s footsteps as my life path.” Shirata Rinjiro’s words delighted the Founder, Morihei Ueshiba. At that time, the Kobukan Dojo was inseparably linked to the Omoto religion, and one would often see Omoto believers training. On the other hand, there were also many highly ranked practitioners of arts like kendo and judo and among the trainees. Rinjiro, having perceived aikido [the art was actually known as “Aiki Budo” at this time] as a true martial art, was especially promising in Morihei’s eyes. In addition, you could say that Rinjiro was blessed with good timing.

The prewar golden era had just arrived for the Kobukan, which was nicknamed the “Hell Dojo.” Yoichiro Inoue, Hisao Kamada, Minoru Mochizuki, Kaoru Funahashi, Tsutomu Yukawa, Aritoshi Murashige, Kenji Tomiki, and other eminent people were the seniors. Zenzaburo Akazawa, and Tesshin Hoshi were uchideshi similar in status to Rinjiro. Among those regularly commuting to train was Gozo Shioda, who was equal to the uchideshi. Such people were always at the dojo. It could be said that Rinjiro was trained and brought up by these shining talents of aikido history.

For the five years from 1932 to 1937 when he departed for the front, literally the period of Rinjiro’s severe training, he always put into practice the saying “every day, life is training, every day, budo is life.”

The uchideshi rose in status from washing the entrance and cleaning the toilets to looking after things around the Founder to duties like serving as a travel companion. However, for a long time, Rinjiro carried out the role of attendant who offers water, tea and salt in front of the Shinto altar every morning. This was probably unrelated to Rinjiro’s father being a believer of the Omoto religion.

Click here to login for free access to this fascinating historical article about one of aikido’s greatest figures whose career spanned the prewar and postwar eras


A Statue for Morihiro Saito Shihan in Iwama

“All over the world we are ready and willing to contribute for a full size statue of Morihiro Saito Shihan in Iwama…”

Morihiro Saito (1928-2002)

The powers-that-be have decided that Morihiro Saito, 9th dan, did not exist in Iwama. It would appear that no mention of the name of Morihiro Saito is to be found on the current Iwama Dojo websiteoperated by the Aikikai Hombu Dojo. This is a rather misleading omission and attempt at reshaping aikido history. Perhaps a project such as this will help rectify matters insofar as concerns historical accuracy.

[A reader has pointed out–see the comment below by Miguel Serra–that there is a mention of the name of Morihiro Saito on the English Aikikai website. The comment contains a strong criticism of the Saito family and is very difficult to navigate to in the Japanese version, it being necessary to click about 10 pages to arrive there. Please see my comment below for more information. Apologies for the misunderstanding.]

Since our teacher’s passing, we having been thinking about a statue for the person responsible for the spreading of O’Sensei’s Aikido to the world. Morihiro Saito Shihan formed thousands of teachers in Japan and abroad. He turned Iwama into an internationally known village and because of him even today thousands of practitioners and supporters of Aikido travel to this city. For this reason and many others it is only fare that we all direct and indirect students of Saito Sensei, get together and honor him with a full size statue in Iwama. Please join us and invite all your friends to join us in this venture!

Morihiro Sensei on the Aikijinja grounds wearing a casual nobakama, haori and geta. This photo was taken by Mark Larson and then Sensei had it distributed to many of his deshi present at the time in Iwama.

To access the Facebook page proposing this laudable project and to see many wonderful photos of Morihiro Saito Sensei, please click here


“Harmonize and Keep on Harmonizing, No Matter What!” by Nev Sagiba

“The best skill is to arrange the environment, your relationship to it and whatever else necessary in advance so that no violence can occur. This is the true and ultimate Aikido.”

Algorithmic Distillation

Long, long before the notion of the googol (a number equal to 10 to the 100th power, or a number with 100 zeros from which the word googlebot is derived) had arrived in the mind of man, a form of algorithmic distillation was already taking place in Nature.

The memetic bots were out searching for the most energy efficient genetic functionality and pushing these to the top. The other 90% of our DNA is not “junk” but survival adaptation stored reference DNA which has to be accessed and rewoven in order to adjust to new conditions. But it takes frequent and manageable exposure to the new adaptation stresses to take effect.

The inefficient, the obdurate and the unadaptive became, or made themselves extinct. It is the nature of entropy that Universal trajectory seeks out the optimizing of efficiency.

That the most viable energy efficient models tend to rise in the food chain and the less efficient get eaten or broken down to be recycled as raw substance is the nature of existence.

It was only natural that physical combat methods gravitate towards jujitsu or a modality of increased efficiency since these work better, conserve energy, are less predictable and tend to capture the energy output of the opponent. They tend to match the universal model of optimization to survive. While intense energy is natural, overt destructiveness that attacks and threatens the holist integration of life and its support systems therefore constitutes a disease. Harmony is the nature of the existence, the Universe and the preferred outcome as described in the statement, “The meek shall inherit the world.” Matthew 5:5 But not the weak meek, or the fake meek, rather the dynamic and wise meek with the long term good for all as the primary goal.

The T Rex defeated itself in its inability to adapt to new conditions. Perhaps something very small such as a virus put paid to the big lizard/birds. Otherwise, it did adapt and is now found as the humble chicken. (The arrogant one became extinct.)

How Did The Aikido Techniques Come About?

One thing is most certain: They are not the result of an arbitrary opinion, but hard tested experience in the attrition of the killing fields.

What gives the Aikido techniques their distinct difference?
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“Arising Naturally — Part 2,” by Alister Gillies

Everyone has Ki. Without it life would not be possible. But in the West we are not aware of it. When we become aware of it, we are inclined to view it as something other, an extra dimension or attribute that can be added to our personal resources. It becomes objectified. We think of it as a possession, something that we can get more of if we do the right things.

But Ki is not an object. In devising a new teaching model for Westerners this eminently skilled Japanese teacher had succeeded in turning an internal into an external. Yes, he understood perfectly how the Western mind worked and he constructed a rational system of teaching that made perfect sense and appealed to our need for clear explanations. But he replaced the empirical – finding out for one’s self – with an article of faith: Mind Body is one.

Ki became a reified object. In order to understand the concept, it was necessary to suspend our dualistic mode of thinking. In the resulting intellectual void, a leap of faith was required to bring mind body back to its original unified condition, eventually. All over the world students of Ki could be seen, with intent expressions, self-consciously extending Ki. From a traditional perspective, from both Budo and Zen, the cart was well and truly before the horse.

Although there were clear principles and guidelines in place to help students understand and feel Ki, in reality it takes many years before this feeling of the energy body becomes a naturalised sensibility. If one has to think about the tanden and mind body connection, then it is not fully integrated. As one Japanese Aikido teacher put it, if it needs explaining you haven’t got it.

In Zen there is a story that became the foundation of a well-known Koan (a prompt to help students attain realisation), which illustrates the difficulty inherent in too intellectual an approach. The story goes that a master came before his assembled students, and holding up a Hossu (fly whisk) demanded: “Are you in the use of it or apart from the use? Who can say a word?”

Whichever way one answers – either in the affirmative or negative – one is caught up in dualistic thinking. It is the same with Ki. It is only through practice that one becomes accustomed to the nature of the energy body as not other than one’s self. This is one of the reasons why repetition is so important in the Japanese approach to teaching.

In one sense, to say that we are learning Ki is almost nonsensical – we have always had it. Babies have it naturally. They don’t require instruction on how to unify mind and body. To test this (if you are lucky enough to have a baby nearby) place your little finger in a baby’s hand. It will enclose its fingers quite naturally around your finger. Now gently try and lift your arm and you will be surprised at just how powerfully the child can grip, with no apparent effort.
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“An Overview of Koichi Tohei’s Early Aikido Career,” by Stanley Pranin

In May, 1974, an event occurred that shook the roots of the aikido world to its very foundations. It was then that Koichi Tohei, the chief instructor of the Aikikai Hombu Dojo, resigned from his post and left the headquarters organization to form his own school.

Many aikido associations, dojos, instructors, and students, particularly in Japan and the U.S.A., were compelled to make a choice of whether to stay within the Aikikai system or join Tohei’s newly-created Shin Shin Toitsu Aikido organization.

The impact on those who remained within the Aikikai system was nonetheless traumatic because they saw the illusion of harmony at the highest level of leadership in the aikido world shattered. Regardless of where one stood on the issue, aikido at large had suffered a huge black eye.

From the viewpoint of the Aikikai, Tohei’s actions and attempts to dictate the technical curriculum and teaching methodology were unacceptable. In Tohei’s eyes, the aikido headquarters had snubbed his leadership and failed to sufficiently acknowledge his many accomplishments and contributions to the postwar spread of aikido, both in Japan and abroad. The contentious issue was further complicated by a web of long-standing personal relationships that had gone sour.

The upshot of this tragic situation was that in the aftermath of Tohei’s departure, neither he nor the Aikikai has wished to revisit this unfortunate episode and the issue has been effectively swept under the rug for more than 35 years.

Who is Koichi Tohei and why is he so important to an understanding of the development of aikido? Should he be unceremoniously deleted from aikido history due to past grievances or should he be given due credit for his role in the shaping of the art of aikido?

Early Years

Koichi Tohei was born in Tokyo on January 20, 1920. His well-to-do family soon moved to its ancestral home in Tochigi Prefecture where the young Koichi grew up. He studied judo as a teenager, but his training was interrupted while a student at Keio University due to a bout with pleurisy.

In 1940, in an effort to regain his health, Tohei joined the Ichikukai and engaged in intensive misogi breathing and meditation training. It was shortly thereafter that he received an introduction to Morihei Ueshiba Sensei who operated a private martial arts dojo in the Shinjuku Ward of Tokyo. Tohei immediately joined the dojo and practiced intensively under the Aikido Founder up until the time of his induction into the Japanese Imperial Army in October 1942.
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“My Adventure in France,” by Stanley Pranin

On June 21, 2012, I departed from Las Vegas bound for Paris, France. I was invited by Christian Tissier Sensei and the FFAAA organization to give a lecture on aikido history. This trip proved to be a grand adventure and my chance to see for the first time one of the loveliest areas on earth. Allow me to share with you the highlights.

Stanley Pranin with Christian Tissier and Dominique Valera

Arriving late in the afternoon on the 22nd at Paris Charles de Gaulle airport, I was met by Maxime Delhomme, the president of the FFAAA, and an attorney by profession. We had a very lively conversation in English during the somewhat lengthy ride to our hotel. Shortly thereafter, I was met by Christian Tissier and his lovely wife Nathalia who were staying at the same hotel. We then went out for dinner at a nearby Italian restaurant, enjoyed a lot of pleasant conversation, pasta and wine!

I got to bed fairly late that night, and had trouble sleeping due to jet lag and the anticipation of giving a lengthy lecture in French the next day. Before I was scheduled to speak Saturday evening at the Institut du Judo, seminars were conducted by Christian, Lucien Forni (one of the top students of Masamichi Noro Sensei who created Kinomichi), and famous world-champion karateka, Dominique Valéra, a personal friend of Christian. The latter gentleman was fascinating to talk to and has maintained his incredible skills well into his 60s. On Sunday, classes were given on the aikido and the sword by Paul Muller and Tiki Shewan.

Lecturing on aikido history

I went into the conference room early to make sure that everything was set up properly for my presentation. This included three microphones, an overhead projector, and lighting. My technical crew consisted of videographers Christophe Champclaux and Marie-Claude Lui-Van-Sheng, and a couple of assistants. The lecture was to be videotaped in its entirety and made into a DVD along with the event seminars.

As the hour neared, Ludwig Neveu arrived. He is a native French speaker now living in Germany who translated the text of my presentation into his mother tongue. He made the trek all the way from Frankfurt to attend. Ludwig kindly agreed to assist me as my interpreter during the event, and I must confess that his presence set me at ease.
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“A Story to Tell,” by Quentin Cooke

I have practised aikido for 28 years now and truly believe that it does offer ‘a way to reconcile the world’. However, if that transformation is to take place, I think that as a community we need to recognise that we need to find ways of communicating the principles that are embedded within our art to the public at large. It was for this reason that I chose to work closely with Aiki Extensions, an international group, registered as a non profit in the USA. Their mission is to connect people of like mind and use aikido as a tool to do exactly that. There are people out there working hard in the fields of business, education, schools, government, therapy, and generally in their local communities. (If you want to find out more, then visit In simple terms, we are aiming for the stars and it may come as no surprise to learn that our progress is slow. It can be very frustrating to spend so much time and energy working for the cause and often getting so little response from the very community that I feel should get it the most. That being said, some of the projects that AE have initiated or supported have been really important and for the people involved, have had significant benefits, so I am glad to have played my part.

One of the more surprising and recent outcomes of my work with them was a recent trip to the San Francisco bay area. It’s quite a story in its own right, but a tour of some of the local legends was organised and I got to train under and with some amazing people and also taught in some great dojos. Also, I was privileged to get a lot of ‘off the mat’ time with teachers who had been there with O’Sensei and who were able to connect me to the roots of our art. One of these was Sensei Robert Frager, who for me was a real example of what a good aikido teacher should be all about. He was gracious, warm, humble, giving and wise. At his suggestion, I am now seeking to put together a book of aikido tales about how students have used what they learn on the mat to get a positive outcome when perhaps they least expected it either on or off the mat and so affirmed the value of what they have learnt. Most of us, who have practised for a while, will have heard such tales and probably have a few tales of our own to tell.

From what I have received so far, I know that such a book will provide great inspiration for any aikido student and ultimately will be a celebration of our art. This being said, I want to stress that this is not a personal commercial venture, but a project I am undertaking to raise funds for Aiki Extensions. If you can help by telling a tale of your own or simply publicising my mission the I would be incredibly grateful. You can contact me via email, and if you would like a poster to hang in your dojo, then all you have to do is ask.

Quentin Cooke
Chair of Aikido for Daily Life (affiliated to Yuishinkai International)
Director of Aiki Extensions
7th dan


“Aiki Ken and Jo Suburi: Part 8 – Shomen Uchi Gedan Gaeshi” by James Neiman


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:

  1. Drop back
  2. Enter and strike
  3. Gather energy
  4. Turn

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“Are there Kata in Aikido?” by Nick Lowry

“Just forget your self a little and turn loose and let the undifferentiated aiki flow through you, and see what happens.” there any such things as kata in aikido? Of course there are – it’s a silly question, but if you take it that aikido is the invention of M. Ueshiba, then originally, surprisingly, No.

Nor were there names of waza. That just knocked me over when I first learned of it. Ueshiba didn’t call kotegaeshi, kotegaeshi he just called it aikido. He didn’t call iriminage, irirminage, just aikido. No names at all – Just undifferentiated aiki. The flow of the moment did this, so he did that, and there you have it, just AIKIDO, expressing itself through him in a multitude of ways. He didn’t teach techniques, he just taught aikido.

There were just actions and reactions — the expression of what he did from the general principles he embodied. Whatever he did–whatever stuff happened was aikido. No organizing structures, no teaching devices like kihon, katas or the like. Everything was Henka; everything was just variations on the general themes. And he made that work—and work well – he was the top of the heap, ultimate martial artist of his time and place. And he was tested—tested like no one else I’ve learned of since— shinken shobu–tested with live steel and if the legends are right, bullets too. Bullets may be a bit far, there might be some smoke and mirrors showmanship here, but nonetheless it is pretty well known that he took on all comers, judo, kendo, sumo you name it—he was unrivaled by all accounts, both armed and unarmed.
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