“Awaseru, an Aiki perspective,” by Francis Takahashi

“I am content to train each day with the goal of mutual benefit in mind, and to find ways to practice “awaseru” with each new partner I am blessed with.”

Awaseru, in Japanese, means to “put or join” things together. It can also celebrate the uniting, combining, connecting or merging of otherwise disparate pieces, to fit comfortably together for yet another purpose or desired result. This result can signify the birth of a new sense or level of appreciation for true beauty and genuine accomplishment, which was not possible back when the respective parts were separate and non-conversant.

Some would say that paired partner practice, normally experienced in Aikido, represents a structured, yet subconscious attempt, to reach mutually beneficial training goals without fear, or undue harm and avoidable injury.

Each Uke and Nage strives to remain within his/her respective roles, while subconsciously and knowingly training at a balanced, goal oriented, and low-risk pace. This allows each participant to monitor his intensity of effort, and to be in command of the attendant risk levels. Mutual security and increased confidence are worthwhile objectives to have while pursuing the highest level of technical proficiency and martial effectiveness possible. This merging of talent, technique and tradition, is called awase training.

This perspective of the word “awase”, as often used in a kumi tachi or kumi jo format of training, can provide a most useful understanding, and a unique opportunity for increasing the speed and intensity of training. Not failing to maintain proper maai, correct shisei, and the further development of enhanced timing, are included as desired goals of training. How better to gain a true and genuine appreciation for the real potential of O Sensei’s creation, than to incorporate the very principles utilized by the Founder himself in his training.

Mary Heiny Sensei, with her interest in formal Japanese clothing, namely formal kimono and trappings, opined that both the kimono, and the obi that accompanied it, were deliberately contrasted in terms of pattern, form and construction. It actually took a true connoisseur and expert kimono maker, to have these component parts actually “awaseru” with each other, effecting simultaneously an amazing unity of beauty, balance, and a bold design of exquisite perfection.

Counterpoint: Could this concept of awase be allowed to further include yet another intriguing dimension of opportunistic training for certain higher level trainees? I am referring to those who prove fully motivated, adequately skilled and properly prepared to engage in a high risk environment where envelopes are pushed and training parameters reconstructed to provide true realism. Perhaps such an attempt could signal a return to a historically accurate and romantically vaunted martial training environment akin to the traditions of times past. If so, I sincerely invite those so inclined, to have at it to their hearts’ content. Do, however, kindly allow those so called “mainstream Aikido” practitioners to coexist peaceably, following the Founder’s teachings and example in a manner consistent with their own vision, however “bunny” they may appear to them.

In most standard training systems in Aikido, we usually acknowledge that “combat” is an undesirable first option, and that the primary purpose of properly executing techniques or elements of strategy, is to replicate and safely experience the honesty of genuine attack scenarios, and of certain controllable variables of an actual confrontation. We then strive to search for and discover appropriate and effective options, through the proper and practiced use of Aiki principles and non-injurious techniques. This accomplishes the desired win-win objective, which faithful Aikidoists have always strived to achieve, and to maintain. Too, there remains the option to increase the intensity, uncertainty, and enhanced risk factors for those who are prepared and willing to do so.

In addition to the constraints we may place on the focus, scope and the parameters of our training environment, we can also voluntarily restrain our instincts to “defeat” our partners in lieu of an actual opponent. This “No Harm” policy of sensible training allows all participants to accept the real truth that they must protect themselves at all times, while extending that same courtesy to their training partners. True joy comes from achievements, rather than from accomplished victories. I much rather achieve friendship with my neighbor, than to extract and accomplish a painful victory from him. How about you?

Of course, since we all constantly exist in a dynamic, fluid, and unpredictably changing environment, where “Shit Happens” without any seeming purpose or warning, we must also stay constantly vigilant and fully prepared to take all steps necessary to minimize any negative impact from such occurrences. We can accomplish this by thinking “inclusively”, where we manage all factors as naturally occurring. This as opposed to thinking “exclusively”, where we attempt to consciously ignore or eliminate undesirable elements in our environment. Man plans, God laughs, as we learn otherwise to our sorrow, and to our detriment.

From my simple perspective then, I see the application of “awaseru” by two or more individuals as finding common ground to coexist without any loss to their persona, personalities or peace of mind, even as they contrast well with each other.

Whenever I am fortunate enough to view an accomplished and skilled martial artist in situ, I choose to focus on what positive impact is being made on their respective partners during the actual training. How does each participant successfully accomplish true “awaseru” with each other? Do they necessarily finish with an established winner versus a loser? Or do they end up with smiles of satisfaction, and feelings of mutual accomplishment. To me, this is the appropriate litmus test of Aikido’s ultimate purpose and success.
In Aikido practices today, I watch carefully as to how the Uke is being affected or influenced by the Nage’s actions, and/or the outcomes resulting from the actual restraint exhibited by a compassionate Nage. When the Uke is allowed to maintain his own integrity of form, and the unfettered maintenance of his role of choice, I readily credit the skill, restraint and visionary kindness of the Nage, to ensure that it wondrously happened.
If the Uke is intimidated, injured or otherwise not allowed to follow through with his purpose to do their Aikido correctly, I again look at the Nage, now with a different eye and perspective. I do so, not necessarily to cast any disparaging judgment, but for the sake of my own learning, and to examine introspectively as to how well I myself would behave in similar circumstances.

As we attempt to have our training lessons carryover into our daily lives, with uniquely applied sets of challenges, perhaps we can include insights into how effectively practicing the principle lessons of “awaseru” can help us iimprove. Finding room for daily adjustments, and for incremental improvements, we also uncover workable options for making meaningful changes to our behavior, and to find cause to demonstrate our profound gratitude as well.

I recall the Second Principle of Judo, presented by Jigoro Kano (1860-1938), as Jita Kyoei, or mutual benefit and prosperity, a fine example of “awaseru”.

For now, I am content to train each day with the goal of mutual benefit in mind, and to find ways to practice “awaseru” with each new partner I am blessed with. Even in my writings, do I find ample opportunities to pursue awaseru, or to not.

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  1. Anthony Chong says:

    Awaseru in my language (Papiamentu) means “to rain”. Rain “brings” things apart, but it also “puts or joins things together”. Depending on how one looks at it.

  2. Thank you for another great writing Takahashi Sensei. Just came back from my aikido class, where we did some exercise that reminds me of your article. In shomenuchi, searching the contact with uke’s arm, maintaining it first down, letting it go up to form ikkyo, always being in contact.

    And another one being side by side, shoulder beside shoulder with the faces to the same direction like the magnet pendulum, the hand on the side of uke touches uke’s hand, this one touches his hip and the hand of the outside goes up, back to the hip, the inside hand touches again the partner’s hand, it goes to the hip and the hand of the outside goes up.

    I’m sure you will find many opportunities to pursue awaseru in your thoughtful writings, by the way I found something interesting about Utaawase and Mono-awase

  3. Really enjoying applying Awase as Uke, so much richness to the practice

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