“Thrust Beats Cut,” by Charles Warren

“Three inches of penetration beats a foot of slash wound.”

Pranin Sensei has challenged me to organize and present some thoughts that occurred to me while watching this video. The big problem is that each thought digresses into other equally interesting areas. So, my attempt to solve that problem will be to give a summary with reference to following paragraphs. As many of these impressions are visual, I will try to find video examples. This is organized as brief observations or statements with expansions below, indicated by asterisks.

First of all, go to 2:58 in this video clip. Notice that Misawa, the master in brown, has used atemi with the hilt of his sword to his challenger’s throat.

Point and edge – The first thought is that thrust beats cut most of the time. This was noted in Richard Burton’s “Book of the Sword”. It was also noted by Musashi in his comment that spear gives an offensive advantage over halberd (naginata). Napoleon urged his cavalry to give up the edge on their sabers. The British found, as the Romans before them, that three inches of penetration by a French hussar usually beats a foot of slash wound. Patton redesigned the US cavalry saber in the early 20th century along the lines of the Hungarian saber now used in competitive fencing, straight, favoring thrust over cut. O Sensei is often seen using thrusting atemi against cutting attacks (shomen and yokomen uchi).

As Burton noted, it’s simple geometry. The shortest distance between two points is a straight line.

Ukemi as the foundation for countermeasure – The “attacker” in the movie clip could have availed himself of a roll to the rear* in response to the atemi to the throat with the hilt. Would it have changed the outcome? Up to the choreographer, but it would have been classy and practical. It would have extended the distance between the combattants and given the “attacker” a chance to reverse the situation if Misawa had followed up incorrectly**.

This goes back to a thought that Inagaki Shigemi once shared that aikido is as good as any other fighting art, and probably better for multiple attackers. In an aikido multiple attacker scenario you (almost?) never stick with one. Get in your hit or simple technique and move on.

It isn’t that we don’t have pinning techniques where we stick to uke through several moves to a pin. It’s just that we have some implicit assumption that once uke is falling, everything else will more or less automatically fall into place. I urge everyone to examine that assumption carefully from the perspective of kaeshi-waza**.

After you’re totally comfortable with your ukemi you can explore the places where nage is off balance at various points of the technique. Kihon waza (Iwama style) provides fairly comprehensive protection for nage… IF it is done really correctly.*** The important consideration, in my opinion, is that at each transition the off balance axis is properly protected in nage’s posture/balance****.

This is not to say that kihon waza is the be-all and end-all. Not even Morihiro Saito Sensei said that. It is an ongoing challenge, though, to retain its conservative and protective aspects when moving on to motion techniques, let alone spontaneous techniques.

*”Back-forward” is a shoulder roll to the rear without looking in that direction, making the posture adjustments for a forward roll while airborne, one of the better responses to shihonage or sometimes iriminage & kotegaeshi at speed. Of course in taijutsu that roll will probably end in a breakfall because nage has a hold and prevents uke from returning to standing.

Here’s a good basic tutorial

Here’s another going to breakfalls

At 1:22, I feel the exemplar has his neck too straight. At 2:52, I prefer to have the legs at right angles, knees apart, but…

Now imagine falling to the rear from standing. The lady taking the kotegaeshi falls above is actually doing that, but ending in a breakfall rather than a roll. That’s more advanced. A way to break that down for learning is to start with forward rolls with the hanmi aligned to the path of the fall – right foot and shoulder forward. Gradually turn the leading arm and shoulder clockwise to the rear before you launch, correcting the alignment of the hips after the feet leave the ground. Pretty soon it should be possible to roll in a direction 180º opposite the original hanmi. You can lead with the arm and shoulder if you like. It’s a sort of guide and confidence builder. It also leads naturally to “wrong side” rolls, in which your right foot is forward, but you choose to lead your left arm and shoulder into the roll. If you then practice gradually launching along paths counterclockwise to your right hanmi, pretty soon you are aligned again, left hand and foot forward, but this time to the rear. Obviously your arm isn’t required in any forward roll. As long as it is not captured by nage, you can still continue to your feet rather than stopping in a breakfall. And, equally obviously, every high breakfall is an abbreviated forward roll. So imagine the fellow set for shomenuchi responding to the thrust by forward-shoulder-rolling to the rear as it’s delivered.

** A little considered set of corollaries involve reversals by uke while airborne or immediately following impact. In the particular situation, if Misawa had followed his attacker’s hypothetical roll carelessly, the attacker, still holding his sword in his right hand could possibly have had a thrust atemi or an upcutting opportunity of his own while rising from his fall. You could try this in the dojo with kokyunage, counter kokyunage practice. The original nage executes a kokyunage and follows his falling uke. Uke’s challenge is to absorb that motion into his own kokyunage throw as he rises. By challenge I don’t mean contest.

Cooperate and see if you can both make it work. You’ll probably find that by the second or third iteration the counter technique will be hanmi-handachi. All systems have friction and the original potential energy of a standing position will decay. You’ll also find that following distance and alignment are critical. It is almost always easier for the original nage to follow uke and throw uke repeatedly in kokyunage.

*** Probably the safest way to start with this is from kokyu dosa. If nage’s “down” hand loses extension, uke can extend into that weakness launching the erstwhile nage over his front, then follow to suwari for a classic kokyu dosa kaeshi to kokyu dosa. This could be done as a chained practice if desired. Watch for edges of the mat and other people.

Probably the most unsafe way to do this is iriminage kaeshi to kokyu dosa. This can happen “naturally” sometimes when uke is learning iriminage high falls. Uke holds nage’s gi and launches before nage steps through for the throw. A little extra (and usually unwanted) twist exerts a pull on nage’s shoulder toward the off balance spot perpendicular and forward of the line between his feet. If everybody knows what’s going on, uke “falls short” aiming his down shoulder for the spot between nage’s feet and attempting to dig up from under with the “down” hand even while airborne. Nage is launched over uke’s front as above. More usually uke is “falling long” and the result is that nage almost involuntarily steps forward and kneels hard on uke’s ribs.

Obviously, correct iriminage–and several other techniques, kokyunage comes immediately to mind–involve a step into that forward off-balance spot BEFORE uke can pull nage into it.

****Nikyo and sankyo are interesting in the ways they accomplish this.

In nikyo, uke’s shoulder can (and should) be pinned down (with a pretty much straight arm) while uke is in the critical position between nage’s legs and in front of them. If uke pulls down, it just accelerates the process. If they twist, that should be arrested by the straight elbow.

Sankyo, by contrast, counters uke’s attempt to twist out by pulling up and continuing the sankyo wrist twist at that critical juncture. Both could be finished with a standing pin. The pinning mechanism is maintained to allow nage to kneel into seiza/suwari.


  1. …If it had occurred to me at the right time I should have noted my indebtedness to Terry Dobson who gave me a private lesson in sutemi waza once upon a time (long story). That isn’t something that gets much attention, but at a certain level (shodan? nidan? sandan?) should…

  2. Man, that second scene looks like Nishio explaining a katatedori technique!

Speak Your Mind