The Japanese verb “kuzusu” may mean to “pull down (a building), break down, destroy or level (as in a hill). It can signal a “break” or a “change” in the status or condition of an object or a concept. In Jiu Jitsu, Judo and Aikido, the noun “kuzushi “ normally refers to the breaking of the balance of the opponent, and thus the integrity of his positioning and thus, his stability.
It is no secret that Aikido was the third in a line of modern Japanese martial arts that have their genesis in “koryu” or old style arts. Just preceding Aikido was Judo, and while similarities in philosophy may exist, they have very distinctive features that allow them to stand apart from each other. Then there is “Jiu Jitsu”, of which it seems a myriad of styles and interpretations exist, and have existed over several hundred years. It is also acknowledged that Morihei Ueshiba utilized as a foundation for his art form, Daito-ryu Aikijujutsu, his teacher being the famed Sokaku Takeda. The debate can be made as to whether Takeda’s Daito-ryu Aikijutsu is a representative of a gendai (modern) or a koryu (old style) martial art. I leave it to modern scholars to duke it out.
A genuine representative of both Kano of Judo, and Ueshiba of Aikido, was Kenji Tomiki, a direct student of both historical legends, who later introduced a form of Aikido to the Kodokan. Tomiki Sensei was quoted as saying “old-school jujutsu consists in breaking the condition of the body which has lost equilibrium. It is called kuzure-no-jotai (state of broken balance). Sometimes the opponent himself loses the balance, and at other times you positively destroy the opponent’s balance, leading him to a vulnerable posture. In Judo, preparing of the opponent consists in destroying the opponent’s balance before performing a technique and putting him in a posture where it will be easy to apply it.”
From my experience, I find that the above description of “kuzushi” does apply to the way that Aikido techniques were originally designed to achieve their authenticity, validity, and their efficacy. Yet, in Aikido practice today, the application of “kuzushi” is quite often more subtle, and “hinted at” rather than explicitly applied. It is not all that unusual for the nage to begin a “kuzushi” maneuver, and for the uke to finish it. Of course, this smacks of “collusion,” and demonstrates a serious loss of credibility, as well as widespread lack of knowledge or understanding in the Aikido training community of what kuzushi really is all about. It sadly illustrates what these otherwise sincere students of aikido unfortunately lack by ignoring kuzushi’s critical role in making mainstream aikido real, credible, and workable.
The horses appear to have left the barn, so it is no longer a simple matter of righting the course for all of modern aikido with an easy “no foul” return to yesterday. Nonetheless, for those who truly care, we can individually, and in dedicated groups, commit to re-introducing many of the forgotten or carelessly ignored components of O Sensei’s original creation. It is a daunting task, but if the sincerity and willingness to do what it takes still exist, we will find the time.
I can personally attest to the fact that venues like Stanley Pranin’s recent and innovative Las Vegas workshop, the Friendship Bridge Seminars made popular by Hiroshi Ikeda Shihan, regional attempts to assemble talent from distinctly different styles of aikido as in Seattle, Florida and New Jersey, to name a few, a new wave of thinking outside the tatami has definitely begun. What an excellent example of applying proper kuzushi to the outdated misconception of “why bother, our aikido is good enough as it is.” As the Founder proclaimed, we are merely at the beginning of an indefinite pursuit of true Aiki, and of the Aikido chosen, best defined and practiced by anyone as a sovereign individual. In due time, we will be able to accomplish our individual goals without any requirement or need of established style, organizational affiliation or proof of authenticity to parties inconsequential.