“Kuzushi, an aiki perspective,” by Francis Takahashi

“In Aikido practice today, the application of “kuzushi” is quite often more subtle, and “hinted at” rather than explicitly applied.”

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.

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  1. Thank you for another interesting article Takahashi Sensei.

    I think that Kuzushi is one of the main points for those of us who are in disadvantage in relation of physical conditions like women, children or smaller men to develop a technique and control our partner with success.

    I found the Workshop in Las Vegas and the other Friendship Bridge Seminars you mentioned worth to be copied by others, I hope we will soon have that kind also in Europe.

  2. I think the foundational error in correcting and hence discovering – Kuzushi on contact- is to stop thinking of doing something to the uke. The real fix is in creating aiki first in you, as a balance of yin and yang as noted repeatedly be the founder.

    Were one to train, just in line with what Ueshiba wrote about, one would clearly see a path to developing Aiki as a power first in you as a stable platform that is difficult to move, then it’s cause and effect on someone putting forces into you.

    Ueshiba’s continued admonishing that aiki was “The two ki’s (in/yo) in you…and then the manipulation of them was what produced his power and skill.
    One common misconception of this we see in the use of Takemusu aiki;

    Quote Ueshiba:

    Above the sound “A” and below the sound “O” – opposites connected with Ki, there Attractive Force (“Inryoku”) is created.
    “Take Musu is the training of Attractive Force.”
    End quote.
    (translation; Chris Li)

    In other places, when asked what aiki is?
    Ueshiba states “It is the working of the two ki’s as opposing forces (in you) best expressed in Haven/earth/man.”
    For readers unfamiliar with these concepts they are not Ueshiba’s. In keeping with the thrust of this article outlining outside influences to understand kuzshi, his many quotes were anything but original. They were borrowed from Chinese and Daito ryu sources.

    So, if you think of it this way, Ueshiba was saying that
    [b][i]”Aikido is a continued working of the attraction point to manifest yin and yang.” [/i] [/b]
    (Ki…making duality (yin and yang) and this is what gives raise to Spontaneous techniques.)
    This is far different from Uke and Nage being yin and yang.
    When one builds a stable platform with yin and yang, putting forces in, or pulling force out, gets negated. Think of putting forces into a statue-you get moved in and out for your efforts. The stature remains. This creates…well…Kuzushi on contact without the statue thinking much about it. :-)
    Now imagine that the statue can move like lighting while retaining that immovable quality…while in motion. This in itself can allow the person trained this way to produce unusual openings in those attacking him that creates even more opportunities for kuzushi. This concept is expressed in an interview with Shirata:
    “Place the immovable body
    In an invincible position
    Release metsubushi
    Until the opponent becomes non resistant.”

    Again, First there is Aiki as the working and manipulation of the two kis (yin/yang) in you- produces an effect in your body that is stable and extremely difficult to move.
    Second, Ueshiba’s manipulation of any contact point that is now supported by this immovable body. The contact point being the attractive force that balances yin and yang is what is producing or is supposed to be producing takemusu aiki.
    “When I move…techniques are born.”…Ueshiba.

    There are many more quotes from Ueshiba that do exactly as the article here suggests; they borrow from outside sources, a method thousands of years old in Asia. A method known far and wide for producing the founders legendary power and ability to make…kuzushi on contact.

  3. Osu Sensei,

    Thanks for another great reminder of an important concept to stay mindful of during training. (and for being such an important influence in my Aikido foundation)

    IMHO, balance is important. I often suggest that people develop and maintain their own while connecting and controling the balance of their training partner.

    I too attended all three Aiki-Expos and have been to many Friendship Bridge seminars. All generative and transformative.

    Compliments and appreciation.

    Rei, Domo.

    Until again,

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