This is the 19th 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.
Hidari Nagare Gaeshi Uchi
In this article we examine Hidari Nagare Gaeshi Uchi, which is the 19th of the Aiki Jo Suburi, and 1st in the series known as the Nagare No Bu. Click here to view a video demonstration of the components of this Suburi. In summary, Hidari Nagare Gaeshi Uchi is a combination techniques: it begins with Shomen Uchi Komi, followed by a left-oriented pivot into an overhead block and strike combination derived from Tsuki Jodan Gaeshi Uchi. Its purpose is to highlight for the student the possibility of combining multiple suburi into meaningful combinations of offensive and defensive movements with multiple ukes, in this case simply by virtue of introducing a basic grip change to transition between the basic techniques. The exercise requires a fluid combination of movements that can be divided into 3 major sections:
- Shomen Uchi Komi
- Pivot and Block
Shomen Uchi Komi
The movement begins with the jo being held in shomen kamai, meaning that it is held in front of your body with the tip pointing toward an imaginary opponent’s throat. Your right foot is forward, and ideally pointing directly in front of you. Your left hand is at the tip closest to you, positioned about 2 inches below your navel. Your right hand is positioned further up the jo at a distance from the tip that is equivalent to the length between your wrist and your elbow. Your left shoulder is back and relaxed. Drop your center by bending your knees while staying in an aligned posture. Begin to kokyu your left hand so the tip of the jo begins to left. Shift your weight back onto the ball of your left foot while coiling your left hip. Push off your left foot and open your left hip so you travel backward and slightly to the left of the line of attack, transferring your right foot behind you, allowing your right hip to absorb your backward momentum and finishing with the majority of your weight over your right foot. By the time your right foot is in its new position, the tip of the jo should be up and behind you, ready to strike. Be sure to keep you elbows in. This completes the drop back portion of Shomen Uchi Komi.
Now that you have absorbed the energy along the line of attack, you can enter. Do so by pushing forward with the ball of your right foot, shifting your weight forward. As you move forward, allows the jo to drop to your spine through a counterbalance of the momentum of your body and the stillness of the your hands in front of you. Continue keeping your elbows in. Lift your right foot as your weight shifts to the ball your left foot, and as your right foot begins to settle in front of you, allow the forward momentum of your body to begin arcing the tip of the jo into its strike. You have begun the transition from entering into striking.
Next you will complete the overhead strike that began as you entered. The jo already has momentum from your forward movement, so the primary activity at this point is to control its arcing motion to complete the strike. As you complete the movement forward and settle onto your right foot, the tip of the jo that was behind you strikes at the head level, settling into a horizontal position parallel to the ground afterward. Your right hip tucks to absorb the forward momentum. You have now completed the first part, Shomen Uchi Komi.
Pivot and Block
In the next part of this suburi you will deal with a shomen strike from an uke located to your rear. As you ended the Shomen Uchi Komi movement, the jo was level in front of you. From the ball of your right foot, begin a counterclockwise pivot so that your body is re-oriented to face an attacker to your rear. While pivoting, release your left hand from the inside tip of the jo and place it directly beyond where your right hand is located along the jo. Move the right hand to the inside tip of the jo. As you complete the pivot motion, tuck your right hip, allowing the drop from your center to be counterbalanced with your arms raising the jo overhead. The overhead block requires that your right hand be held at a higher position than your left hand, creating an angled surface that will deflect an oncoming strike away from you and to the left. This position, as discussed in the video, is one of stored energy, with the majority of your weight on your right foot with your right hip coiled. This completes the pivot and block movement.
The final part of this suburi is an overhead strike. To execute this movement, push off your right foot, opening your right hip. While doing so, allow the jo to begin sliding through your right hand, your left hand serves as the one point that enables you to transfer the jo’s orientation from a defensive block into an offensive striking position. As the jo slides through the left hand, you will notice that the right hand slides away from the tip of the jo. As this occurs, release your left hand and allow it to grasp the jo at the tip below your right hand, with the back tip of the jo pointing upward behind you. Keep your elbows in to store energy and protect yourself. You are now positioned to execute the strike. As your weight transfers onto the ball of your left foot and your right foot begins to lift and step forward, execute a shomen strike. As you complete the movement forward and settle onto your right foot, the tip of the jo that was behind you strikes at the head level, settling into a horizontal position parallel to the ground afterward. Your right hip tucks to absorb the forward momentum. You have now completed the strike.
Thoughts for Practice and Application
The two major components to this suburi are earlier suburi: Shomen Uchi Komi and Tsuki Jodan Gaeshi Uchi. They are connected with a pivot and hand change leading to a turning overhead block. Truly a major lesson here is transitioning into a turning overhead block (hence the term Nagare Gaeshi). It is also interesting to note that the movement that takes you off the line of attack from the front uke also accomplishes a similar purpose with a simultaneous attack from a rear uke. These two concepts, creating space during simultaneous front and rear attacks and transitioning into a turning overhead block, are the basis for randori practice with multiple ukes, with and without weapons.