“Aiki Ken and Jo Suburi: Part 21 – Ichi No Ken Suburi” by James Neiman


O’Sensei developed the Aiki Ken and Jo Suburi, which thankfully have been faithfully preserved and transmitted as excellent forms from which Aikidoka can develop precise technique in both empty-handed taijutsu and weapons partner practices. The basis for the utility of Suburi is the introduction of large external objects that increase visibility and awareness of all aspects of Aikido technique.

At Shugyo Aikido Dojo we teach the Suburi to beginners as part of a standardized curriculum in the traditions passed to us through our lineage with Morihiro Saito Shihan, Hitohiro Saito Shihan, and Pat Hendricks Shihan, and we encourage advanced students to continue exploring the Suburi as a means to deepen competence in all aspects of Aikido.

The Suburi are helpful exercises that enable students to put into meaningful practice their understanding of lines and positioning, develop hanmi, kokyu, and dynamic balance, establish effective movement from center and hips, and work on timing of movement and breath. They are the subatomic particles that comprise our more complex movements, and provide an invaluable opportunity to refine and perfect the innumerable details that go into each technique. The more deeply we explore and live with the Suburi, the greater the connection we find with all forms of Aikido technique. The Aiki Ken and Jo Suburi truly are a magnificent creation by O’Sensei, and his beautiful gift to all of us contains the key and gateway to mastery of the art. The more advanced we become, the more deeply we are invited to explore the Suburi, and the greater the reward of discovery this path offers.

This is the 21st in a 27-part series on the Aiki Ken and Jo Suburi, and the first in a series of 7 articles on the Aiki Ken Suburi. All articles in the series are paired with YouTube video demonstrations of each of the Suburi (click here to subscribe to the channel). 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.

Ichi No Suburi

In this initial article on the Aiki Ken, we examine Ichi No Suburi, which is the first of the Aiki Ken Suburi. In summary, Ichi No Suburi is the quintessential shomen strike, and a profoundly important exercise in developing hanmi and kokyu. Click here to view a video demonstration of the components of this Suburi. The exercise requires a fluid combination of movements that can be divided into 3 major sections:

  1. Gather energy
  2. Transfer momentum forward
  3. Complete strike


The movement begins while standing in right hanmi with the bokken 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. Both knees are flexed, and your right foot is forward, pointing directly in front of you. Your left hand is at the edge of the hilt, positioned about 2 inches below your navel. Your right hand is positioned further up the bokken with at least one hand width of space beyond your left hand. The knuckles of both index fingers are positioned on top of the bokken to facilitate kokyu. Your left shoulder is back and relaxed. Drop your center by bending your knees while staying in an aligned posture. Breathing in, begin to kokyu your left hand (extending in an upward arc) so the tip of the bokken begins to lift. Shift your weight back onto the ball of your left foot while coiling your left hip. Draw your right foot in so until it is just in front of your left foot, while drawing the bokken behind your back while keeping your elbows in. By the time your right foot is in its new position, the tip of the bokken is dropped to your spine, and you have drawn in a full breath. You now have a lower center of gravity, in hanmi and on the balls of your feet, with your hips coiled, knees bent, and lungs filled with air. There is a lot of energy stored in this position, just waiting to be released. This completes the gather energy movement. There are numerous teaching and practice opportunities just in this initial moment of the exercise: standing in proper hanmi with alignment and balance, kokyu, coiling the hips, and breathing in are individual activities that can be directed in a structured series of activities.

The second part of the movement takes advantage of this stored energy: staying dropped, lift your right foot off the ground, pushing off your left foot, opening your left hip, and breathing out slightly. Your right foot transfers forward. Meanwhile, keeping your fingers loose with your hands and arms in kokyu, allow the forward momentum of your body to begin arcing the tip of the bokken into its strike. This completes the transfer momentum forward movement. Again there are teaching and practice opportunities here: it is especially significant that releasing the hips can result in a linear movement, and there can be discussion about the kinetic chain required to transfer the muscle tension into forward movement.

The final part of this suburi is the completion of the overhead strike that you began as you transferred your momentum forward. The bokken 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 bokken that was behind you strikes at the head level. To slow down the strike, begin a wringing motion with your hands, maintaining kokyu with the knuckle of the index finger on top. Settle into a horizontal position parallel to the ground. Your right hip tucks to absorb the forward momentum. You have now completed the strike.

At this point there is opportunity to discuss the dynamics of this suburi: the initial movement enables you to gather energy for the strike. You have the opportunity to practice fluid motion in your hips as you transfer your weight back and then forward again. You have explored an important dynamic: allowing your initial movement and the subsequent motion forward to be coupled with the movement of the bokken. Also, note the gathering and releasing of energy: gathering during the initial movement, and releasing during the transfer forward and final strike. As you practice this suburi you will notice that the gather energy and striking movements are all part of a single energetic combination, providing a profound lesson on the origin of a true shomen strike and the exact mechanics required for hanmi in a dynamic context. The dynamics of the combination of movements involved in this suburi will give you important perspectives for the entire breadth of the martial art. Dynamic body alignment, storing ki, breath, tension, release, coordinated use of both hips, and timing become opportunities for discussion for practitioners at all levels.

At various points in this exercise, it can also be useful to put the bokken down and practice Tae No Henko, alternating the endings between the classical palms up ending and a shomen strike movement. You will discover that the hanmi is exactly the same for both! This can be done in front of a mirror for solo practice. Students can also work on this with each other together.

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