“Aiki Ken and Jo Suburi: Part 23 – San No Ken Suburi” by James Neiman


This is the 23rd in a 27-part series on the Aiki Ken and Jo Suburi, and the 3rd 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.

San No Suburi

In this article on the Aiki Ken, we examine San No Suburi, which is the third of the Aiki Ken Suburi. In summary, San No Suburi adds a ki-filled hidden component to the shomen strike, yielding a basic exercise in the fundamental use of energy as part of basic technique. 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 4 major sections:

  1. Drop Back
  2. Gather Energy
  3. Enter
  4. 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. Push off your left foot and open your left hip so you travel backward, directly on the line of the anticipated attack, transferring your right foot behind you, beginning to breathe in, dropping your center as the tip of the bokken travels directly upward, allowing your right hip to absorb your backward momentum. By the time your right foot is in its new position, the tip of the bokken should be directly overhead, right over your body’s center line, pointing up toward the heavens. This completes the drop back movement.

Continue breathing in and dropping your center, bringing the bokken down behind you while squeezing your shoulder blades together. When you are finished, the bokken should be resting on your right hip, with the tip behind you and the blade up, completely hidden from view from your imaginary uke’s perspective. At this point your weight is completely dropped, your right hip is completely coiled, and your lungs are completely filled with oxygen. You have completed the gather energy movement.

Now that you have dropped back, gathered energy for a preemptive attack, and hidden your intent, you can enter. Do so by pushing forward with the ball of your right foot, shifting your weight forward in an explosive movement as you begin to release the air in your lungs: this is often done so explosively that a spontaneous kiai typically accompanies the movement. As you move forward, allows the bokken 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 bokken into its strike. You have begun the transition from entering into striking.

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 drop back and gather energy movements prepare a hidden weapon, as well as an enormous store of energy throughout the body. This serves as an excellent training vehicle for using variations in movement to prepare for either preemptive or counter attacks, and there are various forms of randori practice that involve this. For example, this could be combined with a weapons randori. Finally, it is worth noting how the intense focus on gathering and releasing of energy results in a kiai: the benefits of the use of kiai cannot be overemphasized, as it takes time for students to develop an authentic kiai that truly complements their movement on the mat.

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