“Aiki Ken and Jo Suburi: Part 24 – Yon 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 24th in a 27-part series on the Aiki Ken and Jo Suburi, and the 4th 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.

Yon No Suburi

In this article on the Aiki Ken, we examine Yon No Suburi, which is the fourth of the Aiki Ken Suburi. In summary, Yon No Suburi is an application of the quintessential shomen strike, adding the symmetry of both left and right orientation to the strike. 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. Right and left side shomen strikes
  2. Pivot
  3. Right and left side shomen strikes
  4. Pivot and final shomen 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. This completes a right side shomen strike.

You will next complete a left side shomen strike: using the same application of kokyu, acknowledging that your weight is already shifted forward onto your right foot from the previous strike, push off the ball of your right foot and complete a shomen strike, ending on your left foot.

Typically there are 4 alternating strikes while moving forward: right, left, right, left.

At this point you will execute a pivot while simultaneously executing a shomen strike. You can do this by turning the ball of your left foot clockwise while bringing the bokken to your spine, Lift your right foot and replace it so your stance allows you to face in the opposite direction while completing the strike.

The strike at the end of the pivot began your second series of alternating strikes, so add a left, right, and left strike to complete the series.

Finally, execute the final pivot and shomen strike. You should be facing in the initial direction for the exercise.

This suburi is actually a combination of strikes, in which we apply Ichi No Suburi using a series of alternating right and left side strikes combined with pivots. One area of attention then is to stress the proper foot work required to maintain the integrity of the strikes, while balancing the tension throughout the body required to maintain proper form and weight transfer during the strikes. The use of a strike while pivoting likewise helps students learn the proper dynamics of a pivot that includes proper balance, weight transfer, and coordination with technique.

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