“The use of weapons and the question of changing form in Aikido,” by Matthew Hill

I am often asked questions during my teaching about the use of weapons and why the form changes when it is supposed to be, ‘preserved exactly as O’Sensei taught it.’

O’Sensei brought his study of the spear, sword, knife and aiki jujitsu together to form a martial system that he called Aikido. Some ask why we practice with weapons. There are many reasons ranging from the practical fact that as O’Sensei lived in a world where there were such things as swords, knives and spears and therefore we have to learn to cope with them, and due to the fact that they reveal aspects of our Aikido that practicing empty handed alone cannot.

Some of these aspects are:

  • The different distances involved that we need to automatically adjust to
  • The sharp clarity of utilising hito-e-mi and hanmi
  • Calmness of mind when attacked with a sword, knife or spear (ease with other weapons will be a natural consequence, but it is still good to try other weapons)
  • The sharpness, focus and precision that comes from facing these weapons

The kumijo, kumitachi and katas have changed and developed over the years because they were not meant to be rigidly set. As with all of our Aikido, it is the principles that are important not the order in which we practice the movements. Take a mason as an example. First he has to learn how to make a solid building block (this is our suburi). Once he has mastered this with the correct moulds and mixes, etc., he has something that he can use to build with. If the bricks are not made well they will crumble under pressure.

Once his basic building blocks (aikido’s suburi) are correct, and the aikidoka understands the importance of the principles of construction: deep foundations, angles, supports etc. (aikido’s hanmi, awase, ki-no-nagare, kokyu, treat many as one, train hard fight easy (i.e. sincere, strong attacks) etc. The master mason can then build any form that he wants to. We can see this evidenced in the glorious cathedrals all across Britain. In aikido, these cathedrals are mirrored in our end goal of takemusu. Takemusu (literally take – technique and musu – birth) is the stage attained where aikido is so much a part of us that our every movement (martial or not) is spontaneous and just right, where you transcend mastery into being a maestro.

So one should not be concerned that form changes, to mix maxims, ‘form is temporary; principles are permanent.’ Indeed, they are still changing. All through O-Sensei’s life, Saito Sensei’s life and now his son Hitohira Sensei’s life, their form has developed. (Please excuse me here for only using the Iwama tree, but it’s the only one about which I can talk from experience) The principles however, have remained constant.

Some examples of this are the 31 count kata movements numbered 9, 10, 11, 12 and 13 that are recently all practiced as one continuous movement. Similarly numbers 15 and 16, 20 and 21 and 25 and 26 are already linked together without any pauses to form one flowing movement. Of course, in reality they were only separated to make learning them easier. This can be found throughout our aikido where we ‘chunk’ movements down to make learning simpler.

On the 1st kumitachi some practise cutting the body in the first defensive movement whilst other sword schools cut to the wrist as the sword strikes. Which is correct? Answer both and neither, it is whatever works in a situation. In mastery of the basics we must be rigid, in real time application flexibility is all important.

I hope that this goes someway to answering the questions of why weapons are practiced and why form changes. If anyone has any questions they are welcome to email me from the site at Wiltshire Martial Arts


  1. Just my opinion – when people pick up weapons, even wood weapons, that “raises the ante”. Whatever problems you may have with open handed techniques are likely to be magnified by the level of discomfort attendant with the additional pressure of a weapon (or weapons). People won’t like the additional pressure, but as they become accustomed… well, they will both be more comfortable with a higher level of pressure and also gain some proficiency with hand weapons.

    • Hi Chuck and thanks for the comment and you make a good point. The extra stress of being attacked with a weapon further enhances the need to breathe calmly and fluidly allowing you to move more freely and to maintain a relaxed, creative, aware, state. I find that the dojo can be a sterile environment and anything that takes us out of the comfort zone and introduces obstacles, extra stresses, restrictions and such is great for raising awareness of levels of fear and tension in the body and the restrictions that these bring.



      • Since Stan brought this up again, it occurs to me that weapons work helps align the body. Also it helps to coordinate our sides. I am originally about as uncoordinated on each side, so… 😉 I’ve had a lot of work to do. Among the things I’ve noticed and gained from in weapons work it the subtle relationship between hands and hips in shomen. If you miss that, you will probably lose about half your striking power. That crosses over directly into taijutsu. I would say an easy place to see it is nikyo tenkan.

  2. Very good, Matthew Sensei! Loved the article.

  3. Simon Collier says:

    Really good to see such a common sense piece regarding weapons use. I practice in an aikikai dojo where we regularly practice weapons, still have a very long way to go before I can be considered competent though. Good luck with your practice.

  4. Thanks Matt, I enjoyed your Post .Which reminded me of the late Sensei Billy Slim Coyle’s opinion on this subject. Especially what you said about the Principles being so important. Sensei Coyle was a Pioneer in Introducing Aikido in Scotland and a very much missed Sensei.

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