“Uke’s ‘Dead Zone’ vs. ‘Power Zone,’” by Stanley Pranin

Morihei Ueshiba applies atemi to André Nocquet from the “dead zone.” Photo taken in Iwama, c. 1957

“The dead zone begins at about 80 degrees to either side of uke and extends around to his rear. Here, uke is at a clear disadvantage.

In the last few months, I have begun systematizing my thinking on technical matters related to aikido. The result of this process has been the distillation of a number of concepts that provide a template for the successful execution of aikido techniques.

One of the triggers for this thought process was the realization of the effectiveness of certain aikido techniques, on the one hand, and the existence of “problematic techniques,” on the other. Earlier in my career, I assumed that these problematic techniques were simply a reflection of my lack of skills and application of techniques. Later, I began to question this assumption because I found I was able to execute many techniques effectively even against physically strong uke who were applying resistence. I began to reflect on the common reasons behind the difficulty involved when executing certain techniques.

Although there are a series of concepts, or principles, if you like that I have formulated, I would like to focus on one of them here. This is a distinction I make between the space or “zone” that we enter in order to apply a technique. I divide the space around uke into two “zones,” uke’s “dead zone” and “power zone.”

First, is the power zone. This is the space in front of uke that forms an arc of about 160 degrees in front of uke assuming he is in a natural stance. In this space, uke has clear vision and the ability to use his arms and legs effectively within the limits of his reach. I have concluded that when attempting aikido techniques, to the extent possible, we should avoid entering into uke’s power zone since he has a set of favorable conditions under which to operate.

Next, is the “dead zone.” This is the area that begins at about 80 degrees to either side of uke and extends around to his rear. In this space, uke is at a clear disadvantage. His field of vision is poor or blocked entirely. If nage can successfully enter into this space and unbalance uke, it is very difficult for the latter to offer any resistence against the application of a technique. In is here where aikido techniques are effective.

These conclusions have been strongly supported by my dojo training and teaching experience. I conducted two private seminars last fall where I presented these ideas in rough form. I found general agreement on these principles among a sampling of about 35 of my peers who were in attendence.

On several occasions recently, I have spent considerable time carefully rewatching films of Aikido Founder Morihei Ueshiba. I was especially attentive to the spatiality of his techniques in light of the principle I have described above. I found that Morihei operated almost entirely from uke’s dead zone when entering and applying techniques. The few times that he entered in front into uke’s power zone, he executed spinning kokyunage techniques or moved diagonally in front of uke giving his back to end up in a safe space. These observations apply to empty-handed techniques.

For weapon techniques, Morihei operated both from uke’s dead zone and from the front. In this case, the maai or combative spacing for weapons is different from taijutsu techniques. The longer reach of the ken or jo, and the cutting and thrusting ability of these weapons change the nature of the martial encounter. In such situations, Morihei was clearly dominant, mentally speaking, in that he would lead and initiate in almost all instances.

In order to explain my ideas in a more understandable fashion, I think it would be better to meet on the mat. I will be presenting this and other areas of my research in a joint seminar with Pat Hendricks Sensei that will take place in Las Vegas, March 9-10. We would welcome the opportunity to train with many of you on that occasion in Las Vegas.


Seminar Details & Registration

Dates: March 9-10, 2013
Location: Las Vegas, Nevada
Seminar Fee: $150.00
Non-refundable deposit: $25.00

Theme: “Excellence in Technique”
Instructors: Pat Hendricks and Stanley Pranin

Mission statement

The present state of affairs in the aikido world is the result of the worldwide dissemination of the art during the last 60 years. Aikido was born during a difficult period in the history of Japan. Things reminding the war-shocked Japanese of its recent militaristic past were frowned upon This, of course, included the martial arts.

It was in such an atmosphere of suffering and poverty during the aftermath of World War II that aikido began to spread its wings and make its way to foreign shores. Those who made this possible were, for the most part, young men in their 20s and 30s. Due to their youth and the interruptions of the war, they had only a few years experience in martial arts, and even less training under Aikido Founder Morihei Ueshiba.

These men — now considered among the aikido greats, names like Koichi Tohei, Kisshomaru Ueshiba, Gozo Shioda, and others — did their best to teach up to the levels of their abilities at that time. Some, like Koichi Tohei, were innovators and incorporated outside skills in developing their curricula. Given the tenor of the times, hard, martial training was eschewed in favor of presenting aikido as an exercise and health system to cater to the general public. The beauty and elegance of the technique were there, but the art became devoid of its martial core.

Now many years later, many practitioners are attempting to restore the martial integrity of aikido, and transform it into an effective self-defense system based on an ethical foundation suitable for a wide audience.

This seminar taught by Pat Hendricks and Stanley Pranin is part of this attempt at returning to aikido’s roots and rediscovering the technique and principles espoused by Founder Morihei Ueshiba. They have both been inspired by the vast groundwork of their teacher, Morihiro Saito, 9th dan.

Pat Hendricks Bio

Pat Hendricks began her aikido training in 1975 under Mary Heiny and Stanley Pranin in Monterey, California. Beginning in 1977, she traveled to Japan for the first time and began practice at the Iwama Dojo of Morihiro Saito Sensei. Pat made scores of visits to Japan over a period of more than 30 years honing her aikido and language skills. Pat became one of the senior students of Saito Sensei and took ukemi for him at many seminars and demonstrations in Japan and abroad. She has operated Aikido of San Leandro in northern California since 1984. Pat is currently head instructor of the Iwama Division of the California Aikido Association. She travels extensively worldwide conducting aikido seminars and demonstrations. In 2012, she received the 7th dan ranking from the Aikikai Hombu Dojo in Tokyo.

Stanley Pranin Bio

Stanley Pranin began training in 1962 in southern California. He received his 1st and 2nd dan rankings from Koichi Tohei Sensei in 1965 and 1967. Stan began a newsletter called “Aiki News” in 1974 which began his lifetime calling as an aikido historian and an authority on the life of Founder Morihei Ueshiba. In 1977, he relocated to Japan where he stayed continuously for 20 years. During that time, he trained primarily with Morihiro Saito Sensei and also collaborated with the latter in the publication of many books and videos. Stan also accompanied Saito Sensei on many of his foreign trips as his interpreter. Today, Stan operates the Aikido Journal website which is the outgrowth of his many years of research and publications on all aspects of aikido.

The event schedule will be announced shortly. For those making travel arrangements, start and end times for the seminar will be 9:00 am – 4:30 pm, both Saturday and Sunday.

Click here important information for attendees of the Las Vegas seminar with Pat Hendricks and Stanley Pranin

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  1. Dear Mr. Pranin,

    I’ve enjoyed your work since Aiki News was a four page handout passed around our New Orleans dojo. I commend you on your commitment to research and development in the martial arts. I was excited when I read “I divide the space around uke into two “zones,” uke’s “dead zone” and “power zone.” in this article. I had the unique privilege of sporadically training under Ed Parker, and your reference to these principles reminded me of the following terms used in Mr. Parker’s study of Kenpo.

    OBSCURE ZONES — Those areas of space that are outside the range of our peripheral vision. These areas are BLIND SPOTS on our opponent, from which, action can originate and be delivered unchecked. This term is also known as ZONES OF OBSCURITY.

    ANGLE OF CANCELLATION — A controlled angle which places an opponent in a precarious position, thus minimizing or even nullifying the use of his weapons. Prior to exerting control, this angle could be created by directly meeting the force, employing total collision, or triggered by a partial Angle of Deflection through either meeting or riding the force.

    Various aspects of experience, education, reflection, etc. help us refine our thinking. Like all innovators, we develop our ideas through some individual experimental process. Our conclusions may be personal to us, but the principles we uncover can be universal. A universal truth can, and often is, discovered by many visionaries simultaneously. As Koestler notes while discussing the history of science in his book, The Act of Creation — “The twist is provided by the phenomena of multiple discoveries. Historical research into this curious subject is of fairly recent origin; it came as a surprise when, in 1922, Ogburn and Thomas published some hundred and fifty examples of discoveries and inventions which were made independently by several persons; and, more recently, Merton came to the seemingly paradoxical conclusion that ‘the pattern of independent multiple discoveries in science is… the dominant pattern rather than a subsidiary one’.

    As you continue to develop your unique approach to your art, I hope you will take the opportunity to review the lifetime of research in the study of the martial arts that Mr. Parker left in his writings, teaching, and of course, with his students.

    As my Irish friends say,

    All the Best!

    Dennis Lawson

    • Editor says:


      You certainly go back a long way if you remember the 4-page Aiki News newsletters! I must say that I’m delighted to know that there is some overlap in my thinking with what Ed Parker was teaching. I had no idea.

      I firmly believe that you are correct in saying that many people will discover similar things working independently because they are coming to understand things that are universal truths.

      Thank you very much.

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