O’Sensei’s development of practices involving the Aiki Ken and Jo were passed on to successive generations in the Iwama tradition, and have, to this day, continued to be developed as partner practices often referred to as the Ken Tai Jo, Kumi Jo, and Kumi Tachi. Based on the skills and movements inherent to the Aiki Ken and Jo Suburi, Morihiro Saito Shihan and Hitohiro Saito Shihan have continued to build and refine the weapons partner practices so that it is possible to practice fluid dynamics using both offensive and defensive tactics. From these practices Aikidoka can extend the ideas to develop precise technique in relationship to one or more attackers with both empty-handed taijutsu and more general weapons partner practices. The basis for the utility of the practices is the usage of large external objects that increase visibility and awareness of all aspects of Aikido technique, as well as distancing, movement, energy extension and absorption, and timing.
At Shugyo Aikido Dojo we teach the Suburi, Ken Tai Jo, Kumi Jo, and Kumi Tachi to all students 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 variations on the standard repertoire and identify connections with empty-handed partner practices.
Because of the continuous evolution of the partner practices, and out of respect for the leaders of our style, this series focuses on generally applicable elements of the partner practices, rather than laying out entire sequences that are subject to change. This approach will help ensure that the skills discussed will never become obsolete, as opposed to the practice sequences, which can and do change often. For example, at this moment in time, the 1st Ken Tai Jo involves parries as part of a lengthy series of interactions between two partners. Instead of attempting to describe the entire 1st Ken Tai Jo, the more limited and productive goal in a given paired article and video would be to describe only a parry, which is involved in several other partner practices as well. It is much more empowering to practice and master one individual movement at a time, because this allows the Aikidoka to use those movements in any way desired, and easily mimic any contemporary sequences.
This is the 1st in a multi-part series on the elements of the Ken Tai Jo, Kumi Jo, and Kumi Tachi. All articles in the series are paired with YouTube video demonstrations of each of the partner practice elements (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 weapons partner practices, how they can be practiced in both solo and partner settings, and how one can align the practices with taijutsu to develop increasing competence and precision with both basic and advanced technique.
Note: all the practices described in these articles assume a ki no nagare relationship, meaning that the attacks and defenses occur simultaneously.
Parrying with the Jo
In this initial article on the Aiki weapons partner practices, we examine the skill of parrying an attack using your jo. The attack may come in the form of a thrust or strike with a jo or bokken, and the goal is to absorb and deflect the attack. Click here to view a video demonstration of the components of this partner practice. The exercise requires a fluid combination of movements that can be divided into 3 major sections:
- Drop and connect
- Transfer momentum backward
- Anchor and parry
The movement begins with left side tsuki kamae as you learned in the Tsuki No Bu (for example, Tsuki Gedan Gaeshi). The jo is held horizontally on the right side of the body while standing in hito-emi with the left foot forward and angled slightly. Your right shoulder is back and relaxed. Drop your center by bending your knees while staying in an aligned posture, loading onto the ball of your front foot and coiling your left hip. As your partner attacks, begin aligning the front tip of your jo with the anticipated position of the front tip of their weapon through hip rotation and kokyu extension in the hands. This completes the drop and connect movement.
Your partner’s attack will close the distance between you, so you will need to maintain effective distancing. Push off the ball of your front foot while lifting your back foot. This will effect the transfer of momentum toward your rear. Maintain the connection between you by beginning to contact your partner’s weapon during this transfer. Place the ball of your rear foot in the anticipated position where you will need to establish an anchor for the parry.
As your partner completes the strike or thrust, anchor the ball of your back foot and replace the ball of your front foot in a new position to re-establish hito-emi in relation to your partner, while turning your hips to meet the attack. Applying kokyu through both hands, drop your weight into the parry, and drive through the centers of both palms, which are angled against the jo, to achieve the desired angle of deflection. As you finish your parry, coil your right hip to absorb the energy of the impact and your momentum, allow your feet to fully settle into position, and finish the motion with your right hand positioned on your hip.
There are some potential areas of variation for your consideration. The position at which you anchor your back foot could be either directly in back of you or introduce a lateral component by stepping back diagonally toward the side on which you are being attacked. The diagonal movement has the advantage of adding your body mass to the lateral component of your parry, which may be necessary with some highly forceful or energetic attacks. You can also experiment with the longitudinal motion of the jo: it could make a flat or circular motion as you complete the parry. These variations in positioning and jo manipulation are often addressed by the shihan demonstrating the various partner practices, and merit your attention.
Areas for solo practice would include the footwork as well as extension through the arms and centers of your palms. You can also practice with multiple partners, with and without weapons, and even practice empty handed parries with a kicking bag. You will find that most of the elements of this practice are transferable to a great many techniques and scenarios beyond weapons parrying.