On tensing: “Are you allowing uke to intercept your technique?” by Stanley Pranin

“It is as if uke has sensors that can eavesdrop on nage’s planned movement and predict its timing, intensity, and direction.”

The italicized text below represents comments I received from one of the participants in the recent Las Vegas seminar I taught jointly with Pat Hendricks Sensei.

Regarding the tension/relaxation aspect of your instruction, as I relived tai no henko with various training partners, I found myself thinking of the similarities/differences in how I was grabbed. As the level of intensity varied, I responded differently. I assume this is as it should be. When I was held firmly, I felt engaged and simply performed the exercise/technique. When I was not held firmly, I engaged my partner by slightly extending my wrist into the grip. I did not view my action as a tensing of my arm, merely an attempt toward drawing a commitment to an action before completing the exercise or executing a technique.

For me, the key phrase in this paragraph is “extending my wrist into the grip.” The way I approach tai no henko is to attempt to unify my total body structure and then move that “structure” into uke’s grip. If a movement, especially of the arm, is not part of an integrated body, uke will feel the independent movement of that part. This is because it is in physical contact with uke’s grip. Nage “commands” his muscles to move in a specific way and his brain sends impulses to the arm. The interesting thing is that uke is also able to read these impulses that nage sends to his arm. It is as if uke has sensors that can eavesdrop on nage’s planned movement and predict its timing, intensity, and direction. This makes it relatively easy to block or hinder nage’s movement because uke is “in on the plan.”

I am thinking this is at least similar to drawing out of uke’s shomenuchi that we also practiced. Am I thinking correctly?

There is, of course, some similarity with the idea of drawing out uke’s shomenuchi, but there is also a fundamental difference. In the basic form of tai no henko, we have a “go no sen” scenario. In other words, uke takes the initiative as he is the one instigating the grab. Our task is to blend with uke’s grabbing energy with our integrated body.

For shomenuchi, we have a different situation. Shomenuchi represents a striking attack. A strike can be a high-velocity event if executed by a skilled person. If uke seizes the initiative when executing shomenuchi, nage would have only the smallest window of opportunity to respond. Therefore, Morihei in his 1938 training manul “Budo” clearly states that in the basic practice of shomenuchi techniques, nage should initiate. This stands in contrast to the practice of other basic techniques where uke initiates. When nage initiates, we might call this “sen sen no sen,” that is, nage seizes the initative in order to control the interaction right from the outset. It is necessary to train this way in order not to practice colliding with uke’s high-speed shomenuchi attack. This would be fundamentally opposed to aikido principles of blending.

I would also like to mention an issue I have with the execution of technique on different partners. In attempting to execute say shihonage or iriminage, it really could be any technique, the degree of difficulty varies. I believe this is due to the dynamics of height, weight, body structure, flexibility, speed of attack, angle of attack as well as the unpredictability of each interaction. I understand the need to practice technique with many partners, but the dynamics between individuals may require working on recognizing what would be effective in a given situation. Your thoughts would be appreciated.

This is a good observation. Throughout our aikido training, we execute and receive countless techniques in an effort to develop a mind/body that is capable of responding spontaneously and effectively in a violent scenario. As you point out, due to factors such as height, weight, body structure, etc., adjustments will have to be made depending on the characteristics of a particular training partner or situation.

For example, a short strong person will have a mechanical advantage when executing shihonage or koshinage throws. A tall person with long arms will have an advantage in executing atemi and techniques where an extended reach is important.

The differences in approach according to a given situation are things that we need to consider and work out in the safe environment of the dojo. If ever called upon to apply our skills, we may have only milliseconds to analyze and respond to the situation. For this reason, we need to imprint new patterns and responses that are expressed spontaneously. Morihei Ueshiba called this “Takemusu Aiki.”



  1. Andrea Bisaz has written an excellent article on mirror neurons at under Training Tips. It addresses one of your observations: reading or knowing the opponent’s action.

  2. A thought I am often teaching is that we are electromagnetic entities. When we make a movement it requires electromagnetic pulses to be sent from the brain to activate the muscle to move. My theory is that a body in contact with me, can and will subconsciously read and react to the electromagnetic pulse practically simultaneously to my movement. The more relaxed you can be, the harder it is for uke to read or pick up the electromagnetic intention. The more relaxed you are the less emotion you transmit through face or body reactions, the harder it is for uke to anticipate or pick up on your movement before it happens.

    This thought is a bit less conscious, yet similar to what Dr. Andrea Bisaz is talking about in his mirror neurons. I think theoretically this could lead to very fast reactions, but it takes lots of practice.

  3. Kelly Purdue says:

    I believe that website is

  4. One of the realisations during my aikido career was that we are all connected. The fact that we are all part of the same universe by definition means we are connected.

    This realisation freed me up to not have to try to connect to my uke – in fact TRYING to connect seems to result in disconnection. This sort of makes sense when you think about the age old principle of being one with nature. Trying is not natural and makes use of the conscious mind.

    You can rediscover this principle within your own body. Accept that your hand is by default already connected to your hara. Trying to connect it with tension or strength or other physical means results in disconnection. Accept that is is naturally connected and then let it go.

    The upshot is, TRYING to connect does end up with this tension that your uke can read and intercept your technique.

    In cases where the uke does not give you a strong committed attack… Well if their Ki is defensive, well why do you need to perform a technique? If they attack and immediately become defensive, again why try to do a technique? In class with junior students this can become complicated, because one is trying to teach or demonstrate a technique, but the uke is simply resisting or being defensive. How to effectively transmit this concept to my students… I am still working on.

  5. Dear Sensei,

    It reminded me that at one time my neighbor asked me if I know “Chi” and I told him it is over my head. The way you did the tai no henko looked a lot like what we do in karate. it is Sanchin (Three Conflicts) in Uechiryu, Isshinryu and Gojuryu. It is a little bit different from the way I was taught in terms of Aikido. I am practicing Iwama sytle. In my opinion the rationale behind Tai no Henko is we collapse uke’s space by stepping in and as we turn we expand his or her space and we collapse their space agaim when we turn to throw them backward. Humans do not like the confined space and could not take more than one dimension.

    Thanks for posting and have a good evening.


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