Stanley Pranin’s Video Blog: “The Zone Theory of Aikido”

“Moving to the side or rear of uke, into his “blind spot,” makes it extremely easy for nage to safely execute an aikido technique.”

In this video, Aikido Journal Editor Stanley Pranin introduces a model describing the interaction between nage (defender) and uke (attacker) called “The Zone Theory of Aikido.” He explains how it is dangerous for nage to remain in front of uke when attempting to counter an attack and why the attacker has the advantage in this situation. By contrast, moving to the side or rear of uke, into his “dead zone” or “blind spot,” makes it extremely easy for nage to safely execute an aikido technique.

It is very common for aikidoka to operate inside uke’s sphere of influence when practicing and demonstrating without questioning the strategic weaknesses of this approach. “The Zone Theory of Aikido” is an attempt to define a framework for understanding how and where to move vis-a-vis an attacker in order to set the stage for a favorable outcome.


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  1. Here’s a thought which i find particularly useful in kihon waza.

    Draw a line between uke’s feet. Draw a perpendicular to that line. The perpendicular to the front and rear is the off-balance axis while the line between the feet is the on-balance.

    The 90º off-balance axis is used a lot. Consider katate dori shihonage irimi or katate dori any of the pinning series.

    You could draw a circle centered on the intersection of the lines which would represent the range of uke’s balance and influence. That isn’t really accurate. Obviously the round “zone” is offset to the front both because uke can extend his arms freely to the front and also bend from the waist to an extent. But geometrically you now have something that looks a bit like a compass rose. Cut the 90º quadrants with two more lines on the NE/SW – NW/SE axis and you have the 8 directions. Shihonage is an obvious toy to play with in this geometry at kihon waza, but how many others can you come up with? And how many of the 45º lines can be used as part of a blend..? Fun stuff.

  2. Dear Stanley Sensei,

    Thank you for the clear explanation of the “Zone Theory”. In Randori it is something one becomes acutely aware of. It makes total sense, and I do recognize the levels of danger and advantage depending on the position one takes.

    Our style of Aikido requires all of us to be able to perform an effective Karate type attack (ie. punches and kicks). The purpose is that in order to develop quality throwing techniques, one needs to do so with opponents with skilled attacks. The consequences of not doing proper sabaki, creating kuzushi, and/or taking an advantageous position can be painfully obvious when being attacked with punches and kicks. The instant damage caused by this sort of attack (as opposed to a grab where there is more time to react and off timing does not produce much damage) makes your Zone Theory an essential factor to understand under these conditions.

    Thank you again for sharing. By the way, video clips like this is a great instructional tool.

    Warmest Regards,

    Ken Teshima

    • Ken, Thank you very much for the most useful feedback! I think this is an effective medium. I’ll have another one on Wednesday or Thursday. :)

      • Dear Stanley,

        With the advent of video, I came up with a new saying…”If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a video is worth 10,000 words”. Perhaps a streaming video posted online is now worth 1,000,000 words :) Keep up the great work you are doing and all the innovations you are making in the way you are spreading the vast library of knowledge you possess. This is budo in action in the modern age.

        Warmest Aloha,


  3. Patrick De Block says:

    This is of course all true, Stanley. But, (very Japanese: very good, but …) in Tomiki Aikido the first technique in the basic Kata is Shomen Ate: a hand palm strike to the chin within the danger zone. And I’ve been told many times in various martial arts that the first technique contains the essential teaching.

    • The original first teachings would be from Daito Ryu’s Ikkajo kata. This predates Tomiki’s Shodokan considerably. There are advantages to going outside the attacker’s power and sensory organ’s perceptual area. When you have to go up the middle, I was always told by my Sensei to move a hand towards the face – and atemi is something fundamental to Sensei Pranin’s teaching. This also coincides with Omote and Ura of the Aikikai, learning inside and outside the attacker’s strength. Old time basics, people were learning to function in a formation and as part of a larger military, so face to face without any dodging was necessary. Shomen Ate is also the initial movement of a number of techniques like Shihonage, Kaitenage, etc where you start inside and quickly close the attacker off. Now, you are on the outside again.

      I liked the video very much. I do versions of these games to also drive home where a student has their own power. If we are doing a technique outside of this forward facing egg shaped area right in front of us, our Kihon is weak and we are weak and we cannot issue much power.

      • Patrick De Block says:

        Hello John,

        I should have explained myself better. I have no issue with what Stanley says. I wasn’t talking history and I do know that Stanley considers atemi fundamental and I should not have used the word technique.
        I was rather thinking about the concept of irimi exemplified by the first kata in Tomiki Aikido (the second kata is the same but on the outside) and what might be the reason Tomiki put this kata at the very beginning.



        • Dear Patrick,

          I hope I didn’t come off as rude. I think your question is a very good one actually.

          The first of the Ikkajo Daito Ryu kata that I am aware of (not an expert) starts off like Aigamaeate, then to something more like Ikkyo. I never really thought about it, but the 17 foundation techniques largely, like Ikkajo series and Ikkyo Undo in the Ki Society – it all starts to look like slight variations on bringing hands in front of the center and extending to take the balance, whether outside or inside. Maybe that is the first core lesson.

          I do tell students to take the attack they are given, and I admit I see students trying to treat inside and outside the same, and I see people trying to wriggle to the Dead Zone when it is inappropriate, giving up an opportunity. Same idea I guess when I see people trying to do randori by running to the side of the room – going outside is the “best” spot to be, instead of, “this is where I am.” So, while the Dead Zone is important, I try to avoid language that encourages the student to get some sort of tactical tunnel vision. The Dead Zone can be more difficult to reach.

          Perhaps Tomiki Sensei’s military background affected his choice of foundation? A whole squad can advance together in formation doing Shomenate much more easily than something like Shihonage.

          I have to agree that Shomenate variations are the opening moves of a huge number of techniques. Not all. I sort of thought the whole atemi-waza set formed the foundation. I agree that getting to the more advanced material can mean the more specialized peripheral insights.

          • patrick de block says:

            Hello John,

            No, you didn’t.

            ‘… it all starts to look like slight variations on bringing hands in front of the center and extending to take the balance, whether outside or inside. Maybe that is the first core lesson.’

            I can agree with that.



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