“One change you can make to dramatically improve your aikido!” by Stanley Pranin


“If aikidoka continue to practice this way over the course of their careers, never noticing this failure to unbalance their partner, their technique will remain ineffective.”

Editor’s Note: This short article is followed by numerous insightful comments from a number of our experienced readers. Please take the time to scan these comments as they can be considered an important extension of the points I raise here.

I don’t travel nearly as much as I used to. But by the same token, I surely see more different approaches to aikido than ever before thanks to the amazing resource that is youtube.

When watching videos across the spectrum, I am constantly amazed at how many practitioners and teachers alike attempt to apply techniques on a “balanced” uke. Another way of expressing this is that nage has failed to disrupt uke’s posture before attempting a throw. This is especially obvious when uke takes a spectacular fall. An uke whose body structure has been broken will not have the chance to perform an acrobatic fall.

If aikidoka continue to practice this way over the course of their careers, never noticing this failure to unbalance their partner, their technique will remain ineffective.

On a physical/mechanical level, an aikido effective technique begins with repositioning, followed by unbalancing uke often with the use of atemi (combative strikes), and a skilled throw or lock.

The general process is easy to describe, but takes a great deal of practice to learn to apply consistently.

This simple realization and an ongoing effort to notice the effect of your mechanics on your partner will go a long way toward dramatically improving your aikido.

Your thoughts, please!



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  1. I love your blogs. You are drawing our attention to the main big problems in our Aikido.

    Our fault is that we are teaching techniques 99% of the time and Kuzushi 1% of the time. It should be the other way. With good Kuzushi (taking Uke’s balance), any or even no real technique can achieve the throw.

    This is the main secret for success, the lack of which is the main deficiency, in Aikido nowadays.
    Merci Sensei.


  2. If we are to correct the problems with Aikido practice from a martial standpoint it is required that we fix our ukemi. While I am not recommending “resistance” or fighting against a technique since this is really counter to effective learning and is a bad habit martially, collusive ukemi, i.e., falling down when there is no kuzushi simply leads to partners believing that things work that do not. Every time you fall down for your partner when you didn’t have to do so, you are damaging their training. Additionally, with all the work being done on internal power these days, people are developing VERY integrated structures. It is apparent that Aikido people learn to allow their partners to disintegrate their structures in a way that no other martial artist of any skill will do. Aikido people have generally been taught an ukemi that is designed to make their partner’s technique work. You can see this at all levels. You can look at the ukes of some very advanced teachers and see them put themselves off balance simply because their attack missed the nage. No practitioner of any other martial art will do that.

    So, what I believe should happen is that teachers should be putting first priority on kuzushi before they even worry about the finish of the technique. At the beginning level, ukes should simply stop their partner’s technique if there is no kuzushi. Ukes should be taught that it is their role to enhance the partner’s learning. They must give nage feedback about the correctness of his technique. So, if the partner runs into your structure you don’t fall. Not because you have the intent to stop them, but because you are doing your job of maintaining your structure and balance and staying connected to nage.

    Once you get to 1st kyu and up, I think that if nage has not gotten kuzushi, nage should reverse the technique. This is the only way to provide proper feedback while teaching proper martial skills to uke. Uke and nage should not be doing separate things. They should be doing precisely the same thing with their bodies, the difference being that one initiated the interaction.

    Collusive ukemi is killing this art from a martial perspective and it also makes it absolutely impossible to get to what I think are the real “goodies” available from training. We have contented ourselves with Aikido-lite when there is so much more that could be gained. But we have to stop with the “wishful thinking” Aikido and get to something real. – George Ledyard

    • Thank you, George, for your well-thought-out comments.

    • Thank you George! So important! I am as guilty as anyone from both Uke & Nage sides of this! So important.
      I am proposing a seminar series – here at Windsong Dojo – for putting our heads together to bring this thinking into our regular Randori practice. I have my own ideas, but would like to have a weekly ‘intensive’ kind of thing at Windsong to get others involved in order to hear/feel their ideas. I am thinking of 12 noon on Wednesdays. Anyone interested? I have Nick Lowry Sensei’s blessing, but I need to get word out to get this started.

  3. Bob Smith says:

    Mr. Pranin:

    Again, thank you for bringing up an interesting topic for discussion. This is an area where the Tomiki folks have an interesting perspective. I have some background in Tomiki Aikido, and have great respect for the pedagogy and system that Tomiki Sensei put together. Even if I don’t want to play that way all the time, the Tomiki system forms a part of the technical core of what I teach. The way I was instructed, there were 4 parts to every technique. First, neutralize the attack. Second, take an advantageous position. Third, take kuzushi or break the attacker’s balance. Fourth, execute the technique. It kind of has to be in that order, and you really cannot change the order and expect anything to work. I imagine there might be some similar thought in Daito Ryu, but that is merely a supposition on my part. There is a great natural aversion to being thrown, and a strong, untrained opponent is not going to want to be thrown onto the ground at all.

    I am completely comfortable with large, circular, leading movements with chains of flowing or alternating technique, as long as the intent is to practice flowing movement. It can be a wonderful and fun way to practice movement and spontaneous ukemi. We just have to remember that depending on the goal, a particular movement exercise may not be at all martial in nature, and recognizing the difference is important, perhaps critical to the continuation of Aikido as a Martial Art. Those exercises are not a problem at all. Afterall, there are many exercises that are done in Aikido for purposes other than martial intent. Rowing exercise, stretching, Furi Tama, even situps and pushups all add to the practice of Aikido and are not directly martial. The difference is that it is universally recognized that a push up is not a martial technique.

    Again, thank you for what you do!

    Best regards, Bob Smith

  4. The vast, vast majority of students are not serious about learning as much as they can. Therefore, it is easy to assume that very few will see or pay any attention to an article as vitally important as this.

    I would propose here that if you are seriously thinking as a budoka, it is just as important to be in a location or affect uke’s body in a manner that makes it very difficult for uke to strike back at you.

    The more I study and teach Nishio Sensei’s techniques, they more I see that he was always affecting uke either obviously or subtly. Often, he would have a little twist of his hand that would limit uke’s grab (providing that uke really grabbed you and did not use a milk-toast, limp wrist, three finger hold). Other times, there would be a huge move that would twist the heck out of uke and throw him so far off balance that only a little more movement would drop him.

    He expected his ukes to be thoroughly balanced when they came to attack. There was one time that I slipped just as I grabbed him and he gave me such a look that conveyed the message “Come on, don’t make such a weak attack, it’s no good.” I felt like crawling into a hole.

    On the Aikido Journal late 90’s and turn-of-the-century videos his Shihonages are quite close around uke, but if you can find older videos, I think that you would see him drawing uke out so far he would look like a twirling ice-skater doing a move called a “Flying Camel”, which has uke on one leg and his body, other leg and arm nearly horizontal like a T. There would be no pin to this Shihonage because uke is going to fly past you and down and you can’t possibly keep up with him to pin him.

    It’s also important to keep track of the angle you are at relative to uke in order to break the balance. At some angles, you don’t have a prayer of breaking uke’s balance if he is of any size. At other angles, it’s very easy to stretch uke out and cause him to buckle and drop regardless of size.

    These things often require a precision that some schools don’t even consider. It takes practice, diligent practice.

    Oh Well.

    Our advanced classes are often more like a laboratory than just show and copy. We are always questioning and looking for holes and improvements.

    Walter Demming was rejected by manufacturers in the States, so he came to Japan and taught the Japanese manufacturers to be constantly improving their products. They gave this practice the term “Kaizen” (I think I’m correct on that. It’s been a long time since I studied about Walter Demming). I’m not sure if Nishio Sensei was directly using this term in classes, but the articles and his book most definitely convey this message to be constantly striving to improve what we are learning.


  5. True! Tsukuri, kuzushi and waza. Tsukuri and kuzushi are the most important elements and waza is only the ending and is meaningless without the previous two.

  6. Aikido techniques are based on jujutsu theory: kuzushi (unbalancing), sabaki (positioning), kake (execution).

    According to Mochizuki Sensei’s reminiscences, Ueshiba Sensei’s first instruction was “tehodoki” (hand release exercises). Kuzushi started from tehodoki. Mastery of these basic exercises allowed prewar students such as Tomiki, Shioda, Tohei and himself to rapidly understand and master techniques.

    Apparently, Ueshiba Sensei dropped tehodoki and other basics as he was more interested in teaching students from his level.

    Also, according to Mochizuki Sensei’s words, in the early 1950’s, Kisshomaru Sensei gathered several of the prewar students for the purpose of making a teaching program. Mochizuki Sensei proposed to include tehodoki in the basics. Kisshomaru Sensei refused on the ground that it would encourage students to make their own styles and leave the dojo.

    Could that be the one change that dramatically led to the deterioration of present-day mainstream aikido?

    Patrick Augé

    • Excellent comments, especially the part about “tehodoki.”

    • Augé sensei,

      Very good post. I hadn’t heard the term tehodoki in aikido before, only ninjutsu people using it as a term for releasing your grabbed hand via the weak point at the finger and thumb of the grabber. Is this what Ueshiba meant, as well?

      If not, what is it? And how could it be part of the deterioration of aikido?

      I believe I can see what you mean, but I had never thought of this as something to focus on. For example, in Saito’s basic kihon waza for, say, katatedori ikkyo, when he moves/rotates his grabbed hand as he steps off the line (and applies atemi), he’s already weakening the grab uke has, I believe. Or so it seems to me, and that’s why it’s very easy to pivot the hips and turn to take the correct hand position for ikkyo (which of course means you freed your hand). Is this tehodoki at work?

      I would appreciate your insight.

      Also, you said:

      >Apparently, Ueshiba Sensei dropped tehodoki and other basics as he was more interested in teaching students from his level.

      What do you mean by that? “teaching students from his level?”

      As an aside, I’ve been following your budo for quite some time and find great inspiration in your waza. I’ve never trained in the Yoseikan style, but the crispness and sharpness I see in your technique, done with such little strength and with good relaxation in the correct muscles, is quite inspiring. It’s very different from the Yoseikan budo I’ve seen around here in the USA, which always left a bad taste in my mouth. It didn’t seem that great, but when I saw your waza on youtube one day, I realized Mochizuki’s style is still alive and had not evolved into the stiff, choppy type of things I saw in Yoseikan budo (granted, my exposure is very limited).

  7. Sheila Barksdale says:

    Does my butt look big in this gi? Yes, and that’s maybe it’s because it is actually big. Has anyone every wondered why all the ‘Ten Ton Tessas’ have fled the aikido world? As one myself -actually a ‘ten stone Tessa’ (yep, I’m English and those of you ungallant enough to seek to know my weight in pounds can check the conversion tables for yourself!), I find am frequently partnering seniors whose only experience with female ukes has been restricted to the petite body type. The way these fragile nymphs’ body weight is distributed isn’t markedly different from a slender male of the same height. If you don’t know why my instinct is to land on my side after an ikkyo takedown and not on my chest, (so, yes, you will have to pull my arm to haul me back over and if that means work for you as nage -too bad:) then it’s Gender Studies 101 room for you. If you don’t know why, when I’m nage for irimi nage, I’m going to do it MY WAY to ensure that uke’s shoulder doesn’t ram into my nipple area, then it’s time you watched a few more episodes of ‘Baywatch’. If you don’t know why, when I’m nage for tai otoshi, I’m not going to damage a hitherto marvelous knee by doing a snap straightening of my leg that’s blocking, uke’s calf, then ask the Coach for Womens Soccer to educate you on the ‘Q’ angle.’

    I attended your seminar in 2012, Stan, and soon after you posted some footage of me as uke for nikyo. You are saying in mock amazement “How low can you go?” What impressed me was that you CARRIED ON PERSISTING TO TAKE MY BALANCE UNTIL….. YOU HAD TAKEN MY BALANCE! A horribly high percentage of supposedly senior males revert to muscling through a technique because they have no understanding that ‘women of substance’ have a lower center of gravity. I was rather alarmed at attending a seminar recently taught by a 6th dan woman, (herself an excellent practitioner BTW) who dropped the remark that one should ‘never correct someone more senior than yourself’. However, I have been to seminars taught by Senseis Kevin Choate, Dennis Hooker and Henry Kono who all intervened to side with me when I was being so bold as to point out to male black belts that they were giving me the wrong instructions for my body type.

    I have got to the point where I would advocate an overhaul of the ranking system . It would reflect capabilities more accurately if it were a modular system. Something along the lines of Boy Scout badges: here’s a credit for doing high falls, here’s a credit for doing several hundred hours of shikko, here’s a credit for teaching beginners, here’s a credit for successfully partnering someone who isn’t a young athletic male like yourself. Just think, if your gi were plastered with many layers of patches proclaiming your achievements, you might get some understanding of what it’s like to have some womanly curves:)

    I thoroughly enjoyed your Vegas seminar, Stan, – everyone was very amiable and eager to learn from your precise explanations of aikido techniques. It was a fantastic opportunity, too, to be able to tap into your rich seam of knowledge of aikido history. And for those people like myself, sensitive to noise pollution, South Point Hotel, despite its alarming acreage of slot machines on the ground floor, has blissfully quiet rooms.

  8. Thanks Stanley.

    I’m a very young student though I am 56. There are many things I am reminded of when I train and breaking balance is certainly one of them. While my sensei sometimes apologises for seeming over rigorous, I am very appreciative of his continual reminding me to improve. As you say the theory is simple. Well, the theory is that I should use my legs, to give the body movement, to create the potential for kuzushi. But then I would need to have softer, more relaxed legs, move in something other than an A frame stance, and learn to apply that body movement at that tricky moment where everything can pivot. When I do create kuzushi, through correct technique applied at the right time, I know it and there is no defense from uke. I aim to improve the number of times I can do this, with the different bodies and attacks, each training session.

    I do notice, and sensei reminds me, that most muscle strain comes because I am not using body movement. Often, he simply remains as he is when being m uke, and I see that I have no real power, apart from muscle strength.

    Great article Stanley

    Peter in Brisbane
    Shodokan Aikido, Brisbane Dojo

  9. Absolutely true. Without kuzushi there is no waza. Even atemi is designed to create kuzushi.

    If you’re not in control of Uke’s structure throughout the entire process of the technique, then there is an opening for counterattack at the point where that control is lost.

    I think that this was one of the things that Tomiki wanted to guard against when he created his randori method. When our partner is non-compliant the holes in our waza become very obvious. It’s an excellent learning tool when used properly and protects against self-delusion to a certain extent.

  10. Kuzushi is inextricably part of proper technique. There should not be a separation (neutralize then this then that etc. and somewhere in there kuzushi comes into being). Where kuzushi is not one with any part of a technique there is suki and the art loses its meaning. My 2 cents…

  11. In order to learn how to swim one has to get into water. One can learn and memorize all the swimming styles on land but get into water once and everything will be forgotten.

    Same thing regarding aikido techniques. One can learn kuzushi with a sincere partner and get the impression that it’s working, but get into jiyû randori (free style) where attacks are coming from all directions and everything is gone. One has to start all over.

    It’s only by being exposed to stress that one can learn how to deal with stress. There is no shortcut for us ordinary people.

    Patrick Augé

  12. John Safe says:

    Great article and comments. I am looking forward to “getting with the program”.

  13. Dear Sensei Pranin,

    Your comments on taking ukes balance are thought provoking. This aspect of aikido was one of the first principles I learnt.

    Having worked in a custodial environment for many years taking ukes centre and balance while retaining your own is paramount to control. Forcing a technique without breaking balance doesn’t work when alcohol and drugs heighten the senses of “uke” and of course uke doesn’t want to play. All so, the confined environment contributes to options.

    Aikido as a martial art seems to be a dirty word these days, with its emphasis on looking pretty rather then practical.

    A focused mind and good technique are a wonderful thing to behold.

    Thank you for your comments.

    Shane Riley

  14. You have hit the nail on the head yet again Sensei Pranin.

  15. Taking balance is not patented by aikido. I started in wrestling. In wrestling it isn’t easy to take balance. Balance is vigorously defended. So why should it aikido be different? The answer usually is because aikido practitioners are more interested in falling safely than defending their balance. It is certainly true that if you defend your balance too desperately your ultimate fall won’t be any fun… but, you might take the other guy’s balance instead.

    That trivial answer is unfortunate because there’s a more interesting one. In static basics it is easy to demonstrate that balance aligned with stance is strong while balance perpendicular to stance is pathetically weak. Right, counters the wrestler, which is why you usually see movement in the standing position before one or other wrestler falls. There’s a constant realignment of the axes in a contest for balance advantage. This is how timing and distance in aikido make a difference. We all assume that our senses can perceive everything, even though we know it isn’t really true. This fallacy is related to the one about immortality. I’m alive now, so… A small move in the right range and time can fatally unbalance an attack. Static basics start with large moves in response to attacks with the idea of ingraining the necessary geometry. Later timing is needed to actually “make it work”. That’s training in motion, ki no nagare.

    Wrestling happens, as with on a larger scale, battles, because of mutual consent. The consent is codified in rules. As I think back to my successes in wrestling, they were largely due to timing. I wasn’t interested in proving how strong I was but was only interested in taking my opponent out. There was no caution, minimal technique and, usually, pins in the first round. It was within the rules, but not within the mind-set of most of my opponents. I’m told that aikido was not available at Cal for a long time because the judo teacher considered it “cheating”. An early demonstration had the aikido person intercepting the first attempt of the judoka to grapple, unbalancing him and proceeding to the technique. May I suggest aikido training against a two-handed, bear hug style, tackle around the knees? It’s not that difficult, but it may recalibrate nage’s mind. Similarly, there is a standing start position in wrestling. It takes away timing and handicaps positioning, the classic “set piece battle”. What do you need to make aikido work in that situation? These ideas are similar in principle but safer than going to MMA.

  16. howdy Stan,

    while i agree with the idea that kuzushi is very important in order to execute an effective throw, i do not at all agree with the statement that an acrobatic fall is the result of a balanced uke, and that an unbalanced uke would not be able to perform a spectacular fall. i think it’s exactly the opposite. advanced students perform “spectacular” falls in order to save themselves and their bodies from a technique that has been applied successfully and efficiently. in kotegaeshi for example, if one does not perform what some schools refer to as zenpo hyaku ukemi, the arm would be broken. that would happen in a real life situation, where the aggressor does not know how to fall, does not practice aikido, does not expect this etc. or when a beginner in aikido resists too heavily to a technique that has been applied correctly. if nage is yang and uke is also yang, the hand will break. hence, a smart uke becomes yin preciesly because kuzushi has been used, and falls accordingly to save himself. a good example would be tissier sensei’s demos; his ukes/students generally fall in a spectacular fashion, but the aesthetic aspect is secondary; the main goal is to save yourself from a powerful technique, once the nage has applied it correctly; i underline this, because in my opinion learning how to be a good uke and how to take proper ukemi is a very important aspect of the art, actually half of the practice :) other than that, i agree with your comments (the general idea that beginners rush to learn techniques, before learning proper basics like kamae, tenkan etc., the building blocks that allow you to apply efficiently a technique later on)


    • If uke can manage to take a high, acrobatic fall, he must have some remaining control over his body. Otherwise, he would be easily injured. What often happens in aikido is that uke takes his acrobatic fall but has his other hand free. It is rather easy to clip nage’s head at the beginning of your fall which is usually not done to preserve appearances. Try an experiment. Someone applies kotegaeshi to you. See if you can strike them in the head as you start your high fall. Let us know what happens. Thanks for participating in this forum.

      • Right. This goes to a thought I’ve had for a long time, that ukemi is the gateway to kaeshi waza. Consider how many reverses simply continue nage’s energy/motion just a bit farther than it can go without costing his balance, then continuing to the counter-technique. Clearly uke must preserve a bit of balance to do that, just as they would with acrobatic falls. A corollary of this is that immediately preceding a high fall there should be some opportunity for atemi.

        In defense of high falling, but critical of the techniques that lead to it, uke’s static defense of balance until there’s a risk of joint injury can precede the high fall. The large amount of energy/strength accumulated in uke’s body is released quickly. So, why did nage allow that resistance? Bob Fragier Sensei once said, “You know the line between yin and yang in the yin-yang circle drawing? It’s the easy. That’s where aikido works.”

  17. Once again the glaringly obvious is being pointed out by someone of note (you). Thank you. Everyone around the world appears to be more focused on allowing uke to perform some spectacular acrobatic feats when being thrown, to make nage look impassive.
    Just recently I watched a video of Japanese Shihan from Hombu demonstrating Aikido techniques. They all appeared to be doing this exactly the same as each other, with the use of brute force and physical strength.
    I lived in Japan for over 9 years and can attest that if someone of high position says to do something one way, then you do it that way no matter what. It appears that the hierarchy in Hombu have decided to make Shihan look impressive and brutal with the use of physical force. No one will question or challenge. You do not survive in Japan if you do. So sad.
    I chose the path of no strength, no brute force. My memories with Hari Sunao Shihan in Fukuoka have clearly shown me that is the right path.

  18. Uke has some control over his body because we are training and not really fighting. If I start kote-gaeshi with atemi, I will not really knock out my partner, just simulate a strike, at which point he would consciously and intentionally soften his body and start following my lead, or else I can really strike hard in order to make a point (which might not even require another technique afterwards). The reason why uke does not strike me with the free hand is not the desire to preserve appearances, but the fact that I used an atemi to begin with, in which case he would be disoriented for a short period of time, time for you to apply your technique. We either accept the staged act of training – I pretend to strike, you pretend to fall – or else if you are my uke and try to strike me with the free hand, next time we practice kote-gaeshi I might as well use a real atemi, see if you still can keep your balance and hit me while I perform the technique. I doubt it.

    • Thanks for the feedback. I can remember many instances during my career when I knew I could catch my nage with my free hand. On one occasion, this is when I was being thrown by a famous 9th dan!

  19. First I would like to thank Howdy Stan for his comment,a fter being in the arts for over forty years I have learned
    over what I was first told in the Marine Corps, you don’t have to kill to learn how to kill and I think we some time forget that. I have been injured before in Karate, Judo, Kenpo, but never in Hand to Hand Combat, in the Marine Corps or the Army, which had something from all the Art in it and to be able to take ukemi from an effective throw to me is one of the best way to learn the techniques of Aikido.

  20. Pádraig O Máirtín says:

    Thank you for posting this.
    The act of attack by uke is an unbalanced condition. Nage can accept the attack allowing this unbalanced state express itself and continue to its resolution, a roll for example. Unbalancing uke at some point during the attack seems unnecessary and manipulative.

    • Peter Marendy says:

      I respectfully disagree with you. If nage don’t take uke’s balance through movement and or atemi, uke would hurt and over power nage. The only reason this doesn’t eventuate is because uke falls for nage. Furthermore, I agree with Stan’s position on high falls. Such falls are possible because Uke’s haven’t lost their balance or have regained it.

      I would like to humbly suggest that the various Judo leg sweeps taught in my Aikido School brings another dimension to good ukemi.

  21. I generally agree with the point you are making – practice should be serious and not taken lightly, just like the bokken practice should be seen as if the swords were real – one cut can mean life or death, so one should always be mindful of ma-ai etc. in the previous example, an uke could strike the nage with the freehand if the nage did not use an atemi. but if this were the case, then he could just as well remain in kamae and hold his hand vigorously, without moving; even if nage frees his hand from gyaku for instance, and performs a tenkan besides the uke, i as uke can remain stable in kamae so that we both face the same direction; i cannot hit him from there, but he cannot perform kotegaeshi either; so i dont even have to strike him with the free hand, i can just stand still until he unbalances me using atemi; if uke takes a fall without having been unbalanced first, then he’s obviously doing a lousy job and not helping much his partner, who is under the impression that the technique works, even though it doesnt. if this is what you mean, then we are in complete agreement; i just do not agree with the statement that a high fall is necessarily fake; if uke is performing it in order to protect himself, because otherwise his arm will be broken, then it’s ok; and if nage uses atemi before applying the technique, i dont think uke will still be thinking about hitting back; for a splitsecond he will not be thinking at all; here is a good example, that i think illustrates what we are both trying to say – the nage pinpoints the risk of being hit in the face, but in the end uke does take a high fall :) it’s all good 😉

  22. Lawrence Robinson says:

    One of the main ‘problems’ in Aikido practise Stan…falling for the sake of it. I attended a course run by a high ranking teacher from Japan and all the students regardless of grade were flying off him from his slightest movement. I did so myself simply out of respect, BUT I felt nothing really. No balance taken, no ki, no effect. Even an onlooker who had never seen aikido commented ‘It’s all about falling over then?’ The way to react as uke in aikido practise is by way of kaeshiwaza – counter techniques. You will soon learn to take balance and affect uke.

  23. Tiago Esculcas says:

    Hi there!

    I’ve been introduced to aikido a year ago and i’ve been practicing it since then (even since I’ve ripped my shoulder ligaments from the first ukemis).
    Despite I’m yet new to Aikido, I’ve been trying to learn everything that is possible to learn (by talking, by questioning, but mostly by practicing).
    Although, I’m still having many gaps, so please, feel free to correct me if I’m wrong.

    Well, concerning to this issue my sensei usually says that
    “from all the techniques that we make, there’s normally 3 general and crucial steps:
    1. posture (to be prepared)
    2. unbalance (counter-attack)
    3. execution of technique (according to the situation)”

    We do a lot of work with the first step, which is the very first thing concerning a proper aproach to whatever situation.
    Second step is the distraction tool. With this, we disrupt uke’s atempt for a while and also his/her courage to attack, in order to give us an opening to go to the third step.
    But (in my little experience) I think this second step has to be done in a blending way with the technique to apply/third step.
    And I think that’s in here that lies the main concern of this question. Sometimes we (newbies) forgot to use atemi because we are concerned to perform an efficient technique.

    My first couple of months in aikido I was thinking on this: “I want to execute well the technique”.
    Well, now I am at the stage I understand that to execute a technique in aikido, firstly there’s several other things to learn and to be aware:
    Posture is a huge issue to speak about. Posture can’t be seen as a static position, once there is movement along with it (irimi, tenkan, kaiten…). And within these movements there are amounts of variations.
    Then comes the relaxation, breath exercises and the introduction of KI, wich connects everything that we do.

    Once I’d got posture “more or less” right, the same thought persisted: “Now I can execute well the technique”. But then yet, I felt something was wrong. And it had to do with this atemi thing. I’d realized that I’m doing a martial art with partners, friends, people that I knew and that I met at the dojo which means we aren’t there to hurt each other.
    I think that a strike performed by the tori towards the uke (dojo environment) isn’t the same thing than a strike performed by a defender towards an attacker (real situation).

    We do apply techniques at the point that we can feel them: nikyo, sankyo, shihonage or whatever. But that doesn’t happen in terms of atemi. We do simulate but at a certain time I had to ask about it.

    And after a process of training and practicing, things started to make sense (as the 3 steps named before). The unbalancing theme isn’t so spoken, but it makes a crucial part of it all. Then, comes a process of understanding. But this understanding only comes clear if we do practice indeed. Of course, the more experienced we get, the more quicker we get. And then use of atemi/unbalancing uke becomes a evident/natural part of the process within a technique. This is my little experience talking.

    I believe that O’Sensei Morihei Ueshiba wouldn’t make the use of atemi so evident, certainly it was against his principles in order to create this very unique martial art based on peace concepts, once the use of atemi consists in a slight approach to violence. I saw a few youtube videos with O’Sensei as well as I saw some excerpts from the book Aikido – Kisshomaru Ueshiba, and I think that O’Sensei with his background/knowledge (Takeda) and his philosophy (Deguchi) addapted atemi to a very smoother way of interacting with uke/attacker attempt.

    To conclude I think that with practice and training, things such like atemi would appear naturally.

    My best regards

  24. Saud Al-Zaidi says:

    Dear Stanley Sensei,

    This is a topic that is has been noted by many Sensei’s in the past in their own words and interpretation since you can explain it in many ways but it all goes back to the same thing Kuzushi. One of those Shihans was Hiroaki Izumi sadly he passed away in 2013. He used to say if you did not unbalance Uke then you did not attack the center of Uke thus you have not done Kuzushi. Kuzushi is only one of the many things that is not being attended to in Aikido. My Sensei used to teach by principles one of them was Kuzushi (attacking the center to unbalance Uke) and being 90 degrees in behind (very very similar to your zone theory). When I saw your Zone Theory I was shocked because it was the same thing and many Shihans talk about those same principles but in their own way. Kawahara Sensei used to tell my Sensei “go deeper go deeper” which is his own understanding is 90 degrees in behind or zone theory.

    What I am trying to say is the Aikido world needs more people like you and others that are trying to teach Aikido based on the principles and not how a technique looks. So I think its very important that there is someone documenting and researching such things.

    Saud Al-Zaidi

  25. Yes, yes and more YES! That is all I see these days! No disruption of balance to make the techniques easier to apply. Against a none Aikidoka, whose very good at Martial Arts, the majority of aikido techniques are ineffective without TAKING the balance first of the opponent. They won’t give it to you. There are many comments about Aikido being not effective. All due to this rule not being applied! The practitioners are at fault. Not the art. I have been a Martial Artist for 46 years. 35 in Aikido. Along with Chin na and others. I’m saddened by the way other arts talk about Aikido being a big joke, and doesn’t work against what is going on these days. I’m determined to bring awareness to the whole of the Aikido world to STEP IT UP in your practice! No more fake throws just to get a good video out. Ask how would this work against a person who has a different skill in the arts. Much field test needed. I’m confident others will follow and get away from the Falling down because it looks good!! You can help your opponent more by telling him you still had your balance and to train more!

  26. Sensei, I have read the article several times along with the comments. I began training in a “traditional” Aikido dojo teaching Saito Sensei’s weapons and body arts. I believe the teaching “process” I and most Aikidoka are exposed to limits their their ability to truly comprehend the necessity to unbalance uke with the 1st movement or entry. I learned the basics “by the numbers” and around Nikyu was expected to execute the techniques in a more “flowing” manner. Not easy, at least for me. (I am not implying that this was Saito Sensei’s method of teaching}
    I read or was told that O’Sensei said “before the attack is launched” I am already behind the attacker (or words to that effect). If that is true, wouldn’t that instantly unbalance the attacker, at least mentally? Is that the equivalent of taking his center physically?? If properly executed, shouldn’t nage’s initial movement unbalance uke mentally and physically? Does our problem lie within the teaching methods typically used today?

    I recently began training with someone in the Birankai organization and it appears that Chiba Sensei’s training philosophy was more martial in it’s application. End the encounter quickly.

    Your thoughts.

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