Watch where you put your hands! “Shihonage Revisited,” by Stanley Pranin

“A subtle, but key change took place in the execution of
shihonage between the prewar and postwar eras.”

Aikido Journal Editor Stanley PraninI recently uploaded a video titled “Fine Points of Shihonage” dealing with one of aikido’s core techniques. I covered a number of technical issues relating to shihonage that prompted many of you to participate in the discussion. Given the amount of interest in the topic, I would like to broach it once again, this time through the lens of historical photos of some of aikido’s greatest figures.

Actually, there is a subtle but important difference on the part of the major teachers concerning the way to grip uke’s wrist when executing shihonage. This difference can be clearly seen by examining Morihei Ueshiba’s description in the 1938 “Budo” manual, and in the way of execution of Kenji Tomiki and Gozo Shioda, both prewar students of the Founder.

This approach to shihonage stands in contrast with the methods Morihei’s son Kisshomaru and Koichi Tohei who were the main instructors at the Aikikai Hombu Dojo in the postwar years. Not surprisingly, Moriteru Ueshiba, the present Doshu, also follows this approach.

Let’s take a look at this series of photos culled from various old publications of some of aikido most important historical figures.

budo-shihonage-640In this first photo taken from Morihei Ueshiba’s “Budo” manual, note O-Sensei’s hand position, his right hand on top holding his son’s wrist, and his left hand capturing uke’s thumb and fingers. This is how Morihei taught shihonage before and after the war. Notice how uke’s balance has been broken as a result of this powerful grip, positioning and hipwork.

kenji-tomiki-shihonage-grip-575Here is the famous Kenji Tomiki Sensei, a student of both Morihei and Judo Founder Jigoro Kano, executing shihonage. These photos are much clearer. Tomiki Sensei executes this technique in a very similar fashion, especially with respect to his hand grip. His left leg has advanced forward as he enters for the throw. In the inset photo, you can clearly see his grip and how uke’s thumb and fingers are controlled by Tomiki’s left hand.

gozo-shioda-shihonage-575Next, is Gozo Shioda Sensei, the founder of Yoshinkan Aikido. In this early Yoshinkan technical manual from the 1950s, we have yet another view of shihonage with Shioda Sensei’s right hand controlling the wrist and his left hand uke’s thumb and fingers.

Both of these prewar students of Morihei Ueshiba do shihonage as they learned it from Morihei Ueshiba.

kisshomaru-shihonage-grip-575Now, moving to the postwar era, we have Morihei’s son, Kisshomaru Ueshiba executing shihonage in this close-up photo. Here the shihonage grip has changed. Kisshomaru Sensei’s fingers are interlaced together holding uke’s wrist. Notice here that uke’s right thumb is free. This grip is quite common today, but does not afford as much torque on uke’s arm or control of his center compared to the Founder’s approach.

koichi-tohei-shihonage-grip-575Next, is Koichi Tohei Sensei, then chief instructor of the Aikikai Hombu Dojo, from his 1960 book, “Aikido: The Arts of Self-Defense.” Tohei Sensei’s left hand is not clearly visible here, but I believe he uses a grip very similar to Kisshomaru’s. You will also notice that uke’s thumb and fingers are free. I remember that Tohei Sensei did not grip uke’s thumb and fingers in shihonage when I learned from him in the mid-1960s. Later, when I began studying with Morihiro Saito Sensei, the method of gripping uke’s thumb and fingers in shihonage felt very odd to me indeed, but more effective in the execution of the technique.

moriteru-shihonage-grip-575Then, we have a photo of the present Doshu Moriteru Ueshiba who performs shihonage in essentially the same manner as Kisshomaru Sensei and Tohei Sensei. Again, the thumb and fingers are not grasped here either. Thus, the approach to gripping uke’s hand in shihonage appears to be uniform in the immediate postwar era and beyond in the Aikikai Hombu Dojo, and by extension, within the Aikikai curriculum adopted worldwide thereafter.

thumb-capture-grip-575Finally, for purposes of comparison, here is a screenshot from my recent shihonage video where I demonstrate the shihonage grip taught by Morihei Ueshiba.

In these last two photos below, I show another variation of the shihonage grip that I learned early in my aikido training. In performing shihonage against a katadori or yokomenuchi attack, for example, nage grips uke’s wrist with the inside hand. This is the same. However, in this instance, nage’s outside hand grips further up on the forearm — not uke’s thumb and fingers — making it difficult to generate leverage on uke’s arm for shihonage. This method can be seen in some dojos today. I personally don’t find it nearly as effective as either of the two methods described above.



I have adopted somewhat of a forensic approach in studying the minutiae of a key component of the shihonage technique, one of aikido’s core basics. Here we see that an important specific of Morihei Ueshiba’s shihonage was abandoned in the postwar era within the Aikikai system. If this were an isolated phenomenon, it would not be of great importance. However, the reality is that the same thing occurs in many instances in other techniques as well. The end result is that much of Morihei Ueshiba’s technical input was lost in the modern aikido curriculum as many significant changes were introduced in the postwar years. For those wishing to understand the historical rationale for this shift, you may wish to read my article “Is O-Sensei Really the Father of Modern Aikido?”

Please join in the discussion by posting your comment below!

[I would like to acknowledge David Bone for providing the scans of the Kenji Tomiki and Gozo Shioda photos shown in this article]


Click here for detailed information on Stanley Pranin's Zone Theory of Aikido Course


  1. In the Iwama Style Aikido it is the normal standard to place the hands like you discribed and to fix the thumb of uke with the lower hand. I’ve seen this in a lot of dojo around europe.

  2. Dennis Chua says:

    Sensei Hitohira Saito and Sensei Dennis Tatoian showed me and my fellow aikidoka to execute shihonage in the manner similar to O Sensei’s as well… which I find more effective. For shihonage, got to remember that the proper grip on the hand/wrist of uke is actually quite similar to holding a ken. Thank you Mr. Pranin for pointing this out and also for all your other articles. Keep up the good work!

  3. I’d have to agree with you on the less effective approach used in Hombu. Unless they are executing the technique with an abundance of momentum, there is significant opportunity for uke to stop shihonage as they still possess a reasonable portion of their balance in their control.

    Arguments could be made either way as to whether it matters or not. Yet when considering that our real world application of budo does not guarantee that “uke” will, for lack of a better term, “cooperate” with technique, retaining as much control of the situation is one point I think anyone would agree is preferable to being at the mercy of an opponent who is lacking Aiki.

    • Totally agreed! Atemi and kiai are also valuable tools that can be used to pave the way for the technique.

      • Piotr Urbanowicz says:

        In Yoshinkan style the atemi is a part of almost every single technique and shihonage is not an exception. Shioda Gozo Sensei paid a lot of attention to atemi as second important disruption factor after breaking the opponent’s balance. Also, in my humble opinion, it is always better to control your opponent thumb – otherwise, he might control yours… :)

  4. In my past 30+ years of Aikido I do not think I have met any Sensei’s that teach Shihonage the same, they all seem to have different ways of grabbing uke’s hand. In the mid 1970’s when Sensei Jack Wada would come to the Pacific Grove United Energy Center to teach on Tuesdays he had an unusual method of taking uke’s hand, he would skink his thumb into the pulse with one hand and the other would grasp the fingers to execute the technique, it was a very painful method but could be demonstrated in slow motion.

    Stanley Pranin Sensei who owned the dojo seem to teach the Shihonage simular to the photo’s of Gozo Sensei and this technique was easy to control uke but did not cause massive pain for uke. I have seen several Sensei’s teach that the hand which is grabbed guides while the other hand traps the wrist and the torque effect comes from what I would consider something like a reverse yonkyo. This method appears to work rather well if the person is holding a tanto but again it is extremely painful to the uke, but very easy to make the hand open and drop the tanto after uke is on the ground.

    I have seen multiple ways during my Aikido pilgrimage through life and I do agree they are mostly variations from O’Sensei’s original teachings of the Shihonage technique. I personally prefer the original way I first learned the technique similar to the photo’s shown here with Gozo Sensei.

  5. Toni Rodrigues says:

    And yet, O Sensei’s way is different from the way they do it in Daito Ryu.
    And there is an old black and white video of Mochizuki Sensei (it is somewhere here on Aikido Journal) in France demonstrating another way of doing it.

  6. Dear Sensei,

    I came from Isshinryu Karate and Tai Mantis. I have practiced Iwama Aikido (third kyu) with my daughter so she can have partner at home. I recognized that Aikido techniques are performed without stances and suspected that may be why the variations occurs. When stances are used properly, in general for the regular people human body mechanics allows only a specific posture. When I executed shihonage from the Karate crane stance or Tai Mantis snake stance on my karate classmate I did not even grasped his thumb or fingers and the throw worked well. He weighs 290 lbs that 6th Dan in Isshinryu karate and 1st dan in Aiki Jujitsu while I am only 125 lbs. How people execute the technique is not an issue as long as they have some theory or fundamental driver behind it.

    Thanks for posting.

    Nga Pham

  7. If the uke performs a truly sincere attack, there is no possibility for the to escape if the defender achieves the appropriate unbalance over the uke, no matter the shihonage technique is used.

  8. Thank you for this, and the previous post & video as well. I appreciate the close analysis and example variations from different times and teachers. In my short and limited aikido experience I’ve seen variation in grabbing as well, but had attributed it to more or less random personal idiosyncrasy. I’m not sure what effect your explanation will have on my technique, but am sure there will be one, and I look forward to finding out what that will be. :)

  9. Very well done, filled with technical details and rich historical references!

    Continuing the analysis two (at least) additional points of rotation are added by initiating a twisting motion at the wrist joint. As this spiral motion transmits up the arm toward the elbow, it is amplified by the changing angles. The connection of the lower arm bones at the wrist is designed for nearly ball bearing like rotation; at the elbow there is less ability to rotate so uke twists away as a consequence of mechanics more than responding to pain. In the Aikikai method illustrated where uke’s forearm is grabbed and an attempt is made to twist from a point above the wrist, a strong uke or one whose arms are so large it is nearly impossible to get your hand around the forearm uke will have little impetus to twist. Forcing such a twist can cause an injury at the elbow (often called ‘golfers elbow’) and still not illicit positive control.

    You demonstrate the combination of twisting the body (skeletal control), capturing the mind (atemi) and disrupting the spirit (kiai) very clearly.

  10. I too have come across a multitude of ways of doing shiho-nage. I think I do both ways, but was of the opinion the more nasty one was more jujutsu in style, and if a beginner does it too quickly it hurts like hell – hence maybe the softer reversed-hands variant? I think it is possible to catch the thumb/fingers with either hand, but it is more effective, as you say, to do it with the hand closest to uke as it is closer to the axis of the turn body. It’s all interesting stuff and goes to show how mixed up everything has become over time.

  11. Hi Stan,

    This is a great observation. The question I like to ask is why the change occurred? Pre war/post war.

    Tohei and Kisshomaru sensei were both taught by the founder. Is their approach more free and fluid just like you see in O senseis demonstrations in his later years. Compared to the more static teaching that is engrossed in locking every joint in the arm in the pre war teachings, which in reality you may not have time to do in a multiple attack situation.

    You see plenty of randori with multiple attackers from the above teachers I mention but very little from Saito sensei or even Iwama style teachers. I think this is the reflection of the practice, focussing on static practice the majority of time.

    Any thoughts?

    • I understand your point. I think it would be an excellent idea for Iwama practitioners to regularly include randori-type training in the curriculum.

      As to the randori performances I have seen, even by some of the top teachers, I don’t really find very impressive at all. People like George Ledyard have done some serious work in analyzing the subject of randori and applying a more strategic approach.

      • I agree, a lot of the randori performances the ukes do not give a strong attack, some are merely walking and sticking their arms out for a strike. However sometimes the opposite is just as bad, when multiple ukes just bull dozer the nage and it just becomes a rumble and there is no form or chance for nage.

    • O’sensei is seen using the same hand position throughout his films. In both Rendezvous with adventure and Divine techniques you can see him throwing with the bottom hand grasping the thumb as explained.

      O’sensei is said to have changed the direction of entry in post-war shihonage. Saito sensei often explained the change to be to make it easier so you don’t have to shove through uke’s strength by moving more laterally. I imagine that Hombu answered that same question by changing the hand position while keeping a more forward entry.

  12. Excellent article.

    About the practice of randori in Iwama dojo(s). I think it is better to say that some Iwama dojo(s) should include more practice of Randori, rather than generalizing. Both in Italy, Portugal and Latin America, we have many dojos where the practice of randori is quite common. Volume V of Traditional Aikido of the late Saito Sensei is full of instruction on the way to practice this.

    The practice of katai keiko definitely improves your performance of randori for you technique is both strong and efficacious.

    As an interesting information – since the article is about shihonage – I can add that Morihiro Saito Sensei used to forbid the use of shihonage in randori or jyu waza practice, for it is dangerous if practiced against a group attacking one person. Since the defender has to turn constantly and search for the next opponent, it is likely that – if he uses shihonage waza – he will end up throwing the attacker while turning a lot. If the attacker is not an experienced aikidoka he may not be able to get out of the throw with tobu ukemi and an accident is prone to happen.

  13. I was interested to learn that the Shihonage was originally an elbow break followed by a reverse throw and was able to try it (without the elbow break) in a live sparring situation so I could see the real dynamics of a resisting uke. People often comment that wrist grabs are not realistic attacks and that “nobody is just going to grab your wrist”. However the opposite is actually true. I’m lucky enough to have trained in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and trained live rolling or sparring where it’s a free for all and you find that the first thing that happens when someone is really trying to choke you unconscious is that you grab his/her wrists, and for dear life. Also you can imagine that the first thing you would do if someone was going to grab or punch you is grab his/her wrists with a serious attitude. This relates to the topic because it’s important to be able to move uke’s center from his/her wrists by removing the slack between the wrist and uke’s center by using the correct hand position. Without the connection to uke’s center that is created by “taking out the slack” your aikido will probably not be effective. The same goes for other martial arts like Tai Chi push hands where your focus is on finding uke’s center.

  14. Russell Freo says:

    In our dojo we often practice shihonage the way Tohei Sensei did in the photo to protect the uke’s wrist from fracture. It is usually done forming a circle enclosed around the uke’s wrist, this also allows nage to move freely when entering the uke’s elbow. But, in advance level where an uke are more experienced, we use the same technique as illustrated by O’sensei in more cautious application. Shihonage is very devastating when applied harshly.

  15. In Judô, randori is the way by which one experiments with a technique and learns how to “make it work”. In Karatedô, kumite is the tool to achieve the same result, not kata, not “do-it-my-way/sensei’s way”! Would Aikidô be different? Did we miss that “hidden in plain sight” secret short cut/easier path claimed by experts who will only demonstrate with their followers?

    Patrick Augé

  16. Tom Huffman says:

    When I was in Japan, I practiced much more with Nishio Sensei than with Hitohiro Saito or Morihiro Saito Sensei’s or Ryuji Inagaki-Sawa Sensei. My promotions were coming through Nishio Sensei. Anyway, Nishio Sensei’s control of the hand was to make a lever of the hand with almost a 90 degree turn at the wrist. You have tremendous leverage on the arm and surprisingly we had very few strains of the wrist. The movement comes from the blocking draw in Iaido. This is where you flip the blade back towards you presenting the mune (back) of the blade to deflect a strike as you are drawing. Nishio Sensei I think stressed much more that shihonage came from a kiriage upward drawing cut and turning to a kesagiri (what most refer to as a yokomenuchi) cut.

    In just thinking about this, when you execute a kiriage upward drawing cut, you have to turn over the blade as it comes out of the saya (scabbard). This causes the same turnover of the hand as the blocking draw. Your thumb is turning forward while the pinky finger is drawing back.

    A few years ago I was studying Saito Sensei’s shihonage movements in the 1990’s set of books, (don’t remember which volume at the moment). I noticed in one front shot that Saito Sensei was blended very much in a mirrored, nearly parallel position with uke. I tried this and it drew uke well ahead and edgeways onto primarily the forward leg where he had no foundation or ability to pull back and when the turn back came he was totally arched back and ready to fall as soon as I turned back to his shoulder.

    This works so well, I use it more and more for the Iwama style shihonages. The Nishio ki no nagare shihonages are totally different because different physical effects are happening in those throws.

    Tom Huffman

  17. Ashton O'Driscoll says:

    I’m wondering what everyone’s thoughts are on as you step through and are shoulder to shoulder with uke placing an arm bar on by holding the wrist and using the elbow as a fulcrum. As I execute the turn holding the elbow and wrist give an immense amount of control and the torsion spirals from the one point up towards the shoulder instead of the wrist, elbow, shoulder. Has anyone encountered this variation and if so what are your thoughts on it?

  18. I’ve just spent half a hour doing shadow shihonage in the living room to figure out what I actually do.

    Against yokomen uchi, I grip the wrist in the O-Sensei way. No surprise. Most my basic training was in Iwama Ryu. (Six years with Tetsutaka Sugawara Shihan.)

    But against gyaku hanmi katate dori, I only take half the grip for much of the technique. My left wrist is grasped. As I step in, I roll my left hand, thumb over the top, in to my centre. This rolls uke’s thumb down, and the back of his hand away from me. (I have never found it difficult to do this, even though I am a skinny little old bloke with arms like spaghetti. The body movement does it.) I do not attempt to free my left hand. Uke’s grip on my wrist functions in the same way as gripping his/her thumb would.

    My right hand grips the wrist in the O-Sensei way. Usually uke releases my wrist about three-quarters of the way through my body turn. I can then grip the fingers and thumb.

    Sometimes, when practicing at speed or hantachi, I end up doing a one-handed shihonage, but always with my hand on the wrist in the o-Sensei position. I omit the thumb grip.


  1. […] enciclopédico. Ahora os volvemos a traer un estudio, breve pero claro, sobre el agarre de shihonage, y que permite entender, de nuevo, cómo cambió el Aikido en la […]

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