“Shihonage: Show vs. Realism” by Stanley Pranin

Morihei Ueshiba demonstrating shihonage from his 1938 training manual Budo

Morihei Ueshiba demonstrating a perfectly executed shihonage from his 1938 training manual Budo

Shihonage is known as aikido’s “four-corner throw”. It involves twisting a partner’s wrist, a rapid pivot resulting in a powerful control of his wrist, followed by a throw.

 Shihonage performed in practice with a single hand controlling the opponent

Shihonage performed in practice with a single hand controlling the opponent

 Present Doshu Moriteru Ueshiba performing a one handed shihonage during demo

Present Doshu Moriteru Ueshiba performing a one handed shihonage during demo

But like anything else in aikido, there are a variety of different styles of performing the technique. Although the basic technique calls for holding your partner’s hand firmly with two hands, it is customary in many dojos to finish the technique holding your partner’s wrist with only one hand.

This can often be seen in aikido demonstrations where an attacker is quickly dispatched with a shihonage controled through a single hand. Often this will be accompanied with the opponent performing a spectacular high fall which never fails to impress an audience.

I think that we often forget the mechanics of basic techniques like shihonage and gravitate toward executing throws in a more spectacular fashion which leaves a strong impression in the eyes of the beholder. It is important to keep in mind that there is a strong element of collusion at play in a demonstration context.

What happens in the dojo when strong basics are emphasized may be less impressive but is far more effective and martial.

 Morihiro Saito executing a shihonage with full control over the opponent seen from a different angle

Morihiro Saito executing a shihonage with full control over the opponent seen from a different angle

What if we consider shihonage as a powerful tool to allow us to subdue and control an opponent? What would the technique look like then? Here are some examples where shihonage is applied with both hands controlling the opponent. Uke is locked in a backward falling position with no change to escape or execute a counterattack.

 The author executing shihonage where its off-balancing effect on the opponent is clearly visible

The author executing shihonage where the technique’s off-balancing effect on the opponent is clearly visible



Now Mobile Friendly! Watch these videos for insights into
solving the technical problems that hold back your progress!

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


  1. David Buhner says:

    The photo of O’Sensei throwing shihonage, as best as can be told from this one angle, resembles exactly how I was taught by my Iwama ryu sensei: nage faces uke in hanmi, uke’s hand has been brought back to the shoulder, uke’s back is arched backwards, nage holds with two hands (assuming, if starting katatedori or ryotedori, that uke has released his/her grip), nage’s hands are just in front of the forehead, and nage cuts to the empty space behind uke and between uke’s legs. The photo of Saito Sensei is from a different angle but appears much the same.

    Having successfully reached this position, the throw is effortless and irresistable in my experience. The trick is getting there regardless of starting position and uke’s size and strength.

    Once this position has been reached, uke’s posture and balance are so compromised that the technique is easily finished one handed (if throwing–Iwama ryu takes uke to the ground in my recollection, maintaining control with both hands).

  2. You should always go behind Uke and never from Uke while doing Shihonage. The way that O’Sensei is doing is the way I was taught in the Aikikai system. It is the best way for both Uke and Nage.

  3. You are absolutely correct about this. And as you say this also applies to Kote Gaeshi. Much of our practice is with Uke attacking all out and trying to kill Nage with padded training knives. Uke continues to attack while falling and on the mat. We assume that the atemi and the fall do not destroy Uke. This seems realistic because we cannot depend on these. Under these conditions it is very difficult to make most techniques work. Especially this time of year in a hot dojo without air conditioning. We are very slick. We fully agree with much of what you say. Pain compliance is almost impossible. We agree with you that Aikido is the art of being where you cannot be killed. You have to get behind Uke. Very few techniques really work. Tenchi Nage, Irimi Nage, Kokyu Nage and maybe a version of Ushiro Nage. In theory other things like Kote Gaeshi, Shiho Nage, Koshi Nage and Ikkyo should work but in the heat, in an all out attack, these are very difficult. Abandoning formal attacks and really trying to kill your partner using every trick you know makes training very exciting and very humbling.

  4. Looking at the photos here, I am reminded of three major safety features of the shihonage. One, folding the arm at the elbow instead of winging it painfully outward. Two, lining up the arm on uke’s spine before the throw. Three, holding the uke as he/she hits the mat. The fourth life-saving feature of shiho (rarely mentioned) was the single fatal accident in keiko some years ago in Osaka — with shihonage.

    • All valid points. I assure that there have been many fatal accidents involving shihonage in training at universities in Japan that have been buried. I have written about this extensively.

  5. Tom Huffman says:

    Hi Stan,
    I have found over the years that there are a lot of variables that can effect this as well. I also see that in many of the high fall throws, nage is vulnerable to being taken down with uke if uke makes a simple hook or grab.

    I totally stopped any sideways throws because of this vulnerablilty and I teach my students this vulnerablilty if somebody is throwing them. I’m convinced the side throw is where the most arm breaks come from. So grabbing nage is self protection. Take him along, then it’s lots harder for him to break your arm. Humiliating nage is much better than getting your arm broke because of some jerk’s ego.

  6. Excellent work. I just want to know how to enroll myself to it

  7. John Hillson says:

    Definitely I see differences in how Shihonage is performed in dojo where this is a throw from dojo where this practice ends in a pin. The throws are usually done for distance, a pin is kept close. It is easier to blade the body and reach out with one hand.

    In terms of one hand or two – Kawahara Sensei showed many one handed variations of techniques but this was, I believe, a training method. Each hand can control Uke when used in a different way. The point of doing one hand or the other was to learn to fully express each side of the technique. The two hands don’t just mirror each other. Bringing the two hands back together correctly was the next step of the practice.

  8. David Misimi says:

    Dear Stanley,

    I began my training with Tohei’s system in 1974 and I would occasionally attack my teacher full speed. The dynamics are such that if nage can intercept the strike just at the moment prior to the body consolidating its forward momentum with the downward trajectory of the arm, the strike can be effectively negated with not much “collision.” However, the uke’s body will continue forward and fly past his now secured striking arm, causing his body to rotate 180 degrees and for the most part be airborne

    If nage tries to force the technique, uke will feel that and start to re-posture his body from an attacking attitude to a more self-protective one. In the strike uke is relaxed and elongated, but if he starts to experience or perceive an impending “collision,” he naturally tries to secure his joints and shortens his length, effectively killing any forward momentum.

    You will not see this dynamic with anything less than a full-speed attack because there will not be enough momentum generated to result in what I just described. I attest to this occurring consistently and routinely. It is a startling fall to experience the first time because you are up-ended and you have to trust that your partner will not slam you to the mat while you are in the descent phase of your fall. (I never saw Tohei slam anyone to the floor though a few got slammed due relative to the intensity of their attack.)

    Stan, you posted a video with Chuck Liddell’s (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aqf42bsTXnY) overhand fist as being something you wouldn’t want to be passively standing in front of. That is true, but – Liddell’s power comes from the torque he develops by the thrust he initiates from his rear right leg with his left leg firmly planted. The speed of rotation of the hips and upper torso is what culminates in the power seen at the point of impact. It is similar to the mechanics of a baseball pitcher or a boxer’s right-cross. Although the strike comes from overhead, the body mechanics is more closely related to yokomenuchi

    The impressiveness of Liddell’s strike is the impact point which pre-supposes his target being within the arc of the strike. What you don’t see is how he closed the distance to his target sufficiently such that he can strike with his rear hand. Though shomenuchi can be executed this way, it is more commonly performed with right hand/right foot forward, or vice versa, as in your photos above.

    When the striking hand and foot are of the same side, it is like a boxer’s jab. It breeches distance with speed not power. Power is reserved for the rear hand, and that is the procuct of torque. There is minimal torque with a front foot/front hand strike.

    (Regarding the above photos, #1 suggests that ukemi’s arm is in its up-swing phase as opposed to the downward as Tohei’s head is outside the arc of the strike. #2 shows ukemi has advanced one foot-stride closer with Tohei now within the arc of the strike.)

    Another note is that, in my experience, Tohei’s body was incredibly centered in that even if you did collide with him it was more likely you would bounce off him, even if coming to him with speed. However, Tohei’s body was very soft, such that any initial contact was not a hard, impactful one, but one that was initially absorbed as his joints worked like shock absorbers. With one’s initial energy displaced, what was felt immediately after was solidity and weight.

    Training at full-speed introduces a range of dynamics that are unique but somewhat dangerous to incorporate into a general training session. I was perhaps a little reckless when I practiced this way, but I really came to believe in the dictum, “the harder you come, the harder you fall.”

    One example of an interesting dynamic in real-time action is how easily one can be “wrong-footed.” Gionelli states above, “…sensei drops his center right after uke (Endo?) begins his attack…” In a workshop with Tohei in San Francisco in 1974, one of the nuances to shomenuchi-ikkyo he showed us was this little “dip,” just as uke was about to strike. As uke, just prior to coming to your relase point for striking, that little dip and 2 inch shift in your target had the effect of totally messing up your timing and you instinctively pulled back your power. However, you were already charging forward and had committed a good deal of momentum to the attack that couldn’t be pulled back. For one moment you were almost weightless and could not consolidate your total body movement into a coherent strike. It is like a 100 meter sprinter miss-timing the starting gun and meekly falling forward off his blocks, unable to hold himself back. In baseball when a good pitcher sets up a power hitter with fastball after fastball, high and inside. With 2 strikes on the batter the pitcher throws a slow breaking ball to the outside corner. He can even throw it into the dirt and the big swinging homerun hitter is so out in front of the pitch, all he can do is swat at the ball, strike 3!

    I will agree with you Stan, that if someone attacks you with a full commitment, you cannot just stand there and passively react to it. And generally, if anyone has any sense about it-they don’t. Whether it is a slight step to change the angle of attack or Tohei subtly messing up your timing with his “dip.” Perhaps aikido can never break-out of it’s structured kihon modes but there needs to be more play, improvisation and experimentation, as in systema. I admit to now being a systema devotee but I haven’t given up on aikido.

    So in conclusion, I think it is possible to stand in front of Chuck Liddell’s overhand right, as long we start off with a proper ma-ai, (giving me at least the chance to turn tail and run!)

    Respectfully Yours

    David Misumi

Speak Your Mind