Morihiro Saito: “I saw nothing but the real thing for 23 years!”

“It is a big mistake to think that there is no ki no nagare practiced at Iwama. The ki no nagare techniques of Iwama are executed faithfully as O-Sensei taught them. People tend to train in a jerky way. And when people do soft training they do it in a lifeless way. Soft movements should be filled with the strongest “ki.” People can’t grasp the meaning of hard and soft because they didn’t have contact with O-Sensei…”

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“Daily Shugyo,” by Francis Takahashi

“Good decisions result from applying wisdom, and
that wisdom itself is the result of bad decisions”

Shugyo, in Japanese, basically refers to the concept of training in a discipline of choice. It can also connote “ascetic” training, which means to “lead a life of discipline and self denial, especially for spiritual purposes.”

This second description appears to be more commonly held as pertaining to the core of martial arts training and personal development. Yet, the vast majority of those who participate in martial arts training at almost all levels do not exhibit this level of intensity of purpose, or dedication to real mastery of their chosen art form. It seems enough to simply be a part of the process of practicing principles and techniques, without any sense of urgency or special results or goals in mind. This is not meant to impugn their characters or to denigrate their decisions. It simply is what is normally encountered in the world of martial arts practice and accepted as such.

If one seriously wants to take it to increasingly higher and more severe levels, there is no shortage of opportunities or outlets to follow such urges. One does need to be wary, however, of the many seemingly legitimate and “proven” schools and instructors who promise to deliver such environments and teachings. “Caveat emptor” certainly applies, where the “buyer” must always “be aware”. The sad realization is that, often enough, good decisions result from applying wisdom, and that wisdom itself is the result of bad decisions. Commit yourself to exploring fully each possibility, and trust your inner self to make the best decision. If you err, do not hesitate to learn from your mistakes, and to make immediate changes accordingly.

Does one really need a guru, a special teacher, or a proven system to follow in order to attain significant results from pursuing one’s dreams? Not necessarily. After all, the most important teacher you will ever encounter in life is the one that looks back at you in the mirror. Surround and support this essential teacher with all the best assistant teachers you can find, but do not despair if this is not always possible. Look deep within yourself and you will surely discover that all the elements for making good decisions, and the capacity to act on them, are there, and have always been there. This is the secret of the masters, which is no secret, as they have always been cajoling us to do that very thing. The Founder of Aikido, constantly and consistently reminded us to have faith in ourselves, and to create our very own form of aikido. It is up to us to decide to begin, and to continue.

In summary then, “shugyo” is what we want to make it to mean for ourselves. It can be as hard and excessive as we choose, or we can take it day by day, allowing the fabric of our daily lives to guide us in our choices. There is neither a correct nor an incorrect answer to the question of which is best. It only matters that you find and keep the one that is best for you and your well thought out goals of training, and of living. The one trait that any choice has in common with the others, is that it must be a daily discipline, fueled by the desire to achieve, and led by the uncompromising will to settle for nothing less.

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Video: Aikido versus outside low kick

One example of Aikido defense against outside low (leg) kick using application of “extend ki” and adaptation of the “unbendable arm” principle to become “unbendable leg.” Demonstration by Enso Aikido Dojo…

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Seigo Okamoto: “Breathing with your whole body”

You have to execute this technique not just with your fingers, but as though you were breathing with your whole body. You harmonize your breathing with your opponent’s. By doing so, he becomes stiff and his body becomes a part of yours. Thus, you are able to move without feeling much of his weight.

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Las Vegas Seminar Musings: “Tension vs. Relaxation,” by Stanley Pranin

“In each and every case the person had failed to unbalance uke, and was attempting to apply the technique against a partner with a stable structure.”

Back in 2013, I conducted a joint seminar together with Pat Hendricks Sensei in Las Vegas. For me, it was a wonderful experience as I had an opportunity to reconnect with many aikido friends and make a number of new acquaintances with some delightful people. Allow me to make a few observations that I have taken home.

The elusive concept of relaxation

The first has to do with the tension-filled body state of the attendees — most of whom were yudansha and teachers — when executing techniques. This was especially the case for techniques involving hand grabs, that is, katatedori techniques. As I have experienced elsewhere virtually without exception, students will tense their arms at the start of a technique. Even when I explained that that the tension in their body alerts uke to their intent, timing, and direction, it was very difficult for them to grasp this concept and apply it to the technique.

It was not that they were ignoring my instructions to move without tension in their body, but simply that they were unfamiliar with the mental and physical state of “martial relaxation” I was attempting to describe. They could recognize and feel the difference between relaxation and tension, but not reproduce this state in their own body. As a result, one of the areas of research I wish to focus on is how to take this abstract notion of “relaxation” in a martial context and teach students to translate it to their aikido training. My goal is to devise a series of exercises and imagery to enable students to produce this relaxed physical and mental state in movement. The principles involved are quite subtle, and seemingly counterintuitive to how we have trained our bodies to function in daily life.

Getting stuck and what to do about it

During the last few minutes of my final class, I encouraged students to speak up and show examples of problems they were having with specific aikido techniques. We had time for three people to demonstrate in front of the group and indicate where in their movement they were having trouble.

What was interesting to me, yet hardly surprising, was that in each and every case the person had failed to unbalance uke, and was attempting to apply the technique against a partner with a stable structure. Also, they ended up standing in front of uke, well inside his range of vision and within easy reach. This was the “sticking point” where they were prevented from continuing their technique.

Uke still balanced

What I did was suggest that they focus on their first action to be sure they unbalanced uke before attempting to apply a technique. This means getting off the attack line and usually executing an atemi to achieve this result. My impression was that the attendees did not use atemi much in their training. When they did perform atemi strikes to neutralize uke’s attack, their movements tended to be tentative and therefore had little effect on uke who continued to resist. They were “stuck” at this point in their technique.

Forgetting atemi

I believe there is a lot of potential for improving students techniques if we can teach them to incorporate well controlled, vigorous atemi while remaining relaxed. If atemi are effectively delivered, it is possible to completely reverse the encounter with uke to allow nage to gain and retain control over the outcome.

I would like to sincerely thank Pat Hendricks Sensei and all the participants for making the effort to attend the event and bringing an abundance of positive energy that resulted in a thoroughly enjoyable experience.


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

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Video: Superb Seigo Yamaguchi Tokyo Demo from 1988

I asked how they applied the body techniques to the ken, but no one showed me. Since there was nothing to be done about the situation, I began practicing the ken in 1955 soon after I began Aikido training. What else could I do? Nobody taught me! O-Sensei did sword techniques at lightning speed and would say, “That’s how you do it,” and then disappeared from the dojo. I tried in vain to understand what he was doing and the next moment he was gone.

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“Character Counts!,” by Stanley Pranin

“I had never intended to confront the person responsible for this dubious act due to his prominent status–to do so would have no doubt been suicidal on my part…”

From Aikido Journal #106, 1996

All of the hoopla in the U.S.A. surrounding the infamous O.J. Simpson trial and the recent handing down of a verdict has caused me to reflect once again on the issue of character. Most agree that the pivotal event leading to the acquittal of Simpson was the revelation of the blatant perjury of an L.A. police detective who was a key witness in the trial. In this bizarre event, which fed a media frenzy for more than a year-and-a-half, the man who many are convinced committed a double murder walked free because another man was caught in the act of lying. Admittedly, this case represents an extreme example of the far-reaching consequences of an immoral act–in this instance, a bold-faced lie–exposed to public scrutiny.

Why do I bother to mention this in the context of aikido? The answer lies in the nature of aikido as a martial art. Aikido bills itself, so to speak, as a martial art with a spiritual core. That is, beyond self-defense skills, aikido promises its followers a path through which they may “polish” their spirits in order to become better people. Doshu Kisshomaru Ueshiba even goes so far as to state that the main relevance of aikido in modern society is as a vehicle for developing better members of society more so than as a martial art, If one accepts this view–as I have come to over the years–then the character, integrity, and conduct of individuals, rather than their level of technical mastery, become the true measure of their stature in the art.

Given its lofty goal, aikido often attracts idealistic students who seek in their teacher a skilled martial artist and spiritual mentor all rolled into one, Much too frequently, however, these neophytes become enchanted with aikido to the point that they develop an attachment to their teacher that borders on devotion. They become “true believers” in the real sense of the term, for whom the sensei is incapable of any wrongdoing. Even when the commission of a wrongful deed is undeniable, these devotees are quite capable of rationalizing away such behavior by attributing it to some deeper, hidden agenda. Naturally, this concealed purpose is known only to the teacher, who is revered as a superior being.

My professional obligations, in part dictated by a desire to provide wide-based coverage of the major approaches to aikido, have required me to meet and enter into long-term associations with numerous well-known figures. Yet, I will be the first to admit that I find myself naturally drawn to those teachers I personally consider to exemplify the aikido ideal rather than to those whose main claim to fame is skill at techniques or longevity in the art.

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“Responding to Aggression — Part 2,” by Tom Collings

“At the first sign of a violent threat almost everyone – including martial artists, cops, and combat veterans – have an immediate radical transformation in brain and body chemistry.”

Not long ago I wrote an article about responding to violence and presented Morihei Ueshiba’a concept of “takemusu aiki” as a practical outline for response options. The unusual urgency I was feeling about the topic (almost a 24-hour obsession for several days) escaped me, since the danger level of my law enforcement job has not changed much in 25 years. But right after I completed the article, the murder of all those children took place at the school in Newtown, Connecticut, less than an hour from me. Did I feel that young man’s insane rage as it boiled toward explosion? I do not know, but the perception of danger often triggers a unique set of body-mind dynamics which intensify some of our capabilities to an amazing degree while crippling others.

Reactions to the school shooting incident have been predictably emotional, and irrational. There has been a surge in gun purchases and suggestions that we arm school staff. But the reason carrying a gun is a liability rather than an asset for most people is the same reason most martial arts training has such limited real world self defense value. In both cases, there is little recognition or preparation for the radical effects our mind and body undergo when confronting life threatening danger. This is not just a problem for untrained people, it is the critical flaw in most firearms and martial arts training.

While danger enhances some sensory/motor capabilities it seriously impairs others, this phenomena is referred to in military and police training as the Adrenaline Stress Response (ASR) or Survival Stress. At the first sign of a violent threat almost everyone – including martial artists, cops, and combat veterans – have an immediate radical transformation in brain and body chemistry. A massive mix of powerful hormones such as adrenaline, cortisol, and many more instantly enter the bloodstream, muscles, and brain. Higher brain functions such as judgment, decision making, and coordination are adversely affected and more primitive brain function such flight/flight reaction and hyper-vigilance become highly stimulated.

In less than a second the heart can race from a resting rate of about 80 to double or even triple its normal function reaching over 200 beats per minute. Respiration becomes faster and shallow further increasing heart rate. Most fine motor coordination (manipulating things with our fingers) and hand-eye coordination is significantly impaired. Complex motor coordination (tasks requiring a series of movements) become more difficult. Only gross motor skills – individual large body movement is enhanced under stress.
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“The use of weapons and the question of changing form in Aikido,” by Matthew Hill

I am often asked questions during my teaching about the use of weapons and why the form changes when it is supposed to be, ‘preserved exactly as O’Sensei taught it.’

O’Sensei brought his study of the spear, sword, knife and aiki jujitsu together to form a martial system that he called Aikido. Some ask why we practice with weapons. There are many reasons ranging from the practical fact that as O’Sensei lived in a world where there were such things as swords, knives and spears and therefore we have to learn to cope with them, and due to the fact that they reveal aspects of our Aikido that practicing empty handed alone cannot.

Some of these aspects are:

  • The different distances involved that we need to automatically adjust to
  • The sharp clarity of utilising hito-e-mi and hanmi
  • Calmness of mind when attacked with a sword, knife or spear (ease with other weapons will be a natural consequence, but it is still good to try other weapons)
  • The sharpness, focus and precision that comes from facing these weapons

The kumijo, kumitachi and katas have changed and developed over the years because they were not meant to be rigidly set. As with all of our Aikido, it is the principles that are important not the order in which we practice the movements. Take a mason as an example. First he has to learn how to make a solid building block (this is our suburi). Once he has mastered this with the correct moulds and mixes, etc., he has something that he can use to build with. If the bricks are not made well they will crumble under pressure.
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“Aiki Ken and Jo Suburi: Part 27 – Shichi No Ken Suburi” by James Neiman


This is the 27th and final article in a 27-part series on the Aiki Ken and Jo Suburi, and the 7th in a series of 7 articles on the Aiki Ken Suburi. All articles in the series are paired with YouTube video demonstrations of each of the Suburi (click here to subscribe to the channel). These paired demonstrations and articles are offered to Aikidoka who would like to more fully understand the precise mechanics within each of the Suburi, how they can be practiced in both solo and partner settings, and how one can align the Suburi with taijutsu to develop increasing competence and precision with both basic and advanced technique.

Shichi No Suburi

In this article on the Aiki Ken, we examine Shichi No Suburi, which is the seventh and last of the Aiki Ken Suburi. In summary, Shichi No Suburi is nearly identical to Rokku No Suburi, with the distinct difference of adding a movement about the line of attack to thrust on the left side. This exercise, the final of the Aiki Ken Suburi, is the second in a two-part culmination of the study of these Suburi. Click here to view a video demonstration of the components of this Suburi. The exercise requires a fluid combination of movements that can be divided into 9 major sections:

  1. Ni no suburi
  2. Left Side Thrust
  3. The yokomen strike from Go no suburi
  4. Left Side Thrust
  5. Pivot and shomen strike
  6. Left Side Thrust
  7. The yokomen strike from Go no suburi
  8. Left Side Thrust
  9. Pivot and shomen strike

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“Morihei in Tanabe,” by Stanley Pranin

Unlike other periods in the life of Aikido Founder Morihei Ueshiba, his early years in Tanabe and family circumstances are not well documented. Our principal sources of information on this period of Morihei’s life are the biography of Morihei Ueshiba published by his son Kisshomaru in 1977, later interviews and conversations with the author, and a few pages from the first biography of the Founder written by Kanemoto Sunadomari in 1969. To this can be added the recollections of members and relatives of the Ueshiba and Inoue families.

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Shoji Nishio: “Aikido represents a major departure from its predecessor arts

“The founder often said Aikido includes not only empty-handed techniques but also the ken and jo. Thus, in our aikido practice we always train to be able to immediately to use the ken or jo from any technique according to the individual situation…”

Click here to watch new video on Shoji Nishio’s ken and jo