Jul
31

“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

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Jul
30

Closing up the loose ends: “More on Aikido’s Shihonage Dilemma” by Stanley Pranin

Aikido Founder Morihei Ueshiba has overcome an overhand knife attack by initiating and delivering an atemi


Aikido Founder Morihei Ueshiba has overcome an overhand attack by initiating and delivering an atemi

“To overcome the thesis presented here, you must explain how a motionless person can recognize an attack, devise a plan, spring into action, and overcome a high-speed attack in less than a second.”

Yesterday’s blog on the “Shomenuchi Dilemma” generated a good deal of commentary among Aikido Journal readers, especially on Facebook. There were those who agreed with my thesis — actually points stressed by Morihei Ueshiba, Morihiro Saito, and Shoji Nishio in their aikido instruction.

Still there were those who sidestepped the main point. A powerful shomen attack by an uke does not allow nage who is standing still to respond in time. The window of opportunity to analyze, initiate a move, and execute a counter-movement is too limited. This argument was ignored altogether by many of those offering comments.

Some opined that the purpose of this exercise is to blend with the overhead attack. Yes ideally that would allow nage the possibility to gain control over the encounter. This ignores the fact that nage who is responding only after uke’s attack doesn’t have enough time to blend. Look again at the two photos: nage is motionless and uke is at the halfway point of delivering his shomenuchi attack.

Another viewpoint expressed was that nage is not clashing against uke’s shomenuchi but rather that his left hand is moving up to blend with uke and then control the movement. I would agree that in a slow motion scenario this might be possible. But we’re not talking about a slow motion scenario but rather a high-speed overhand attack.

Still another comment was that the arms of nage and uke were not on a collision course and that the photos, being static, gave a misleading impression. I granted that the photos were “posed” and therefore lacked the dynamism of a practice session, but read again Tohei Sensei’s explanation:

… it is easy for you to collide with his strength and difficult for you to force him down backward. The irimi here, therefore, consists of turning your partner’s strength against him…

Maintain a mighty outpouring of ki from your hands and swing your arms up…

This is of course the objective and theoretically possible, but only against an uke delivering a slow-speed attack. If uke attacks powerlully, with full intent, and nage stands waiting for uke to initiate, nage will be overcome by the overhand blow because he has too little time to respond. He has an impossible disadvantage to overcome.

This is why Aikido Founder Morihei Ueshiba — echoed by Morihiro Saito — stressed the importance of nage initiating against a shomenuchi attack rather than responding.

If you think you can overcome and reverse a powerful overhand attack starting from a motionless posture, please watch this video by UFC Champion Chuck Liddell:

And for a humorous look at the result of a powerfully delivered shomenuchi, check this out:

shomenuchi-devastating-blow

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Jul
29

“The Origins of Modern Aikido: The Shomenuchi Dilemma” by Stanley Pranin

shomenuchi-by-koichi-tohei

“If you want to know how aikido techniques changed
after the war, here is a good place to start!”

stanley-pranin-thumbnailLast year I published an article that dealt in some detail with the Shomenuchi Ikkyo technique of the prewar era. It discussed an earlier approach to doing techniques from the the shomenuchi (overhand strike attack). Several examples consisting of photos of Morihei Ueshiba and Gozo Shioda were presented. The thrust of the article was that it was important that nage (the person applying the technique) initiate the encounter in order to preempt a high-speed attack by uke and avoid a collision, something decidedly against the principles of aikido, the “art of harmony”.

Now, please have a look at the two photos above that depict Koichi Tohei, 10th dan. These photos are the start of the Shomenuchi ikkyo technique described in Tohei Sensei’s technical volume “This is Aikido” published in 1968.

Let us make some observations about these two photos. First, in photo #1, Tohei Sensei (nage) is standing in hanmi awaiting the shomen attack. His uke — Seishiro Endo — has launched a shomenuchi attack. Allowing for the fact that the photos may be artificial in that they are posed, we must still deal with the reality that nage has only a minute time frame to respond to uke’s attack that is already in progress.

Next, look at photo #2. What is described as a blend could equally be construed as a collision between nage and uke as their arms traveling in direct opposition make contact. In fairness, let us quote part of the description of the beginning of this technique from the book which describes the thinking behind this approach:

Although you throw your partner with an ikkyo much as you do in the kata-tori ikkyo…., since, in this technique, his attempted strike moves downward, it is easy for you to collide with his strength and difficult for you to force him down backward. The irimi here, therefore, consists of turning your partner’s strength against him…

Maintain a mighty outpouring of ki from your hands and swing your arms up…

If you’ll take the trouble to read the earlier article I mention, you will realize that a totally different approach is used. Nage is proactive and initiates the movement thus effectively neutralizing uke’s shomenuchi attack altogether and eliminating the risk of collision alluded to above.
[Read more…]

May
19

“How I figured out a way to quickly navigate Aikido’s vast curriculum” by Stanley Pranin

Photo-credit: Daniel Toutain Sensei


Photo-credit: Daniel Toutain Sensei

“Finding a needle in Aikido’s haystack of techniques!”

stanley-pranin-thumbnailA while ago I was having difficulty finding and grouping together aikido techniques even though I have literally thousands of books and videos to choose from in the Aikido Journal archives and on the net. And therein lies the problem: how do you quickly access specific techniques from the hundreds contained in the vast aikido curriculum?

We have amazing technology available to allow us to preserve and disseminate to a worldwide public any form of information we desire. But when you have millions of items to browse in order to find a specific set of information the problem boils down to the system of classification and method of quickly accessing the desired content. This is the exact problem I was facing.

One of my main purposes was to be able to create lesson plans without having to spend tons of time looking for related techniques and then wading through them. After thinking about this challenge for many months, I came up with a solution. Let me show you what what I did.

guide-interfaceAs you can see I created a table consisting of three columns: Attack, Technique, and Aiki Ken – Aiki Jo. The leftmost column groups techniques according to the type of attack. You click on one of the links in this column and you are presented with a list of all items corresponding to the particular attack available in the videos and books indexed.

The center column groups the content by technique. In a similar manner, clicking on a specific link accesses the same indexed content by type of technique. So you have two separate views of the technical archives depending on your purpose.

The third column is I believe self-explanatory: most of the Aiki Ken and Aiki Jo forms developed by Saito Sensei based on the teachings of Morihei Ueshiba O-Sensei are presented and retrievable via a single click.

If this concept interests you, please watch this 10 minute screencast below which will walk you through the interface of Morihiro Saito’s vast aikido curriculum consisting of more than 600 techniques.

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Through a simple interface, you’ll have the ability to quickly access over 500 empty-handed and weapons techniques via 1,100 links to videos and technical explanations in book format. This is the most extensive technical reference on aikido ever compiled!

Click here for information on Morihiro Saito's &ldquoComplete Guide to Aikido”

Mar
06

An Aikido life… “Stanley Pranin’s new entry in Wikipedia”

stanley-pranin-wikipedia

“Pranin has given numerous lectures on Aikido history and the life of Aikido Founder, Morihei Ueshiba, in the USA, Mexico, France, and Japan”

We are pleased to report that Aikido Journal Editor Stanley Pranin has a new entry in Wikipedia. The entry is quite detailed and will afford interested readers a good idea of Stanley’s career in aikido as a practitioner, historian, and publisher. The text of the entry starts: “Stanley Pranin is an American publisher and editor-in-chief of Aikido Journal (formerly Aiki News), established in 1974. He is a researcher and archivist of Aikido history, author and publisher of several books and hundreds of articles about Aikido and Daito-ryu Aikijujutsu, Morihei Ueshiba, the founder of Aikido, and his students. Pranin’s lengthy career and leveraging of the Internet and social media have made him one of the most influential figures in the Aikido world.”

Click here to read Stanley Pranin’s Wikipedia entry.

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Feb
27

Stanley Pranin: Frustrating your opponent’s ability to grab and moving to the blind spot

“Think carefully about what you do and why you do it”

Aikido training in virtually all styles follows a series of rituals. Students seldom question the techniques and assumptions that underlie what they are taught. As a result, poor training habits can gain a foothold and are perpetuated over generations.

Stanley Pranin takes a look at the simple katatedori — the single-hand grab — and proposes that we rethink our range of responses to gain an immediate advantage. This sets the stage for a successful execution of techniques.

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Feb
22

Stanley Pranin discusses finding advantageous positions to apply aikido techniques (in Spanish)

stanley-pranin-advantageous-position-575

Stanley Pranin discusses the idea of finding the most advantageous position to apply aikido techniques at a 2014 seminar in Mexico. Usually, the best position to be in is the blind spot of uke. This video illustrates one application of this concept.

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Feb
15

Stanley Pranin demonstrates yoga and stretching exercises for Aikido

knee-on-block-575

“How I saved my back for Aikido!”

I’m Stanley Pranin and today I’d like to show you some of the yoga and stretching exercises that I’ve incorporated into my aikido warmup routine.

About 25 years ago while living in Japan, I developed chronic back pain. I think it was mostly due to poor posture from working long hours at the computer. Although I remained active and regularly did stretching exercises, back pain was my constant companion.

Then about five years ago, I started taking yoga classes, something I should have done years earlier. The yoga postures I learned, together with my years of stretching in aikido practice, gave me the tools I needed to address my back pain. My back steadily improved to the point that I seldom feel pain anymore. If something is not right, I know exactly what stretching exercises to do to make the necessary adjustments and eliminate any pain.

Now, I would like to demonstrate some of the exercises that I use to warmup for aikido practice. The routine gradually changes over time, and I am always looking for new exercises that my body responds to well.

[Read more…]

Dec
04

O-Sensei’s “Cupped Hand” — The Secret to Ura Movements by Stanley Pranin

morihei-ueshiba-saotome-tai-no-henko

“O-Sensei can easily perform a variety of techniques where uke is powerless to resist because he has lost his balance.”

Many dojos practice aikido’s tai no henko exercise regularly or even religiously during every session. Some teachers will explain that this is a blending movement that allows one to set up for certain aikido throws. But what is really happening? Let’s take a closer look.

First, consider this wonderful image of Aikido Founder Morihei Ueshiba at the point of completion of tai no henko.

Notice that his hand is in a “cupped” position. What is the purpose of this rather strange hand form? Looking closer we see that this tai no henko blend has brought uke’s torso forward and down. Expressed otherwise, uke has been unbalanced.

How has this been accomplished? Uke first grabbed nage’s wrist from the side. O-Sensei’s pivoting motion and cupped hand have conveyed mechanical energy through uke’s arm that has caused him to loose balance forward and down as is readily evident in the photo. From here, O-Sensei can easily perform a variety of techniques where uke is powerless to resist because he has lost his balance.

Here we see the entire process masterly performed by Morihiro Saito Sensei.

tai-no-henko-sequenceLastly, I demonstrate an adaptation of this same “cupped” hand movement as a setup to unbalance uke before moving to his flank. From here, ikkyo through yonkyo omote techniques can be very effectively applied. This approach is part of my “Zone Theory of Aikido” research.

stanley-pranin-cupped-hand
In my next article, I would like to talk about the mechanics of the kokyuho movement and its function in aikido techniques.

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Watch these videos for insights into solving the
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Nov
10

Make Your Techniques Work! Stanley Pranin’s “Zone Theory of Aikido Course”!

Stanley Pranin’s “Zone Theory of Aikido Course”!

“Rethinking Aikido Training From The Bottom Up!”

stanley-pranin-encyHi, I’m Stanley Pranin here to tell you about my new online video course, the “Zone Theory of Aikido”.

You know I’ve been involved in Aikido for more than 50 years. To tell the truth, Aikido has been my life. I can’t think of a better discipline to train well-rounded, fit people with excellent self-defense skills.

That being said, I believe we still have a long way to go to develop more refined teaching methodologies to accelerate students’ advancement in the art.

What do I mean? Well, I travel frequently in Aikido circles and train with practitioners of many different styles. I’ve found similar training patterns regardless of the approach to Aikido. I consider one of the biggest hurdles to improving one’s skills is the almost universal tendency to resort to physical strength in attempting to make techniques work.

When aikido practitioners get stuck, they tense up and try to force their way through the technique. I see this everywhere I go. For many years, I experienced the same thing in my own training. Only recently, have I been able to discover ways of using the body as a unified structure when applying techniques. What a difference this has made!

This has been a liberating discovery that has allowed me to totally rethink my way of approaching the execution of techniques. My techniques work now, consistently, even against training partners of superior strength. This has never happened before!

In the “Zone Theory of Aikido” video course consisting of 25 lessons, I’m going to walk you through this innovative approach to doing aikido. I will show you ways of using your body more efficiently. I will explain the importance of positioning, balance-breaking… how to use atemi, kiai, and O-Sensei’s hitoemi stance to give you a tremendous advantage in practice. I look forward to sharing this whole new world of training principles and strategies with you.

Get it today and watch your progress accelerate!

zone-theory-of-aikido-banner-ad-3

Oct
15

“Words of advice for the starving yoga teacher,” by Stanley Pranin

starving-yoga-how-do-i-eat

“Everything mentioned here could be readily applied to the starving Aikido teacher!”

This is a slightly modified version of an article I wrote some months ago for one of my yoga teachers who was lamenting the fact that she couldn’t make a living doing yoga alone. Everything mentioned here could be readily applied to the starving Aikido teacher as well.

I’ve been thinking a bit more about one interesting way a yoga teacher might apply various Internet marketing techniques to enhance her reach and income.

Here is a hypothetical example. A yoga instructor goes to a park with her mat on a day with good weather. She finds a shady area under a large tree. By choosing such a location you don’t have to worry about harsh shadows. A friend comes with a video camera and tripod. If two friends are available, so much the better, as the yoga poses can be shot from two different angles.

She proceeds to perform a yoga routine at a slow to moderate speed that consists of about 25 (or whatever number) of asanas. There is no talking in the video, she just concentrates on performing the routine as expertly and gracefully as possible.

She goes home and takes the memory card(s) from the camera and fires up her laptop and inserts the card. She uses an inexpensive video editor like Sony Vegas Movie Studio to edit the video.

The video is cut up into 27 parts. The first part is an intro 1-2 minutes in length, then the 25 poses, and finally, an “outro” with contact information, link and whatever other relevant information that serves as a “call to action” for the viewer at the end of each segment. In other words, you want the viewer to take some specific action like provide an email address, go to a website or page.

The first edited video consists of the intro and the first pose with its title in Sanskrit and English. The instructor sets up her microphone and, while viewing the video footage, records a soundtrack which would be similar to her speech during a yoga class. An additional soundtrack consisting of royalty-free meditative type music may optionally be added.

If she wants to go into further detail, the footage at normal speed can be repeated and attached as a slow motion section thus tripling the length of the first installment. The overall length of the video clips should be no more than 3-4 minutes. Even 2 minutes is fine because people are in a hurry and want to consume the information in convenient, bite-size portions.

After the soundtracks are added to the video and all editing is complete, the video clip is uploaded to youtube. (If you don’t already have a youtube account, you need to set one up.) In the description section on youtube below the video, all relevant contact information and explanations with a clickable link are provided.
[Read more…]

Oct
15

“Iriminage: Potential vulnerabilities,” by Stanley Pranin

iriminage-vulnerabilities

“We can do a great deal to self-diagnose our techniques and
work toward honing our skills to higher and higher levels.”

Here is a random screenshot retrieved from an online video that exposes several potential vulnerabilities when executing aikido’s iriminage. Although we are looking at a single image, this manner of throwing in iriminage is quite common, especially in mainstream aikido.

When done this way, the setup for the technique involves nage bringing uke downward using centrifugal force and pressure on the neck. After uke has reached the bottom of his downward movement, the logic is he will “rebound” upward in an attempt to save himself. Finally, nage reverses his motion and swings his right arm through as he steps forward to complete the throw. Uke is thrown in a “high fall”. The entire effect is very spectacular and can be seen widely in demonstrations.

Limiting ourselves to this still image — a moment frozen in time — let us analyze some potential difficulties in approaching iriminage this way. Let’s look at the numbered regions of the image first.

1 – Here, uke’s head rests against nage’s right shoulder and upper arm. Uke is partially unbalanced but very close to nage. Uke also has hold of nage’s right arm with his right hand. As you can see, uke is attempting to support himself using nage’s body as a prop. This close contact of uke with nage’s body creates a major weakness that may be exploited.

2 – Though perhaps not obvious, uke’s right elbow is very near nage’s groin and upper thigh. If uke still has partial control — and I would suggest that he does — he might use his elbow supported by his right-handed grip to attack these vital spots of nage.

3 – In a like manner, uke’s right hand can be used to attack nage’s knee. In fact, given the multiple points of contact between uke and nage’s body, uke might collapse his entire structure against nage’s body and execute a counter-throw. This is a very real danger when the iriminage throw is executed in this manner.

Aikido Founder Morihei Ueshiba executing a setup to iriminage that is very different and does not reveal the vulnerabilities mentioned in this analysis.

Aikido Founder Morihei Ueshiba executing a setup to iriminage that is very
different and does not reveal the vulnerabilities mentioned in this analysis.

[/caption]When iriminage is well performed at high speed, I believe the average eye does not see the details of what is happening. The action is so fast that the body mechanics at work cannot be analyzed. Also, it is common for there to be a “gentleman’s agreement” that assures good cooperation between the two partners.

An untrained person would not and could not respond as uke does in these iriminage demonstrations due to the high-level of skills involved. The mere fact that uke can respond in a high fall indicates that he has a certain measure of control over his body.

My purpose here is not to criticize any particular person or method but to suggest that we should submit every technique we practice to close analysis. Is uke being fully unbalanced? Does uke have the possibility of responding with a counter-attack at any stage of the technique? Is the technique prolonged unnecessarily affording opportunities for exploitation? These are questions that we should ask constantly. By doing so, we can do a great deal to self-diagnose our techniques and work toward honing our skills to higher and higher levels.

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Stanley Pranin offers you solutions to problems
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