Video: Stanley Pranin — “An Aikido Life”

“If those elements that formed part of O-Sensei’s aikido were reintroduced into the art, I think the general technical skills of aikidoka would greatly improve.”

Aikido Journal Editor Stanley Pranin presents an overview of his career in Aikido focusing primarily on his lengthy experience in Japan as a researcher and publisher. Pranin conducted hundreds of interviews with many of the luminaries of the Aikido world who were responsible for the postwar development of the art.

Aikido Journal Editor Stanley Pranin interviews Doshu Kisshomaru Ueshiba in 1977

Aikido Journal Editor Stanley Pranin interviews Doshu Kisshomaru Ueshiba in 1977

The results of his historical research and these interviews appeared over the years in the Aiki News and Aikido Journal magazines, and in the various books he published on Aikido in English and Japanese.

Stanley Pranin with Koichi Tohei, Founder of Ki no Kenkyukai in 1995

Stanley Pranin with Koichi Tohei, Founder of Ki no Kenkyukai in 1995

To Pranin’s way of thinking, there are many things missing in today’s aikido. If those elements that formed part of Morihei Ueshiba O-Sensei’s aikido were reintroduced into the art, he is of the belief that the general technical skills of aikidoka would greatly improve.

Stanley Pranin with Morihiro Saito Sensei in Canada in 1979

Stanley Pranin with Morihiro Saito Sensei in Canada in 1979

Those interested in arranging an Aikido seminar with Stanley Pranin make contact him through Aikido Journal.

Click here to watch Stanley Pranin — “An Aikido Life” on


“Morihei Ueshiba O-Sensei Electric,” by Stanley Pranin


“Although photos can only capture the essence of a fleeting moment, I have selected a few remarkable images that I feel will convey the amazing energy and electric presence of the Master!”

Aikido Journal Editor Stanley PraninI sometimes am myself surprised at the fact that my interest in Aikido Founder Morihei Ueshiba has never once waned even after all these years of involvement in the art.

O-Sensei cut such a dashing figure… electric, mysterious, hypersensitive, compassionate, fiery, are just some of the words that come to mind.

I was hooked the first time I saw an old 8 mm film of O-Sensei at the local YMCA where I was practicing. There was such an inherent power, beauty and humanity in his movements. I had never seen a human being move like that. I wanted to become like that.

As I began to learn about the Founder’s epic life over the years, my interest in probing deeper into how he trained himself and acquired his extraordinary skills and spiritual powers only grew greater.

That search has been the overriding focus of my professional life and has been manifested in our publications, events, and now our activities on the web.

Although photos can only capture the essence of a fleeting moment, I have selected a few remarkable images that I feel will convey the amazing energy and electric presence of the Master.

A dynamic still from the rare Asahi News film, Osaka 1935

A rare photo of O-Sensei partnered by Morihiro Saito Sensei from c. 1954

A rare photo of O-Sensei partnered by Morihiro Saito Sensei from c. 1954

The amazing photo of the Founder throwing Hiroshi Tada used for the
cover of the Kisshomaru Ueshiba’s first published book on aikido, c. 1956

Another sword demonstrating by the O-Sensei with Nobuyoshi Tamura as uke, c. 1957

O-Sensei brandishing a heavy bokken while training with Morihiro Saito in the fields of Iwama, c. 1958

The Founder off the line of attack covering Nobuyoshi Tamura’s shomen strike with a fan, c. 1960

Night training with the bokken in Iwama, 1961

Night training with the bokken in Iwama, 1961

O-Sensei wielding the nuboko at the old Aikikai, c. 1965


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The Morihei Ueshiba Founder’s Course is O-Sensei’s video legacy starting in 1935 and covering a span of 34 years until just before his passing in 1969. Besides the more than 30 films of the Founder, the course includes three rare audio interviews of O-Sensei with complete subtitles. These are wonderfully intimate conversations with the Founder that convey his bright personality, playfulness and sincerity. In addition, the course includes a series of video documentaries by Stanley Pranin on the life of the Founder and the spread of his art worldwide.


Killer Shihonage: “Escaping serious injury or even death!” by Stanley Pranin


“Shihonage as one of the techniques causing
numerous deaths in university clubs in Japan”

Aikido Journal Editor Stanley PraninMartial arts techniques are designed to damage the human body. Misuse or carelessness can result in serious injury or death. As a result, we have to take precautions during training to allow participants to practice safely.

Among the hundreds of techniques in aikido, there are several that are particularly dangerous. One of them is shihonage, “the four-direction throw.”

In his seminal article titled “Aikido and Injuries: A Special Report,” Waseda University professor Fumiaki Shishida implicates shihonage as one of the techniques causing numerous deaths in university clubs in Japan. Here is an excerpt:

As can be seen from the above cases, shihonage and iriminage stand out as techniques causing the accidents. In both techniques, it is easy to hit the back of one’s head with the inherent danger of a cranial hemorrhage. Let us first of all consider the case of shihonage. In this technique, the tori holds one hand of the uke and turning his body, causes the uke to fall backward. If the tori does this continously, it becomes increasingly likely for the uke to hit the back of his head depending on the speed, strength and point of release of the hand hold.

In these cases, it was repetitive head injuries in the university clubs where hazing is common that caused the deaths of the unfortunate students.

Morihei Ueshiba executing a "safe" shihonage that does not cause injury (1936)

Morihei Ueshiba executing a “safe” shihonage (1936)

Shihonage is the culprit in another kind of serious injury in aikido. Although not lethal, improper execution of shihonage has led to numerous serious shoulder, elbow and wrist injuries. The way this usually happens is when nage doesn’t make a complete turn when performing shihonage leaving uke’s arm hyper-extended and unprotected. Experienced ukes may avoid injury by taking a high fall to escape the intense pressure on the arm. However, practitioners who are less advanced may be overwhelmed by the pain caused and lack the skills to escape injury to the wrist, elbow or shoulder. In some cases, promising aikido careers have been ended as the victims have been left with chronic pain and loss of function in the injured areas.

In shihonage, it is important to fully pivot bringing uke’s arm back to his shoulder controlling the wrist. From here a safe back fall is possible. A rapid, incomplete pivot where uke’s arm is extended away from his body — as pictured in the color photo above — will leave him exposed to serious injury.

One other point I feel must be mentioned is the fact that there are are occasionally violent people who practice aikido. They train very hard pushing their uke to the limit and leave a trail of injuries in their wake. Some of these injuries are caused intentionally. Anyone who has practiced aikido for a long period of time has encountered such individuals in their careers and knows well what I am talking about here.

It is my personal belief that the dojo-cho is ultimately responsible for what goes on in the dojo and must be eternally vigilant to prevent this sort of dangerous activity under his watch.


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

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“Someone please explain the logic of this iriminage throw!” by Stanley Pranin


“The completion of the throw involves nage “allowing”
uke to stand back up only to be thrown down again.”

Aikido Journal Editor Stanley PraninI have seen the iriminage throw executed this way for most of my aikido career. Using a shomenuchi attack as an example, nage meets uke’s arm and leads him around circularly applying pressure to his neck lowering uke’s body to the position shown in the photo or even lower. The completion of the throw involves nage “allowing” uke to stand back up only to be thrown down again. From there, the ukemi is usually a high fall. This particular iriminage is commonly seen at demonstrations, especially within the Aikikai system.

A few observations and questions:

  • Nage is controlling uke with one hand.
  • Uke must be very skilled and have a fair measure of control over his body to be able to take the fall.
  • Is there any potential for uke to counter using his left hand, for example, by attacking nage’s rear knee or foot?
  • Why does nage allow uke to come back to an upright position before downing him a second time?
  • Is this technique martially sound?
  • Added questions: Did Founder Morihei Ueshiba perform iriminage this way in the prewar or postwar eras?
  • Who popularized this type of iriminage throw and during what time frame?

Your thoughts, please!


October 5-6, 2013: Weekend Seminar with Stanley Pranin in Las Vegas!


Aikidoka: “The Apologetic Martial Artists,” by Stanley Pranin


“Who anyway is the superior martial artist… the guy who’s never been defeated
with a record of 0-0, or a formidable ring champion with a 35-2 record?”

For years I have heard a vociferous chorus of naysayers lambasting aikido as an “ineffective” martial art. Even among those who practice aikido, one can hear criticism of aikido’s techniques as unrealistic. I confess that I too have been among those who have lamented much of what goes on in aikido dojos all over the world, as misdirected and contrary to the basic principles of the art.

I have often felt frustrated with the standards used by aikido’s critics to disparage the art. To begin with, if we wish to discuss the merits or demerits of aikido as a martial art, does it not make sense for the detractor to define what he means by a martial art for the benefit of his audience? Absent this, how can we hope to have any kind of intelligent conversation about the subject?

Let me pick at random the definition of “martial art” offered by an online dictionary, “Merriam-Webster,” in this instance: “any of several arts of combat and self defense (as karate and judo) that are widely practiced as sport.”

Yikes! I can’t believe it! This is a ridiculous definition to begin with. It also reveals an ignorance of the root of the term “martial” referring to Mars, the god of war. Then we are told that these arts are for “combat and self-defense” and that they are practiced as “sports.” I missed something. Just when did combat arts become sports? Unless we are talking about gladiators in Rome, fighters do not normally risk their lives while engaging in sporting competitions.

Another observation. Aikido Founder Morihei Ueshiba forbade competitions in aikido in the strongest possible terms. Kenji Tomiki, the man who did introduce a form of competition for aikido, became a persona non grata at the Aikikai Hombu Dojo for having taken this egregious step. He also became estranged from the Founder from that point on.

So, if we’re going to use Merriam-Webster’s definition, then aikido is certainly not an effective martial art because it is not a martial art at all! What is there to talk about? Where is the disagreement if this is what we mean when we banter about the term?

Ok, I’ll take my own advice and make a stab at a definition of “martial art” for purposes of this article. I think I have a better definition than the one above, one that gets closer to the way that martial artists use the term “martial art” when they talk about an art’s effectiveness in a “real” situation. Then perhaps we can conduct a meaningful discussion as to whether or not aikido can be classified in this category.
[Read more…]


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: Have you ever seen this nikyo before? It hurts!

In this video, Stanley Pranin explains and demonstrates a very unusual katatedori nikyo oyowaza that you have probably not seen before. Pranin is the founder of Aikido Journal and will be conducting a joint seminar with Pat Hendricks Sensei of Aikido of San Leandro, one of the highest ranking female aikido instructors in the world, in Las Vegas, March 9-10, 2013.

Click here to view the video of this unique nikyo technique


Video: Impromptu Aikido Demonstration by Stanley Pranin

This is a short impromptu demonstration I gave at a private aikido seminar in Las Vegas on October 6, 2012. The occasion was a private workshop I gave titled “Exploring Morihei Ueshiba O-Sensei’s Aikido.” Over the weekend, I presented some historical background information that attempted to explain how it is that we came to practice the aikido we do today, who was responsible, and what is the nature of the curriculum and pedagogy. For an explanation in article form, please see “Towards A Reform of Aikido Technique (1): Background.”

I will be conducting an aikido seminar jointly with Pat Hendricks Sensei, 7th dan, in Las Vegas on March 9-10, 2013 for those of persons interested in these ideas and how they translate to training and technique.


“Towards A Reform of Aikido Technique (1): Background,” by Stanley Pranin


“What was done instead was to de-emphasize the martial pedigree of aikido’s techniques, and eschew practice conditions that led to the cultivation of a strong martial spirit.”

Kisshomaru Ueshiba demonstrating at Aikikai Hombu Dojo c. 1962

Revival of aikido after World War II

The typical aikido practitioner — this also includes many instructors — has only the vaguest of notions of how the art took roots in Japan and abroad following World War II. This is not due to a lack of availability of information on the subject. It is possible to study about the events of this period, but the necessary information is scattered among multiple sources, which require a reading ability in Japanese, English, and other European languages.

Certainly, the Internet has facilitated this task, but it is still difficult to gain a basic perspective of how aikido reemerged, first in Japan, and then abroad, after the cataclysmic events of the Great War. There is little incentive for scholars to do the necessary research because only a relatively small number of people are interested in such historical matters pertaining to aikido.

Who were the Prime Movers?

It is a fairly simple matter to identify the main persons responsible for aikido’s emergence as a modern Japanese martial art since so few people were involved in the art’s early years. Here is my list: Kisshomaru Ueshiba, Koichi Tohei, Gozo Shioda, and Kenji Tomiki. These names will be immediately recognizable to most experienced aikido practitioners. There are others who played roles of varying importance, but these four figures stand out as the key figures that shaped postwar aikido. Among the four, Kisshomaru Ueshiba and Koichi Tohei were far and away the most influential during the 1950s and 60s. Yet neither of the two had an extensive background in martial arts prior to stepping into their leadership roles within the Aikikai.
[Read more…]


“How to find anything you want on Aikido Journal in seconds!” by Stanley Pranin

“We’ve just saved a ton of time to find exactly what we’re looking for!”

Readers of Aikido Journal already know that the suite of websites we offer contain an incredible amount of information on aikido and related subjects. It’s almost too much in the sense that no one could ever consume all of it. There are literally thousands of articles, interviews, photos, videos, audio recordings, screencasts, and an assortment of miscellaneous documents such as charts and drawings.

Believe it or not, I have faced this exact dilemma constantly when attempting to locate some specific bit of information for a particular task. The problem is that you need to search more than one Aikido Journal website — admittedly cumbersome — if you want to be sure you haven’t missed something of importance. Think how much time you could save if you could search all of our websites in one go! Let me show you how to do just that.

Let’s take the following example. Say you are writing a school paper or article about aikido and you think it would be interesting to focus on Admiral Isamu Takeshita, the famous naval officer who was a student and patron of Aikido Founder Morihei Ueshiba. You know Aikido Journal has published a lot of information on this fascinating historical character and you want to do some quick fact-checking.

You would do a google search and enter the following: “Isamu Takeshita” (without quotes)

Dead simple and straightforward… But by doing this you would have searched all of our sites at once, almost instantly! This includes,,,, and

As I did this search just now, I came up with 112 hits that span all of our sites with results prioritized according to google’s relevancy algorithms. We’ve just saved a ton of time to find exactly what we’re looking for!

I have tested this with both google and bing search engines and the syntax for constructing a search works exactly the same. I assume that this would be the case for the other major search engines. You can do a lot more fancy and complicated things if you want to learn more about searching. If interested, start here:

In some cases, your search at Aikido Journal will yield a link to content that is reserved for subscribers. This is especially the case for the Aikido Journal Members Site (, the largest of our websites. Here you have a couple of options. You can sign up for a free subscription on the spot and gain access to about 1/3 of the site content for free. Even when the content is reserved for subscribers, you’ll be able to read the first few paragraphs or an excerpt to determine if the article has the information you need.

The best solution would be to invest in a subscription to the Aikido Journal Members Site which gives you full access to a vast world of aikido documents unequalled anywhere else. This is the way to become fully informed about all areas of the art and push your aikido to new heights!


“The Elusive Chinese Influence on Aikido,” by Stanley Pranin


“Proponents of the theory of Aikido’s Chinese origin must provide proof.”

I received an email this morning asking my opinion of the remarks of a gentleman who states that he trained with Aikido Founder Morihei Ueshiba in the late 1960s. He makes the claim that Morihei’s aikido was directly influenced by “bagua zhang,” a Chinese internal art. Here is a quote from his article:

“The entering, turning and leading of one’s opponent, as well as the hundreds of subtle energy projections of aikido are fundamental bagua techniques that existed long before Ueshiba’s birth. Because of this, I believe that Ueshiba learned bagua while he was in Manchuria, China.”

This author’s thesis is based on his personal observation of Morihei’s art at the Aikikai Hombu Dojo during the late 1960s, the author’s analysis of “old films” of Morihei and the perceived similiarities in Ueshiba’s technique to various Chinese martial arts, and the fact that O-Sensei spent time in Manchuria during his lifetime.

I have heard this and similar theories about an “obvious” and unacknowledged Chinese connection that influenced the development of aikido repeatedly for the last 30 years or so. You will notice that that above-mentioned author provides no specifics to support his claim. In my experience, this is always the case when such a theory is advanced. Let’s take a closer look at this subject using our knowledge of Morihei’s life to consider the feasibility of such a theory.

Morihei Ueshiba did indeed spent time in Manchuria on three occasions during his life: as an infantryman during the Russo-Japanese in the 1904-1905 period; as a bodyguard to Onisaburo Deguchi on an ill-fated expedition through Manchuria and possibly Mongolia over a half-year period in 1924; as a visiting martial arts instructor during short stays in Japanese-controlled Manchukuo in 1939, 1940, and 1942.
[Read more…]


“My List of Problem Areas in Today’s Aikido,” by Stanley Pranin

“It is very common to find students and teachers alike resort to
the forcible application of strength in order to make a technique work.”

In the last several years, I have becomed focused on a number of areas that I have identified as commonly lacking in training and deserving of the attention of aikido instructors. I regard these problem areas as widespread across styles and detrimental to the development of the art. Among my observations — voiced here and elsewhere — are the following:

  • In training, it is very common to find students and teachers alike resort to the forcible application of strength in order to make a technique work. This increases the risk of dojo injuries.
  • Most dojo training is reactive in nature. By that I mean, the common dojo training paradigm involves uke initiating the attack and nage responding. This practice is suitable for the beginning student as a way to learn the mechanics of a technique, but breeds bad habits in more advanced practitioners who attempt to execute flowing techniques. Nage’s response time is too limited due to a lack of initiative and sloppy execution of technique can result.
  • Training unfolds with little attention given to breaking uke’s balance. As a result, as the technique is executed, uke may have opportunities to hinder, stop, or counter nage’s technique. One solution to this problem is to stress the importance of nage operating from uke’s blind spot — diagonally to the rear — in order to safely execute techniques.
  • Many practitioners are not in sufficiently good physical condition to execute some of aikido’s more advanced techniques that require above-average body flexibility and agility.
  • Few students understand the concept and methods of locking uke’s body structure to break his balance, and apply techniques and pins. This allows aikido’s devastating techniques to be practiced safely as undue force becomes unnecessary. For example, assume you’re applying a nikyo. Instead of applying force to the wrist joint, causing pain and risking injury, you immobilize the entire arm to shoulder structure which in turn “locks” the body. From there, a simple hip lowering will cause uke to fall, but without injury.
  • There is a lack of awareness of the specifics of Founder Morihei Ueshiba’s aikido technique. A careful study of Morihei’s art as seen in his films and photos will impart a deeper understanding of his techniques and intentions for aikido, and raise the bar to a much higher level for aikidoka today.

I would invite you to comment on the points I have raised, and offer your observations about training problems as you perceive them, and ways of improving the technical level of contemporary aikido.


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