The concept of On..

I haven’t written anything on in this blog for quite a few months, this article is not mine, but it is truly important and a great read.

I do understand what he says, and experienced that feeling of gratitude.. the rest I hope to experience one day.




Ōn: What Do We Owe?

Ōn 恩 is a ubiquitous concept in Japanese culture. It means a debt or obligation of gratitude. This is no simple “I owe you a favor” gratitude. That’s covered in the concept of giri 義理. Ōn includes the kind of combined obligation and gratitude that we owe to our parents and grandparents for all the care and kindness they have given us. Ōn covers those areas where our obligations are so great we can never truly repay them. Within Japanese culture, this sort of obligation extends to our teachers and the creators of the arts we practice.

When I started on this journey, of course I appreciated what I was learning from my teachers. Earl and Bob were sharing their wealth of knowledge with everyone in the university judo club. It was a fabulous place to be and there was a wonderful group of people I was learning with. We were training and growing and learning all aspects of judo. It was fun, the tournaments were exciting, and I learned a huge amount. I appreciated everyone around me, especially my teachers. I didn’t feel a debt of obligation though. I’m an American.  We don’t do obligations the same way Japanese do.

The longer I’ve been on this journey and the more time I spend in Japan though, the more my sense of obligation grows. As I realize all I gain from practice, my understanding of what I owe to my teachers and their teachers and all who have travelled the path before me grows. Some days it feels completely normal to think about the fact that I’m practicing techniques, principles and ways of movement and engaging with the world that go back hundreds and hundreds of years. Other days it just seems impossible that some guy from suburban Detroit could end up training with world class teachers in these incredible traditions.

My teachers are not employees. They aren’t teaching me because I pay them money. They are teaching me out of a love of their art and their sense of obligation to their teachers and all those who went before them, back through the centuries to the founder of the school. They have their own sense of obligation to the their teachers and the art. The longer I train with them, the more I feel it as well.

My teachers have accepted me into their dojo and their art. That alone is an incredible thing. When I first moved to Japan, there really weren’t a huge number of non-Japanese training in classical traditions. In the country outside Kyoto where I lived, there weren’t any non-Japanese training in even modern traditions like Kodokan Judo. I was the first in that area. For a teacher in Japan to really accept a you as a student is a huge risk. The teacher becomes responsible for anything the student does. I didn’t understand that when I first moved to Japan. In the same way, I didn’t understand my obligations to my judo teacher.

If I messed up, my teacher would have been responsible for helping to clean up the mess and make things right. From the moment a teacher acknowledges you as their student, you assume the rather large obligation not to do anything that would embarrass your teacher, or force her to have to clean up after you. That means not getting drunk in public and causing a scene. It means controlling your temper at the office and at home (homes are close together and have thin walls. Believe it that your neighbors can hear what’s going on).

As a beginning student, the obligations aren’t too huge. Train, study, help keep the dojo clean and don’t do anything to embarrass my teacher. Eventually I stopped being a beginning student. I started taking on responsibility for my teacher. At some point everyone expected me to be able to demonstrate the basics correctly, consistently.

The obligations grow slowly but inexorably.

The dojo becomes more and more a real home where you are secure (but not comfortable). The people in the dojo become trusted friends with whom you share the treasure and joy that is training. As I grow in the art, many of the things I gain are difficult to express, and impossible to assign value to. The comfort in my own skin that grows from years and years of training is immeasurable. How do you place a value on being comfortable enough with yourself that storms of emotion and stress can blow around you without disturbing you?

The self-knowledge and understanding that good budo training develops is difficult to describe. People often misinterpret the calm, imperturbable demeanor of a mature martial artist as being self-confidence derived from their physical ability to fight. If that was the truth, that calm would be a weak and easily broken thing only prepared to deal with someone attacking with hands or weapons. It would be worthless against other sorts of stress and disturbances.

One of my jodo teachers thought to give me a lesson I really appreciate. One day shortly before I was due to move back to the US, he drew me aside at the end of practice and said “You need this experience.”  Then he pulled a steel sword out of his bag. Jodo is usually practiced against a bokuto, a wooden sword. Wooden swords hurt more than enough when you screw up and get hit with one in my opinion. I didn’t think there was any need to risk more intense pain with a steel blade. Sensei disagreed.

He named off 3 kata he wanted to do with me facing the steel sword. I noted that all three of them involve strong attacks against the jo side by the sword. I was a more than a little apprehensive about all of this as we faced off, bowed to each other and Sensei began advancing toward me with steel sword. I managed somehow to reach down inside and calm myself enough that I could deal with the attack. Sensei came in and attacked just as the kata called for, and I responded to the attack with something close to the proper timing and technique. Though my heart may have been beating a bit faster than when we usually do these kata, I managed to keep my breathing fairly steady, stay focused and remain relatively calm while Sensei tried to cut me in two.

At the time, I thought Sensei was giving me experience dealing with a steel sword. I was wrong. Sensei was giving me a lesson in how to deal with myself.  This is a much more universally useful lesson than just how to react when someone attacks with a steel sword. That lesson was identical to the lessons on what to do when someone attacks with a wooden sword. Get out of the way of the attack and then counterattack.

This lesson could be described as “How to deal with myself when something big and unexpected happens.” I’ve used this lesson in how to reach down inside myself and maintain steady breathing, a clear focus and calm mind even when people are going to pieces around me. My heart rate may go up depending on the situation, but I’m the only person who has any need to be aware of that. The rest of the world gets to deal with someone who is clear, calm and in control of himself. That’s a heck of a lesson to get from a guy with a sword.

I don’t know where else I could get a lesson like that. This isn’t a sport. This is a classical budo.

“Win or lose, it’s how you play the game” sounds nice, but in classical budo it’s often more of “Do it right or get hurt.”  The lessons are structured to get you to a place where you can deal with that. I don’t think Sensei came up with the real sword jo practice himself. I have a feeling that he had that experience and found it valuable, so he passed it on to me. How many generations of teachers and students this goes back I don’t know, but I am eternally grateful to all of them. This is a lesson that has served me well over and over.

My budo teachers have given me the dojo as my haven, school room, and proving ground. It’s an awesome place to spend my time. They have shared their wonderful treasure, these budo traditions. It’s not something they just hand out. The senior teachers are maintainers, preservers, guardians and sometime innovators. They have absorbed all the lessons that their teachers, and their teachers’ teachers have discovered and developed, going back generations. Judo goes back about 6 generations. Shinto Muso Ryu goes back nearly 20 generations. Muso Jikiden Eishin Ryu goes back even further than that.

I owe an immense debt to all of the teachers and students of the arts I study. It’s a debt I cannot possibly repay. How can I possibly thank the founders of my Kodokan Judo or Shinto Muso Ryu? I know I can’t, but I am aware of how much I owe them for the physical skills of the arts, the haven and place of wonder that is the dojo, and all the other things and lessons that have come to me through the practice of their arts. That feeling of a debt that can never be repaid is a considerable part of Ōn 恩.

Just because I can never make full payment on the debt I owe to my teachers and those who went before us doesn’t mean I can’t do anything. I express that gratitude to my teachers and all those who have passed the art on to me. If you spend time in a dojo in Japan, you’ll notice that senior students and the teachers are often the first ones to grab brooms at the end of practice and start sweeping the floor. If you a lucky enough to be able to get to the dojo early before practice, you’re likely to discover the teacher quietly sweeping the floor and cleaning up the dojo for practice. Juniors have to be very early to be lucky enough to get to clean up for keiko. Getting to do it is another way of expressing gratitude for all the things you feel ōn for.

I really do worry about not doing anything to embarrass or cause problems for my teachers. It’s one of the biggest concerns I have with writing posts for this blog. Am I going to say something that causes problems for my teachers? That little editor is always chattering away at the back of my mind. I try to ensure that my behavior will never cause them any concern and certainly make sure I don’t create any messes they will have to clean up.

When I started, being on time to practice, working hard, helping clean up after keiko and not being a jerk were enough. The longer I train, the greater the size of the debt I owe that I will never be able to repay. The more of a sense of ōn I have. Now sweeping the dojo, working hard and not being a jerk don’t seem like nearly enough, but what is?

I accept responsibility. I can show Sensei how much I appreciate what he has shared with me by teaching it to others and making sure that the river of our tradition does not dry up and end with me. I share and I teach and work at growing the art. Some of my teachers are no longer here for me to thank. I teach new students and make sure they know these men and women lived and contributed so much to their being able to learn budo now.


Kodokan Judo is everywhere. I have heard it is the second most popular participant sport in the world, behind football (soccer). Koryu budo are not so widely practiced, nor are they intended to be.  They are intended to continue from generation to generation. I do what I can to make sure the ryuha grow into a new generation, and that the new generation is worthy of the treasure the great teachers have showered upon me.

This much harder than I expected because I want to be a worthy teacher of the lessons I have received. The result is that I put a good deal more consideration into what I’m doing and it takes more effort than I ever expected. Which lessons are right for each student? I know students can’t leap from lesson to lesson. They have to work on and practice and polish each lesson until it enters their muscles and bones. That doesn’t happen with one or two classes. I’ve had to develop a new sort patience while I try to make payments on this debt to my own teachers.

To my surprise, I find a special joy in seeing students grow and develop in budo, and seeing the arts flow into a new generation. There is something deeply satisfying about seeing the growth and development of a student. That’s another debt to my teachers that I will not be able to repay.

Ōn seems like a heavy burden, but it is one that is wonderful carry. How can I not be thankful for this sense of gratitude when it comes from all the wonder filled and amazing things I have received through budo practice? I even appreciate this sense of Ōn.
The original article can be found here.




Muhammad Ali Walked the Talk

My childhood hero.

Uke is not just cannon fodder!!

So its been a long time, since I put pen to paper -or more literally finger to keyboard- to post anything on my blog.

Mainly because i realised, I’m not particularly good at writing, don’t have an interesting style nor do I construct beautiful sentences. Yet despite this, I decided today, to put finger to keyboard, and let my thoughts flow..

This past weekend, 2nd & 3rd of May, I attended a great seminar organised by Meikiyokai Aikido, at the Judo centre high Wycombe which hosted two of the best, and certainly my favourite two Yoshinkan Instructors, Joe Thambu shihan from Shudokan Australia, and Robert Mustard shihan from Aikido Yoshinkai Burnaby, BC, Canada.

I’ve been away from seminars for a good 6 months for various reasons, and this seminar -tough on my body as it has been- was a very welcome event. Battered, aching and bruised, thanks to all the ‘love’ and attention I received, I cannot help but keep wondering how my aikido is evolving and in what direction? That said, my main question is after this seminar was how are my skills as an Uke developing.

Before, I go ahead, It is important i clarify that in Yoshinkan Aikido, Uke is different from Ukemi. I have heard and read other schools of Aikido use the expression ‘taking Ukemi for sensei XYZ’ or ‘taking sensei’s ukemi’ but we don’t use it that way in Yoshinkan aikido. One clearly does take ‘ukemi’ for other practitioners or even for a training partner in the sense that one takes the falls or the throws while training. Yet the concept of Uke is very different to Ukemi. It is not just about the fall, the roll, or the flips. Ukemi, is merely one part and probably a smallish -albeit vital- part of taking Uke.

It is essential for Aikdioka to be well rehearsed when it comes to falls and rolls, it is not just a matter of flow or elegance, but of safety too. To be able to fall and get up safely when practicing alone, is not really impressive, but to allow your body to react naturally and take the propulsive throws of seasoned practitioners when mobile and moving at some speed; now that is something else altogether. It can mean the difference between serious injury and bouncing back up.

Despite this, Uke is still much more than just Ukemi.

In Yoshinkan Aikido, the question is often asked, what is the role of Uke? to which the usual answer is ‘to help Shite learn the technique’, there is truth in that. Joe Thambu sensei commented this weekend that despite the first character of Aikido being Ai meaning ‘to harmonise’ or ‘to blend’, many practitioners of Aikido seem to emphasise the second character of  Aikido namely the Ki -meaning the spirit or energy- more than the ‘Ai’. What he meant was lots of practitioners show a lot of spirit and gusto, but not enough harmony with training partner.

So what has this to do with the role of Uke you say? everything really.

Uke’s role is to help shite -his partner- learn and develop. Just like any other skill on earth one usually begins slow to master a form or rhythm before applying speed or power. In Aikido generally, and the Yoshinkai school especially, the form can be elaborate, and complicated, to master a form of a technique while keeping it effective one must have a co-operative Uke. Someone who will not resist the technique and just allow Shite to practice form. The best way to achieve this is to be light, as if one did not exist, let Shite express their technique and learning without any hindrance or resistance from Uke.

And how does this allow for a martial art to grow? isn’t this fake? Well, yes… of course it is.

It is fake because this is Training, it is not combat. Too many challenges at an early stage will cause nothing more than frustration, aggression, disappointment not to mention the tendency to power a technique through by using muscular force, and if we do so, we might as well, stop calling it Aikido. We might as well just practice street fighting.

Nevertheless Uke is not just cannon fodder. A time comes when Uke has to challenge Shite, perhaps by not going with the flow and by resisting Shite’s movement. Done at the appropriate level this should allow Shite to explore weak points and gaps in his/her technique. Yet even then, resistance has to be done correctly. If the technique says Uke pulls for shite to practice an entering throw it would be very easy for Uke to push instead this would resist Shite perfectly, except he/she now cannot practice an entering technique or throw.

Uke’s purpose changes slightly depending on who the training partner is. A white belt partner should evoke a different response from Uke to an in instructor.  On both occasions Uke needs to be light and not hinder the technique for different reasons, in the former to allow the white belt to learn, in the latter to allow the instructor to demonstrate the technique. Any good instructor will have to trouble disposing an Uke who is fighting them, but when demonstrating, this is not the aim. The aim is to showcase the best form of the is a demonstration.. a learning aid.. a reference form.

So it has to be smooth, light and elegant.

So, after all this.. where am I now?… well, I think i’m getting better, but I also still have a long way to go. Its a bit like climbing a mountain, the more you climb the more you realise there is more to be climbed.

Robert Mustard sensei always says: that he has seen Aikidoka who are good at being Shite and bad at being Uke, he has seen some who are bad at being Shite and bad at being Uke, but he has never seen anyone who what a good Uke who was bad at being Shite. He almost always follows that by saying: if anything, the best Shite’s he’d seen in his life are also the best Ukes.

Now that says something!



Shi’te – The person performing the technique. (I believe some schools of Aikido calls this Tory)

Uke – the person ‘receiving’ the technique. (I believe some schools of Aikido calls this Nage)

A great read of Aikido peri-war history

So, my blog has been deserted for a good few months.
I’m still training but haven’t written much recently though I have been reading.
What have I read?
Check this article by Stanley Pranin. Great summary.
Please feel free to share…

Why Budo is not supposed to work in real life…

I could not resist finishing this article and could not resist blogging it. I would be grateful, for any martial artist (budo or koryu) to wade in with your views of the article and agreements/disagreements.. or with a different view altogether.


 Created on Wednesday, 01 September 2010 22:46

Written by: 

Budo KanjiPlease accept my apologies for the voluntarily provocative title but I think that it sums up well what a little research on the word Budo can teach you. The word Budo is now ubiquitous in the popular culture and it is safe to say that along with sushi, karaoke, bonsai and manga, it figures amongst the most successful exports of the Japanese culture. It is however one of the most misunderstood of all. Today I would like to provide some clues on what Budo is really about. I will first try to explain the origins of the word and then, discuss their implications on nowadays practice.

As an Aikido instructor and lifelong martial arts practitioner, I often had to explain what this discipline was about; in particular, what made it different from other arts such as Judo, Karatedo or Kendo. I started realizing that a more productive way to proceed might in fact be to explain what these Budo had in common rather than pointing out what separated them. It is especially important if we want to understand the difference between Budo and Bujutsu (武術).

The origins of Budo

Guillaume Erard and Christian TissierThe word Budo is composed of two kanji, Bu (武) and Do (道). Bu means martial, or war and Do means path or way. If we go back to the origin of the word Do, we can get some more precise and significant information. In Chinese, the character 道 (pronounced “Tao”) is a lot less tangible as it does not only mean path. Tao also expresses a holistic vision of the world and an idea of overall unity. The Japanese adapted the word Do to more practical ends. When used as a suffix to an activity, not necessarily a martial one, i.e. Chado (茶道), the way of preparing the tea, Do represents a discrete body of knowledge in a given discipline. As far as human beings are concerned, Do is a way of self-fulfillment and harmonization with the universe. Regarding the prefix Bu, we can therefore assume that this self-fulfillment will be reached through the study and practice of a martial discipline.

The problem for us westerners is that both the terms Budo and Bujutsu are translated as Martial Art. This leads to quite some confusion regarding which type of practice we are actually engaged in. The difference between the two is crucial and it is precisely to move away from Bujutsu that the term Budo was invented.

Before going any further, I would like to define what Budo and Bujutsu are and what differentiates them from one another. Although clearly evolved in order to fit the modern social, political and moral conditions as well as a certain pedagogic approach (although I have my reserves regarding the use of the occidental word “pedagogy” to describe the way Japanese Sensei transmit their knowledge to their students), the Budo (or Gendai Budo; “modern martial path”) derive more or less directly from the Bujutsu (or Koryu Bujutsu : traditional martial art), at least on the technical side. Kenjutsu became Kendo, Aikijutsu became Aikido and so on.

Guillaume Erard AikikaiWe are therefore opposing new and old systems here. The Bujutsu is really the ancestral discipline of combat; purely practical, direct and deadly. It is important however to be aware of the fact that the notion of defense is intrinsic to the Bujutsu. The character Bu is actually composed of two words: spear and stop. Bujutsu is therefore more a way to defend oneself than a mean to attack another. Let us be fair, the Bujutsu practitioners were also exposed to moral teachings but these came from the separate study of Confucianism and other philosophies. Philosophy was not, at the time, part of the martial discipline itself.

The myth of the traditional Budo

I hope that the martial art specialists amongst the readers will forgive me for stating the obvious but the myth of “traditional” Budo has to be deflated. All the Budo were created between the middle of the 19th and 20th century so there is nothing really traditional about practicing a Budo, sorry to all the Samurai wannabes…

The Budo were created out of the realization that the traditional martial disciplines had to mutate in order to subsist. At the time, Bujutsu were not pertinent anymore on a practical sense because of social and technological advances as well as political pressures. From the dismantlement of the warrior class during the Meiji restoration to the post-war years where fighting disciplines were simply forbidden, martial arts had a hard time finding a justification for their existence. Some visionaries however thought that the educative values of a martial practice should not be lost so they created the Budo out of the Bujutsu. Studying the writings of the founders of the main Budo, Jigoro Kano[1], Morihei Ueshiba[2] and Gichin Funakoshi[3], it leaves very little doubt regarding the real purpose of the disciplines they created.

Although the term Budo is quite recent, the process of demilitarization of the Japanese society and the watering down of the martial techniques are much more ancient. It all probably started during the 16th century when the iron handed Tokugawa shogunate took over Japan and put an end to centuries of constant civil war. The Bushi (warriors) became Samurai (civil servants) and the techniques that were once used in the battlefield got refined and complexified for a scarcer, mostly urban use. Actually, the “Bushido” (way of the warrior) ideology probably started from the fact that Samurai had very little to do (no more wars to fight) and a lot of time to kill (their rank did not allow them to exercise another profession). As they managed to grow older, not being killed at war in their prime, they probably also grew wiser… As a consequence, they put their efforts into trying to justify their mostly useless skills by labeling them with a philosophy of life and moral attributes. Interestingly, the word Bushido is a very recent invention[4] although the philosophy itself has been developed and glorified for a long time in the writings of authors such as Tsunetomo[5] or Musashi[6] amongst the most influential.

The place of Budo in today’s world

Guillaume Erard and Christian TissierNow that we understand the origins of the Budo, we can really start to grasp what they are nowadays. Contrary to what many people believe, Budo are not self-defense but education systems. Budoka (Budo practitioners) learn the moral values of respect, peace[7], humility etc. through the perfecting of a martial choreography. Thus, it is very important to understand that efficacy is not the prime objective of the study of a Budo. In fact, in many cases, the efficacy of the techniques has been voluntarily diminished in order to reduce the risk of physical harm during training and to increase the benefit on health and mind. As an example, Budo techniques are often used to develop and “open” the body of the practitioner whereas ancient, more practical approaches lead to more “closed” or compact postures. The advantages of Bujutsu are for survival while the benefits of Budo are for life.

To conclude, I would like to state that of course, the techniques taught in Budo are still martial techniques and they have conserved some degrees of efficacy. Some Budo schools are also more focused on efficacy than others and it would be unreasonable to say that all Budo are not efficient in combat. I hope however that I made clear that by definition, it is useless to compare a Budo to another martial art in terms of martial efficacy. Efficacy is really not the priority of a 30+ years practice of Budo. If one wants to learn something mainly practical, be it an efficient way of fighting or a self-defence system, I would suggest turning towards a Koryu Bujutsu (if one wishes to stick to the Japanese disciplines of course). Note however that although Budo are not fighting techniques they are not sports either. Martial arts never cease to evolve and Budo which are nowadays mutating into competitive (Shiai) disciplines are called the Kakutogi. Unfortunately, the benefits on personal improvement are often lost in the process…


  1. Kano, Jigoro. (1932-08-14) The Contribution of Jiudo to Education. Journal of Health and Physical Education, 3, pp. 37-40, 58.
  2. Ueshiba Morihei and Ueshiba Kisshomaru. Budo: teachings of the founder of aikido. New York, NY. Kodansha Amer Inc,March 15, 1996. Paperback in English, 132 pages, ISBN-10: 4-7700-2070-8.
  3. Funakoshi Ginchin. Karate-do: My way of life. New York, NY. Kodansha USA,September 15, 1981. Paperback in English, 144 pages, ISBN-10: 0870114638.
  4. Nitobe Inazo. Bushido: the soul of Japan. New York, NY. Kodansha USA,March 1, 2002.Hardcover in English, 160 pages, ISBN-10: 4770027311.
  5. Yamamoto Tsunetomo. Hagakure: the book of the samurai. Boston, MA. Shambhala; Tra edition,May 15, 2012. Paperback in English, 200 pages, ISBN-10: 1590309855.
  6. Miyamoto Musashi. The book of five rings. New York, NY. Kodansha International,April, 1 2002.Hardcover in English, 160 pages, ISBN-10: 4770028016.
  7. Ueshiba Morihei. The art of peace. Boston, MA. Shambhala Publications Inc,April 1, 1993.Paperback in English, 140 pages, ISBN-10: 0877738513.


The link is here to the original webpage.



Is Aikido efficient?…

This somewhat long article, is an interesting read and makes for good reflection. Though I don’t agree with everything in it.. it certainly holds great value and insight… not to mention sense….


Summery of course…

This is a fairly detailed ‘summery’ of the Toby Threadgill/Robert Mustard course in Sept this year… the interesting thing about it, is that the author went to a lot of detail and must have paid a huge amount of attention. The end result is brilliant aid to memory for us who were there, to the techniques we did and concepts we’ve witnessed.

Thank you Matthew Bowen!


This course was held on the weekend of 14-15 September 2013 at the Jūdō Performance Institute in Dartford. Teaching was split equally between Robert Mustard (nanadan yōshinkan aikidō) and Toby Threadgill (headmaster of the Takamura-ha Shindō Yōshin-ryū school of jūjutsu and kenjutsu). As such, the techniques taught were yōshinkan and jūjutsu.

Members from Rising Sun Aikido attending the the course. From left to right: James, H, Toby Threadgill, Robert Mustard, Phil, Al, Matthew, Kerry, John.

Robert Mustard

Proper yōshinkan kamae
To step into kamae, begin from shizentai (natural posture) and take a large step forwards with one foot, sliding the rear foot forwards a small amount following it, in order to reach a position where 60% of the weight is on the front foot, and 40% on the back foot. The hand of the front foot should be held out directly in front of the sternum with a slight bend in the elbow. The second hand should be held in front of the hips. The fingers of each hand should be spread and the back leg held straight with the sole of the foot touching the floor.
Kamae exercise #1
Assume kamae and then have a partner lean directly on the front of your chest to ensure that you are stable. The partner then tests your posture from behind by leaning in the same way with their hand on the middle of your back.
Kamae exercise #2
From kamae, perform a tenkan into a deep kamae in which your weight is distributed 80% over the front foot and 20% on the rear foot. Then have a partner test your posture from the front and back as in the previous kamae exercise.
Kamae kihondosa
Step forwards into kamae, then tenkan over 180 degrees into a deep 80/20 stance as in the previous exercise. During the tenkan, the position of the front foot should not move. Perform a zengoundo movement on the balls of your feet so that your weight is distributed in the same way over your other foot. Take a step back with the front foot so that it becomes the back foot, ending in a normal kamae.
Katatedori hantai shihonage
Grab uke’s gripping hand using your free hand, step underneath their arm, and throw in shihōnage making sure to keep uke’s arm straight as opposed to being bent at the elbow.
Shomenuchi ikkajo
Tori attacks with shomenuchi, uke blocks the attack with their same arm (if tori attacks with the left, uke blocks with the left), then tori takes uke’s exposed elbow and performs ikkyo, irimi variation. Tori must strike with intent so that uke can learn to block correctly.
Katatedori nikajo
From a katatedori grip, step out to the side of the hand that has been grabbed and perform an atemi (backfist) to uke‘s face. Put your free hand on uke’s attacking hand and break the grip. Hold the wrist out in front of you so uke’s thumb is pointing downwards, and use the two smallest fingers on each hand to provide light pressure to execute the nikyo technique. When uke reaches the floor, put your hand on his elbow and sweep it out in the direction it’s pointing. After uke has lost his balance, tenkan down into the mat. Note: you cannot begin your tenkan until uke has been destabilised, as even if you succeed in taking him with you, he is in danger of colliding with your foot closest to him.
Nikajo exercise from kneeling
Sit in kiza with a partner and practise applying nikyo on your partner’s wrist with it held out in front of you. It must be applied using the hips. In order to do so, the hips must be pushed forwards down into the mat (I think by engaging the toe muscles and pushing the legs apart). The arms must have a relaxed yet firm structure so that when your hips move forwards, the nikyo is aplied.
Katatedori kokyūnage
Uke attacks with katatedori. Tori does a tenkan so that uke and tori are shoulder to shoulder, facing the same direction. Whilst performing this movement, tori’s gripped hand must go underneath uke’s hand in order to grab uke’s wrist by the end of the tenkan. Tori then pushes forwards and down, throwing uke.
Ryotedori tenchinage
Uke attacks with katatedori and tori steps to the side of the forwards foot and performs a quarter-tenkan. During this movement, tori sinks the hand of the side stepped towards and raises the other hand upwards by uke’s ear. Tori then steps forwards without letting the arms collapse and uses the hips to power uke diagonally downwards into the mat. Tori’s arms should end in a 45 degree declivity.

Toby Threadgill

Musubi exercise #1
Partner grabs with katatedori. Move the thumb of your grabbed hand upwards, rotating the wrist without moving it away from its position. This point of rotation is called jiku. Once you have created a connection with your partner you are said to have established musubi, and you can move your wrist forwards and down to unbalance them, achieving kuzushi.
Musubi exercise #2
Partner grabs with katatedori. Move the gripped hand slightly towards you and upwards with the palm face up, leading your partner’s bodyweight predominately onto their front foot. Move the hand slightly to the side and down in order to gain kuzushi.
Musubi exercise #3
A partner grabs you with ryotedori. Totally relax your arms. By doing so, you have denied your partner the ability to generate musubi (a connection to your centre), and you may move the rest of your body around freely. Walk around your gripped wrists a couple of times, then assume your original position and lower yourself to the floor before standing up again.
Musubi exercise #4
Your partner grabs you with ryotedori and moves your arms around in a random motion. Relax your arms totally, denying your partner the ability to generate musubi, maintaining your posture despite your flailing arms. When you perceive your partner to be susceptible to kuzushi, align your arms in such a way to provide structure. Your partner’s use of muscle against your structure will provide musubi; use your hips to unbalance him.
Principle of pulling with the front leg
During all footwork movements, a person can generate forwards momentum either by pushing with their back leg (as is natural) or by pulling with their front leg (as is unnatural). By doing the latter, one is able to avoid sacrificing one’s posture at any moment during the movement. In order to accomplish it, the front leg must not be placed farther forwards than the leg can reach if all of the bodyweight is supported by the back leg. When the front leg is placed down, it can be relaxed and the knee allowed to bend, transferring your bodyweight from your back foot to your front foot. When your weight is supported primarily by your front foot, engage the muscles of the front leg’s hamstring to pull your hips forwards until all of your bodyweight is now supported by your front foot. This process can be repeated to allow stepping without ever reaching a position where the bodyweight is not fully supported at all times (unlike in normal walking or running, where the front foot is briefly in a state of free-fall).
Pulling exercise #1
A partner stands in front of you, places one hand on each of your shoulders and leans into you. Placing your hands underneath their elbows, place one foot in front of you, rotate your pelvis forwards and pull yourself forwards without sacrificing your posture, forcing your partner back. You should be completely relaxed, relying on structural power rather than the contractions of your muscles.
Pulling exercise #2
A partner stands to your side and places one hand on the side of your upper arm, leaning into you. Move your foot closest to your partner towards them, rotate your hip sideways towards your partner and use your foot to pull yourself towards them as in the first exercise, forcing them back.
Achieving perfect shizentai
When your body is not structurally aligned – that is, when it’s not completely supported only by your musculature – you must engage muscles in your core and elsewhere in order to maintain your position. By perfecting your posture, you are able to relax fully, allowing you to use your muscles more efficiently. When standing, you should therefore maintain a straight back. An understanding of this principle allows a person to support not only their own bodyweight, but also additional external forces as required. Your bones are far stronger than your muscles, and the proper application of this principle uses them to great effect. This principle should be observed during all movements- even when kneeling or crouching.
Standing in shizentai, drop your bodyweight suddenly downwards by bending your knees and adopting kibadachi. When doing so, your back must stay perfectly straight and upright (as opposed to leaning forwards) with only your knees bent. You must avoid any extension of your legs as this will cause your centre to rise before falling – your centre must fall only. Performing this movement with musubi is very powerful and allows for very sudden throws that utilise your whole bodyweight.
Literally, “being a rabbit.” This happens if your feet lift off the ground when performing the otoshi movement, creating a hopping effect like a rabbit. If you do this, you are not practising Shindō Yōshin-ryū and get to wear the bunny ears.
Your partner grips with katatedori. Place your free hand on his gripping hand to rotate it to break his grip, turning it so that his thumb is pointing down. Move the hand to in front of your sternum and use your now free hand to reinforce your grip, your elbow rested on top of your partner’s arm. Your partner’s arm should be straight. Pull your leg closest to your partner very slightly forwards, moving your whole body slightly closer to your partner. After this movement, your partner’s arm should be engaged with the shoulder and a connection made to his torso. Drop slowly, keeping your back straight as in the otoshi exercise and your partner should feel compelled to drop with you. When your partner has been taken down low, let go with your reinforcing hand, stand up straight and place your free hand on your partner’s elbow.
Musubi exercise #5
Your partner holds out his arm straight forwards with slight rigidity. Stand to the side of him and lay your hands on his arm, totally relaxing your arms. Pull yourself closer to him and try to feel for musubi by using your body to move his arm slightly towards him, engaging his shoulder. Once you have connected with him, you can drop down slowly to achieve kuzushi.
Becoming impossibly well-balanced
Stand in shizentai with your palms in front of your chest facing outwards. A partner will put his palms against yours and lean into you. By using your partner’s incoming force and moving your body parts around, you are able to attempt to calibrate your posture so that the incoming force does not unbalance you. The head must be placed directly above the hips and the hips directly above the feet. The knees must be bent slightly, the back held straight, and the pelvis rotated forwards or backwards. When correctly calibrated, you should be able to redirect incoming pressure effectively (half of it going upwards, half of it being channelled into the ground). You should not lean forwards – if your partner suddenly stops applying pressure, your balance should be unaffected. Your partner’s feeling should be that of pushing into a sponge – that the force is simply accepted and immediately dissipated. When you are correctly calibrated, you should feel an increase of pressure on your feet as more of it is being supported by them.
Running in the Kurosawa films
According to Mr. Threadgill, Akira Kurosawa employed an advisor familiar in koryū who advised him that the samurai used the method of pulling with the front foot whilst running, which is why the samurai in Kurosawa’s films run peculiarly, taking only small strides.
Principle of exploiting tension
When uke becomes tense and you are attempting to apply a large kotegaeshi, stop. Your technique should be calibrated to the behaviour of uke; if uke is tense and his wrist won’t budge, don’t try to move it away. Instead, do a small technique; concern yourself only with taking uke’s balance and achieving the throw. Don’t worry about whether it will be a big throw or a small throw – these details don’t matter.
Mouth technique, i.e., yapping. May also have a secondary meaning that I won’t go into.
A paired kata from Takamura ha Shindō Yōshin-ryū. Uchidachi (uke) attacks with katatedori. Shidachi (tori) steps to shikaku (the blind-side) and places his free wrist underneath uchidachi’s wrist. Using an upwards motion, the grip is broken. The gripped hand falls on top of the hand uchidachi was using to grab, sinking it down and unbalancing uchidachi, preparing for a kotegaeshi throw. Stepping back with the foot of the hand that was grabbed, step straight into a kneeling position, taking uchidachi’s arm with you, throwing him in a tegaeshi (hand reversal) throw. Do not turn until after uchidachi has landed. Maintaining your grip on uchidachi’s hand, turn your whole body towards uchidachi (turning on the side that uchidachi was thrown). At the end of your turn, the knee that is up should be against uchidachi’s arm. Push uchidachi’s arm away from you and put the leg of your knee that’s up 45 degrees out to the side, with the knee bent at an obtuse angle, and pat the inside of your knee with the hand of that side. This position is known as ichimonji (“ichi character” – character for ichi is ‘一’) and its purpose is to free your hakama from your feet to avoid tripping when standing up. Now move your outwards leg inwards again so that you are crouching on the balls of your feet (back still upright). Slowly rise, maintainingzanshin on uchidachi.
Taiotoshi translates as ‘body drop’. Uchidachi grabs your lapel. Grab uchidachi’s lapel on the opposite side and the sleeve of his attacking arm at the elbow. Step in so that your back foot becomes your front foot, and that the toes are placed by the side of uchidachi’s toes. Bring your feet together whilst turning away from uke, using your grip on him and your turning motion to break his balance. The direction of the turn is to the same side as the foot that you had forwards at the beginning. Take the foot that you originally stepped in with and place it on the outside of uchidachi’s front leg, slightly behind his foot; make sure that you have a bend in your leg at the knee joint. To execute the throw, snap your hips so that they are now facing fully in the opposite direction that they were at the beginning and straighten the leg you placed on the outside. As you twist, keep your hands in front of them and use them to move uchidachi’s torso forwards. This movement throws uchidachi as your leg prevents uchidachi from stepping to recover his posture. When throwing, take care that you do not move your own torso forwards; maintain an upright and stable posture at all times. See this video on taiotoshi.
The jūdō name for what aikidōka recognise as a koshinage (hip throw). Ōgoshi translates as ‘great hip’ (‘ō’ meaning ‘great’ and ‘goshi’ an altered pronunciation of ‘koshi’ meaning ‘hip’). Uchidachi grabs your lapel. Respond by stepping in towards uchidachi, closing the distance and using the arm of the side that has been grabbed to wrap around uchidachi’s lower back, grabbing his gi jacket. Place your feet side-by-side, close together and bend forwards significantly so that your back is horizontal. Sink down so that your hips are lower than uchidachi’s hips, pull uchidachi forwards and load the whole of his weight onto your hips, carried directly above your feet. Tilt your hips and throw uchidachi off the other side of them. When performing the technique, you should lead uchidachi onto your hips such that his centre of balance is directly on top of the small of your back – this will ensure that your throw is stable. Uchidachi’s centre should be on top of your centre which should be directly above your own feet. This video explains the ōgoshi throw as it is performed in jūdō.
Throw using the principle of the square
In aikidō, most movements use principles of circular motion. This is not the only possibility however, and the shape of the square can also be used to unbalance a person. Uchidachi grabs shidachi on the shoulder. Use the hand of the arm that’s being grabbed to grab uchidachi’s sleeve below his elbow. Step back with your whole body so that uchdtachi is moved directly forwards, and when he is off-posture, drop directly down onto the knee of the arm that’s been grabbed. Uchidachi will be thrown suddenly forwards, his arm having moved first straight forwards and then straight downwards – a 90 degree angle reminiscent of the corner of a square. As in tegaeshi, do not turn to face uchidachi until he has been thrown, then turn and brace his arm against your knee. Push his arm away, assume ichimonji to clear your hakama, bring your leg in again and stand up slowly, maintaining zanshin.
Musubi exercise #6
Uke grabs with katatedori. Use your free hand to place your thumb on the back of his hand and rotate his hand to break the grip. Using both of your hands, take his hand over towards his shoulder, with uke’s palm being above his elbow. Engage the shoulder in order to move it ever so slightly away from being structurally supported by uke’s body, then allow your arms and body to become heavy, and sink uke’s hand downwards slightly to the outside of his elbow, taking with it his shoulder and therefore his posture.


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