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November 2009

70. What Is The Core?

In order to share how I address Aikido training and structuring a curriculum lets look how to define martial arts in general first; else-wise the actual curriculum makes little to no sense.

First, ignore the actual techniques; as they matter little.  Just about every style out there strikes, kicks, twists & locks so it's not the appearance of a wrist lock but how and when it's applied.

Second, what sets one MA apart from another should be based in the tokui-waza or rather the first, instinctive, natural, reactive, intuitive, subconscious reaction to an unexpected attack when the defender is under pressure and unable to control the circumstances.  This tokui-waza (intuitive response) is based entirely in how you have trained; ergo the old saw about "how you train is how you react (in real circumstances)". 

If the intuitive tokui-waza is to directly oppose the attack then your primary MA is one in which the first response is to push back via force directly opposing force; he pushes & you push back, he grabs and jerks & you grab and jerk, he punches and kicks and blocks & you punch and kick and block.  This is commonly found in MA such as TKD, boxing/kick boxing, etc.

If the intuitive tokui-waza is to move out of the way of the attack but while doing so grab and attach to the attacker then your primary MA is an avoid/attach response; he punches and you move to avoid but then attach and throw, he grabs and you move to off-balance him while grabbing to throw.  This is commonly found in Judo, grappling and BJJ type MA.

If the intuitive tokui-waza is to move out of the way and break the attackers' posture and redirect the energy before attempting a technique then your primary MA is an avoid and redirect response.  He punches or kicks, you move, parry, redirect the attacker to off-balance and only then take a waza.  This is commonly found in Tai Chi and Aikido.

The way in which your chosen MA applies techniques fits into one of the three categories.  Kotegaeshi is kotegaeshi and atemi is atemi but how you enter and apply can differ according to which of the 3 base principles of timing(s), angle(s) and distance(s) judgement & control your MA uses and bases its applications on.

The question often (always) arises and is discussed ad nauseum, "Why does my martial art not include ..... chokes .... foot sweeps .... sacrifice throws ... etc. ...... etc. ....".

The question also arises (again always and again ad nauseum) whose martial art is better.

The "what's left out" and the "whose is better" questions are simply too limited as is the overall understanding of those who pose them.  Each of the two questions is predicated on the assumption that any single martial art can include every single technique existent or that any single martial art is better than all others.

In the former, NO MA can possibly include everything and to assume that one can is .......... well you decide how experienced and seasoned in the MA the person making that statement is.

In the case of the latter I personally prefer a Beretta 12 gauge with deer slugs at 50 paces or maybe a nuke.  So much of what makes one MA better than another contains so many possible factors; size, strength, pure dumb luck, grease on the floor, surprise, emotional issues,etc., etc., etc.  Maybe the best way to describe it can be found in a statement coaches like Tom Landry or Bear Bryant would make ........... "The difference between one pro-football team and the other is the phase of the moon since each has players that are so good that the difference is miniscule".

So ......... the question should be not what was left out nor who is better but what "Core" or most basic principle is your MA based upon.

In Aikido, Tomiki to be precise (as an example since that's what I do), the answer is YES..........Tomiki left out lots of waza ........... and YES ......... Aikido is the best if everything is done absolutely perfectly (which it never is) and if the world turns exactly correctly for us (which is never does) and if the opponent makes mistakes (which we can never count on).  Big Deal!  Every martial artist alive can make that claim..... so lets drop the issue of who is best (my answer to that is NONE) and focus on the what was left out since that is the real issue and in a sense provides a partial answer to who is better/best.  After all, if you are not concerned with who is best then why are you concerned about what was left out in the effort to become better?  Why not just accept it the way it is and move on?  Wanting to throw foot sweeps or ne-waza into a system that does not contain them strikes me as an effort to improve the system such that it becomes more effective (i.e., "better").

Don't you think?

When you train you want to make use of only one of the tokui-waza principles in order to maximize its' effectiveness so Kano postulated that by using only one primary response and by limiting the number of waza to the least number that both teaches the tokui-waza principle and gives the broadest view of the system you as a player can maximize your reponses and overall ability.

So in the case of Aikido yes, foot sweeps were left out because they do not fit the two arms length/avoid & redirect tokui-waza principle.  You have to proactively close ma-ai which violates one of the principles of controlling ma-ai and breaking posture before closing.  Then you have to break a second principle which is to continue tai-sabaki and move since entering for a foot sweep requires picking up one foot and momentarily becoming immobile and therefore exposed to the opponents efforts.  Violating so many Aikido principles means about 100% chance of failure unless the opponent is doing so many things wrong that the opportunity is just too big miss.

IMHO Tomiki left them out because he viewed the core principle, the tokui-waza principle as more important than mass numbers of waza encompassing everything possible extant in the MA universe.  Learn the entire system including all kihon, all kihon bunkai, all kata, all waza, all randori concepts and applications and all embedded principles.  Learn them before, I said BEFORE, moving on to things that do not fit that paradigm because to do so means that you are now studying two different tokui-waza principles simultaneously so which one do you make primary?

After learning all the Tomiki ryu and understanding it in the entirety you may look up one day and decide, "You know, I sure would like to see some foot sweeps in my randori because it just seems like they're coming up all the time now."

At that point, once you have learned ALL the system and have TOTALLY embedded the intuitive reactions you can begin to branch out and "add-to" the system and fill in those perceived weaknesses or gaps.  And, at that point since your subconscious and intuitive process operate totally from the Aikido paradigm, all you foot sweeps will fit what you are doing and will have a clearly defined Aikido "flavor" to it that will better fit your body type, preferred movements and tokui-waza.  Going into foot sweeps or adding things in before you have totally embedded the Aikido paradigm means that the Aikido is still weak and not clearly defined and that the addition of a second tokui-waza principle will begin to cloud and interfere with your primary; your Aikido.

So ....... do I use footsweeps ......... of course.

So ....... do I know/use ne-waza ..... of course.

So ....... do I use waza that are more "classically" within the pervue of Aikijutsu or Judo or jujutsu or whatever ........... of course  because I perceive that Aikido indeed has some gaps BUT I think that everything I do MUST have that Aikido "flavor" so as to maintain my tokui-waza principle intact.

I think Tomiki understood.  I think Tomiki wanted people to develop their core and then at some point add in the Judo or whatever they perceive is needed whether for efficacy or effectiveness or art or beauty or whatever.

But anything added should contain the "full-flavor" of the paradigm, of the tokui-waza principle.

L.F. Wilkinson Sensei

Aikibudo Kancho

Aikibudokan, Houston, TX

November (Turkey Day) 2009


69. Left-Overs or Left-Outers?

To continue with this thread topic; Tomiki left some things out (maybe or maybe not if viewed in the broader context) so lets' list what "most" believe those to be and make an opinionated comment for each.

Last several topics I advanced the idea that Ueshiba left out certain areas of study quite possibly due to:

1.  Taking students who already had knowledge in those areas (so why teach the class what they already know, quite possibly better than you),

2.  Wanting only to teach the ryu (he stated he was teaching) which itself contained little of those specific areas so why not be true to the ryu/soke,

3.  Seeing a personal weakness in those areas and having some level of insecurity about them (a 4'11" man doing ne-waza with someone like Tomiki who was known for having long arms, large hands and a large athletic build?)

4.  Or, considered the paradigm of one-arms' length being less desirable as a tokui-waza/first intuitive instinctive response) than two-arms' length ........ (or looking at a training focus on the first possible moment of antagonism as being much preferable to allowing the opponent to close and take advantage possible resulting in a take down/throw & ne-waza).

So is it possible that Tomiki, coming to Ueshiba as a skilled Judoka who was a personal student of Kano (founder of Kodokan Judo) looked at the following ideas and structured his Aikido ryu thusly;

1.  Two-arms' length tokui-waza gave an immediate advantage over closing to one-arms' length thus making the "distant judo" paradigm the preferable (tokui-waza) paradigmatic view,

2.  Making the Aikido/two-arms' paradigm the preferred core study as opposed to confusing the intuitive processes with a ........ hmmmm ...... he attacks so I ...... use two-arms length to react ....... one arms length to react .... go into take-down/ne-waza mode? ....  "Which way do I go George .... which way do I go .. ?".

3.  After (AFTER) making the Aikido/two-arms' length paradigm the FIRST tokui-waza and completely internalizing it, then and ONLY THEN folding in what he (Tomiki) already knew (grips, leg waza, ne-waza, foot sweeps).

So, before you ask, what do I do?  (me, the blog meister ........ Mr.  "Thoughtful Sensei"?

Ah grasshoppa' ...........

L.F. Wilkinson Sensei

Aikibudo Kancho

Aikibudokan, Houston, TX

November 2009


68. Aikido, Part-Timers or Not?

Let's continue to explore this topic of what was "left-out" of Tomiki Aikido (or all Aikido for that matter should you think in that direction) since this topic (based upon some web/blog/email responses) is akin to an avocado tree finally bearing fruit.  For those without a "green hakama" an avocado tree is notoriously difficult to keep alive at first and in most cases won't begin to bear fruit for years; much like a career in Aikido don't you think?

First, my apologies to anyone out there in the blog-o sphere who does not train in Tomiki style as I intended this blog to be more generalized and less Tomiki-specific.  It's just that lately the Carl Jung synchronicity effect has kicked in and more than one person is now wondering why?

So why did Tomiki and other Sensei "leave things out" of Aikido?  Why did Ueshiba not teach certain things?  What possible motivations could they have had.  Lets try to make this thing a little shorter and take one then the next.

Ueshiba.  IMHO and as I stated in the last blog that I meant to be provocative, I just don't think he saw the immediate need in the early years.  He taught high ranking military officers, well known politicians, the wealthy and those referred to him by his students and by others with whom he had some level of relationship.  Most of them already had some level (high level in many cases) rank in various martial arts so Ueshiba, building his street rep', choose to teach Daito ryu which later morphed into Aiki Budo.  He taught the Aiki Jujutsu as a PhD. level course focusing on the strengths of the system and avoided much focus on weapons (other than for Saito Sensei' classes) or on leg techniques/foot sweeps (since the distant combative distance made them difficult to use without getting a hand in the face) or ne-waza (if you can' get the opponent down then what's the use?).

Now to be objective for a moment; Ueshiba was small (so small he had trouble being considered for military duty) so in his case maybe he didn't view ne-waza as a viable study for him calculating that he better stay up and never go down.  He focused on and became more than exceptionally good at avoiding anything close to a takedown which is where the story about Tomiki being unable to break ma-ai on Ueshiba came from which resulted in Tomiki and Admiral Takashita documenting 147 tai judo waza that I believe eventually became the core of what we now consider as the Koryu Kata for Tomiki Ryu.  Without pulling out the reference books right here on the spot and doing an "off-the-cuff" rough count gives us approx. 100 waza that involve a defense against various grabbing attacks (leaving out suwari waza and all striking and weapons waza).  That leaves 47 to go (more or less) but it's quite possible that Tomiki sliced out some duplications and did some generic "seitei" all-in-one versions in order to save space and reduce the overall count.

In his later years when Ueshiba was really into Omoto-kyo his focus shifted and he taught waza that he considered more of a match for his religious beliefs (Ledyard and Pranin have written briefly in this area) which is one reason why so many later generation Sensei only saw a small portion of the overall picture and why no two Sensei in many cases teach (even today) what others teach; they simply didn't see "Part C, D & E with the tanto waza included" and only saw "Parts A, F & G with the bokken thrown in" so they teach only what they actually saw on the mat and by the powers of self-deception and rationalization refuse to believe that they never learned the entire picture; a belief system that is passed down to their students ad infinitum. 

So ............. if they came to Ueshiba without their already knowing a viable ne-waza system and never saw Ueshiba teach or train ne-waza then they would of course reach the conclusion that ne-waza (and foot sweeps for that matter) were not and should not be part and parcel of Aikido, and their dojo (and organizations) to this day would not include these areas within their Aikido curricula.  This of course still begs the question for Tomiki who did know ne-waza and leg techniques very well indeed .............. be patient, we'll get there.

So Tomiki meets Ueshiba in the mid-1920's and has a little randori encounter in the summer of 1927 that results in Ueshiba besting Tomiki.  My phrase last time was Ueshiba "kicking a little booty" on Tomiki; a phrase which kinda fits and has a little flavor to it (lighten up out there all you pedantic budo fans).  Tomiki, ever the intelligent and inquisitive martial artist becomes Ueshiba's student and remained so for decades, eventually forming his own group at Waseda and his own organization.

Tomiki ............... having had much the same experience as I had when I first met the man who became my primary Sensei (which is why I think I understand these circumstances perhaps better than others) changed his paradigm just as I did.  I met Sensei having spent years in competitive athletics and resistance training was strong and in really good shape and had spent a bit of time in kumite in Tae Kwon Do.  Sensei invited me to do some Aikido hand randori and I had the good sense to learn and not fight and to view it as part of my education.  Quite humbling to suddenly understand that what I thought I was good at was totally ineffective so I can visualize what must have gone through Tomiki's mind when meeting someone smaller and seemingly less able who simply controlled Tomiki's best efforts.  I also changed my paradigmatic view and totally committed to Aikido and never looked back.

So why did he (Tomiki) leave out ne-waza and leg techniques/foot sweeps anyway?

Lets do some speculation ...............

First; Tomiki and his senior people already knew Judo and were looking to expand their overall knowledge (if you know footsweeps then do the Aikido and quit repeating what you are already good at).

Second; Tomiki had apparently changed his paradigmatic view and now saw the value of a focus on the first moment of contact (2 arms length) and the efficacy of preventing the opponent from breaking that ma-ai or of allowing him to grab the gi or a body part prior to performing a more classic judo waza into a ne-waza situation.  If you are trying to develop an intuitive tokui-waza that works by fighting off the end of the wrist then that should comprise the vast lion's share of training time in order to avoid confusing the internal processes with the decision of two-arms length or one arms length (Aikido response vs. Judo response).  Thus, structuring practice such that the focus is on Aikido and not Judo makes more sense if one begins to deal with students who come to you without any Judo training (teach them the Aikido response first then the Judo ideas later) and most, most especially if one is "re-training" judo players who have to re-program their tokui-waza.

Third; Tomiki was attempting to develop competitive Aikido of a sort so in order to maintain a visual (and a principle/kihon) differentiation between competive Aikido and competitive Judo, he ruled that only Aikido would be practiced in order to reduce the risk of having an Aikido shiai become a Judo match by default.  I think it's entirely rational to believe that the overall structure of what many today consider "Tomiki Ryu Aikido" was indeed based on his drive to develop a viable two-arm length randori method

Not to share too much but it's raining in Houston all day and I have an opportunity to go for some sake and sashimi.  My companions will be Aikido players also so we'll bounce this discussion around and I'll complete most of this brain-dump tomorrow.  Have a great evening.

L.F. Wilkinson Sensei

Aikibudo Kancho

Aikibudokan, Houston, TX

November 21, 2009


67. Tomiki's Madness

In an earlier post I made mention of a monograph written by Shishida that described how Aikido was developed and spoke somewhat of its' relationship to Judo and to Kito Ryu.  To re-cap, Tomiki made a statement in 1927 that he was unable to find a chance to break Ueshiba's balance with judo techniques when sparring with Ueshiba.  In other words, Tomiki was unable to break ma-ai (or enter combative distance) against Ueshiba thereby rendering all of his Kodokan Judo ineffective.  As Shishida put it, "That was reason why Tomiki, a skilful judo practitioner, became Ueshiba's apprentice and continued practicing aikido with him for decades."

I have also written in past posts that early aikijutsu (Daito Ryu) for the most part did not have "names" or an established nomenclature per se; using instead a numerical "tagging" of waza.  It was organized into sections of importance (similar to but not the same as omote/ura) but apparently not clearly named for the most part.  The monograph mentions this with descriptions taken from the "Kon" such as "#12 - the moment he clings to my collar and sleeves" or "#50 - the moment when he extends both my hands".  This of course makes it fairly difficult to know the exact description of the 147 counter techniques against judo and then to compare them to what is taught today in mainstream aikido dojo; thus making a direct comparison to waza "then" and "now" very difficult if not flat out impossible.  (I have seen some attempts with lengthy reference lists that were very well done but none of those, by their authors own admissions, are complete with much still left up in the air).

We know that Tomiki was the first to document everything that Ueshiba was teaching and set it down in the book Budo Renshu (early 1930's and different from the book Budo put out in the late 1930's).  To use some elementary logic here; if Ueshiba was using numbers to mostly describe what he was doing, "Look here class at what my right foot is doing in #35 and see how my hand goes in #42", then this would explain why Tomiki named the waza in Tomiki Ryu Aikido by common names such as kotegaeshi (wrist turn) instead of older names such as Yumi no Uchi (Dreaming)......he was attempting to document and understand in some logical learning and teaching progression the waza Ueshiba was showing (in such an apparently disorganized and semi-incoherent fashion). 

To Ueshiba it all made sense because he already knew it.  To everyone else, it made for total confusion; until, that is, they knew it too.

Let's summarize to this point since I'm doing a brain dump this afternoon while feeling pretty good about solving a major crisis du'joire for the week.

1.  Ueshiba kicked Tomiki's booty and convinced Tomiki that his Judo was of little import compared to Aikido (Aiki Budo/Aikijutsu actually since Tomiki was first generation and well pre-WWII meaning that Tomiki got "the pure dark roast without all the cream and sugar".)


2.  Ueshiba taught without a documented curriculum other than numbering and grouping of a sort so over time Tomiki documented all of that and eventually put common names to the waza and then matched those to the 147 tai judo or Aikido waza counters to judo techniques that Ueshiba had used to control his judo attacks so he (Tomiki) could stop his head from exploding from all the confusion and knowledge being thrown at him.

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3.  Tomiki had to have some way to figure out, "What the hey....what was THAT!" and this documentation of the waza and the utilization of common naming became what we now know today as the koryu kata; a clear documentation of the primary principles with the major and minor variants included along with the anomalous situations all linked up into couplets and triplets for internalizing (and making most useful in randori) the linkages, without actually having to list the magic 10,000 waza of galactic knowledge (The answer is actually 42 ...........

now if I just knew the question ....... ).  DependsSmiley

4.  Tomiki committed himself to the study with Ueshiba since he (Tomiki) had been stopped dead in his tracks and was unable to do classic judo or to even adequately close the distance, thus neutralizing judo foot, hip, hand waza (no need to even mention no ne-waza unless Ueshiba threw himself down first and inviting a pile-on).  I think Tomiki was more than a little impressed since he was an 8th dan under Kano and likely had a little ego to boot (Buddha said humility can be such a bitch, but educational nonetheless).

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So now let us proceed .....................

Most accounts have it that it probably took three little items to be accepted at Ueshiba's dojo; (1) a personal recommendation from someone of import, (2) a black belt/menkyo from somewhere in something that was recognized as having value, (3) some humility combined with a great willingness to learn (don't forget that at one time it was called the "Hell Dojo" due to the very severe training, Casper Milquetoast need not apply).

If we look at this then it should become obvious that all the early students already knew ne-waza so Ueshiba didn't have to teach it.  Everyone knew some form(s) of punching, striking, kicking so Ueshiba didn't have to teach that either.  Everyone already knew some form of standing/grappling/sumo so that didn't have to be taught (Tomiki found this out personally).

This essentially meant that Ueshiba could function as a very high-level PhD. study and just focus on the principles of aiki and how to apply them via Daito Ryu Aiki Jujutsu, and did not have to focus on other forms of combat; especially the ones that Aikibudo/Aikido was able to neutralize before ma-ai was violated.

So extend that thought and then wait for it ................. Why teach art forms that Aikido could neutralize?  Why teach foot sweeps if Aikido made them ineffective?  Why worry over ne-waza if no one could get Ueshiba on the ground?  Why indeed especially since Ueshiba was literally running the Caltech or MIT of martial arts?  Already know Judo.....go take Aikido and learn how to counter it.  Already know jujutsu.........go take Aikido and advance in your knowledge.  Already have a masters in math.....go to Ueshiba and get your PhD. in Quantum Galactic Mechanics and learn warp-drive technology.

This may sound overly simplistic and I'm sure it is but in my mind, at least for the moment (I reserve the right to do a "re-think" when I have a chance) I'd consider this to be a large part and parcel of why "Aikido" doesn't "traditionally" have ne-waza or foot sweeps or some of the other things that folks like to throw in the mix.  Aikido either neutralizes those games making the need for them unnecessary to the high-level Aikido purist or, all the early players already had the other knowledge that Ueshiba deemed not part of his curriculum and this knowledge both allowed the Aikido player to appreciate the other martial ideas and to neutralize them by studying their weaknesses. 

In turn, Aikido has weaknesses (but only to other Aikido players) so a study of classic Judo or Kito-Ryu for example takes one back to where Ueshiba, Kano and Tomiki all started; another rationale for being really, really cautious before adding "gunk" into your system by thinking Aikido to be "incomplete" and therefore needing to be modified and become everything to everyone.

It's not incomplete IF you do a full study first and then look at where Ueshiba, Kano and Tomiki came from.  (Now we're back to an old post about not branching out before you know ALL the ryu which is likely not until about 6th or 7th Dan, elsewise you won't know where your personal system is weak and where the additional study should come.  Ouch.)

I, along with just about every other reputable Tomiki Sensei that I know, have dan rank in Judo so we meet that possible entry requirement that Ueshiba may have had.  This gives us an advantage of sorts so we all, I think, tend to look at Aikido in a different light than others who have ONLY Aikido training and no background in say Judo or other fofms MOST directly related to Aikido/Aikibudo.

That background for example causes me (and some others I know) to not be concerned with Judo footsweeps or waza for example since, if I follow Aikido principles and apply the 147 tai judo counters correctly (assuming I know them all from studying each and every kata and koryu waza Tomiki Ryu contains) in any randori situation then you simply cannot apply the foot sweep.

But with that being said, since I have dan rank in Judo, I tend to understand the limitations of Judo and teach those to my Aikido players along with Judo techniques so that they too will understand.  Our curriculum therefore is broader than what is normally seen in Aikido dojo and likely recreates at least a portion of what Ueshiba had in his early days; Aikido players with background and understanding of other ideas with training centered in unchanged and unmodified and unaltered Tomiki kata (as close as we can keep it) so that whatever it was Tomiki saw and documented, we're doing it.  I figure that by keeping the kata clean AND teaching all of it AND absolutely requiring all kata/forms for any advancement we are as close as we can get to the 147 tai judo waza and everything else that was there in the beginning.  For example we train in the same basic koryu kata and training forms that existed and as I was taught back in the early/mid 1970's.  In this fashion I avoid the "evolution du'joire" and can stay as close to what came out of Waseda/Hombu in the early years post WWII as possible.  Doesn't mean we won't look at more recent evolutionary trends but by keeping to the oldest touchstone we can find we can discard most "new stuff" or "new ideas" as being not needed or as actually being a "devolution".

Other players today train with Sensei (or Sensei of Sensei) who may have come in later years to Ueshiba and because he was old and feeble and given to "visions" and was teaching more religion than Aikido, came away with the idea that Aikido was never intended to contain judo/grappling knowledge.  That's likely true but only because all of the early people with Ueshiba already had that and Ueshiba saw no reason to teach an "inferior" MA form that Aikido could neutralize or, saw no reason to re-create the wheel (ala zenpo kaiten).

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Plus, many writers state that in his later years Ueshiba began to slice out and not teach any waza that failed to match his religious idea for the day with ikkyo for example being paired with the idea of confronting evil head on.  (Thay may not be an exact example but it may be close.)

Controversial huh?  Well, when I started this blog I told you I'd try to make you think and not blindly accept.

And for the record, I'm always searching for deeper info on Tomiki and Kano both.  The "old" teachers were intuitive but Tomiki and Kano were analytical which is one very large reason as to why we don't believe in shiai (but love hard and fast randori) and why tend to stick to a pure study, unadulterated by any tendency towards the "martial art du'joire".

Now if I can just find a better description of those 147 tai judo..............

L.F. Wilkinson Sensei

Aikibudo Kancho

Aikibudokan, Houston, TX

November 2009