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June 2010

89. Yes They Are But It's All About Sen

Onward into the fog.

17 Attack Movements ......... yes or no.

Do I believe that Tomiki himself referred to his randori kata as such?  I really do not know with any certainty regarding that specific; but what I am certain of is that every Aikido Sensei I studied under from about 1974 on called them that.  Even today one can wander around the web and find sites that define the waza with the word "attack" in the names.

  • Shoman ate - front attack
  • Ai gamae ate - regular attack
  • Gyaku gamae ate - reverse attack
  • Gedan ata - low attack
  • Ushiro ata - rear attack

Let us not forget that Tomiki and his people apparently liked the direct naming methodology (front attack, wrist twist, front drop) over that more normally seen such as double hand front/side pull entering turn to rear corner take down to shadow pin or worse yet, something akin to Snow on Mountain Drop ... huh??

And since the names (Shoman ate - front attack) refer to TORI's action(s) and NOT uke's then taking the translation of the name and attaching it to the kata (Attack Movements) falls somewhat into place.

I wrote previously that the entry for taking kuzushi can be one of three directions;

  • Cross the Line Off Balance
  • Down the Line Off Balance
  • Blending Off Balance

I also wrote that each has its' own sen or emphasis;

  • Cross the Line Off Balance = Proactive
  • Down the Line Off Balance = Passive  
  • Blending Off Balance = Passive

So now let us expand this slightly such that Passive means standing in the breeze, waiting for uke to show up and after he gets close enough you parry/attach and begin to do something ............ and that Proactive means going to meet him. 

The scenario is such that you are both at ma-ai (two arms length) and both have gone dynamic (you're both in motion).

If you are in passive mode and are waiting for uke to cross ma-ai then Down the Line works (you simply attach and flow/pull down that attack line) .... and Blending also works as you attach to uke and by stepping/entering you flow/redirect him.  Both of these consist of waiting for him to make a move and that by doing so you are "behind" him in timing and are achieving some degree of kuzushi by "accelerating" and "redirecting" him.

But in Proactive mode you are attacking on top of his attack meaning that you are closing with him .... you are not simply "redirecting" his energy, you are riding on top of it and "taking control" of it ..... you are "with" him in timing and will use the more proactive off balance to slow him down and get "ahead" of him in timing.

Next ........... some ideas on when each direction of taking kuzushi may be useful.

L.F. Wilkinson Sensei

Aikibudo Kancho, Aikibudokan

Houston, TX June 2010

88. A Different View - Defensive vs. Proactive

To continue from yesterday ......

Many consider Aikido to be passive & responsive and not proactive & aggressive.  This view reflects the belief that only by being passive or defensive in thought and action, can Ueshiba's concept of universal love, becoming one, etc. be realized.  Given the difficulty in translating both word and action from Japanese to English this, in some quarters, has mutated much of Aikido.

Here's another view.

When I receive visitors to my dojo who wish to be interviewed for acceptance, they almost always to a person show up having read every web site and article they could find.  This is most excellent as they come in with valid questions and concerns and know at least a minimum about the art such that they can understand the answers.  Doing research about skydiving BEFORE you leap out of the back of the airplane is always a really good idea in my view.

Many times the questions I am asked revolve around the idea of hard vs. soft, circular vs. linear, internal vs. external, aggressive vs. passive.  After so many years of teaching and answering these types of inquiries I finally adopted a pat answer that would respect their honest question but show the fallacy in which is based.


That is ........... depending upon the exact moment in time any martial art, Aikido in this case CAN AND MAY BE hard OR soft, circular OR linear, internal OR external, etc., etc.  It all centers around what you, tori, are doing at any particular moment.

Having trained in Judo many years ago (and no, I don't consider myself a real Judo player but I do know enough to have some limited knowledge on the subject) it was always stressed that you played softly and followed subtle clues provided by the opponent to effect kuzushi.  However, the first time Sensei and I did some "light" randori I was immediately dissuaded from that view the hard way.  We got the grip we wanted, moved lightly around and suddenly Sensei took a larger step, "smashed" my off-balance and established total postural control over me and allowed the planet to rise in space and smash me from behind (a concept I refer to as "Planet Slapping" where you are slapped by the planet, instead of you falling on the floor.  (And I tell you that planet can be pretty hard on the backside from time to time.)

Years later, many years later I began to comprehend that he had been not resisting my futile efforts but just moved and flowed until that one moment when he intuitively saw the opening and moved in and took it.  AFTER he took that kuzushi he wanted he slowed down, got "soft" again and just flowing into a perfect Osoto-gari; ergo, his version of Judo was "hard" at the right time but yet "soft" at the right time AND his entry was "linear" when needed for tsukuri but the throw was slightly "circular" given my reaction to the kuzushi and my attempt to step out it.

Aikido is the same so lets briefly look at the issues of proactive vs. reactive or aggressive vs. passive.

Before I ever learned the term Ju Nana Hon Kata and for my entire career in Aikido, I always heard the 17 under the name of "17 Attack Movements".  For many years I thought that to be Sensei' little pet-name for it but not so long ago I ran across writings on the internet signed by early students of Tomiki when he began at Waseda and they used that exact name ...... 17 Attack Movements.

So why are they called "Attack Movements"?

Remember Tomiki's description of timing; Sen, Sen no Sen, Ato no Sen.  If we put those into English and try to make them more descriptive to the Western mind they become .....

  • passive (only respond to and follow the attack after it has happened and redirect it),
  • proactive (as their attack is launched you go and take control of it, you "attack their attack" and take control of their posture/off-balance),
  • aggressive (you sense their intent and launch a pre-emptive strike before they can get theirs off such that it looks like you attacked them when in reality you only intuitively responded to small micro-gestures)

So .... matching these "timings" to the directions of off-balance we arrive at ....

  • Cross the Line Off Balance = proactive (you are closing centers and pushing the attack arm into kuzushi)
  • Down the Line Off Balance = passive (you are stepping backwards and pulling uke forward meaning the amount of pull you get is dependent upon the momentum of uke's attack)
  • Blending Off Balance = passive (you are moving in a spiral and centers are moving apart meaning that the amount of off balance is dependent upon uke's momentum again)

And that is why the 17 was originally named the 17 Attack Movements; not because tori "attacked" uke but instead because tori "attacked" uke's kuzushi/posture in a proactive fashion.  Please note that this doesn't mean that at some point tori cannot shift into "Down the Line Off Balance" or to "Blending Off Balance" when appropriate; as the encounter is totally dynamic and random.  It only means that in the case of the waza embedded within the 17 and for hand randori purposes it is appropriate to proactively "take" the kuzushi and quickly establish control over the opponent (uke).

Damn ......... sounds a lot like Aiki-jutsu doesn't it?  Quick and dynamic entry, take control, slow down to maintain control of uke until waza termination ....................................

L.F. Wilkinson Sensei

Aikibudo Kancho, Aikibudokan

Houston, TX July 2010

87. A Different View

Over these last two weekends, after a long hiatus from "blogging", I finally had the opportunity to look at some of the DVD material and videos that are available either for purchase or for on-line viewing.  I've had a lot of DVD's put in my hand the last few months and they were stacking up on my dresser so I figured it was time to take a break from my normal routines.

In looking at the material which took most of Sunday I was struck by what IMHO could be called "mistaken notions"; these notions covering everything from kata development to concepts of applied randori (which in the Tomiki-verse is generally accepted to be either tanto/knife or toshi/hand randori).

For the record, taking most of Sunday was just fine with me as I was pretty numb from work at the office (over the last two weeks) which has left me with mass paper-piles of unresolved issues so the ability to just slouch with some Nigori cold sake and head phones so as to listen closely to what was being said was pretty enjoyable.  I was able to see where the rest of the other Aikido Poobahs heads were/are at these days and what everyone else is doing.

In order to make this series approachable for the reader I'll take one idea at a time and try to apply some logic to it mixed with what I've seen, been told, overheard and formed opinions on.  Sensei Poobah, my sometimes not so indirect alter-ego, will be back eventually but for now let's take a look at some varied (widely varied and strewn across the landscape like paper out the back of a trash truck some would say) ideas about how what is known as the Tomiki Ryu (of Aikido) got to be here.

And I might add that I do not anticipate that much of what I'll be delving into will be widely accepted but ask me if I care.  That's one of the things I like about MA; someone with about 1/10th your experience gets to question everything you say.  That's neither good nor bad as I firmly believe that Aikido is organic; that is, it can evolve and it can change and it can adapt and what was widely believed to be true 30 years ago can be dis-proven ......... or not.  Remember that at the first blog I ever did on this site I threw out there I stated that I intended not necessarily to be controversial  but rather, to make one think and not blindly accept.  So ..............

The original Tomiki Randori no Kata (base forms from which Tomiki illustrated those limited waza MOST appropriate for randori, but not the only ones possible mind you) consisted of 15 movements, some of which were redundant and semi-repetitive.  After some work and "clean-up" it was expanded to 17 waza that most clearly illustrated concepts, some of the major ones being:

  • tai-sabaki (foot movement),
  • tori's initial avoidance of the attack
  • tori's initial taking of kuzushi,
  • postural control of the opponent,
  • strategic positioning of tori relative to uke to best capitalize on the initial breakage of ma-ai,
  • following uke's reaction to BOTH the initial kuzushi AND uke's reaction to it, AND any attempted counter-attack uke may attempt.

Additionally, the 17/Ju Nana Hon Kata was also intended to teach the most basic forms of:

  • striking (both as a waza unto itself),
  • striking as a means by which to force uke to react and provide an opening,
  • shoulder locks,
  • elbow locks,
  • wrist locks,
  • throwing off wrist locks.

For the sake of simplicity here let us define that uke's attack is a straight-line strike with the right hand and that tori's initial step must be off that line of attack, otherwise it's "Curtains, copper, it's curtains".  Let us additionally define that:

  • a "cross the line off balance" means that tori steps to his right or uke's left and ends up behind uke's attacking arm by a parry which pushes the arm in that direction and in which uke is turned sideways to the initial attack line due to that step by tori,
  • that a "down the line off balance" is one in which tori steps backward and possibly slightly off-line but down that line of attack and pulls uke into off balance with uke's initial direction not being largely affected,
  • that a "blending off balance" is one in which tori steps to his left and ends up behind uke's attack arm and re-directs uke's forward movement into a spiral.

The direction of tori's initial movement in striking for control of uke's kuzushi and how it originated has been one of the questions at hand.

My original Sensei' (a married couple who were also former Judo coaches for the University of Michigan Judo Team) and my prime Sensei (a personal student of Tomiki and many of his senior players/teachers) both, taught the off-balance by crossing the attack line such that (with the exception of Shomanate and the inside parries on the last 4 waza) tori ends up BEHIND uke's arm and in a superior position of control.  However, even the last 4 waza in the 17 begin with a cross-line step by tori with an inside parry/pick-up that ends once again with tori behind the arm.  In all cases (excepting Shomanate in which tori controls the center line like an old-style aiki-jutsu or kenjutsu player) parrying the attack hand and "pushing" it across the attack line results in an off-balance with tori behind uke's arm and uke's second arm out of range for and effective counter against tori.

The second method of avoidance/kuzushi is "Down the LIne" in which tori retreats backwards directly down the attack line in the same direction as uke's attack (almost like two fencers allowed to only work in the white boundary lane for an epee' match) and taking off-balance by pulling uke down that line.  In this case the same waza used in "cross the line" off balance can be applied but the kuzushi is different and provides an exposure for tori in that should uke be decisively larger or have more energy and should tori NOT move far enough to pull uke into a massive off-balance, then tori can be "over-run" much like standing in front of a tsunami as it washes over him.  So while this method of initial kuzushi can be effective if correctly applied it does also offer an exposure.

(At this point let us define exposure as nothing more than one more issue to be solved by tori as ma-ai is violated and the encounter goes totally dynamic and random.  It does not mean that the exposure is fatal or even unsolvable, but only that it must be solved and therefore takes up reaction time (and that part of tori's brain must ponder on just how to that exposure; time and brain space that tori could better apply elsewhere.)

And the third method is "Blending Off Balance" which generally consists of tori stepping outside the attack line (to his tori's left and to uke's right) attaching and not necessarily  achieving any initial kuzushi but instead "re-directing" uke in a spiral and using that circular direction to both begin the process of breaking balance and achieving a position beside uke (as tori directs their stepping).  This method also has an exposure for tori in that should the entry be too acute, should tori's position behind/beside uke not be maximized, should the re-direction of uke's energies miss the most effective vector, or should no kuzushi in uke be realized then uke can simply step behind tori and take a gedan-ate or sukui-nage of some sort and scoop tori over his (uke's) leg thus ending tori's success and changing the outcome totally.

So if we take the above as a very generalized set of assumptions then the three methods of tori taking kuzushi on uke can be rated (by effectiveness and by less exposure (for tori) as:

  1. cross the line off balance
  2. blending off balance
  3. down the line off balance

Acknowledging that nothing is perfectly guaranteed to never fail and that every action poses its' own style of exposure, then of the three, only the first, the Cross the line off balance, has the least likelihood of unrecoverable failure (ASSUMING THAT NO WEAPONS ARE INVOLVED) as it results in tori behind behind uke's arm with uke's arm isolated on the other side.  If tori misses the parry entirely then tori has taken a large enough step to be out of the way and uke will have to recover from the step/missed attack and turn to find tori; thus buying tori time to re-set and stay in the game.

IMHO this method of of balance (which I am rating as #1) has a direct relation to judo-style kuzushi; direct, to the point, almost guaranteed to have an immediate impact on uke and weaken his balance and posture, suitable for hand randori and adaptable to those situations where tori needs to "stimulate" uke in order to take control of uke's posture. IMHO it also reflects the influence of Kano's Judo AND Tomiki's original view of randori and most esp. hand/toshu randori.

The blending version is more "hombu-esque" or more "traditional" Aikido.  Although it most definitely has its' place, although I teach and practice it on a regular basis, I consider it to be more passive in that it appears to work best and to be at its' most effective when uke attacks with vigor, at full speed and with full and total commitment.  Should uke NOT fully commit or should uke hold back then tori must make some adaptation that most usually consists of a combination of power or speed; neither of which is very effective against a trained opponent possessing in-depth randori experience and a serious attitude.

The down the line off balance can have it's place regardless of the exposures involved.  Since many Tomiki stylists are involved in competitive tanto randori it appears to be an adaptation to make the 17 workable.  "Cross the line off balance" doesn't work well with uke having a knife in the hand; miss the parry and you'll have your hand cut off.  Interestingly enough, the "Down the Line Off Balance" doesn't work well with hand randori; not enough off balance and too dependent upon uke over-committing to the attack.

Next post; more detail on the three directions of kuzushi and some comments on why the Ju Nana Hon Kata was ORIGINALLY named The 17 Attack Movements.

L.F. Wilkinson Sensei

Aikibudo Kancho, Aikibudokan

Houston, TX July 2010