Discovering Aikido: Principles for Practical Learning

Home
Up

 

Generating Power

 

It may be that the race is not always to the swift, nor the battle to the strong - but that is the way to bet.  Damon Runyon

 

The potential energy of movement is that latent energy one has developed and stored in the body though training. It exists, waiting to be used. Once you begin to move, kinetic energy is created, and the greater the mass that moves, and the greater the speed with which it moves, the more powerful will be that energy. The equation KE=½MV² shows us that the speed component is of far more importance than the mass, meaning, that with training, a smaller, yet faster person has every chance of out performing a heavier, slower one. Learning to generate power does not mean performing hundreds of sit-ups, squats, or press-ups. Outlined below are methods whereby one can develop and maintain an aiki kind of power in an aiki context – otherwise known as kokyu-ryoku. For the weak, it may be that an external physical training program could be useful. If so, one has to be careful not to develop in an unbalanced way, or to train in such a way that one's aiki development is compromised.

Note: Some of the following ideas could have been put in the Principles section.

 

(a)   Kokyu-ryoku

[ Insert picture(s) here: 15a ]

  Kokyu-ryoku is the strength behind solid aiki. It translates literally as breath power but is better interpreted as being the clever co-ordination of breath and efficient body movement. Beginners often use brute strength to make technique but in time learn to use their bodies more efficiently. But that does not mean less strength – continued practice makes one stronger so that more kokyu-ryoku is available, yet increased skill means that less is used. Those who can do solid kokyu-nage against madly resisting ukes may be said to have good kokyu-ryoku. The whole point of it is to transfer this body-movement knowledge into ordinary Aikido techniques. If this can be done well, good, solid Aikido is the result. Most practitioners try to develop kokyu-ryoku with kokyu-ho type exercises.
Tori extends and moves well into uke’s space.  

 

To develop powerful kokyu-ryoku, a resisting uke is your best friend. As uke, one should learn to hold strongly yet without becoming too stiff or rigid; as tori one has to be careful not to become infected with uke’s apparent or real stiffness. The whole point is to be able to do it with seemingly little effort but paradoxically one becomes quite strong in the process. One’s kokyu-ryoku must be maintained at a reasonable level as the apparent lightness of Aikido is built on such power.

 

(b) Body movement

As a body art, Aikido has the potential to develop a lot of power. When moving from left to right, forwards and backwards, or diagonally, one's bodyweight can be used to draw uke back and/or around centripetally, or to push them forwards and/or out centrifugally. These movements can be combined with upwards or downwards forces that further aid in causing uke to lose their centre of balance. All these movements are possible and if one trains with them in mind, the power within one's technique can be developed rapidly. To develop this power, first one needs to get one's posture and co-ordination sorted out. To start, one can simply grasp a light uke's sleeve and practice moving in the eight directions of avoidance, gently taking uke along for the ride. It is not wise to do this with power until the co-ordination is well established. Light practice is far better for developing co-ordination. Once the co-ordination is apparent, one can begin to practice with an uke who gives a heavier energy. Uke should not resist or struggle, they should just feel a little heavier. Once one has developed the ability to use one's body to develop even a modicum of power, appropriate care becomes necessary when applying ordinary techniques.

 

(c) Moving from the centre

All movement in Aikido begins in one's centre. Being a body art, the body moves first, the feet and hands follow. Aikido is a body art because it is based on movements of the Japanese sword. In comparison, the movement in rapier fencing originates in the hand; the body and feet follow-up. The difference lies in a combination of two factors - weight, and killing method. While the Japanese sword is a heavier cutting weapon, the rapier is a lighter thrusting one. Although a Japanese sword is capable of the thrust, it is designed to cut strongly using both hands, but to do so requires more strength, thereby necessitating the need for the body to be behind the cut. The rapier, being light, is designed to be thrust with just one hand, and as the hand can move quicker than the body, that is where the movement originates, and the body follows. Wrestling and boxing also differ in a similar way. A wrestler moves from the centre, a boxer leads with the hands, and the good boxer times his short body movement to 'arrive' at the same time as his long reach. One cannot say that either is the better, all one can do is acknowledge the differences and respond accordingly when training. Knowing how your opponent moves ought to guide your training - knowledge is power.

One method to develop a feel for one's centre is for tori and uke to push each other back and forth using their tegatana. Another method is for them both to place a jo down at their centres, pushing back and forth across the tatami. Increasing the resistance to the point that it just becomes a little difficult will help develop a feeling of moving from the centre and increase one's ability at pushing from it. To push uke efficiently, drop a little lower and push up along the jo.

For self-practice, try making very short three-inch Sumo style ayumi-ashi steps and twisting the hips in co-ordination. Adding a modicum of power to the hip turn will, after time, create a direct link between the imaginary movement practised by the self and that done with a partner. Practising this same powerful walking movement while using the bokken or jo will aid in understanding the links between these seemingly separate arts.

In Judo, one trick to conserve energy is to push or drag uke around using their grip upon you. In Aikido grabbing attacks the feeling is the same. For example, from an ushiro ryokata-dori attack, tori performs taisabaki in such a way that uke is carried around by the transfer of momentum from tori to uke. In fact, twisting back and forth with uke clinging on behind is great practice to develop this kind of power and the principle learned can be used in many techniques. It can also be practised while raising the bokken, real or imaginary, in the hasso style, first to the left, then to the right, and so on.

 

(d) Torifune

Torifune is an excellent method of developing power in the forward and rear directions. Standing in a half horse-stance with feet straight ahead, moving from left to right gives a lateral version of torifune that is indispensable for developing power when moving to the left or right. Stepping diagonally one has the choice between the more forward torifune, or the more lateral horse-stance movement.

When moving back and forth in torifune, or from side to side in a horse stance, it makes sense to keep the feet at such a distance that it is easy to transfer 100% of the weight from one to the other with ease. Although wide stances are good for flexibility training, if the feet are too far apart in Aikido exercises, rapid movement becomes awkward. One needs to be able to push or draw with full power and be able to move around at the same time. The feeling in the feet should be one of grabbing the tatami with the toes.

 

(e) Unbendable arm

The principle of the unbendable arm is a key element in Aikido training. Although often viewed as being nothing but a cheap trick, the real trick in fact, is to use the principle in one's techniques. An almost extended arm is very powerful; keeping it extended will aid in directing uke to the ground.
Extension makes your arm unbendable.

 

 

When teaching how to make an unbendable arm students fall into two categories; those who can do it, and those who can not. Those who can just do it immediately. Those who cannot might struggle for years before it slowly clicks. Therefore, it does not seem to be something that can be easily taught - we just have to figure it out for ourselves. However, one trick that might help is to get into a press-up position with arms slightly curved, not locked out. Work on the feel. 'Remember' the way the muscles in the arms 'are' so that when standing up that same feeling can be replicated.

When the arm is 'energised' it becomes unbendable. It can not be easily bent, nor easily straightened. This of course needs to be taken into account when performing techniques, since both tori and uke are likely to be of an unbendable aiki nature - one has to find a way around it so rather than bend, one leads. In the same way as the unbendable arm, when one ‘energises’ the stomach or hip area, the region between the lower and upper body becomes unbendable. If one can 'energise' the link between the arm and the hand, i.e. the wrist, then it too will become unbendable, meaning, it will be difficult for one's wrist to be twisted. Finally, when practising counters, maintaining a 'flexible unbendability' will help in preventing one's partner from making the technique, and enable smooth transition to the counter.

 

 

(f) Heaviness

Power in Aikido comes from having heavy arms. In kokyu-ho we often use the palm-up heavy arm, in irimi-nage we have a thumb-down heavy arm. There are four types that need developing, palm-up, thumb-up, palm-down, and thumb-down. Here, the arms are extended in four different forms, and since all of these forms are extant in Aikido techniques, one ought to develop a heavy arm for each one.

  Heavy arm at work.

 

Also, if there is a heavy arm, so must there be a heavy leg, and so must there be a heavy body. For example, in Judo, the proficient groundwork technician has mastered the art of the heavy body. Barely trying, they melt into and crush their opponent to the extent that they cannot move, or in some cases, even breathe. In Aikido, lowering one's centre while performing critical parts of techniques will help develop a heavier body.

(g) Extended arms

The idea of extending the arms is pretty similar to that of the unbendable arm but far easier to put into practice. Here, forget about the arm being unbendable. Instead, one concentrates on reaching, extending, as in trying to touch the ceiling. First, practise extending the arms up towards the ceiling, out toward the front or side, and down to the floor as strongly as possible. Next, remember the feeling in the arms while trying a few techniques. Finally, try again using less energy. Starting with a lot of energy and slowly reducing it to the amount necessary to perform the technique offers a means to develop the skill. This feeling of extension can also be used to hone one’s strikes.

 

(h) Tension

Maintaining a static position develops natural tension. Pressing the Jo to develop static tension - it's harder!
 

Tension exercises can be divided into dynamic, static, and natural.

Dynamic tension exercises are where one strains the muscles to their fullest extent while moving slowly from position to position as in say, a Kung Fu pattern. The key is to maintain as much tension as possible and the benefit is that it combines an element of martial co-ordination with strength exercises. It also programs your muscle memory to quickly remember posture positions - or what you have learned. It is important to get it right as you body will remember what you do.

Static tension exercises are performed without moving. One simply maintains a certain posture for anything from one to five minutes or more. Such exercises are static, but natural in the sense that no tension is demanded of the student, yet, simply holding a position for sustained periods can be very strenuous indeed and thus tension develops naturally as time passes. Because it is so hard to do, your body, while stressed, will naturally adjust itself to find the easiest way to do it.

Natural tension exercises can be developed by slowly moving through your techniques on your own, a little or maybe a lot like Tai Chi. The slow and the careful is preferred. You do not move around with floppy arms or floppy anything. When you raise your arms, they extend, for example. As you move from one position to another you strive to maintain balance and general awareness. Again, you must strive for perfection as what you do will be remembered by your body and the next time you train with someone it is what you will do. With no resistance (you are doing it solo, remember) your body can develop this natural extension. For this, rather than Tai Chi, I prefer to think of the tension in a tennis player's body is moving around, natural, relaxed, yet coiled spring-like, ever ready and totally alert to receive a fast ball.

Positions adopted typically resemble certain martial stances and these dynamic, static, and natural tension exercises train muscle groups to reform themselves to the extent that one begins to feel more comfortable performing these postures or patterns. One is not better than the other - all are useful. Nor is their any preferred order. While not of Aikido in origin, there can be benefits from these types of training.

 

(i) Turning

Turning movements, or taisabaki, are done in two distinguishing ways. One school of thought sweeps the rear leg around in a large arc, in the other the rear foot steps straight back. Sweeping the leg around in a large arc adds power to the technique in a broad way and is useful for trips and sweeps. Stepping back is faster and focuses on the pivot.

When performing a taisabaki movement such as tenkan it is often to avoid an attack but with a little thought and practice, a lot of power can be generated by this exercise. By combining the straight and lateral torifunis we can make a kind of circular one whereby taisabaki and torifune are combined, which becomes more effective in breaking balance the closer one's centre gets to the target point on uke's body, say the head as in irimi-nage, the elbow as in juji-nage, or the wrist as in kote-gaeshi. Watching powerful performers of these techniques one will notice two types. The first type moves in behind uke and spins round quickly maintaining a forward stance, sometimes turning all the way around dropping to one knee, similar to a torifune type movement with the inclusion of lowering their centre deeply. The second type spins in the same way but uses a more lateral horse-stance type of movement, again dropping their centre, but more slightly. Both of these movements draw uke in using centripetal force. Once tori begins to make technique, uke is typically thrown off with centrifugal force. Sometimes though, uke is drawn in so strongly that the centripetal force alone is enough to take them to the floor. Naturally, the wise student ought to think hard of exercises that could develop their centripetal or centrifugal power. One idea is to imagine tight elastic wrapping around the waist as one turns. Here, one can turn with dynamic power, even when training by oneself.

 

(j) Yonkyo grip

Aikidoka usually develop a powerful grip. To make the grip more uniform, to make it a principle, it is useful to think of yonkyo. In yonkyo one presses the inner knuckle of the index finger against uke's arm causing pain. Holding firmly with the lower fingers, the index finger is free to point. It is not easy to perform well and needs constant development. Often, people with small bony hands are better at it than those of a more bear-like disposition. In order to develop the yonkyo grip it is a good idea to make all of one's grips in the yonkyo fashion. For instance, use a yonkyo grip when holding katate-dori as uke, when making ikkyo as tori, when holding the bokken or jo, and even when holding the hand rail while standing on a train. In particular, I think it is quite enlightening to use the yonkyo grip while making techniques. It does not have to cause any pain, it just helps make good technique. It is a solid principle. It stands to reason then that tori learn to avoid the power of uke's yonkyo grip.

 

(k) Hasso grip

Hasso posture, elbows down. Hasso posture, elbows extended.

 

There are two ways to hold the sword in hasso posture. One method, the most common, is to stand in hasso posture with left foot forward, sword hilt at the shoulder, sword pointing up, with the elbows down, half relaxed. Under consideration here is the position of the elbows. In this case it allows for relaxed, fast cutting and no one would deny it is conductive to good aiki training. The second method is to stand in the same hasso position but with the elbows splayed up and outwards horizontally, infused with energy. Here, it is useful to stretch the sword hilt somewhat between the two hands while holding it, thereby adding to that splayed out feeling. Also, when cutting, try to maintain that splayed out feeling in the arms even though, by necessity, they come together somewhat as the sword descends. But even at the bottom of the cut, they remain slightly splayed out, still stretching the hilt. This style of grip can be used for shomen-uchi, yokomen-uchi and tsuki and offers insight into swordwork that leads directly to empty hand techniques.

To explain this in more detail, try this exercise. Have two people try to pull your arms apart from the elbows, one on either side, while touching your fingers together about one foot distance from the centre of your chest. It is quite easy to stop them pulling your arms apart, in fact, if you let them pull your arms apart a little, you can easily draw them back to the centre. It is a very efficient position. Now, as they continue to pull, try to remember the feeling in your chest / abdomen area and which muscles are being energised. Think of it as being an extension of the unbendable arm idea. Next, have them to let go but maintain the feeling and pick up the sword taking hasso posture. Now it will feel like a very powerful posture. Finally, put down the sword, and try irimi-nage keeping that same energy in your arms and chest. Try a few different techniques and you might have another of those mini-enlightenments. This does not mean that one abandons a previous approach, merely, that one considers the new.

 

 

(l) Hitting & cutting

15L2
Tori can meet, hit, cut, or push. Ai-hanmi - striking the attacking arm.

 

15L3 Gyaku-hanmi - striking the attacking arm.

Aikidoka often make a cutting movement with their hand, or tegatana (hand-sword), during techniques. It can be a soft meeting of arms, it can be a hit, and it can be a cut. By far the most common is the soft meeting of arms in harmony. By hitting I mean just that, attacking their weapon (arm) by hitting it. If uke had a knife, then the shock or pain of the strike might cause it to be dropped. By cutting is meant adding considerable weight and following through, or pressing. One could also hit and then cut. Now this might sound odd, but when break-falling in Aikido, every time one whacks the mat hard with an arm one is potentially practising a hit. Accordingly, hitting the mat hard after a breakfall can be useful. To develop this as an independent skill or to raise awareness of its potential, from standing drop to one knee and whack the mat with your forearm. After doing this for about a minute, try doing irimi-nage. It is enlightening; one will walk the streets in quiet confidence.

 

(m) Winding the bobbin

[ Insert picture(s) here: 15m ] Rapidly winding a belt around the wrist provides insight into ikkyo movement.

Hold one end of a belt in the hand and wind it rapidly around the wrist. Here, both wrists turn in circles, one much bigger than the other and it is exactly this movement that is the source of power in many techniques starting with ikkyo and ending with bokken or jo. Work this movement into your techniques – no one will ever show you. It is related to spiral power, explained below.

 

 

(n) Jerking

A sharp jerk can disorient uke.
15n2 A sharp parry.

 

Not common in Aikido is the jerk. Jerks can be short sharp pulls or short sharp pushes. Such movements are what can turn tame Aikido into brutal self-defence. To develop the power in one's jerking movement one needs a very agreeable uke. When jerking the arm downwards it is important that uke know in advance to stiffen up their neck muscles slightly to avoid whiplash. A little practice will establish a powerful jerk, and that power will increase four-fold if one's body weight is behind it, especially in combination with the stomach crunch explained below. Of significance is the fact that a sharp jerk can disorient an aggressor quite severely allowing one to either follow up with another technique, or get away. Another use of a jerking motion is in parrying or blocking an attack. As an attack comes, say a yokomen-uchi, one's arm meets it in the ordinary way but at the point of contact a short, sharp strike is delivered with the side of one's forearm. This can be likened to hitting or cutting the arm with a chopping knife. From a distance it looks like a Karate block but is in fact a hit that fits the movement in space and time. This 'counter strike' can blend with the attack, it can be either a defensive or attacking parry, or it can simply be an effective straight block. A small jerking movement can also be used to push uke away to great effect. After a lot of practice the rough edges of a jerk can be smoothed out until it looks more like a strong pull or push.

 

(o) Crunching

Developing strong stomach muscles allows the erect body to crunch downwards slightly with great force. With uke in one's grasp, forcefully bending down slightly, or crunching, a strong off-balancing movement can be made. Here, the stomach muscles are being used to draw uke forward, not quite Aikido in style, but very effective in result. Likewise, straightening up after a crunch offers more power for use in the technique. If one crunches slightly to the left or right then it has the effect of drawing uke around centripetally. This is not quite the same as lowering one's centre, which can achieve the same result. Lowering one's centre while holding uke has the effect of adding your bodyweight to the point of contact, and if that point of contact is within a technique, such as nikyo, or strikes a pressure point, so much the better. Of course, lowering one's centre and crunching can be done at the same time.

 

(p) Jumping

Often seen in Ki Aikido classes, jumping can be analysed in two parts. First, by jumping, tori can move in quickly behind uke for tenkan. Here, the increased momentum given by the speed of the jump is used to draw uke around using centripetal force. Second, since what goes up must come down, tori can also develop extra power to the technique by dropping heavily. The most important point in jumping is timing the movement to coincide with uke's attack and matching it to an appropriate technique.

 

(q) Vigorous training

If one trains to develop power yet never uses it, how is one to know how to put it in the technique? One needs to train hard. Vigorous training means uke gets up and attacks immediately, repeatedly. When one has trained hard for a period of time, it is possible to train lightly yet with intensity. Uke also needs to strike strongly, just enough to push tori. When gripping, uke should grip hard enough to give tori something to work with to overcome. Sometimes tori may fail to do the technique. That gives them something to work on. In this way, one will be able to train ever harder and develop real skill. It is not easy to do it the other way around. For example, if one only trained lightly and uke just flew, one would lack the knowledge of knowing the difference between correct and incorrect movement. Having trained hard against a measure of resistance one knows where to move, and training lightly can then, and only then, be done correctly. Of course, it is also essential to train lightly as it encourages speed and aids co-ordination, timing, balance, and centre. Uke learns how to become fast yet heavy at the same time; tori learns how to deal with it. The goal to keep in mind is to mix the two extremes, to be able to deal with a heavy, uncooperative uke in a light manner. It goes without saying that this be done in a friendly way and not become overly competitive.

 

(r) Centrifugal and centripetal force

Recognition and usage of centripetal and centrifugal forces can and should be developed. If you spin a conker around your head on a piece of string the conker stays in its orbit because the centripetal and centrifugal forces equalise each other. If the string wraps around your finger as the conker spins the conker gets closer to the centre. If you let go of the string, the conker flies off at a tangent. Likewise, tori can draw uke in in a spiral, like the conker, and then let uke fly off - with a little extra power added for good measure.

Centripetal force can be used when you enter tenkan and draw uke in. If you are crafty, you may also be able to use centripetal force in your irimi techniques. Use uke's initial movement, and then add some while drawing in. Obviously, the more you can add the more powerful your technique becomes. Too much too soon and uke might even fall down before the technique is finished.

Centrifugal force is that which is used to spit uke off. Likewise, the more you can add, the more powerful your technique becomes.

You can, and should, develop such power. But use it carefully!

 

(s) Spirals

The circles people talk about in Aikido are really spirals and there are two types.

The decreasing spiral is one that gets smaller and smaller as you say, move forward. Examples are in every technique - in ikkyo you start with a largish circle and as you move through it the circle gets smaller. This is typically the 'direct' way of doing it, reversing uke's energy back at him. If you concentrate on developing your spiral, then you can easily increase its effect. If you pay no attention to it, then it will likely be a long time before you get good at it ... which would be by accident. And then, how would you teach it - not knowing about the spiral?

The expanding spiral is one that gets bigger and bigger as you move. This has the effect of dissipating uke's energy to nothing. It is not simply moving out of the way to dissipate uke's energy, but rather, redirecting it to nothing. Interestingly, sometimes, often perhaps, in say a positive irimi-type ikkyo, you might start with an expanding spiral to dissipate some/all of his energy, and then immediately continue into a decreasing spiral to focus your power against his 'nothing'.

I think we all use spirals all the time. If you think about it consciously as you train, you will be able to develop your method and to your uke it will feels as though you have 'a lot of power'.

 

(t) When to use one's power

The physical power that one develops during Aikido training needs to be focused in breaking uke's balance, either physically, mentally, or both, and taking advantage of it by being in the right place at the right time and making clean technique. As explained above, there are several ways to develop power: the centripetal and centrifugal types of power generation are very positive and obvious; the spiral type of power is seemingly hidden. One needs to develop one's aiki power as a martial artist but as technical skill increases, one will not be able to use it to the full without injuring uke. Kokyu-nage techniques, however, allow one to practice hard with safety. There are no locks or twisted joints to damage and practice is only limited by how hard one wishes to do it since, the training must be equal - one cannot slam uke into the mat and expect anything but that in return. Training gently or vigorously is a negotiated pact between tori and uke. If you want to train gently, throw uke gently. More importantly, the hardest part of any technique is the beginning and this is where most attention needs to be. It is bad form to receive a slow attack only to finish up slamming uke down in to the mat at that vulnerable last moment where they have placed their body under your complete trust.

 

 

 

Contact: aiki[at]discovering-aikido.com