Discovering Aikido: Principles for Practical Learning 




The simple hearth of the small farm is the true center of our universe. Masanobu Fukuoka

Not long after one starts the aiki journey, comes the command that you must find your centre. Constant references are made about centre but of course, for the beginner, it is completely bewildering. At first, one is introduced to various sitting or standing breathing exercises. Later, some basic kokyu exercises, and finally, some waza. The purpose, we are told, is to find our centre. I have to admit, it took me about five years of not understanding, pretending to understand, thinking I understood but didn't, and then finally, getting an idea of what it was, but not quite. And yet, each year thereafter my understanding of it continues to change as it becomes more developed. And here I am, after 40 years. Should I teach what I know now, or, should I slowly provide hints, clues, ideas, but not the whole truth, since, how do I know that I know the whole truth, to push people along? It is the same meandering teaching/learning process for discovering aiki. We are all different, at different stages, and learn in differing ways at differing speeds.

For a beginner, waving the arms about in exercises, breathing, and doing a few techniques will do little to help find real centre. The only practical way to come to terms with it is to do lots of kokyu-ho and kokyu-nage exercises, and to learn to do them well; precisely, and with a little resistance. Then, look at/study how we keep our hands in front, how we maintain physical/mental contact with uke, and how we affix ourselves to uke's centreline. It really only works well once centre has been found. Then, and only then, it will be easier to explain what centre means. Once centre has been found, all the waza will become easier to do, which is why it is so important. Other arts (Judo/Jujutsu/Karate) rarely mention 'centre' but nevertheless, they still learn how to move/lock/throw properly. Aikido places extra importance on centre so names it and mentions it often.

Another way to get the hang of centre quickly is to do lots of bokken and jo work. Working with a partner one soon realises that one must be face to face and mentally alert every moment. Typically, partners face off with weapons centre-to-centre, so it really is quite obvious right from the start, though it still takes awhile to get fully used to it as there is so much other new stuff to learn at the same time.

Once basic weapon work has been absorbed, one can then look at how the same centralised movement can be used when doing kokyu-ho, kokyu-nage, and all the waza. The main point of weapons work in Aikido is not to learn to fight with a weapon, but rather, to help figure out the tai-jutsu, or body techniques - the waza. It can be quite an active method of practice and sharpens awareness/concentration/focus = the mind.


The idea of three centres

This is a mechanical idea. Basically, when doing a technique, such as kote-gaeshi, on might place uke's wrist in front of your own centreline and turn. Or, over one of your knees/legs. So, the three mechanical centres, or axes, are your left knee/leg, your centreline, and your right knee/leg. If your shoulder is over the leg when you turn, as in taisabaki, then your will turn on the spot. If you watch a few sensei training, you will notice such differences. Sometimes it is a style difference, sometimes it is a personal difference. They may not even be aware = it is just the way they do it.

Expanded idea

Another practical way of looking at centre, in terms of technique and power, is to look at three positions whereby one may control uke: Three positions from your own 'body' point of view, and a similar three positions from uke's 'body' point of view.

The three positions are: just inside your knee; in line with your knee, and just outside your knee. Ezra Sensei, one of my teachers, always talked about this - he called it the place of inside and the place of outside. I have added the neutral position as it can also be useful.

From tori's 'body' point of view

Example: Place of inside - for kote-gaeshi, we typically place uke's hand on the inside of our knee mid-technique.  It is a strong position. There are other techniques where this idea is used. For example, cutting down with shiho-nage, bring your own hand to cut inside your knee (to enable this, turn your front foot out a little).

Example: Place of outside - for sumi-otoshi or the bottom hand of tenchi-nage, our own hand can cut down slightly to the outside of our own knee.

Example: Central - no deflection - just leading; either lead forwards, or wait for uke to retract slightly and follow up (with say, shomen-ate).

From uke's 'body' point of view

Example: Place of inside - As tori, deflect uke's attack (shomen-uchi or katate-dori etc.) ever so slightly to the inside of his knee to off-balance him.

Example: Place of outside - As tori, deflect uke's attack (yokomen-uchi or katate-dori etc.) ever so slighlty to the outside of his knee to off-balance him.

Example: Central - no deflection - just leading; either lead forwards, or wait for uke to retract slightly and follow up (with say, shomen-ate). This works the same from both perspectives.



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