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.
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.
What is power?
The simplest understanding of
power is the physical strength you gain from going to a gym. You press a weight
and over time that single muscle becomes stronger. But this is not so useful for
us. What we need is coordinated power. That is, we need to train ourselves to
develop several muscles or groups of muscles over the whole body together to
achieve what we want. Then, synchronising our movement with our breathing
develops yet more power. And finally, once we allow our skeletal structure to
take the place of muscle, it feels as though we use less effort. Once we get this basic understanding we can then start
to root our power from the earth, from the ground, through our feet, up through
our legs and bodies and out through our hands and into our partner. You cannot
learn this in a weights gym pressing one weight at a time. Next you need to
start to fit this to your own understanding of your own martial system and try
to make it work for you. The aim is to generate power and to realise that, hey -
more is good -and it works through good structure. And finally, you need to combine with your partner's movement in
such a way that you can readily apply your power at will so that you can
absolutely destroy them, and yet, if you get this far you will find that,
mysteriously, you barely need any power at all, and, nor does your ego need to
Note: Some of the following ideas
could have been put in the Principles section.
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.
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
All movement in Aikido
begins in one's centre, so they say. Being a body art, the body moves first, the feet and
hands follow. Personally, I have gone through changes and now like to feel the
power originating in my feet emanating the earth. 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 his feet and up through his centre, a boxer
seemingly 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.
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
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
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.
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.
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
(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.
Maintaining a static position develops natural tension.
Pressing the Jo to develop
tension - it's harder!
Tension exercises can
be divided into dynamic, static,
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
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
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
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
static, and natural tension exercises train muscle groups to reform themselves
to the extent that one begins to feel more comfortable performing these postures
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.
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
(j) Yonkyo grip
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
(k) Hasso grip
posture, elbows down.
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
can meet, hit, cut, or push.
Ai-hanmi - striking the attacking arm.
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
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
or jo. Work this movement into your techniques – no one will ever show
you. It is related to spiral power, explained below.
winding a belt around the wrist provides insight into ikkyo movement.
jerk can disorient uke.
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.
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
(p) Standing up - making
If you slacken your posture
slightly and then straighten it upwards, it has the potential to generate a lot
of power. Or, try raising and cutting with a sword. Concentrate on the raising
up as high as possible and think: 'upwards'. This is easily seen in
irimi-nage. A lot of people generate power this way without realising it. If
you realise it, then you will have more power and will be able to develop it. I
like to think about it as an 'extended body' in a similar way to how we view the
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.
(r) 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.
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
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!
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'.
Should I put this first or last? Once we become accustomed to
all the techniques, despite being stronger, we need to figure out how to do them
all with less effort. Some schools focus a lot of attention on posture or
structure. Others seldom mention it. Structure means getting the body in
alignment and using one's skeletal position to provide power. In order to
achieve this one has to relax and not try to get beyond using too much muscle.
When relaxed, with a little manipulation, one's structure can freely
'slip/slide' into position for the required technique while at the same
time retaining the ability to shift up, down, left, right, back and forth. When
the mind activates muscle, a switch is turned and it tends to just stay on; when
we try to move we hit our own barrier. We have to learn to immobilise that
switch or try to dim it. Easy to say, hard but essential to do. Once achieved,
muscle remains at the ready, in reserve.
(v) When to use one's
The physical power and
coordination that one develops during Aikido training needs to be focused but
kept somewhat in reserve: Power 'can' be used to break uke's
balance, either physically, mentally, or both, and advantage can be taken by
being in the right place at the right time and making clean technique. But
a superior method to achieve the same result using 'less power' should always be striven for.
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.