When kneeling in Japan
it is customary for men to sit with knees apart, women with them together. The
best way you can generate power in suwari-waza is to have the knees
apart, which means if one is female, one should restrict tradition for polite
sitting, and utilise the more efficient knees-apart position for practice. When
sitting, the back should be straight, the chin back and pressed up, rearwards.
When one rises, movement should begin from one's centre, thus the head will up
rise at the same time, vertically. Many people begin to rise by moving their
shoulders forwards - this is incorrect. When knee-walking, one should make
effort to maintain correct posture. If performing rolls from suwari-waza
one should become upright, showing awareness, after each roll. One method to
help develop a firmer seated posture is for uke to stand behind and
gently push toriís shoulders or head in all directions. Of course, what
is learned here internally, should be maintained when standing up.
|When standing, the back
should be straight, the chin back, and pressed up, rearwards, no different to
suwari-waza or when holding a bokken or jo. This feeling is
not unlike when wearing a collar and tie that is too tight, where one has to
retract one's trachea from contacting the uncomfortable collar. The hips hang
neutrally, neither being extended too far forwards (or up), or too far back (or
down). When moving, it follows that this be maintained, though I prefer a
slightly hips-tilted-up neutral position. When performing
technique, the hips should be rotated forwards (or up) at, or just before, the
moment of contact, with the feeling that one's hara is extending out to
touch uke. This is very important and the odds are, it will rarely be
corrected. The back should be straight, as though you are suspended by a thread
from the top/rear of your head.
The techniques we have
are, in a way, a challenge for us to maintain our structure while we
move. Not until we
have managed to add structure to our techniques, have we begun to learn.
(c) Hanmi / kamae
means half posture and represents what tori shows to uke,
half their posture. Half a posture is considered to be less of a target.
Kamae literally refers to posture but is taken by some schools to
mean full posture, where the hips are 'square on', facing uke.
Here, if one extends one's arms out forwards, they reach the same distance. I
interpret the main difference to be dependent upon foot positioning. In both
types of posture the rear leg is typically straight. Weight distribution over
the front and rear legs in hanmi is typically 70/30 or 60/40
respectively. In kamae it is anything from 70/30 to 100/0. In hanmi
the weight is more centralised, the argument being that one is more flexible,
being able to give (by pushing from the rear leg) and take (withdrawing by
pushing from the front leg) more freely. In kamae the weight is further
forwards, the argument being that, since one turns on one leg, one can turn
faster because one is already there. Of course, in static stances it is easy to
make such distinctions but when moving these two types merge.
(d) Starting positions
|Whether in hanmi
or kamae one can adopt a high, middle, or lower attitude, namely,
jodan, chudan, or gedan respectively. In hanmi, the
front hand extends forwards about two hand lengths ahead of the rear hand. In
kamae, both hands extend out equally. For standard posture both tori
and uke begin with one hand in chudan and the other in gedan,
as if holding a sword. The fingers are always splayed open and even when
grabbing uke's arm, one typically holds with the two little fingers and
half the middle finger, leaving the index finger open. I like to call this the
yonkyo grip, since it resembles that technique, and I also like to use it
when holding a bokken or jo.
(e) Meeting positions
Holding one's right arm
out one can meet uke in four tactically different positions. First, one's
right arm can be on the outside of ukeís right arm, second, just on the
inside. Third, oneís left hand can be on the outside of uke's right arm,
and fourth, on the inside. With two arms then, one has eight possible shapes.
This could be systemised in terms of eight attacks, eight avoidances, eight
grabs, eight techniques and so on. Or maybe one would require two techniques per
position totalling sixteen. The same is true for the feet, of which Judo names
the four techniques that match those positions, moving from right to left in
like manner, as O soto-gari, ko uchi-gari, O uchi-gari,
ko soto-gari. The way one meets uke in terms of these positions
determines which techniques in one's repertoire will be called upon. Giving
techniques names often complicates simple structural principles.
(f) Foot positions
The feet in Aikido,
typically form the shape of a bow and arrow on the floor, forming an angle of
some ninety plus degrees to each other. Some schools insist that the front foot
point straight forwards all the time. Others insist that the front foot should
be turned out as much as possible, enabling one to utilise one's full range of
movement. Some place the heels along an imaginary straight line, others dissect
the line with the mid-sections of their feet. Still others have no such firm
rules. One important commonality however is that no Aikido school teaches
turning the front foot inwards - although many a high grade instructor can be
seen doing so from time to time. Another important commonality is that, by
necessity, those schools that insist on hanmi tend to have the front foot
pointing forward whereas those who prefer kamae turn the foot out. What
is interesting is that if one starts in hanmi with one's front foot
pointing forwards, and takes a step forward, then by necessity one turns the
front foot outwards since it is soon going to become a rear foot, at which point
one's hips momentarily become 'square on' - suggesting that rather being
different postures they are both but different points along a singular Aikido
postural continuum. Therefore, to engage in an argument of why this or that
posture is better is really only confirming that neither knows.
and tsugi-ashi refer respectively to walking step and shuffling (or
boxer) step. In Aikido, large forward or diagonal movements are made; in Judo
they are much smaller and more swanking in nature - slower and more cautious. It
is important to practice various steps in different directions varying the speed
and power of movement while maintaining posture and awareness - but keep in mind
that it is only really through doing the techniques that one can learn the
meaning of the movement. After a lot of practice, what one practices in the warm
up will become the same as what one is doing in the techniques.
Knee walking, or
shikko, isolates wobbly legs from the postural equation and in the long run,
contributes to improved stability when standing up. When performing shikko,
move with the heels together, as though tied. When the knee nears the ground,
visualise it being the power fulcrum of the technique; even when walking
backwards make positive powerful steps. Ayumi-ashi, tsugi-ashi,
taisabaki and tenkan are all possible in shikko.
Once the posture is sorted, the
real test is to maintain it while moving around. This does not mean you walk in
a rigid manner akin to Dalek, rather, as you move back and forth or left and
right you do so with continued skeletal alignment, which means in essence, that
you could apply power at will should you wish to do so. The various attacks and
defences of Aikido offer you the opportunity to test and refine your posture on
For myself, every movement in
every direction must be powerful with no gaps in-between. The power does not
need to be used, but it must be extant, available, ready.
(h) More on movement
There are many martial
arts and each has their own way of placing the feet on the ground and moving. A
wrestling based art, such as Judo, might tend to have the feet turned out, ball
and heel planted firmly on the ground, a faster moving art such as Kendo
typically has the feet pointing forwards with weight on the balls of the feet.
Some sword schools advise to pull with the front foot as you avoid, and the
avoidance kata in Tomiki Aikido would agree with this.
In consideration of the fact that a horse has four gaits, the walk, the trot,
the canter, and the gallop, and that all horses are the same, then I am puzzled
why certain arts limit humans to one particular method. Do we not all walk, jog,
and run? When standing still are our feet not turned out slightly? When jogging
do they not straighten up? Is it not obvious that for different situations or
speeds our body automatically adopts a more suitable, natural posture? It seems
that it is not so obvious. In fighting should we not both wrestle and box, and
become accustomed to both light and heavy weapons and the differences inherent
within? Kendo practitioners always point their feet forwards, even though they
do not move. Karate practitioners commonly practice in a sideways stance, both
feet pointing to the right, or both to the left. Shodokan Aikido practitioners
always keep the forward foot straight. Yoshinkan practitioners always turn the
front foot out. Perhaps we should ask ourselves what happened to nature. Did a
horse ever have the idea to change the natural positions of its feet? No, but
man has the stupidity to teach the horse new gaits for fashion. Musashi, that
infamous master of the Japanese duel, took no-stance as his stance, and gave it
no name, claiming that it was no different from the way he walked along the
path. In Aikido, the general rule is to move and turn on the balls of the feet
although many a master will occasionally be observed using their heels.
Obviously, the way we use our feet should be more according to practical
realities than to set rules.
(i) Shizen hontai
means 'natural posture' and is a term more commonly associated with Judo than
Aikido. Typically, it refers to a feet turned slightly outward shoulder-width
apart legs ever so slightly bent neutral standing position. Aikidoka see
it as a more advanced type of posture of no-posture whereas in Judo it is
considered quite basic. Practising from a left or right posture for several
years an Aikidoka might find it somewhat awkward at first, but will soon
come to love it.
(j) The arms
Aikido posture takes time to 'acquire'. At first, rather than feeling
natural, you have to learn to take what seems unnatural and train it until it
feels natural. The various schools of Aikido all have their own 'take' on what
good posture is and one point of confusion is how to hold out the arms.
- Firm arms: This method dictates strict posture with arms somewhat
forcefully extended. It can be a useful starting point for beginners to get
into the shape of Aikido from a mechanical perspective.
- Sword arms: Imagine holding a sword and stand accordingly to make
posture. Naturally, it works a lot better if you actually train with a sword
from time to time. Swordwork puts the posture and mind in order and
contributes a lot to good Aikido technique. The problem is that some people
fail to put enough extension in the arms when holding and too much when
striking. However, even an expert swordsman will have problems understanding
aiki extension so there is more to 'it' than simple swordwork.
- Floppy arms: Because Aikido is supposed to take little effort,
'floppy' thinking dictates you should raise your arms into posture with as
little effort as possible. Confusing at first, it has merit in making
technique. It helps development as people use the weight of their arms
combined with speed of movement to make technique. It fails somewhat as
people, intent on reducing their strength, tend to swing their arms rather
than simply raising them thereby meaning they are sometimes not extended
properly. Also, as people come to prefer floppiness so they often begin to
ignore #4 below.
- Heavy arms: Developing 'heavy arms' is thought to be a source of
strength or power in technique. This is fine, but some tend to overly
concentrate on the arms and forget to apply heaviness to the rest of their
body. 'Body rooting' might be a more appropriate 'feeling'.
- Extended arms: The arms reach forwards (or upwards, or downwards,
or sideways), naturally, without becoming absolutely straight or over
extended. Correct extension produces an unbendable arm. It can be gentle, to
the extent of seeming floppy, or hard, to the extent of appearing stiff
(from uke's point of view, but not so). For extension, imagine a
short hose crinkled up on the ground. Suddenly turn on the water and it
unravels its kinks and extends itself. Correctly extended arms offer a clue
to the feel of aiki. Most importantly, all the techniques of Aikido
can be done in this manner. Indeed, even the attacking holds and striking
techniques use this same extension principle.
To think only one method to be correct is to rob yourself of
ideas that might aid your development. Further, it is not only the arms, but the
legs and body also need the same treatment, or 'extension'.
Posture is often thought to be the point of readiness before
technique begins but this kind of thinking offers only a limited view into the
nature of posture. Rather, 'posture' should be apparent at every point thoughout
Join the dots: The keen student should look for key 'posture'
postions within a technique and strive to join them together.