get more with a nice word and a gun than you can with a nice word.
To learn to use weapons
one needs to see many teachers, if only because many of them have little skill;
daggers, swords and staves are no longer part of our culture - rare are those
who truly know; modern Karateka busily practising their kama
(sickle) kata would probably tire of cutting grass after ten minutes.
up and down with uke’s arm creates Aikido techniques.
It is commonly believed
that the point of weapons training in Aikido is to improve the empty hand
With this in mind,
since many of Aikido’s basic movements are based upon sword related principles,
it certainly makes sense to practise using a sword, the enigma being, of course,
that one could devote a lifetime of study to this weapon itself.
The usual method of
holding a bokken is hands spread one fist-width apart to gain a measure
of leverage when cutting. Rarely seen, but extant in Japanese arts, is to hold
the bokken as one holds a baseball bat, hands close together. While
swinging the bokken and cutting, the hands-spread method dictates that
one punch slightly with the upper hand and pull with the lower at the point of
striking. The feeling of cutting is also akin to the back pull of a saw. In
fact, as a point of note, the Japanese saw cuts with the back-pull, unlike the
Western the one that cuts with the push. So, the sword enters the opponent's
body at the shoulder, cuts down, and then comes out – it is like a large slice;
it is not a slash but a definite cut. With a fast cut, hitting with the end two
to three inches of the blade the sword may snick in and out in a moment; in a
heavy, slower, deeper cut, the body weight is added to the upper hand, to
increase the power or depth of the cut, or rather, slice.
When cutting with the
sword in Aikido it is important to match the cut to one's body movement. For
shomen-uchi the body moves forward or back when cutting. With
yokomen-uchi it may seem that we move sideways as we cut. We should not. We
turn, and when cutting, although the cut is diagonal to the temple or neck area,
the body moves forwards or back, straight, just as in shomen-uchi. Some
schools cut kesa, a large diagonal cut down the line of the keikogi,
with the blade finishing near the tatami. Even in this case, if one is
carried around by the momentum of the strike it is not correct. When cutting,
think of torifune. Cut forwards.
tori and uke keep centre.
||When practising with a
weapon it is necessary to have a vivid imagination, a sense of what is really
supposed to be happening. While it appears to be the norm to run through various
kata or sequences of techniques, the real nitty-gritty of training is
basic holding centre, evasion, cutting, and thrusting. And after each movement
the tip of the weapon must return to point towards uke instantly lest the
centre be lost.
| One needs to practise against single cuts coming from a single
direction and training various responses: Avoiding left or right, moving close
enough to hit at the right time with an appropriate stroke; moving just out of
range, but not so far that a counter is impossible; if one has barley avoided,
there may be the need to parry; if one has avoided well, there is no need to
parry at all, just strike; with no avoidance one must block, but being
defensive, uke may gain the control of rhythm. Instead of the block is
the counter strike, or forceful parry. This can be done with or without
avoiding, and has the effect of dashing uke's sword back, as in irimi,
or out, as in tenkan. Sometimes, a forceful parry can also turn into a
counter strike in the same stroke, especially if the avoiding body movement has
a forward component. Attacks are parried using the flat, or the back ridge. The
blade edge could be used directly against a wooden weapon with the intention of
cutting it, but not against a sword. When using the flat one has to push, not
hit, otherwise one's own sword could be broken. Better is to use the back ridge
by forcefully twisting one's sword against uke's. Done sharply, this has
the effect of dashing uke's sword away while protecting the edge. One
should also experiment transferring these movements to the jo and of
course, the empty hand techniques.
Being focused upon
To maximise the thrust
distance the jo is held with the little finger feeling the end, the other
hand about a third of the way along. When performing Aikido type techniques on
uke it is sometimes held with a few inches protruding from the lower hand
- useful for hooking an arm, wrist, or neck. Other times it is held and used
like a bokken, striking the opponent with the tip. As with the bokken
above, it makes sense to practice avoiding, moving, and responding in all
possible directions. Obviously different, the jo has two ends and is not
sharp, but all of the same principles apply. It goes without saying that when
training one should always try to hit and receive ever faster and harder. The
imperative necessity to avoid adds a measure of reality to both maintaining
mental composure and good technique under violent duress. For training a sharp
counter strike, especially one with minimal or no avoidance, it is better to
start with the jo than the bokken. Using the jo, the hands
are typically held further apart than the bokken, which adds a measure of
control that helps to both learn the principle while maintaining a degree of
safety. Practice should be carried out on both left and right sides for
dexterity – such is more likely to be done with the jo than the bokken
in most dojos.
There are four ways to
hold the single bladed tanto. In a straight forward thrust, the blade can
point upwards or downwards. For the downward stab, the blade likewise has two
positions. For standard thrusting in Aikido the blade should be pointed upwards.
While the tanto is only made of wood, one should imagine that the thrust
has a degree of upwards motion that cuts upwards through the fleshy parts just
below the ribs and up towards the heart. It is not so much a stab as an upwards
singular, saw-like cut. In the downward blow the blade should be facing oneself
with the thumb over the end to prevent slippage – Japanese tanto’s
usually have no tsuba (blade guard). Thus when striking it not only
stabs, but cuts as it enters, and once entered deeply, rather than withdraw it
the way it went in, one could draw it back towards oneself while cutting upward
slightly thereby causing more damage. Not nice, but that's the way it is
practised in Aikido. The tanto blade could be reversed but then your
thrusting technique would have to be modified accordingly. For example, in the
forward thrust, you would have to cut downwards slightly, not up.
Perhaps the weapon most
need to relate to in modern times, one naturally needs to practise all Aikido
techniques against tanto attacks from all possible directions. The
direction of the strike often determines the pattern of avoidance and the nature
of the technique so is easy for a smart tori to predict. The problem is
that the tanto is a hand movement based weapon, not a body one.
Typically, an Aikidoka attacks in the standard way putting their body
weight behind the movement so there is no problem - except that it is less
realistic. To broaden their scope, tori needs to practice moving in at
least a couple of different directions for each type of strike. However, it is
obvious that such will not work against a tanto used as a hand movement
based weapon since the hand moves much faster than the body. Since Aikido
technique depends on body movement, to deal with a fast tanto one has to
learn to use the hands to deflect and/or take an arm before a solid Aikido
technique can be applied. Here, an understanding of timing and the willingness
to take a cut are crucial to success.
Aikido techniques are performed against tanto attack. In each case, the
distance and technique vary slightly. Some techniques on the syllabus are not
sensible thus the keen student needs a discerning eye. For practical
self-defence it makes good sense to develop a private collection of effective
techniques based on simplicity and effectiveness. Tori can also take the
tanto and apply aiki techniques with it in either hand.
When training with
uke one typically takes the weapon and leaves it on the floor at a distance
such that they have to get up and take at least a step to retrieve it. Or, one
takes it away and hands it back. Note that the polite way to hand over a
tanto (or bokken) is with the blade towards oneself and the handle
away from one's own strong hand, showing trust.
Vertical or horizontal spirals
Holding a bokken
or Jo vertically and drawing a circle above the head with the point
creates a cone. The same can be done holding the sword out horizontally.
Combining this movement with forward, or sometimes rear or sideways body
movement creates a spiral. Spiral movements are very powerful and can be used
for defence or attack with bokken
and jo alike. When doing this, one’s centre should always move in unison
with the bottom (handle) of the weapon.
(e) Mixing it up
Empty hand against
sword is fun but unrealistic in the sense that first, it is probably never going
to happen in our modern society, and second, one would likely be cut down
instantly against a real swordsman. Against a staff is more plausible. Against a
knife could be the reality waiting around the next corner.
against jo is also fun, and again, while it is almost never going to
happen outside the dojo, it is useful to practice with weapons of
differing lengths. The key to overcoming any weapon is to first know its
strengths and weaknesses by using it. Therefore the key to any form of mixed
practice is always in the basics; if one's basics are good, one may just have a
chance when that sword-wielding lunatic jumps out in front of you.
Finally, it is obvious
that the stronger one strikes and receives in bokken or jo
training, the better the practice. With weapons one can negotiate the terms with
uke and really batter each other quite hard with safety. Accordingly. the
occasional broken weapon in training can be considered as good practice.
However, when training empty hand against jo, or performing kokyu-nage
using the jo, a breakage is indicative of bad technique.
Many schools practice
bokken and jo kata yet fail completely to make any
connections between the individual techniques found within that could lead a
keen student to a more complete understanding of the weapon at hand.
When facing uke,
one can theoretically cut in any number of directions around a clock face and
thrust jodan, chudan, or gedan along a left, right, or
central plane. In reality, after avoiding a certain strike in a certain
direction at a certain time, commonly, only one defensive option and counter
strike will be available, at most, maybe two. Less choice means less hesitation
but also makes it easier for a wise opponent to know what's coming. The most
important point in learning is to build a framework of patterns of movement that
are easy to visualise for the self and easy to recognise in an opponent.
The easiest way to
remember all the different attacking strokes is to cut around an imaginary
clock. Twelve O’clock represents shomen-uchi. Eleven and One represent
Yokomen-uchi or kesa. Nine and Three represent do, the
midsection. Seven and Five represent upward rising cuts. Six is a vertical
upward cut. These same attacking movements and directions can also be turned to
the defensive. Putting bodyweight behind the blow and transferring the energy
into the opponent’s weapon can have a blocking, parrying, or intercepting
counter-strike effect. Naturally, it makes sense to imagine being attacked from
those same twelve directions when practising defensive moves. What matters is
that the mind thinks for itself and creates sense out of the spurious myriad of
kata techniques. Do not wait to be taught – it might never happen.
Holding the sword
vertically, somewhat similar to hasso, one can rotate it around in a
horizontal axis either clockwise, or anti-clockwise. Using this, one can deflect
incoming yokomen-uchi by adding firm energy to the movement at the moment
of contact. The closer to the hilt the blow is received, the more leverage you
have and the easier it is to deflect. However, the whole point of having a long
weapon is to take advantage of the operational distance it provides. Therefore,
one necessarily needs to develop the ability to deflect strong blows using a
point closer to the tip – typically working one’s way up to a point about one
third of the way down from the point, or two-thirds up from the hilt. Here,
lacking leverage to develop power, one uses speed, timing, and courage. The
opponent’s sword must be met mid-swing at full speed, and at that point of
meeting, additional heavier energy must be momentarily added to strike or dash
away the incoming blow. Striking it contains a greater speed element, dashing
has a slightly slower speed component, but is heavier. And depending upon
whether it was a clockwise or anti-clockwise rotation, the result might be
either a forceful parry or an intercepting counter-strike. Similar patterns can
be developed for other attacks around the clock, as noted above.
Once one has a
collection of distinct strikes and defences, after practising footwork and body
movement in eight directions, natural avoidance and attack patterns reveal
themselves. For example, moving to the rear left corner one is obviously
defending one’s right side. If one’s own sword tip is down it invites attack
from above, if one’s tip is up it invites attack from below. Here, one can
respond by either raising, or lowering the sword respectively and making an
appropriate defence and/or counter-strike. Accordingly, using the principles
acquired in kata and using them while moving in each of the eight
directions, one will begin to see how they all fit together.
Another method to build
a framework is to connect blocks and strikes together in pairs. The simplest
exercise for this is to parry shomen-uchi with kaeshi-men while
avoiding to the side. Next, attack shomen-uchi while one’s partner
parries in the same way. If the parries are always done on the same side one
will traverse in a circle. If both alternate left and right each time, one will
return to the same spot every two techniques. This kind of exercise can be
repeated over and over with speed and power being slowly added. With a little
imagination, many more of the basic techniques can be practised in pairs like
this. What’s more, their simplicity allows increased vigour, which leads to more
reality. These same exercises can be done with the jo: The diversity of
the jo, however, leads to even more interesting routines just waiting to
Each Aikido style, and sometimes each teacher within a style, has his own
method. This can not be right. The individual can not decide the method. As
certain old European rennaisance texts mention, it is the nature of the weapon
to the man that determines the method.
Long or complicated partner forms are difficult to learn, practice, and
remember. Just as any chain is only as strong as its weakest link, one's
development is restricted by an inefficient method, an incomplete system, and by
a slower partner who is struggling to come to terms with it. Having 'travelled'
and seen what is 'out there', I no longer trust the sword I learn in the dojo,
no matter where it is claimed to be from. I no longer trust that what I am shown
as being a genuine sword art (if that is what is being claimed).
This problem is compounded for the Aikidoka in that the sword is supposed to
help better his Aikido. Thus, it has become acceptable that practice be for
perfection and not for reality. And if this is to be the case, then it is
absolutely vital that Aikido movement match sword movement. Yet, often it is not
so. Sword offers Aikido a lot, but misunderstanding in sword feeds
misunderstanding in Aikido - the purpose (for Aikidoka, not necessarily
swordsmen) is for one to help the other, not hinder it.
The 'Saito' weapons method that was once universal in many dojos is
now losing ground to techniques, patterns, and forms from more traditional
sources such as Kashima Shin Ryu, Katori Shinto Ryu, and Ono-ha Itto Ryu, etc.
Indeed, many are finding remarkable similarities between the Saito method and
certain traditional styles, which leads to them abandoning what they learned
assuming the more traditional to be 'the original' and therefore better (not a bad argument, but not perfect
We are presently in what appears to be a transition stage where Aikido
teachers feel it important to 'return to the source', which means studying more
traditional Ryu (schools) to compliment their Aikido. However, the
problem with this is that people are learning a few techniques from direct
sources, then teaching these 'parts' to others, who in turn pass them on, and so
on. This process is perhaps inevitable, as most do not possess the
half-a-lifetime necessary to study a traditional Ryu to completion. The
result is a mish-mash of new ideas and techniques. The obvious problem, that is
totally unrecognised and therefore perhaps not so obvious, is that there is no
effort to collate all the 'new' old techniques into one complete, logical
system, which is perhaps, without even knowing why, the reason that people are
beginning to look elsewhere - traditional Ryu. My prediction is that this
'chaos' will continue for the forseeable future.
My argument is for short forms/movements, with the intention of moving
towards no-form as soon as possible. Memory of form should be replaced by
perception of the moment in a rapidly changing situation. I would like to
practice a system where the nature of the sword reveals itself to the serious
My personal training system:
# 1: Learn the attacks, move in eight directions
# 2: Learn the defences, move in eight directions
# 3: Discern principles from patterns.
# 4: No form. Start with an, "OK, please try and hit me ..." (Rather
dangerous, choose someone you trust and start slow). In essence, it reverts back
to #1 - attack, because he who attacks best wins.
Rationale against the knife
- Learn to block - not just anyhow. The teacher should ensure its movement
matches future learning - i.e. the parry.
- Learn to parry - a parry should pass through the same space as the
- Learn to avoid - credit uke with intelligence - Eg: uke
goes for your wrist as you parry, then you avoid that intelligence, but only
just, making uke think he can still reach your wrist and therefore go
for it. If you break off, uke will renew the attack.
- Learn to counter - as you avoid, counter-strike instantly with the
This is not the be all and end all. My point is that, basically, a
structured system means that learning builds upon learning. Think, does the
style you do have a progressive system of learning? Think - Process!