The Role of Atemi (Striking) in Aikido

yoshinkan aikido gozo shioda by pu12 1024x640 The Role of Atemi (Striking) in Aikido

The Role of Atemi in Aikido

Atemi can sometimes be forgotten about during our Aikido training. Aikido’s focus on throws, locks, pins and subduing the attacker without hurting them where possible does not often coincide with punching someone, yet the effectiveness of some techniques relies on the proper use of atemi. We don’t look for the knockout blow in Aikido, we strike as a distraction to allow us to perform our technique, or as a way of unbalancing the opponent in order to throw or apply a lock.

Morihei Ueshiba, the founder of Aikido, said that in a real situation, atemi is 70% of the fight, with 30% being locks and pins. Shioda Gozo, founder of Yoshinkan Aikido, agreed with this analysis from his time spent in street fights during his youth. Shioda sensei argues that although overt punching and kicking training is not done in Aikido, such as through the use of punchbags or makiwara, training is still done. Every movement in Aikido comes from the hips, and every move aims to deliver hip power and movement. Is this not exactly what is needed for effective atemi? A poor punch comes from the arm, using the muscles there to employ power. A more effective punch however, comes from the hips with the arm relaxed until the very moment of impact when the full force of the hips and arms is combined. This allows for more efficient striking, allowing us to perform more strikes with more power.

morihei ueshiba gozo shioda 1940 cropped1 300x248 The Role of Atemi (Striking) in Aikido

Morihei Ueshiba applying a strike to the ribs of Gozo Shioda

If we look at the basic movements of Aikido or the kihon dosa, all focus on projecting the hips and developing hip power. Although we aren’t punching a bag for hours on end, we are still developing hip power, and therefore striking power and as said, this is still a crucial aspect of Aikido training. There are those that argue that we should not need to atemi in Aikido or in a real situation if our technique is correct, yet I would imagine that these people have never been in a real fight and are only used to training in the setting of a dojo. The principle of Aikido to not harm the attacker is good in theory, yet in my limited experience, unrealistic. If you are fighting with someone who really wants to hurt you, whether you hurt them or not is not a consideration, getting out of that situation however you can is the priority. O’Sensei was in his later years when developing Aikido, having been through hard rigorous training in his youth and being in more than one life and death situation. Shioda sensei was similar, training hard in his youth and looking for fights to test his skills and both state that atemi in Aikido has its place and is very important.

23 265x300 The Role of Atemi (Striking) in Aikido

Striking is effective in terms of injuring opponents, but also in terms of breaking balance and developing hip power. Sometimes in training we do a technique and when done with added resistance, wonder why it doesn’t work. Sometimes the technique is done wrong, but other times, the role of atemi has been forgotten and with this added element, the technique can improve dramatically! Atemi is just one aspect of Aikido, but one I feel is sometimes neglected.


The Role of Jiyu Waza

485038 10151467242837070 2029354573 n The Role of Jiyu Waza

The role of Jiyu Waza

When people first come to study Aikido, Jiyu Waza, or freestyle movement is the first thing that impresses them about the art. When done correctly, it is fast, dynamic, athletic and skillful, making both people involved look like they know what they’re doing! What is the actual point in doing Jiyu Waza for the Aikido practitioner however? It is unrealistic practically and somewhat choreographed between those involved.

Jiyu Waza has many learning elements within it, both from the point of the Shite (doing the technique) and the Uke (receiving the technique). Aikido in general does not have competitions, and so in a way, jiyu waza is our form of competition between the shite and uke. Techniques are performed from a certain attack in a more dynamic way than regular basic training, allowing for improvement from both partners. The job of the uke is to receive the technique and then get up and attack again as soon as possible. The role of the shite is to perform the technique well and effectively, in a dynamic way, and to respond to the uke’s speed in order to avoid being hit. Jiyu Waza in this way then becomes a game of cat and mouse, where, although the partners are working together to improve technique, endurance and ukemi (falling), an element of competition can be introduced with who can perform the techniques faster, or get up and attack quicker.

Jiyu waza as already said should be kihon waza or basic techniques, but done more responsively and dynamically. This is not an easy task and there is a tendency to want to do jiyu waza quickly when training begins. This can lead to sloppy techniques as well as injury as a level of control is lost in relation to kihon waza. Having said this however, simple jiyu waza and free movement should be taught fairly early in my opinion as a way of improving ukemi. From my experience, people are comfortable doing a fall if given time to prepare for it, yet when they are asked to do the same fall within a technique, find it difficult as the control has been taken out of their hands. Jiyu waza can allow that control to be taken away, but at a slow pace to start with, allowing the uke to fall from different throws, different directions and different partners in a safe and controlled way. The pace can then be built up gradually, until eventually we see examples of near perfect jiyu waza with awesome ukemi from uke, and awesome technique from shite.

Jiyu waza is there to improve technique, endurance and falling as well as adding an element of pressure to regular training. It should be built up from a fairly early grade to improve ukemi and ensure that the aikido does not become too static or rigid.


The Role of Traditional Martial Arts Today

 The Role of Traditional Martial Arts Today

Traditional Martial Arts today?

Its been a much debated topic with numerous posts online being centered around the effectiveness of the traditional martial arts today, and what they can offer to society. As someone who has both trained and taught traditional martial arts for a number of years, it is an interesting topic for me to address and a number of factors need to be considered in terms of the `role` of martial arts today.

Combat effectiveness in the Martial Arts?

Firstly, and most obviously, there is the factor of combat effectiveness. The early UFC hoped to pit fighter against fighter, asking the age old question of which style was most effective when it came down to a `no holds barred` contest. Would the bigger man dominate over the quicker, more agile opponent? Was karate better than boxing? From the first UFC’s, and the dominance of Royce Gracie and his style of Brazilin Jiu-Jitsu, it was clear that a new type of fighter had emerged, one that was not only comfortable on the ground, but advantaged in this way. Martial arts then took on a whole new format in the following years, and the idea of mixed martial arts was born, focusing on arts like kickboxing and muay thai for standup game, wrestling for taking down the opponent, and BJJ for ground game. Many now think of MMA as being the pinnacle of combat effectiveness as it tests the fighter’s skill, and fitness against a non-compliant opponent, something that the traditional martial arts can lack. I contest this belief but on to that at a later date.

Martial Arts Principles

I have trained and taught Yoshinkan Aikido for many years now, and a constant criticism I find from people looking at aikido is that the techniques seem ineffective, unrealistic, and dependent on the compliance of the partner. It is true that in the beginning we rely on our partner working with us to help us understand the technique we are trying to do, but what people fail to grasp is the principles underlying the techniques learnt. Aikido looks a lot at wrist grabs due to its being based on samurai unarmed combat. Samurai armor was weak at the wrists and so it was common to attack here. A wrist grab attack in today’s world is unrealistic, yet the principles we learn from this simple attack helps us to build the foundations for more realistic attacks. Aikido looks at connecting with the partner/opponent and keeping this connection throughout the technique. An easy way for this principle to be understood is through the wrist, as the elbow and shoulder can then easily be controlled. If we looked straight at a hook punch, headbutt, or other such `realistic attacks`, this simple principle could be overlooked and so, in my opinion and in terms of aikido, simpler attacks are necessary until you understand the basics. All martial arts, regardless of style work on the principles of unbalancing the attacker while maintaining your balance, employing power through the hips and lower body, and neutralizing the attack, either through a block or movement. This can be seen in the boxer slipping the punch, unbalancing the opponent and allowing an opening to counter punch. It is often not the most powerful punches that cause the knockouts in these cases, but the punches timed perfectly where the opponent is off balance and left open. This principle in my opinion, is true of all martial arts, regardless of styles.

So in terms of combat effectiveness, I believe that all martial arts, traditional and new, have their place and these all teach the same fundamental principles, all be it with a sometimes different slant. What is crucial, is to remember what is being studied. A `Martial` art, martial meaning war. The effectiveness of the traditional martial arts still hold true today, in my opinion, but it is dependent on the patience of the individual learning, as well as the instructor teaching. There is a tendency in the traditional martial arts to sometimes forget the applicability of techniques, focusing too much on the `art` and not enough on the `martial` aspect and so to keep its role in terms of combat effectiveness in today’s society, traditional martial arts should address this.

Combat effectiveness is just one role the martial arts can play today, and in my opinion is not the most important. Next blog I will discuss the role it can have on the development of children through the instilling of respect, discipline, fitness and a don’t give up attitude.