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.
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.
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.