The techniques of Aikido are often referred to as “waza” which translates in Japanese as technique, art or skill. Training in Aikido is based on predetermined stances between two partners, known as kata rather than free type training. The basic idea in training is that the person receiving the technique (uke) initiates the attack towards the person applying it (tori (取り) or shite (仕手) depending on the style of Aikido or even nage (投げ) when a throwing technique is applied). The receiver neutralizes the attack with an Aikido technique.
Uke and tori are equally important in Aikido. They both study the principles of blending and adaptation. Tori learns how to blend in with the energy of the attack and control it while uke learns how to remain calm and flexible when found in the disadvantaged and unbalanced situations the tori puts him in. The “receiving” of the technique is called ukemi. Uke is constantly trying to regain his balance and cover his/her weaknesses ( e.g. exposed side) while tori uses positioning and timing to retain uke in a vulnerable and unbalanced position. In more advanced training the uke can apply reverse techniques (返し技 kaeshi-waza) to regain balance, immobilize and throw the tori.
The word ukemi (受身) means the act of receiving a technique. A successful ukemi requires focusing on the technique, on the opponent and the surrounding environment. The reception is active rather than passive. The fall itself is part of the training as it provides a safe way to apply a technique and then return to sitting position in one move. Without the fall this would normally end up in a severe hit, a throw or a joint lock.
The person executing or receiving the throw must calculate the uke’ s ability in taking ukemi and must also be aware of his/her surrounding environment when on the tatami: walls, weapons (wooden tando, bokken, jo) and the other practitioners.
Uke must attack with the force and speed that is appropriate for the tori’s level. In the case of beginners, the attack is far more subtle than what it would be, should it occur in a real self-defense situation.
Training Techniques in Aikido
- Boat-rowing exercise (船漕運動Funakogi undō)/Rowing the boat (取り船torifune). With this technique we learn how to use the hip instead of relying on the muscular strength of the arms.
- First teaching exercise (一教運動Shomen Uchi Ikkyo undō). This technique teaches how to enter with both hands extended in a tegatana position.
- Body change (体の変更Tai no henko). Redirects the incoming attack.
- Seated breathing method (座技呼吸法Suwariwaza kokyūhō)/Breathing action (呼吸動作Kokyūdōsa)/Breathing belly method (呼吸丹田方Kokyūtandenhō). Breathing plays a significant role in executing all Aikido techniques. Furthermore, the breathing of the uke and tori should be synched as the tori’s application should be in agreement with the direction of the force being applied on his/her wrists by the uke.
Most attacks in Aikido resemble a strike with the sword. Most of the Aikido techniques are usually applied as defense against an attack. For this reason, the practitioners of the art must learn how to launch different kinds of attacks. Even though Aikido doesn’t emphasize on attacking as thoroughly as other arts do e.g. Karate or Tae Kwon Do, honest and real attacks are necessary to be carried out for the proper studying and effective application of a technique to occur.
Many of the strikes in Aikido (打ち uchi) often resemble cutting with a sword or other handheld weapons. This indicates that those techniques where designed for armed combat. Other techniques that seem like punches (tsuki) are dealt with as strikes with a knife or sword. Kicks are usually intended for more advanced variations of the techniques because the fall from striking with a kick as tori is dangerous as well as the fact that kicking during battle was very rare in Feudal Japan.
- Front-of-the-head strike (正面打ちshōmen’uchi) is a downward strike with the outside part of the hand (tegatana) as if cutting with a knife or sword. When in training, this strike is usually aimed towards the forehead for safety reasons. The most dangerous targets for this strike are the nose and sinuses.
- Side-of-the-head strike (横面打ちyokomen’uchi) is a diagonal strike with the outside part of the hand (tegatana) as if cutting with a knife or sword to the side of the head or neck.
- Chest thrust (胸突きmune-tsuki) is a punch to the torso, specifically to the chest, solar plexus and belly. There is also the middle and low thrust.
- Face thrust (顔面突きganmen-tsuki) is a punch to the face. Same as middle punch.
- Sword-taking (太刀取りtachitori) Receiving an attack from a sword or a bokken, usually for advanced students.
- Knife-taking (短刀取りtantōtori) Receiving an attack from a tando, usually wooden.
- Staff-taking (杖取りjōtori) Receiving an attack with a jo. To receive an attack with any wooden weapon is called botori (棒取り) or tsuetori (杖取り).
More specifically, the beginners usually practice techniques from grabbing attacks not only because they are safer but also because the sensation of the force and energy of a grab is distinguished easily compared to a striking attack. Some of those grabbing techniques originate historically from situations where the defender would find him/herself being held or grabbed while trying to draw his/her weapon. Such a technique could be applied for releasing oneself from the grab and in turn apply a pin or deliver a strike to the attacker.
- Single-hand grab (片手取りkatate-dori). Grabbing the wrist with one hand.
- Both-hands grab (諸手取りmorote-dori). Both hands grab both wrists. It is the same technique as the “single hand double-handed grab” (片手両手取りkatateryōte-dori)
- Both-hands grab (両手取りryōte-dori) Both hands grab both wrists. It is the same technique as the “double single-handed grab” (両片手取りryōkatate-dori).
- Shoulder grab (肩取りkata-dori). Shoulder is grabbed with one hand. Grabbing both shoulders, “Both-shoulders-grab” is called ryōkata-dori (両肩取り). This technique is usually combined with a strike above the head as in the Shoulder grab face strike (肩取り面打ちkata-dori men-uchi).
- Chest grab (胸取りmune-dori or muna-dori). Attack by grabbing the gi (or other garment) in the chest area. Same technique as the “collar grab” (襟取りeri-dori).
- Rear chokehold (後ろ裸絞 ushiro kubishime)
- Rear both wrists grab (後ろ手首取りushiro tekubitori)
Taking all of Aikido’s techniques under consideration we see that this art recognizes over 10.000 techniques. Many of the techniques originate from Daitō-ryū Aiki-jūjutsu, but some of them where entirely created by Morihei Ueshiba. The exact term for some of the techniques can vary depending on the school. The names that follow are as defined by the Aikikai union. It should be noted that even though the first five techniques are named in a numerical order it doesn’t mean that they are always taught this way. Aikido shares many techniques with Judo (e.g. drop throw) which can be considered to be the “cousin” of Aikido. They both have common roots in jujutsu.
- First teaching (一教ikkyō) ude osae (arm pin), using the one hand on the elbow and the other close to the wrist, tori leads uke to the ground and applies pressure into the ulnar nerve of the wrist.
- Second teaching (二教nikyō) kote mawashi, a rotational wrist lock which applies torque on the shoulder causing severe pain in the nerve. (In ura variation there is the Z-lock which locks the wrist by bringing it towards the center of the axis)
- Third teaching (三教sankyō) kote hineri, a rotational wrist lock which directs the tension upward alongside the whole arm, the elbow and the shoulder.
- Fourth teaching (四教yonkyō) kote osae, is similar to ikkyō’s grab where both hands grab the forearm The knuckles (from the palm side) are applied to the recipient’s radial nerve against the periosteum of the forearm bone.
- Fifth teaching (五教gokyō) kama kote, looks like ikkyō but includes a reverse wrist grab, rotation of the arm and shoulder and pressing the elbow downward. Gokyō is mostly used for knife or other weapons disarming.
- Sixth teaching (六教rokkyō) or Elbow arm-barring pressure (肘極め押さえhiji kime osae)
- Arm-spraining second teaching (腕挫二教ude hishigi nikkyo). Elbow lock which is commonly used as defense against a knife stab or straight punches.
- Four-direction throw (四方投げshihōnage). The arm is folded behind the shoulder thus locking the shoulder joint.
- Forearm return (小手返しkotegaeshi) is a rotational wristlock-throw that stretches the extensor digitorum.
- Breath throw (呼吸投げkokyūnage) is a general term used to describe various types of techniques that don’t contain joint locks like other techniques do.
- Entering throw (入身投げ iriminage). Throws involving the tori moving into / entering the uke’s space.
- Heaven-and-earth throw (天地投げtenchinage). Starting from ryōte-dori and moving forward, the tori uses one hand to sweep low (earth) and the other to sweep high (heaven) resulting in the uke loosing balance and falling easily.
- Hip throw (腰投げkoshinage). Tori lowers his/her hip below the uke’ s hip and then flips uke over.
- Figure-ten throw (十字投げjūjinage) or figure-ten entanglement (十字絡みjūjigarami) is a throw which interlocks the shoulders. (The kanji for number ten in Japanese is in the shape of a cross: 十)
- Rotary throw (回転投げkaitennage). Tori sweeps his/her arm backward until it is locked with uke’ s shoulder joint and then forward pressure is applied to execute a throw.
- Corner drop ( 隅落 Sumi otoshi)
- Arm entanglement (腕絡み udegarami)
- Shoulder drop ( 背負落 Seoi otoshi)
- Body drop ( 体落 Tai otoshi)
- Large Hip ( 大腰 O goshi)
- Shoulder wheel (肩車 Kata guruma)