What is Taijutsu?

Taijutsu (体術, literally “body technique” or “body skill”) is a Japanese blanket term for any combat skill, technique, or system of martial art using body movements that are described as an empty-hand combat skill or system. In other simpler words, Taijutsu is martial art technique without weapons.

Taijutsu is a synonym for Jujutsu (method of unarmed or with minor weapons close combat).

The words jujutsu and taijutsu can be used instead of each other.

Taijutsu and Jujutsu

Contrary to popular terms today, Jujutsu is NOT just Brazilian Jujutsu (BJJ). Brazilian Jujutsu came from Judo, Judo came from Jujutsu.

I just want to sound this out. We cannot and probably never have a uniform idea of what jujutsu is correctly called. We can’t even all agree on how to say or spell Jujutsu in English. Is it Jujitsu, Jiujutsu, Jujutsu, or Jiujitsu? Sometimes the Japanese character is simpler and precise 柔術 when writing this word.

Jujutsu is old. Taijutsu is old. It’s what the ancient warriors used when their spears and swords broke on the battlefield. They did ‘hand to hand’ or ‘hand to weapon’ or simply fought ’empty hand’. Jujutsu is another word for ’empty hand’ or ‘no weapons’ martial art techniques.

Karate and Jujutsu both have the same meaning – empty hand martial arts. So why can’t we call Karate – Jujutsu?

Well, to put it simply, they look different and they are different. It’s like calling boxing – wrestling or grappling in English. Also, the word ‘karate’ means ‘Chinese Hand’ or ‘Empty Hand’ in Okinawa, where Karate came from. When the Japanese imported Karate to Japan as one of their martial arts, the Japanese Military changed the karate characters from 唐手 (“Chinese hand”) to 空手 (“empty hand”).

For simplicity sake, I will call Karate, karate, and Jujutsu,  jujutsu.

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Aikido Taijutsu

Taijutsu is similar to Karate but is more focused on body techniques. More specific names than taijutsu are typically used when describing a martial art: Judo (focusing on throwing and grappling), Aikido (focusing on throwing and joint locks) as well as Karate and Kenpō (focusing on striking).

In Aikido Taijutsu is our empty hand arts or techniques as opposed to bukiwaza (Warrior or Weapons Techniques). As you probably know by now, there are many flavours and Schools in Aikido. Most of them don’t commonly use the term taijutsu because they don’t have bukiwaza to distinguish it from. In fact, a martial art that doesn’t have a bukiwaza don’t distinguish taijutsu at all from its curriculum.

Check out this article for more information on the many flavours of Aikido.

Aikido Techniques

In the book the Philosophy of Aikido, John Stevens Sensei grouped together nine major techniques or philosophies in the following pillars of Aikido

These pillars are:

1. Shiho (4 directions)
2. Irimi (enter)
3. Kaiten (opening and turning)
4. Kokyu (breath power)
5. Osae (control)
6. Ushiro (attacks from behind)
7. Tenchi (heaven and earth – to stand firmly between)
8. Aiki-ken & aiki-jo (the sword of resolution and staff of intuition)
9. Ukemi (7 times down, 8 times up)

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In Iwama Aikido, These Major Pillars Can Be Simplified Into Two

Bukiwaza (Warrior or Weapons techniques)

  • Aikijo
  • Aikiken
  • Bukidori (weapons taking)
  • Ken Tai Jo (Sword VS Jo Staff)


Taijutsu Techniques: Body Martial Art or Empty Hand Martial Art

  • Osae (control)
  • Ukemi (fall 7 times, get up 8)
  • Shiho (4 directions)
  • Irimi (enter)
  • Kaiten (open, turn, rotate)
  • Kokyu (breath power)
  • Koteagaeshi (forearm twist)
  • Ushiro (attacks from behind)
  • Tenchi (heaven and earth – to stand firmly between)

On a side note. Remember this Aikido yin and yang maxim. When doing bukiwaza, think of taijutsu. When doing taijutsu, think of bukiwaza.

Now that you know the theoretical background of Taijutsu. Come to class and train Aikido properly. The only sure way to get good in Aikido is to turn up to Keiko and practice.

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Is Aikido a ‘Weapons Art’?

If Aikido Works Like a Sword, Then is it a ‘Weapons Art’?

A ‘Weapons Art’ uses a weapon or weapons (Eg Sword, Staff, Shinai, Etc) in martial practice. Popular examples are Arnis (Filipino Martial Art) and Kendo (Japanese Martial Art of Fencing). Aikido is based on the arts of the sword and staff. So is it a ‘Weapons Art’?

Here is one of the ways Aikido was explained to me. During a battle, when a samurai loses his sword and spare weapons he will need to take an attacker’s weapon to use it against him to survive. This is the practice of Buki Dori in Aikido. This practice is pure Aiki. One cannot clash with a weapon, one must blend (awase) with the attacker to avoid getting cut or chopped.

Do Weapons Art Still Work Without Weapons?

When I was a teenager in the 90s, I remember showing my sister the Aikido ken suburi I learnt. She looked at me in a weird way and said ‘That’s lovely, all you need now is to have a sword when somebody attacks you”. Although I was rather offended back then from that comment, nowadays, I think she’s got a very valid point, and I laugh thinking about it now.

It’s like learning how to use a gun and going through a gun range target shooting. Without that gun, all of those gun range training is useless. I think this is what makes Aikido effective because, without a sword, the Aikidoka still has taijutsu to use.

We grip and grab limbs like we hold a sword or staff. Gosh, we even attack like our limbs are swords. The whole Aikido form is based on swordsmanship.

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The strong form of O Sensei’s Aikido has weapons in it. Without it, the strong and effective form is gone. I think that’s a fundamental problem in Aikido. The most popular versions of Aikido are practised and taught like it is an empty hand martial art.

Maybe We Should Accept that Aikido IS a Weapons Art

What separates bukiwaza and taijutsu is training with weapons. A martial art technique cannot be called bukiwaza with the absence of a weapon.

Even our Aikido attacks are called shomenuchi, yokomenuchi, or munetsuki, these are all sword cut or sword thrust terms. We call the edge of hand ‘tegatana’ – hand blade. Our Kokyu arm shape is extended and curved like a sword. Aikido the martial art is weapons-based.

Some of the effective Aikido taijutsu techniques I know works well with an Atemi or two. A lot of Aikido techniques I’ve seen will only work with an atemi. Without atemi, there’s a good chance that the Aikido technique wouldn’t work at all, an example of this is Kaiten Nage from kihon.

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When Tori (Nage) is doing an Aikido technique and Uke stops him, the most effective way for that technique to continue is to insert an atemi or two.

This is what I love about O Sensei’s Aikido – Iwama Aikido. Most techniques practised have atemi in them.

By the way, on a side note for those of you that are just starting out in Aikido, an atemi is defined as a strike on pressure points. An atemi is unique because most of the time, it is invisible or one cannot see it coming. If an atemi is visible, it is usually thrown to induce Uke to block. This is how Aikido teachers differentiate an atemi from an ordinary punch or kick.

For me, an atemi is a strike pure and simple. An atemi could be as simple as a jab or a kick to the face. If a jab to the jaw knocks the attacker out (without injury) and stops the attack. Then the situation is controlled. Isn’t that the homeostasis that we are after in Aikido? The return to the position of no violence.

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Maybe I am oversimplifying what an atemi is, but that’s what I am doing, I am simplifying and demystifying Aikido so that it is easy to understand and absorb.

All these reasons and thoughts led me to a new paradigm shift in a fundamental belief, perhaps Aikido IS a Weapons Art. To me, this is a game-changer. This paradigm shift changes how I train, how I will teach my students, and even how I describe Aikido when I write.

I always thought that Aikido is the closest (modern) martial art to the Samurai because it has taijutsu (jujutsu), bukiwaza, bukidori, bushido, bushin, and spirituality.

Finally, I can accept the purpose of Aikido and where it stands as a martial art.

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Shiho Nage

Shiho Nage: Throw Towards the Four Corners

Shiho Nage (also spelt as shihonage) means throw to the four corners or four directions. Shihonage is an Aikido Nage Waza (Aikido throwing technique), that trains the Aikidoka to throw firstly to four directions, and secondly, throw to any direction.

Remember, Shiho Nage teaches you how to throw in all directions.

O Sensei said ‘If you can do Shiho Nage well, then you can do Aikido’.

I put a BIG image of Morihei Ueshiba O Sensei doing Shihonage above. This is THE correct form to do Shiho Nage. The Uke’s forearm or wrist is at the front of Tori or Nage’s forehead. This point is super important. Make sure that you do this in all of your Shiho Nage.

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Shomen Uchi Shiho Nage by Morihiro Saito Sensei

Shihonage by Morihiro Saito Sensei and Mic Marelli Sensei as Uke

A lot of Aikido authors and bloggers have taken a lot of effort to explain Shiho Nage.

I was thinking of doing the same thing. So I thought about which Shihonage is the best one to describe. I decided that I will write about Katate Dori Shiho Nage Omote Waza and Katate Dori Shiho Nage Ura Waza. So I started writing it. I went through four books and about nine videos of Aikido Masters and top Aikido teachers and black belts, plus my own version of what I learned from my Saito Sensei, Marelli Sensei, and Hitohira Saito Sensei. The complexity of writing about a precise article on Katate Dori Shiho Nage Omote Waza and Katate Dori Shiho Nage Ura Waza was bigger than I initially thought.  So I decided to write another article on those techniques another time.

As far as this article is concerned, I’ll write about Shiho Nage without getting too specific on a particular Shiho Nage technique. After all, there are many.

In this article let me share with you some of my thoughts and some videos (online) on Shihonage.

Shiho Nage by Morihiro Saito Sensei (O Sensei’s Aikido)

No Sound. No explanations. Watch, observe, and learn.

0:01 Katate Dori Shiho Nage Ura Waza

0:05 Katate Dori Shiho Nage Omote Waza

0:20 Kata Dori Shiho Nage

0:25 Yokomen Shiho Nage

0:30 Hanmi Handachi Shiho Nage Omote Waza

The Omote Entry is a Perpendicular One in Relation to Uke

For Omote, I moved my body to 90 degrees, take the wrist, lift straight up in front of my face again like a sword, step-through, turn and cut. Offline, lift, step-through as if I’m holding a sword in my partner’s hand here.

You want to extend and cut with the tip of the sword, which we’re going to think about as my partner’s arm. So as you cut and extend out, it should bend your partner’s back and take her balance.

It should not be a throw where you just yank down and try and cut with the hand. Extend the elbow up, out, and down.

As this begins to progress and you make the cuts happen a little bit faster, you’ll see how this changes the style a little bit.

To the side, lift and cut. Shihonage, four directions throw.

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Some Things to Remember When Doing Shihonage

  • Make it your personal mission to master Katate Dori Shiho Nage both Omote and Ura. This is the cornerstone of all Shihonage techniques.
  • Decide whether you are doing omote or ura.
  • Stretch Uke arm on entry and take his balance.
  • The safest ukemi for shihonage is for uke to just sit on your bum and do an Ushiro Ukemi. Yes a top ukemi can be done and it looks amazing, but for everyday Keiko, just do the simple back (Ushiro) ukemi.
  • As soon as your entry foot touches the ground, turn quickly on your axis. Do not take your time when turning, you will get caught, and a good Aikidoka can counter your technique. I get it, we have a maxim in Aikido, that to learn effectively, one must do the movements slowly and with focus. In Shihonage, Tori or Nage’s turn is almost an exception to this maxim. I am not saying turn super quickly. No no, that’s the opposite end of what not to do. You’ll lose your balance if you do that, especially if you learning the basics. What I’m trying to say is do not linger and expose your back when turning on your axis. You are doing a martial art, if this turn was done too slowly or in a telegraphic way, it will open a rear choke on you or a forearm press on your face.
  • Make sure Uke’s elbow is pointing up replacing the axis of his head. If the Uke’s elbow is pointing a bit forward, then the technique becomes weaker.
  • For safety reasons, return Uke’s wrist on his shoulder.
  • Practice throwing Uke in all four directions. Literally look for East, South, West, and North and throw Uke towards those directions using Shihonage.
  • For the nage (throwing) part. Do a clean sword cut. Your lead foot needs to step forward. It could be a shomen cut or a yokomen cut (to change direction), as long as it is a decisive cut. Don’t go half-ass on this one.

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  • Do not force a cut-down on the shoulder Uke’s legs can take that it and he or she will remain standing to counter. It’s a decisive cut-out.
  • When turning during a Shiho Nage, avoid a wide stance. Yes, it can be done with a wide stance, but the efficiency and subtlety of the turn can be compromised, and you (Nage or Tori) can be caught out.
  • Avoid using shihonage during jiuwaza or randori. I’ve only seen a handful of masters and experienced Aikidoka pull this in jiuwaza. Even though shihonage is known as one of the ‘Master’s techniques. It is too much commitment to execute on jiuwaza. Yes, it can be used as a technique to use Uke as a shield from other attackers, but the idea of Jiuwaza or randori on a multiple attackers situation is to achieve takemusu whilst putting yourself in a safe and secured position, NOT  a wresting situation.
  • The Shiho Nage katame waza is a spiral out pull. Be sensitive to uke’s tap for safety reasons.
  • If you are Uke and shihonage is being done to you, be sensitive to Tori’s technique. If possible set your ego aside and experience going with the technique. I’ve seen the biggest blokes rip or injure their shoulders because they resisted shihonage too much whilst Tori wrestled with the technique.

Yokomen Shiho Nage by Hitohira Saito Sensei (Iwama Aikido)

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Shiho Nage by Crom Salvatera Sensei (Iwama Aikido)

Shihonage by Mitsuteru Ueshiba Sensei (Aikikai)

Shiho Nage Counters by Shirakawa Ryuji Sensei (Aikikai)

Shihonage by Christian Tissier Sensei (Aikikai)

Shiho Nage by Ando Tsuneo Sensei (Yoshinkan Aikido)

Shihonage by Ulf Evenås Sensei (Takemusu Aikido)

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Shihonage by Yamada Sensei (Aikikai)

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Kokyu Nage

Kokyu Nage: Throw With the Power of Your Breath

Kokyu Nage (or kokyunage) literally means ‘breath power throw’. The kokyu form is an extended yet ‘curved like a sword’ arm. The Kokyu Nage throw has a ‘flicking feel’ on the throw. During the Zanshin part of Kokyu Nage or Kokyu Ho, the eyes are looking for the next attacker producing a higher awareness meditative state.

After practising Aikido for around 30 years, let me share with you some of my observations on Kokyu Nage.

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There are Two Kokyu Nage Forms

Throw Towards the Front

Kokyu Nage by Shioda Kancho (Founder of Yoshinkan Aikido)

This shape has the palm forward and the throw is towards the front.

Sumi Otoshi can be classified as a Kokyu Nage because of this form.

Throw Towards the Side

Kokyu Nage by Ueshiba Morihei O Sensei

This shape has palm up and the throw is to the side or slightly to the cornerback.

In Tomiki Shodokan Aikido, Kokyu Nage is introduced as ‘gyaku gamae ate‘ the third technique of the atemi waza.

One of the ways I remember this form of Kokyu Nage is the easy elbow to the face or elbow to the throat atemi. Another way of remembering this form is the easy atemi trip or sweep to uke’s leg.

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The Kokyu form in general usually does not have a palm down or thumb pointing down handshape on the throw.

The exception to this general rule of thumb is when the kokyunage throw is similar to the irimi nage form. You can see this case with tenchi nage the heaven and earth throw. Some masters classify tenchi nage on its own category and not as a Kokyu Nage.

Tenchi Nage by Saito Sensei

Both kokyu forms have the ‘Kokyu’ shaped arm. ‘Kokyu’ as a term most of the time means the hand and arm shape. The way I remembered the kokyu form or kokyu hand shape is it looks like you are about to catch a basketball.

Kokyu Form by Tohei Sensei

Have a look at the arms of Shioda Sensei, Saito Sensei, Tohei Sensei and O Sensei above. All masters have strong extended curved ‘like a sword’ shaped arms. Let your kokyu be filled with a strong breath and energise them with your ki.

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The Breath Throw

One distinct feature of Kokyu Nage is the emphasis on the power of the breath.

The complete name is ‘Kokyu Ryoku Nage’ which means ‘Breath Power Throw’.

To start the technique, you exhale and relax your body in calm martial awareness.

As soon as your partner attacks, you inhale the ki or energy coming from him. The physical effect of this is a form of inflation. The breath released when you Kiai is what gives this technique its power.

When inhaling make sure you breathe from the bottom of your diaphragm.

When exhaling, visualise the ki flowing out of your palms and with your breath.

If you scroll down there are some video examples on how Kokyu Nage (kokyunage) can be done.

To Look or Not to Look

When you are using the first form you look at where you are throwing.

If you are throwing to the side do not look at your uke. As soon as you look at him, you will notice that he can pull you down with him.

In regards to looking into your opponent’s eyes. There is a big debate about this. Most of the hard-hitting martial arts such as boxing, karate, Muay Thai and BJJ advice that you look into your opponent’s eyes.

O Sensei advised against this. O Sensei advised that if you look at your uke or opponent in the eyes, then you can be lured into a move and your intention distracted.

I believe mastering the ‘strategy of the gaze’ is a powerful mental atemi, just watch a boxing match to see this strategy in motion.

My take on this one is if I am doing the first form yes look and throw towards the front forward. If you are using the second form, then you don’t look at your opponent in the eyes. Not only can Uke drag you down to the ground but he can also intimidate you.

That Flicking Feeling

The kokyu throw feels like a flick. You don’t want uke to hold on after you have thrown him. There is a flick at the end of the throw that can break Uke’s connection with Nage.

If I exaggerate the description, it will look like the throwing arm or body gracefully stops on a point. It reminds me of a catapult’s action.

This flicking feeling is not easy to explain with words. To appreciate this point the Aikidoka will have to be the uke to feel the right Kokyu Nage throw.

One can master this flick throw by training a lot.

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All Aikido Moves and Aikido Techniques are Kokyu Nage

A lot of Aikido Sensei(s) and Aikido Masters (Shihan) says that all Aikido Moves and Techniques (Waza) are Kokyu Nage because all Aikido moves and Aikido techniques require breathing. Well… literally YES, but that’s just an oversimplification of things. You are not doing yourself any favours by thinking like that.

Is walking Kokyu? Is talking on the phone Kokyu because it requires breathing too. When we oversimplify or exaggerate Aikido that’s when we run into all sorts of trouble. Part of learning Aikido is to distinguish the techniques from each other and name them. So call Kokyu Nage – Kokyu Nage and Irimi Nage – Irimi Nage, etc. Do not give yourself an excuse to have a second rate learning, knowledge, and experience by doing shortcuts. Remember (and I’ve said this 100s+ times) the most important Aikido in the world is your Aikido because that’s the Aikido that lives within you. You want that Aikido to be a good one.

Good Aikido Move for Jiu Waza and Randori

I believe that there are three major Aikido moves that are suitable for Jiu Waza (Freestyle) or Ran Dori (Random Grab). Those three Aikido moves are Kokyu Nage, Irimi Nage and Kote Gaeshi.

Yes, there are masters and experts out there that can do more than three. From my experience of jiuwaza, one doesn’t have time to think, so you need techniques that are not very involving.

Shiho Nage and the Osaeru Waza are involving. These techniques are more suitable to one on one situations. Let me not rule them out. You can use them to use uke as a shield in multiple attacker jiuwaza. However, as soon as you take on a defensive mindset, it will be a matter of time before the other attackers get to you.

Getting off the line of attack and only using Kokyu Nage, Irimi Nage, and Kote Gaeshi is a proven strategy that worked for me in jiuwaza. Using these three techniques has enough combinations to give you the takemusu effect.

Kokyu Nage is an effective Aikido move to use when you need to break a wall of attackers. You can throw uke and bowl the others with Kokyu Nage.

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Morihei Ueshiba O Sensei

Hitohira Saito Sensei

A.R.Yates Sensei

Shirakawa Ryuji Sensei

Morihiro Saito Sensei

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Irimi Nage

Irimi Nage: Enter and Throw

Irimi Nage is one of the most fundamental yet unique Aikido techniques. Irimi Nage or Iriminage literally means enter and throw.

In Iwama Aikido, Irimi Nage can be seen as a triangular or circular technique. In Aikikai (Aiki Kai), Irimi Nage is mostly circular.

Irimi requires courage to train and use.

How to do Katate Dori Irimi Nage According to O Sensei

When your partner grabs your left wrist firmly with his right hand, put Ki energy into the fingertips of your left hand and turn your palm upward.

Take a large step to your partner’s right side with your left foot, while extending your left hand diagonally to the right.

Then grab your partner’s right wrist with your right hand and release your left hand from his grip.

At the same time, turn your body to the right 180 degrees and look in the same direction as your partner.

Hold your partner’s collar from behind with your left hand.

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Bring Your Hand Towards Your Chest

Step through with your right foot and throw your partner as though pushing his neck down with your inside right elbow.

Be stable and stay in the correct hanmi position after throwing your partner.

Put Ki energy into your fingertips and protect yourself from further attack.

‘Budo’ Takemusu Aikido Special Edition By Morihei Ueshiba

Different Ways To Use the Concept of Irimi

One on One Irimi

Enter behind Uke’s back, take his balance then throw, atemi, punch or choke.

Multiple Attacker Irimi

Enter towards the weakest side and control the group from behind.

Psychological Irimi

Enter your target’s mind by using your words as atemi. Then disturb his emotional balance. Influence your target’s mind by planting your ideas.

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Group or Social Irimi

Enter the group by befriending the head of the group. Take the balance of the group by influencing the head of the group to do your objectives.

Personal Development Irimi

Enter your mind during meditation. Take the balance of your lower self by silencing your monkey and lizard brain. Give the monkey brain a job like concentrating on your breathing. In the silence of your mind listen. Be aware of your flowing mind. Lead your mind to what is really important to you to live a good life. Throw away your negative thoughts, complaints, anger and blame.

Here are some of my favourite Irimi Nage Aikido videos

Morihiro Saito Sensei


Source: Aikido Journal

Hitohira Saito Sensei


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Christian Tissier Sensei


Steven Seagal Sensei

Shirakawa Ryuji Sensei

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Tanren Uchi Exercise

Tanren: 7 Points To Consider When Training

Tanren in Japanese means to forge or hammered into strength, like a new sword getting shaped on an anvil.

The first time I saw an Aikido Tanren was at Mic Marelli Sensei’s ‘Aiki Kunren (Shuren) Dojo’ on the North Shore of Sydney. It was made up of a tyre and encased in a box made out of timber. I used it a few times however I didn’t really pay much attention to it. Oh, I wish now, I did.

The second Aikido Tanren I saw was in Iwama Japan. This time I was an Aikido uchideshi and was required by Saito Sensei to hit it two hundred times a day. YES, you read that correctly. We had to hit it 200 times a day.

Every time I passed it during the course of the day (during cleaning or going to the outdoor toilet) I have to hit the Tanren 20 to 30 times to do my two hundred hits a day.

Although my Japanese is limited, I relate the word (name) Tanren to forging, hardening, disciplining and tempering. The word came from Japanese sword making. Similarly, as Aikido uchideshi(s), that’s what we all went through when we trained Aikido in Iwama and at the Tanrenkan.

Although I learned many Aikido lessons from hitting the Tanren, I couldn’t write them all in this post.

Let me share with you 7 things to consider when training with this tool.

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1) If Possible Avoid Using Your Bokken or a Bokuto

On my first day as an Aikido Uchideshi, I used my brand new lightly coloured Japanese oak bokken to hit the tyre, as a result, the tip of my bokuto got tyre marks and it became black. I was not impressed. Please use a Tanren Bo (A Tanren bat/stick) or a Suburito instead. My favourite is a small but fresh log (not dried) about 1 metre long with a whittled wide grip handle. These tools are heavier than your Bokuto and will act as weights. This is probably the closest thing to weights training as far as Aikido training goes. The added weight will enhance your core strength. The wide grip also resembles the circumference of a man’s forearm.

2) Do All Seven Ken Suburi to Achieve Your 200 Hits Per Day

I did 30 reps for six of the seven ken suburi, except the 3rd suburi of which I did 20 reps. Let me give you a heads up. Wielding a heavy Tanren Bo 30 times may seem to be easy on your first set, however, you have another 170 hits to go. Take your time and don’t be in a hurry.

I measured my heart rate a few times and my average is 155 beats per minute (bpm) on a 1 Tanren hit per 1-second cycle. This is my sweet spot on a base (resting) heart rate of 55 bpm.

When I tried to double my speed (that is 2 Tanren hits per second) my technique became messy and my average heart rate shot to around 170 to 180 bpm. I felt dizzy. It is not a good idea to be dizzy when doing martial arts and especially on bukiwaza. If you are out of breath or dizzy, stop and recover.

I highly recommend that you take 10 to 15 deep breath cycles to recover before the next set.

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The Tsuki on 6th and 7th suburi have pretty much three versions. The first version is Tsuki (thrust) the top of the tyre, keeping in contact and mimicking a side slice (right index finger knuckle on the side).

The second version was Tsuki (thrust) the actual tyre. The third version is to Tsuki (thrust) the inside circle space of the tyre. I prefer the first version because I still have the friction from the tyre, it gave me that connection with the Tanren.

The second version needed a bit more control. I’ve bounced off the tyre a few times and tipped over the whole Tanren when I did the second version. I’m not a fan of The 3rd version because it felt like I’m thrusting air and I didn’t feel a connection with the Tanren.

I left the 3rd ken suburi last because the movement is slower, meditative and the Kiai longer. It is a good meditative way to finish your 200 Tanren hits for the day.

3) Be Mindful Of Your Footwork and Breathing When Doing Tanren Training

These two factors will determine your timing. The Tanren is stationary so you have to spin on your axis like a top. To achieve this, I had to be really mindful of my footwork. I’ve overstepped forward and hit the Tanren using the middle of the Suburito and I’ve also missed the Tanren because I stepped back too much.

It is important to stay relatively on the same spot and spin on your axis like a top.

The Tanren Bo or Suburito are heavier than the bokken, they require more energy to wield. By coordinating my footwork with my breathing, not only my timing and coordination improved but I also lasted the 30 reps (per suburi) that lead to the daily 200 Tanren hits required.

Remember to breathe in when raising the sword and Kiai (totally breathe out from the diaphragm) when cutting. Make sure your back foot lightly hits the ground at the same time when the Tanren Bo powerfully hits the Tanren.

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4) Make Sure Your Right-Hand Index Knuckle Is on Top of the Tanren Bo or Suburito When Cutting

Have a look at how Sensei grips the sword. Look at where is the right index finger knuckle placed on the Tanren Bo.

This is basic Ich No Suburi (1st Aiki Ken Suburi). Cut completely and finish with your right index finger knuckle on top of the Tanren Bo or Suburito. If the right index finger knuckle is on the side, you are holding back on your cut. Let the Tanren Bo or Suburito cut.

Don’t force it to cut.

Compared this action to ‘wringing a wet towel’ to get all the water out.

5) Avoid Letting the Suburito Bounce or Vibrate

Now, this is the technical challenge, the Suburito is only allowed to hit the Tanren once per cut. Avoid letting the Suburito bounce, vibrate, or hit the Tanren more than once. You will hear a vibrating sound when the Suburito hits the Tanren more than once.

To achieve this, make sure your right index finger knuckle is on top and as soon as you hit the Tanren with your full-cut, immediately raise your sword to do the next cut (don’t linger).

Please avoid gripping the Tanren Bo or Suburito too tightly to stop the vibration. If you grip too tightly, you will take all the jarring and vibration in your arms and in your body. This jarring is not good for your joints, back and your form.

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This is a technical skill and the second bounce can only be eliminated with the proper form. Practice this skill a lot and be strict on your form and sword cut to eliminate the bounce.

6) Do Tanren Exercise With a partner and use each other’s energy to keep going:

Like going to the gym, it is better to do Tanren training with a friend or partner. If you have a partner you can use each other’s energy to keep going. You can also awase (blend) each other’s timing and speed.

7) Use your Tanren For Target Practice

If I had to choose between precision and power, although I’d rather take both, precision is the key. When doing Tanren training hit your target properly.

I went to the hardware store to buy myself an oak dowel to use as a Jo. Avoid using your main Jo for tanren exercise because it will break the tip of the Jo (staff).

I d0 20 Jo Suburi, 13 Jo Kata, and 31 Jo Kata on the tanren. I built the tanren above. Notice there are ‘X’ all over it. They mark the vital points to hit during Jo kata. The trickiest one to hit was the lower targets low thrusts and Gaedan Gaeshi.

I would encourage everyone that has done Tanren Training before to spread this post. I really believe all Aikidoka around the world would benefit from Aikido Tanren Exercises.

Let me share with you a video I found of Osensei and Saito Sensei doing Tanren Exercises. Back then, they didn’t have the rubber tyre encased in a timber box like we do today. Instead, they used sticks bound by rope.

To conclude. The Aikido Tanren is similar to the boxer’s heavy bag. It gives us Aikidoka a chance to hit something hard without holding back. This training exercise will dramatically help your Aikido. It will strengthen your body and improve your form.

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Bokken: The Humble Stick

You Too Can Have a Good Aikido Bokken Even Though You are Just Starting

A Bokken is a wooden sword that the Aikidoka and other Japanese Martial Artists use to learn the art of the sword. The Aikidoka uses the bokken (wooden sword) for training because it’s safer than practising on a live razor-sharp katana. If you use a real sharp samurai sword (katana) for training, chances are you will cut or injure yourself before you get better.

Aikido Boken, Bokken, or Bokuto

Firstly let’s establish what is the proper term for the wooden sword.

A bokken (木剣, bok(u), “wood”, and ken, “sword”) (or a bokutō 木刀, as they are called in Japan) is a Japanese wooden sword used for training. It is usually the size and shape of a katana but is sometimes shaped like other swords, such as the wakizashi (short sword) and tantō (knife or dagger). Sometimes it is spelt “boken” in English. Bokken should not be confused with shinai, practice swords made of flexible bamboo. The boken, bokken, or bokuto is not exclusive to Aikido, however, it is necessary for the practice of Aikido.

In Japan, a bokken is called ‘Bokuto’. In fact when I was in Tokyo most people I spoke to called it Bokuto. I’ve noticed that the Japanese term ‘Bokken’ is more used in the dojo during Keiko. During day to day conversation, it’s better to use the word Bokuto (bokuto).

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In Australia, we call it ‘bokken’. I rarely to almost never hear it called bokuto at all. Then most of the Japanese I speak is ‘dojo Japanese’. I started calling it bokuto whenever I have Japanese students or visitors in the dojo.

Back to Sydney, for years I’ve even spelt bokken as ‘boken’. I started spelling it ‘bokken’ quite recently because I’ve noticed that it seems to be the universal anglicised spelling for it.

When I went to Japan to train as an uchi-deshi (live-in student), I quickly found out that the Japanese call it ‘Bokuto’ when three security officers at Narita Airport questioned me on why I was carrying them.

For the sake of simplicity and the purpose of this article, I will call the Japanese two-handed wooden sword as ‘bokken’. I will also use the word ‘ken’ interchangeably with the word ‘sword’ in this article.  Also, the Japanese word doesn’t become plural by adding the letter ‘s’ as a suffix. Hence I am writing the word ‘bokken’ (rather than bokkens) even though I am describing it in its plural form.

Why use a wooden sword when practising Aikido?

The bokken’s simple wooden construction demands less care and maintenance than a katana. In addition, training Aikido with a bokken does not carry the same ‘mortal’ risk associated with that of a sharp metal sword, both for the user and other practitioners nearby. While its use has several advantages over the use of a live edged weapon, it can still be deadly, and any Aikido training with a bokken should be done with due care. Injuries occurring from bokken are very similar to those caused by clubs and similar battering weapons and include compound fractures, ruptured organs, and other such blunt force injuries.

In some ways, a bokken can be more dangerous as the injuries caused are often unseen and inexperienced practitioners may underestimate the risk of harm. I guess what I am trying to say is because a bokken is a blunt stick, we don’t see the danger it can cause, and we underestimate it.

I cannot highlight this any harder, please DO NOT use the bokken as a sparring weapon. It is intended to be used in kata and to acclimate the student to the feel of a real sword. For sparring, a bamboo shinai is typically used instead for obvious safety reasons and wear armour if you are going to do this.

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Which one should I get if I am just starting Aikido?

Good question. I  believe you should get a good one straight away because you don’t want to blame your tool (Ken) when you are just learning. No, I am not saying go for the most expensive one, I said go for a good Aikido bokken. I bought three cheap ones (just because I was cheap), they broke or I gave them away because it wasn’t balanced. I should have just gone for the good Aikido bokken to start with. Also learning the Aiki Ken starts with the Ken Suburi. When starting suburi your form will be affected by your ken’s shape, weight, and balance. Might as well start with a good Aikido bokken so all you have to worry about is your own form and technique.

As you progress in Aiki, you’ll start collecting them on your journey, so just get this set and start training. Don’t get stuck with choosing your weapons. It is more important to learn how to use them safely and skillfully.

Get a Weapons Bag

I cannot highlight or be blatantly absolutely obvious about this point.

Get a good Weapons Bag or Case. You cannot walk around with a stick or a bokken without frightening your fellow human being or getting noticed by the police. You are an Aikidoka. Hide your power. Cover your weapons. Blend in with everyone and don’t bring unwanted attention to yourself. This is part of your Aikido journey. Learn to harmonise with everyone. Do not frighten your fellow human beings.

Here’s a good Weapons Bag that you can get from Amazon. I have this and I carry two Jo(s) and two (bokkens), plus a tanto.

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My Aikido Bokken collection

“My bokken collection or should I say my surviving bokken collection”.

Here is my bokken collection or should I say my surviving bokken collection. Each serves a different purpose.

A) Kamagong Ironwood Ken (950 gms) – This bad boy is solid. I use it for suburi practice.  After using this for suburi for years, all the other bokken feels lighter and easy to wield. I don’t really use it for Kumi Tachi or any partner practice because it has a sharp edge.

If your partner failed to parry your Tsuki (thrust) and it accidentally hit them, the edged tip will definitely hurt a lot. Also, during Kumi Tachi, I can feel every hit transfer from the ken and unto my hands, joints, and arms. It feels like you are using a jackhammer. I got this bokken when I was in Manila of which the Kamagong ironwood is a native.

B) White Oak (800 gms) Iwama Ryu style made in Japan – I got this one from a friend that bought it from. It was quite pricey and I paid a bit too much back then.

This bokken is beautifully balanced. It has a minimal curve a low arc. When doing go-no-awase with it, you really need to get your position right when thrusting (Tsuki) and really hide your shoulder during ‘hitoemi’ when parrying. It will really drill those techniques in. It is on the heavy side, however, this bokken has broken other cheap bokkens ($15 to $30) used by my partners during normal practice.

C) White Oak Ken (750 gms) Iwama Ryu style – Our dojo bought ten of these this one from E-Bogu about four years ago. It’s not bad, personally, I think it is a good beginner bokken. It is tough enough to withstand the battering that a keen (overzealous) kyu grade will give. I accidentally left it in the boot of my car, under the harsh Australian sun, and it didn’t warp (please don’t do this).

D) Japanese White Oak (650 gms) Iwama Ryu – I got this ken during my visit in Iwama Japan. I have used this ken during rain, hail, or shine and it didn’t warp. It is lighter than all my other bokken. Initially, I was concerned that it may break on impact, however, it has this ability and flexibility to absorb impact. I guess this stock of Japanese white oak is really doing a good job. With this bokken, I feel that I can wield the sword better and I can do my Aiki-ken techniques with ease. This is definitely my favourite.

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The type of wood for your bokken

Red Oak – I find the red oak on the heavy side. I gave away all my red Oak bokken. Having said this, red oak is my favourite jo (staff) timber

White Oak – White oak is strong yet light. It is also flexible can absorb impact without transferring it to your hands, joints, arm, and spine. The bokken using this type of timber is good for partner practice such as Kumi-Tachi and Ken-Tai-Jo.

Hardwood – Hardwood is heavy and very good for suburi or tanren exercises. You can still use it for Kumi-Tachi, however, be prepared for the impact on your body and the possibility of breaking your partner’s ken.

Pinewood – This is a waste of money and timber. They should stop making bokuto out of pine.

If you have the chance to physically inspect the bokken first before you buy, this is what you need to look out for

  • Be mindful of the grain.
    • Ideally, you want the grain to run from the hilt to tip of the ken.
    • You want the grain to be parallel to the sword and the distance of between the grain is even and small.
    • If the grain is twisted, the wood is prone to warp. You don’t want a warped sword.
  • Watch out for knots in the wood. If there are knots, you don’t want one in the middle of the blade or the ‘sharp’ end of the ken. This will break on impact. I personally won’t buy a bokken if I see knots on it.
  • Literally check the bokken length. The bokken length should be 103 cm (27 cm) on the dot. You don’t want bokken length to be even a cm shorter or longer. The length of the bokken will affect the balance of your bokken, your swing (suburi), and your Kumi Tachi (partner practice). The bokken is going to be your sword, you want it to be good. You want it to have the correct bokken length.
  • The hilt should be long enough to fit three of your fist. If it is not, that ken is either too long or short for you.
  • If you are doing Aikido, don’t buy a bokken with a hilt or tsuba. This type of bokken is for other martial arts. For Aikido, only buy the Iwama Ryu Bokken because it is designed for Aikiken, Ken Tai Jo, and Riai.

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What is the ideal weight for my bokken?

I understand that you are probably thinking what 950 grams is not really heavy. Well if you train with the sword for three hours to eight hours straight a day and have lifted and cut a thousand times with it, you will surely notice what 950 grams really feels.

If your sword is too light, then your partner’s heavier sword’s momentum can overwhelm or break it. If your sword is too heavy, it will slow you down. Think about it this way, if your first and last line of defence is your sword, you would hope that you can lift it fast enough to block or parry a shot to your head.

For me, the average weight of a bokken is around 700 to 800 gms. For suburi practice, I use an 800-gram bokken. For tanren practice, I use a bokken that is at least 950 grams or a suburito up to 1500 grams (1.5 kgs).

How much should I spend on my bokken?

Cheap $15 to $35 (avoid buying these ones, if you intend on using your bokken for Aikido Kumi-Tachi)

Beginner up to $50

Expert up to $150

A bokken that is more than $150 is a reap-off. Seriously, DO NOT buy a bokken that is more than $150. I know this because I paid for one, and it wasn’t worth $150. I don’t care how special is the timber or where it came from, but $150 for a stick is expensive.

Bokken and Bukiwaza

There are two main pillars in Aikido, Bukiwaza and Taijutsu.

Buwikaza in Aikido involves the use of the ken (sword), jo (staff), and the knife (tanto). The ken is physically used in bukiwaza, however, the shape, form, and movement that is developed through practice are used in taijutsu.

The ken is used in the following Aikido exercises and waza

Ken Suburi


Suburi (素振り:すぶり?), a word that translates literally to something like “elementary swinging”, is used to refer to the basic solo movements of Aiki-Ken, developed as a building block of the partnered practice.

There are seven Aiki-Ken suburi as passed by Saito Sensei

  1. Ichi-no suburi: A simple downward vertical cut.
  2. Ni-no suburi: Step back into jōdan-no-kamae, then a downward vertical cut.
  3. San-no suburi: Step back into waki-gamae, then a downward vertical cut.
  4. Yon-no suburi: Step forward with a downward vertical cut (Shomen Uchi).  Repeat.
  5. Go-no suburi: Step forward while guarding, then downward cut (Yokomen Uchi). Repeat.
  6. Roku-no suburi: Step forward with a downward vertical cut, then shuffle forward and thrust.
  7. Shichi-no suburi: Step forward while guarding, then a downward cut, then step forward and thrust.

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Kumi Tachi

  1. Ichi-no-Tachi (一の太刀): first of sword
  2. Ni-no-Tachi (二の太刀): second of sword
  3. San-no-Tachi (三の太刀): third of sword
  4. Yon-no-Tachi (四の太刀): fourth of sword
  5. Go-no-Tachi (五の太刀): fifth of sword


Ki No Musubi No Tachi


Tachi Dori


Ken Tai Jo

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31 Kumi Jo

31 Kumi Jo Aikijo Bukiwaza

The 31 Kumi Jo (Kumijo) is the partner practice for the Aikido 31 Jo Kata. The 31 Kumi Jo (Kumijo) was organised by Morihiro Saito Sensei who learned the 31 Jo Kata from O Sensei during his 25-year service and tutelage. By the way, as far as this article is concerned, we will spell ‘Kumi Jo’ and ‘Kumijo’ interchangeably, because both spellings are correct.

Osensei was working on the Aikijo, Aikiken, and Aikido during his retirement in Iwama. Saito Sensei was Osensei’s assistant during that period in Iwama Japan.

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Saito Sensei became the guardian of the Aiki Shrine in Iwama and vowed that Iwama Style or Iwama Aikido will always be true to Osensei’s Aikido.

Saito Sensei put together 31 Jo moves that can be learned and passed on to the next generation.

These 31 Jo Kata can be practised with a partner. When practised with a partner the 31 Jo Kata are known as ’31 Kumi Jo’.

Here are 7 ways to do the 31 Kumi Jo, I hope this article and page helps you with your 31 Kumi Jo.

31 Kumi Jo (broken down and with explanation) by Saito Sensei

By Morihiro Saito Sensei In this video, Saito Sensei shows the breakdown of the 31(San Ju Ichi) Kumi Jo. This is one of the earliest forms of the San Ju Ichi Kumi Jo.

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31 Kumi Jo by Hitohiro Saito Sensei

By Hitohiro Saito Sensei Saito Sensei started doing Aikido in Iwama as a child and was taught by the greatest teachers including his father Saito Morihiro.

Saito Sensei’s Aikido is precise, powerful yet effortless. Saito Sensei has developed the San Ju Ichi Kumi Jo into a form that is efficient, precise, flowing and closer to perfection. In this video, Saito Sensei demonstrates the 31 Jo Kata followed by demonstrating the 31 Kumijo with his two sons.

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Lewis Bernaldo de Quiros Sensei and Arjan de Haan Sensei

By Lewis Bernaldo de Quiros Sensei and Arjan de Haan Sensei

By Lewis Bernaldo de Quiros Sensei and Arjan de Haan Sensei

Stephanie Yap Sensei and Kaspar Jensen Sensei

By Stephanie Yap Sensei and Kaspar Jensen Sensei Shot in the bamboo forest in Iwama where the Aikido Uchideshi practice their morning Bukiwaza Yap Sensei and Jensen Sensei demonstrates the San Ju Ichi Kumijo step by step. This video is a perfect text video if one is learning the 31 Kumijo or if you are about to do your grading.

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Jonas Karlsson and Per Ola Olsson

By Jonas Karlsson and Per Ola Olsson

San Ju Ichi Kumi Jo at the Takemusu Aikido Ibaraki Shibu Dojo

By Takemusu Aikido Ibaraki Shibu Dojo In this video, the San Ju Ichi Kumijo is performed at full speed. Noticed what happens to the form when the Kumijo is performed at full speed.

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31 Jo Kata

31 Jo Kata Aikijo Bukiwaza

31 Jo Kata is an Aikido kata created by O Sensei Ueshiba and was handed down to Morihiro Saito Sensei and practised by Iwama Aikidoka. This kata is used with a Jo (Staff) or Jo Staff. The 31 Jo Kata is MUST learn kata no matter what style of Aikido you practice. If you are an Aikidoka especially the ones that use the Jo Staff, Quarter Staff, or even a Bo, (I cannot stress this enough) – LEARN THIS KATA.

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31 Jo Kata

The 31 Jo kata is part of the Buki Waza (Warrior or Weapons Techniques).

The original Jo Kata was taught by Osensei to Saito Sensei. Saito Sensei broke them down into 31 movements that can be easily learned yet challenging to master.

It is the longest version of the Jo Suburi Aikijo (Staff Drills).

The 31 Jo kata starts with the resting and non-threatening jo stance.

The factors that I consider when I am training the San Ju Ichi No Jo are:

  1. Breathing: When raising the Jo, I breathe in. I comfortably inhale through my nose. When I hit or thrust I exhale with a Kiai (war cry).
  2. Kiai: The sound ‘Soo’ on Tsuki (thrust) and ‘Heii’ on the Uchi (cut/hit).
  3. Balance is important.
  4. The footwork is efficient. When walking forward, I use the ball of my foot NOT the heel. I also make sure I don’t sweep the mat, I pick up my feet and step. After training in the ‘Bamboo Forest’ in Iwama where there are rocks, uneven soil, or slippery surfaces, I learned very quickly not to drag or sweep my feet, because I slip or trip.
  5. My pace and timing can achieve ‘awase’ or the ‘blend’.
  6. Zanshin ‘Heightened Awareness’ is on.
  7. Fudoshin ‘Immovable or unperturbed Mind’ is on.

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31 Jo Kata Iwama Aikido Video

Morihiro Saito Sensei


Crom Salvatera Sensei

June 2016

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Iwama Aikido

The Jo Suburi came from Iwama Aikido, a traditional form of Aikido.

Iwama Aikido was the traditional Aikido created by Morihei Ueshiba Osensei when he retired in Iwama after WWII.

Osensei taught Saito Sensei in Iwama. Saito Sensei broke down the Aikido he learned from Osensei so he can teach it and student can learn it step by step.

Iwama Aikido is a style of Aikido that has Bukiwaza (Weapons Techniques) along with Taijutsu as its two pillars.

Knees and Joint Care

Just a heads up. Knee injury is one of the most common problems in martial arts especially in grappling arts like jujutsu, and weapons art like Aikido.

I remember in my early twenties and to mid-thirties I started going through this problem. It was customary and very ‘manly’ to do shiko, suwari-waza, and hanmi handachi without any knee pads. It was even considered ‘cheating’ to wear one. So like most Aikidoka and jujutsu practitioners, I didn’t wear any. I’ve noticed the older I got, the more my knees started clicking and playing up. In the 31 Jo Kata

I got so bad that I had to go to my doctor. My doctor ordered me to wear knee pads and take fish oil tablets.

The short story is it worked. I don’t have any more problems with my knees and it also improved my Aikido because I can do shiko, suwari-waza, and hanmi handachi without any knee issues. It’s like wearing boxing gloves when hitting a heavy bag. It just works. Move 20 to 21 in the 31 Jo kata involves genuflecting (kneeling on one leg). I highly recommend wearing knee pads rather than compromising your technique.

I feel strongly about this that I write about ‘Knee Care’ in all articles and posts that involves kneeling in our website.

Please wear knee pads. Here are the ones that I use, they have satin fabric so it’s comfortable to the back knee even when sweaty. Although I have news one, I still have the original ones I bought in Tokyo and Kasama back in 2009.

Go and GET them. Do yourself a favour. Wear them during Keiko. Don’t be a hero on this. Be smarter with your training. Just DO IT. Get them.

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Bushido Aikido Mind

The Aikido Mind of the Modern Samurai

The Aikido Mind came from the five Spirits of Budo ‘The Way of The Warrior’.

When one adds the spirit and mindset to the way of the warrior, we now have ‘Bushido’ – The Way of the Warrior’s Mind and Spirit. Bushido is the software that gives elegance to a martial artist.

This article is not just for Aikido, it is for people who want to be the best he or she can be in their martial art.

Whether you are practising Kyokushin or GKR Karate, Boxing near Chatswood, part of Judo NSW, or doing Muay Thai in Sydney on a higher level, you need a proper mindset to keep you going (otherwise like everyone else, you’ll quit) and achieve heights in your martial artistry. Yes, that’s right, it’s no longer just learning kata or sparring. With the right mindset, you become a good artist in your art.

In Aikido, ‘mind’ and ‘spirit’ are sometimes interchangeable, the same way that Ki can be translated into intention, living energy, spirit, momentum, or force.

In this post, I want to talk about the ‘Five Aikido Minds’ or the ‘Five Spirits of Budo’. This is Aikido Mental Training.

Due to the purpose of this post and for simplicity, I will call the ‘Five Spirits of Budo’ and ‘Aikido Mind’ interchangeably.

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Aikido Mind: Shoshin – Beginner’s Mind

The Aikido mind starts with the kind of attitude that you probably had when you first started martial arts. You were excited and eager to learn Aikido.

You had an attitude of openness, eagerness, and had no preconceptions of how to do your techniques. Remember when all you want is to just learn? This is the Aikido mind that you should have, even when you get to the point of learning advanced Aikido.

Shoshin is the first Aikido Mind we gain and probably the easiest one to lose. We need to have the curiosity (Shoshin) of a child to progress and master any endeavour.

Please don’t fall into the trap of thinking that you already know everything that you need to know. You will become complacent, arrogant, and you will no longer learn and improve.

The person who thinks that he or she already knows everything is not open to learning anything new. You will notice that you fell into the trap of ‘Anti-Shoshin’ (for the lack of a better word) when you negatively criticise other martial arts or other styles of Aikido that don’t look like yours.

You can spot ‘Anti-Shoshin’ during Keiko. Here are examples of ‘Anti-Shoshin’:

  • Your technique didn’t work, so you blame your uke for grabbing you or punching you incorrectly. Your technique didn’t work not because of your uke, but because need more practice. Admit it’s your fault, have the beginners mind, and move on to correct your technique.
  • You couldn’t throw someone because they were too tall, short, fat, thin, didn’t commit, or they were purposely stopping you. You blame them and correct them instead of correcting your technique. This may help your ego but it won’t help you improve your Aikido.
  • You went to an Aikido seminar and you were training with another person from another dojo. Your technique didn’t work because they were doing it differently than what your Sensei taught you. You blame them and their Aikido style. You leave the seminar in a belief that the whole thing was a waste of time because they didn’t understand the ‘real’ Aikido. This is ‘Anti-Shoshin’.


‘Anti-Shoshin’ is arrogance that can get yourself beaten up or killed in a fight.

To progress effectively in Aikido, maintain Shoshin – the beginner’s mind. Choose Shoshin even when you get to the higher levels of Aikido. Maintain Shoshin when you are training with others and continue to learn Aikido and Budo from everyone you meet.

Shoshin is what is going to help you keep going in your Aikido journey. Remember, your attention and intention follow your curiosity – your Shoshin.

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Aikido Mind: Zanshin – Lingering Mind

Zanshin is a state of mind where you are totally in the NOW – the present moment. It is a state where you are completely aware of your environment and your surroundings. You are relaxed but aware and alert.

When doing ‘Tai No Henko’ or ‘Morote Dori Kokyu Ho’ at the beginning of each class, exaggerate the Zanshin at the end of your Kiai. A little tip, the purpose of the fourth move in Morote Dori Kokyu Ho is to train your Zanshin.

The most noteworthy element during randori and especially on the multi-attacker level is the element of Zanshin. If you are not aware of everyone, then you will be overwhelmed because every attack is a surprise. When I say everyone, I meant every single person attacking you. The reality is, unless you are a miracle worker, gifted, and blessed by the gods, you can only deal with one person at a time. Zanshin is necessary to position yourself to deal with one person at a time. The fun part is doing this without concentrating too much on one person in a relaxed state.

Now, let me break your mind. Imagine Zanshin as a version of ‘happo-giri’ (eight directional cuts) on a multi-dimensional level. Have a happo-giri awareness on both the horizontal level and also on your vertical axis. If you could see this three-dimensional shape, then you would see that Zanshin covers every direction.

It is a state of being totally aware of your environment – front, back, up, down, and both sides.

Zanshin is a state of total awareness where your mind is alert and prepared for action. This can only be achieved by serious practice, real focus without effort, and most of all not playing around. Zanshin can be achieved by being strict with your training. Consequently, Zanshin is a state of mind where the concept of takemusu can spring forth.

Mushin – No Mind

Mushin literally means mind-no-mind or empty mind. It is a state where you are acting but not having to think about your actions. Achieving the state of Mushin is at the core of Japanese martial arts and can only be achieved by years of practice.

Mushin was popularised by the movie ‘The Last Samurai”.

The moon’s reflection in a lake is only clear when the water is perfectly still. If there are waves or ripples, the moon’s reflection is distorted. You could think of Mushin as being in a state of mind where there is no distortion or thoughts, yet you are still acting.

Think of it like this, when you first learn to drive a car, you have to mentally think about everything you do. You consciously think about turning on a turn signal, checking both ways, where your hands are, your speed, etc. But once you have mastered driving your car, you do all of those things without having to think about doing them. That is Mushin. You act without having to think about what you are doing because you have mastered that specific action.

The Japanese say that Mushin cannot be understood with the intellect, but rather, it must be experienced. And that is true. When you go into Mushin, your mind is quiet, but your body is acting. To achieve this state, your mind must be free from any conscious thought, including anger, hesitation, doubt, fear, or thinking about how to do what you are doing. You simply act. You allow your spirit to guide your body.

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Fudoshin – Immovable Mind

Fudoshin represents a mind that is totally at peace, in every situation. It is a mind that is filled with courage and determination. There is no fear in the immovable mind. It is in a state of complete composure and peace.

The word Fudoshin came from Fudo Myoo, a venerated god in Japanese esoteric Buddhism. Fudo is the righteous warrior’s god and guardian. Fudō converts anger into salvation, he has a furious, glaring face, as Fudō seeks to frighten people into accepting the goodness of life. Fudo carries “Kurihara” or devil-subduing sword in right hand (representing wisdom cutting through ignorance). He holds a rope in the left hand (to catch and bind up demons). Fudo often has a third eye in the forehead (all-seeing- Zanshin). He is often seated or standing on a rock (because Fudō is “immovable” in his faith). Fudoshin means Fudo’s state of mind.

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When you have achieved the immovable mind, you will feel that you can achieve anything, that you are invincible. Your mind cannot be disturbed, no matter what. In this state, you are able to face fear, danger, and even death with a calm spirit. No one can intimidate you, not one attacker, and not even multiple attackers.

When you develop your mind to the point of having Fudoshin, or an immovable mind, you will be free from anger, fear, and doubt. You will approach every situation with a calm mind that can’t be moved.

Senshin – Enlightened Mind

The enlightened mind is the highest level of the five Aikido minds. At this level, you will hold all life as sacred. You will be able to perceive how everything fits together to make the whole. You will understand how each part of the Universe is connected and how something that affects one part of the Universe will ultimately affect us all. I believe Osensei have achieved this level.

Once you reach this level you will see the world in a totally different way. Your thoughts and intentions will be pure and sincere. You will wish harm to none. Your mind and spirit will become one.

Reaching Senshin is truly rare. It is not something that you can force, but something that will come after a lifetime of practice in controlling your thoughts and purifying your spirit.

Think about it, some people achieve enlightenment through various practices. Some lead a monastic life and meditate for hours and hours. Some even do corporal rituals like some extreme yogis from India. Osensei did it through the practice of Aikido. I think that is amazing, and the idea of enlightenment is more real for me, now that I am aware that it could be done.

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Us Aikidoka has an opportunity to achieve enlightenment through our Aikido training. For me, this is the most exciting part of Aikido.

This is a very basic overview of the five minds of Aikido. Each of these can be delved into much deeper. It was my intention to give you a basic overview of each part, a basic understanding if you will.

In conclusion, we must be sincere in our training. This is my challenge to myself and to you. Put your spirit, mind and body into your training each and every session. The only purpose of training is to get better. Even the most incremental progress (kaizen) is still progress, you are getting better. So next time you go to Keiko, adapt the five minds there and then. Start growing your Aikido mind.

A lot of my fellow Aikidoka friends asked me to share this post in a more public space. I hope you benefit from the Aikido mind. I hope this post helps your Aikido. Even more, I hope that this post helps your personal life, as it has helped me.


The information from this post is as old as the Samurai.

If you want to read more and deepen your understanding of the Aikido Mind and the Five Spirits of Budo, then read this book.

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