Aikijujutsu

The True Meaning of Aiki in Aikido and Aikijujutsu, Part 2

When comparing aikijujutsu and aikido, some generalization is necessary because several styles of aikido and branches of daito-ryu aikijujutsu exist.

Although the technical influence of daito-ryu on aikido is still clear, according to Antonino Certa, a daito-ryu teacher in Milan, Italy, the two are now separate arts with different outlooks. Certa, a longtime student of aikido prior to taking up daito-ryu, stresses that genuine aikijujutsu is not simply “hard aikido” or “aikido plus strikes and weapons.”

For one thing, Certa found that the number of techniques in aikido is far fewer than in daito-ryu. Morihei Ueshiba distilled a core of about 20 main techniques — including shiho-nage, irimi-nage, kote-gaeshi, ikkyo and nikyo — as the basis for aikido. United Kingdom-based aikido instructor Dave Humm agrees but points out that aikidoka can use those core techniques to generate an infinite number of variations based on circumstances, situations and methods of attack. The ethos, he says, is to be able to make any one of those applications fit any given situation.

In daito-ryu, however, the approach is very different. The techniques number several hundred, and each is performed only in a small number of situations for which it’s deemed most suitable — for instance, when kneeling, when standing, when attacked from behind, when attacked by a taller person and so forth. No attempt is made to fit a technique to all situations.

Sogaku Takeda’s son and successor Tokimune Takeda

Sogaku Takeda’s son and successor, Tokimune Takeda, sits with students in their dojo in Hokkaido, Japan.

Certa found that aikido practice is generally conducted in a more “free” way than aikijujutsu, with a continuous flow and the use of circles to bind movements and applications together. In contrast, daito-ryu uses mostly formal, two-person kata practice. The techniques are short and direct, and tend to be more linear and angular than circular.

Daito-ryu also tends to favor throwing with a dropping motion, rather than an outward projection as in aikido. The objective in daito-ryu is to keep the thrown enemy close so he can be finished off, if need be. Also, where aikido often favors controlling (osae) the opponent without causing excessive pain or injury, daito-ryu leans toward breaking (kansetsu).

Relative Lethality

Another important point is that daito-ryu doesn’t claim to be a purely defensive system: There are several formal techniques in which one makes a pre-emptive attack rather than waiting for the enemy to strike first.

Although much of aikido seems to be practiced as a defensive form, Humm believes that it can be employed proactively in real situations simply by changing the mind-set. His experience as a prison officer serving in high-security establishments has shown that while the application looks nothing like the techniques in the dojo, the principles behind the techniques (distancing, blending and unbalancing) are definitely valid and have served him well when he’s had to initiate encounters.

The martial and often brutal spirit of daito-ryu is illustrated by the explanations of Takeda’s son and successor Tokimune Takeda. In an interview in Daito-ryu Aikijujutsu, by Stanley Pranin, Tokimune states, “The essence of daito-ryu is to keep alert until you have cut the enemy’s throat.” In modern times, health and safety regulations and the hassle of lawsuits make it a little impractical to actually cut the throats of partners in training. Therefore, the essence of the final kill has been preserved in a symbolic way: The practitioner delivers a sword-hand strike to the downed opponent, accompanying it with a sharp kiai.

Daito-ryu features more use of atemi waza (striking techniques) than do most aikido styles. In the early days, aikido training did include a large amount of striking — Ueshiba is famously quoted as saying, “Atemi is 99 percent of aikido” — but this seems to have been de-emphasized in many styles as the years progressed. The atemi in daito-ryu use the fist, the edge of the hand, the elbow and the feet, and are crucial parts of many techniques.

There’s also a difference in the use of weapons. Some daito-ryu branches incorporate the classical sword style of ono-ha itto-ryu and consider kenjutsu important for understanding the daito-ryu system. In addition to the sword, some techniques involving the tessen (iron fan), jutte (truncheon), tanto (knife), shuriken (throwing stars) and other weapons are taught at the higher levels in some branches. A few substyles of daito-ryu are alleged to contain aiki nito (two-sword) and spear techniques, but they’re rarely seen today. Aikido, on the other hand, is largely an unarmed art, although some styles, notably the iwama style, do include some sword and jo (staff) training.

The advanced teachings of daito-ryu also include aiki no jutsu, which are throwing techniques that appear to have been one of Ueshiba’s specialties, forming the basis for the kokyu nage (breath throw) of aikido.

Certa regards aiki as an important …

The True Meaning of Aiki in Aikido and Aikijujutsu, Part 1

What’s so aiki about peace, love and understanding?

Aikido is one of the best-known martial arts in the world, yet the meaning of the word aiki is not well understood. Most people, including many of the 1 million who study aikido today, are probably familiar with Morihei Ueshiba’s famous interpretation — namely, universal love and harmony.

In the classical Japanese martial arts, however, it has a different — and definitely more combative — meaning. Ueshiba’s own jujitsu teacher Sogaku Takeda defined aiki as “the ability to defeat an enemy with a single glance.”

So which one is right?

The hanza hantachi technique is part of daito-ryu aikijujutsu and aikido.

Hanza hantachi techniques performed from a seated position against a standing opponent (above) are found in daito-ryu aikijujutsu and aikido. They’re said to have originated from methods used to fight inside a palace, where much time was spent seated.

Koryu Bujutsu and Aiki

The concept of aiki can be found in some of Japan’s koryu bujutsu, or classical martial arts, and should not be thought of as unique to aikido. However, the interpretation of the word changed significantly by the time aikido was formed.

The koryu bujutsu were the arts in use during Japan’s feudal era beginning around the 15th century and ending in the late 19th century. They were primarily systems of combat practiced by the professional military classes rather than the civilian population. They included arts such as jujitsu and kenjutsu.

The modern budo — which include karate-do, judo, aikido and kendo — don’t focus on combat to the same extent. They’re considered vehicles for spiritual development and self-improvement, although great skill in fighting may certainly be achieved, as well.

For a better discussion of the differences between the koryu arts and the modern systems than is possible in this article, Donn F. Draeger’s three-part series The Martial Arts and Ways of Japan is recommended.

The word “aiki” literally means a fusion or meeting of energy. It’s no accident that it’s an anagram of the word kiai (focusing the spirit), and indeed the distinction between the two is blurry.

In the koryu arts, the application of aiki first appeared in kenjutsu schools (see Aikido: Tradition and the Competitive Edge, by Fumiaki Shishida and Tetsuro Nariyama) and referred to a contest of wills between combatants. Some other interpretations include the ability to gain the initiative and to use physical and psychological techniques to unbalance a foe. Over time, more esoteric meanings were offered, which would make any Jedi knight proud. They included the ability to see in the dark, to bring a walking man to a stop and to read minds (see The Fighting Spirit of Japan, by E.J. Harrison).

Several jujitsu and judo schools also teach the concept of aiki, but the first one to formally include it in its name was daito-ryu aikijujutsu.

Two Remarkable Men

Daito-ryu master Sogaku Takeda may not have looked anything like Tom Cruise, but it would be apt to describe him as the real “last samurai.” Takeda was born in 1859 in Aizu, Japan, and lived through the Meiji Restoration, the ending of the feudal age and the final days of the samurai caste.

From childhood, he was trained in several of the bujutsu of the Aizu clan, including the ono-ha itto-ryu style of kenjutsu and the family art of daito-ryu aikijujutsu. According to oral legends, aikijujutsu was created around 1100 and passed down secretly within the Takeda family. It’s said to have originated from sumo wresting and unarmed sword strikes. Daito (“great east”) was the name of the area in which Yoshimitsu Minamoto, the alleged creator, lived.

ono-ha-itto-ryu style of kenjutsu

One of the fighting arts Sogaku Takeda learned as a child was the ono-ha itto-ryu style of kenjutsu (above).

Despite standing less than 5 feet tall, Takeda was a formidable fighter and personally pressure-tested his skills in several life-or-death encounters. The most notorious incident occurred when he was in his early 20s and fought a gang of construction workers in Fukushima. Takeda killed around seven of them with his sword after they attacked him with weapons and tools.

During his lifetime, Takeda taught thousands of people. His most famous pupil, however, was undoubtedly Morihei Ueshiba, founder of aikido.

Ueshiba met Takeda in Hokkaido, the northernmost island of Japan, in 1915. Ueshiba was already a strong fighter with considerable training in other jujitsu styles, but he found he was no match for Takeda. Consequently, Ueshiba abandoned all his activities to study with his superior. Contrary to the beliefs of many aikidoka, Ueshiba studied daito-ryu for a long time — Takeda’s meticulous records indicate that he trained for more than 20 years.

Ueshiba would later modify the daito-ryu techniques he learned and combine them with the spiritual teachings of the Omoto-kyo religion to create what we now know as aikido. In …

Rebel Isshin-Ryu Karate: Isshin Kempo’s Controversial Kata Concept

Black Belt featured the fist of isshin kempo founder William S. Russell on its April 1977 cover, along with a two-part feature on his take on the martial arts. Three decades later, we thought readers would appreciate an update on the evolution of the system through the eyes of its current leader, Christopher J. Goedecke.

If isshin-ryu karate, birthed on Okinawa in the mid-1950s, was considered a radical system for its unique karate techniques—like its thumb-on-top fist formation and forearm blocking—then isshin kempo, the American offshoot founded in 1970 by the late William S. Russell, can be considered a radical commentary on mainstream isshin-ryu.

Begin with a bewildering assertion from isshin kempo’s current leader, Christopher J. Goedecke: “There are no punches in the isshin-ryu kata.” The lanky, articulate sensei says that after nearly four decades of practicing traditional isshin-ryu forms, “the internal structure of isshin kata present immensely rich and layered techniques beyond the obvious kick/punch responses. It has become our challenge to unlock as many of these lessons as possible.”

Isshin kempo evolved around several core questions espoused by Russell. Trained in Western boxing with peripheral studies in aikijujutsu, mantis kung fu and the hung system of kung, he believed the early presentation of isshin-ryu kata appeared disparate from actual fighting. He wondered if the gap resulted from a misunderstanding of the depth of its kata by early American followers and wasn’t a design flaw. Years of professional boxing lessons with a Golden Gloves champion, a tough teenage street life and his enrollment in a pioneering New Jersey martial arts school prompted him to anchor his forms with more realistic interpretations.

“Russell never doubted the effectiveness of isshin-ryu,” Christopher J. Goedecke says. “Like other professionals, he suspected that pioneering American students had simply not penetrated their kata’s core lessons. No one expected any U.S. servicemen, in a few tours of duty, to walk away with a full grasp of the teachings of a master with 59 years of experience.”

Isshin kempo grew out of William S. Russell’s scrutiny of the isshin-ryu karate system he found himself drawn to in his early 20s. Considered a rebel for his radical ideas about turning stress into productive energy, William S. Russell had a physical prowess and curious mind that ferried him through the ranks to eventually helm one of New Jersey’s premiere dojo. The Bank Street School, founded in 1962, was a high-ceiling, two-room facility that covered nearly 3,500 square feet. Its teaching roster included some of New Jersey’s top instructors: Robert Murphy, founder of isshin shorinji-ryu Okinawa-te; Shimamoto Mamoru, All-Japan judo champion; Gary Alexander, founder of isshin-ryu plus; and Edward Doyle, American-goju headmaster under Peter Urban.

The 1,000-man dojo that William S. Russell built in the 1970s provided grist for his theories about karate’s potential to unify the body/mind complex and tap into stores of personal energy. In his 1977 Black Belt feature, he stated, “The principal aim of karate is nothing less than to make its practitioners into complete, fully realized human beings, both mentally and physically—people who can call forth all their resources and use their total capabilities at will.”

William S. Russell’s system has since expanded into a multifaceted martial art with numerous followers who’ve stuck with it for more than 20 years. William S. Russell named his fledgling art “isshin” for its kata curriculum and “kempo” for the classical values he infused into it.

“Although Russell’s focus later shifted into the motivational and psychological realms, he was a strong kata advocate who planted the seeds for a technical legacy through his keen perceptions of isshin-ryu kata,” Goedecke says. “Since its 50-year run in the United States, isshin-ryu karate has gone through some difficult periods of fragmentation with limited reunification. This created technical ambiguities that Russell sought to clarify by provoking intelligent dialogue about isshin-ryu’s kata.”

Although the language has changed since the 1970s, Christopher J. Goedecke says that isshin kempo’s most significant distinction remains that of following the enlightenment traditions of the martial ways. “Our overall objective is to achieve a healthy state of ‘no conflict.’ This is not a contradictory aim. To understand the nature of conflict, you must find an arena in which to explore it. Martial arts provide the perfect arena. Martial study is ultimately about cultivating peace.”

Technically, isshin kempo consists of the Shaolin-originated rokushu (six-palm pattern) and a compact short form called “double arrow,” which slightly resembles the I-patterned taikyoku shodan form still taught in some isshin-ryu schools. Students warm up with kempo yoga, and black belts practice internal-strength techniques. Other non-isshin-ryu influences include kobudo forms with a 3-foot-long hanbo (short staff).

“We do, however, utilize all the isshin kata,” Christopher J. Goedecke says. “For most isshin-ryu schools, that consists of eight essential forms generally taught in sequence as seisan, seiuchin, naihanchi,

The Morihei Ueshiba Biography: From Sumo to Aikido

Aikido’s founder, Morihei Ueshiba, was born in 1883 in the fishing and farming village of Tanabe, Japan. He was the only surviving son of a prosperous father and cultured mother who considered him their gift from heaven. His premature birth hindered his physical development; even when he was fully grown, he was little more than 5 feet tall.

His father, Yoroku Ueshiba, became concerned about the boy’s small and weak physique and encouraged him to engage in sumo wrestling, swimming and running. As the youth progressed in the sports, he began to realize his physical potential.

Other than mathematics and physics, classroom studies held little interest for the young Morihei Ueshiba. Instead, he wanted to learn meditation, chants and religious rites from Buddhist priests.

Morihei Ueshiba was a restless spirit in his younger days, charging from one occupation to the next, performing his duties easily but finding no challenge in them. At the age of 18, he was drawn to the martial arts, and until his death, the arts continued to delight and nourish him.

Morihei Ueshiba Discovers Jujutsu

Morihei Ueshiba quit his first and second jobs because they were too confining. When he became politically involved in helping local fishermen fight an oppressive new law, his councilman father lost patience. He gave his son some money and told him to find a career that suited him.

After a sojourn in Tokyo as a shopkeeper, Morihei Ueshiba developed a severe case of boredom, and because of his poor diet, he came down with beriberi. Although he ended up back home with empty pockets, he was able to tell his father that he had found the martial art of jujutsu enjoyable.

In 1902 Morihei Ueshiba married Hatsu Itogawa, but little is known of her. A year later he was called to serve in Japan’s armed forces but was turned away for being one-half inch too short. The determined young man then hid in the mountains and trained passionately, sometimes hanging from trees with weights on his feet. He was accepted by the infantry the following year and served in the Russo-Japanese War.

Morihei Ueshiba and the War

Little is known of Morihei Ueshiba’s 18-month tour of duty except that he was praised by his superiors, who recommended that he make the army his career. Morihei Ueshiba chose to go back to civilian life, however.

In 1905 the war ended, but Morihei Ueshiba was ill and depressed because of the bitter fighting and the spilled blood of innocents on both sides. Throughout his early and middle years, these periods of illness seemed to overcome him whenever suffering increased in the world, especially in Japan.

A baby girl arrived at the Ueshiba household in 1910, and for a while Morihei Ueshiba’s spirits lifted. Three boys were born later, but only one, Kishomaru, survived to take his father’s place as an aikido leader.

Aikido’s Daito-Ryu Aikijujutsu Roots

The art of aikido traces its origin to daito-ryu aikijujutsu, which is said to have been founded by Prince Teijun (850-880), the sixth son of the emperor Seiwa. Centuries later, certain elements of daito-ryu aikijujutsu were still being passed down as the secret art of the Takeda house and were made known only to members and retainers of that family. Sokaku Takeda, a daito-ryu aikijujutsu expert, spent some time in Hokkaido and met Morihei Ueshiba in 1915, but their relationship suffered from jealousy and ill will. Morihei Ueshiba did, however, manage to receive certification in daito-ryu aikijujutsu from Sokaku Takeda.

As a young man, Morihei Ueshiba developed about 200 self-defense forms, some of which he had learned from Takeda. In 1922 he organized his own style of aikijujutsu, which he called aiki bujutsu. He later used it as a starting point from which to create his own martial art. Morihei Ueshiba traveled to China twice to observe the Chinese martial arts, and he incorporated those ideas into his aiki bujutsu. In particular, experts have noted similarities with the internal teachings of tai chi chuan and pa kua chang.

Aikido and Ki Power

In 1936 Morihei Ueshiba renamed his art aiki budo, and in 1942 he emerged with a mature, modified art—now officially called aikido. The new name is a combination of separate ideas: ai means harmony, ki means spirit or energy, and do means discipline. The master also added elements of other ancient martial arts, including swordsmanship and kito-ryu jujutsu, and included many martial arts techniques of his own. Emphasis was always placed on using ki to increase a person’s strength.

In his classes, Morihei Ueshiba discouraged his students from mimicking his movements and forms. Instead, he wanted them to practice a form so many times that it became part of their being. “Learn and forget,” he would say. “Make the technique a part of your body …

Daito Ryu Aikijujutsu vs. Aikido

Daito-ryu is a Japanese core style from which many modern variations have sprung. Shorinji kempo, hapkido, Kodokan judo and aiki are martial arts that were originated by disciples of daito-ryu that have since splintered into numerous modern variations of their own.

Daito-ryu aikijujutsu is one such splinter style that has somehow managed to adhere to the traditional teachings of its core style forerunner (daito-ryu) and its predecessor (aiki). But because of its adherence to tradition—and its insistence on retaining most of the more painful and deadly self-defense techniques—the martial art has remained relatively obscure.

Although there are several thousand disciples of the art in Japan, daito-ryu aikijujutsu is almost totally unknown in the United States. Most senior students of modern aikido know that their art descended from daito-ryu, but many are under the impression that the daito system became extinct several generations ago.

Aiki’s Many Branches

At the present time, there are more than 40 different styles of aiki in Japan, with most of them emanating from the modern branch started by Morihei Uyeshiba. While modern styles are widely taught in the United States, the older forms are little known, leaving many people with the idea that there is only one style of the art. Actually, old densho (teaching scrolls) are full of mention of aiki.

Long a secret art, aiki was first openly taught by Takeda Sokaku in the early part of this century. Takeda Sokaku was a man of frightening spiritual power and one of the last of the old swordsmen. In addition to being the 24th-generation headmaster of the daito-ryu, he was a master of itto-ryu kenjutsu (sword) and hozoin-ryu sojutsu (spear). He was one of the most influential and least known of the great Japanese masters of the 20th century. Among the more famous daito-ryu disciples were Morihei Uyeshiba (founder of modern aikido), Doshin So (founder of shorinji kenpo) and Yong Shul Choi (founder of hapkido). Another great was Shiro Shida, immortalized in such films as Sanshiro Sugata, who played a major part in the founding of Kodokan judo. Many people are not aware that he won many matches for the Kodokan, in the early days when it was struggling for survival, using the daito-ryu technique of yama arashi (mountain storm).

Modern aiki has gone through many profound changes during the past 50 years, primarily because of the efforts of Morihei Uyeshiba. A man of tremendous physical strength, he is the most famous disciple of Takeda Sokaku. He started teaching daito-ryu aikijujutsu but soon began making changes in the art. As he changed techniques, he also changed the name of the style, using successively daito-ryu aikijutsu, kobukan aikijujutsu, kobukai aiki budo, tenshin aikido, takemusu aiki budo and finally aikido. This last change came at the end of World War II. The bu was dropped because of the Allied occupation ban on practicing martial arts. As Jigoro Kano did with judo, Morihei Uyeshiba eliminated many dangerous techniques and modified others for safety. This allowed aikido to be practiced by a much wider range of people than the more violent aikijutsu styles, thus greatly increasing its popularity.

Daito Ryu Aikijujutsu vs. Modern Aiki Styles

The first thing that one may notice when practicing daito-ryu aikijujutsu is the power of the attacks. In most of the modern aiki styles, the attacks tend to be rather soft. If your training partner resists the technique, he does so not with his arms but by motion of his hips. However, in daito-ryu aikijujutsu training, the attacks are full power. When your partner grabs your wrist, he does so with the intention of trying to prevent even the slightest motion of your hand. He grabs hard, locking every muscle in his body, as if he was trying to crush the bone in your forearm. Proper practice should result in a mass of finger-shaped bruises on your forearm the next day.

The spiritual differences are equally evident. In the old days, masters used the terms aiki and kiai interchangeably. They thought of aiki as a method of spiritually overpowering an opponent, and it was a part of many arts, especially kenjutsu (fencing). While most modern styles think of aiki as a process of gently blending with an opponent in order to control him, daito-ryu aikijujutsu adheres to the traditional approach and treats aiki as a powerful blast of spiritual energy, little different from the karate kiai.

Falling for Daito-Ryu’s Techniques

Technically, the differences between traditional and modern aiki are very obvious. Although there are exceptions, almost all the modern aikido’s techniques stress the use of very large circles. Daito-ryu, on the other hand, tends to use very small circles. While the small-circle techniques are much more combat efficient, they are much harder to practice. You can use large circle techniques on even a beginning …