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 student without breaking him, but the daito-ryu aikijujutsu technique will require a very good ukemi (falling technique). The modern aikido technique will twist your arm, forcing you to the mat. The old-style technique twists your arm in an effort to remove it from your body. You are often required to throw yourself into a rather spectacular fall in an effort to keep the arm from being dislocated. Most modern throwing techniques will result in large, circular rolls, while their older counterparts cause hard, judo-style falls. This sudden, painful action is a characteristic of all old styles and illustrates a key factor of traditional martial arts. Modern martial arts dilute their self-defense techniques in order to allow a beginner to practice safely. Traditional ryu however, takes the attitude, “If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the fire.” If a few beginners get broken, that’s their own problem. Techniques are not altered for the student’s benefit. When you practice a self-defense technique, if your partner smiles, it is modern aikido. If he screams, it is daito-ryu aikijujutsu.

Daito-Ryu Aikijujutsu

Although the traditional forms of aiki lack much of the fluid grace of their more modern cousins, they more than make up for it with combat realism. The daito-ryu aikijujutsu idea of a good training partner is someone who weighs about 300 pounds and has a grip like a hydraulic vise. If they can manage to throw someone like that, after he has been allowed to plant both feet and hold as tight as possible, they know that the technique really works.

Katsumi Yonezawa, a Daito-Ryu Aikijujutsu Master

One of the most prominent practitioners of the art, Katsumi Yonezawa of Hokkaido, Japan, annually visits the United States to teach this ancient art. From the headquarters of the American branch of the Daito-Ryu Kodo Kai in San Luis Obispo, he travels throughout California giving lectures and seminars. A small man, Katsumi Yonezawa is a schoolteacher, and if you fail to notice the very thick wrists, you might think that’s all he is. He has a very disarming smile and gentle manner that tends to relax people in his presence. His disciples have learned to ignore this, for they know that he is still smiling while busily at work tying their arms into complex knots. Katsumi Yonezawa’s students have also learned to pay particular attention to how he acts before class. If he sits at the edge of the mat waiting for class to start, there will be only the normal amount of pain. However, if he starts doing stretching exercises, students start looking at each other and quietly groaning in anticipation of some brutal throws. When Katsumi Yonezawa actually goes so far as to practice his ukemi, students start looking for a place to hide. Daito-ryu aikijujutsu is not for everybody. It is just too physically demanding to ever be practiced by the wide range of students studying modern aikido. But to those who are interested in the foundations of the martial art, it offers both a window into the past and a gate to the future. Daito-ryu aikijujutsu is an unchanging path, straight down the middle of all of the modern variations of aiki. (F.J. Lovret is the head instructor of the San Diego Budokan and the owner of Nippon-To, a shop specializing in the sale of antique Japanese swords.)
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Do you want to maximize your self defense skills? Learn the game of combat chess and most importantly the queen of all moves.

Allow me to intercept those who would object to the title of this article. I'm not claiming that there's a secret move, shortcut or hack that will give you the edge in any fight. Even if there was an ultimate weapon or strategy, you likely would avoid it because you
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Looking to buy some weights to gain some strength?

Looking at Dumbbell, Kettlebells or Weighted bar? How about an all in one that won't just save you some good amount of money but also space? Look no further, we bring you the GRIPBELL!

Let's face it, when we do want to work on some strength building, we don't want to go around shopping for 20 different weight equipment things. That would just not want us to even do any sort of strength training. But what if we only needed a few, a few that can do the things we want without having 20 things lay around? That's where the GRIPBELL comes in. Let me clarify with you first, these are not some heavy duty, muscle exploding weights, they are for building the level of strength we as martial artists want without going crazy and insane in bulk sizing!

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Many different types of "blocks" are taught in most martial arts school. We are taught high blocks, low blocks, middle blocks, knife hand blocks, etc. Some schools will also teach how to use the legs to block an attack, as well.

The purpose of this writing is to possibly open some minds to the possibilities of going outside the box and considering alternatives to the basics.

Blocking is taught as a way of protecting oneself from harm. Truly, we don't "block" anything, as a non-martial artist would think of it. What we call "blocking" is more of a redirection of an opponent's attack, or even a counterstrike against the opponent's attacking limb.

To block something would mean to put something, like your arm, leg or other body part directly in front of the attack. That would certainly hurt and possibly cause some damage. The goal should be to move the attack out of the way in order to prevent injury and provide a way to fight back. For example, many schools teach blocks as a limb moving toward the strike such as a circular high block.

The movement required for a block might have other uses, if you keep an open mind. The blocking techniques can also be used as attack techniques. For example, your "low block" may be used as a striking technique against the outer thigh of the attacker. Your high block might be used as a strike to the jaw. The set up for a block can be used as a deflection, as well as the actual block.

Doing a block or a series of blocks will most likely not end an attack. A block needs to be followed by a counterattack. While the block is usually taught as a separate technique in order to learn it correctly, it should also be used in combination with a counter.

The more you know, the more you realize how much you don't know. Intensive books can and have be written about basic techniques. With this writing, I am hoping to create interest in exploring the additional possibilities for what we have been taught and what we teach others.

About Grand Master Stevens

GM Stevens has been training in taekwondo for 47 years under the tutelage of the late legendary Grand Master Richard Chun. He holds an 8th degree black belt and is certified in the USA and in Korea. Grand Master Stevens is a member of the Board of Directors of the prestigious Richard Chun TaeKwonDo World Headquarters organization. He has been very active in his community and has been a volunteer with the Glen Rock Volunteer Ambulance Corps for over 11 years. He is a certified member of C.E.R.T. (Community Emergency Response Team).

Gary Stevens Taekwondo is located at 175 Rock Road in Glen Rock, New Jersey.

For more information: call (201) 670-7263, email: StevensTKD@aol.com or go to www.StevensTaeKwonDo.com

Having partners at or above your skill level is important for improving in your martial arts training. At some point, however, you will probably find yourself with a shortage of skilled partners, especially if you are an instructor.

This can happen for any number of reasons: students can move away, change their work schedules, start a family, etc., and just like that, you find that you're the highest-ranked student, or sole instructor, in your gym or dojo. This doesn't have to be a bad thing. In fact, if you take advantage of it, even working exclusively with lower-ranking classmates or students can improve your skills.

I used to host a twice-a-week training session at my dojo where I invited mostly black belts from other schools (as well as a few of my advanced students) to come and run drills. It was a blast. These were tough two- to three-hour sessions where I got to work with fighters of all different sizes, speeds, and technique preferences. My sparring improved dramatically over the next few months, and I don't think I've ever been in better shape. But unfortunately, it doesn't always work out that way. And as the old saying goes, "You gotta work with what ya got." So, make it hard on yourself.

I like to set handicaps when fighting my students. Specifically, I focus on forcing myself to work on improving my weak areas. Is you right leg weaker than the left? Then only kick with the right leg when sparring your students. Not much of an inside fighter? Don't kick at all. Training with partners of lesser skill not only helps you improve your weak points but gives them an opportunity to improve as well by working on strategy. It's also great for building their confidence. It can also be a low-cost opportunity to test new techniques and combinations, which benefits you as well.

In grappling, just like sparring, there is little benefit to wrapping lower ranking classmates into pretzels over and over, for them or you. Instead, let your partner put you in a bad situation. Let them get the mount; help them sink in that choke or armbar. If you start standing, such as in judo, allow your partner to get the superior grip before attempting a throw. This way you will get comfortable working out of a weaker position and your less-experienced partner can perfect their technique (and get experience using multiple techniques, if you get out of their first one).

You might think that giving advantages like these to students who may be far beneath your skill level is much of a challenge. Trust me, you'll reconsider that sentiment when you wind up sparring a 6'5" novice with zero control over his strength after deciding to only use your weak leg, or have a 250-pound green belt lying across your diaphragm trying to get an armlock after you let them get the pin. Remember, this is exactly what you signed up for: a challenge.

If you find yourself at the top of the heap without partners who are sufficiently challenging, there is no need to despair. Use it as a low-stress opportunity to improve your weaknesses and develop avenues to help your less experienced classmates and students to grow. You may even be surprised. One day they might present more of a challenge than you ever imagined!
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