This week I have been working a lot on the importance of foot work to Aiki. Now I practice Dentokan Aiki Jujutsu, which as I have explained before is based on the Hakko Ryu system of Aiki Jujutsu in Japan. Ours is an Aiki art but it is also very much a Jujutsu art as well. I was fortunate to work one-to-one with one of my instructors this week and we focussed, amongst other things, on the importance of foot work in applying Aiki. It can be generally argued as Dentokan Aiki Jujutsu is a Jutsu art that it would fall under the category of Japanese Bujutsu, meaning art or science of war. Generally speaking these arts place less emphasis on the ‘philosophy’ of the art, and focus more on the effectiveness of the techniques in combat. On a very simplistic level it could be said that Aiki-Jujutsu is Aikido without the philosophical connotations. Does then that change the nature of our use of Aiki as compared to Aikido? I have always understood Aiki to simply be the application of off-balancing your opponent as they attack. Indeed this is precisely the use of Aiki as found in Daito-Ryu Aiki Jujutsu, the predecessor to both Hakko Ryu Jujutsu and Aikido and a true Koryu (ancient art) of Japan.
In Daito-Ryu Aiki Jujutsu Aiki is the off-balancing of your attacker as they enter for an attack. Examples given included Tachiai Ippondori and Shihonage. Both of these techniques have their equivalents in Dentokan Aiki Jujutsu. Here Tachiai Ippondori relates to Uchi Komi Dori and Shihonage is the same. Let’s take Tachiai Ippondori (Uchi Komi Dori) – here the uke (attacker) raises their arm in an overhead strike, simulating a sword cut. At the moment the uke raises their arms over their head the tori makes the block with two straight arms before the uke has a chance to strike, thus breaking their posture. It is an extremely simple principle but it makes an enormous amount of difference compared to the straight forward Jujutsu version where the block is executed after the uke has made the strike. In the Jujutsu version the attacker is on posture when the technique is executed and is therefore much stronger. In the example of Shihonage the uke grabs the tori’s wrist with the intention of preventing them from drawing their sword. Here the tori leads the uke off-balance at the point of entry - the tori moves their hand back just as the uke is coming to grab making them over extend their reach just slightly, breaking their balance. Rather than the uke being static and contact being made before the technique is executed, in Aiki Jujutsu the hand is drawn back just before contact thus making the uke over extend their reach breaking their balance.
In both of these examples there is no mystical energy force being summoned just extremely precise reactions designed to break the person’s balance at the moment of attack. Once a person’s balance is taken their strength is negated. This does relate to energy, insofar as it is blending to a degree with the attacker’s energy, but blending is an expression of yielding the very principle at the heart of Jujutsu. Therefore Aiki is a natural extension of Jujutsu. From my experience of Dentokan Aiki Jujutsu and my study of Aiki as practised in Daito-Ryu Aiki Jujutsu, Aiki is a science, the science of taking posture in correlation to the successful execution of Jujutsu techniques. In this respect techniques using Aiki have the potential to be very powerful and effective and far more likely to be successful. However, developing the sharpness of perception and precision reaction times in order to off-balance your attacker at the moment of attack takes many, many hours of practice. This is the irony of the criticisms levelled at Aiki arts for being unrealistic for self-defence. It may require years of training but once you are able to off-balance your opponent at the moment of attack the likelihood of successfully defending yourself dramatically increases.