Saturday, 16 March 2013

What is Aiki? Part II

I wrote a blog last year about what aiki was from my understanding of the concept at that time. In hindsight I am embarrassed by this blog and my own ignorance and have considered deleting it; however, I've decided to leave it on my blog page as evidence of my ongoing study and understanding of aiki. I now approach the subject with far more humility.

For fear of appearing foolish yet again I am merely going to limit this blog to identifying the fundamental principles that from my study of Daito-Ryu Aiki-Jujutsu and Aikido are central to the application and nature of aiki. These are:

1. Ma'ai - the appropriate distance between you and your opponent to create the maximal effect of the technique.
2. Metsuke - the discernment of your opponent's actions and movements through the focus/fixation of your eyes.
3. Kuzushi - the breaking of your opponent's balance and posture
4. Kokyuho - the practise of breathing and the timing of your breathing while executing the techniques to create the maximal effect. 
5. Marui (Ju) - the circle. The geometric shape of the circle is of intrinsic importance to both Jujutsu and Aikido on a technical and philosophical level. I have read that it comes from the Japanese word "Ju" meaning gentleness or softness. It is a principle I have spoken of before when I have explained my interpretation of "Ju" as being "to yield".
6. Irimi - the point of entering into your opponent's attack. Irimi is - as far as I currently understand it - the combination of principles 1-5: it requires a good judgement of ma'ai, which is adjusted appropriately through metsuke, and the exercise of correct kokyu to effect kuzushi so that your opponent cannot finish their attack resulting in blending with that energy in order to create Ju. 

I am sure there are many more principles to the successful application and understanding of aiki that I am not currently aware of, so my list is not exhaustive. These 6 principles are what I am currently trying to learn and apply adeptly. What I am learning and growing to appreciate all the time is the very martial nature of aiki. As Katsuyuki Kondo, doshu of Daito-Ryu Aiki-Jujutsu explains without learning how to apply aiki, just learning the Jujutsu techniques will be for nothing.


  1. Hi Ewen. Nice to see you investigating. I myself am writing about principles on a blog ie: my reflections. The way I teach I have explained on Aikiweb before as just principles, that's all I teach. I think I could give you some insights and food for thought on the above things you mention. G.

  2. I'll start with Irimi. Rather than Irimi technique but irimi motion which is the basis of the technique. Irimi can be translated as 'to pass behind'. So yes it is to do with entering but to understand it we must look from the view of paths. The circle is a path of course but what are these paths? They are paths of non-resistance. You find and follow the paths of non-resistance.

    So back to irimi. You are following a path of non-resistance in order to enter and indeed pass behind. This path is not a circle. When we add the fact that irimi motion also includes the principle of entering 'off line' we see it is in fact a straight line. It is in fact a line of the triangle, rather than the circle. Entering using the principle of circle would be the motion of tai-sabki.

    So now to show you how this is a natural path, a natural path of non-resistance. For this I would ask you to envision or watch a ship moving through water and as it cuts through the water the energy patterns which come about as it does so. The ripples created as the bough cuts through the water are 'v' shaped. The lines of these 'v' s are the nergy paths, the natural energy paths being shown to you. Now if you were to have the ship as the 'opponent' and your movement as moving along the line of 'v' then you would be entering and at this point 'entering beside'.
    So how comes entering behind? Well if you view the ship completely as it were from above then you will see the complete energy path. It goes along the 'v' and then curves back in behind the ship like a heart shape. Irimi, the non-resistant pathway explaining how to enter behind. Peace.G.

  3. Thank you for your insights Graham; your analogy of a ship and the ripples it creates as it sails through the water is very easy to grasp and helps me to understand the principle of irimi nicely.

  4. Next I'd like to reflect on Marui, or ju and circles. Ju does indeed mean softness and the art of judo means in it's essence the way of softness. However I never use these terms in Aikido and relate softness and indeed circles to the word Harmony. (one of two meanings of the word ;ai')

    Spiritually I say tghe softness is allto do with Hara envelopment. Meanwhile in order to develop it we get used to more and more the use of and employment of the circle principle.

    The best way to look at the principle of the circle is by looking at the field of construction and how it is used. It is used to handle energy. The weight of the roof above a wall and the wall above the hole you cut out for a doorway or entrance can easily be handled by an arch. No need for special reinforced straight beams there.

    Then if we move into other physical fields that deal with energy be it electronics etc. I tell people to see energy as something which prefers certain paths and the circle is it's number one prefered path.

    Knowing this then we can see it's all a matter of creating a circle or arc and thus the energy, the others force will follow it. Now if you also develop receiving energy to centre and giving back from centre then you can see the taking or relaxed receiving of the others energy and the way it then goes back out into the circle you are creating. In fact on doing a couple of practices lately with my friend and co.teacher he failed to move me around him. (we were doing some closed eyes drills) On me asking him what was wrong he burst out laughing and said his circle got a bit 'fumbly'.

    The same goes for kotegeishi, the ease is directly proportional to the perfection of the created circle.


  5. For me, Ju is the essence of Jujutsu. I prefer to think of Ju as meaning to yield, rather than softness. Yielding is all a part of blending and creating harmony as you say. But it is also important in the micro as well as macro movements. In Dentokan Aiki-Jujutsu for example my sensei's always speak of small circle Jujutsu. The analogy they use is of a cone. Take Nidan - rather than resist the wrist grab or pull the hand away, the hand should wrap around the wrist in a cone like movement not seeking simply to wrap round the wrist but to extend towards the ground once the wrist lock is on. We should move around our attacker rather than resisting force with force. This to my mind is an important principle in the application of aiki as a way of non-resistance.

    1. Yes I agree, that is all part of circles and harmonizing. Softness is let's say a deeper level of ju.

      Recently an old lady passed away who was a master of judo aged ninety something I think. I posted a video about her on aikiweb and my facebook. It made me smile when as a special guest at a seminar they asked for her assessment. Apart from climbing out of her wheelchair to demonstrate she gave them homework. She said their homework was to contemplate the deeper meaning of ju for one year.

      By the way I take it what you refer to as nidan is what we call nikkyo? Interestingly I show about five harmonious ways of doing that and the one you describe fits two of them. The other one being to circle or wrap around the wrist but rather than lowering to the ground extending insted into own centre. Call that variation number two you could say.

      So yes it seems you have a good grasp on the circular close movement and thus the small circles.

      Another interesting one is ma-ai as the large circle which represents your own personal space. Thus when someone enters that space they are breaking ma-ai. From this circle view much can be understood about Aikido.

      Different principles arise as a result of addressing Aikido from that one view and and therein lies the answer to something I think I recall you enquiring about regarding the bigger circles in Aikido.

  6. Yes Nidan relates to Nikkyo in Aikido. There are indeed many levels to the principles and application of aiki, which is why I tried to tread with humility in my blog. I am still at the level of trying to grasp and apply aiki at the martial level as a form of non-resistance in self-defence.

  7. Nice. Shoshin. The more you understand the more centred you become.

    To expand on the big circle theme in Aikido I must show a difference here. There is aiki which is the 'chinese' if you like internal stuff which to me is for grappling type arts and then there is aiki as I would say is spiritual, ascetic, in origin yet leads to different universal principles but these lead to concrete application principles too.

    As said earlier the space around you seen as a circle, usually at about arms length. So you can envisage you are standing in the middle of a circle. The 'opponent' is standing in the middle of their circle. See this circle also as a non-resistive path and you will see it as an orbit path. A circle around which things flow around centre. Like the electrons around a nucleus or planets etc.

    Now the motions in Aikido ie:taisabaki, tenkan, irimi etc. are ways to enter the others circle. The aim is to be with, to join, to take the centre of their circle. Thus when done for some moves you take the centre of their circle and turn and they fly off into orbit around you.

    A glimpse into the workings of the bigger Aiki circle.


  8. Thank you Graham, as I read your comment about taking the centre of your opponents circle it made me immediately think of kusuzhi and the emphasis in all Aiki-Jujutsu techniques of taking posture. It also made me think of Iriminage in Aikido, in which the principle of taking your opponent's centre is very clearly demonstrated in this technique.

    If I can draw upon another comparison to Dentokan Aiki-Jujutsu, the technique Uchi Komi Dori, which is a variation of the Daito-Ryu technique Ippondori (which relates to Shomenuchi Ikkyo in Aikido). Here you are using a larger circle (than the one discussed in Nidan/Nikkyo) to bring your opponent off balance and into your centre, before taking them to the ground.

    1. Yes indeed. The 'vertical' circle if you like comes into use as well. I see you've got he picture. Nice.

  9. Metsuke. When talking about focus/fixation of the eyes I find it's best to look at it from the viewpoint of one of the five minds of budo.

    When you are focused on doing something, let's say you're an artist, there you are in action yet calmly focused. That around you kind of dissappears yet awareness is still aware of. Meanwhile the picture you are painting you are 'seeing' the whole of what you are doing. Same in any activity where you are in such a focus ie:in the zone.

    You have entered the realm of stillness and addressing the whole as one. A touch of Mushin.

    A few reflections which may help.

  10. I did have Mushin in mind when I was writing this blog, it is something I'd love to master one day. I often think of randori when I think of Mushin, the awareness of your surroundings and the ability to focus on the immediate threat while remaining calm and in control. I will be honest, randori may well be the single biggest inspiration for me to transition to Aikido eventually. It does seem to contain so many martial principles so relevant to self-defence and budo.

  11. Interesting. Randori is big in Tomiki Aikido.

    I like the fact that there are even many gradient approaches to Randori within Aikido one of them being jiju waza where multiple attackers but all doing same attack. Plus you can build from two attackers upwards.

    One interesting thing I learned a while ago was that when surrounded by many there are only four paths that can reach you. So whenever you hear about the concept of eight directions (a favorite of mine) know their are four ways in for the attackers and yet there are four ways out for you.

    All fascinating stuff and very applicable.

    Another interesting thing regarding mushin is the 'one point' used in Ki Aikido. Practicing that also leads to mushin. I say this because while writing a memory came to me from many years ago when training in Watford. I was doing randori so smothly and easily the others were bemused and wanted to know what I had realized. I told them what I was seeing and doing. I had one point so clearly that all I saw attacking me was not opponents but merely other one points. I was thus merely taking these one points and 'throwing' putting them where I wanted.Just taking their one point. It was fun and like nothing mattered.

    So your calm focus can be on many different 'points' or persons at the same time.

    However the most important lesson I learned at that juncture was it all depended on one thing really. How you View the opponent. View them as dangerous and you lose, view them as.......well you name lose. View them as as someone needing your assistance......aha..mind get's more relaxed. That type of thing.

    To put it into perspective along the lines of real and training I'll use the analogy of a car mechanic. He learns and practices fixing cars. He progresses. He works then in a garage and when given a job he learns and progresses. Bit by bit the cars don't seem so awkward or such a problem to handle. His View, how he sees the cars changes.

    Now one day, if that is his path, his world, he may reach the stage, the condition of being centre of his world, his universe regarding cars that need fixing. He welcomes in any car from anywhere as none are a problem to him. While others are running tests and running to books looking up this and that to do with the cars he just turns on the enginge and virtually tunes into the car. He can almost become the car and ;feel' what's needed. For him.....simple. In Harmony with even before it arrived ha, ha.

    Such is the journey in my view. Peace.G.

  12. Hello Ewen, When I was kid daily I my dreams I saw myself to be a Little ninja master :D, after that I started Aiki Jiu Jitsu itself, which came from Japan JJJ and Brazil BJJ and it's a protection fighting style as you both do ranking and ground, wrestle with a rival, it usually ends on the ground with a yielding but if you prefer to fight pound for pound I would suggest BJJ and then mixed martial arts.