Shobu Aikido is an association founded by George Forbes Sensei (6th Dan) who has been practising and teaching Aikido for over 35 years. George has studied in Japan, Belgium, France, Spain and the U.S.A. on a regular basis with many different Sensei, but his passion is Aikido as practised by Nobuyoshi Tamura Shihan (8th Dan).
Shobu Aikido is Ueshiba-style based on the foundations provided by Tamura Shihan, and when practised both inside and outside the dojo lead to a martial way of wisdom.
The Foundations of Aikido
ELEMENTS BASE TECHNIQUES
MA AI YONKYO
IRIMI TENKAN IRIMI NAGE
URA OMOTE SHIHO NAGE
TAI SABAKI KOTE GAESHI
ATEMI KAITEN NAGE
KOKYU RYOKU TENCHI NAGE
The elements and base techniques are there to teach the foundations of Aikido.
Once the foundation is established all techniques and their variations can be or are mastered. However, in the final
analysis there is only Irimi and Atemi.
Shisei is translated into English as: “position”, “attitude” or “posture”. Sugata (Shi) means the “form”, “figure” or “stature”. Ikioi (Sei) signifies energy, vigour and vivacity. Shisei combines these meanings.
But the meaning of shisei not only describes an exterior attitude, good form, deportment and bearing, but also an interior force visible from the outside in its external manifestation. For example, the vitality of a child is apparent from its vivacity, bright eyes and active movement.
How do we reach this shisei? First, we must re-order the body which is like a vase containing ki. To do this, the spinal column is extended and straight. If you feel that you are pushing the sky with your head, your spinal column will extend naturally. Be careful not to puff out your chest in a military manner. The shoulders should be relaxed, falling smoothly, the anus is closed, the small of the back is not bent, the ki is comfortably positioned in the seika tanden and the whole body is comfortably relaxed.
The great exponent of the sword, Miyamoto Musashi, says on the subject of martial shisei:
“The face is calm, neither turned upwards, downwards or to the side; the eyes slightly closed without movement of the eyeballs; the brow unwrinkled; the eyebrows slightly gathered; the bridge of the nose straight; the chin neither stuck out or drawn in too much; the nape of the neck equally straight and the spinal column full of energy. Below the dropped shoulders the body is perfectly relaxed; the spinal column is in place; the buttocks drawn in; the legs, from the knees to the ankles are firmly set on the ground; the hips are not twisted; the stomach is firmly shaped”.
In Aikido this is called “Sankakutai”, a supple, balanced posture allowing free movement; a regular tetrahedron which is a cone from the side.
When shisei has been attained and the attitude is good, the next element to practice is kokyu.
Haku (Ko) means to breathe in, Suu (Kyo) to breathe out.
All living beings take in oxygen and expel carbon dioxide. This process is called kokyu. A good kokyu is slow, deep, long and is performed naturally, and is therefore abdominal breathing.
At the beginning of practice it is a good idea to concentrate first on inhalation and then exhalation, breathing through the nose. If the rhythm of breathing is disturbed, then use the mouth to re-establish it. When breathing in, keep the anus closed, imagining that the air descends to a level lower than the navel.
Sometimes in the practice of Budo inhalation should be rapid, the air should be retained longer in the lungs, and exhalation should be more rapid or alternatively softer.
During exercise it is necessary to pay great attention to mastering kokyu. Kokyu does not only consist of replacing air in the lungs and expelling the impurities and while practising it you should have the feeling of filling yourself anew with pure ki. The accumulated ki is forced out when you feel the need to do so. The effect of this ki is correct shisei.
In your daily life when standing, walking, working or even when sleeping, exercise with enthusiasm. If an emergency arises your kokyu will always be there, but to reach this state, daily practice is necessary.
A person normally forgets that he breathes, but certainly never forgets to breathe. In the same way, it is necessary to penetrate your body and acquire a proper kokyu, a proper shisei and external consciousness. You must train without end to achieve this result.
The body having been filled in this way with a vigorous ki, the energy of ki will invade the body. When you reach unity with nature it becomes possible for a power to surge from you which surpasses imagination. This breathing energy (kokyu ryoku) which has been described does not just belong to you, it is the breathing energy of Heaven and Earth.
In Budo is often said: “It is Kamae that is important”.
Kamae is not the sole property of Budo but also belongs to other arts: flowers, calligraphy and tea. In football, boxing and tennis kamae is equally important. In the Japanese language kamae means “to prepare oneself” or “to put oneself on guard”. The verb “Kamaeru” is translated as “to build”, “to construct”, “to prepare”, “to learn intensively” and “to be on the alert”. The Chinese character of kamae is comprised of the radical “wood” followed by an element representing a mortise and tenon signifying the indissoluble structure of carpentry. Kamae in Budo is to take the most advantageous position possible in relation to aite. When armed one finds oneself against an adversary or when two armies are face to face, in all, kamae is important.
However, kamae is only translated in this form. It consists simultaneously of the power of ki and the ability to perceive every detail. In Kendo the kamae of Kendo; in Judo the kamae of Judo; in tennis the kamae of tennis, and in Aikido hanmi no kamae (profile guard) is used.
Begin in a good, natural standing position (shizentai), legs apart at the same width as the shoulders and the left foot forward of the right foot which can pivot. We now have guard of the left, hidari hanmi. Alternatively, we have guard on the right, migi hanmi.
If the two adversaries take the same guard, the right or left foot in front, we obtain ai hanmi no kamae. If, on the contrary, the two adversaries have an opposite guard, the right foot of one and the left foot of the other forward, it is gyaku hanmi no kamae. Now, if in hidari (or migi) hanmi, the left foot (or the right) advances a pace as in irimi and the back foot follows, the big toe in line with the heel and the thumb of the left hand (or right hand forward), we are in the posture or guard called “hitoemi” or “ura sankaku”.
With a sword, migi hanmi is used. With the jo or bare hands the left hand guard (hidari hanmi) is the basic guard.
Why is hitoemi the fundamental guard of Aikido? Because hitoemi allows easy movement to face any attack and the assimilation of any technique. However, it is necessary to surpass kamae, true kamae is no kamae, to be able to respond to any attack whatever your position.
O Sensei says: “Do not look at the eyes of aite, the heart is weakened by the eyes of aite. Do not look at the sword of aite, the spirit is weakened by the sword of aite. Do not look at aite, you absorb the ki of aite.”
The bu of truth is the practice seeking to absorb aite in his totality. “I stand simply.” I leave this to your thought, keep it within you.
In Budo it is said that Ma Ai is important. This word is defined as the spatial relationship between Aite and oneself, the position from which it is easy to attack and defend. Ma Ai is not therefore just a notion of distance; it should also include a notion of the movement of the heart in space. If I am afraid the distance seems too little, if I am over-confident then the distance seems too great.
The character of Ma is made up of a “door” and “the moon”, i.e. the moon seen through the cracks of a closed door. We say that even though something may be shut behind a door, there is always a crack through which the light of the moon can filter. Why is there energy in this crack? It is simply because this fissure, however small, consists entirely of empty space.
Against the “wall of honour” in a Japanese living room there is the “Tokonoma”, a space in which a picture or vase of flowers can be placed. The space gives life to the picture and the flowers.
In paintings as in music everything comes to life because there is empty space. It is the emptiness of the glass which allows it to be filled. It is the space in a room which allows people to live and it is the emptiness of the space which is important. When one sees nothing and thinks that there is nothing there, there is in fact, always something there. It can be said that Oriental civilisation is one civilisation that attaches importance to emptiness.
The “Ai” of Ma Ai is the same “Ai” of Aikido, meaning to unify, to put in order and to harmonise. It can be deduced from what has been said that Ma Ai is the space formed between the heart and mind, encompassing both in a constant evolution towards the most advantageous situation.
I have now explained Shisei, Kokyu, Kamae and Ma Ai which are the precious basics to cultivate, to repeat unceasingly and to hammer into shape. There four terms are not only relevant to Budo, they have the same importance in all the arts: Kado, the way of flowers; Shodo, the way of calligraphy; painting, music, dance, in study or in daily life. You should impregnate yourself with these words. I am now going to explain words which are not part of general Japanese vocabulary.
The irimi used in Aikido, the law of irimi, is the root of Aikido. It will be recalled that O’Sensei transferred into Aikido the law of irimi which he learned by the profound study of the Art of the Spear.
The character Iri describes the idea of passing the entrance to a house, to enter it or to be invited into it. The character Mi gives the idea of a child in its mother’s womb with the sense of completeness of flesh, bone and blood. Therefore Mi equals body and Irimi, to put ones own body in the body of the opponent. Following the method of the spear, the word Irimi is used to describe the action of penetrating victoriously to the interior of the guard of an adversary armed with a weapon longer than your own when you are armed with a sword or a dagger or even when one is unarmed. When two forces move in an opposite direction, the force which results is the sum of the two forces. Irimi is the use of this result and its relation to ones own position at the moment of meeting.
We call Irimi Issoku the entry of a step to the side of an adversary. With a profile guard, you are in the position to allow Irimi, attacking the adversary by sending back the force of his attack without using your own force. Explained mechanically, it is very easy to understand. Do not forget, however, that in reality Aite is living and that everything does not work according to theory, especially when he is better armed than you.
With ones bare hands or with a weapon shorter than your opponents, to enter the interior of your opponent’s guard or to oppose him with force, you must judge exactly the Ma Ai despite the changing position of Aite. This is normal and needs no further explanation. More important is to forget his body, to enter and pierce and be pierced, to enter without the slightest hesitation.
You press Aite with your mental power to the point where you can contain the attack, taking his attack, using it, you enter! Accordingly, you will have the feeling of enveloping the adversary, becoming at one with him. He himself will come into your interior. This is the Irimi of Aikido.
Ten means to “transpose”, “transfer” or “evolve”. The character Ten is composed of two elements, one meaning “wheel” and the other evoking a circular turning movement. Kan means to change. Tenkan is used with the meaning of changing direction, line of movement or the condition of the spirit.
In Aikido, I believe that this word is used because often, to make a movement one pivots and in making this movement, in changing direction, the gesture is round and suggests the image of a turning wheel.
Consider your situation. In rotating you have changed place and direction. All change of place and position is Tenkan. This is why Irimi and Tenkan are two sides of the same coin.
URA and OMOTE
Any technique in Aikido has two aspects: Ura wasa and omote wasa.
Ura represents the reverse, the back, the hidden side of things.
Omote represents the front, the surface, exterior, the apparent side of things.
In everything there is Ura and Omote. Man himself has a front and back.
Ura and Omote can equally be used to mean exterior and interior. One can, for example have a smiling face and feel pain in the heart or even have the appearance of the Buddha while lacking emotion.
Explaining in simple terms, techniques carried out in front of the adversary are called Omote Wasa and those from behind, Ura Wasa. Certain techniques are possible in Omote Wasa and Ura Wasa, others in one of the two.
In reality the techniques do not exist in these forms and the distinction does not have a practical application.
The Omote Wasa and Ura Wasa classification was probably introduced to facilitate training and an essential part of the learning process is to reject this classification and not to let yourself be narrow-minded.
It seems that in Europe, Tai Sabaki is generally translated as “movement”. I do not think that this transmits a very accurate meaning of what we use in Aikido.
I am going to try to give an explanation.
The character Sabaki is comprised of two elements: “the hand” and the word “to separate” (which contains the idea of dislocating a joint with a knife). By extension, the verb Sabaki is used in this expression to describe the various actions of “to sell”, “to distribute”, “to file”, “to regulate” and “to sort out a business”. A homophone of Sabaki, which is written with another character, is translated by “to cut a piece of clothing” and, “to judge”. Sabaki means to put right disorder, to decide what is right and wrong, to distribute goods and to do ones duty.
Tai means the body. Therefore Tai Sabaki means that at the moment when an object or a person tries to reach you, at the moment when the enemy attacks you, judging your position you simply displace yourself, you simply move your body putting yourself in a position to your advantage.
To re-establish the situation to your advantage is not only to keep your equilibrium and to protect yourself, it is also to put yourself in a situation from which you can attack.
Thus, Tai Sabaki demands further, to disturb Aite’s equilibrium, at the very instant of the attack to put him in a position from which he can no longer move.
Therefore, Aite having had an overwhelming advantage, your Tai Sabaki has reversed the situation. This is Tai Sabaki.
For many people today, the word Atemi describes the punch of Karate, because in Karate the object of training is to destroy the adversary with a punch or a kick.
Certainly in actual practice, Atemi has been eliminated in order to avoid the risk of injuring the beginner, to prevent reliance on the Atemi to the detriment of the technique and to prevent students with the wrong idea misusing it when they have progressed with the technique.
Therefore those who claim that there is no Atemi in Aikido know nothing about Aikido.
O’Sensei, defining Aikido says:
‘Aikido is Irimi and Atemi’.
All Aikido techniques include Atemi.
Etymologically, Ateru expresses the idea of estimating and evaluating with precision the area and value of a field. By extension it means: “to place exactly”, “to fall exactly on the desired spot”, to the centre of the target for example. To the notion of estimating and evaluating is added the idea of success.
Mi means the body. In ancient Budo, Atemi consisted of striking the adversary’s vital points to cause loss of consciousness or death. To wound superficially or to break a bone was not Atemi.
In Aikido Atemi is used to dominate the will of the attacker, to cause a softening of his vital points, to disturb his concentration and to stop his intended action.
From this soft Atemi we pass to an Atemi that causes unconsciousness or death. It is good to study with an idea of using such techniques against a knife attack. Obviously the work must include study of the point of re-animation. If you study acupuncture in the form which has recently been developed I hope that you will understand that the points that can bring about healing can also cause death. This is a good example that shows that in everything there is Ura and Omote.
When you have reached a high level of study it will be good for you to discover where you can place Atemi during your practice of different techniques.
“You can practice Aikido if you can lift three ounces of bran”.
This indicates that Aikido is not an art of combat based on the use of physical and muscular force, of one body against another.
The execution of a technique in Aikido is achieved by using mental energy and physical force naturally. If you can use this method it is possible to develop a strength superior to any that you believe you may have. When we say that old people, women and children can practice, this not only means that they can learn, but that can apply this way of combat once they have fully understood it. I have touched on Kokyu earlier. We now pass onto the stage of physiological respiration by which we can absorb within ourselves the energy of the Universe. We can go further still and say that we become part of the one body of the Universe. The energy that flows from this is ours without being ours. It is, in reality, the energy of the Universe which surges. This force, concentrated in the Seika Tanden and filling all parts of our body, is like water that gushes forth and never stops. This energy which emanates from the body and mind is always calm, serene and relaxed, that can respond at any time and in any direction required, is call Kokyu Ryoku.
This energy, which is a gift from Heaven, cannot be expressed if your neck, shoulders or arms are unnecessarily tense or if you imagine yourself strong or weak or if you believe that this force does not exist. All these impure thoughts are barriers to the passage of Ki. It is like a hose pipe that is constricted by someone treading on it or if it is blocked and water cannot flow.
O’Sensei said many times: “Aikido is a purification of the body and soul and it is to clean out the body and soul”.
If this exterior and interior cleansing is carried the soul will be radiant, the circulation of the blood will improve and so will the mind and body. Kokyu Ryoku is brought to life in the practice of Aikido by a simple gesture such as raising an arm or advancing a foot. An Aikido technique executed without employing Kokyu Ryoku is not an Aikido technique. It is champagne without the bubbles or beer that is flat.
Kokyu Ryoku learned intellectually is useless. It is necessary to learn it physically in daily exercise. It is only assimilated by contained accumulation.
O’Sensei said on the subject: “Three days work is not only three days work; a year’s work is not only a year’s work; Ten years work stores up the energy of ten years”.
Without Kokyu Ryoku, the form of a technique can exist but it is an empty form. It is impossible to impregnate yourself without practising the techniques. Whatever happens, the result will be different according to whether you believe this or not.