The Importance of AIKIDO Basics

Along the Way
February 22, 2021
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The Importance of AIKIDO Basics

AIKIDO is different from other martial arts in that we can harness a weaker or smaller force to overcome a stronger or larger force or opponent.  When we watch an advanced Sensei demonstrate a technique, we can’t help but admire how effortless and smoothly the instructor seems to be.  We aspire to learn and emulate Sensei’s style and technique.

We often forget that hidden within advanced techniques and their effective application, are the basic principles and philosophy of AIKIDO.  Without mastering (or at least having a good understanding of) these basic principles, it is almost impossible to learn and master more advanced techniques.  I periodically remind a class about remembering the basics when we are practicing and I see students forgetting the basics.  There is a Chinese saying I like that I think illustrates the importance of applying the basics to all our techniques to make them more effective:

“We should not fear one who knows many techniques shallowly, but we should beware of one who knows one technique well!”

So, what are some of the “basics” that all students of AIKIDO should strive to understand and apply?  While volumes have been written about AIKIDO “basics”, I’d like to mention a few that I think are very important.

If you remember, a while back, Hannon Sensei posted a framed item on the wall entitled “Three Steps to AIKIDO” which were:

1. AIKI – Unifying or harmonizing yourself or blending in with the momentum and energy (Ki) of an attacking force, thus capturing it within your sphere.

2. KUZUSHI – Taking or breaking your attacker’s center and balance and taking advantage of the attacker’s desire to regain their center and balance.

3. SHISEI – Following through and extending your energy to redirect the captured energy of your attacker to a completion of a pin or throw.  

These three principles sum up the basic steps, that if mastered, can lead to a solid foundation for understanding more advanced techniques.

To these (and all part of the above three principles), I’d like to add several more basics that all students, no matter what level, should work on to understand and master AIKIDO.

  • HANMI – Proper stance, upright posture, feet either in a right or left hanmi, with a good solid center and balance.  The whole body, hands, feet and center should be in alignment with your opponent.
  • MA-AI – Proper distancing in the context of your opponent’s intention and if it is an empty-hand attack or if there is a weapon involved.
  • KANWA (Relaxing) – This is probably my biggest pet peeve, watching students try to power through a technique.  We must train our body to relax!  I personally think this is the one, hardest thing to learn in AIKIDO, as our bodies seem to have a natural tendency to tense up in a stressful situation.  Relaxed and accepting is strong!  Tense, muscle-using movements are weak!  We should strive to achieve a grounded and solid stance, but at the same time be relaxed and ready to move easily and freely.  When the body is tense and your weight is shifted upwards to your shoulders, it is difficult to move smoothly.
  • KOKYU-RYOKU (Breath power) – Developing a steady breathing pattern coordinated with your movements and extending your KI helps you stay relaxed and focused and moving smoothly.
  • IRIMI – All AIKIDO movements usually begin with and depend on IRIMI, TENKAN or SABAKI.  Good IRIMI gives you the ability to smoothly get out of the line of attack and move deeply into a position of safety and control where your opponent has lost the ability to effectively attack.
  • TENKAN – Turning also allows you to position yourself in a safe place of control where your opponent cannot effectively attack using outward, circular motion.
  • SABAKI – SABAKI gives you the ability to quickly and easily turn in conjunction with IRIMI and TENKAN, to be able to bring an attack under control through circular movements.                         

One’s ability to control an attack or your opponent, depends on your ability to control  yourself, and how your body moves and responds to the situation.  If you cannot control yourself and your body, you cannot control an opponent or attack.  Mastering the basics through diligent training will allow you to achieve this control.