A brief commentary on the organisation of Aikido weapons
Very often our training habits force us to learn these techniques slowly and somewhat disjointedly, making it hard to initially fit these techniques of various levels into the whole weapon system. This can restrict our progress because we are often left wondering “How does this relate to what I have learnt before?”In retrospect, it is obvious to long term students that the Iwama weapons curriculum has a definite and coherent methodology that leads students from basic to advanced levels of ability, yet this is not always obvious to beginners and students who have studied only a short time.This commentary then is an attempt to explain and structuralise the meaning behind the various levels of the weapons techniques, so students can gain a sense of the organisation of the system, fit what they learn into a structure, and hopefully accelerate the learning curve in their study of Aikido.
Ken Suburi (sword exercise) A set of seven exercises consisting of “shomen uchi” or vertical downward strikes to front and centre, with a number of variations in stepping and hip turning, designed to teach the student how to hold the sword correctly, how to stand in correct stance with the correct posture, and how to raise, cut and thrust with the correct form. Training in the suburi need only be light, relaxed and slow, with emphasis placed on a regular, daily practice of correct form, however the intensity in training the techniques can be increased, by adding speed and power to the movements once the points of the form have been mastered. Daily practice builds strength and solidity in the hips and arms, as well as a sense of connection between hands and the hip, and adds sharpness to the movements, all important requirements for empty hand training. Weapons training starts with suburi, within both the daily routine as a warm-up in preparation for the advanced techniques, and the martial career of the beginner.
Makiwara tanren (Striking and heavy sword training)A makiwara is a device constructed to provide impact resistance to the cutting techniques of the suburi. Tanren means to temper the body through training, and one practices this using a suburi-to, or training sword, which is generally heavier than a regular bokken, or live blade. The idea is that through vigorous training with heavier swords, one tempers or forges the body, meaning that one transforms themselves into a being that is solid and powerful, that is unified and effective. This training takes the development of grip strength and solidity of the hips, legs and arms to the extreme.
Jo Suburi (staff exercise) A set of twenty exercises including striking and blocking techniques that gives the student the required foundation in almost all the basic movements of the staff. Introduction to the variety of ways the staff can be held, and the variety of ways it can be swung provides the building blocks to all other more complex movements in staff training. Daily practice is beneficial to making the body both familiar and strong with the movements, so the student does not struggle with the more advanced movements, which involve combinations and variations of these basic suburi.
Jo Tenkan waza (Turning movements) A series of simple swinging movements based upon the jo suburi, some used as limbering up exercises for the wrists and shoulders before training, other used to teach the ability to turn through the full 360 deg. range of movement, yet others used to form the transitions between movements of various suburi to create the flowing of one technique after another.
Ken Happo Giri and Shiho Giri (8 and 4 directional cut) A set of techniques designed to teach the ability to turn in all directions quickly and powerfully while retaining balance and form. Broken down into the 4 major and 4 minor directions of the compass, turning with the sword is important when dealing with multiple attackers. The variations consist of different ways of stepping in the same basic directions, such as adding movements from the suburi. Once proficiency in turning to these directions is attained, the student by then has the ability to adjust their movement so as to be able to turn in any direction.
Sanjuichi-no-Jo and Jusan-no-Jo kata (31 and 13 movement staff routines) These two exercises are the only individual routines in the entire Aikido system. The 31 movement form was created by O-Sensei, and it demonstrates the ability of individual movements to flow from one to another in smooth transition, by adding certain movements not found in the suburi. The 13 movement form was put together by Saito Sensei in the spirit of the 31 movement form as a method of preserving some extra flowing combinations that O-Sensei performed, but did not include in the suburi or 31 movement form. At first, the routines are performed on the count, slowly while being relaxed, with concentration on footwork and form, until when the routines become familiar, they are speeded up and performed in a more free and flowing manner. These exercises are designed to introduce to the student the importance of being relaxed and able to flow, as well as to demonstrate the potential for unlimited combinations of movements.
Roku-no-Jo (“the 6” staff exercise) This exercise consists of a repeating 6 movement cycle performed with a partner standing opposite. It is drawn from several of the suburi, and provides a simple introduction to distancing and blending with the staff, but through its variations also focuses on the abbreviation of 3 of the movements down to 1 movement, showing the student how to quickly flow from one particular technique to another. From this basic routine follow a whole range of cyclic patterns based upon the suburi that illustrate the flowing effect of one technique into another.
Ken Suburi-Awase (paired sword swinging exercises) These 7 exercises, one for each of the ken suburi, involve partners practicing the suburi opposite each other simultaneously. It introduces the concepts of the centreline of attack, as well as use of hip turning to move off the line of attack. With some of the exercises, the hitting of the swords introduces the student to the feel of impact, and the effectiveness of their strike against the opponents sword, which impresses upon the student the importance of hip turning and stability. The exercise also introduces the concept of awase (blending), and ma-ai (distancing), which are studied more closely in the following exercise.
Ken Awase and Jo Awase (sword blending, and staff blending) The beginnings of partner practice, sword blending and staff blending exercises are more complex in that they involve combinations of basic movements, and they complete the concepts of ma-ai and awase. Understanding the meaning of varied distancing between opponents is vitally important for recognising openings, dangers and positions of safety, while understanding and being able to move with awase is vitally important in developing timing, reading the attackers intention, and being able to relax in the face of attack, as well as being able to move quickly and strongly. Both the 7 sword and 8 staff blending exercises introduce martial elements to the movements, but emphasis is placed upon understanding, distance, angles, and timing and should be practiced in a strongly controlled manner.
Ju-san-no-Jo awase (13 movement routine blending exercise) This exercise was developed by Saito Sensei based upon kumi techniques of O-Sensei not included in the kumi-jo, (see below), and despite being labelled a blending exercise, it demonstrates more of the concepts of kumi-jo than awase, although they are performed with awase feeling. The kumi techniques bring to light the martial applications of all the previous movements, and understandably are the most interesting form of the weapons training component, though they are no more or less important than the basics.
Ki-Musubi-no-Tachi (a “blending of energy” paired sword exercise) An extension of the Ken Awase, this exercise introduces the realism and the meaning behind the kumi aspects of partner training, by performing a set of movements in awase that emulates realistic application of the basics. This exercise is first performed slowly in a controlled manner until the movement and the feeling is understood, then can be speeded up with added power, with the timing varied to create a broader range of situations. As with the above ken and jo awase, the technique begins and ends with the bow; and all movements in between are performed with the feeling of awase.
Ken-Jo No Riai (sword against staff matching exercise) As far as O-Sensei’s concept of Ri-Ai is concerned, this set of exercises, which involves 3 introductory awase and 10 basic paired exercises as well as their attendant variations, could possibly be regarded as the crux of weapons training in that they are designed to show the distance relationships between body, sword and stick, and alongside the awase, prepare the body movement for weapon taking, and ultimately empty-hand training. Although it may seem obvious when thought about, the differing lengths of the sword and staff allow certain movements which the body needs to experience through training in order to be properly understood. Ideally, these exercises should be introduced to the student after the awase and before the kumi techniques, as they prepare the body for correct movement, upon which the kumi techniques and their countless variations can be built.
Kumi-Tachi and Kumi-Jo (partner practice with sword, and with staff) The kumi exercises and their variations are the respective beginnings and the in depth study of the martial applications of the above basic training exercises. Associated with these exercises are strict rules of engagement based upon traditional fighting methods developed over centuries of use and refinement in a feudal society, and because they have a great practical basis they therefore dictate many of the reasons behind the movements. There is a great collection of variations that stem from these kihon (basics), due to the variables of combat, and the creativity of instructors. O-Sensei and Saito Sensei have both suggested instructors experiment with these to find new variations, as this is the ultimate meaning of takemusu aiki, the spontaneous creation of divine techniques. Once these exercises are properly learnt through slow, controlled and relaxed training, the movements can be performed more quickly and strongly, with the timing and flow varied to enable the student to experience a wide variety of possibilities in attack and defence.
31 Kumi-Jo (31 movement routine partner practice) This partner practice for the 31 movement staff routine was developed by Saito Sensei based upon the countless variations of movements he observed O-Sensei performing during his development of Aikido at Iwama. Aimed at extending the kumi applications of jo as do the kumi-tachi variations for the ken, they teach the student to understand how basic techniques develop into practical applications, as well as to open possibilities for creating new variations. The variations to the kumi techniques also prepare the student for an understanding of correct body placement in order to perform weapon disarms, which are studied in depth later.
Tachi-dori and Jo-dori (sword taking and staff taking, or disarming techniques) The sword taking techniques are ancient traditional combative techniques passed down at the highest levels through some of the most famous sword schools in Japan, including Yagyu Shingan ryu, made famous by its mu-to or “no-sword” techniques. Training involves facing empty handedly, single and multiple attackers with the sword or the staff, and throwing them. Proficiency in weapon taking requires understanding and experience in all the above weapons training exercises, and is ultimately the birth of the empty-hand techniques not only of Aikido, but of Ju-Jutsu, Ninjutsu and other traditional Japanese combative arts. From here, training develops into the hand-to-hand techniques Aikido is most famous for around the world, yet it really represents completion of the Aikido Ri-Ai.
Ken/Tai Jutsu No Riai (Sword and Body Relationships)Training in this involves three partners with sword, two attacking one. It is a series of exercises based upon the principles of sword against multiple attackers, showing the relationship of various basic hand techniques to various sword techniques. It teaches one the correct distance and angle for various types of movement against attack, and prepares the student for hand (body) techniques.
Jo/Tai Jutsu No Riai, or Jo Nage (Stick and Body relationships, also known as throwing with the stick) These exercises involve throwing techniques when an opponent attempts to grab one’s staff. They add another dimension to staff training, and as with the Ken/Tai Jutsu No Riai, ultimately lead to empty hand training, as one uses their own body movement to unbalance and throw the opponent, the staff being an aid in making this transition.
Tai Jutsu (Body techniques, or “empty-hand training”)By now one should have a clear understanding of body movement that provides the foundation for learning the empty-hand tt