The simplification of Ueshiba’s Aikido

As a practitioner of Aikido Tomiki, I am certainly very proud of the efforts of our Sensei. He examined Morihei Ueshiba’s archaic system and made it accessible to the rational man. His simplification of the many techniques in the so-called “Aiki-randori-no-kata” can be considered a work of art.
Is this simplification one of a kind in the world of Aikido? No!

In 1969, Aikido by Kisshomaru Ueshiba was published and can be seen as a simplification of Aikido as practised by the Ueshiba family and in a broader sense the Aiki-Kai community. The book was based on two previous Japanese books written by Kisshomaru Ueshiba.
Aikido (1958) and Aikido Giho (1962)

Complementary and alternative

Old Waseda dojo

Complementary and alternative are terms used to describe many kinds of practices or methods that are not part of the mainstream system. You may hear them outline methods for improving the method. This is called “complementary” because they are used along with your current method. You can sometimes hear about methods that should be better than the original method. We call these “alternatives” because they are used in place of tried and tested methods. Most of the time, the value of these alternative methods is doubtful because they do not complement the current method. Perhaps there is some value if it is used as a stand-alone method with a different objective to achieve.

There are numerous exercises and techniques to support every aspect of Aikido. But often the forest cannot be seen for the trees. Making choices will thus be a real challenge! Even simple basic exercises are conducted in an infinite number of ways. Some of the elementary exercises are created by Kenji Tomiki and every deviation from the basic model is sometimes regarded as a capital sin. However, Kenji Tomiki committed a capital sin when he tried to create a competitive element in the formation of Aikido. After all, its teacher, Morihei Ueshiba has always emphasized the “impossibility” of having contests in Aikido.
This brings forward a question about “complementary or alternative” in Tomiki’s method.

The impossibility of competitive aikido?

To find an answer, we need to dive into the history of Aikido or also known as “aikibudo”. It was Morihei Ueshiba who popularized Aikido or aikidbudo to a wider public, though he was mostly for influential people in the pre-war period. Kenji Tomiki’s role is described in many biographies by different writers and like everything in the world, the different versions are not exactly the same. But in general, Kenji Tomiki was a major student of Morihei Ueshiba and had his own vision of Ueshiba’s art.
In an article written by prof. Shishida of Waseday University we find some information on the history of competitive aikido and a solution for the “impossibility of competitive aikido”.

A Historical Study of Competitive Aikido : the Developmental Process of Randori Method, The Annual Report of Physical Education 33 : 17-27, 2001

To overcome the problem, his talent (Tomiki) in judo, and a quietly humble personality, and widely cultured background were useful in saving aikibudo from misunderstanding. A former student of Kenkoku University, Mr. Seiichi Saito remembered and said, “It was possible because it was Mr. Tomiki. He used to often compare aikido to sumo, kendo, and judo in class.” (1/26/2000 Telephone conversation) This is an indication that Tomiki was trusted by many students. This probably was the only way he could take away prejudice and give proper understanding of aikibudo to those bright students at Kenkoku University.
At this period, Tomiki was concerned with the problem of how to classify and organize Ueshiba’s various excellent methods of skills to establish an instructional system. Tomiki was incapable of destroying traditional relationship between master and pupil by selfishly manipulating to disturb his teacher’s most important principles of aikibudo, or give presumptuous advice. Therefore, he kept the problem of forming a plan of instructional system to himself deep in his mind. When did Tomiki start moving toward developing aikido into a form of competition?
Sometime in post war period, Tomiki wrote, “I started to research modernization of aikido after I received aikido 8th dan in February of 1940.” It was probably after the official registration of Tomiki’s 8th dan. Tomiki must have been thinking about competitive aikido in his mind by then at the latest. But, considering Tomiki’s cautious personality and difficulties of the method, it might have been only a faint thought. It must have been a dilemma to decide on a fight form.

During a fight with bare hands like judo, if one comes close enough for the opponent to get hold of the neck band or sleeve, he would be thrown by judo technique. If they keep their distance, there will be no fight. There was another problem: interests in sitting technique or techniques against weapons will be lost by developing aikido into a competitive sport.

He must have doubted if aikido could be popularized by developing it into a competition. The process of developing aikido into a competitive sport was not easy.
It seems that around the early part of 1958, Tomiki started his actual research activity to develop aikido into a competitive sport with conscious decision to exclude randori technique. This was directly prompted by a severe criticism given that there was no competition of aikido in existence by the council of physical education department of Waseda University when Tomiki decided to set up an aikido club, at the University where he was teaching, and requested to the department of physical education council. At this stage, Tomiki, of course, was practicing only exercises of kata just like the way his teacher Mr. Morihei Ueshiba’s school was coaching aikido, and he did not have any definite plan to develop aikido into a competitive sport. At the council meeting, however, he explained the history, significance, and future of aikido, and by promising competitive aikido, be was allowed to start aikido club. This marked the beginning of ‘experimental stage’, and he recorded in 1969, “With devoted cooperation of the club members, through 10 years’ trials and errors, we have almost succeeded.”

The question arises, did Tomiki change Ueshiba’s Aikido by introducing a competitive element?
Everything depends on the way we like to practice our Aikido. If our aim is to emphasize “competition”, it is certainly an “alternative method” and it becomes an athletic event without the mystical elements of Morihei Ueshiba.
Practitioners who studied the uncompetitive method of Tomiki’s Aikido, will remember Senta Yamada, Tsunako Miyake or Takeshi Inoue. They taught us the original Tomiki Aikido, a method to improve Aikido by adding some judo elements and can be seen as a “complementary method”.

【Kakunodate Times】 Article of August 12, 1957.

Kenji Tomiki, then president of the All Japan Aikido Association, Hideo Ohba, Keiko Fukuda, and Ayako Miyake gave Aikido lessons to volunteers at Tsuneko-in in Kakudate-cho.

At the left Keiko Fukuda, 9th dan Kodokan Judo awarded in 2006
At the right a young Tsunako Miyake. Pioneer of Tomiki Aikido.

Simplified movements and exercises

What are the additional features of Tomiki’s Aikido? “Simplified movements and exercises”. Kenji Tomiki’s contribution plays an important part in simplifying the numerous techniques and movements in the Aikido repertoire. A small part of the original Ueshiba technique can be discovered in Koryu no Kata. These kata are covering different aspects of Aikido. Simplified techniques can be found under “randori no kata” or “Kihon waza”. As usual, there are several versions of these simplified techniques. By simplifying the movements and techniques, a student will acquire in an early stage a global view of the possibilities with Aikido. It has also occurred in other martial arts, Japanese and Chinese. In Iaido and Jodo, the Kendo Federation responsible for these martial arts created a simple format as an introduction. Modern Kendo itself a simplified version of old systems with a sword. Simplified versions of Iaido and Jodo can create a focus on more complex methods. Even Kodokan Judo can be viewed as a simplified version of old Jujutsu methods. In Chinese martial arts, Taijichuan has a short version of the original lengthier versions. The art of Yiquan has no formal sequences (taolu – kata) to study. The most noteworthy is the basic training of the basic elements. After a while, training is progressing at a freestyle of training similar to a randori style of judo and…… Aikido.

Yiquan posture

Is simplified really simplified?

Although it is said Kenji Tomiki simplified Ueshiba’s Aikido along the lines of the Kodokan Judo doctrine, maybe simplified is a too simplified definition.
Kenji Tomiki saw the fundamental movements in Ueshiba’s Aikido and created exercises for practising the fundamental movements. Unfortunately most of those exercises are nowadays practised in a rigid format and lost the fundamental idea of Japanese martial arts: Jukozo.
In the article – the science of training – you will find some explanation about jukozo principle.
Simplifying has not always been a shortcut to understanding. We cannot deny the fundamental elements or movements, otherwise our martial art becomes a shallow image of the original.

Uchi gaeshi & soto gaeshi

Published by

Eddy Wolput

A passion for Martial Arts since 1964

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