Atemi waza – Tomiki style

Around 1956, Kenji Tomiki introduced a Randori method in Aïkidō. It was an attempt to create a safe but efficient method for sparring along the lines of Kodokan Judō Randori.
Old style jujutsu atemi waza was an attack to the vital points of the human body. Attacking vital points was an action that leads to injury or death.
Kenji Tomiki offered another interpretation of the use of atemi waza. Attacking physiological weaknesses in the body can be carried out with low impact.
The aim of the new method of “atemi waza” is to create “kuzushi” and throw the opponent with the least amount of force.

Basic Kata

The initial attempt at randori techniques can be seen in the 15-hon no kata.

  • Atemi waza (3)
  • Hiji waza (4)
  • Tekubi waza (8)

Originally, Kenji Tomiki introduced 3 atemi waza.

  • Shomen ate or frontal attack
  • Gyaku gamae ate or reverse posture attack
  • Ai gamae ate or regular posture attack

Around 1963, the basic kata for randori was reviewed and 2 more techniques were added to the atemi waza section.

  • Gedan ate or low attack
  • Ushiro ate or attacking the back

The “kata” version of Atemi waza

There is a difference between kata-geiko and randori-geiko. The fundamentals are obviously the same.
During kata-geiko, uke does not resist the technique by using muscular power or footwork. If there is no “kuzushi”, there will be no “throwing”. Without kuzushi, there is only pushing and uke will step back.
Tori performs the movements with martial softness. The emphasis is on the movement of the whole body, if part of the body moves, the whole body is in motion. The footwork is important, since it is the door to the right distance and timing. Tori and uke have to refrain from excessive muscular power.
Both have to develop an understanding of the mechanism of the waza.
Waza is normally translated as technique, but it includes also the setup and other elements like metsuke, zanshin,….

Shomen ate kuzushi

Kuzushi is the result of shomen-uchi at the face of uke.
It is initially not touching the face while executing shomen-uchi.

Randori version

The setup of the randori version is more dynamic than the kata-geiko version. Without kuzushi (the result of the setup) throwing is impossible. The attempt of the pushing can be taken over by the opponent.

During randori, tori uses both hands to throw, but the hand on the chin is the most important.
The power is mostly in randori based on momentum. Uke need a perfect ukemi skill to survive such a throw.

Kata-geiko, kakari-geiko and randori-geiko

Kakari-geiko is an extension of Kata-geiko, and is a training method in which you practice using techniques that match the movements of your opponent. There is an agreement on the manner in which the attack is carried out. Uke can attack with a single attacking method or with multiple attacking methods.
During kakari-geiko, uke is not resisting the technique by using muscular power or footwork. If there is no “kuzushi”, there will be “no throwing”. Without kuzushi, there is only pushing and uke will retreat.

Randori-geiko is a training method that is further developed from Kakari-geiko, in which each other performs techniques in free movement, and practice techniques that can be used in actual combat and can be performed in competitions. 

Sometimes you will find another training method between kakari-geiko and randori-geikorandori-geiko.
Hikitate-geiko is a training method which allow uke to create some resistance. Unfortunately, most of the uke begins with a slight resistance, but after a short period of time, there is a change to randori-geikorandori-geiko with a complete resistance. This is an indication, there is no understanding of the “martial softness” concept.

Basic kata (1989)

Basic kata (2001)

Basic kata (2015)

Kihon Atemi Waza

According to Kenji Tomiki we can use 2 methods of applying atemi technique.

  • attacking a physiological weak point
  • attacking a dynamical weak point

The former is attacking vital spots of the body like the temple or throat, it creates damage to the body. In the context of Budo Aikido as a non-aggressive, this kind of attacks are not desirable. But we can still do an attacking movement to a vital spot without dammage.

The most popular method  is metsubushi  (eye  blinding) which is a direct method to make the opponent close their eyes.
In one of the early books on Budo Aikido written by Tadashi Abe , a contemporary of Senta Yamada ( student of Kenji Tomiki and Morihei Ueshiba), metsubushi is the first fundamental attacking movement.

The latter is a method to make physical contact on the opponents body without damage. This will happen after a successful kuzushi or balance disturbing. In fact this is not a pushing action altough the perception says “pushing”. To understand this action please refer to hakkei.

The concept of “aite wo suemono ni suru”.

The first word “aite wo” means your opponent.
The second one is the key word, “suemono”. One of the most popular meaning of this word is used in Iaido. It is a roll of straw that is used for a cutting exercise with a sword to check its cutting ability.
The last word of the concept, “ni suru” means to make or set.
The meaning of this concept is to attack an opponent which cannot move.
Using an atemi technique on a moving body is very difficult, therefore we have to use a technique to fix the opponent. Metsubushi is one of the solutions to fix the opponent. With metsubushi you create an immobility in the opponent when he closes his eyes or turns the head. The meaning of immobility is a situation where the opponent only thinks of protecting his eyes.

creating kuzushi and fixUsing “kuzushi” to fix an opponent

Kuzushi has a lot of interpretations. It can be a situation where the body is collapsing, or it is a method to fix the opponent.
The opponent lost his balance and freezing the posture can be the result. You have the time to proceed with a technique.
It can be an atemi waza, but also another kind of manipulation like a throw or a joint lock.


From “Judo and Aikido” by Kenji Tomiki (1956 1st edition – text from 9th printing)

Following the late Professor Kano’s example in improving upon jujutsu, the present writer devised the methods of randori (free style exercise) in aikido. He selected 15 “basic techniques” which constitute the nucleus of the art of aikido, and under the rule of “taking postures apart” (taking postures at a certain interval so that the contestants may not fall into grappling with each other) enabled the contestants to practice by applying the proper techniques with regard to each other.

Atemi waza

In the original aikido method for randori, Kenji Tomiki selected 3 atemi waza
• Shomen ate – frontal attack – technique 1
• Gyaku gamae ate – reverse attack – technique 2
• Ai gamae ate – regular attack – technique 3

3 atemi waza

Shomen ate – frontal attack

Yamada shomen ate

Yamada shomen ate bis

Gyaku gamae ate

Yamada gyakugamae ate

Ai gamae ate

Yamada aigamae ate

Supplementary atemi waza

The original basic 15 techniques for randori was established in the 50-ties of the 20th century. In the 60-ties 17 techniques for randori became the syllabus for randori geiko. In the basic 15, only 3 atemi were selected. Basic 17 has 5 atemi waza, gedan ate and ushiro ate were added.

Gedan ate

Gedan ate can be seen as atemi waza, because opponents body is attacked below his arm. We can use the elbow on the suigetsu, a vital point on the middle of the upper body. In this case the upperarm is used to attack the upper body.

wu-jian-quan03This is similar with “fajin” in taiji. (see also hakkei)






Ushiro ate

Ushiro ate is a different story. As we know the translation for atemi in general is :

ate = strike
mi = body

In Budo Aikido as said previously, the intention is not to kill or harm the opponent.
Why is “ushiro ate” classified as atemi waza?
Striking someone in the face can be seen as an attack to the face. So ushiro ate can be seen as an attack to the back side of an opponent.

Besides Aikido, Kenji Tomiki was also a high level Judoka. He studied randori, but also different kata of Kodokan Judo.

koshiki no kataKoshiki no kata or Form of the antique things is a kata in Kodokan Judo. It is also known as Kito-ryu no Kata. It consists of 21 techniques originally belonging to the Takenaka-ha Kito School of jujutsu. Jigoro Kano revised the techniques and incorporated them into a kata in order to preserve the historical source of judo. The set of forms is antique and were intended for “Kumiuchi”, the grappling of armored warriors in the feudal ages. As such, the kata is to be performed with both partners imagining that they are clad in armor. It is taught and practiced in and outside Japan. it is the only judo kata that involves attacking the cervical spine.

When applying ushiro ate, keep in mind you are attacking the spine, by pulling the 2 shoulders, there is an action on the spine. When there is no harmony between the 2 pulling hands, opponent will turn and attacks you.


Atemi and tegatana

Tegatana – handblade

In various schools of martial arts, there are different ways of delivering a blow. One can strike with the fist, handblade, elbow, knee or foot or even a combination.

The handblade or tegatana (lit. handsword) is the part of the body most often used in aikido to strike in attack or parry in defence. By concentrating the energy of your body into the cutting edge of your hand, blows of considerable power can be achieved. These blows are called atemi-waza, (lit. ate= to strike, mi=body).

Learning to give a powerfull strike with the tegatana is depending on the skill of taijū no idō or body weight shift and taijū no dendō or body weight transmission. See unsoku ho for further information. When your skill can be performed with rendo or continuous full body movement, you wil create “hakkei” or sudden power in your atemi. 

5 handblade methods – Tegatana no go dosa

The origin of tegatana dosa exercises can be found in the 5 handblade movements developed by Kenji Tomiki. These handblade movements will be used in attack and defence.

5 tegatana

Point instabilityMetsuke and Shisei

Looking straight forward (metsuke) and a proper posture (shisei) are the basic requirements for using atemi waza. By applying metsuke and shisei and adding the use of gravity we create a starting point of a movement.

“The starting point of a movement”

When you have the sensation of gravity, you will also experience the point where stability is changing into instability. We also know we put a foot in the direction of the instability without a conscious thought. The body reacts naturally. The starting point of a movement with the feet forward, backward, to the side or diagonal will happen without any extra movement. This gives a great advantage when attacking of defending, because the opponent will not receive any indication when the attack or defence starts. If you attack with atemi, the starting point of a movement (in this case an atemi) cannot be intercepted by the opponent.

The movement starts from emptiness, the mushin mugamae concept.

Weapon work and atemi

A weapon is an extension of the body and must be handled with the patterns of the bodily movements. “Don’t use partial muscular movement between the joints”. Use a full body movement (rendo).

Although nowadays most practitioners make reference to swordhandling when doing tegatana dosa, but at the origin of tegatana dosa the link with the sword is not so obvious.The emphasis is more on atemi or methods to destroy the body postures of the opponent by using tegatana movements. In any case, it is ambiguous to make reference to swordhandling without a thorough study of a sword school.

tachi shomen uchi