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