Tomiki Aikido Syllabus – Basic Framework Training Tool.

Author: Eddy Wolput °1948 – 7th dan Aikido (JAA-Tokyo/Japan) – 5th dan Iaido – 5th dan Jodo. 
Part of the material in this article is not directly linked to the Japan Aikido Association (NPO) program or Shodokan approach. Other concepts are incorporated into the study of the subject presented.

Study Group Tomiki Aikido – Shobukai Dojo Syllabus
This article outlines the “basic framework” employed in the Shobukai Dojo. The emphasis is mainly on “how to move the body” and “how to control the opponent”.
Members of the Shobukai Dojo study how to move the body and the methods of control of the opponent before being able to proceed with Tomiki Aikido Kata.

What Is a Martial Art Syllabus?

A syllabus is a document that presents all the necessary information on a martial art course. It lists the topics you will study while you practice martial art.
The course programme is a working document and a personal document. The syllabus can be used as a guide for the instructor as well as for the dojo.

Living Syllabus 

A syllabus is not fixed and basically a “living syllabus” can be updated as often as the teacher considers it necessary. This creates a vibrant, living document that students can interact with. Of course, the interaction between the instructor and the students is a major factor in updating the program.
Unfortunately, the emphasis is sometimes too much on a programme given by an international institute which does not allow much interaction between the institute, the instructor and the students. In this case, we cannot refer to a “living syllabus”.

An international institute program can be basically a policy guide to be used to generate a “living syllabus” for the local group.
So you can find a different program among the local groups while teaching the same concepts and principles.

Shobukai Dojo Syllabus

A Tomiki Aikido Syllabus can focus on various options for study and training, depending on the kind of dojo students.

  • Grading tool
  • Competition as the main goal
  • Sparring (randori)
  • Bodywork, efficient body movement
  • Self-protection and self-defense
  • Movement therapy
  • Other goals

The Shobukai Syllabus is based on the ideas and concepts of Kenji Tomiki and his nearest followers. There is an influence of other Aikido methods and Bodywork of independent instructors.

The program is built around various types of core concepts.

Basic arm movements

Our hands are one of the most important tools of our body. Tegatana translates into “sword hand”, but also includes the arm.

Basic arm movements can be performed either stationary or dynamically.
The stationary method emphasises the use of the “Koshi” synchronized with arm movements (tegatana). A dynamic version is integrating footwork.

Basic arm movements are based upon the basic arm movements developped by Kenji Tomiki.

The Stationary Method

The 1st part of the videoclip gives a overal impression, the 2nd half focussing on the use of the koshi.

The Dynamic Method

The integration of footwork into the tegatana exercises is the first step for practising “hakkei” or sudden power.

Hakkei Tegatana Dosa

When practising tegatana dosa in a stationary or dynamic way, movements are relatively big. The performance is quite slow and with no explosive power.
After several years of training, sudden power or Hakkei may be introduced.

Footwork – Unsoku-ho

In the Tomiki Aikido method a formalized exercise is wellknown by most of the practitioners. Because the focus is more on the pattern or in which direction to move, the most basic ways of footwork is in the backround. In the syllabus, the basic ways of footwork (ayumi ashi, tsuri ashi and tsugi ashi) is mentioned as a basic exercise. The different methods are integrated in the dynamic tegatana exercises.
When practising footwork, the arms are hold high and the intention is to hold a big ball between the arms. The arms are not used to push or pull, the power comes from the footwork initiated by the koshi.

Ayumi Ashi forward

Ayumi Ashi backward

Tsugi Ashi

Testing the solo exercises

Sometimes during training, the instructor can test the posture and movement of the student or to give feedback (interaction). All the movements of the solo-exercises can be tested.


Some testing examples

Testing posture and tsugi ashi

Ko-mawari testing

Kumi Kata (Judo)

The definition of Kumi Kata is grip fighting. The word “grip fighting” means to take a grip that will give you an advantage over your opponent. But also not to allow your opponent to take a comfortable grip to be able to counter.

The mastery of Judo Kumi Kata is a critical component for any judoka to succeed in modern judo. Without this skill being very well developed it is difficult to see how any judoka can experience the ability to throw ones opponent cleanly, effortlessly and with grace and beauty.

Ridatsu ho & Seigyo ho

Grasping the wrist in Aikido is a kind of strategy skill similar to the strategy skill of Judo Kumi Kata. Without this skill, we are not able to perform kuzushi and waza.
Tegatana kihon dosa (basic hand and arm movements) can be used as a setting up for gripping skills and controlling the opponent: Seigyo ho
On the other hand, kihon dosa can be used as a defensive action when the opponent is grasping you: Ridatsu ho

Both methods will depend on a correct and powerfull gripping skill.

The are different ways to grasp the wrist of opponent.
The purpose of grasping the wrist is to control the opponent action.

The comments of holding the sword, the golf ball and the soft tanto apply also for grasping a wrist.

Some examples of grasping the wrist

The example shows an offensive way to capture the wrist of the opponent. When the opponent performs an offensive movement, you can apply a basic arm movement and then grab the wrist.

How to seize

A strong grip can be catogorised in 3 major metods. See picture.

In essence, grasping the wrist in Aikido is similar to grasping the hilt of a sword. 
The basic rule is to grip firmly with the middle finger and thumb, keeping contact with the base of the little finger.

A study performed by The University of Western Ontario on the Individual finger strength and published in Journal of Hand Therapy gives the following results:
The percentage contributions of the index, middle, ring, and small fingers to grip were approximately 25%, 35%, 25%, and 14%, respectively.

While the ulnar side of the hand (ring and little finger) is taught as the dominant side when holding the “tsuka” of a sword, there is a lack of control if you don’t use the middle finger and thumb. When you start grabbing with the middle finger and thumb and index finger, the ring and the little finger, you will have a strong grip with many possibilities of precision.

3 important points

  • Base of little finger
  • Middle finger
  • Thumb

Exercises to develop correct wrist grabbing

Using Thera Band Flexbar

Soto gaeshi & uchi gaeshi
As mentioned earlier, both movements can be used both offensively and defensively. When you grip a wrist to apply a technique, Soto gaeshi or Uchi gaeshi may be applied. An exercise with the Flexbar almost gives you the feeling of gripping a wrist with a certain resistance.

Holding a golf ball.
Holding a golf ball is a good exercise to power up the middle finger and thumb.
Index, ring and little finger just close, but do not put pressure. Do not tighten the ball or you will lose control of the ability to manipulate your hand and arm movements.

Other examples of grasping

  • Holding tsuka
  • Grasping softanto (soft training dagger)

Holding tsuka
Hold the tsuka with the middle finger, the thumb and the base of the little finger. Index finger and ring finger close without any pressure.

Holding softanto (soft training dagger)

Soft tanto is a safe training tool used during sparring (randori). Frequently used in a Tomiki Aikido training program.

More pictures
European Championship Antwerp 2014 – Zuiderpershuis

The same comments apply as for holding the ball or holding the tsuka of a sword.

Kihon no katachi – Basic Aikido Techniques

Kihon no katachi is not the ju-nana-hon no kata or ju-go-hon no kata (an early version of kihon no kata), but it is a collection of basic aikido techniques usefull during friendly sparring (randori). It is a basic techniques syllabus.
There are 4 different kinds of techniques in Tomiki Aikido. All techniques start from a “tegatana awase” situation.

  • Atemi Waza
  • Hiji Waza
  • Tekubi Waza
  • Uki Waza

Atemi Waza

Kihon dosa or basic movements is the source for succesfull applying atemi waza. The philisophy behind atemi waza is explained in differents posts on this blog.

  • Shomen ate
  • Ai gamae ate
  • Gyaku gamae ate
  • Gedan ate
  • Ushiro ate

Hiji Waza

The use of “seigyo ho” or seizing skills are necessary to apply a skillfull hiji waza.

  • Oshi taoshi – straight arm push down
  • Hiki taoshi – straight arm pull down
  • Ude gaeshi – entangled arm
  • Ude hineri- entangled arm
  • Waki gatame omote – elbow lock
  • Waki gatame ura – elbow lock

Tekubi Waza

The use of “seigyo ho” or seizing skills for control are necessary to apply a skillfull tekubi waza.

  • Kote Hineri (uchi gaeshi)
  • Tenkai Kote Hineri
  • Kote Gaeshi (soto gaeshi)
  • Tenkai Kote Gaeshi

Uki Waza

Generally, this type of waza is translated as “floating techniques”. Basically, kuzushi or balance disturbing is performed as a throwing technique. All examples of wrist grabbing can be used to throw the opponent.
We distinguish 3 area

Kihon no katachi describe 3 major throws using Uki-waza skill.

  • Mae otoshi
  • Sumi otoshi
  • Hiki otoshi

Sparring or Randori Ho

  • Kakari geiko – continious predescribed attacks, no resistance
  • Hikitate geiko – continious predescribed attacks, escape possible for uke
  • Randori geiko – both can attack and defend
    • Dojo sparring
    • Shiai format

Example kakari geiko

Tanto randori – competition format

Offensive and defensive “waza”

Something about offensive and defensive

People are offensive and defensive in many situations, mostly when there is a stressful situation. In one situation, one person may have offensive behaviour, whereas the other side may have defensive behaviour in response. Attacks and threats may be categorized as either physical or psychological, and their effects may also be categorized as such.
The offensive and defensive behaviour can be accompanied by the use of force and aggression; the difference lies in how that force or aggression is used in a situation. The skills needed for offensive or defensive behaviour without becoming aggressive depend entirely on the concept of having respect for our fellow men.

There may be a shift between offensive and defensive actions during a confrontation or training situation.
In a given situation, the offending person, by their offensive behavior, takes the action, while the defensive behavior on the other side is a response to this action. As a result, the defensive person becomes the target of the attack or threat.


The body is responsive to offensive and defensive behaviours. A person may experience an adrenaline rush, heavenly breathing, blood running down his face, sweating, and increased heart rate.

Spatial interval during offensive and defensive behaviors.

The space range is linked to “hyoshi”, a concept of synchronization, cadence and tempo. Physical distances within the spatial range will be discussed below.

In general, three distances are used as a concept to explain the range of space between two practitioners.

  • Chikama – it is the small distance, less than a step
  • Ma – when the opponent takes a step to be able to seize or to strike
  • Toma – when the opponent has to take multiple steps to attack, often with a weapon

Example “Toma” attack with weapon

From Koryu no kata dai san

Example of “Ma” – striking attack with “tsugi ashi”

Many examples in Koryu no kata

Also possible with “tanto” strike

Example “Chikama” – Eri dori without stepping

Many examples in Koryu no kata

Spatial interval in Tomiki Aikido

The red circle and its contents, is just one indication of how to measure the distance between two practitioners. The images in the second row show the position and method of contact between the two practitioners.

  1. You can easily reach your opponent, but your opponent also can reach you easily. The distance from a judo perspective.
  2. Issoku itto no maai: This distance is a distance where you can reach your opponent with one step forwards and you can avoid your opponent’s action with one step backwards or sideways.
  3. You cannot get to your opponent and your opponent cannot get to you either. Fundamentally, your weapon or hand and the weapon or the hand of your opponent do not come into contact.

Offensive and defensive waza

A basic rule to apply offensive and defensive actions (waza application) is the need to physically contact an opponent.

Offensive actions may be applied primarily to three parts of the adversary.

  1. Body – head and trunk by using a strike or push
  2. Elbow and surrounding parts of arm
  3. Wrist and hand

Defensive actions are frequently performed when the opponent uses an offensive action. This offensive action, sometimes goes hand in hand with a step to bridge the gap with the body. The defence against such an action can be a body turn (Koshi-mawari) or a stepping out of the line of attack by applying tsugi ashi or Ayumi ashi. After a defensive action and energy absorption, a switch to an attacking action can be used. Then it is possible to use tenshikei and hakkei.

Hakkei, explosive power

The key rule of explosive strength is the ability to stretch and twist the muscles, tendons and fascia around the bones. Building and releasing such strength is called tenshikei. There are 2 kinds of tenshikei: stationary and dynamic.

Stationary is without moving the feet, the distance is “Chikama”.

Dynamic hakkei is when you use movement (tsugi ashi or Ayumi ashi) to build momentum. It is known as ido-ryoku on a basic level. Ido-ryoku can also be thought of as tenshikei, because the power moves through the body and uses diagonal and spiral paths. Mostly, this is used when both practitioners are at the “Ma” distance.

Contracting and releasing muscles, tendons and fascia

In our study, muscles, tendons and fascia are a system and cannot be considered a separate system of muscles, tendons or fascia. Nonetheless, the muscle system plays an important role in the Western view of fitness.

What are the types of muscle contractions?

  • Isometric: A muscular contraction in which the length of the muscle does not change
  • Isotonic: A muscular contraction in which the length of the muscle changes.
  • Eccentric: An isotonic contraction where the muscle lengthens.
  • Concentric: An isotonic contraction where the muscle shortens.

Concentrating on the eccentric method has a few important advantages for martial art training. Eccentric contractions literally increase your muscle fibres, making the muscle itself physically longer.

“Longer muscles mean greater flexibility, and greater flexibility means greater injury prevention.”

How to contract and release our movement system?

Tenshikei creates a spiral activity. This enhances the potential energy in the body that can be used by releasing the “tension” in the body. Rotation of a “Flexbar” provides a visual picture of what can occur in the human body (muscle, tendon and fascia). The release of the Flexbar will be felt by a strong rotation to neutral or normal position. Letting go is a passive activity and requires no muscle contraction.

The human body is filled with spirals and these spiraling structures serve as power channels. This concept of spiraled structure is also used in many methods of healthy postures. For example “Alexander techniques” use a spiral design.

A major mistake is to concentrate on creating tension in the muscles by concentric action. This is no muscle building competition. The ability to twist and release or unwind the body can be done in a flash of less than a second.

The training objective must be directed towards the eccentric movement, that is to say the elongation of muscle fibres. Lengthening is created by a twisting movement and affects not only the muscles, but also the tendons and the fascia.

Tenshikei skill is a method to use full body movement, not at the same time, but following the logic of the moving force.

“You need to train the movement in full.” Because, as Aristotle once said, “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”

This is an example of tenshikei.

How to perform an eccentric contraction, useful for tenshikei?

There are 2 ways to create tenshikei contraction

  • By yourself as an active movement
  • Using the power of opponent in a defensive action

In solo training, several examples can be found as active tenshikei motion. Tomiki’s tandoku undo can be transformed into a long tenshikei exercise. Contracting and releasing the internal motion system is a challenging physical workout that can be performed by all ages.

Using the power of the opponent can be found in Tomiki’s 10-Ura Waza.

Omote & ura in Martial Arts

Omote techniques are taught to beginners and are considered less effective if the movement is not performed completely as most beginners always do. Efficiency is not that high despite the overall view appears good. Students are initiated into the basic movements of martial art.

Ura techniques are more efficient since the student has more control over internal movements. Some of these techniques are defensive, where the enemy’s attack is absorbed. Strategy is an important component, in addition to total control of body movements.

Ura waza is sometimes considered a contra-technique. I believe this explanation is too simplistic and reflects only a form of defensive behavior. Ura waza is the ability to shift from defensive to offensive action. You can see it clearly in “ura waza katatachi” or the techniques known as counterattack against basic techniques.

10-Ura waza, switching from defensive to offensive

Find here 10-ura waza, a switch between a defense action to an offense. After studying the basic waza, the practitioner studies the same basic waza as a response to the basic waza carried out by the adversary/partner. Please remember the logical evolution from katachi to kata. More info here.

Still not a randori (sparring). The objective is to study how to use basic waza under more advanced conditions. There is no resisting force involved. The attacker’s waza is real and with the intention to throw or hold.

Some pictures below will illustrate the 10-Ura waza.

Basics and kata

russian-dollsThe layers in Aikido

Tomiki Aikido has several basic exercises and kata. It is very common after warming-up to practise unsoku-ho or footwork, a basic exercise for practising moving around. Even after 20 years of training people will do the same exercises and kata. Why we have to practise “kihon” after many years of training? Maybe it is like a Russian doll, you open it, and you see a new one.

Basic kata

Sakai senseiThere are several basic kata, each with a different purpose. There are kata with waza especially for toshu randori (unarmed free play), tanto randori (armed free play) and classical basic kata.

Sakai sensei of the Japan Aikido Association performing classical basic kata – koryu no kata dai ichi. Kenji Tomiki and Hideo Ohba learned the waza from Morihei Ueshiba in the prewar period.

Let’s focus on basic kata, for example randori-no-kata. The techniques of this kata are selected as a “safe” method for randori geiko. It takes about 3 or 4 years to understand and becoming skillful. For more information on the differences between waza – katachi – kata read the chapter about it.

I am indebted to a former iaido and jodo colleague (Andy Watson – BKA), who gave me some visual inspiration to explain the progress a practitioner can make during his years of training. One of his teachers is Ishido Shizufumi sensei, who was one of my iaido and jodo teachers before I made the choice to explore more deeply into the inner knowledge of Budo Aikido.

The Standardisation or Definitions

Stylization and standardisation go hand in hand when an “Institution” creates a syllabus with techniques for grading or competition purposes. There is obviously a potential danger around the corner. The creativity of the practitioner will be killed when the Institution is taking too much the lead in the training process.
Of course, we need some definitions and parameters depending on the characteristics of the basic kata.
The purpose of the definitions is setting (visual) parameters to create basic movements patterns.

kihon basic structureKihon in kata
A basic choreography of the kata. Only a global overview of the structure and content of the kata. Basic movements are not linked to each other. A beginning practitioner will copy what he sees. There is no understanding of the deeper structure. The exact parameters are not applied by the practitioner.


guidelines in kataVisual parameters in kata

The definitions and the parameters are set and a basic structure is created to form a basic pattern. A visual structure of the kata performed by the instructor and incorporating the definitions and parameters can lead to some basic understanding.

Understanding and incorporating the parameters need a lot of training, and will create a basic pattern in the brain. The correct basic pattern is depending on the correct parameters. Shisei, metsuke, seichusen…. are postural parameters. Correct footwork for optimal angle towards the opponent. The more parameters are described, the more training-time you need.

guidelines in kata oyoRendo in kata

When the basic movements transforms into rendo (linked movements), the applications (oyo in Japanese) comes to the surface of understanding. Those applications can be used during kakari geiko, a kind of freeplay. The basic form is still apparent in the performance, but there is some kind of roundness in the linked movements.


guidelines in kata 2Transforming the parameters kata

Parameters can be transformed by using hyoshi (cadence, rhythm, tempo). For example the angles in the kata will be adapted depending on the use of hyoshi in the action by the opponent. The basic form is still present. By using the deeper understanding of the movements in the kata, the robotic perfomance will disappear. The transformation from katachi to kata is started.

this is my kataThis is my kata

The structure or choreography of kata is still there, but it is the representation of your skills performed in the kata. Those skills are not depending on the techniques of the kata, they are the patterns of the kihon in your brain. The use of these skills  are commanded by your subconscious.

The layers in kihon

Kihon is always a part of your training, even unsoku-ho after 20 years of practise, can be used as a training-tool.
By using “hyoshi” with the variables of cadence-rhythm-tempo, we can create different approaches with the same exercise.
Unsoku-ho and tegatana dosa in a sotai-renshu format together with different applications of Sen will spicy up your training.

An example of sotai renshu based upon tegatana dosa 1.

tegatana sotai renshu