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

The art of “Kuzushi” in Kyogi-Aikido

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.


Kyogi-Aikido is a limited version of the art of Aikido created by Morihei Ueshiba. The goal of Kyogi-Aikido is to introduce some free-play or randori with a limitation in the use of harmful techniques.

In order not to forget the original teachings, some kata or formal demonstrations are created for the presentation to public demonstrations and for grading purposes. This is referred to as “Embu” or a formal demonstration of Aikido techniques that are not permitted during randori. In addition to the Koryu no kata or the original techniques, Embu also includes the formal demonstration of the techniques allowed during randori or freeplay.

Randori kyogi:A competition that enables you to practice Aikido techniques more practically. In tanto randori, one uses a dagger and the other apply techniques freely. The one who have the dagger is changed in the latter part of the game. In toshu randori, players don’t use a dagger and apply techniques each other.
Embu kyogi:Competition of pre-arranged forms. Players show techniques and compete its performance level.

Basic Techniques of Sport Aikido (Tomiki Aikido)
Instructor: INOUE Yoshiomi (7th Dan in Aikido)
Author: KOMATSU Toshiya (5th Dan in Aikido)
Available at Amazon as a paper version or a kindle e-book

Martial art or martial sport?

Most people think that judo, karate and other combat sports are just a game because they are included in the Olympic competition. The implication is that a sport is just for the “game” and cannot be effective for self-defense or fighting. The belief is that the distinction between Sport and Martial Art is that martial artists train for the real world. By real world the assumption is that in addition to street self-defense, other hostile situations are included, such as intimidation and so on.
In the real world, before a new product is used by the general public, it must be tested in different circumstances before it can be used. Fundamentally, a product must be safe and must bring some kind of progress to our lives. A product is not necessarily a physical thing, but it can also be a mental notion.

If a martial art is founded on an almost religious belief and which is not tested in the context of realistic and scientific procedures, this martial art is an illusion and a danger for someone who is a so-called true believer. On the other hand, we must open our minds to ideas and concepts that we regard as controversial. Do not become a true believer who rejects anything that does not belong in the dogma of a so-called true budoka.

Aikido Sport or Kyogi Aikido by removing some of the potential dangers may reach a prominent place as a sports activity, but also as a kind of self-protection. Training in Kyogi Aikido differs in many aspects from the more traditional way of training in Aikido. It produces natural, fast, reflexive movement with the full power safe application, achieving a result against a struggling opponent who is also utilizing the full power while engaging in strategic and tactical resistance using all of his or her resources and training.

Of course, this can go wrong. Winning and losing can become too large and begin to divert the training process. The final goal should not be medal victory. The use of sports competition as a metaphor for a true fight can be very different from a game. Matches, as well as free practice and sparring, are simply different methods to shape the mind and body to deal with the adversity of combat situations.

Just as non-competitive martial arts training may not provide the benefits of competition, training for a sports competition may not provide the full scope of self defense training. Martial sports often include non-competitive components. For example, competition is only a part of the Tomiki Aikido curriculum, and Kenji Tomiki, was very concerned about preserving those self defense techniques that could not be used with full force in free play or randori.

Though martial arts and sports both have higher objectives, it is still a fact that many people train in martial arts primarily for self-defense. For those who have never used sports training methods, or those who have never explored the traditional training of Bujutsu, it is easy to reduce the efficiency of the other. As martial artists we should continually seek opportunities to challenge ourselves by examining the weaknesses of our training and keeping our minds open to other methods.

Kyogi Aikido Limitations

Safety in the first place is possible if we include certain limitations in the practice of randori or freeplay.

Using “Atemi” on a physical weakness of the body can be very dangerous if applied correctly. If not, you can injure yourself with your hand, fist or other part of the body used as a weapon.

As in other martial arts or fighting sport, the use of highly dynamic push is introduced in order to throw the opponent. The target becomes a dynamical weak point of the body. Destabilisation becomes an art in itself. Kuzushi or the art of unbalance becomes an important training element in the curriculum of Kyogi Aikido.

Though not directly harmful, gi-grabbing is not used during shiai and in extension not during randori dojo training. The idea was that gi-grabbing was a part of judo randori. Tomiki’s original idea was to embed atemi-waza and kansetsu-waza into judo training using as a separate randori (kyogi aikido)

Kuzushi – Breaking balance

From the book witten by Komatsu Toshiya:
Breaking Balance and Techniques
When beginners learn techniques by watching advanced players, they tend to look the moment his opponent is thrown. However, it is important to understand “breaking balance” in order to learn the technique quickly. Jigoro Kano, the founder of judo, said that after he studied breaking balance of his opponents, his skills became much better. The result of his research on judo is that “the body balance of people is always broken by pushing or pulling him.” This means that by breaking balance of an opponent, it is possible to apply techniques even if the opponent is powerful. This principle of Judo is the same in Aikido.

Unbalancing the opponent before applying a throw

We have to take in account different aspect about how to unbalance an opponent. Two important aspect have to be considered:

  • Physical unbalancing – break his stable posture and keep your posture
  • Mental unbalancing – finding the unguarded moment by using mushin mugamae

Physical unbalancing

A human body adopts basically always a stable posture because we are under pressure of gravity. Our posture is not always very effective in the maintenance of a balanced posture. Practicing a stable structure is one of the first stages of martial art training. Shizentai and jigotai are both types of posture to introduce stable structure to beginners. Even more experienced practitioners may benefit from practicing shizentai and jigotai.
Physical unbalancing a stable structure is a skill which uses pulling, pushing or rotational movements. These actions can be considered tools for the use of internal and external power.

Power usage needs a stable structure, otherwise the opponent will use your unstable posture to create kuzushi. Maybe that’s new to a number of you. Most explanations of kuzushi only describe how to unbalance someone without explaining how to keep a strong but flexible structure (jukozo).

Most training packages to study kuzushi are rather unrealistic or abstract in character. These exercises are not directly applicable to randori training. Practitioners must adapt these unbalancing movements for practical use in randori.
Nonetheless, formal kuzushi training sets give you the feeling of how an unbalanced movement influences the opponent. Practitioners will also be aware that a stable posture is required.

Mental unbalancing

Mental unbalancing could be described as upsetting or disturbing the equilibrium of a person’s state of mind.
Finding the unguarded moment by using mushin mugamae is the first step to set to disturb opponent’s state of mind.

“Find the vulnerable moment in the opponent at the moment when he launches his attack. This kind of counterattack that is executed in the void instant when your opponent is just beginning to launch his attack is called “deai”.”

Kenji Tokitsu – 1979 – Le voie du karaté – pour une théorie des arts martiaux japonais

Mushin mugamae
To get into an opponent’s state of mind, you have to free yourself from all the thoughts that may disturb you how to see the opponent. In this situation, you may manipulate your opponent by showing an opening for him to attack. But you are ready to counter, or you can attack the moment he is preparing to attack you.

Both are waiting for the signal “Hajime” of the referee. The person who has the tanto is known to the defender as a right-handed striker. However, the tanto is now in the left hand. This disturbed the defender and he shouted: “He is a lefty!” It was time to attack for tanto. Sadly, there was no “Hajime”. The limitations are not always as convenient.

Budo or Sport?

The emphasis is on Budo Aikido which includes randori geiko (not shiai). There is no “rules book” in Budo Aikido.

Frequently I am asked about the difference between Aikido as a martial art (Budo) and Aikido as sport (Kyogi).
Budo has 2 parts : Bu and Do
The word do means path or way, but refers to a special way – a path which its goals leads to nowhere, and is followed for its own sake. It becomes The Way. The Way follows no particular route, it is self-traveled, naturally individualized path to spiritual enlightenment.
Bu means “war” but it also suggest the sheathing of the sword or the cessation of struggle.
During the “Flower Power” movement in the Western countries Budo became less orientated to the idea of fighting.
Another evolution created a kind of Martial Art more orientated to the competition arena. Before the war, of course there were also competitions in Martial Arts. Examples are Kendo and Judo. Prewar competitions rules book was slightly different and not so elaborated as nowadays. Modern competition has a lot of “olympic” influence. In the past Budo training and competition were very close to each other, while today the difference is more obvious for practitioners.
Sometimes the general public cannot see or understand the difference between Martial Sport and Budo.
While in Kyogy-Aikido there are you versus the opponent, in Budo-Aikido you try to become one with the opponent and this is a precondition for using the concept of “Sen”, control of the movements.
Budo-Aikido people are generally more sensitive to the movements of the training partner. Technically precise movements are the goal in your training. Many Kyogi-aikido practitioners are relying more on muscle power, body weight, speed, combination techniques. In Kyogi-Aikido you can win by making half points, while in Budo-Aikido there is only total control of the situation.
Speaking about ethics, it is your choice how to finish a fight in a Budo environment. In Kyogi-Aikido, there are no ethics, only rules how to make points and prohibited actions. Ethics will vary according to the society people belong. Western people have different ethics than Japanese or other Asians.
Both methods have their merits and can be useful in daily life and can have a positive effect on our behaviour. The application of Aikido as self-defense or goshin-jutsu need of course some adaptation to become practical in real-life situations.
There are more similarities than differences when we compare both methods. Many Aikido methods will have a hybrid format with either the emphasis on the sporting side (Kyogi) or the classical side (Budo).

Budo or sport

Non-conscious body driven & conscious mind driven

The legendary Zen master Takuan Sōhō (1573-1645) said: “The mind must always be in the state of ‘flowing,’ for when it stops anywhere the flow is interrupted and it is this interruption that is injurious to the well-being of the mind. In the case of the swordsman, it means death. When the swordsman stands against his opponent, he cannot think of the opponent, nor of himself, nor of his enemy’s sword movements. He just stands there with his sword which, forgetting all techniques, an is ready only to follow the dictates of the subconscious. The man has effaced himself as the wielder of the sword. When he strikes, it is not the man but the sword in the hand of the man’s subconscious that strikes.

The big difference between Sport and Budo is in the use of the conscious and non-conscious mind.
In Budo Aikido, the body is driven by the patterns stored in the mind. These patterns are not mind driven but act as the circumstances are asking for it. In Kyogi Aikido, the practitioner is planning everything and actions are always according the rulebook.
The concept of mushin is a basic element of Budo Aikido, the mind is neutral and not interfering consciously with the martial action. Kyogi Aikido is a limited version of Budo Aikido the mind is always busy interfering with the action.

Hajime and Mate

In Sports Aikido there is hajime and mate. In Budo Aikido this doesn’t exist. If you ask a western practitioner about “hajime”, his answer will be probably : starting training, starting a technique or starting a match.

Yōso* – Fundamental elements

Kenji Tomiki was inspired by the ideas of Jigoro Kano in formulating his Aiki method. Kodokan Judo is based upon “principles”. Principles are concepts and are the essential characteristics of the system.
Man has formulated many laws related to our environment. The laws of Newton are such an example.
There are laws specific to the human body, rules specific to the relations between human bodies, as well as rules proper to the relations between the human beings within the framework of martial arts. All these laws are real and concrete realities, and together with the principles creates a system useful in the Eastern and Western countries.

Training in martial arts will take in account the laws and rules of

• Psychology, the science of behavior and mind, including conscious and unconscious phenomena, as well as thought.
• Physics, lit. knowledge of nature, the natural science that involves the study of matter and its motion and behavior through space and time, along with related concepts such as energy and force.

Yōso* : literally translated as “principle”, but in the context of our study we use “essential element” or “reality based upon laws and rules”.

Yōso in Budo-Aikido and Kyogi-Aikido

There are many fundamental elements in Aikido and most of them can be applied in Budo-Aikido and Kyogi-Aikido. There are 2 Yōso in both methods which are the most basic.

• The relationship between your mind and body
• The relationship between you and the body – mind of the opponent

From image to pattern

In order to understand laws and rules in human movements, many specific movements must be analysed to understand before we can create a pattern. There are many ways to put content into each of these movements. One of the content is for example the displacement of body weight during walking. In the brain there exist an image about walking.
How to use this image depends on our experiences during our life, and according these experiences we have created patterns.
Sometimes a pattern is corrupted or not suitable for use in martial arts situations. We have to (re)program a pattern.
Especially at beginners level, the conscious mind is used to remember the script of the movement.
Beginners level is not simply associated with “novices”, but also with experienced people who are learning new skills.
When starting with a new “pattern”, we start slowly and sometimes we exaggerate the movement by making it bigger. This gives us the opportunity to create a bodily sensation. At this point of your training you are going to use the unconscious mind.

The Standardisation or Guidelines?

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 guidelines depending on the characteristics of the martial art.
In this document is explained how to move the body. Don’t confuse guidelines with ”how to do techniques”.
The purpose of the guidelines is the creation of basic body movements patterns.

Pattern inclusive taikan (bodily sensation/experience) is your personal standard based upon guidelines practised during training. You will use taikan to sort out useful information and not becoming confused by an overload of information swirling around on the internet.
On the other hand, pattern is useful to understand diverse information from skilled bodywork teachers or martial arts instructors.

The parameters for basic movement pattern

How do we know our guidelines are correct?
To answer this question is necessary to understand the purpose of our basic movement. We have to set up the goals of our basic movement.
The efficiency of martial art techniques can be measured by the result we are obtaining after setting the goal of our manoeuvre. Stylization and standardisation can become a trap for you. Winning a “kata” by using stylization is a delusion. Your movement is maybe acrobatic but not efficient. Doing a grading using stylization and standardisation is a delusion and gives a signal you don’t understand what you are doing.
It is important from the beginning to start a body movement correctly. Ishiki or consciousness and awareness are necessary to develop efficient patterns.
Changing the pattern once ingrained requires more work (it’s estimated that 10 times the initial number of repetitions must be performed in the new way to over-write the existing pattern) than establishing the pattern in the first place. The implications of this are that spending time getting a pattern correct early on saves extra work later if you make changes to a problematic pattern.

Not all the knowledge can be written in books or taped on video clips.

Tacit knowledge (as opposed to formal, codified or explicit knowledge) is the kind of knowledge that is difficult to transfer to another person by means of writing it down or verbalizing it. For example, that Tokyo is in Japan is a piece of explicit knowledge that can be written down, transmitted, and understood by everybody. However, the ability to speak Japanese need also interaction with a person. There is non-verbal communication and this will be learned during conversation lessons.
Martial arts belong to the category with non verbal knowledge. This knowledge will be transferred by the teacher during one to one training. Taikan or bodily sensation is one of the secrets.

Bodywork in Tomiki Aikido

Bodywork existed in the original Tomiki Aikido and included solo & partner exercises. The use of the body was extensively explored in these exercises. Of course studying these exercises is time-consuming and if the focus is solely (for university students) on competition much of the knowledge will not be taught.