Defending the centre line

Seichusen, the centre line.

The centre line is the vertical line which marks the centre of the body. We use our centre line as a guide in our practice. Basically, our hand should not move over the centre line to the other side of our body.

The centre line is important in order to keep our central equilibrium.
Central equilibrium can only be achieved through correct and diligent training by always lifting up our head top, and pressing our feet into the ground. This skill can be improved by practising “posture”, also called “ritsuzen”.
With strong central equilibrium, we can absorb or redirect the incoming force, and countering very quickly. In short, our defence or attack will be much more efficient if we have strong central equilibrium.

The more we deviate from the centre line, the more our central equilibrium will be subject to muscular tension to keep our balance. Our body will respond automatically to such situations. There are 3 options:

Ankle action
Hip action
Stepping action
  • Ankle action will happen when practitioner keeps his body under tension.
  • Hip action is basically trying to drop the bodyweight, but by keeping the knees stiff the hips will bend.
  • Stepping action will occur with unexperienced practitioners, but is also a strategy of an experienced practitioner. (see Unsoku-ho and tai-sabaki)

Experienced practitioners keep their body in the vertical line (centre) and will use tenshikei, Keeping the joints flexible and strong is an important body condition.
Tenshi is a rotational skill to absorb incoming power and redirect it to the opponent.

The previous example shows you the stiffen up of the body trying to defend against the action of Tori. To avoid further “kuzushi”, Uke steps but the upper body is halted by the arm action of Tori.

Defending the centre line

Basic posture to defend “seichusen”

Defending the centre line is an important concept and can be applied in different situations. We can distinguish 2 major kinds of defending the centre line.

  • Passive method – using tegatana as a shield
  • Active method – using tegatana as a weapon

Passive method

By keeping “tegatana” in front of the centre line, opponent have difficulties to attack your centre.

The sword is an extension of the tegatana and is protecting the centre.

In tegatana-awase, a multipurpose exercise, tegatana is used as a shield and prevent a straight movement to the centre by opponent.

Active method

In this method, we use “tegatana” as an active tool. Ridatsu-ho and seigo-ho are methods to defend yourself against grasping attacks. Free hand tegatana can be used to apply an atemi on the centre line of other vital point of the opponent.
What kind of atemi will depend on the goal you are looking for. Be the fact that we are going to throw the opponent or that we want to apply a shock to the body.

Vital point – Judo & Aikido/Kenji Tomiki

You will notice, the centre line has many vital points and can be used in self-defense situations.

Body movement exercises & centre line

We mentioned tegatana-awase in a previous paragraph and how to protect centre line with tegatana.
Of course there are numerous body movement exercises and basically protecting the centre line or attacking the centre line is included. Also remember the importance of the centre line in keeping the central equilibrium. When we lose our balance, in most cases we also will lose the protection of the centre line.

Tenshi exercises
Solo and paired tenshi(kei) exercises are an integral part of the regular training.

Unsoku-ho – defending by stepping

Avoiding an attack by stepping is a strategy to bring the mind and body into a position where the attacking power cannot get hurt.
On the other hand, stepping is not running away from an opponent.
It is important in order to control the situation, physically and mentally.
The concept of ridatsu-ho and seigo-ho is in fact an extension of stepping. It is avoiding and/or controlling the power of the opponent.
The exercises of unsoku-ho has to be considered as tools to study breaking away and/or controlling an attack of the opponent.
This can be punching, striking, kicking, grasping or any action from opponent to hurt you or control you.

Avoiding an attack

Avoiding an attack needs to take in account the concept of “Sen”. Running away is not always the correct method because there is always a chance opponent is much faster. There is also the mental side of running away or not running away. This can be of course the subject of another blog-post. We do not wish to become frustrated because we are afraid of a confrontation.
During avoiding an attack our body and mind must be in a state of defending/attacking mode. To create such a state of being, the study of “opposing isometric forces” can be very helpful. Subject of another blog-post.

Balanced body frame: Shizentai

Shizentai

Tomiki100yrs 034Tomiki wrote many articles and books about Budo, mostly Judo and Aikido. In his writings, but also in his lectures he stressed a lot “shizentai” mostly translated as “natural posture”.
Shizentai is a posture neither limp or neither rigid. From shizentai we can move in any direction. If someone is pushing we can move away without changing the distance in our relationship with the opponent or partner.
The picture of Kenji Tomiki is sometimes used as “the” example for “shizentai”, but this is not completely correct. Shizentai is all about how your body is behaving during activity and rest. Tomiki’s picture is just one of many examples of shizentai.
Shizentai is a kind of neutral body structure, a balance between a tensed body structure and a slacked body structure.

Balanced body frame

A balanced body frame is not a fixed posture. It is a dynamic structure, and sometimes it balances between a 1-part body frame to a more multipart body frame. Both body structures are in a balanced status depending on the use of the structure in a specified situation.

It is also possible to have a “neutral” body frame, a structure when someone is touching or grabbing you and the opponent just feels your skin.
This kind of body condition is very convenient to hide your intention.

1-part body

1-part body frame

A 1-part body frame is used when we have to increase “momentum” by using more body mass.

Using gravity in a movement is a good example of the use of 1-part body frame.

By stretching up the body, a 1-part body condition is created. When the body is tilted slightly forward, a forward step is needed to keep balance. Momentum can transferred into the strike with the “tegatana”. The attacking arm is a part of the 1-part body frame, the full body weight will increase the momentum in the strike. Of course, the skill of rolling foot and tsugi ashi is needed to keep balance.

shomen ate old

Multi-part body frame

A 1-part body frame is very useful when we seem to have a lot of space to move around, but this is not always possible.

Our body has more possible options for moving and generating power. The skill of “rendo” is based upon using a multi-part body frame.

kyokotsu exercise 10

When the wrist is grabbed and twisted, the different parts of the body will allow the twisting. By allowing the twisting, energy is storing into the twisted body. This energy can be released by moving the different parts in a correct sequence.

TenshikeiThe sequence in a multi-part body frame

It is important to keep the interface of the grasping unchanged. This is only possible when the body has a neutral condition. Opponent just feels the skin of your wrist, but opponent has no access to the rest of your body. You just accept his power which doesn’t interfere with your balance and moving abilities.

The photographs are taken from a documentary:
Hino Budo by Akira Hino
The pictures are taken from Akira Hino’s book:
Don´t Think, Listen to the Body

Keeping the interface

Do not resist or try to modify the situation. If you do, you change the state of the interface (the gripped part), and change is immediately detected by the opponent who will adjust the grip and hold you more firmly. Keep the interface as it is.
The change of the interface is an indication that you’ve used your consciousness to resist intentionally. You may use your consciousness to feel, but never use it to think or plan otherwise it will be detected by the opponent. Keeping the body frame neutral is an important skill for all Budo Aikido practitioners.

Untwist the body by itself

As the twisted body untwist itself by releasing the stored energy, your elbow drops and bends, and your palm turns upwards. You may think it is advantageous to step forward and turn to the antagonist to use the weight of your body for resistance, but you’re advised not to do so. Do not try to move intentionally, for it will be overpowered by the opponent who is in a better position, he’s twisted your arm already. “Keep the interface as it is” is important here as well, for as soon as you try to use your intentional power, the state of the interface changes and the opponent will notice it immediately.

The “real skill” of Shizentai

Shizentai is a dynamic condition of being. There are no unnecessary tensions, there is no slack in the body. All actions are optimal, even during the “rest” action. Of course it takes time to develop such a skill.
Shizentai is a skill useful in all aspects of life and it must be practised until it is a part of your being.